There is really a lot of press on law schools this week! HomelessLawyerPostingFromLibrary found three good ones (Lawyers Against the Law School Scam, “Is There Blood in the Water?”).
(1) Razib Khan, “The ‘Law School Scam’ Media Bubble,” in Gene Expression (Discover Magazine)
Khan jokes that not only is there a law school bubble but there’s also a bubble in legal education media coverage. I like how he characterized the problem, and he appears to give credit to scambloggers:
As it is, law schools, and higher education more generally, has a other-peoples’-money problem right now. At some point the music will stop, people will be left holding the bag, and the bubble will burst.
The fact that the mainstream media is now devoting so much time to the issue is a good sign that there’s a change in the offing. Outrage and disillusionment has percolated out far enough socially that this is a story that many people are interested in.
Which leads us to one of his cites:
(2) David Segal, “Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win,” in the New York Times
The only time I called law school a “scam” was an old reference to Kaplan’s Concord Law School, and even that was based on a newspaper article’s characterization of its business practice of targeting returned U.S. soldiers for online legal education. Reading Segal’s latest piece (he must really be enjoying this topic) on enticing students with scholarships they’re highly likely to lose after only one year makes me wonder.
As with all things on legal education coverage, even this one is old news. Back in late 2008, Elawrence’s Blog published a post titled, “The Law School Scholarship Scandal.” A few law students accused St. John’s University law school not just of offering merit scholarships that its students had a good likelihood of losing, but that St. John’s even packed its merit students into the same sections to “curve out” even more of them, hoping they’d continue anyway paying sticker price.
(3) Steven Harper, “Debt Loading,” in The AmLaw Daily
Speaking of calling law school a “scam,” Harper used the F-word.
Fraud can be overt–by commission–or it can occur by omission when there’s a duty to speak. Revealing good facts can create an obligation to disclose the bad ones. Greater candor won’t stop the flow of talented applicants to law schools. Nor should it. The legal profession is still a noble calling. But it has also become a way for some educational institutions improperly to persuade the next generation to mortgage its own future–literally. [emphasis added]
Okay, he didn’t use it directly, but it’s still in context. I also take the emphasized portion to mean that Professor Harper doesn’t think transparency alone will solve the problem.
Some call it the next big bubble. If it bursts, I’m not sure what that will mean. Because of statutory revisions in 2005, bankruptcy doesn’t discharge student loan debt unless the difficult “undue hardship” test is met. The era of big bailouts has passed, so that’s an unlikely solution as well.
Legal education rakes in a lot of money, but nothing like the $8 trillion housing bubble, though there’d be lost revenue and jobs in law schools, casebook publishing, and related supplemental learning services (Kaplan, BarBri). To preemptively broaden the scope of the debate: Legal education IS NOT the canary in the coalmine. Quite the opposite, it is your lead miner keeling over due to lung rot. Why? Because professional education is a double-down bet for college graduates with unmarketable degrees. Given the high youth unemployment and student debt levels, you can see that young Americans are out of economic options.
Perhaps we’ll see a new growth industry in the revival of an ancient concept: debtors prisons. Law school deans who lost sight of their true obligations to their students and their profession should run them–without pay.
Harper’s statement about debtors’ prisons allows me to add some value from HomelessLawyerPostingFromLibrary, this time it’s an off-Broadway play I saw last week:
(4) Laurel Haines, Future Anxiety, directed by Jim Simpson at the Flea Theater, New York
Set in a melted-down Eaarth, Haines’ play conveys a deep pessimism towards humanity, part Futurama and part Deep 13. While the play could’ve used a touch more poignancy, its humor and tempo reminded me of the Minneapolis improvs I went to while in high school. In Haines’ future, the Steven Harpers of the world don’t just get debtors’ prisons: they get a government (such as it is) agency called the “Collections Bureau,” which sends agents to debt defaulters’ homes to arrest them and then ship them to Hong Kong as slave labor. That probably won’t happen in our world, but to respond to Harper’s earlier point on the bubble: the bank bailout for legal education creditors is already in place. Law students and taxpayers get stuck with the bill. Will universities get off scot free? No idea.