American Bar Association / ABA, Law Schools, Student Loans

No. More. Law Schools!

Crushing Debt Obligations.jpgSo I’m sitting on a veranda enjoying 70-degree Los Angeles weather, a cuban, and a crisp copy of the Los Angeles Times.* What could possibly make this better?
I’ll tell you: an op-ed in a mainstream publication acknowledging the over-saturation of the legal job market that I’ve been preaching about for months. Today’s L.A. Times piece could have been written by me, it could have been written by a number of ATL commenters, but it was written by a D.C. lawyer who understands the ABA’s role as an absentee professional organization:

Part of the problem can be traced to the American Bar Assn., which continues to allow unneeded new schools to open and refuses to properly regulate the schools, many of which release numbers that paint an overly rosy picture of employment prospects for their recent graduates. There is a finite number of jobs for lawyers, and this continual flood of graduates only suppresses wages. Because the ABA has repeatedly signaled its unwillingness to adapt to this changing reality, the federal government should consider taking steps to stop the rapid flow of attorneys into a marketplace that cannot sustain them.

Hello, mainstream media. As Sam Seaborn might say: Let’s ignore the fact that you are late to the party and embrace the fact that you showed up at all!
After the jump, more public flogging of the ABA.

Mark Greenbaum’s article works through all of the horrible statistics regarding the prospects for legal employment and explains how many law students can expect to graduate with a crushing amount of debt. He then arrives at the most offensive aspect of the current legal job market:

Despite the tough job market, new schools continue to sprout like weeds.

And is the American Bar Association doing anything to stop the madness? According to Greenbaum, the ABA contributes a large, steaming pile of nothing:

The ABA cites antitrust concerns in refusing to block new schools, taking a weak approach to regulation. For example, in 2008 the ABA created an accreditation task force to study the need for changes, but saddled it with a narrow charter. In the end, it proposed only cosmetic changes and rejected out of hand the possibility of giving up control over accreditation, calling the idea not viable and “draconian.” …
The ABA has also refused to create and oversee an independent method of reporting graduate data. Postgraduate employment information generally provides the most useful facts for prospective students to study in deciding whether to go to law school.
In many cases, the data that schools now furnish are based on self-reported information, skewing the results because unemployed and low-paying grads are less likely to report back. Law schools do this because they want the rosiest picture possible for the influential rankings given by U.S. News & World Report. Despite its ample resources, the ABA has rebuffed calls to monitor the schools to get more accurate data, calling the existing framework an effective “honor system.”

But Greenbaum knows that the ABA is so tone-deaf on this issue that logic, reason, and statistics are useless. So he tries to shame the ABA by comparing it to other professional organizations that do it better:

Unlike other professional fields such as medicine and public health, whose preeminent professional organizations do not have control over the accreditation of schools and programs, the ABA exercises unfettered power over the accreditation of law schools.
The American Dental Assn., the nation’s leading dental group, offers a model for the ABA to follow. It accredits schools but assiduously guards the profession and has allowed respected dental schools such as the ones at Emory, Georgetown and Northwestern to close for economic reasons and to prevent market saturation. Such a move by the bar association would be unprecedented. Dental schools go even further to protect the profession’s integrity by collectively boycotting the U.S. News rankings.

Do you hear that, ABA administrators? Dentists have figured out a basic principle of market economics that seems to elude all of you fancy-pants lawyers. The guy who pulls out his own tooth in The Hangover has a better grasp of economics than the ABA does!
That the ABA needs to do something is beyond obvious. Will the institution lift a finger to help the profession it claims to represent? Or will it impotently stand on the sidelines as obtaining a law license becomes so easy a caveman can do it?
* The referenced sentence is an utter fabrication. I’m actually in the business center of an airport Hilton, hanging out with despondent Texans. I’m nursing an earth-shattering hangover and preparing for a cross-country flight in coach with the aid of multiple nicotine patches. The weather is beautiful, however.
No more room at the bench [L.A. Times]
Should the ABA Regulate Law Schools More Forcefully? [WSJ Law Blog]
Earlier: Umass Trustees Approve Plan for Public Law School
Prior ATL coverage of law schools

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