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December 03, 2013


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Former Law Review Editor

Yes, cost and debt. How do we make law school less expensive and how do we burden students with less debt?

Also, how many law graduates should we be training? Does it do any one any favors to have a consistent overproduction of law graduates? (ie, the graduates, the profession, the clients, society at large).

Jacqueline Lipton

Thanks FLRE. Can I ask two additional questions based on your questions, and see what others think ...

1/ Does it make any difference whether law schools retain current fee structures and offer more scholarships or is it better that they consider dropping tuition? This may be more a question for administrators and development officers ie a question of how the finances are most appropriately handled?

2/ Whose responsibility should it be to determine how many law grads are trained at law school? We faced a similar issue in Australia years ago when law schools were proliferating but law jobs were not. Some felt that new law schools shouldn't be established and that existing law schools shouldn't take in larger cohorts of students in order to avoid oversupply of grads, while others felt that it was a market-based issue e.g. incoming students would realize that a law degree wouldn't guarantee them a job as a lawyer, and would take the degree for other reasons (it was a LOT cheaper in Aus in those days so that was possible approach to take).


Here's a suggestion and a question:

Assign free or very cheap casebooks. $200 per class adds up.

Can law schools offer bar prep for less than the commercial courses? At most schools, most graduates are taking the same bar.

Jacqueline Lipton

Does anyone know if the electronic casebooks offered by traditional publishers are appreciably cheaper than the hardcover versions or whether they're just more flexible/interactive? Which is more important to students?

Former Law Review Editor

The problem is that there is no market for law schools. Students pay for school with debt -- not dollars -- and to a large extent students view it as funny money until they graduate. Upon graduation, the debt magically converts to real money. With government deferral and discharge schemes (ie IBR, PAYE, etc.) there is no "market" force asserting pressure against pricing. That's how you end up in the current hot mess.

An Older Observer

The truth is that there is nothing law schools can do, other than to place their own students in jobs another school's students would otherwise have gotten. There are too many law grads because there are too many law schools. This is not the fault of the profession. Ultimately, it springs from the way we fund higher education in this country. Economically marginal universities, over the last thirty years or so, have opened law schools as cash cows to provide revenue needed but not otherwise available from other sources. The great majority (but certainly not all) law schools established during that period were established by marginal universities. The law schools have, for the most part, followed suit, and become marginal law schools. That is because the universities (or now, corporate or individual owners) have pocketed too much law school revenue, leaving the law schools unable to do much more than enroll too many students and try to hang on. All that has led to too many law students with too much debt, poor undergrad preparation, poor law school training, and poor job prospects. It is, as Former Law Review Editor suggests above, a "hot mess." It will not soon be fixed, but it could have been avoided if we had had a better way of funding higher education years ago. We still need that better way now.


Consider integrating legal writing with core classes. Students could write motions to suppress as part of evidence, a motion to compel in civ pro, etc. The professor could redact the student's names and critique some of the motions in front of the class. Instead of reading nothing but appellate cases, students could also read trial court cases, and the motions that were submitted.

Like most ideas to improve legal education, this idea costs more money, and the big problem is that we are educating to many lawyers at too high a cost. The only real fixes are (1) increase student/faculty ration by having faculty teach more classes at the expense of research, (2) admit less students,(3) close some law schools, (4) decrease administration by having faculty perform more administrative tasks.


"1/ What can be done to help recent grads find jobs? Is it a question of networking? Additional skills training? Are there bar review/preparation issues? ie to what extent is bar passage getting in the way of employment?"

A few ideas to this great question. First and foremost, it is easier to help recent grads find jobs when there are less grads. Shrink class size. A law school which places 55% of its grads in FTLTBP (full time long term bar passage required) jobs could be posting Harvard-level numbers if they were graduating 1/3-2/5 less graduates every year.

I haven't seen any evidence that "additional skills training" improves job placement rates. That is all the rage now, making law graduates "more practice ready," but if there are only about 20-25K FTLTBP jobs a year it doesn't matter.

One novel way of approaching this is to focus on expanding the type of market that hires JD's, instead of BP/traditional JD advantage jobs. What other types of jobs would a JD be a natural fit for?

"2/ What should we be doing for current students that we're not doing, or not planning to do in the near future?"

This is a loaded question because it circles around to the fact that most law schools have not been acting in the best interests of their students and graduates for at least the last three decades, and is also part of the first question.

"3/ What is the role of the profession in all of this? How much responsibility should law firms/practitioners take to train the next generation of lawyers?"

Law firms and practitioners should have a major role in training the next generation of lawyers. However, due to the decline in the legal economy (as a % of GDP it has declined) and the overproduction of law graduates, many practitioners and firms, especially at the small firms where the majority of law graduates who are fortunate to get FTLTBP jobs go to practice, are squeezed. Too many lawyers/firms chasing less and less clients, leaving less time to train and less funds to hire in the first place. Cynically you could also see some or many lawyers not wanting to spend as much training as the person they are training could take away future clients from them.

Everything that involves making law schools better comes back to cost and law graduate overproduction. As many have pointed out, even entertaining the idea that we could get down to 20-25K law graduates a year, that will not mean everything is dandy, as $150K debt loads on $50K salaries are still unacceptable outcomes, even if we are at 95% FTLTBP placement rates.

Output and cost both have to go way down. The funding scheme for law schools, in which students borrow unlimited amounts of money via GradPlus, needs to go. My post has been long enough, and I'll end here, and I want to thank Ms. Lipton for this post, I have noticed that TFL has been spending less time on issues dealing with the future of legal education and it has disappointed me.

Orin Kerr

I tend to think that the main problem is the number of available jobs, and that there isn't much that law schools or law professors can do to change that. It's just a question of supply and demand: The number of students attending should and likely will drop until supply and demand are better matched. It would be great if the ABA left schools more room to try low-cost models of education, so students could have more ways of getting a JD without paying high tuitions. But I think it's mostly a problem that the market is in the middle of solving.


One important thing law schools can do is support transparency. It would be a true service to their students and the public if law schools would provide some long-term employment outcome statistics.

I'm not holding my breath.


Why not have law schools run law firms? Take the med school model as an example. Most med schools are huge money-makers because the faculty also practices (ie, treats patients). Why not turn the clinical model of law schools into a pay-for-service. Law schools could bill/charge competitive rates, and have faculty handle cases/corporate matters.


At Kerr:

"I tend to think that the main problem is the number of available jobs, and that there isn't much that law schools or law professors can do to change that."

Yes there is. Close your doors and go out of business. And yes...your tax evading institutions are businesses.

"But I think it's mostly a problem that the market is in the middle of solving." ed, like all higher ed is not a real market when the fuel greasing said "market" is unlimited taxpayer $$$ in the form of student loans.

Until the number of law schools are lessened and the student loan spigot is turned off, any "solutions" are just nonsensical window dressing.

Sirena Johanson

As a law student, I wish my professors had more connection to the real world. I know that law school isn't supposed to be a trade school, but I want to my classes to be at least tethered to the actual practice of law and my professors to have spent some time as lawyers, doing the types of jobs that we hope to do upon graduation. I know that the job market isn't great but we would have a leg up if our classes were less theoretical and more grounded in the actual practice of law.

Concerned Lawyer

I think your presumption that critics of the law schools are "frustrated students and recent grads" is misplaced. It is true that the spurned and jobless graduates were the first to recognize the problem of the lawyer glut (in 2009 and 2010). But the problems over the lawyer glut have spread across the profession to the point that it is now evident to anybody who hires that there are many more lawyers than legal positions. And it is evident to anybody with access to google that law school tuition has skyrocketed to the point that even students who do find jobs cannot afford to pay for their legal education. The issue has two dimensions:

1. Supply and Demand. There are not enough jobs to justify the number of students.
2. Cost. Legal education is so expensive that only the roughly 4,000 graduates who secure jobs with large law firms will be able to finance their education.


a. Focus more on practice orientated courses. The benefit of law school over law office training is that "learning by doing" means the trainee only learns what they have the opportunity to do. Law schools can teach in such a way as to avoid dangerous lacunae in a their graduates practical knowledge of the law.

b. Have multiple categories of class-taking - GPA contributing courses, pass-fail foundational courses (e.g., basic employment law) and audit courses - with all reflected on the graduates transcript. They can be the same course, but with different exams. So pass/fails would simply show that the student had done a foundational course in a subject and passed a test of basic knowledge. This would be attractive to me as an employer.

c. Recognise that a proportion of law students are not going to be able to practice as lawyers and have courses and subjects in second and third year that equip them better for other fields. In other words, put some flesh on the JD-advantage shibboleth.

None of these are a solution for cutting numbers of graduates and cutting costs.

Paul Horwitz

I sometimes disagree with him on other things, but I must say that I agree with pretty well everything MacK offers here. I'm less certain of (b), but I have nothing against it, and it is at least consistent if not complementary with a similar point I would make, which is that classes ought to contain a multiplicity of evaluation methods and not backload all of them at the end of the semester. And I certainly agree with his last sentence.

A long time ago, when I started writing about some of these issues (which I've done very little lately, in part because I've not blogged much at all lately), I expressed some concern about the "law school crisis" frame: not because there's no truth in it, but because people often respond to crises with quick fixes and ignore deeper structural problems, and because when the "crisis" passes the will to address those problems dissipates quickly. Perhaps there's a more positive way to put it, which MacK's comment above inspires. In "making law schools better," one should acknowledge both "crisis" and "non-crisis" or "permanent" issues and try to address both of them. Closing a bunch of law schools may address some or all "crisis" problems, but the remaining schools still ought to make legal education better. Making legal education better has worth in itself, but will not address mismatches between student numbers and jobs. One might reasonably prioritize one set of problems over another, but prioritizing does not require pitting one against the other as such.


"Does anyone know if the electronic casebooks offered by traditional publishers are appreciably cheaper than the hardcover versions or whether they're just more flexible/interactive? Which is more important to students?"

According to West, E-casebooks are 30% off. So a $200 casebook costs $142.00. Still a large sum when you consider what a casebook is and what is often added/changed on each edition.

Dumping the traditional, expensive, print casebooks for open source e-casebooks would be a small start that could save students a lot of money in the aggregate (just take your school's estimated annual books/materials budget and multiply it by 120,000 for an idea of the size of this market, discount for how big you think the secondary market is). Several law professors have already done or suggested this, but, like many ideas that would cause law professors to have to do things they don't really want to do just to *gasp* save students money, it has not gained general acceptance.


Institutions and systems expose their true values by where and how money flows. Currently, because legal education is not a price sensitive market, money flows in response to rankings, which in turn are largely a metric based on the quality of incoming students and the reputation of the school. Thus, law schools have lots of incentive to promote scholarship and recruit the best students, but little incentive to actually be value added to those students. If the "culture" of legal education moved to an "outputs" weighted ranking then the incentive would be to improve the ability of schools to actually be better educational institutions. Because law students are not (yet, at least) sophisticated consumers, this will change only when and if the hiring market pressures it to change -- which will not occur by asking for more practice ready lawyers, but rather by interviewing and hiring from the schools that produce them, rather than the traditional approach of interviewing based on class rank and US News rank.


Here is a sensitive one - Law schools work with the law school reformers (scambloggers) to press the rankers (especially US News) to modify their ranking system to be more objective, transparent and to remove from the criteria the more pernicious factors such as per-student-spending. The latter might better be replaced by a simple percentage of revenue retained by the law school metric. I would also seek that better employment data and long-term happiness and employment data be included.

One are where law school critics and most law professors seem to agree is that the law school rankings by USNWR have had a malignant impact on law schools.

Orin Kerr

In response to John, how does closing law schools create jobs? I think we all expect that some schools are going to close as enrollments drop, but I think the number of student enrollments ultimately determines the number of schools, not vice versa. As for changing the student loan system, I'm certainly open to that, but I wonder how important that would seem in a future in which the number of jobs better matched the number of graduates.

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