Standalone Law Schools Aren't All Doomed

brooklynlawschool_facebookBrooklyn is also paying for CUBE in a relatively nontraditional manner. “CUBE was funded by a number of initial entrepreneurs,” Allard says. “They gave us the money and said, ‘Don’t put this in endowment. Spend it on CUBE and then come back to us in 18 months and show us what you’ve done, and we’ll talk about continuing that funding.’ So it’s a different model. I think Moody’s was impressed with that.”

Allard figures that model gives the center more flexibility. “When you think about it, yeah, it’s tougher, and operating that way can be a multiple-change-of-underwear experience, but this is the way that businesses operate, and this is the way entrepreneurs operate,” he says. The idea is that Brooklyn Law will have to actually produce results to justify continued funding. 

THE REMAINING CONCERNS

Still, Moody’s raised some hard-to-shake concerns about standalone law schools. For one, in its report on law schools in general, the credit agency pointed out Brooklyn Law’s 15% tuition reduction and argued that “many students still associate price with quality”—which implies that cutting tuition could actually backfire. Allard, a strong critic of soaring law school tuitions, naturally opposes this line of thinking. “It may be feasible for ever-increasing tuition prices to attract applicants if they feel confident in the market and their ability to pay off loans,” Allard says. “But then that collapsed. And so students are absolutely not applying to law schools because they fear that they will not be able to afford a legal education.” 

At this point, Allard says it’s more important to justify the price of the legal education being offered. He believes Brooklyn Law has managed to do just that, citing a stabilized class size as proof. “We reduced the class size to maintain quality four years back, and then we’ve more or less been stable,” he says. “Last year, we had a larger class size than the year before, and this year we’re on track to have a larger class size than last year. So, we’re heading in the right direction.” He attributes the uptick to a few things, such as preparing students well for the bar (Brooklyn Law’s first-time test-takers who took the exam in July 2013 had a 94% pass rate, a record for the school) and unique offerings like CUBE and the two-year JD program. Still, there’s a lot of room for improvement in the employment category: Only 57.5% of the Class of 2012 was employed nine months after graduation, according to U.S. News. 

Brooklyn Law should continue tackling problems like these if it hopes to raise its rating (or prevent it from going down). Moody’s report on Brooklyn Law indicates that the school’s rating depends heavily on attracting students; after all, as Moody’s more general report states, standalone law schools rely heavily on tuition revenue. But that’s another thing Brooklyn Law is trying to change. “One of the things that we’re doing is we’re reducing our reliance on tuition,” he explains. “We’re fundraising even more than before.” Brooklyn Law has also sold off valuable buildings: “these older buildings were starting cost us money, not generate money,” he adds. 

Ultimately, Allard emphasizes that all law schools should be judged on their individual merits and faults rather than on the categories they belong to. “If you’re an independent law school and you don’t have financial strength, you know, you could have some issues,” Allard says. “But certainly, [Moody’s was] able to look at us and look at our financial strength and how we are managing change and adapting to change, so that was great.”

As stressful as the law school crisis can be, Allard is still very happy to be a law school dean. His three biggest complaints: having too few hours in each day, not being able to fix every problem immediately, and—surprisingly—attending so many events with free food. Though Allard and his wife go to the gym regularly, he recalls one person they’d never seen before coming up to them and saying, “Hey, you know, I see you guys here every morning, and for people who are here every day, you should look a heck of a lot better. I actually have the same problem that Obama has with the economy, and that is no one knows how it could’ve been so much worse,” Allard jokes. Perhaps he could use that same line on Brooklyn Law’s critics.