Posted on October 29, 2012 by Roy Stuckey
A symposium, “Law Schools in the New Legal Environment,” was held at Washington University, St. Louis, on Friday, October 26th. For the most part, it was a depressing experience.
For the foreseeable future, law schools will produce 40,000 students every year, but there will only be 22,000 law-related jobs waiting for them. The costs of a legal education are going up much faster than the costs of living, but the return on that investment is not very good. Students are taking on so much debt that many of them will be unable to repay their loans, even those graduates who are able to get law-related jobs.
The presenters offered virtually no solutions. No one believed that law schools will significantly reduce their costs.
The speakers did agree that law schools have a moral and, perhaps, a legal obligation to educate prospective students about the financial risks of going to law school. They did not think, however, that this would make much of a difference because of the irrational optimism of prospective students who all believe they will be in the top 10%. Oddly, no one suggested counselling students after first semester grades come out and the realities of students’ prospects are clearer.
What to expect? Law school applications will continue to decline, and the quality of students will diminish at most law schools. The elite law schools will continue to prosper. In order for typical law schools to prosper, they must make changes that convince prospective students and potential employers that their programs of instruction add value in ways that their competitors do not. Not many specific ideas were proposed for adding value, other than to do a better job of preparing students for practice.
Some number of law schools will be unable to attract enough students to stay in business. That number will be higher if the federal government, as anticipated, stops giving unlimited loans to law students and begins assessing the risks of those loans like a bank would.
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