One Step in the Right Direction for Law Schools

 

For years, law school graduates lamented the skewed economics of the legal profession.  As new law schools opened their doors at a breakneck pace and existing schools increased their class sizes with abandon, the supply of fresh JDs far outpaced the demand for new attorneys.  But a few law schools have taken it upon themselves to curb this runaway supply to better fit the muted demand of a profession still recovering from the recession.

 

At least three schools - Creighton University School of Law, and Touro Law Center and Albany Law School in New York - have pledged to shrink their first-year classes in the coming years.


[1]  When considering ways to decrease the number of debt-ridden law graduates entering a fiercely competitive job market every year, admitting less students to law school nips the problem at the bud.  Besides the peripheral benefits of enhanced classroom interaction and a more closely-knit community, a smaller pool of more qualified graduates would have a much better chance of landing a job without the flood of labor from bottom-tier law school factories.

 

Shrinking class size, however, is only one part of the solution.  Without a doubt, some of the lowest-ranked law schools - who charge exorbitant tuition fees only to push hopelessly debt-ridden and unemployable students into the job market - would address the problem much more effectively by shutting down their operations entirely. 

 

In response to the unsettling economics of the legal field, University of California Professor John Yoo writes that "it is no surprise that lower ranked law schools will be the first ones which will experience the effects [of a drop in demand for legal services] and reduce the size of their classes, or reduce their tuition, accordingly."[2] 

 

It is no surprise that an individual with a proven history of misinformed analyses would completely miss the mark on this issue as well.  This free-market approach to law school operations is a complete fantasy.  As evidenced by the proliferation of bottom-tier institutions over the past decade, law schools have no problem charging their students top-dollar even though many of them can't find a job after graduation.  Instead, through incredible ingenuity and subtle deception, law schools tweak the employment statistics reported to USNews or touted on their own websites by hiring their own graduates as temporary employees or selectively reporting graduates' salaries to effectively market themselves to unsuspecting applicants.  By promising

 

While shrinking class sizes is a clear step in right direction, the economics of this profession cannot truly be balanced until these bottom-tier schools cease to produce graduates altogether.  The free-market has obviously failed in this regard, so alternative measures such as litigation, such as in Alaburda v. TJSL, or greater restrictions imposed by the ABA or even the state or federal legislature are essential in leveling the playing field for new attorneys.  In order to truly change the economics of the legal profession, we need more than just a few symbolic acts from a handful of law schools; we need comprehensive reform that addresses all facets of the problem.  


[1]Kevin Kiley, "Objecting to More Lawyers," Inside Higher Ed, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/06/21/law_schools_shrink_enrollments_in_face_of_poor_job_market_fewer_applications

[2] Debra Cassens Weiss, "Some Law Schools are Admitting Fewer Students. Hold the Applause," ABA Journal, http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/some_law_schools_are_admitting_fewer_students._hold_the_applause

 

Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) is an organization based at Stanford Law School.   BBLP is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. For more information, visit BBLP's Web site at www.betterlegalprofession.org.

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