The Big Bubble Battle (Bart II): Law School Bubble Wins

(In Bart I, I disproved the existence of a higher education bubble because universities and colleges have lost money due to either state budget cutbacks or losses on their endowments.)

Law school tuitions are rising and programs are expanding.  Importantly, even the number of law schools is increasing as USC Irvine seeks provisional ABA accreditation for its thirty fledglings.  None of the retrenchments we observe with public and private institutions occur with law schools.  They seem to be chugging on as ever.  Why the difference?

When you study law in the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, you will read Judge Richard Posner and learn at least some of the positivist analysis of law known as “law & economics.”  I took one such course when I rode with the Jesunauts at Marquette University.  Ably taught, at one point in the course we discussed market entry costs, and the instructor pointed out how expensive it is to start a law school.  I disagreed.  What does a law school require?  Classrooms, faculty, and a large law library (an increasingly questioned ABA accreditation criterion).[1] You barely need chalkboards, though I remember many instructors resorting to PowerPoint.  In other words, a law school requires all the sophistication of a large humanities department.  No electron-tunneling microscopes.  No freezers.  No cadavers.  No telescopes.  No cotton swabs.  One would think that the formula “classrooms + faculty + library = law school” would require vastly lower overhead than a nursing school.  (Then again, Marquette is building a multimillion dollar law school building, so what do I know?)

Confession: Even though I'm a late Gen-Xer, I barely ever played Mortal Kombat.

At this point I become cynical.  Universities want more revenue.  They believe lawyers make cashsacks when they enter the workforce, so they build relatively cheap law schools to funnel some money back to the university.  They think it’s Robin Hood financing, which would be right if the cashsacks point were true.  Unfortunately, as we all should know by now, many law students don’t make money like doctors when they start their careers, certainly not during the Great Recession.  Thus, it’s not as though law school deans, admissions and career service officers are absent-mindedly or conspiratorially inflating a tuition bubble.  Education bureaucrats are implicated as well.  There are a few exceptions, such as wholly independent private law schools, but their tuition increases are a knock-on effect from the bubble-caused competitive salary increases, which is its own issue.  The law school tuition bubble partly exists because law students are the sacrificial lambs so that universities might live.

To summarize the Big Bubble Battle, the law school tuition bubble exists independently of a general education bubble.

Next, the number-crunching begins by looking at the number of law schools.  Until then, you too can participate in early ’90s nostalgia by playing the greatest parody video game ever: Pong Kombat!


[1] Clarification: I’m the son of a former law librarian, so you’d better believe I respect their work.

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