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Tilting at Stratification: Against a Divide in Legal Education

24 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2015 Last revised: 9 Jan 2016

Rebecca Roiphe

New York Law School

Date Written: December 15, 2015


Critics suggest we divide law schools into an elite tier whose graduates serve global business clients and a lower tier, which would prepare lawyers for simple disputes. This idea is not new. A similar proposal emerged in the early twentieth century. This article draws on the historical debate to argue that this simplistic approach cannot solve the myriad problems facing the legal profession and legal education. Supporters of separate tiers of law school rely on a caricature of the early history to argue that the Bar is acting in a protectionist way to ensure its own monopoly and keep newcomers out of the profession. A closer analysis of the debate in the 1920s demonstrates that those in favor of two separate educational tracks were similarly motivated by status and elitism. They hoped to relegate the bottom tier of the profession to a permanent lower caste.

The article draws on the history to argue that there are no easy solutions. In order to fix the problems of legal education, we need to address the question of professionalism in general and distill what it is that is valuable about a separate legal profession. The profession should train all our lawyers in those skills. The intellectual and theoretical approach to the law is necessary to both rich and poor clients, therefore, all lawyers -- not just those who graduate from elite schools -- ought to be trained in the complex nature of the law and its relation to society, culture, and politics.

Keywords: legal profession, legal education, professionalism

Suggested Citation

Roiphe, Rebecca, Tilting at Stratification: Against a Divide in Legal Education (December 15, 2015). Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 16, Fall 2015; NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2704195. Available at SSRN: or

Rebecca Roiphe (Contact Author)

New York Law School ( email )

185 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
United States
212-431-2804 (Phone)

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