Many years ago when I was a practicing lawyer, my senior law partner made an observation I never forgot. Law graduates become the kind of attorney they will always be, he remarked, based on their first law job.
And based on my experience, my law partner's assessment is 100 percent accurate. Young people who graduate from law school and begin working for an ethical law firm are molded into ethical lawyers and remain ethical lawyers all their lives. Fledgling attorneys who join firms with sloppy ethics or an undue focus on making money become ethically sloppy themselves, and the slipshod ethical standards of their first employer shape their entire careers.
But of course attorneys' ethical values are being shaped even before they take their first law jobs. Law students first begin developing their ethical standards while in law school. In their classroom interactions and their examinations, they learn the value of honesty and fair dealing.
And if this is true, then it is important for law students to attend law schools that model the highest ethical standards. For if law students see their law schools make decisions based on greed and self-promotion, it seems likely that the students themselves will adopt similar attitudes about the legal profession.
And this brings me to an editorial in today's Sunday Times entitled "The Law School Debt Crisis." In 2012, the Times reported, the average law graduate accumulated $140,000 in debt; and yet newly minted attorneys are entering a job market in which 43 percent of them cannot find long-term, full time jobs in the legal field.
Simply put, the market for lawyers is flooded. Many sensible young people have analyzed their job prospects if they go to law school and have decided to choose other professions. In fact, as Steven J. Harper reported in a New Times op ed essay a few months ago, law-school enrollment has slipped from 52,000 in 2010 to 38,000 last year.
But the drop in law-school enrollments has not kept pace with the slump in demand for lawyers. Most law schools depend on tuition money for the vast majority of their income; they simply must attract students to maintain their revenue streams. Consequently, they have lowered admissions standards to keep heir enrollments up. In 2014, the Times pointed out, test scores on the common portion of the LSAT were the lowest they have been in 25 years.
In sum, this is the state of the legal field. Law schools all over the United States hiked their tuition in response to a change in federal law that allowed students to borrow the full amount of their graduate education. And law schools also admitted more students to boost revenues. When the market for lawyers crashed, law schools did not reduce their fees or cut their enrollments sufficiently. The result, to use the Times' language, is a "death spiral" in the legal job market with unemployed or under-employed attorneys carrying mountains of student-load debt that they can't pay off.
Ironically, the glut in lawyers is occurring at the same time distressed student-loan debtors are filing for bankruptcy without the aid of attorneys. When these overburdened student-loan borrowers file adversary proceedings to discharge their student loans through bankruptcy, they are opposed by loan collection companies that have plenty of high-paid legal talent.
How can this disaster be turned around? The Times recommends expanding the Obama administration's so-called gainful employment rules that tie an institution's eligibility for federal student-aid money to its success in preparing graduates for good jobs. Currently the rule only applies to for-profit law schools, but the Times urges the rule be amended to cover nonprofit law schools as well.
The Times also thinks a cap should be placed on the amount of federal student loans a student can obtain. A cap in federal loan money, the Times believes, would drive tuition down.
I support both these ideas, but I would go further. I would shut off federal student-aid money to all for-profit schools, including for-profit law schools, which charge extraordinarily high tuition and have lousy records for placing their graduates in good jobs that require law degrees.
For the American people, the stakes are high. Our society is based on the rule of law, and our law schools must produce graduates who are intelligent and have the highest ethical standards. But American law schools have set a poor ethical example for their students. They have bloated their student rolls and raised their tuition for the sole purpose of sucking up student-loan money and enhancing their revenues.
Our justice system will break down completely if our nation's lawyers adopt the ethical standards of the law schools they attended and begin thinking of their profession solely as a way to get rich.
Editorial. The Law School Debt Crisis. New York Times, October 25, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/25/opinion/sunday/the-law-school-debt-crisis.html
Steven J. Harper. Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs. New York Times, August 25, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/25/opinion/too-many-law-students-too-few-legal-jobs.html
Elizabeth Olsen. Burdened With Debt, Law School Graduates Struggle In Job Market. New York Times, April 26, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/27/business/dealbook/burdened-with-debt-law-school-graduates-struggle-in-job-market.html
Sunday, October 25, 2015
Sunday, February 3, 2013
Last week, the New York Times carried a front-page story on the decline in law school applications. In 2004, there were 100,000 applicants to law schools, the Times reported. This year that number will decline by about half.
As one law professor put it, "Thirty years ago if you were looking to get on the escalator to upward mobility, you went to business or law school. Today, the law school escalator is broken" (Bronner, 2013, p. 1.)
|The gravy days are coming to an end for college professors|
What happened? As the Times article reported, law school has gotten very expensive. As I wrote in a past post, tuition at the University of Texas School of Law was $1,000 per year when I attended in the late 1970s. With a little savings and working part time, most students could graduate from law school with no debt. Today, it costs a Texas resident $32,000 a year to attend UT Law School.
Second, we don't need as many lawyers as we once did. Electronic legal research has made it possible for legal researchers to be ten times more efficient than they were before Westlaw and Lexis-Nexis were introduced.
Third (and I admit this is a totally subjective view), I suspect that law school faculty are not as focused on training legal professionals as they used to be. Consequently, a law school education is not as useful as it once was in getting graduates ready for the workforce. Too many law professors are writing postmodern law review articles that no one reads instead of striving to relate law-school education with the real world.
Fourth, I think the blog critics have done their part to discourage potential applicants from going to law school. There are some terrific online writers who use data and savagely effective writing skills to describe what is going on in legal education, and the picture they paint isn't pretty. I feel sure a great many young people decide not to go to law school after reading those blogs. I applaud those writers, by the way. They have provided a real service by alerting people that law school may not be a good investment.
Non law-school academics may be thinking, "Thank God I teach in another profession." But they need to realize that the shakeup in legal education is coming to the whole field of higher education. The colleges of education, for example, are vulnerable to declining enrollments. There are too many colleges of education, for one thing; and online for-profit competitors are cutting into the market share of the colleges of education at public universities.
And the social sciences and liberal arts will probably see a further decline in student enrollments. If a potential law student can do some research and conclude that law school is a bad economic bargain, the potential history major and philosophy major can come to the same conclusion.
According to a report prepared by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, nearly half of all employed college graduates who held a job in 2010 were employed in a job that did not require a college education (Bidwell, 2013). A high percentage of these underemployed college graduates borrowed money to attend school, and they must pay back their loans whether or not their post-college income justified the investment.
More and more, we are going to see young people calculate the odds when they make decisions about higher education. And many will conclude that the odds aren't good.
Private liberal arts colleges are likely to suffer the most from the new economic reality. Fewer and fewer young people are going to seek a a liberal arts degree from an expensive private college--particularly the nonprestigious liberal arts schools that were founded years ago by religious denominations.
In other words, in the world of higher education, it is not only the law schools that are in trouble. We can tell the college professors in nearly every discipline: "Ask not for whom the bell tolls." It tolls for a lot of us working as college and university professors.
Bidwell, Allie (2013, Januatry 28). Millions of Graduates Hold Jobs That Don't Require a College Degree Report Says. Chronicle of Higher Education.
Bronner, Ethan. (2013, January 31). Law Schools' Applications Fall As Costs Rise and Jobs Are Cut. New York Times.
Monday, November 19, 2012
10,000 law review articles are pubished each year--most of them useless. Meanwhile law school tuition has gone through the roof.
|Let's write more law review articles!|
I have written a few law review articles myself, and I have been cited more than 100 times in the law reviews, including Harvard Law Review. I admit, however, that most citations to my work are in law students' articles, not articles written by law professors. I suspect the law students cite me to demonstrate that they did a superhumanly exhaustive review of the literature: "See, I even cited an obscure article by some nobody College of Education professor from Texas!"
Professor Browning cites one article as an example of how esoteric most legal research is: "Historic injustice and the Non-identity Problem: The Limitations of the Subsequent-Wrong Solution and Towards a New Solution." But there are many law articles with similarly obscure titles. How about this 2004 essay: "Sarbanes-Oxley, Jurisprudence, Game Theory, Insurance, and Kant: Toward a Moral Theory of Good Governance."
It is shocking that law professors churn out articles at the rate of 200 a week, most of which have little or no value, while law-school tuition is going through the roof; and the market for law graduates has shrunk. As a bankruptcy judge pointed out in a recent opinion, the law schools will turn out around 45,000 graduates a year in the coming years for a job market that only needs 25,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, so far this year, the federal government has garnished the Social Security checks of 120,000 elderly student-loan debtors who defaulted on their loans. One might hope that at least one of the 10,000 law review articles that will published in 2012 will recommend that this practice be stopped. But don't count on it.
John G. Browning (2012, November 19). Essay criticizing law reviews and offering some reform ideas. Inside Higher Education, www.insidehighered.com