After a year of research, examination, and analysis, a 15-member American Bar Association task force came to some conclusions. The task force, dubbed the ABA Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education, was made up of law school deans, practitioners, judges, and student loan officers. It was headed up by Dickinson Wright and former ABA president Dennis Archer.
The three broad areas for improvement that the report suggests is providing students with “plain English” descriptions and guidance on debt counseling for students, more transparency and accountability from law schools on their revenues and expenditures, and experimenting with ways to make the law degree more affordable.
“This is a critical time for legal education in the evolving legal marketplace, so a thorough, credible examination of legal education financing issues is more important than ever,” ABA president William Hubbard told The National Law Journal.
The task force looked at everything from tuition, student debt load, and tuition discounts to law school operations cost, enrollment, and minority student enrollment. The conclusion? Law schools can and should be doing more.
“The task force discovered how frustrating this effort could be,” the report reads. “It found that systemic and reliable information needed to assess the claims and criticism about the financing of legal education—or just to get a good working sense of what is going on in legal education—is scarce. One task force member even called the situation appalling, given the importance of the issues to be addressed.”
The report also includes some key findings that paints an unflattering picture of legal education. Enrollment has dropped 30% at private law schools and 18% at public programs since 2009. Law school tuition, adjusted for inflation, rose 132% at public schools and 46% at private schools between 1999 and 2014. And almost 90% of law students finance their degrees with loans.
But the picture wasn’t all bleak. For instance, in 1999, 57% of students at private law schools paid the full, listed tuition. The amount was 58% at public schools. However, in 2013, just 38% and 40% of students at private and public law schools were paying full tuition respectively.
However, the scholarships that students do receive are mainly merit-based instead of need-based. The report concluded that this is most likely due to law schools playing the rankings game and attracting students with the highest Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) scores) to get a bump in rankings.
“The implications of the task force’s findings strongly suggest, moving forward, the need to look beyond the usual changes proffered and to reconsider law school business models themselves in light of their relationship to the curriculum, its cost, its increasing reliance on discounting, its even heavier reliance on student loans for revenue, and the resultant students debt,” the report reads.
The next step is for the ABA’s House of Delegates to vote on the report’s recommendations in August.
Source: The National Law Journal
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