Links Are You—LL.M. Programs & How to Finance a Law School

I’m running low on Who albums, but not on links!  Here’re two good ones for you.

(1) Karen Sloan, “‘Cash Cow’ or Valuable Credential?: Law Schools Add LL.M. programs, but their value may be limited,” The National Law Journal

Growth in attendance of LL.M. (Legum Magister, since no one ever knows what it stands for) programs is exploding.

Neither the ABA nor the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) collects employment data or salary data specifically for the graduates of these programs, as they do for J.D. graduates.

Uh oh…

Schools can admit students into the programs without worrying about compromising their ABA accreditation or U.S. News & World Report rankings, since the ABA does not accredit LL.M. programs and U.S. News does not look at the test scores or grade-point averages of those students. “All schools need to be aware of the perception that LL.M. programs are just one more way to get another year of tuition from students who have already paid too much,” said Chapman’s [Director of Graduate Programs Ron] Steiner.

The “perception” Director Chapman refers to is an argument from ignorance: we don’t know what the outcomes of LL.M. programs are, so we can’t say whether they’re effective or not.  However, given that people are going into the programs to distinguish themselves from those with mere juris doctors, especially with those from ünter-law schools, we can assume that the value of a juris doctor is decreasing according to the market.  That alone is a serious problem.  We can only hope that the unemployment the legal profession faces is wholly cyclical and that the J.D.’s value in a good economy hasn’t been compromised.  I fear it has.

[Update]: Elie Mystal is far less forgiving about LL.Ms than I am.

(2) Billy Gunn, “Next up for Louisiana College: Serious Financing,” in The Town Talk

Remember Louisiana College of Law in Shreveport, LA?  It’s still moving forward.  If you ever wanted to know the process law schools go through to find their funding, this article has it all.  Starting a law school requires an estimated $50 million investment, and that’s just for operational costs, excluding the facility, renovations, and the library.  Gunn then enlightens us:

Unlike other higher-education endeavors, [Dean J. Michael] Johnson said, a law school becomes profitable or at least self-sustaining after a few years.

Too bad the tuition bubble is unsustainable for a few more years.

The next step is to ensure that the enrolled students are smart enough to pass the bar exam.

[A] law school is better off taking on a small, qualified group of first-year students, who will enroll on faith that the institution will pass one of the first ABA hurdles — provisional accreditation — which will allow them to take the bar exam. Those students’ bar exam passage rate is key to full accreditation by the ABA down the road.

My modest research yields only two law schools that failed to obtain ABA accreditation. One was the for-profit American Justice School of Law/Alben W. Barkley School of Law in Paducah, KY, which closed in 2008.  The other is the Massachusetts School of Law, aka “ABA’s Bane,” still accredited in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  Unless Louisiana College is a mismanaged for-profit school or a renegade flaunting ABA dictates, it’s pretty unlikely LC wouldn’t be accredited.  Additionally, neither school failed for want of bar passage.  Nevertheless, Liberty University School of Law dean Matthew Staver surprised me when he said:

“It’s a very rigorous process” that most nascent law schools never get through.

I think the swarms routinely overwhelming Above the Law’s servers would beg to differ.  I’d like Dean Staver to name the other nascent law schools that failed to gain ABA accreditation.  Wilkes Law School, for example, didn’t have the funding, so accreditation was never an issue.  That law school’s still on the table, though.

The article loses me when it discusses how LC will recruit students.

There is no law school for 200 miles in any direction and plenty of geography from which to draw qualified students with tuition money.  Johnson waves away the naysayers. “From a pure feasibility standpoint,” Johnson said, “I’m not sure how this can fail because … it looks like the perfect storm for our law school.” [Possibly ironically misused metaphor original]

Law schools are not hospitals; we do not need them evenly spaced throughout the country.  Even so, Louisiana is already the 11th highest jurisdiction in lawyers per capita.  Yes, there are plenty of qualified students, and they finance their educations with non-dischargeable student loans.[i] Indeed, LC may not fail, but from a pure feasibility standpoint we’ve seen no evidence that its graduates will succeed.  Nor do we even know its tuition rates yet.

Phillip McIntosh, associate dean of [Mississippi College School of Law], said students choose law schools for many reasons, including “location, costs and potential job prospects.”  Said McIntosh… “Recruiting law students is a very competitive enterprise that promises to only get tougher.”

This blog does not exist to sing praises of Jerome Kowalski’s essay, “What If They Built a Law School and Nobody Came?” but you have to be impressed that he can handily naysay deans Johnson and McIntosh before getting to his byline.  Despite negligible indications the economy is improving (and plenty of reasons I think it won’t, absent sustained government intervention), the American public still believes that a juris doctor is a worthwhile investment at current tuition prices.  Consequently, I’d be astonished if law student recruitment became a “competitive enterprise.”  It’d probably be a good thing.

[i] It occurs to me that a particularly unscrupulous law school could in theory admit large 1L classes and deliberately fail the multitudes who wouldn’t’ve passed the bar to begin with—just to take their money and maintain a high bar passage rate.  Hmm…

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Links–Louisiana College of Law, & Rankings vs. Grades

(1) We have a David Lat piece at Above the Law on Louisiana College’s proposed law school, “A Law School Is Coming to Shreveport—Hallelujah!

I have a few points to add to Lat’s piece.  First, Louisiana, as you may know, has one of the worst ratios of law students to residents in the country (1 for 1,628.15 persons).  It also fares poorly economically with 1 law student for every $80.54 million in GSP.  Louisiana is in the top ten for both.  A fifth law school there is an unusually bad idea.

Second point, unlike Lat, I use combined statistical areas rather than municipal populations.  Here, the Shreveport-Bossier City-Minden CSA has 432,060 residents with ~200,000 in Shreveport.  That doesn’t help much given the above, but with an opening class of 40, it’ll have an enrollment of about 120, leaving 1 law student per 3,600.5 residents.  This is likely well offset by the J.D. cadres pouring out of Louisiana’s other law schools.