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In response to the declining number of J.D. applicants, law schools are getting creative. The ABA is getting creative. Law schools are desperate to come up with “innovative” offers to entice prospective applicants and encourage them take the plunge into an expensive education with uncertain job prospects.

Well, except for price. Nobody wants to “innovate” on price. Nobody wants to come up with creative or radical approaches to significantly cut the cost of legal education to bring it in line with the actual salary prospects of new graduates. They’ll come up with ridiculous curriculum overhauls to try to make the useless third year seem like something worth paying for, but they won’t lop a year off of the tuition people are expected to pay. If anything, law schools are more likely to try to tack a year onto the J.D. experience, at full price, instead of getting serious about debt reduction.

Today, we’ve got a school that will be offering a “hybrid-online” J.D. It’s the first time ever the ABA has granted a variance (an accreditation exception to a non-traditional program) to a school that allows it to teach half of the credit hours online. In the stodgy world of legal education, “online” sounds new and exciting and reformed-minded.

But when it comes to price: somebody get Admiral Ackbar on the holo because… IT’S A TRAP.

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Some guy on Twitter was complaining that Above the Law focuses too much on the negative side of going to law school. Apparently this person mistakes us for a law school admissions office — people who ignore facts when they don’t fit their happy-clappy narrative. We do bring you some law school success stories when we hear of good ones. Do you know why those stories are “news”? Because law schools are so effective at leading people down a path of career frustration and financial ruin that when somebody beats the odds, it’s mildly noteworthy.

Law school is a good investment for some, and a terrible one for many. We say that all the time. The problem is that law schools do not give people enough information to assess whether or not they should go. The problem is that some law schools actively mislead people who are trying to make a sound decision. The problem is that even when law school “works out,” the tuition charged often vastly outstrips the value of the degree.

Sure, some people will succeed despite the high cost, misleading information, and weak job market. Law schools want you to think that those successful people are the norm, but really they are the outliers. (And, given the events of today, I guess I have to say that the folks who contemplate suicide are also outliers.)

This guy who recently bared his underachieving soul to Business Insider is the norm. This guy making $45,000 while carrying $200,000 of law school debt has the kind of life law students should prepare themselves for, regardless of what the admissions brochures and the guy on Twitter who made everything work out will tell you….

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An actual top-50 law school has cut its tuition. They’re not giving a tuition “reimbursement” or “credit” or “scholarship.” They’re not making it a one-time deal available to impulse shoppers. Instead, they’re reducing tuition, across the board, for both in-state and out-of-state students, across all class years. They’re cutting tuition. Let us give them thanks and praise.

It’s still expensive, probably prohibitively so. But a top-tier school putting its tuition in reverse is big, bright news. I award this school all the corn in my silo, they’ve earned it….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “THIS Is What It Looks Like When A Law School Actually Cuts Tuition”

I really don’t want to be that guy at the dinner table who points out that the mashed potatoes are lumpy and the turkey is a bit dry. A law school is cutting tuition by half for some students, and for that we should be thankful. This follows a trend, seen here and there, in which law schools are starting to respond to the low interest in legal education by competing on price.

Except it also follows the trend of not really being a tuition “cut.” Instead it’s a tuition scholarship that is worth about half of the tuition, while the school maintains its high listed sticker price.

Well, this is Above the Law, not a Thanksgivukkah meal. Who wants a side of hater?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Law School Version Of Black Friday”

* Santa Claus arrested for sexually harassing an 18-year-old elfette. She started getting suspicious when he kept looking at her and proclaiming “Here Cums Santa Claus.” [The Smoking Gun]

* Atlanta jury questionnaire lists “slave” as an occupational option. There’s a lot of outrage, but they were just covering their bases — a potential could have just moved there from Mississippi. [11 Alive]

* Speaking of juries, a long-time prosecutor ends up on a jury and sums up the 10 things he learned from his jury experience. [Texas Evidence]

* The Second Circuit’s decision to remove Judge Scheindlin from the stop-and-frisk case was bad enough — especially since it was an unprecedented overreach for a circuit panel when no one requested her removal — but its true cost is in chilling justice down the road, when judges start to look over their shoulders for fear that an activist appellate panel is out to get them. [WiseLawNY]

* Interesting question: what do you wear under a 3/4-sleeved blazer? I’d wear a T-shirt that says, “I give 3/4 of a damn today,” but most lawyers would disagree. [Corporette]

* Apple hired CPA Julie Davis as a damages expert in its case against Samsung. Whatever she was paid, it wasn’t enough — the jury singled out Davis as the reason they awarded Apple $290 million. [The Expert Institute]

* Remember when we talked about how much the government profits off your law school debt? Well, the totals are in, and the government pulled down $41.3 billion off you this year. [USA Today]

* In the spirit of funny flowcharts, here’s a decision tree to help make that decision about going to law school. Image after the jump…

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Math is hard.

I’m somewhat reluctant to criticize other people’s bad financial decisions, having made so many atrociously dumb decisions in my own life. My financial stupidity isn’t even in the past tense — I have a brand-new PS4, but I’m waiting until the new year when my Flexible Spending Account resets to go to the doctor.

On the other hand, sometimes it takes an idiot to spot an idiot (I just made that up). At the very least, I’m somewhat uniquely qualified to identify which financial mistakes are “common” among the financially illiterate, versus the mistakes that take a special kind of dumb.

There are a few articles making the rounds today: there’s a Salon article trying to explain why law schools are comfortable scamming their students, and there’s a Forbes article making the stupid “now is a good time to go to law school” argument (which should make smart people roll their eyes). We’ve been down those roads before.

But we also have an article from a guy who says law school was the start of his financial downfall. He doesn’t blame law school, which is good, because I’m pretty sure he’s got nobody else to blame besides himself. And maybe his ex-wife….

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Regular readers of Above the Law are well aware of the bimodal salary distribution curve of starting salaries for new lawyers. Lawyers understand why the curve looks the way it does: there are a few “elite” firms that essentially engage in salary collusion at the very top (don’t everybody start thanking Above the Law at once), while most lawyers will struggle to find a job in the $40K – $60K range.

When non-lawyers see this curve, they are surprised. The curve popped up on Mother Jones the other day, and author Kevin Drum called the $160K spike “pretty weird.” Then the commenters on his post — actually HELPFUL commenters who managed to weigh in without personal attacks on the author — explained to Drum why it was so.

But that’s kind of the problem: people only become aware of the bimodal salary distribution curve after they’ve been to law school (and done things like become a regular reader of Above the Law). They don’t get the information before they commit to law school, when the information could be useful. In a world without time machines, hindsight is blind.

Still, even people who have already committed to their dread fate can benefit from an understanding of history. Do you know what the salary distribution curve looked like in 1991, during the last “great” lawyer recession? Do you think the people who are charging you money to go to law school have seen it?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Don’t You Love It When Recent Law Grads Become The Poster Child For Income Inequality?”

Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of the music stopping. It’s the sound of a tap running dry. Law schools are living in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, and the party is wrapping up.

Professor Paul Campos estimates that 80 to 85 percent of law school are operating at a loss right now. Cratering law school applications put a stop on federally backed loan money that has been used to prop up outrageous law school tuition for years. In most industries, such realities would spur creative and substantive reform. Smart people would try to do something to fix the industry. Instead, people running law schools don’t think like that even when they have an opportunity for clarity.

As Fitzgerald writes: “arid for a moment people set down their glasses in country clubs and speak-easies and thought of their old best dreams. Maybe there was a way out by flying, maybe our restless blood could find frontiers in the illimitable air. But by that time we were all pretty well committed; and the Jazz Age continued; we would all have one more.”

Maybe all deans can do now is to play it out to the bitter end….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Law School Bubble Is Bursting: Over 80% Of Law Schools Estimated To Be Operating At A Loss”

This takes balls. Not courage, but balls.

I’m using the term “balls” as a synonym for gall. I’m invoking the connotation of “stubbornness.” A law professor who can look at the current legal job market and the financial ruin suffered by so many law graduates, and fix his mouth to suggest that law school should take longer (and thereby cost more), really has balls. It’d be like Orson Scott Card thanking the producers of Ender’s Game for not casting “a little gay kid” in the title role.

I’m reluctant to even write this post and give this professor a wider circulation for his crackpot views, but I want the internet record to be complete, lest some person who hasn’t been paying attention happens upon the professor’s article and stupidly thinks, “This makes sense to me….”

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Law Professor Suggests Adding An Extra Year To Law School — Seriously?”

When law deans and other law school defenders talk about the high cost of legal education, they try to justify the price in economic terms. They cite ridiculous and largely unsupported figures about the value of a law degree. They point out the cost of the faculty. Explicitly or not, they don’t see a problem with charging the absolute maximum that the market will bear. They feel no shame for enticing young people to invest in law school by any means necessary, fair or unfair.

But the unreasonable cost of law school doesn’t just play out in purely economic terms. Students who graduate with a mountain of debt pay the human costs of hopelessness, deferred dreams, and often the burden of having to rely on parents long past the point when they had hoped to be self-sufficient.

We tend to focus on the plight of unemployed law graduates, but it’s always important to remember that “winning” and landing one of the few Biglaw jobs out there that even gives you a shot to pay off your debts can be pretty awful too. The high debt makes many law graduates feel like indentured servants, forced to work jobs they don’t want, in order to service their loans.

I think there are a lot of people who will empathize with this law graduate from a top school with a Biglaw job who feels like even death isn’t a suitable way around his law school loans…

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