Ari L. Kaplan, “Would Law School Warning Labels Make Any Difference?” in National Law journal
When someone opens an article with, “People smoke. People speed. They don’t exercise or get enough sleep. They go to law school,” my eyes roll. Mr. Kaplan, allow me to direct you to your comparison’s flaws:
- Tobacco is extremely chemically addictive and destructive; we try to prevent people from using it because they can’t once they do.
- Speeding isn’t strictly enforced because its danger depends on context: school zone versus interstate highway, sleet versus dry, summer weather.
- People don’t exercise because they often lack the free time to do so.
- People don’t sleep because our country hates people who prefer afternoon naps. *Ahem*
In few of these cases are people misinformed, and the topics don’t compare to law school because, as Mr. Kaplan himself observes, 0Ls are either uninformed or overconfident. Indeed, Angel would not devote blog posts to admonishing legal education profiteers if the knowledge was widespread. Offline, she dissuades people from law school the Die Hard way—one at a time—at an average of three per week by her count.
But I’ll stop teasing Mr. Kaplan’s lead-in and take what he says a little more seriously. First, he cites University of Miami Law School’s Dean Patricia White who compares student debt to the housing bubble. This I like, and I’ve read elsewhere of Miami’s attempts to keep people out of its classrooms.
Kaplan then returns us to the recurring (and debated) idea of putting tobacco warnings on law school applications. His ideas include (1) better salary data, (2) data on graduate outcomes 5 and 10 years along, (3) a money-back guarantee in exchange for higher 1L tuition, and (4) a paralegal certificate after only one year of law school.
The discussion devolves to a debate between transparency advocates (White) versus applicant micromanagers (Indiana-Bloomington Professor Bill Henderson).
The rest of the piece oversells the notion that every law student can be a brilliant entrepreneur in a depressed, deflating economy. I’m all in favor of clever, creative people (for example I blog as a creative outlet, and it’s even helped me find work), and I don’t want to discourage people or sound like a Negative-Nellie, but reform won’t be complete without accepting that the legal education system malinvests in our human capital. It’s one thing to encourage overbuilding of houses people can’t afford, but it’s worse to encourage people into sophisticated fields where their productive potential could be much better directed.
My opinion on transparency vs. micromanagement? This returns us to Kaplan’s lead-in. In all his examples, people were addicts, rational actors, or overworked. They all knew the dangers, which is why law school is a separate being. It’s also why I don’t think both approaches will be sufficient. I don’t trust the ABA or law schools to disclose all the relevant information, nor do I trust them to discourage 0Ls from giving them money. For instance, Miami hasn’t closed or reported a major faculty contraction.
Aside from Kaplan’s ludicrous money-back guarantee, and the paralegal certificate which brings with it its own transparency issues, nothing here addresses the fundamental cause of all the legal profession’s problems:
Legal education rests on the flawed premise that anyone can choose law practice as their first career.
Until we revise this premise and require law school applicants to actually have some kind of legal experience upfront, or even mandate a minimum age requirement to, like, 35-year-olds, transparency and applicant micromanagement will always be the inefficient route to quality legal service. An experience requirement is also more compatible with human capital contracts and employer-paid legal education, which often occurs with part-time students who start when they’re older anyway. These two options also fail to counter the excessive law school profiteering we’re seeing.
I further believe the “first career” premise has also fed into the juris doctor’s degree-creep. First it was a professional degree with a specific purpose; now Dean White casually describes law school as “the great generalists graduate school.” We’re back to the versatile juris doctor—the degree with neither boundaries nor accountability. The thing about graduate degrees is they promise knowledge without expertise. The law school tuition bubble exists because law schools promise expertise when they have no hope of providing it efficiently. Transparency to inform the public of the juris doctor’s labor market value is good for the short term, but difficult structural reform must occur as well. “Creative Hustling” might work for a handful, but it is not reform.