On Thursday, Thomson Reuters announced that it may sell its law school publishing business, comprising the West and Foundation Press casebooks. I suspect that part of the motivation to dump casebook publishing is the near certainty that the market for casebooks is about to become smaller.
Casebook sales are a function of the number of law students, and that number is likely to shrink. And soon. One of the best early predictors of law school matriculants is the number of LSAT tests given. On Friday, supposedly secret (but readily available here) data show that year-to-date tests are 16.7% fewer than last year and a whopping 25% fewer than two years ago. Could it be that Thomson Reuters sees that fewer law students mean fewer casebooks sold?
The high likelihood of fewer students is, of course, a major strand in the current discussion of the crisis in legal education. I’m currently writing about the lessons law schools can learn from the way dental schools survived a similar crisis.
Dental school enrollment decreased by 34% in response to
an over-supply of dentists,
the decreased profitability of general dentistry, and
the curtailment of federal funds to dental schools.
Twelve percent of dental schools closed, the equivalent of more than 20 law schools going under today. But dental education stabilized and, arguably, became stronger and I believe legal education can, too, especially if law schools and our accreditors learn from the experience of dental education.
My research suggests that dental education responded to the crisis by
Implementing more practice-relevant curricula,
Basing assessment on outcomes not processes,
Revamping accreditation standards to let schools experiment with different educational methods and different missions,
Demonstrating the value to practitioners of academic research, thus enhancing the status of research faculty,
Improving the relationship between schools and their universities, which made school closures less likely, and
Developing sustainable revenue models that reduced reliance on student tuition revenue, making dental education more affordable to students
I will have more to say about the lessons for survival that law schools can learn from the dental schools’ experience as my research develops. But for now, the potential West/Foundation sale is objective evidence that the probable decline in the number of law students will have real consequences throughout all of legal education.