Day: 2011/01/07

Link Slowly and See—Dean Slings Stones at the ABA

I have three this week:

(1) Michael L. Coyne, “Law, Beyond the Reach of Many,” in the Worcester Telegram

Reading through this piece, I thought, “Wow, this guy’s really done his homework and really likes Massachusetts School of Law.”  Then I realized that Coyne is actually one of MSL’s deans.  MSL, if you recall, is the non-ABA-accredited, renegade law school that resists the ABA’s archaic requirements.  Coyne could’ve been more persuasive if he’d commented on the juris doctor oversupply problem, which animates the tuition bubble, but it’s always a pleasure to see legal educators speaking reality to ludicrousity.  I can’t speak to MSL’s amazingness as a law school, nor do I believe Americans have a God-given right to higher education, and Coyne’s primary goal is to cast himself as an advocate for minority advancement rather than student debt reform, but when ABA law schools’ tuition doubles in nine years while inflation increases by 25%, that must signal a crisis.

An appropriately highlighted quote:

Nowhere is the need for reform of higher education more obvious than in legal education.

(2) David Halperin and Katherine Mangu-Ward, “Communitas: For-Profit Colleges,” in Blogging Heads

This diavlog doesn’t directly address legal education, though Halperin pointed out that law schools tend to offer scholarships based on merit rather than need because doing so inflates their US News rankings.  My favorite part was when Mangu-Ward brought up the argument of an asset bubble in higher education, which she’s more or less convinced describes the situation.  More subtly, she pointed out that accreditation standards tend to favor educators privileges rather than student outcomes.  If you’ve got an hour, it’s worth a listen, and I hope to listen to it again this weekend.

(3) Kimber Russell, “Tardy for the Party Redux: The Mainstream Media and the Blawgosphere Strike Again,” in Shilling Me Softly

I usually don’t parrot other reformers, but acclaim to Russell for being one of the few people to point out that the “Value Proposition of Attending Law School” document released by the ABA is more than a year old.  I have no idea why the legal world suddenly thought it was new—even Coyne, above, knew it was a year old.

Importantly, though, is what’s buried in footnote 12:

[Former Northwestern] Dean Van Zandt’s estimate [that a starting salary of $65,315 is necessary for a law degree to be a break-even investment] is based on the assumption that students would make $60,000 per year without going to law school, that law school tuition is $30,000 per year, that the student works for thirty years as a lawyer, and that the discount rate is 5%. His estimate does not take into account the opportunity cost of three years of foregone income, nor does he consider the cost of debt service on law school loans.

As I wrote last September:

Van Zandt’s $65,315 number makes even less sense.  Anyone making $60,000 year is not going to forgo $180,000 in salary + $90,000+ in tuition just to make $65,315 per year.  A $270,000 law degree over three years for a $5,315 raise?

Given that the necessary break-even starting salary is far higher than the degree’s cost, the legal education system is in a crisis.  The ABA should not be burying these facts in a footnote.