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Is Law School Tuition ‘Too Damn High’? Dean and Tax Prof Differ on Solutions to Legal Ed Problems

Posted Oct 5, 2012 7:14 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A tax law professor and a law school dean are proposing two remedies for what ails law schools.

University of California at Hastings law dean Frank Wu sees the problem as large class sizes. Law schools should have cut class sizes long ago, he writes in the Huffington Post. “Or at a minimum, we ought to have done our part to set realistic expectations.”

Wu notes his announcement earlier this year that his law school would cut new admissions by 20 percent and suggests that other law schools should also consider shrinking.

Law school isn’t for everybody, he says. Who should attend? Those people who want to be lawyers, or who plan to use the training for purposes such as joining a family business or entering public life. “Law school isn't a good bet at current tuition rates for the one third of the class that we have usually seen: the bright college senior who isn't ready for ‘the real world’ but tests well,” he wrote. “Too many people take up three years of Socratic method based on what they've watched on television or in the movies. They will be disappointed if not embittered by the real world of document review and legal research in an environment that is an exquisite combination of the very boring and very stressful.”

TaxProf Blog author Paul Caron notes Wu’s article and points out that UC Hastings increased tuition for state residents by 15 percent at the same time it cut class size. Tuition for 2012-13 is now more than $46,000, compared to $20,900 in 2004-05, Caron says.

Caron suggests another solution in an article for Pepperdine Law. Law schools, he says, should follow the lead of Jimmy McMillan, the New York gubernatorial candidate whose slogan was “the rent is too damn high.” Most law schools that are shrinking class sizes are also increasing tuition to make up for lost revenue, Caron says. “Saddling even a smaller number of students with increased debt is not an acceptable solution,” he writes.

Law school is twice as expensive as 20 years ago in inflation adjusted dollars, Caron says, yet no one would argue that legal education is twice as good. “Law school tuition is simply too damn high. Administrators and faculty need to ruthlessly examine law school budgets and cut areas that are not essential to the school’s mission,” he writes.

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