President Thies responds to Tribune article on law school debt, legal job market
ISBA President John E. Thies wrote a letter to the editor (below) in response to the Chicago Tribune article last Friday on the difficult legal job market and high debt load facing recent law school graduates. President Thies has made examining the impact of high debt load on the future delivery of legal services a key theme during his presidential year.
As suggested by your Friday article about the grim picture facing law school graduates, these are difficult times for recent law grads and the law schools that gave them their diplomas. The current employment statistics and debt amounts for new lawyers are simply unsustainable.
At the Illinois State Bar Association, we place a great priority on making sure that the members of our profession – through a variety of practice settings - can continue to meet the legal needs of the citizens of this state. Especially in difficult economic times, the process of meeting legal needs is frustrated by, among other things, the unhealthy (and costly) zeal with which American law schools race to maximize their respective U.S. News & World Report ranking, sometimes with terrible (and predictable) consequences. We need to focus on lowering the cost of legal education, ensuring that we continue to have bright students interested in obtaining their JDs, and having “practice ready” lawyers from the moment they leave law school.
The positive news is that changes in the historical model of legal education appear to be on the horizon. Bar associations, and not just academics, are playing a leading role in the process of determining what reforms are appropriate. Those with the best understanding of the delivery of legal services, new lawyer employment opportunities and our court system – practicing lawyers and judges – are participating in these discussions and providing their unique perspectives. For example, the ISBA has a special committee collecting input on the reforms that would be most helpful, with recommendations expected in the coming months.
The stakes in the debate over legal education reform are high. Illinois lawyers are such an important part of the fabric of their communities – for example, these lawyers contributed more than 2.2 million pro bono hours during the 2011 reporting period. For this to continue, we must have a steady stream of capable new lawyers who can afford to practice in all areas of the state. The ISBA is working hard to make sure that this is always the case.
John E. Thies, Urbana, IL
Illinois State Bar Association