Monday, April 7, 2014

Law Schools Evolve In The Face Of Crisis

The NYTimes reported on the recent major moves by law schools to combat the legal-education crisis. According to the article, "[f]ive law schools have closed in the last two years, more than at any other time in American history."

Brooklyn Law School is the latest to make tuition changes to help reverse the "combination of slumping demand for lawyers and ever-rising tuition [that] has cast a pall on law school applications, which fell to 54,000 last year, from 100,000 in 2004." In addition "[a] generation of new lawyers is struggling under a crushing debt burden."

Next year, Brooklyn Law School "will introduce an across-the-board 15 percent cut in tuition. It is also reducing some kinds of merit aid, increasing need-based aid and offering a curriculum that allows some students to graduate in two years rather than the standard three."

Other schools have also started to cut tuition. "[T]he University of Iowa is cutting tuition at its law school by 16.4 percent (to $39,500 for out-of-state students, $21,965 for Iowa residents), and the University of Arizona is cutting in-state tuition by 11 percent (to $24,381), and out-of-state tuition by 8 percent (to $38,841). In California, the University of La Verne College of Law has gone the furthest so far, cutting tuition to $25,000, from $39,500, and eliminating merit aid altogether."

"The risk for Brooklyn Law School, or for any school trying to break ranks by reducing merit aid, is that their rivals will pick off the best applicants with better offers and they’ll drop in the U.S. News rankings, which rely heavily on average test scores and grade point averages."

But "Brooklyn’s move will be an important test of that notion, since students still seem to put an 'inordinate' emphasis on the rankings, as Professor Tamanaha put it. Law is an elitist profession. Where you go affects your chances in life. Supreme Court clerkships go disproportionately to graduates from the top schools. The same thing is true with law firm hiring. They hire at least half their associates from the top 10 law schools.”

It's great to see that law schools are evolving because "[i]f you ask who can afford to go to law school, or who can afford a lawyer, the answer is: not most people in America."

"Those who do manage to graduate from law school end up with excruciating debt. They feel compelled to take jobs with the highest paycheck to find some relief. They don’t feel free to work in jobs that fit their interests or that meet a critical demand. The result is most people can’t afford quality legal services and millions of Americans are deprived of access to qualified lawyers.”

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