Links It Bleed—New Law Schools and ABA President Zack on Tuition Transparency

For some reason, new law schools quietly hit the newswaves today.

Sean Cockerham, “Can Alaska Grow Its Own Doctors, Lawyers?” in the Anchorage Daily News

The Institute of Social and Economic Research at UAA concluded in a 2004 report that a law school wasn’t feasible in the state. ISER said it would take 250 students to support a law school and that not enough Alaskans would attend.

ISER based its conclusion on the number of Alaskans who took the Law School Admission Test each year. Wickersham said the report was flawed. Many Alaskans don’t bother to take the LSAT because they have no way to leave Alaska for law school, he said.

I have two thoughts. One—a chuckle—the ISER appears to have found Jerry Kowalski’s mythical law school that has too few applicants. Two, if there is a shortage of lawyers in Alaska, and it’s plausible in its vast rural outlands, the solution isn’t a centralized law school in-state. The state judiciary, which the state had no problem importing, should decentralize the system and liberalize licensing requirements. It’s a perfect example of why centralized legal education should wane.

Melissa Ludwig, “Lean Times, yet 2 New Law School Pitched,” in My San Antonio

Amid a state budget crisis so severe there’s talk of shutting down four community colleges…the Texas House has quietly set aside $2 million over the next two years to feed an upstart law school in Dallas attached to the University of North Texas. And two South Texas lawmakers have filed bills to establish an additional law school in the [Rio Grande] Valley.

At least Alaska doesn’t appear to have any serious budget problems. Texas is a whole different story. What I liked about this article over other pieces is that the author took the time to quote employment experts rather than trust what some nearby law school deans said.

However, there are gaps in rural and poor areas, such as the [Rio Grande] Valley, because lawyers tend to cluster in big cities. If lawmakers did choose to start a new law school, it ought to be in South Texas, the report says.

Again, if a region within a state is somehow having trouble luring lawyers (have local firms/state offices tried posting on Craigslist in nearby urban areas?), then the solution isn’t a new law school but a cheaper, more efficient way of turning locals into attorneys.

ABA President Stephen N. Zack, “Law School Transparency Needed,” in ABANow (YouTube)

Shilling Me Softly posted this and I have a few things to say about President Zack’s points.

We always need new lawyers.

That’s debatable, at least in the very near term (say two to four years?) we could shut down every law school and the labor market wouldn’t miss the law schools’ output. Any demand growth wouldn’t be visible until entry-level wages start rising and all the JD-holders have left their Taco Bell jobs for The Law. I’m not in favor of such a drastic measure without changes to licensing requirements, but I am of the opinion that many law schools will have to close in the medium term.

We’re asking law schools to better inform potential applicants as to what the real costs of their legal education will be. For example, what their hourly credit cost is, and what the standard of living in their given areas would cost over a three-year period.

The three-year living costs isn’t so hard to do, but as to the rest, good luck. As a card-carrying member of the Order of Weirdoes Who’ve Seen Every Law School’s Website (OWWSELSW?) will tell you, only the University of Hawaii provides its 2011-2012 tuition information, and given that tuition is certain to increase in private law schools and skyrocket in public law schools, applicants are not well-informed as to their total cost of attendance.

On top of that, many law schools do provide per credit costs. That’s easy. They then assess all kinds of fees, such as the “Academic Excellence Fee.” I promise you that if tuition information were standardized like this, law schools would start shifting more of their total costs into fees, such as “seat charges” and “wireless bandwidth use fees.” I hope the ABA doesn’t let this happen.

4 comments

  1. I might be mistaken, but isn’t the Alaska problem (people not wanting to go to the middle of nowhere to practice), the reason why justices of the peace originally came into existence?

    You’re absolutely right about the law schools shifting from tuition to fees if more is mandated up-front. Many things now included in tuition (like access to the school’s library and resources) will probably be shifted. I don’t think they can do that with Westaw or Lexis, but it’d be interesting if they tried.

  2. (1) Your question reminds me of the “Last Lawyer in Town” problem in legal ethics w/r/t conflicts. Ultimately, small communities just don’t need independently employed dispute resolvers.

    (2) Actually, I ran into a bunch of schools that had an “Information Technology” fee or something like that, so you’re more right than you know.

  3. The statement from Alaska that the report that there were not enough Alaskans taking the LSAT because they could not afford law school is interesting. Back in ’70 when I started law school a friend of mine from Alaska told me the state of Alsaska paid his tuition because the state did not offer it’s own law school. When we graduated in ’73 the Editor-in chief of the law review started at $12,000 with a white shoe law firm in Phoenix while my Alsaka friend who had middling grades went with the Anchorage DA’s office at $25,000.

    1. You know what’s scary? $25,000 in 1973 is worth $123,999.44 in 2011 according to the BLS. The cost of living there must’ve been dirt cheap too.

      What’s really scary is that a law graduate today would *gladly* work for the Anchorage DA at that salary. Either the value of a law degree has truly plummeted relative to other occupations, or we’re seeing a serious reduction in living standards across the board. Wow. Thanks for sharing.

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