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Quote of the Day: The Law School Dream Is Dead

We are going through a revolution in law with a time bomb on our admissions books. Thirty years ago if you were looking to get on the escalator to upward mobility, you went to business or law school. Today, the law school escalator is broken.

William D. Henderson, a professor of law at Indiana University (Maurer), commenting on the rigor mortis that’s quickly spreading now that everyone’s fantasies of fame and fortune in the once storied legal profession have died.

(Enough doom and gloom. What are law schools planning to do about it?)

As we sarcastically noted in Morning Docket, law schools are swirling down the drain at warp speed, and the New York Times is on it. Although everyone and their mother and their dog reported on this developing story since the beginning of the new year, apparently when the Grey Lady speaks, people actually listen (and then proceed to email us incessantly with links to the article as if we didn’t already know about what was going on).

Anyway, here’s what the New York Times observed most recently about the ongoing law school crisis:

Law school applications are headed for a 30-year low, reflecting increased concern over soaring tuition, crushing student debt and diminishing prospects of lucrative employment upon graduation. …

Such startling numbers have plunged law school administrations into soul-searching debate about the future of legal education and the profession overall.

When we spoke about the drop in applications earlier this week, we noted that all things considered, the market seemed to be reacting properly. Law schools have been forced to become more transparent about everything from tuition, scholarship retention, and most importantly, employment rates. Prospective law school applicants can now see that the return on their investment may not be as profitable as expected.

As a result, law schools are finally starting to get with the program. Who knows, maybe someone caught wind of that old quote about the definition of insanity. At least the precipitous drop in applications has spurred some debate on how to change what no longer seems to be working. Here’s a brief glimpse at some of their ideas:

In the legal academy, there has been discussion about how to make training less costly and more relevant, with special emphasis on the last year of law school. …

There is also discussion about permitting students to take the bar after only two years rather than three, a decision that would have to be made by the highest officials of a state court system.

Changing the third year of law school to make the study of law less of a money pit is a start, but if it’s truly unneeded — which we suspect is why they’re thinking of changing it in the first place — axing it entirely would be the most prudent solution. If only the ABA would get on board with the systemic change that needs to occur, then perhaps future law students might have a hope and a prayer of being successful in the legal profession.

But why hasn’t the New York Times brought down fire and brimstone upon the American Bar Association? The paper of record notes that New York is considering doing away with the third year of law school, but what they don’t get into is the fact that if 3L year were to be eliminated, those who opt out wouldn’t graduate with juris doctor degrees because of the ABA’s credit-hour requirements. We suppose that as the arbiter of law school accreditation, it would just make too much sense for the ABA to assist their constituents in this time of turmoil.

Meanwhile, it’s not just law students and law graduates who will suffer because of the ABA’s stubbornness:

“In the ’80s and ’90s, a liberal arts graduate who didn’t know what to do went to law school,” Professor Henderson of Indiana said. “Now you get $120,000 in debt and a default plan of last resort whose value is just too speculative. Students are voting with their feet. There are going to be massive layoffs in law schools this fall. We won’t have the bodies we need to meet the payroll.”

Alas, the law school dream is dead, even for the professors. Condolences aren’t necessary, and don’t even bother sending flowers — your money is better spent paying down the interest on your student loans.

Law Schools’ Applications Fall as Costs Rise and Jobs Are Cut [New York Times]

Earlier: Law School Applications Crater

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