Posted Jul 22, 2011 01:26 pm CDT
The New York Times published a story last Saturday about law school economics—and New York Law School in particular. The article noted on the school’s large class size and $47,800 annual tuition and contrasted them with outgoing dean Richard Matasar’s statements in a 2009 speech that law schools are “exploiting” students who accumulate large student debt but don’t succeed.
The story caught the attention of some law professor-bloggers, many of whom thought that many of the reporter’s points were cheap shots and that the article left more difficult questions unanswered. University of Illinois law professor Larry Ribstein characterized some of the article’s content just that way at Truth on the Market.
“Instead of cheap shots at Matasar’s words vs. actions, the reporter might have asked the important questions about his purported subject, the ‘legal academy’ in general. He might have started by wondering why the students NYLS admitted decided to come. Why did they pay one of the highest tuitions in the country to earn salaries on graduation that the law school told them (exceeding existing disclosure requirements) are likely to top out at $75k and may be as low as $35k?” Ribstein wrote. “In other words, lawyer licensing is the elephant in the bedroom that the NYT somehow missed. As long as you can purchase a monopoly on transmitting legal knowledge from NYLS for almost $50 grand a year, you will continue to buy it in a depressed job market that offers a paucity of alternatives.”
At Class Bias in Higher Education, University of Florida law professor Jeffrey L. Harrison said he doesn’t understand “the expose-like nature of these articles when it comes to private schools.” However, he sees a contrast between a private law school producing more law grads than the market can support at the expense of those law grads and a public law school getting taxpayer support to do so. “What is the current goal of public law schools? That actually is pretty easy. It is not about students or taxpayers. Right now it appears to be to preserve the institution, the jobs it provides for faculty, and the process of selling lottery tickets to students.”
University of Denver Sturm College of the Law professor J. Robert Brown Jr. wrote at TheRacetotheBottom.org the article had a “mish mash of points that were not all well defended.” He notes that the class size growth at New York Law School has some redeeming social value. “One statistic not mentioned in the article is that there are thousands of students every year who apply to law school and do not get in, mostly because they have low test scores,” Brown wrote. “Yet a low test score does not mean that these students will make bad lawyers. By opening the doors, Dean Matasar arguably gives more students a shot at a career in law, some of whom would probably not matriculate to any other law school.”
Legal writing scholar E. Scott Fruehwald noted both the Times article and Matasar’s subsequent response on the New York Law School website at Legal Skills Prof Blog and also offered defense for Matasar and NYLS. While Fruehwald thinks “that we need to reconsider whether we are doing the best for our students, particularly in the area of transparency.” But he also adds this post script: “I would again like to emphasize my strong support for the changes NYLS is making in its legal skills program. It has provided a model that all schools should follow.”
Bloggers outside of academia hesitate to put the blame for the decreased success rate of would-be lawyers on the law schools supplying a demand for degrees (if not a demand for practicing lawyers).
“How many practicing lawyers tell kids intent on going to law school that being a lawyer is hard work and no guarantee of wealth or prestige?” Scott Greenfield, (NYLS 1982, incidentally) wrote at Simple Justice. “How many explain the basic economics of how much they need to earn to make the law school investment pay off? How many even know the words ‘opportunity costs?’ “
At the Careerist, Vivia Chen writes: “To me, so much has been written, blogged, and litigated there’s no longer any excuse to plead ignorance of market reality. … Why plunk down ungodly sums of money to go to a low-ranking law school? Unless you’re pretty sure that you’ll be at the top of your class, or you’re dying to be a lawyer, why bother? Maybe that sounds snotty. But law is a pretty snotty profession, no?”