Despite calls for change from the highest of authorities, law school tuition is still too damn high. In fact, for most recent law school graduates (myself included), it’s financially crippling.
Sure, class sizes have gotten smaller — whether due to law schools’ attempts to rightsize or due to lack of interest from prospective students — but tuition hasn’t. Some schools have managed to keep it flat (albeit at too high of a level), but others have had the nerve to dramatically increase tuition in these trying times for legal education.
Given how resistant the old and gray occupants of the ivory tower are to change, perhaps some frightening predictions about the future of law school tuition will help them open their eyes. If you think you’re hurting for students to fill the seats now, just wait until it costs $78,000 a year to attend…
Law school tuition goes up. That’s just what it does. It goes up during boom times, it went up during the recession. It goes up when lots of people apply to law school, it goes up when applications are at historic lows. If they could distill law school tuition into a pill, it would replace Viagra.
Law schools seem very good at estimating how much law school should cost. But are they as good at telling you how much you’ll need to spend while you’re in school besides tuition? Room and board, living expenses and transportation costs, these things go up too. But some students argue that when it comes time to estimating these costs — costs that are the basis for the federal loans that students take out in order to shelter themselves and eat while they’re in school — law schools set the bar unreasonably low. From the law school’s perspective, student expenses are relatively flat… it’s only the tuition that needs to go up.
Tipsters pointed out one school for a case study of this phenomenon….
As fewer people apply to law school, deans have basically two options: they can shrink the size of the entering class, which reduces tuition revenue, or they can keep the size of the entering class the same, which results in credential dilution — a student body with lower LSAT scores and GPAs. Credential dilution can lead to a tumble in the closely watched U.S. News rankings, which can further reduce applications, setting in motion a vicious cycle.
So far, most schools seem to have opted for shrinkage. Most deans would prefer to be able to claim that they are taking a “stand for quality,” as Dean Patrick Hobbs of Seton Hall recently stated.
Interestingly enough, however, one top law school seems to be going in the other direction. It’s actually increasing the size of its incoming class over last year, even if doing so might lead to credential dilution….
And like any business that suddenly finds itself with fewer customers, law schools are looking to entice new students to apply. Because — and it’s always important to remember this — law schools are businesses, at least as much as they are academic institutions.
Will they take a hint from used car salesmen, setting up whacky, inflatable, arm-flailing tube men to draw the eye of passing motorists?
Or possibly Red Lobster, offering shrimp AND lobster with any J.D.?
Or, more likely, will they try to improve their job numbers while offering larger scholarships?
This is some quality dissembling. Dean William Treanor of Georgetown Law decided to enter the fray by responding to the New America Foundation report that I wrote about last week that claimed that Georgetown Law was using a loophole to use its public service debt repayment program to profit off the federal government. By way of recap, the school agrees to pay off the income-based payments of its students in the federal income-based repayment plan itself, then raises tuition for the next crop of students and uses that money to pay off their payments later, creating a big circle where tuition is artificially (if only marginally) inflated and taxpayers pick up the tab and the school pockets the profit.
Dean Treanor’s response attempts to deflect the criticism, but the article misses the entire point of the controversy.
The median LSAT score for students at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School is 145. This means that Cooley is already trawling in the waters of the bottom 25 percent of LSAT takers. So when Cooley Law Dean Don LeDuc says that the school might consider lowering its admissions standards to cover the drop in law school applications, it’s fair to ask what’s lower than the bottom of the barrel.
Are they going to start admitting people who took the LSAT in crayon? Are they going to start admitting people who can’t read? If the median score is 145 and you’re going to bring that number down, what (if any) “standards” does your school still purport to have?
Cooley would rather lower its standards than lower its tuition. In fact, LeDuc says that tuition is going the other way: Cooley announced that it will raise first-year tuition by 9 percent and tuition on everybody else by 8 percent. It’s almost as if Cooley has taken upon itself the responsibility of punishing people too ignorant to research legal education….
* Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is definitely one of our favorite judicial divas. When asked if she thought the Supreme Court’s work was art or theater, she mused, “It’s both, with a healthy dose of real life mixed in.” [New York Times]
* According to the Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group report on the first half of the year, the legal industry should count itself lucky if it manages to meet last year’s single-digit profit growth. This “new normal” thing sucks. [Am Law Daily]
* Howrey going to celebrate these “monumental” settlements with Baker & Hostetler and Citibank? The failed firm’s trustee might throw a party when he’s finally able to file a liquidation plan. [Am Law Daily]
* Uncommon law marriage? A man stuck in an inheritance battle who lived with his late partner since 1995 now asks the District of Columbia to declare him common-law husband. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]
* The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar proposed a major overhaul to its accreditation standards. Action, of course, likely won’t be taken until next year. [National Law Journal]
* Despite the fact that these measures could help struggling graduates, law deans are at odds over the ABA’s proposed changes to tenure requirements for professors. [Capital Business / Washington Post]
* “Sooner or later you’ve got to make a choice, because you need enough revenue to cover what your expenses are.” Cooley will weather the storm by introducing a massive tuition hike. [Lansing State Journal]
* “How would you feel if you spent well over $100,000 on law school, only to have to spend an extra couple of thousand dollars on a course to get you to pass the bar?” You’d probably feel like everyone else. [CNBC]
* Requiring porn stars to wear condoms might not be sexy, but a federal judge says it’s constitutional. Don’t worry, unlike its actresses, the adult film industry won’t go down without a fight. [Los Angeles Times]
As mentioned in Non-Sequiturs last week, this story is why we can’t have nice things. Specifically, why lawyers make it so we can’t have nice things.
On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Georgetown Law had worked out how to bilk the federal government into fully paying for some its students’ tuition and managed to create a profit for itself on the side. This is caused a bit of a stir Friday afternoon, but unfortunately the practice is neither new nor limited to Georgetown.
Though some tactics Georgetown employs may go beyond what any other school has the gall to attempt….
If liberals are to be true to our professed values, we must critically examine our own conduct, however painful and embarrassing it might be. We cannot speak truth to power yet not to ourselves. [P]rogressive law professors, I charge, have profited from a system of legal education with harmful consequences to individuals and society — while claiming (and believing) that they were fighting the system.
* If you hate the government and you hate lawyers more, then you’ll love this. In the past five years, the feds have awarded $3.3 billion to more than 4,700 vendors for legal work. [National Law Journal]
* A year and a half after he was nominated for a Federal Circuit judgeship, and more than a year after his hearing, the Senate finally decided to confirm Richard Taranto. How kind. [Blog of Legal Times]
* Pretty pretty please? Zvi Goffer and Michael Kimmelman would really really like it if the Second Circuit could overturn their insider trading convictions due to unfairness. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
* The U.S. News law school rankings are often criticized, and here’s why: if survey respondents “were asked about Princeton Law School, it would appear in the top 20. But it doesn’t exist.” [Chronicle of Higher Education]
* Nevermind the fact that law school applications are down, but Northwestern Law is doing the “responsible thing” and reducing the size of its incoming class — and raising tuition by 3% to boot. [Wall Street Journal]
* Jason Rapert, the Arkansas senator who passed a fetal-heartbeat abortion ban in his state, says he “has no time” for anyone who says it’s unconstitutional. To paraphrase, ain’t nobody got time for that. [New York Times]
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
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