There has been considerable talk about whether some law schools will close down permanently because of the large decline of applicants. Even one closure will be seen as a victory for the anti-law school movement and may pressure other schools to make serious reforms or suffer the same fate. Right now, all we can do is speculate as to when and what circumstances will force a law school to close. So I I thought I’d daydream about how the administration, faculty and students would react once the fateful decision has been made.
Because legal academia is prestige conscious, the decision to close will be made in secret in order to protect the reputation of the faculty and the remaining students. Information will be slowly secreted to senior faculty members, then to junior faculty and staff, the students and finally to the public. But somewhere along the process, someone will leak the news to gossip websites like Above the Law.
Faculty who receive the news will be advised to secretly apply for jobs and quietly transfer to new institutions within a certain period of time. Otherwise they will be laid off and will be just as unemployable as their students. The older faculty will just cash out their retirement and will be put to pasture where they most likely belong.
Once the faculty has secured an exit strategy, the current student body will be informed of the news to close and arrangements will be made to ensure that current students will be taken care of. 3Ls will finish out their year and get their degrees. 2Ls will be encouraged to attend other law schools as visiting students for their third year while getting the degree from their current school. 1Ls depending on their class rank will either transfer or drop out hopefully getting a tuition refund.
I think the above is the likely closure scenario for respectable or even semi-respectable schools because it allows faculty and students to make informed decisions and smooth transitions. But others may just say “fuck it” and shut the doors immediately. The key people will loot the cash reserves, not pay employees and file bankruptcy the next day. I can see one or two schools doing something like this although there may be criminal issues involved.
Some schools have announced cost cutting measures and even buyout offers for staff and faculty which some have argued is a prelude to a closure. However, I think that law schools intentionally make their cost-cutting decisions public to show that they are being socially responsible and more selective. If done correctly and with a little luck, this may improve the school’s reputation and ranking in the long run. But if this strategy does not work, then closure is very likely.
Another way to “close” a law school is to merge it with another. But this scenario is likely to be very difficult to pull off. Faculty will have to be laid off because there will be an excess of professors. Also, if a high ranked school is merging with a low ranked school (think T1 merging with a TTT), then the T1 students and alumni will be pissed if it resulted in a lower ranking.
Because of the above scenarios, I think closure announcements will not happen for at least another year or two. Schools will experiment with various cost cutting measures and wait out the economy before making the decision to close. But I look forward to hearing about the first ABA law school obituary.