Past Links—New Dean at Georgetown Speaks & Experienced Attorney Blogs on the Tuition Bubble

Two meals for you:

(1) Earlier this week, Amanda Becker of the Washington Post interviewed Georgetown’s new dean, William Michael Treanor, formerly of Fordham in “Q&A: Georgetown Law Center’s New Dean Discusses School’s Steps to Help Students in a Time of Law Firm Cutbacks.”  Becker begins with the six-figure question:

It’s been tough out there the past couple of years for young lawyers. What is your advice for someone considering law school? Do you think the market is large enough to absorb the number of graduates that matriculate each year? [Italics original]

Want to know what law school deans want you to think they’re thinking?

This is a time that we’re seeing a real cutback in hiring by big firms. For the past decade, firms have had people doing work that is routine, repetitious. Increasingly, clients will not be willing to pay associates to do that kind of work, so we’ll see more outsourcing and contract employment. So associates will be doing more work that is truly lawyerly work.

This is also a time when law school grads will be focusing on what they really want to do with their careers. I think we’ll see more people going into public interest and doing things that are entrepreneurial. This can be an exciting time to be a law student and to be in practice if you’re looking for the opportunities that are out there.

I think that law firms can really return to the idea of law as a profession, and there are tremendous benefits to that not just for the firms but for lawyers. It’s also a time when people can think through why they came to law school. It’s a time of challenge, but it’s a very exciting time.

I’ll respond paragraph by paragraph:

  1. More specifically, this is a time that we’re seeing real cutbacks in hiring by all legal employers, including the public sector.  More outsourcing and contract employment means the pie for the yearly 43,500+ deposits of JDs on the market is shrinking.  Additionally, associates doing menial non-lawyerly work implies that their educations were inappropriately calibrated to what the market needed in the first place, further suggesting that the market has been oversaturated for some time.
  2. I’d like to think law school grads already focused on what they really want to do with their careers when they decided to go to law school.  Will public interest and entrepreneurial work (whatever that means) pay law graduates a starting salary commensurate with their loans?  Is there enough of this work to go around as well?  Is a juris doctor necessary for either?  I also don’t think it’s an “exciting time to be a law student.”  It’s not for me to judge, but if I were a 3L, I’d be very worried about my job prospects and debt obligations.
  3. Something tells me managing partners at law firms wouldn’t appreciate being told that they’re on the cusp of returning to law as a profession.  What’s it been in the meantime?  For how long?

Amanda Becker asked a fair question, but I don’t think Dean Treanor answered it beyond his oblique line on menial associate work.  She follows up with:

Is the school approaching recruiting or education differently now in light of market changes? [Italics original]

Dean Treanor’s answer gets partial credit (for reasonableness):

I think Georgetown has really been very proactive in dealing with the marketplace. There were a number of initiatives already put into place. They range from focusing on regional and smaller city markets, to attention to clerkships — both state and federal – to possibilities of people entering into government work and preparing people for careers in nonprofit work.

For many people, the right fit is not necessarily a big firm in a big city. This is a moment when people are thinking more broadly. Georgetown is really focused on that, we’re putting together a database of firms outside the typical markets and state clerkships. We’re looking at expanding our externship program and increasing field placements. We’re looking at expanding our clinical offerings. [My emphasis]

It’s perfectly fair for a well-regarded law school to expand its graduates’ employment prospects nationwide, but think about it for second: Georgetown isn’t creating new placements; it’s merely capturing a larger portion of the existing ones.  If successful, local law students would be crowded out, preventing them from gaining experience.  Thus, Dean Treanor indirectly (and you have to respect his subtlety) answers Becker’s earlier question: the market isn’t large enough to absorb the number of graduates that matriculate each year, but he can try to ensure the market is large enough to absorb Georgetown’s graduates.

Treanor’s response also hints at the versatile juris doctor.  For externships, field placements, clinical offerings, government, nonprofit, regional and smaller city work: How many students will earn enough to make the investment worthwhile?  If not, will they be eligible for loan forgiveness programs?  Should taxpayers pay into loan forgiveness programs when they’re subsidizing the tuition bubble?

Although, Treanor does make two comments in the interview addressing Becker’s question on Georgetown’s approach to “recruiting or education in light of market changes,” first:

In recent years, Georgetown has really moved to do fascinating things in the global area. The school’s Center for Transnational Legal Studies in London is something that has inspired admiration throughout legal academia. It’s really a law school that is taking seriously “how do you want to change legal education and prepare people for practice?”

A Center for Transnational Legal Studies in London is impressive, but how does it prepare people for state court clerkships?  Small city and regional markets?  Do all the nonprofit placements contain a transnational dimension?  It’s great that Georgetown is committed to finding work for its students, but if it’s providing a Super Law School education (here, international law for small city general practitioners) then its “approach to recruiting or education” hasn’t changed in the face of the market at all.

Second, when asked about his goals as dean, Treanor’s response set off the silent alarm:

We’re going to be focusing on the academic depth and intellect strengths of the law school and continue to build on that with new hires. [My emphasis]

Incoming Georgetown students can expect to pay even higher tuition if the university hires more instructors.  Recall that faculty expansion and salary increases are the tuition bubble’s causal mechanisms.  Hopefully, these new hires teach practical skills rather than Super Law School course material.  I’m doubtful.

Amanda Becker asked some decent questions in this interview, and Dean Treanor I think unintentionally answered them.  Personally though, I think Becker should set up a panel with Dean Treanor and the Georgetown Five NPR interviewed a few months back.  That would be far more insightful, if awkward.

(2) Jerome Kowalksi, “Do We Really Have a Shortage of ABA Accredited Law Schools?” and, “What If They Built a New Law School and Nobody Came?” in Kowalski & Associates Blog

I note these two posts because (1) they’re written by a seasoned, established practitioner, and (2) they don’t pull punches.  The conventional term used to describe legal education’s critics is “scamblogger,”[i] who are typically younger attorneys.  Mr. Kowalski’s firm’s blog bucks that trend, lending credibility to those who wish to improve the legal profession albeit as an outlier.  A quote:

[T]he profession cannot even absorb the current torrent of graduates from existing law schools. I doubt that any pragmatist, aware of all of the available facts could possibly come to any contrary conclusion.

“Available facts” is the operative term here.  The tuition bubble should be downright obvious to anyone who’s seen the BLS’s, NALP’s, and the ABA’s statistics—all of which are easily accessible.  Kowalksi then compares current legal education to the “scheme” health & beauty schools used in New York City in the early 1990s:

There were only a couple of problems…The fact was that there were not sufficient jobs available to the schools’ graduates.  Many students…gave up after their job searches and simply found lesser paying jobs and abandoned their job searches. Word also spread from the graduates to the generation that followed and still attending the schools and large numbers of those students just simply walked away from the schools. None of these school graduates or attendees repaid their loans, quite likely because they felt snookered (which they obviously were), and they simply otherwise lacked the funds.

The question that nobody wants to ask is whether the recent crop of law school graduates, those currently attending law school and the thousands of current law school applicants are victim of a similar scheme, intentionally or not, created by the profession and the law school community.  I have found very few who have raised or publically discussed the issue. An absolutely outstanding exception is the blistering report by noted law professor, Brian Tamahana. [My emphasis]

Can you imagine, say, a 2L walking away from law school??[ii]

After cutting through BLS numbers, as well as the usual irrelevant reasons for establishing a new law school in Texas, he ominously adds:

These facts are well known to law school administrators, particularly deans and admissions personnel.

I wonder how Dean Treanor would react to that comment.

So, you may wonder, what’s the point of all of the foregoing?  Here it is:

  1. Law schools owe a duty to make full and fair disclosure to all applicants.
  2. The nation’s law school student population must be reduced by at least one-half, probably two thirds, for the near term, probably at least three years.
  3. The nation’s bar owes a duty of every nature to demand these changes and shepherd through the inevitable resistance of the academic community.

I’d add that: 4. The student reductions should be calibrated regionally to account for both law student populations in excess of local demand (population and income) and local supply (present unemployed attorneys).

I must confess that my conclusions, which are ineluctable, are not mine alone.  At least four law firm managing partners, a number of other prominent lawyers and several law school professors [!] have shared these thoughts with me.  However, they openly expressed fear about making public statements supporting these obvious conclusions because they all felt they would be seen as pariahs, shunned by the profession…[T]he academics also expressed the concern of being shunned by their colleagues, since, in effect, they would be encouraging significant unemployment among the academic community. [My emphasis]

Now you know why I have the utmost respect for professors Christine Hurt and Brian Tamanaha, and to a slightly lesser extent Bill Henderson.  Scam bloggers have little to lose, but those who risk their careers and reputations are NOT guaranteed a cookie for calling out the tuition bubble on their peers.  This resistance helps explain why scam bloggers are so often vocal young attorneys while the older ones are rare outliers.  Hopefully, attorneys like Jerome Kowalski can help bridge the gulf to the ossified legal profession.

I’ll let Kowalski close this post, mainly because he channels one of my other inspirations (in form, not substance): The Mogambo Guru:

What [law schools] should be saying, as loudly as possible, is “OMG, our hair is on fire! Run for your lives!”


[i] Indeed, type “scam blog” into a Google search and “law school scam blog” will auto-generate second.  Ouch.

[ii] For the record, I’m optimistic enough that the profession will accommodate everyone currently enrolled and that student debt will be bailed out, so if you’re in school now, dropping out is your call. Although, I recommend also reading Third Tier Reality’s take on strategic withdrawal for 1Ls.

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2 Responses

  1. Kowalski is more voice of truth, regarding this sick industry. If only the lemmings would listen to reason, logic, facts, etc.

    That said, I am glad to have one more practitioner openly side with the scam-bloggers on this vital issue.

  2. Nando,

    (1) Your blog and its comment threads are caustic but crack me up. Welcome. By the way, you do realize that your next post will be your hundredth?
    (2) My guess is that current law students simply believe the economy will rapidly recover by 2012-13. That’s why I emphasized Kowalski’s lines about word spreading among the beauty schools and students walking away from them. Given that there’ll be no monumental recovery, I give it 1-3 years.

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