Law School Deans, Law Schools, Media and Journalism, New York Times, Student Loans

Law Schools Head To The Bunker To Avoid New York Times Fallout

And now comes the part in our story where law school administrations, stung by the criticism they just received in the New York Times, start spinning. Yes, yesterday the Times exposed the law school business model to a horrified public of non-lawyers. Today, law schools are obligated to say, “No, no, no, that’s not our business model.”

It’s a perfect response. Law students already believe that they are special and will somehow overcome various odds stacked against them, and so they are particularly susceptible to the argument that while other law schools might have problems, the school they picked is the honorable school standing apart from the disreputable actions of others.

It’s like when women say “I have the best husband in the world.” Sure, 90% of husbands hate chick flicks, wish there was a way to get a hot meal without listening to your BS, and would bone Angelina Jolie 30 times in a row before they even remembered your name, but you found the best husband evah! Because you are so damn smart and discerning.

A bunch of law schools have tried to distinguish themselves from New York Law School since this weekend’s article, but the most outstanding example of this kind of distancing comes from: New York Law School….

It seems like the standard law school response to the New York Times is to point out that they have reduced class size for the upcoming year. We’ve already reported on a number of law schools that are doing just that. Since law schools are talking to people who couldn’t be bothered to pay attention until the Times showed up on the scene, I’m guessing the school press offices are banking on the fact that people will ignore the way many schools increased their class sizes during the equally terrible years of 2009 and 2010.

But sure, it’s nice to know that some schools are taking steps to not flood the market with even more lawyers who can’t get jobs in 2014. Since the Times article came out, Missouri Lawyers Media reports that their state might not be completely oversaturated with fresh graduates in 2014.

But from a comedic perspective, the best Times fallout has been from Penn State University – Dickinson School of Law. The school sent out a letter to all the incoming 1Ls after the Times article. First it tells all incoming students to read The Bramble Bush — I think they do that every year, but it’s always fun when grown-ass people get assigned summer reading from school. But then the letter gets into the Times piece:

You are entering law school at a time of economic uncertainty and considerable publicity questioning whether law school and the legal profession remain viable and affordable choices for students today. Yesterday’s (Sunday, July 17) The New York Times includes such an article (Law School Economics, by David Segal), suggesting that many law schools, in order to survive economically, are pursuing higher enrollments and higher tuitions at the expense, ultimately, of law student aspirations, professional placement, and careers.

It is important to recognize that Penn State Law, along with the nation’s other top university law schools, stand apart from these trends and have not been the principal focus of such publicity. This year, in fact, Penn State Law is decreasing its 1L enrollment by approximately 20 percent in order to maintain high academic standards and help ensure appropriate placement opportunities for Penn State Law students upon graduation. We also have held our tuition increase for next year to just below five percent at a time when so many other law schools are increasing tuition by a multiple of that amount.

Never have I seen a five-percent tuition increase pushed through during a time of lawyer salary stagnation passed off as a freaking favor. Are incoming 1Ls supposed to say, “Thank you for only jobbing me by an additional five percent”? Does this tactic work outside the law school context? Like, could I say, “I’m going to burgle you, but I’ll only take what I can carry, at a time when so many other burglars are pulling up with trucks”?

But as I said earlier, the most dedicated effort in spinning away from the New York Times comes from New York Law School itself. NYLS Dean Richard Matasar, the main subject of the Times article, unleashed an epic response on the school’s website today. He even released the original emails he claims to have sent to the Times reporter. I can’t do the full thing justice here, so please read the full response on the NYLS website if you are interested.

Matasar’s response has four main points. Let’s hear him out. From the NYLS website:

First, the cost of education is an intractable problem not because schools do not want to lower costs, but because lowering already incurred costs is often outside the control of any single school. Law school is a regulated business which must comply with requirements for costly libraries, physical plants, residential programs, mandated teacher to student ratios, and so on. School labor costs are fixed by mandatory systems of tenure and job security for faculty members. Law schools can offer only a fraction of their courses online, etc.

Law schools want to lower costs, but they just can’t? Is anybody dumb enough to believe that? You’re saying that NYLS cannot lower costs down to the point where it is AT LEAST AS CHEAP AS HARVARD?

Look, we’ve all seen the GAO report that details how U.S. News rankings may force up the cost of legal education. But upward pressure hardly explains why NYLS has to be so expensive relative to its third-tier competition. So don’t give us this “our hands are tied” tripe.

Second, the article seems to suggest that the only value of a legal education is in the jobs that graduates may obtain immediately upon graduation. This is unfair and misleading. Legal education provides lifelong skills that give graduates the ability to represent others and help with their problems over a 40–50 year career—one which gives graduates autonomy and freedom to learn and continue to grow throughout their professional lives.

Sure, as long as you are willing to default on your law school debt obligations (as I have), law school really enhances your autonomy, freedom, and lifelong learning. If, on the other hand, you want to pay back your debts — well, you need a job.

And for what’s it’s worth, these kids didn’t go to law school to “represent others and help with their problems.” They went to law school to GET PAID for representing others and helping them with their problems. It’s a small but important freaking difference, and Dean Matasar would do well to note it.

Third, the article seems to imply that students behave like sheep who do not know that we live in challenging economic times. Untrue; many of them read The New York Times and receive advice from friends, family, and others who point out the riskiness of taking on debt and the uncertainty of a bad job market. Further, most law schools to which they apply—like mine, New York Law School—provide realistic advice. I tell every student that going to law school is among the most important financial decisions they will ever make, that the job market for students outside the top 10 percent of their graduating class is tough, and that 90 percent of them are guaranteed NOT to be in the top 10 percent of their class.

Not sheep? Well, what word would you use to describe people who go into six figures of debt to get a job earning $35,000? Lemmings?

Statements like this back Dean Matasar into a corner. He would have us believe that the students who end up at his school have all the facts and choose to act against their own economic self interest? I don’t think so. I don’t think most people act like low-income Tea Party supporters. I could be wrong, but I’d like to think that most people can make a good choice if they’re properly informed.

Finally, the article is utterly misleading when it describes New York Law School and my leadership over the last 11 years. Reform begins with what a school controls: its teaching and its treatment of its students. On that score, the law school has been transformed into one of the most student-centric programs in the country.

I don’t… I don’t even know what to do with this statement. Watching people get charged $47,800 a year to go to NYLS and then listening to their dean talk about being “student-centric” is just unnerving.

Remember, this is coming from Rick Matasar. He knows, he knows better than most, that $47,800 is too much to charge people for his law school. He’s a reformer. He can dance all he wants about U.S. News and student programs and all the rest, but he knows that at the end of the day, three years at $47,800 a pop is going to financially cripple most of the kids who go to his law school before they even pass the bar.

But the bitch of it is there will be NYLS students who are happy with Matasar’s response (and who therefore hate this post). There are people currently attending that school who would rather hear their dean’s happy-clappy attempts to obscure facts; they want him to piss in their ear and tell them it’s raining. Students want to believe that NYLS is charging them as little as it can. They want to believe that their investment in law school will pay off even if they’re unemployable.

And for some of them, it will. For a happy few, things will work out brilliantly.

The Times article was about what happens to everyone else.

Law schools ‘right size’ Class of 2014 [Missouri Lawyers Media]

Earlier: The Times ‘Unearths’ The Law School Scam, But Still Can’t Explain It
Trendspotting: Will Law School Start Decreasing The Supply of Unemployable New Lawyers?

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