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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Law - "Crop of New Law Schools Opens Amid a Lawyer Glut"

Fascinating Jan. 31st story in the Wall Street Journal ($$), reported by Jennifer Smith. A few quotes from the lengthy story:

Law-school applications are at their lowest in a decade, but that hasn't stopped a handful of colleges and universities across the nation from opening new law schools. * * *

Indiana Tech's new law school in Fort Wayne will be the state's fifth when it opens this fall. * * *

The statistics do give some educators pause. "It seems like the worst possible time to open a new law school," said Brian Z. Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and frequent law-school critic who last year published a book titled "Failing Law Schools."

André D.P. Cummings, associate dean for academic affairs at Indiana Tech's new law school, said plans to enroll 100 students in the fall class may have to be scaled back. "Are we where we'd like to be?" he said. "Not yet. The truth is that applications are down significantly across the country."

Mr. Tamanaha said schools may be finding it hard to derail plans set in motion before the current drop became apparent. * * *

"The notion that we need to open more law schools is absolutely crazy," said Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado who contributes to a blog called "Inside the Law School Scam." The current law-school model is unsustainable, given that "there are at least two graduates for every available legal job," he said, adding that educators launching new schools are "blind to the economic realities."

Reporter Smith has more on her WSJ story in the WSJ Law Blog. The post links to a much-redacted Indiana Tech feasibility study.

Kenneth Anderson of The Volokh Conspiracy uses the WSJ story as the basis of a broader commentary, including:

The upfront cost of law school plus borrowing costs seems completely out of synch with the returns to law practice. Worse, for all but the very top schools, the investment in law school appears less and less predictable. If you’re at the top, it can still be treated as an investment with a greater or lesser net return. If you’re very far out of the top schools, it looks like a bet – even before you can get to the net return on your lawyer job, you have to go through an up or down bet on whether you’re going to get employed in a “lawyer” job at all. I don’t see anyone predicting a cyclical return to the growth rates of the last couple of decades in lawyer employment or general upward movement in salaries; the question is whether it gradually recovers to bring us closer to the numbers of new lawyers produced each year in relation to the law jobs out there, so to close the gap. That would be the “good” recovery scenario, and even that one appears brutal on the business model of legal education and many of the students in the system. * * *

Meanwhile, talk is turning to layoffs and buyouts at bottom ranked law schools. Vermont Law School, the Boston Globe notes, has turned to both. No faculty were involved, but Bill Henderson is quoted in the Times story on what happens when lack of tuition-paying bodies meets law school expenses:

“In the ’80s and ’90s, a liberal arts graduate who didn’t know what to do went to law school,” Professor Henderson of Indiana said. “Now you get $120,000 in debt and a default plan of last resort whose value is just too speculative. Students are voting with their feet. There are going to be massive layoffs in law schools this fall. We won’t have the bodies we need to meet the payroll.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 2, 2013 03:50 PM
Posted to General Law Related