The Decline and Fall of the British Links—ABA to Tighten Its Grip on Law Schools?

Five links in three topics.

(1a) Karen Sloan, “ABA May Join Push for Law School Transparency,” in Law.com

(1b) Elie Mystal, “The ABA Is Slowly Coming around on Law School Transparency,” in Above the Law

(1c) Debra Cassens Weiss, “ABA Weighs Required Disclosure of Law School Job Stats, More Rigorous Reporting,” in The ABA Journal

Last week, I was curious what the ABA’s new president, Stephen Zack, thought about legal education’s ills.  Sloan answers:

President Steve Zack told a gathering of law school deans and professors last week that the organization is considering requiring law schools to disclose cost and employment statistics to all accepted law school applicants. The effort, dubbed “Truth in Law School Education,” is still in the planning phase, but Zack hopes the ABA’s Young Lawyers Division will consider the proposal in February.

Note that the YLD is considering the proposal.  Young lawyers benefit the most from less legal labor oversupply.  Not that that’s a bad thing, and my juris doctor’s value would certainly benefit.  It’s worth noting nonetheless.

Unlike the proposed changes to the Questionnaire, the Truth in Law School Education effort would require law schools to send employment and cost information to accepted applicants.

The question from before remains: Can law schools be trusted to responsibly report their outcomes or are independent audits required? The ABA believes in the law schools, as does Mystal in his article.

My fear is that even if applicants understand the tri-modal starting salaries, risk of part-time work, &c, they may still be too innumerate to properly conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the information they’re given.  I echo a point by Managing Partner in, “Not Rich at $250k – It’s How You Live, Not What You Make.”

Student loans are just a monkey on your back that you will be carrying for decades…

I have never seen a law student/young associate actually be able to accurately predict how long it will take them to pay off the student loans – including myself – we always under-estimate.  When I graduated law school, I made a very careful calculation of payoff time – and I am pretty good with the whole “math” and “estimating” thing, as well as being very frugal.  However, it still took several years – and my initial estimate was too low by about 10%, which translated into several months…Further, of the people that I graduated with who were very adamant about being able to pay off their student loan debt in “3 years”, about 40% of them still have student loan debt about 15 years later – and I am only counting the ones that have had high-paying jobs the whole time.

The bottom line is that the student loan debt is going to be with you for years and years – but also that you can either choose to bite the bullet in the early part of your practice and live super-frugally for several years to pay off that loan debt – or you are going to have to carry that monkey (and its interest) for your entire working career.

This is why I (impliedly?) wrote in my previous post that I favor external structural reform rather than ABA- or market-information initiated changes.  Law schools might game the system; maybe they won’t.  If these regulations succeed, admissions and prices would drop, and law schools could not operate as usual.  I’m also concerned that applicants aren’t the best market actors no matter what information they’re given, especially because they have an optimism bias regarding their abilities.

(2) Brian Tamanaha, “The Irresponsibility of Law Schools,” in Balkanization

Professor Tamanaha criticizes law schools for admitting more applicants as jobs decline.  I’m slightly disappointed because it’s not a perfect argument in itself.  He’d need to connect higher acceptance rates to the oversupply problem, which is much harder.

(3) Debra Cassens Weiss, “Profs Predict Law School Closings as More Grads Earn Less than Break-Even Pay,” in The ABA Journal

Even the ABA Journal is willing to report that legal education will contract.

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