Here’s your summer reading list on the increasing cost of legal education. I arranged it in chronological order beginning in late 2009. Indented pieces are responses to the original.
- Herwig Schlunk, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Lawyers”
- Catherine Rampell, “Law School as an Investment”
- Sam Glover, “The Law School Bubble Is about to Burst”
- KEYTLaw, “More on Law School as a Bad Investment”
- Jack Crittenden, “A Wise Investment?”
- Christine Hurt, “Bubbles, Student Loans, and Sub-Prime Debt”
- Ameet Sachdev, “Law School Tuition Hikes Spark Talk of Bubble”
- Debra Cassens Weiss, “Law Prof Sees Parallels Between Tuition Hikes and Subprime Mortgage Bubble” (Hey, at least the ABA acknowledges the problem!)
- Elie Mystal, “The Next Bubble: Law School Tuition”
- Mish Shedlock, “Bubble in Law School Tuition and Lawyers?”
- Patrick Thornton, “The Law School Tuition Bubble: The Rising Costs of Legal Education in Minnesota might Not Be Sustainable”
Costs rising, two explanations exist: bottleneck or bubble. I consider a bottleneck to mean that a legal education is either a breakeven or beneficial investment, albeit a big one. Fortunately for this blog, only Jack Crittenden comes close to arguing this. He’ll be dealt with later. By contrast, a bubble in legal education (strictly speaking this is a “Juris Doctor bubble” not a law school tuition bubble) requires demonstrating insufficient demand for JDs in the actual post-law school market.
The “actual” is important. I don’t see bubbles as arcane economic phenomena but really as just overvaluation of an asset. There must be a disconnect b’ween people’s actual opportunities and what opportunities they think or are told exist, otherwise, many would choose not to attend law school in the first place. Showing this disconnect is tricky, especially with the employment statistics law schools provide. Market demand for legal education and attorney oversupply are harder to document for multiple reasons that I’ll post about later. Until then, add these sources to your reading list; they’re a little less recent than talk of the tuition bubble yet just as crucial to understanding it.
- Lynn Lofton, “Law Grads Might Want to Check Out Other Career Options”
- Bill Henderson, “Distribution of 2006 Starting Salaries: Best Graphic Chart of the Year”
- Felix Salmon, “The Costs and Benefits of Grad School”
- Mark Greenbaum, “No More Room at the Bench” [sic]
Now, a bottlenecker will claim the legal sector is improving along with the rest of the economy. While Jack Crittenden believes this, even he accepts (doesn’t reject) Schlunk’s conclusion that it’s a losing investment for most. Though the economy is adding real jobs, three problems remain. One, job numbers are still too low; two, they give no indication that the legal market will improve more rapidly to make up the deficit for out-of-work attorneys any time soon; three, the conditions that allow the bubble to exist remain, so the underlying problem isn’t being solved.
Next, the J.D., it’s so versatile!