New Mexico law professor Erik Gerding started off an interesting discussion in the blogosphere with his post, Death of “Big Law School’?, on the Conglomerate.
Ashby Jones at the WSJ Law Blog and Larry Ribstein at Ideoblog have already weighed in.
Gerding’s central thesis is that problems with the Biglaw business model will have major effects on the law school business model:
It would likely mean the end of the law school boom – with its expanding law faculties and the bumper crop of new law schools. Like it or not, the business model (I hate applying that term to legal education, but can’t think of another one) of many law schools is heavily dependent on students getting high paying law firm jobs to pay off high law school tuition. Law firms are also prime benefactors of law school endowments. Without corporate law consuming law school graduates by the dozens, law school will face massive economic pressure.
You’d like to think that. But there is only one way to exert massive economic pressure on law schools, and it is not happening yet.
Gerding makes a lot of predictions about what will happen to law schools as firms are squeezed by the recession. Ashby Jones writes:
[T]o be honest, we don’t know if all of Gerding’s predictions will come true, but they do make some intuitive sense. Fewer people will go to law school, and law school will be, well, different. Perhaps the focus will be more on teaching students on how to draft interrogatories than on reading John Rawls. If we’re reading Gerding correctly, law school may become less fun, but perhaps more useful.
Law schools won’t change unless they have to. And they won’t “have to” unless “fewer people will go to law school.” For reasons passing understanding, that is not happening. The opposite is happening. More people are going to law school. More people want in. Watching all these people applying to law school is like watching rats running onto a sinking ship. It is disturbing and unnatural.
Prospective law students don’t seem to have any idea what they are getting into, and who is going to tell them the truth? Popular culture tells them that being a lawyer is “cool” and lucrative. The mainstream media has no interest in exposing the tuition racket taking place at law schools. Parents — especially parents that are not lawyers and thus have no freaking clue what they are talking about — want their children to go to law school. And even prospective students who try to educate themselves by reading industry blogs and publications think that they are Niko Bellic and “this time, things will be different.”
At this point, going to law school is like starting to smoke. It’s expensive, it’s probably going to kill you, and it’s a stupid life decision. But some people just don’t care.
At the very least, prospective law students should be forced to study for and take the LSAT outside. Mothers with small children should sneer and hold their nose when they pass these kids on the street.
Social shame doesn’t work on me, but it is maybe the last tool in the shed.
Death of “Big Law School’? [The Conglomerate]
If BigLaw is Changed For Good, What Happens to Law School? [WSJ Law Blog]
The future of law school [Ideoblog]
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Student Loans