Law Deans and a Law Professor Respond to the 'Law School Bubble'
Rachel M. Zahorsky: The impact of federal loan programs in relation to the massive debt of legal grads and their dim prospects for repayment is a critical issue for the legal profession as it continues to navigate changing dynamics, or paradigm shift.
I’m Rachel Zahorsky of the ABA Journal, and today I’m joined by Deans Craig Boise of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University, Paul McGreal of the University of Dayton School of Law, and Washington University law professor Brian Tamanaha, author of the forthcoming book Failing Law Schools.
We’ll explore the merits of the Law School Bubble story, examine any dissenting views, and hopefully continue the thought-provoking discussion fueled by the nearly 200 commentors on the piece on ABAJournal.com.
Dean McGreal, would you like to begin today’s discussion with your thoughts on the consequences of a law school bubble and ways law schools can combat the situation?
Paul E. McGreal: Sure. When I read through the article again, and I’ve read it through several times, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it. One of the–sort of the elephant in the room for me when I read through this and other discussions regarding legal education and the very legitimate concerns about debt load is cost of legal education because access is clearly linked to cost. Cost is driven often times–in fact in higher education generally but then also in legal education specifically, by personnel costs. Overwhelmingly, the cost that a higher education institution faces is in its faculty, staff, those personnel that work for it.
And personnel on the faculty side–and again, we don’t talk about this very often, is driven by the work load that faculty have. So, to the degree that we need to cover a certain number of classes within any institution of higher education but also law schools, the number of classes that we ask faculty to teach, and again the curriculum we need to cover, will drive the number of faculty that we have to hire to cover that. And also, the number that we are expected to have that are full-time versus adjunct or part-time will affect that cost as well. But certainly, if we are asking faculty to teach four courses in a given year or if there’s a push to have faculty teach fewer courses to undertake, whether it’s more research or service, that’s gonna push up the number of faculty we have to have to cover a certain curriculum.
So, workload is directly related to number of personnel, and that’s directly related to cost. With most law schools being tuition driven, that cost is going to be borne by those who pay the tuition. So, one of the things, again, I think a lot of these conversations doesn’t get talked about directly is the way we configure faculty workloads and faculty expectations is going to directly drive the cost that students pay through tuition and is financed through the student loans that they receive. So, if we’re gonna talk about reducing cost, overwhelmingly we’re going to be looking at this cost savings coming in, staffing, and in faculty workload and what that means for the legal academy overall.
So, for example, if we all take a standard model of equal weight on teaching, research, and service then we’re all staffing in a very similar way and if there’s a pressure for whatever reason it is, its pursuit of reputation and whether that’s tied to U.S. News or not, and there’s a belief that that’s tied to faculty research then the push is actually in a direction of a more costly model, which is less faculty teaching which drives up the number of faculty that must be hired to cover courses and further drives up tuition. If we want to be creative, we have to think about, I think, think about restructuring the faculty workload at some schools.
Not every school–this should not be a one size fits all model, and schools should be thinking actively about what faculty workload should look like for their particular institution for their mission, and what is responsible in terms of the debt load and the cost that their students can undertake. Now, there’s gonna be some pressure from the ABA in terms of the faculty/student ratios, which are not required but there’s certain presumptive bands. To be safest, my recollection is you have to be–meaning that the ABA presumes that your faculty/student ratio is acceptable is below 20 to 1, and then in between 20 to 30 to 1 there will be some sort of scrutiny, and then above 30 to 1 there will be–faculty/student ratio, there’s a presumption that you’re not in compliance.
So, if you want to avoid any scrutiny at an ABA site inspection you prudently keep it below 20 to 1, so there’s that kind of pressure in the accreditation process–not directly, but sort of indirectly that may affect workload. Even if we decided today, if I decided or any law school decided that it was going to change faculty workload today, the bottom line is we have a certain number of faculty and that’s not gonna change until there is turnover on the faculty through faculty taking lateral positions or retirement. I had a faculty member tell me, “Well, if we change the workload then we’ll just have more courses. We’re adequately staffed for the courses we need now; what are we gonna have these people teach?”
That’s just a recognition that personnel turnover in academia can be slow, and so it may be that you wait until a generational changeover point if you’re going to make this change in staffing, but that may be, to me, one of the big concerns is that if we need to change the cost structure, to change the pricing for legal education, if it’s going to require a different staffing model, will we be able to do that in time if this pressure comes sooner rather than later? But again, to me, that’s–when I read this story in particular but other stories about concerns about the cost of legal education I immediately come back to what is the big driver of cost and the ways in which that has to change.
Rachel M. Zahorsky: The issue of how many faculty and the cost, the overhead of faculty, is something that’s often brought up when determining what the law school budgets could be, should be with the rising of tuition. And as well, from what I’m hearing from those within the profession, the demand for more practical based education, which would entail more clinic opportunities which tend to be much smaller, also seems to be a factor that is going to drive up costs rather than lower them. Dean Boise, did you have any thoughts when you read the article of what, perhaps, of what was missing in that discussion or any agreement with something that was identified in the article for schools specifically to look at?
Craig M. Boise: Yes Rachel, and I have read the article a couple of times as well. I guess I come out a little differently in terms of assessing the problem than Dean McGreal. He’s absolutely correct that there’s a cost of education, law school education has increased, continues to rise. It will continue to rise even in the environment which we find ourselves now simply because of the need for law schools to be able to cover costs with smaller numbers of students coming in the door. I guess where I have a little bit different approach is that I don’t think that the cost is something that can be addressed across the board, sort of in a universal fashion.
I think that law schools across the country are addressing it individually in individual ways, but I see that the focus on the cost of law school education as not being the right focus. Now, this article compares the potential for law school student loan default to the mortgage crisis and the bubble on housing mortgages. I think we would not look at a mortgage bubble problem and say, you know, what we need to do is figure out how to make houses cheaper. The problem is that there were too many houses. I think that’s the problem in legal education. There are simply too many graduates of law schools for the number of jobs that are out there and that are likely to be out there in the next five to ten years.
So, the solution to that is sort of a supply and demand issue, and the solution to that is to reduce the supply of lawyers. I think that that’s already happening. This is pretty clear that law schools across the country are admitting substantially lower numbers of students than they did two years ago, three years ago in response to the drying up of demand for legal education. But that–
Rachel M. Zahorsky: Mr. Boise, do you feel that that–oh, sorry, do you feel that that is a gate-keeping move on behalf of law schools or that just the nature of supply and demand are at play and that students are choosing to not go to law school because that no longer seems like the best option given the current economic conditions at this time? So, it’s the markets at play rather than an active gate-keeping by law schools saying we need to admit fewer students to help preserve the integrity of the marketplace and the profession?
Craig M. Boise: No, it’s absolutely the market and law schools are responding by competing for the smaller pool of law students that are out there. I think that’s where the innovation will come from and I think that’s where you’ll perhaps finally begin to see law schools differentiate what they provide in terms of legal education. Now, unfortunately, as Bill Henderson has spent a lot of time talking about, the U.S. News rankings have essentially applied a single standard to every law school across the country so that Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law where I’m the Dean is measured in relation to its performance against the same standard as Harvard or Yale, you know, versus Chicago where I went to law school.
Those schools have very different missions, very different profiles in terms of their student body so this has driven everyone to emulate a few schools on top. Perhaps now with a much smaller pool of law school applicants, we’ll see law schools really focus on doing the things that they can individually do best where they have a strategic advantage, where they innovate in ways that other law schools don’t.
Rachel M. Zahorsky: And as far as the duty of law school, when we discuss what the purpose is of a legal education, it’s often said that the purpose of a legal education and the purpose of the faculty and other academics, the administration, is to best prepare students to compete in the marketplace, to best prepare them for a career either in law or to use those skills that they’ve learned to pursue other career options. It’s not discussed that the job of the law school is to find these students jobs. When you start to get to the point where the market is what it is and students have exacted so much and feel that they’ve been made a promise, which is the exact phrasing I get from many students who call, whether that’s a correct perception or not, this is how they’re feeling.
What role is it of the law school? What is their duty to their students at that point, does that change, and has the duty of law schools to their perspective students, their student body right now, and those recent graduates, has that changed over the last couple of years and will we see a greater demand for that acknowledgment that perhaps the duty is a little bit different now?
Craig M. Boise: Well, I think that law schools have an obligation to assist their students when we enter periods like this, but I don’t see a law school education as being singularly about getting someone into a law firm job. I think that’s where there’s been a bit of a disconnect in terms of students’ expectations. And also, just keep thinking about what a law degree is about. We have literally thousands of our alums who have never used their law school degree or used their law school degree for only a short time in the practice of law in a traditional law firm type of job. So, you know, it’s interesting, we are degree-granting institutions, we provide a law degree, and I think that our obligation in that regard stops short of requiring us to ensure that our graduates all have jobs.
We have a very active office of career planning. It’s very proactive in terms of going out and finding opportunities for students, and in fact, Cleveland-Marshall has the highest percentage of graduates among all Ohio public law schools that have jobs that require a JD. We’re very proud of that, but we’re at roughly 67 percent and so there’s a lot of work still to be done. But, I don’t believe that the goal of law school ought to be to find every student a job, and I don’t think that every student comes to law school with that expectation or with that kind of clarity about what they want to do with their law degree.
Rachel M. Zahorsky: Professor Tamanaha, I’d love for you to jump into the conversation. You’ve written extensively about the conditions facing graduates, particularly a focus on the debt load and whether or not those students will be able to earn enough to manage their monthly student loan payments and what’s going to happen to all these economic casualties of the market, especially those that have graduated in the last couple years and those that are about to graduate. I’d love to have you jump in the conversation now on what you see as important issues that law schools need to identify and what are the things that could be done to help ease some of these issues that students and recent graduates are facing.
Brian Z. Tamanaha: You identified what I think is the fundamental issue, and that is the amount of debt that students are graduating with, the income that they earn on average, and the fundamental mismatch between that debt load and that income. So, just to use a number that you produced in your own article, the average debt is $98,500.00. The median job for 2010 was $63,000.00 and if you earn the median income and you had the average debt, you couldn’t make your monthly loan payments. Now, this is a fundamental mismatch in the cost and the return on it. This ties into things both Deans Boise and McGreal said, much of which I agree with, but this is a systemic problem. That is, we cost too much for the economic opportunities again and return.
So, when Dean McGreal talks about costs, and I think correctly says that the cost is in the faculty, and so that’s a problem because it’s very difficult to trim faculty costs. While that’s all correct, ultimately it seems to me these changes will be forced on us whether we want to or not. Now, how that will come about, I believe, will be a combination of a continued fall in applicants as well as some adjustments to the federal loan program. All of this was alluded to in your article. In terms of what Dean Boise said, it’s not clear to me that schools downsizing will be sufficient to deal with the oversupply problem.
The numbers I have, and this comes out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggests that we have systematically produced about a third more law graduates than available lawyer jobs at least going back ten years. The suggestion that I think law schools often make is that, well, they’re doing other good things with their degree. I’ve been unable to get any good information about this. I mean, I know graduates who became FBI agents and accountants, but I don’t know that many of them, and otherwise, it’s not clear what they’re doing. As we have seen in recent news reports, many of them are working menial labor and just regular positions that had nothing to do with their law degree. So, the problem really, I think, is fundamental.
I don’t think it’ll come down to voluntary changes. I think these changes will be forced on us. Now, what that might look like in the end is impossible to say, but it does seem that things will not continue, and whatever happens, it will be quite devastating to law schools.
Rachel M. Zahorsky: Dean Boise and Dean McGreal, when we talk about the changes that are being forced upon schools, and we’ve already seen different curriculums at schools starting to change to be more practical based, we’ve seen other alternatives, a two-year program being instituted at some schools, it seems that law schools are trying to figure out ways to adapt to the needs of the market. What do you think are going to be some of the biggest changes that we will see and what will be the most painful changes to come, and perhaps, what are things that could be easy for students or schools to change and adjust and help the situation to improve that perhaps we’re not looking at close enough? Dean McGreal, would you like to go first?
Paul E. McGreal: Sure, and I’ll sort of preface that with, in part, picking up at something that Brian said that ties into what Craig said. I mean, clearly there is a contraction in the number of seats that are available in law schools, and I agree with Brian that at the end of the day might not be enough in terms of correcting the oversupply. Another thing I should be clear about is I think that even if we get to a balance in supply and demand for lawyers, I still think–and this is why I didn’t address the supply and demand thing initially because I agree that there is an imbalance, is that it’s still too expensive.
I think that goes back to Brian’s point is even if we have that right balance, if it costs more at the end of the day than students can repay their loans–and they’re not getting jobs that can repay their loans, that’s still the problem even if the demand and supply are in line there. That’s why I focused on cost in talking about it. So, the challenge is how do you provide the skills that the profession is demanding at a level that doesn’t break the bank. To me, part of it is a concern that–when we talk about skills training, there’s no way that I think a law school can staff itself to provide the variety of training and the variety of skills that have been expected and provided by the typical apprenticeship/mentorship that has occurred in practice.
I’m reminded of a conversation at a professional legal academic meeting where someone starts off with the obvious of, well, you know, I’ve had students say they wish they drafted a contract in law school and we can agree that it’s probably a good idea. They should have done something like that, an appellant brief. And then someone says, you know, I had a student who told me I wish I had–or a graduate, I wish I had drafted environmental impact statements. It’s like, oh, well, I’m not sure how we could provide the true panoply of all the different types of experience, especially when a lawyer’s career evolves over time.
What that’s pushed me to is–actually, I’ve had a conversation with a law firm within Ohio where what they did was some very interesting work in identifying the skills that they expected their attorneys to have at different levels of development, new associate, mid-tier associate, senior associate in the different practice groups. It was a tremendously rich rubric of what they expected. That gives me something to maybe talk to them about as some sort of an apprenticeship model for the third year of law school, whether it’s like a residency in medical school, but finding some sort of partnership where the employers, those out in practice, can articulate for us the skills that they’re looking for and then partner with us to provide that education in the third year of law school.
That type of working relationship with the practice, I think, is a completely unexplored area. There have been some employers from what I’ve heard or read about–usually it’s been in-house legal counsel that tried to partner with law schools to provide that type of training. But that’s, I think, one of the creative solutions where it wouldn’t add to the staffing of the law school but you could work with a law firm to identify training that could occur during that third year that would make someone closer to being billable, given the skills that they need.
And, in fact, even if the law firm doesn’t hire or absorb more than a certain number of graduates, the students who have gone through that type of apprenticeship program could have on their resume that according to this law firm they are now the equivalent of finishing their first year as an associate and have that credential in addition to the JD when they leave law school. Again, this is something where I think there needs to be conversations between law schools and the practicing bar about how we can partner instead of pointing fingers at each other about, “You’re not doing enough,” and “Well, it’s not our problem.”
Rachel M. Zahorsky: Dean Boise?
Craig M. Boise: Yeah, I just want to say something about this supply and demand issue. I think that the competition where we’re saying too few applicants for the number of law schools we have can also address the cost issue, so it’s not simply about can we reduce the supply of lawyers, but I think that this diminished pool of applicants will lead to innovation at law schools, and I think that what you’ll see is that there will be a greater demand for a less expensive legal education. So, I think it’s the fact that students are beginning to look much more closely at the value proposition of the legal education, schools are able to provide a legal education coupled with a high level of employment among grads should have a strategic advantage.
My point about cost is simply that it’s not something that we can address globally at every law school or university. Those sorts of cost decisions are extremely individual. At my school they relate to the extent to which a–first of all, whether a school is public or private. Public schools, some have greater or lesser funding from the State, private schools have universities that have more or less money to make an investment in the law school, and so those decisions are very individual.
Changing ABA rules about student/faculty ratios and so forth is one area to tweak, I think, on the margins, but I think that at the end of the day every law school is figuring out how to balance its budget, how to satisfy its central university, and making decisions about how to cut costs on that basis, not about more universally whether the faculty makes too much money. I agree with what Dean McGreal said, you know, we are being asked as law schools to do more to train our graduates to practice law and I think in some respects the expectation is unrealistic about what a law school can do. After all, we’ve had a model where law schools have done what we do and law firms pick up the training by adding the practical experience in real life situations.
That has worked pretty well for quite some time. It’s come under increased pressure in the last five to ten years as clients of firms have become more cost conscious and are looking to shave those costs by demanding that law firms not bill the training to the partner. So, that has in turn caused law firms to look to law schools to do what law firms used to do and I think that we’re not well equipped to do the practical training, except as a way of introducing law students to the sorts of things lawyers actually do in practice. We can’t replicate a law firm environment, even in a clinic, and provide really relevant practical experience for our students as they’re going through law school.
What we’ve done at Cleveland-Marshall is created a number of external clinics where our students work with outside supervising attorneys on particular projects that relate to different subject areas of law. Some might be environmental law, it might be an estates and trust external clinic. The point being to give as much an experience on real practices as possible, but the truth is that much of that training is still going to have to happen in the practice setting. You know, young lawyers will make mistakes, they will learn on the job, and that’s, I think, not fundamentally going to change.
So, we will continue to try and figure out–there’s a lot of structural change going on in the practice of law as Bill and others have written about, and I think it’s important for us to figure out where the practice of law is going, what the practice of law is going to look like ten years down the road, 20 years down the road, and try to get in front of that and be positioned and prepare our law school students accordingly.
Rachel M. Zahorsky: Professor Tamanaha, you have mentioned in some of your reports that we’ve reached a critical point where change is no longer something that we should be looking at, perhaps something that’ll be good for the profession, but the need for change, like it or not, is here right now. Now, we all know in academic institutions, any sort of an institution, implementing change, determining what’s the best course of action, and then executing that course takes time. There has to be a lot of discussion, law schools are doing that right now as they’re adapting different programs, at different conferences talking about what’s the best way to proceed, law firms are a part of that discussion.
In that interim though of where we actually start to see a more sweeping movement to change, rather than a gradual movement, what happens to those students who are graduating this year or those who graduated last year? There seems to be–there is a lot of concern for this lost generation of lawyers. How do we address that? Is there something that can be addressed for the people that are in that position right now?
Brian Z. Tamanaha: The situation is so bad. By that I mean the economics are so skewed, the costs relative to what you get in return that I don’t know that anything can be done for people in this position. It’s unfortunate. Up until now, up until this year, actually, I think law schools themselves have been insulated from the consequences of this. With the news, the coverage by the New York Times, with the news about the lawsuits, finally law schools have turned–there’s a lot of self-examination now, and unfortunately, we should have done this five years ago. It’s only when we began to feel the consequences of this, I think, that we sat up and started paying attention.
It’s difficult to talk about because there are a lot of different things that we’re discussing. Delivering education that they need to be a lawyer at a reasonable cost is what it comes down to, but there are different pieces of this. But one thing I think–at some point, it won’t be what we want to do, it’s what we have to do, and that’s where I think law schools, the position that law schools will be in soon. By that, I want to agree with something Dean Boise said. If the number of applicants continues to fall, that’s going to affect price but in a different way. It’s going to affect price because we will have to discount all the way through the class, as a number of law schools are doing already.
What I mean by that is you can have a listed tuition price, but if everyone gets a scholarship–and this happened with Illinois in the entering class for 2011. Everyone, including everyone off the wait list got a scholarship. That means you have a de facto tuition reduction, and to the extent that law schools are forced by people unwilling to come without discounts to do this to greater and greater extent through the class. Up until now, law schools have mainly given scholarships to the top half of the class. This is for the purpose of shaping their LSAT median, but when you’re in a position where you can’t even fill your seats, you’re gonna discount deeper into the class because you’d rather have some tuition dollar rather than none.
That is a different way of adjusting the cost mismatch, and when we head in that direction law schools will face crunch from two different directions: Fewer bodies in the seats and then fewer dollars per body. Now the question that law schools will have to face is how do we run? We have to match our expenses and our revenue, and Dean McGreal suggested that, well, we have four credits. Law professors, through most of the–four classes–for most of the 20th century taught 15 credits, 14.5 to 15 credits. We are now down under 12 credits. Changes of that nature, that is, teach more–but obviously we’ll also have to lose staff and this is a difficult problem.
How do we get professors to leave? This is when issues of tenure come up and issues like adjusting the Age Discrimination Act to allow schools to have professors retire at age 70. It has to be a combination of all these things. And then ultimately what no one’s talking about is reducing professor pay. We continually talk about, “Well, if pay is too low we can’t find people who want to become professors.” I just don’t believe that. There’s a great demand for these positions because, frankly, they’re wonderful jobs to have, and if the economics of it require that a school cut professor pay or go under, professor pay will be cut. So, this is what I mean by a quite dramatic shift.
Now, the impact of all of these things, if they work out this way, will be to reduce the price. The fundamental economic mismatch can’t, won’t be solved without something quite dramatic in the order of which I’m talking about. So, I see it, I don’t want to say in more apocalyptic terms, but in some ways I do and this includes some law schools going out of business and the ones that remain trim their operation. Now, I want to emphasize something that both Deans said and that is law schools are not all in the same position. I’m not–what each school has to do on its own terms will differ depending upon its position in the local market, depending on the economic return of its students.
A public school like Cleveland-Marshall is quite reasonably–more reasonably in proportion to how much students have to pay. It places very strong in Cleveland. So, a school like that is better positioned to make these changes. There are very expensive private schools that don’t deliver; there’s schools, I’ll just tell you, that have 30 percent of their graduates get jobs as lawyers. Schools like that–and its tuition is $40,000.00. Schools like that are–I don’t know what they can do to change the value proposition for their students. So, this is a very individual thing. We are all affected in the sense that we operate within the same environment, but when it comes to institutional survival, that will depend upon the school’s cost and position in its local market.
Rachel M. Zahorsky: Deans, I’d like to invite you to give any thoughts to things that we haven’t discussed, we haven’t covered. I’m particularly interested in something that we haven’t really discussed yet, the mood and the pulse of the students now. In talking to other Deans a couple years ago there was a lot of anger, and while there’s still a lot of anger it seems that the mood of the students has shifted more towards hopelessness, despair, or just fear and worry as we start to, law schools and in conjunction with the ABA and other people who are tallying statistics and what not as more information becomes available, as it becomes more transparent as issues such as this are covered more broadly in media so that students are more equipped with a realistic outlook of the market.
How do we–what are things that you hope to see to change that mood, to change that view of the profession, and that just trying to figure out ways that, you know, people will be glad to be a part of this profession again, to look upon it and say, yes, things are happening, they’re moving in the right direction?
Paul E. McGreal: I was gonna say that I think part of it is being candid about and recognizing with all the different constituencies of the law school of the situation. I think there’s been a sense that people aren’t addressing the realities. In fact, one of the things I find a little bit ironic in some of these discussions, I think, Brian’s absolutely right that some of the things he’s talking about, about the faculty salaries being less, and I agree with him 100 percent.
I mean, we could offer–and I think law schools can and should offer lower starting salaries than they have even around the time I was hired and still attract very good quality faculty. But the interesting thing is that referred to apocalyptic, and I think you’re right. In legal academia, academics do–legal academics do see some of this about changing workloads, et cetera, as extreme, but I talk to our graduates who are in law firms and who are working for government offices where this is what they’ve been living with the last few years to make their ends meet.
So, I feel very compelled to be candid and to address this stuff very seriously about how we are using our students’ tuition money partly because I know what other employers have gone through and our graduates are going through in operating their practices. The sense among some that we should somehow be immune to this, that faculty getting raises at the same time that we see graduates and their law firms taking pay cuts is–there’s an un-reality to it.
So, it’s addressing some of this head-on so that we don’t seem like we’re out of touch. Again, not to say that faculty and Deans necessarily have been, but I think that maybe we haven’t been clear enough and haven’t been open enough in talking about the realities that face law schools, what we’re trying to do to be on top of it, and how we are concerned, truly deeply concerned about these issues. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about job placement, that I don’t think about and look at what our debt load is and how we can sooner rather than later re-staff doing a strategic plan that takes into account this idea of re-staffing so that our costs are different.
Again, there are challenges in terms, as Brian said, in terms of when that turnover will occur, but some law schools are at a generational point where that will happen in the next five years or so, and not just going back in and hiring in an undisciplined way to replace Professor so-and-so but to actually think through it in a way that you plan over the next five to ten years to be at a different place when you come out on the other side.
I think that the mood changes I’ve seen among students, alumni, faculty, and staff, if there’s honesty and candor about the situation and showing meaningfully how you’re behaving differently to address it, not behaving in the same way expecting a different outcome I think is really important to giving people confidence, not that all is well, but that you’re working on something and seeking reasonable solutions.
Craig M. Boise: I agree with what Dean McGreal is saying. I do think that there–I’ll go a little bit further and say that I do think that among some faculty members there is a bit of detachment from the realities the students are facing, that lawyers are facing, about what’s going on in pay in the legal profession. I think that we will all, as law schools, have to address that issue and will address that issue if we intend to survive.
I think that one of the things that may come out of this that we look back on as a good is that those law school students who do go to law school will do so, I think, increasingly because they have a real passion for this profession, that it’s something that they really want to do, and it ceases to be sort of a, you know, I have my poly-sci undergrad, I don’t know what else to do, let me go to law school type of proposition. I think that has happened. Anecdotally I hear that sort of justification for going to law school from students sometimes, and I think that it’s important that students are thinking very carefully about their career and whether they really want to do this or this is just–whether they’re in it purely for a perceived easy six-figure income.
So, I think that we’ll probably see students that care more about the law, care more about helping people through the law. I see this, a lot of our students come to law school and want to work with legal aid, want to work in the public sector for non-governmental organizations, and there’s a real passion there that’s driving their pursuit of this degree even though it’s difficult and expensive.
Rachel M. Zahorsky: Professor Tamanaha, I know there are many issues that we can discuss, a lot of different avenues that this conversation could take. Just in the short time period that we have though for today’s discussion, is there anything that you’d like to add as a final thought on what we should consider and what the future of the profession is going to look like?
Brian Z. Tamanaha: The creditability of law schools, I believe, essentially has been ruined. I don’t want to say forever, but certainly for a generation, and the way to begin moving in the right direction, just at a fundamental level, is for law schools to be forthcoming about information about employment. We are still not doing this. By forthcoming I mean not providing all kinds of information crafted in a way that is difficult to understand. I mean, every law school ought to put on its website, this percentage of the class got jobs as lawyers, these are the kinds of jobs they are. We should post information about salaries. This is about selling a product in a way that people come in knowingly.
There’s all kinds of talk about, “Well, they should have known better; they should have done better research; they made bad choices,” and I think the starting point for law schools is that we should behave in a way that’s honorable, that lives up to our standards, lives up to the standards of the profession, and–the sad thing about this for me is that despite all of that, you can look on law school websites today and still find information that’s very hard to understand and is essentially hiding the ball. That’s a start. I believe other things–we have so much to go it’s hard to say anything, but I’d like us to start right there.
And the lawsuits against schools, we don’t know how they’ll go and they may well fail, but it’s a spectacle that only reinforces attitudes that we’re doing something wrong. I think a starting point, really, is for us to really look at ourselves and say, okay, we have to change how we carry ourselves, present ourselves, and then ultimately how we operate.
Rachel M. Zahorsky: Thank you, Brian. I’d also like to thank the Deans for joining us, as this is all the time we have for today’s discussion. I encourage our listeners to post their reactions to today’s talk on ABA Journal.com where we will continue to cover the paradigm shift, and its effects,facing the profession today.
We received nearly 200 emails and online comments on “The Law School Bubble” cover story in January. The second installment of the Paradigm Shift series, it showed how traditional U.S. legal education paradigms, driven by federal loan underwriting, are not responding to the market forces as law schools continue to add students and raise tuition rates in a mature legal services industry.
Hear ABA Journal business of law reporter Rachel M. Zahorsky host follow-up discussions with law school deans and professors to explore the merits and critiques of federal loan programs, examine the root causes of the deep debt students face and propose potential solutions to combat future tuition hikes.
In This Podcast:
Craig M. Boise
Craig M. Boise is Dean of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University.
Paul E. McGreal
Paul E. McGreal is Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Dayton School of Law.
Brian Z. Tamanaha
Brian Z. Tamanaha is the William Gardiner Hammond Professor of Law at Washington University Law in St. Louis. He is the author of the forthcoming book Failing Law Schools.