Two Quick Comments on David Segal’s Portrait of Richard Matasar

(1)  Law schools cannot self-terminate.

I suppose it’s safe to say that when NYLS dean Richard Matasar stepped down, I was easier on him than David Segal is in today’s NYT piece, “Law School Economics: Ka-Ching!” My personal opinion that I realized after I published my piece is that if you want to be a reformer who acts against your own interests, you must show some noblesse oblige. That means you do not criticize your peers’ practices while making half a million dollars off your students’ debt. You take a voluntary pay cut to show that you are serious, and you make enrollment cuts like Albany Law School supposedly did over the last decade. If you get ousted, you go back to teaching. At some point one must be willing to lose for one’s principles. Matasar’s ineffectualness/perceived hypocrisy never surprised or shocked me. To me it’s obvious that non-Ivy League law schools have no hope of internal reform without losing their place in the U.S. News rankings and by consequence access to high LSAT-scoring applicants, for they should realize by now that the legal education system has over-expanded and will certainly contract. If they’re not going to make symbolic gestures personally, reformers at lower status law schools might as well save their breath and tell the board of trustees that it’s time to close up shop.

(2)  Demand for legal education and demand for lawyers is not the same thing. One must fall.

Segal writes:

[T]here’s no business like the business of law school. The basic rules of a market economy — even golden oldies, like a link between supply and demand — just don’t apply. Legal diplomas have such allure that law schools have been able to jack up tuition four times faster than the soaring cost of college. And many law schools have added students to their incoming classes — a step that, for them, means almost pure profits — even during the worst recession in the legal profession’s history.

It should be clear: demand for lawyers is separate from demand for law degrees, and the ABA’s goal of law as an elite profession contradicts its concurrent goal of law as a democratic profession open to the masses (especially minorities, which is the ABA’s biggest insecurity). That’s the basic problem, and as J-Dog opined before taking a blogging break, the irreconcilable conflict entails the solution: Either:

(a)   A Gorbechev figure takes over at the ABA and initiates law school accreditation perestroika that circumvents antitrust concerns: minimum LSAT score requirements, mandatory experience in a legal position, or mandatory undergraduate course streams. Such reforms would smash the legal education system, and enrollments would fall to what they were in the 1960s. Law remains a selective, elite profession.

(b)  Water down legal education requirements (especially the costly wasteful ones) to the point that nearly anyone can get a law license provided they meet certain minimum criteria. Law becomes a democratic profession.

Until some kind of formal change is adopted, expect more legal education volatility: wary applicants, warier bondholders, and defiant law school behavior (like Vermont’s increasing its tuition and LL.M. students to compensate for declining JD enrollment).


  1. Honestly I was unimpressed. The only thing that the legal education system requires is a simple rule change- no need to make this complicated. The ABA can change the criteria for accreditation and states can stop giving these stand alone shitholes a green light. Its that easy. These places would literally fall apart in a matter of a few years. The number of law schools would very quickly drop down to a more reasonable level. High tuition is another matter entirely. The ranking system needs to be revamped, but again, not so much of a problem.

    1. ABA needs more stringent criteria. INCLUDING AT LEAST an 80% bar passage rate for every accredited school. That still leave a huge margin of error. The reason the exam has gotten so hard in recent years is because the schools and ABA have fallen down on the job. That leaves the state bar commission as the ONLY gatekeepers to stem the flow of new lawyers into the market. The test was far, far, easier in the past (a formality basically) because it wasn’t necessary. There was an assumption that if you got into LS and made it though the program you were competent. Clearly that kind of assumption is dangerous now when you have candidates with 148 LSATS and 2.6 gpas in political science. I’m not knocking people from state schools – I went to University of Illinois and was a liberal arts major. But the difference is that I had a 165 LSAT and a 3.4 GPA. I did not get into a T15. I went to a top 50 though – Brooklyn Law. But still, I’m on the cusp of being uncompetitive. I will never get biglaw and I would be lucky to even get employed at a medium sized commercial firm. My prospects are grim thanks to the overabundance of shitty tier4 schools in NY/NJ area. I passed both exams and was in the top 15% of my class but I am still looking for a full time job. Less law schools = less people competing with me. I’m all for it.

    2. Changing the curriculum. The only reason I was happy to go to BL was I actually got a more practical education than my buddies over at Fordumb or Columbolaw. Legal education doesn’t require hours of learning useless shit. It should be hours of clinic time, apprenticing with alumni, and the procedural aspects of law. Gaming the process is your greatest weapon. If you never file a real motion or argue a case in law school, your doing something wrong. It should only take 1 semester to learn “contracts” the rest of the class should be focused on drafting and construction. THAT would be useful. Not learning about the fine line distinctions between impracticability and impossibility. Same with basic courses like property. Why even learn that archaic crap? Learn about zoning, drafting deeds, how to do a closing. Those are things lawyers should know. Your client doesn’t care if you know Shelly’s rule, they just want to pay for their stupid house. If you can’t effectuate that, what good are you? What good is that degree on your wall?

  2. Shouldn’t the ABA act more like the governing body of medical schools? It’s difficult to get into medical school and there are many people who want to get accepted who aren’t. Law schools, it seems, should function in a similar way.

  3. I think if the ABA implements these three rules for accreditation of each school, the problem is solved in no time:

    1. For each graduating class, no less than 80% must be employed in bar-required, full-time jobs within one year of graduation.

    2. For each graduating class, the median debt acquired in law school must not exceed the median starting salary of ALL graduates (not just the ones that found employment).

    3. Attrition rates, excluding students transferring, must not exceed 10% of a given class per year.

  4. Simply put, the ABA has PROVEN that it cannot adequately police the law schools. Congress must strip this morally-bankrupt organization of its accreditation powers. As it stands, the ABA allows the schools to run as profit centers – with no regard to the prevailing lawyer job market. Aren’t professional bodies supposed to be responsible and accountable to their members, and future members?!?!

  5. If the ABA is run largely by people who hire lawyers (partners) and people who make money teaching people to be lawyers, then there’s no incentive whatsoever to improve things.

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