September 08, 2011
ScamLaw: Paternalism or prudence?
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

It is wrong for law schools to lie.  About anything in general, and about placement statistics in particular.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  I'm in favor of the Law School Transparency Project.  Like I tell my students: lying is bad.  Courts don't like it, law schools shouldn't do it, and you shouldn't do it, either.

OK, now that we've gotten that out of the way, the gravamen of the LawScam beef seems to be that students are incurring crippling debt and can't get jobs that will make that debt manageable.  I think that this is a bad situation. I feel bad about it.  Even though, as I blogged 2 years ago, I think that state law schools in general--and Georgia Law in particular--come out looking pretty good.  

I understand much of the criticism to be directed at third and fourth tier law schools that charge a lot of money and are relatively less competitive in the marketplace.  Yes, I know that there are a lot of T14 graduates that can't find a job.  I don't view that as a systemic problem, though--I view that as a function of a bad economy.  So, if I'm right, then the argument is:  third and fourth tier schools are misleading students, it's criminal, shut them down.  I take it that this is a clean solution to the LawScam: remedy the oversupply of new lawyers by cutting it in half.  I'm not advocating this solution, but just observing that it seems like that's where you end up if you follow the LawScam argument to its logical conclusion.

This reminds me of the accredited investor definition question I've taught for going on 7 years now in Corporations.  It amounts to: the US government restricts what investments you can make, but if you're an accredited investor (read: "rich person") then you can invest in riskier things, like venture capital or hedge funds.  Each year I ask students for a show of hands on what they think of this rule.  There are 2 ways to look at it.  One is that it is a vital means of protecting the general public from taking irresponsible risks they shouldn't be allowed to take.  The other is that different rules apply for the wealthy: they get access to the sweet deals, and the rest of us have our noses pressed up against the glass.  In 2008-09, the students subscribed to the first view; in 2005-06, the second.  

I agree with David in agreeing with Campos: law schools are a form of social sorting.  If you likewise agree, that means doing away with T3 and T4 schools means doing away with access to the legal profession for a whole swath of people.  Maybe most of them shouldn't be lawyers in the first place.  That argument has lots of resonance now--and forever if you think, like Larry Ribstein, that the legal market is permanently changing.  But if the market shifts again, and lawyers are back in demand, then without these T3 and T4 schools, there will be a lot of people with their noses pressed up against the glass, clamoring to be lawyers and mad that they can't be.  


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