NPR’s Law School Coverage Disappoints Again; the NLJ’s Opinion Page Entertains

Wendy Kaufman, “Job, Tuition Woes A Drain On Law Schools,” KUHF Houston Public Radio

“The American Bar Association has revealed a bit of a secret: A huge number of law school graduates cannot find jobs as lawyers…”

Since when was this a secret? If it were, why did fewer people apply to law school in 2010 than in 2004?

Way to not research NPR. What’s next, an exposé on this new scamblog titled Big Debt Small Law?

But that’s not the actual adventure for today:

Erwin Chemerinsky, “You get what you pay for in legal education,” in the National Law Journal

Chemerinsky responds to Brian Tamanaha’s book, Failing Law Schools:

“[Professor Tamanaha] singles out for criticism me and the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI) for creating an “elite” law school rather than one charging students less than $20,000 a year. Although everyone wants legal education to be less expensive, he proposes a model that is economically impossible without dramatically decreasing the quality of legal education.”

I’m only partway through Failing Law Schools (I’m still mopping up A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich), and I’m not even going to reach for it to respond to Dean Chemerinsky’s opinion piece.

(1)  The UC system has abandoned its law schools. For instance at Berkeley, Davis, Hastings, and LA, in 2011 dollars in-state tuition in 2004 was only ~$25,000. In 2011 they were all over $40,000 with Berkeley crossing the finish line as the first “public” law school to charge state residents more than $50,000 a year to learn The Law. I’m sure Irvine’s founders knew their law school wouldn’t receive state funding by the time it needed to start charging tuition, yet they opened it anyway. Fortunately its inaugural class just finished with a free ride; its successors won’t be so fortunate.

(2)  I don’t think anyone else has pointed this out, but UC Hastings made a big splash when it announced it was shrinking its incoming classes starting 2012. One new public law school opens, another cuts its enrollment. Why didn’t anyone tell Irvine it should’ve taken one for the team as the newest and least necessary law school? Read on, brother.

(3)  UC Irvine is in California, which is loaded with state-accredited, unaccredited, and correspondence law schools of all stripes. Plenty of the people who attend those schools become lawyers, and they pay much less than the $40,000 or so ABA fare. Most fail the bar exam, but then again they probably didn’t have the aptitude to pass it in the first place. The LSAT is a high predictor of bar passage, so legal education can be less expensive without dramatically decreasing its quality. It’s quite surprising that Chemerinsky has nothing to say about California’s non-ABA system.

“[Tamanaha's] solution is to advocate much lower-cost law schools. But is it possible? Tuition at the University of California law schools is approximately $45,000 for in-state students and $55,000 for out-of-state students. This is comparable to the tuition at other elite public and private law schools. For public law schools, it reflects the dramatic decrease in state subsidies over recent years.”

(4)  Why do we need public law schools, much less elite-mimicking ones? The whole point of public law schools is to provide legal education cheaply so the profession can be accessible to the rabble. If they’re going to charge more than many private law schools then they no longer serve that purpose and might as well close.

“Tamanaha is correct that law professors are paid significantly more than university faculty in disciplines like English, philosophy and history. Imagine that a law school tried to pay at that level, say roughly half of current faculty salaries at top law schools. Who would come and teach at a school where they got paid half what other law schools would pay them, and who would stay there when other opportunities arose?”

(5)  Faculty at top law schools routinely make more than $200,000 per year. Plenty of people would show up for half that.

(6)  The ABA renegade Massachusetts School of Law hires lawyers and judges to teach its courses. Do they jump ship the first chance? Also, don’t, like, thousands of people show up to law school faculty hiring “meat markets” held in nice hotels? I’m sure plenty of people would be happy to teach law for $50,000 plus benefits, even six courses per year.

“About half of our budget is faculty salaries and benefits, but even slicing these in half wouldn’t save nearly enough for a tuition decrease like the one Tamanaha argues for. The only way to accomplish that would also be to cut the size of the faculty at least in half. Increasing the teaching load from an average of three to four courses won’t help much, since I and many on our faculty are already teaching four or more courses every year.”

(7)  And now, the moment of truth: a trip to UC Irvine’s Official Guide page … Student to faculty ratio: 6.9 to 1.

Ho~ly $@%#.

This cannot be right. I have to dumpster dive into some enrollment numbers… UC Irvine had 235 students in 2011 (89 1Ls, and its inaugural class started with 60, now 58; Give or take a few transfers, we’re looking at a 2L class of 88). Okay, given that it’s inaugural class was small than what it’ll be going forward, it’s full-time enrollment should be most similar to Maine’s, which had 270 full-time students in 2011. Maine has a student faculty ration of 14.3 to 1. Recall that an ABA law school can operate with as high a ratio as 30 to 1. Now I’m sure there are some scalability and flexibility issues here: Unless the law school wants students to have a rigid curriculum, it’s probably going to have to hire some more faculty and enroll more students to make up for it. Fair enough, but Maine has been doing this since 1962. Sure Maine has a cheaper cost of living than California, but something tells me its law school doesn’t strive for “elite” the way Irvine does and pays its faculty accordingly. Tuition there is $22,000 for residents, $33,000 for non-residents.

This is Irvine:

This is Maine:

Two schools that operate very differently.

I’m going to skip Chemerinsky’s arguments that full-time faculty teach better than part-timers and that reducing law school’s costs would eliminate clinical programs. I think the full-time faculty teaching ability issue is a non sequitur. It’s not that they need to be wholly eliminated, just pared back and paid less, and if part-time faculty don’t have time to answer students’ questions, fire them. As for clinical programs, we’ve had legal education without them and it’s not like lawyers of yesteryear were rampaging savages like Attila the Hun (There’s that Byzantium book again…).

The conclusion, though, is where you ought to be frolicking if the rest wasn’t to your liking:

“Tamanaha says that UCI Law School ‘squandered’ its opportunity, and that where we ‘went wrong was in setting out to create an elite law school.’ My goal, and that of my university, has been to create a top 20 law school from the outset … If we had followed Tamanaha’s advice, we would not have faculty remotely of this quality and then never could have attracted students of this caliber. We surely would have been a fourth-tier law school. It is ironic that he would be advocating that because so much of his book is about demonstrating the serious problems such schools face.”

(8)  The actual irony here is that the summer Irvine received its provisional accreditation, the “Inland Empire’s” University of La Verne lost it due to too many of its graduates failing the bar exam. Southern California apparently didn’t have room for another fourth-tier law school (not that it didn’t stop the ABA from re-provisionally accrediting La Verne last spring), but don’t let that or Dean Chemerinsky’s arguments fool you into thinking that UC Irvine’s decision to build a top-20 law school from scratch is somehow more responsible than opening another La Verne. There are only so many top-20-caliber applicants in each application cycle (to say nothing of the number of top-20 law schools), but Chemerinsky has given no reason for us to believe that Irvine adds more educational value than, say, Vanderbilt or Minnesota do for its cost. Indeed, Irvine’s 58 graduates would’ve received comparable legal educations from those schools had it not opened. Thus, by jumping into the rankings dogpile, Irvine does not meet any unmet demand and only reallocates existing resources to itself. It may not be a bottom-tier law school that Tamanaha criticizes, but by shifting its non-top-20 predecessors downward UC Irvine ipso facto creates one.

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One Response

  1. Corporate media blows ass chunks. The ABA did not reveal a secret. Scamblogs, pissed off attorneys, judges, JDs, the New York Times, etc. FORCED the pigs to accept reality.

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