American Bar Association / ABA, Law Schools, Student Loans

Someone at the ABA Is Aware That New Law Schools Make No Sense

A year ago (almost to the day), we learned that Belmont University in Nashville was planning to start a new law school. At the time, I asked: “[H]ow colossally dumb are the people who sign up for a Belmont law degree next year?”

Well, there’s an article in the Tennessean today suggesting that the new dean of Belmont College of Law, Jeff Kinsler, is hoping his new students are so incapable of doing basic research than they’ll be easily distracted by anything that even smells of “math” or “statistics.”

And apparently his faith has been rewarded. With 1,200 inquiries from prospective students, it seems that Belmont is well on its way to handing out potentially useless degrees.

But what’s going on at Belmont is so ridiculous that it has even attracted the attention of the American Bar Association. You read that right. Even the ABA is saying “wait a minute” to students eager to sign up for whatever Belmont is offering….

Here’s the stat that Dean Kinsler breezily passed off to the Tennessean when the publication asked him about job opportunities for graduates at his not-yet-started law school:

Kinsler countered [ABA recession czar Allan Tanenbaum’s] gloomy forecast with a more optimistic one from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which predicted that employment of lawyers would grow by 13 percent in the decade between 2008 and 2018.

“Because there was little or no growth from 2008 to 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics must be assuming that most of this 13 percent growth will occur between 2011-2018,” he noted.

By the time next year’s first-year law school students graduate in 2014, there’s a chance the economy may have improved.

It’s amazing when a dean of a law school tells you what the Bureau of Labor Statistics “must be assuming,” seemingly without doing any actual research into the actual assumptions. But it’s not just that Dean Kinsler made a wild and unsupported interpretation of the BLS figures; he also apparently suffers from a creative thinking deficit.

The ABA Journal, not exactly a “snarky” publication, used a brilliant headline to point out Dean Kinsler’s assumptions: “Law Dean Points to Encouraging Labor Report, But Paralegal Deans Should Be Happier.” Looking just one layer into the BLS figures (something that Dean Kinsler was apparently unwilling to do), the ABA Journal came up with this nugget:

The labor report says the legal sector will grow faster than the average for all jobs, but it will add the fewest jobs among professional occupations. Lawyers will account for 98,500 new jobs, while paralegals and assistants will account for 74,100 jobs — a 28 percent growth rate — as they begin taking on more tasks once handled by lawyers.

Nice. Let Dean Kinsler put Belmont College of Future Paralegals and Secretaries in his admissions brochure and maybe not so many students will be scammed out of their money.

But the counter to Kinsler’s arguments doesn’t just come from the ABA Journal. It comes from the ABA itself. Allan Tanenbaum is the chair of the ABA Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Profession and Legal Needs. He’s got even more snark for Dean Kinsler and the theory of opening new law schools in this economy:

“It’s not unusual to see graduates of top 25 law schools … working as clerks in department stores to make enough money to volunteer at night,” offering their legal services at clinics and other resume-boosting activities, Tanenbaum said. “Law school students are at the bottom of everything and impacted by everything.”…

“Every year, more and more law schools are starting up. One has to wonder why,” he said. “Well, one doesn’t really have to wonder. Law schools are a profitable proposition for the schools. … You admit 25 more law school students a year and you can cover a $1 million deficit in your budget overnight.”

Bang. That says it all. Law schools are cash cows. Based on his comments to date, it seems Dean Kinsler is willing to say anything to prospective law students in order to convince them to fork over the tuition dollars. Kinsler is going after the tuition dollars before he even has a building to house these people during their “education.”

I mean that literally. Again, going back to last year (I’m like A Crappylawschooladamus) I wrote:

[The] vast majority of law schools will have no reason to erect buildings and hire staff and put students through three essentially useless years.

Today, we learn:

Belmont University is about to open one of the nation’s newest law schools — the second to open in Tennessee in the past decade. The first law school class will arrive next fall, before the law school building itself is even constructed.

Is there anything more telling about the true intentions of the people at Belmont than the fact that they’ll be accepting legal education tuition dollars before they even have a building to conduct legal education out of? I’d say that this is a case of Belmont putting the cart before the horse, except THERE IS NO HORSE, PEOPLE! Some people can’t get jobs coming out of Vanderbilt, what in the world makes a person think they’ll be able to get a job coming out of an unranked, unaccredited law school in 2014? Because the dean says “there’s a chance” that the economy will magically improve by then? Here’s a radical thought: wait for the economy to actually improve, then go to law school!

In any event, it’s great to see that Allan Tanenbaum represents at least one person at the ABA who seems to get what is happening to the value proposition of going to law school. But can he (or any of his colleagues) actually do anything about it?

Because Belmont is open for business. Kids will be arriving there next fall. The dean is bragging about how many people are interested in the school (even out-of-state people — neither God nor Man has invented a word to describe people who would cross state lines and pay a premium to go to a new law school like Belmont). Belmont, UMass, North Texas, Shreveport — these new law schools are out there now, providing ruinous economic options to would-be lawyers every day.

There’s got to be something somebody can do to stop them. Prospective law students deserve some kind of basic consumer protection just as surely as prospective car buyers deserve to know that their new purchase won’t blow up in their face and leave them scarred for life.

New lawyers stay positive despite uncertain job market [Tennessean]
Law Dean Points to Encouraging Labor Report, But Paralegal Deans Should Be Happier [ABA Journal]

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

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