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January 31, 2003

High Cost of Law School

A Mad Tea Party says "older" law students should look for information at, which I did, because, I guess I'm "older" or something. It's appears to be a great site for the law school student/applicant who really would like to make him/herself more anxious by reading stories about other students' and applicants' anxiety. Of course, it's not all about anxiety-inducement; the links page points to the U of Richmond Pre-Law Handbook, which really does look like it contains a lot of sound advice for those applying or thinking about it. (Why didn't I find this last summer when I was still in the maybe phase?)

Anyway, NonTradLaw looks valuable primarily for its discussion boards, which feature tales of people getting notification of their acceptance to GULC through the back door. (I was denied access, so I'm either out out out or still on the "deferred" list. Whatever.) A little more digging leads to a post entitled Why is law school so expensive? The answer, according to libertarian George C. Leef, is that the ABA has created a cartel that artificially inflates the cost of a legal education. Leef writes:

Thanks to connivance between state legislatures and the American Bar Association, law school costs much more than it needs to. If we allowed a free market in legal education, the cost of preparing for a legal career would fall dramatically.

Leef makes a good case that the ABA's accreditation requirements, combined with states' bar requirements, forces law schools to spend more money on facilities and teachers than they might otherwise. However, his argument that the solution is a "free market" in which adjuncts and part-timers replace tenured faculty is not so convincing. I'm all for reducing the cost of law school, but the abuses of adjunct labor in academia—especially in the Humanities—are well known. Replacing tenured faculty with adjuncts comes at its own high costs.

Much of the rest of Leef's argument is that ABA-required 3-year law programs are a waste—lawyers learn little in law school and so should spend only one or two years there before going out for real "on the job" training. This certainly sounds good, since much of legal education seems to emphasize the importance of summer internships and clinical work while students are in school. However, is the time spent in class really so meaningless? Do we really want future lawyers to have even less familiarity with legal history and theory?

Leef's argument was occasioned by a Nov. 2002 report from Equal Justice Works: From Paper Chase to Money Chase: Law School Debt Diverts Road to Public Service. For anyone who's considered public interest/public service legal careers, the report's overall conclusion is not surprising:

Faced with staggering law school debt, many law school graduates must forgo the call to public service despite their interest and commitment to such a career. Public interest and government employers will increasingly lose in their efforts to recruit and retain talented and dedicated attorneys. With educational debt payments averaging close to $1,000 a month (approximately one-half of a typical public interest lawyer's salary), a graduate's ability to pay other necessary bills such as rent, utilities, gas, and food too often become very difficult, if not impossible.

However, the report contains good details about the situation that might persuade more schools to offer LRAPs, or perhaps even to take up some of Leef's criticisms in an attempt to reduce the cost of law school. Since I doubt we'll see tuition rates drop seriously any time soon (regardless of any changes made to accreditation or state bar requirements), the Equal Justice Works recommendations for improving and expanding LRAPs are probably the best hope the public has for ensuring it continues to be adequately represented. Of course, it's not surprising that the ABA and American Association of Law Schools would support reforms like these, since, as Leef rightly argues, both organizations certainly benefit from the high cost of law school.

What a mess. How ironic that a profession supposedly dedicated to equality and justice (hah!) suffers so much from those very ills. Can anyone tell me again why I want to go into this profession?

Posted January 31, 2003 04:03 PM | law school

Whew. Good thing you decided to answer your own question! My crystal ball is getting a little worn down lately :)

Think it's time to start a campaign for federal loan forgiveness for PI attorneys? Doctors have one!

Posted by: alice at February 2, 2003 01:13 PM

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