What is a poor law student to do? Paul Campos has yet again set his sights on what he considers is the bain of legal education- for-profit law schools. Campos details how how a Chicago-based private equity firm got into the business of law schools. Summit Partners created InfiLaw and began to become legal educators by first purchasing Florida Coastal Law School and later adding Phoenix School of Law and Charlotte School of Law. The results while good for Summit Partners who receive their profits upfront according to Campos, left the InfiLaw graduates the big losers in long run. Campos noted that the average Infilaw graduate accumulated over $200,000 in debt while only 36% of the Class of 2013 had actual legal employment. This follows an overall trend in higher education where undergraduates and graduate students alike are funding their education with high-interest private loans that will take a life-long career of work to discharge. I pose a question that Prof. Bill Whitford taught me in my Contracts class at the University of WIsconsin more than a few years ago. What if the high costs of a legal education is not unconscionable as Campos suggests but the price a population of specialized students are willing to pay to gain access to a legal education that still has some social capital?
I am not a free market guru who will chant the mantra of law students paying for what the market determines is a valuable education. But there is a grain of truth in arguing that students who would not be accepted at traditional law schools are being given an opportunity to have a traditional law school experience. I do not know the statistics for the Infilaw students but I have a hunch that many of these students are first generation attorneys who come from modest working class or disadvantaged backgrounds. They are willing to take a chance on themselves and make a life-time investment that may not pay off in the long run. The forecast is not good for Infilaw students. Will they pass the bar on the first attempt? Will they acquire a level of employment or income that will erase their debts? Paul Campos says no and statistics will back up his claims. But do we shut out a group of over-achievers because only a small number will gain what legal scholars would deem success?
In my contracts class those many, many years ago, Prof. Whitford explained that there is a population that businesses are willing to take a chance on who have no credit or bad credit and who are willing to take on high interest rates to obtain merchandise. There is a good chance that this poor-credit/no-credit population would default on credit and be unable continue payments. The businesses knew and took the chance but built in the loss upfront with high-interest rates. The buyers knew they were paying far beyond the value of the merchandise just to be able to obtain the merchandise. Were the merchants unconscionable Prof. Whitford asked? In a consumer culture that is awash with the creation and cultivation of desire and consumption, how could anyone resist? Even those with poor or no credit. Didn’t we risk becoming paternalistic in determing who deserved what? Prof. Whitford posed provocative questions to my first year class.
I am not a proponent of for-profit law schools. I am the product of the Chicago Public School and the public university systems. I obtained a quality, low cost education that no longer exists. Campos’ article is a condemnation of the for-profit law school system that seeks to prey on a certain population. I agree. But we have no alternative. States are seeking to strip affirmative action programs from the law school admissions process. The University of Texas Law School buttresses for annual attacks on it’s admissions process. First generation law students, economically disadvantaged law students and law students of color have no viable alternatives. If these students are willing to take on the debt, derision and scorn of being a product of a low-tiered, for-profit system, I will not discourage them. They attend with full knowledge but want to become attorneys no matter what the costs. This is not a free market economist argument of caveat emptor but a lawyer who has loved the practice and teaching of law for over 20 years and does not wish to see it closed to those who desire the same experiences-no matter the costs