Tuition Hikes

... to take a survey.

Yesterday, David Lat took a detailed look at the National Law Journal’s newly released list of “go-to” law schools — the ones placing the highest percentage of their 2011 graduates in Biglaw. Of course congratulations are due to Penn and Northwestern and the other schools whose graduates are still landing associate positions. But the real news is how seriously discouraging the NLJ data is. We all know the legal job market is tough, yet Bruce MacEwen’s observation that 85% of law schools give students a worse than 10% chance of getting a job in Biglaw still manages to startle.

Our ongoing ATL School & Firm Insider Survey (take it here!), asks current law students, among other things, “What do you expect to do after you graduate?” A whopping 71% tell us that they expect to work for a firm. (This percentage was consistent across class years.) That this proportion is so high, and so at odds with the NLJ findings, can mean some combination of two things:

  • The ATL student readership skews heavily toward that minority of students who will actually snag Biglaw gigs.
  • Many (if not most) expectations of law firm employment will be dashed against the reality of a contracting job market. In other words, a majority of students think they are in the fortunate minority

After the jump, we’ll look at how wide the gap between student expectation and market reality is, even at the “go-to” schools:

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Which law school helped her land a fabulous Biglaw job?

The general economy started to turn around last year, but the legal job market remains sluggish. In 2011, many top law schools sent fewer graduates into first-year associate jobs at the nation’s largest 250 law firms than they did in 2010. That’s the bottom-line finding of the National Law Journal’s annual survey of which schools the NLJ 250 firms relied on most heavily when filling first-year associate classes.

The results of the survey should be interesting to current law students and law firm attorneys. And they’re of possible practical import to prospective law students who are now choosing between law schools (or deciding whether to go to law school at all, based on a cost-benefit analysis that pits tuition and student loans against post-graduate job prospects).

So let’s look at the top 10 law schools, ranked by the percentage of their 2011 juris doctor graduates who landed jobs at NLJ 250 firms (i.e., “Biglaw”)….

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* Merry Christmas! House Republicans will get one less lump of coal in their stockings this year after accepting a two-month extension of unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts. [New York Times]

* Another birther lawsuit has been thrown out, but Orly Taitz won’t be stopped. She’s like the Energizer Bunny of questionable litigation. She’ll keep appealing, and appealing, and appealing… [Los Angeles Times]

* John Edwards is trying to delay his criminal trial, claiming to have a mystery medical diagnosis. What kind of disease does karma hand you for cheating on your sick wife? [New York Daily News]

* Nora Demleitner will be will be stepping in as the new dean of Washington and Lee University School of Law. Hofstra Law, you M.A.D.? [National Law Journal]

* Is the American Bar Association really driving up the cost of law school tuition, or is it the law schools themselves? Here are some graphs that might surprise you. [Am Law Daily]

Today there’s good news and bad news coming out of Boalt Hall (aka Berkeley Law aka WGWAG School of Law).

Let’s start with the bad news. The bad news is that the Regents, who run the show for the University of California (UC) system, approved an increase in system-wide student fees for the coming year. It’s for a shade over $1,000 — $1,068, to be precise.

The good news: Berkeley Law, at the behest of Dean Christopher Edley Jr., is effectively reversing the fee hike for its students. Boalt Hall is issuing an immediate “scholarship” to each student, in the exact amount of the fee increase.

Let’s take a look at Dean Edley’s email — which explains the situation, and has a cute and clever closing — and explore what might be motivating the administration….

UPDATE (7/22/11): Also note the update at the end of this post regarding UCLA School of Law. (We have added the memo from Dean Rachel Moran.)

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Do you know an easy way for moderately priced public law schools to make even more money? Charge more for tuition. Do you know an easy justification for jacking up tuition rates? Say that you are moving to a “private funding model” while you bemoan the lack of public support for your institution.

After that, it’s all profit baby!

The big news in the law school hot stove league is that another major public law school is toying with moving to a private funding model. The logic for eschewing public funds for an increase in private dollars is, as always, disingenuous. But hey, as long as the law school keeps paying its tithe to the university, few will object to increased gouging of prospective law students…

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Fed up with the slow movement towards law school transparency, several law school student body presidents are appealing to a higher power. They’ve proposed legislation that would require law schools to engage in some honest reporting practices, under the oversight of the Department of Education.

If the American Bar Association is too weak or too unwilling to act, these students are hoping the DOE will take into account the best interests of students. Arne Duncan, if you are listening, every law student in America could use your help.

The movement seems to be spearheaded by Nate Burris, the student president at Boston College Law School. But 55 other SBA presidents have signed on, representing law schools in 27 states.

We already know that the legal educators don’t give a damn about the changes their students would like to see, but is there any chance law makers or the DOE will take a look?

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And now things get interesting. As we continue to run through the U.S. News 2012 law school rankings, we get to a crucial set of schools. The schools in this batch are certainly top tier, but they’re not “top 14″; for the most part, though, they charge like top 14 schools (especially the private ones).

So this is the batch of schools where we usually hear questions like: Should I go to this school at full price, or a much lower-ranked school for free? And our answer is usually, “How much lower-ranked are we talking about?”

The bottom line is that when people get into schools like Duke, or Penn, they are going to end up going to that school. But when people get into some of the schools on this list, they do seriously consider other options. Should I retake the LSAT, score better and apply again? How much financial aid am I getting? What’s the job market like in the [secondary market] this school is located in, just in case I get stuck there? Is it worth it to go into this much debt for a degree from that school?

These factors should come into play no matter which law school you get accepted to, but at this point on the U.S. News list, cost factors take on increased importance…

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What your law school dean does when alone at the office.

I, for one, do not think that a person’s salary can or should be used as a proxy for determining whether or not that person is committed to any particular cause. I don’t think people who fight for the poor need be poor themselves. I don’t think people who work for the state should be relegated to the kind of salaries that will convince the best and brightest to never work for the state. I just don’t think a person’s salary is all that indicative of a person’s commitment to doing the right thing.

That said, it doesn’t look good to be putting other people in financial distress while you enjoy a large paycheck, especially when you are in a position of public trust. When you are in a leadership position at a public university, you are expected to be looking out for your students, not just your own bank account.

The salaries of deans from public law schools don’t prove that these people are placing themselves above the needs of their students. They don’t really reflect anything — other than the going rate for a law school dean, in a competitive market for talent. But man, they don’t look good. In fairness, they look awful, given that we’re living in a world where many of these deans are raising tuition on students who for the most part won’t even be able to dream of making the kind of money these deans pull down.

So take a look, but try to remember that if you were in the deans’ shoes, you’d act no differently. You’d take every penny that was offered to you…

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You can’t call it a trend just yet, but the University of New Hampshire School of Law has joined Maryland Law and Miami Law in the fight to keep law school tuition down during a still-recovering economy. The school reports it will not be raising tuition for the 2011-2012 academic year.

It’s a sad state of affairs when a law school holding the line on tuition is breaking news. But with nearly every other law school rushing to bilk students who will pay anything for a legal education (law schools at Stanford, Arizona State, and Minnesota spring to mind), it’s nice to see at least a couple of schools that regard their students as something more than profit centers.

Maryland announced its tuition freeze in December. The National Law Journal reports that Miami recently announced it would be maintaining a tuition freeze already in place. Now UNH Law is joining their ranks. There’s still plenty of room on this bandwagon if your law school would like to take a brief break from molesting your financial future.

Not that UNH Law is cheap, especially for a third-tier law school. But this tuition freeze is another indication that UNH is at least trying to think about legal education in a somewhat realistic way…

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I think we’ve all been waiting for this. Last Wednesday, we picked up a report from the Stanford Daily announcing that students at Stanford Law School would be looking at a 5.75% tuition hike for the 2011 – 2012 academic year. That’s significantly larger than the 3.5% tuition hike for the rest of the university.

Given that most Stanford Law students found out the school was jacking up tuition from the Stanford Daily or Above the Law, I’m not surprised to see a school-wide apology from Stanford Law Dean Larry Kramer. And given the fact that the best reason thus far given for Stanford’s tuition hike reduces to “because we can,” I’m also not surprised to see Dean Kramer working hard to spin the story differently.

Do you find him convincing? Read his email and tell us what you think…

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