Thursday, October 29, 2015

Does South Dakota need a law school? Probably not.

Among Alaska's many admirable distinctions is the fact that the state does not have a public law school. Alaskans apparently decided that the United States has enough law schools (203) and that Alaskans who want to become lawyers can enroll in a law school out of state.

But every other state has at least one law school, including the states of North Dakota and South Dakota.  Unfortunately, neither state has been particularly good at attracting high-quality students. According to a recently report prepared by Law School Transparency, 25 percent of the students admitted to the 2014 class of students at both states' law schools were so low as to put them at "extreme risk" of failing the bar exam.

Wouldn't it make sense for North Dakota and South Dakota to close their law schools and send their best students to study at an out-of-state law school like Alaska does?  And wouldn't it make sense for Ohio to close Ohio Northern Law School and for Illinois to close the law school at Southern Illinois University, two law schools with high percentages of students with abysmally low LSAT scores?

And let me raise another question. In the dawning years of the 21st century, do we really need historically black law schools like Texas Southern and the law school at Louisiana's Southern University? Both law schools had 2014 classes with high numbers of students with extremely low LSAT scores.

Texas Southern's law school is just down the street from the University of Houston School of Law, and Southern's law school is just a few miles from LSU's law school. Why are the states of Texas and Louisiana maintaining two public law schools in the same city?

Unfortunately, law schools serve other functions besides training lawyers. Universities want the prestige attached to having a law school along with the high tuition rates they can charge for offering relatively cheap educational experiences. Historically black colleges and universities have a great deal of political clout, and closing a historically black law school would raise a howl of protest.

But our nation's refusal to face the crisis in legal education is going to have catastrophic consequences. Thousands of people are graduating from law school with massive debt and no job, and the quality of our lawyers is deteriorating as law schools lower admission standards to attract students.

As a person who practiced law in Alaska for nine years, I can attest that lack of a law school created no hardship for Alaskans.  During the 1980s, when I was a lawyer in Anchorage, the city had one lawyer for every 200 residents. Somehow, the state muddled along without a law school and seems to have suffered no ill consequences.

And I will end this blog on a somber note.  Seattle University School of Law recently announced plans to open a satellite-branch law-school campus in Anchorage, and the University of Alaska at Anchorage has entered into some kind of partnership with Willamette University College of Law and Washington Univesity School of Law.

Image result for map of alaska
Poor Alaska: No law school!

Law School Transparency. 2015 State of Legal Education. Accessible at:

Seattle University School of Law reaches agreement to house satellie law campus at Alaska Pacific University, June 17, 2014. Accessible at:


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