Do Employment Conditions Really Justify the Need for Another Law School?

 

If you're considering law school, you just might be in luck.  The second best law school in the country, that is, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, has announced plans to expand their already mammoth educational operations to a new Riverview, Florida campus.  When the new Riverview campus opens for business in 2012, Cooley will be able to add up to 700 - that's right, seven hundred - more students to the growing Cooley family that already includes over 4,000 students sprawled throughout Cooley's Michigan campuses.

While 700 more JDs may be bad news for recent graduates who are struggling to find a job in tanking economy, this is great news for Cooley.  With all that extra income from tuition fees, Cooley will be able to continue putting its students' savings and tenuous credit lines to good use, as demonstrated by its recent lawsuit against the Internet.

In all seriousness, this new campus exemplifies how corrupt and interest-driven the legal education system has become.  Despite allegations that Cooley graduates face a 41% loan default rate after graduation and have to take up menial jobs that would probably only require a high school diploma (jobs that Cooley still considers noteworthy enough to qualify students as "employed"), the Cooley Law School administration somehow finds it prudent to open a new campus and add even more students to the growing ranks of the hopelessly unemployed and debt-ridden. 

Cooley's efforts to market this new campus are laughable.  Incoming Riverview Dean Jeff Martlew boasts that the new law school will not be "an elitist East coast law school" and have a more utilitarian approach to admissions.  First of all, it's a bit ironic that Cooley would strive to label itself non-elitist when it elevates itself as the top two law school in the country.  Second of all, since when was a little bit of institutional selectivity a bad thing when job prospects for that profession are so dismal?

In its press release, Cooley's administration considers the ratio of residents to law schools in the Tampa Bay area a compelling reason for setting up shop in that region.  Given this logic, Cooley administrators must think that opening a new law school requires the same market analysis as opening a new McDonald's or a neighborhood coffee shop.   

Clearly, students' post-graduation employment and life prospects don't rank highly on Cooley's list of priorities.  Instead, Cooley sees the legal education system as one big money-maker.  If you don't have a law school within a few miles of your house, don't be surprised if you happen to find a brand new Thomas M. Cooley Law "coming soon" banner draped over an office-park fence just a few blocks down the road.   

 

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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