As 2012 comes to a close, I reminisce to see whether the law school crisis/scam/reform movement has progressed. On an institutional level, it has not – most are still in denial.
Most of the law school fraud class action lawsuits have been dismissed, with the exception of those in California. The courts said that the prospective students should have known better than to rely on the law schools’ marketing materials. In other words, law schools can market themselves just about any way they want. And it’s already happening. For example, Rutgers-Camden Law School sent an email to prospective students telling them that by attending their school, they are likely to be rich and make six-figure salaries. Law School Transparency called them out on it and filed a formal complaint against the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
The ABA and US News have done little to address the crisis other than telling 0Ls empty platitudes such as “be responsible borrowers”, “choose your school carefully” and “a law degree is versatile”.
But the better news is that law school applications have declined again to the point where law school deans and administrators are getting worried. And it seems like prospective students are becoming more aggressive about demanding scholarships (or tuition discounts) and walking away if they don’t get what they want. How bad is the decline? Bad enough for some law school deans to write to the New York Times begging more people to attend law school. They criticize the media and the blogs for spreading hyperbolic negative information. But they subtly note that legal hiring has declined and the profession has changed to the point where less lawyers will be needed in the future.
Everyone remains in denial because in my opinion, they are afraid of change. For law schools, change means decreases in salaries and benefits for deans and faculty, layoffs, longer working hours, backlashes and possibly humiliation. For the courts, a victory for the plaintiffs will result in a flood of lawsuits from disgruntled students in a recession. US News doesn’t want to change the formula that has made them a reliable ranking source.
Because of this persistent denial and with a lot of money at stake, change will come slowly and involuntarily unless some cataclysmic event happens. The problem is that by then, those who are directly and peripherally responsible for this will retire and collect their pensions.