This essay seeks to situate the challenges facing legal education within the broader context of professional culture — a context that seems to us to have been neglected in the present debates. In a sense, the “market reformers” have been swept up, consciously or not, in a wider movement that elevates markets over other forms of social analysis and therefore asserts and takes for granted what is in fact deeply contested. More specifically, they have pushed to the side the public-serving dimension of the lawyer’s role because it allegedly conflicts with the psychology of classical economic liberalism. Our aim, then, is to restore the concept of the public domain to a discussion now dominated by mere considerations of costs and a belief in the inevitable triumph of a narrowed sense of professional culture. Before we can begin to reform the infrastructures of legal education, we need to identify the function of the legal profession in a democratic society and the role that a legal education might play in preparing men and women for service in a profession so conceived. In that sense, cost is not an independent variable, and any judgment about the cost-effectiveness of legal education necessarily depends on a decision concerning the purposes to be served by a legal education.
In Part I, we discuss, in a general way, some of the changes that have occurred in society, the profession, and legal education in the past 40 years or so. We are particularly interested in the growing tendency to re-conceptualize many social phenomena in market terms and the effects of this trend on legal education and the practice of law. In Part II, we continue our discussion of those themes, as they relate to the current debate over the future of legal education, by considering the analyses of Thomas D. Morgan and Brian Z. Tamanaha, both of whom approach the problem from the vantage point of economic analysis. Notwithstanding the similarities in their methodologies, their respective prescriptions point in somewhat different directions. We suggest that a broader view is necessary and that the work of these commentators and others suffers from a failure to give sufficient attention to the public dimension and significance of the legal profession. In Part III, we endeavor to reframe the problem in a way that may be useful in developing a forward-looking approach to accomplishing the reforms that are necessary.