Bad Ideas, Law Schools

Belmont (TN) To Open New Law School — Just Because They Can

Belmont Law.jpgSomewhere there is a giant invisible hand that really enjoys jerking around the earning potential of attorneys in good standing. Belmont University is opening a new law school next year. The Tennessean reports the latest evidence that university presidents hate lawyers:

The Belmont College of Law would be the state’s sixth law school, the third in Nashville and the first new law school to open in Middle Tennessee in a century.
“This is far, far, far bigger than anything we’ve done before,” Belmont President Bob Fisher said. “Twenty years from now, there could be 2,000 Belmont law school graduates out in the community, hopefully doing some good.”

Excuse me.
After wiping off the blood streaming out of his eyes, Elie bangs his head on his desk. Unsatisfied, Elie removes copies of Streetcar and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof from his bookshelf and throws them, burning, from his window, while shouting general obscenities at any he believes to be from the great state of Tennessee.
Fine, so Bob Fisher doesn’t mind keeping local lawyers financially hobbled due to the oversupply of attorneys. Surely the local bar association will stand up for its current members:

News of the new law school has been a closely guarded secret. W. Scott Sims, past president of the Nashville Bar Association, issued a quick statement greeting the new law school as a “wonderful addition” to the legal scene.

At tonight’s performance, W. Scott Sims will be playing the part of Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House.
You know what? As bad as this is for students at Tennessee’s other law schools, how colossally dumb are the people who sign up for a Belmont law degree next year?
Tuition details after the jump.

What do you think Belmont Law will charge? My initial guess was no more than $15,000. I was way off:

The university plans to hire 20 new faculty members over the next three years. The first class will have about 120 students who can expect to pay tuition of $25,000 to $35,000 a year.

What can you say to that? If you willingly pay $35,000 a year for a degree in a supersaturated profession, in the middle of the Great Recession, then you deserve what you get.
Oh, I’m sorry, the market is not supersaturated, according to the (self-serving) feasibility study conducted by Belmont:

But getting into a Tennessee law school is no easy proposition. Competition is fierce at the three largest law schools — Vanderbilt, the University of Tennessee and the University of Memphis, where only a quarter to a third of applicants in any given year get into the program.
Belmont also ran the numbers to determine whether Tennessee’s economy could support many more lawyers. It concluded that Tennessee is under-lawyered — boasting eight attorneys for every 10,000 residents, compared to 14 lawyers for every 10,000 Georgians and nine for every 10,000 Alabamans.

I have a radical idea. Bear with me. What if we just gave everybody a J.D.? No standards, no requirements, no consideration of relevant factors. All you have to do is show up to your local diploma mill, hand them $60,000 or more (depending on your state), and bam — you have a J.D., and you can sit for the bar. Then the vast majority of law schools will have no reason to erect buildings and hire staff and put students through three essentially useless years.
Oh, there will still be some “legal finishing schools” that focus on theory and history and prepare students to become judges and lawmakers. But it will be an elite and refined education that most “J.D.s” don’t even want and certainly don’t need.
Is that materially different than the system we have now? No, it is not. But my system is more honest, more efficient, and condenses legal education for most citizens to a six week Bar/Bri course. And really, shouldn’t everybody know at least a little bit about the law? My system would also lead to a more educated citizenry — people who know something about their rights and responsibilities under the law. It’s a win-win for America and the University presidents looking for tuition dollars.
Obviously, the American public has a thirst for legal knowledge. Check out this quote from Adele Anderson, executive director of the Tennessee board of law examiners:

Belmont is the second school to come to the state board of law examiners petitioning for law school accreditation in recent years.
When Lincoln Memorial University decided to open a law school in Knoxville — on the doorstep of the UT law school — Anderson said she expected the big law school to resent the competition. Not so.
“They told us they appreciated it,” she said. “They had to reject so many applicants, they were glad someone else was stepping up.”

Well, now I’m stepping up. J.D.s for everyone who can spell at least two letters in the word “law”! People want to learn; who are we to say “stop ruining the profession with the proliferation of easy-to-obtain degrees at prices most cannot afford”?
Belmont plans law school for 2011 [Tennessean]
Belmont Announces New College of Law [Belmont Law]

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