October 19, 2010
Have Law Schools Been "Irresponsible"?
Posted by Gordon Smith

Brian Tamanaha says YES. The reason: "Law schools ... responded to the worst recession in the legal market in at least two decades by letting in more law students."

From the comments, Brian's point has as much to do with the cost of legal education and the resulting debt burdens than with the number of prospective lawyers being admitted to law schools. For a creative, if futile, attempt to deal with law school debt, see this letter from a Boston College student to Interim Dean George Brown.

You might argue -- as have some of the commentators at Balkanization -- that law schools should not be responsible for rationing admissions when demand is high (as demand tends to be in a recession). Brian's response: "I would feel more comfortable with this rationale if law schools were honest and forthcoming employment numbers. That is not the case."

Back to that BC student. His proposal was elegant: "I am willing to leave law school, without a degree, at the end of this semester. In return, I would like a full refund of the tuition I’ve paid over the last two and a half years." Notice this argument in favor of his proposal:

This will benefit both of us: on the one hand, I will be free to return to the teaching career I left to come here. I’ll be able to provide for my family without the crushing weight of my law school loans. On the other hand, this will help BC Law go up in the rankings, since you will not have to report my unemployment at graduation to US News.

But the student is simply wrong, as Elie Mystal observes at ATL:

Here’s where he’s wrong. Boston College can just do what every other law school is doing: artificially inflate its employment statistics with a variety of part-time, temporary, or on-campus jobs. U.S. News has decided to ignore this problem, so there is no downside to the law school if its students can’t find the kinds of legal jobs they expected.

And this kid will probably end up with some kind of job. He’s got a baby on the way! What, he’s just going to sit on the couch and steal used Pampers out of area trashcans? No. He’ll find something. He’ll go back to his prior career in teaching (if he can), he’ll work retail, he’ll clean toilets — he’ll do what he has to in order to provide for his family.

And when, through his hard work and determination, he finds something to bring in a little bit of cash, BAM, BC Law will report him as “employed upon graduation” to U.S. News. Problem solved!

And now you get to the moral of the story: the U.S. News rankings are the root of all evil.

UPDATE: As long as we are featuring cynical thoughts about law school ...


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