Reasonable minds can disagree on how to reform law school, but here’s one thing that almost everyone can agree upon: the tuition is too darn high. In an ideal world, legal education would be much more affordable. Not everyone has wealthy parents who insist on paying for college and graduate school.

Alas, we’re probably not going to see major change on that front anytime soon. As long as the federal government keeps the loan money flowing, law schools have little incentive to lower tuition.

So, at least for now, we’ll have to settle for more modest measures at controlling cost. For example, law schools can and should devote greater resources to scholarships, which lower the effective price tag of a J.D. degree.

One leading law school just received a gigantic gift — which it’s putting towards scholarships, to its credit. Which law school is on the receiving end of this largesse, and how much is it getting?

Congratulations to the University of Chicago Law School, which just announced this major gift:

Renewing a commitment to providing full-tuition scholarships that he made three years ago, David M. Rubenstein, ’73, has given the University of Chicago Law School an additional $10 million to continue the Rubenstein Scholars Program.

Rubenstein, a University Trustee, started the program in 2010 with an initial $10 million gift to fund up to 60 full-tuition scholarships in three consecutive Law School graduating classes. With his latest gift, approximately 10 percent of all students from the Classes of 2017, 2018 and 2019 will be Rubenstein Scholars.

We’ve previously raised a warning flag about law school merit scholarships that can be easily lost after the first year, but that’s not the case with the Rubenstein Scholarships. Any scholarship recipient who remains a student at the Law School in good academic standing retains the scholarship. (It’s a good thing that scholarships aren’t tied to a specific GPA at Chicago, since you need to be as brilliant as Dick Posner or Frank Easterbrook to understand its complex grading system.)

Here is what Professor Lior Strahilevitz, faculty director of the Rubenstein Scholars program (and my law school classmate), had to say about the initiative:

The program has brought dozens of the most promising and accomplished law school applicants to Chicago, and we have all been thrilled with both the extraordinary academic achievements of the Rubenstein Scholars once they have enrolled here and the contributions they have made to student life.

There is also a terrific “pay it forward” aspect to the program. David attended Chicago because he received a full-ride scholarship, and his lack of law school debt made it possible for him to pursue government service soon after graduating from the Law School. David’s work in the Carter White House helped put him on a path towards founding the Carlyle Group, a fortuitous turn of events that would eventually allow him to create this scholarship program and to become one of the nation’s most prominent philanthropists.

Everyone at Chicago will be thrilled with today’s news. For a small school like ours $20 million for student scholarships over a six-year period is a genuinely transformational gift.

A transformational gift indeed — and hopefully not the last. David Rubenstein, one of a few dozen lawyers on the Forbes 400, is worth an estimated $2.6 billion. He has given generously to both Chicago Law and to his undergraduate alma mater, Duke University.

Rubenstein’s two $10 million gifts, to start and then continue the Rubenstein Scholars program, represent the largest gifts ever made to the law school by an individual. But they are by no means the only major gifts devoted to scholarship support. Chicago Law recently received a $4 million gift from Debra Cafaro, chairman and CEO of Ventas, Inc., which will also go towards full-tuition scholarships.

Over the past four years — four years that have been challenging for the legal job market, it should be noted — Chicago’s investment in need- and merit-based scholarships has almost tripled. In the words of Dean Michael Schill, “With the infusion of scholarship assistance made possible by these wonderful acts of philanthropy, the Law School is now able to stretch its student assistance further than ever before.”

Congrats again to Chicago — and good luck to all the peer schools who compete with it for talent. A full ride to Chicago is pretty tough to turn down.

David Rubenstein, ’73, Renews Rubenstein Scholars Program with Additional $10 Million Gift [University of Chicago Law School]
David Rubenstein Makes $10 Million Gift for Student Scholarships [University of Chicago Law School]
David Rubenstein [Forbes]

Earlier: How Can We Fix Law School? Six Experts Opine
Are Law School ‘Merit Scholarships’ A Big Racket?
Lawyers on the Forbes 400: A Closer Look


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