Previously, I said that I would write about the numerous actors that directly or indirectly caused the law school
clusterfuck scam crisis. So let’s start with the law schools. When I talk about law schools, I refer to mostly law school administrators and their staff, particularly those in marketing or career services.
How have law schools failed their students and the profession? Oh where to begin….For years, law schools have misled prospective and current students on their likelihood of obtaining sustainable salaries and respectable jobs after graduation. And to those who end up working at Petsmart, law schools have further misled them about how “versatile” a JD degree is. Even though the ABA and the almighty US News rankings gods have started to crack down on this practice, law schools still cannot be trusted to give morally truthful information.
Law schools have also failed their students and the profession by being overly obsessed with rankings. Apologists say that “managing” a school’s ranking is necessary in order to protect the value of their degrees. But in the name of this obsession, law schools have artificially raised tuition to debt-slave levels, gave tuition discounts based solely on LSAT and GPAs (as opposed to people showing potential for becoming good lawyers) and paid ridiculous sums of money to tenured faculty who mostly care about writing obscure and inane scholarshit.
Finally, one would think that in light of current events, law schools would speak out against the opening of new law schools. But no – administrators stay silent or give pathetic praises as schools like UC Irvine, Indiana Tech, Cooley and the Infilaw collective infest themselves in new cities.
As a result, law schools continue to churn out more graduates than the economy will bear. Many will resort to income-based repayment plans like IBR/PAYE and live like a college student for a good portion of their adult lives. Most of these graduates will not be able to help the poor because they will be poor themselves. Some will leave the profession for other ventures. Others will say “fuck it” and default on their debt. And a rare few will turn to the dark side and start a scam of their own.
So now let’s look at the ABA’s recommendations.
The ABA Task Force’s Recommendations (Page 31, E. Law Schools)
1. Develop and Implement a Plan for Reducing the Cost and Limiting Increases in the Cost of Delivering the J.D. Education, and Continually Assess and Improve The Plan. Good luck with that. The only way this will work is if the Task Force or another independent agency receives an actual cost reduction plan with realistic projections – instead of empty platitudes. The Task Force must then make sure that schools are doing everything they can to meet these goals. Will this happen? Right.
2. Develop and Implement a Plan to Manage the Investment of Law School Resources in Faculty Scholarly Activity, and Continually Assess Success in Accomplishing the Goals in the Plan. WTFITS? For most schools, faculty “scholarly activity” should be placed in the back burner.
3. Develop a Clear Statement of the Value the Law School’s Program of Education and other Services Will Provide, Including Relation to Employment Opportunities, and Communicate that Statement to Students and Prospective Students. This is useless. Law schools will continue to use vague slogans like “promoting justice”, “helping the disadvantaged”, “developing leadership skills” and other bullshit.
4. Adopt, as an Institution-Wide Responsibility, Promoting Career Success of Graduates and Develop Plans for Meeting that Responsibility. I am not sure how law schools will develop a plan that will adequately promote the success of its graduates other than reducing class size and setting up apprenticeship classes. Even I think it’s unreasonable for law school CSOs to hold the hand of every unemployed graduate until he finds a job.
5. Develop Comprehensive Programs of Financial Counseling for Law Students, and Continually Assess the Effectiveness of Such Programs. Just about every law school – including the elite – are aware of IBR/PAYE and other alternative payment plans and have been promoting them to their unemployed graduates. They should also include seminars on hiding assets, kiting checks, avoiding bank levies and wage garnishments and living on bad credit.
In short, the Task Force’s recommendations are unenforceable, vague and will do nothing to control the lawyer oversupply problem.
So What Should Law Schools Do? I’m going to avoid the obvious responses like reducing tuition and limiting enrollment because few law schools will voluntarily take this financially disastrous step.
First, some law school deans and administrators – especially the trap and mid-ranked schools –will have to openly criticize underperforming law schools. Sorry, it has come to this. The time for genteel exchange of ideas is over. People are beginning to believe that there is little to no quality difference between a school ranked #21 vs one ranked #121. This is why some decent schools are starting to see their rankings drop and tuition revenue decline. The financial strategy of the low end schools is to admit almost anyone with a pulse while they wait for the mid range schools’ implosions and eventual closures. So to the deans of soon to be shit-tier schools, you better step up your game and protect your turf.
Second, law schools collectively have to stop playing the US News rankings game. Increasingly savvier 0Ls are using the rankings to extort tuition discounts from desperate schools. As a result, top schools are paying more for bright students. If this trend continues, eventually top students will be distributed among different schools and recruiters will soon realize this. If schools use their tuition revenue to meet their existing students’ needs instead of gaming a faux beauty contest, it’s highly probable that there won’t be operating deficits and their graduates will be better prepared for the job market.
Finally, law schools need to
know their place manage their expectations. Low end law schools should not court high end law firms – it’s a waste of time and money trying to do so. If their 1Ls want to transfer to a “better” school, let them and help them along the way. If the stubborn ambitious 2L with the 2.0 GPA is still gunning for biglaw, tell him he’s on his own and don’t waste resources helping him find Santa Claus. Don’t pay for the privilege of having Supreme Court Justices speak at your school’s commencement when you know damn well they will not consider your graduates for a clerkship.
In the final analysis, the ABA’s recommendations is a vague circle-jerk and will do nothing to change the status quo. Law schools are in survival mode and some will eventually shrink or die. The ABA should implement policies that hasten this process for the sake of the profession.