Will any law schools ever shut down? The debate continues to rage. This week, Bloomberg Businessweek decided to jump into the game. It’s true, the American Bar Association provisionally accredited yet another school—Concordia University. This makes more than 200 United States law schools that have at least provisional accreditation from the ABA.
The biggest issue? Well, applications and enrollment continues to drop. Yes, it seems to be stabilizing from the 2010 to 2013 freefall, but why are more law schools being approved when the interest seems to be dwindling? According to the Businessweek article, the main purpose of a law school is simple—to produce lawyers. Unfortunately, the job market doesn’t need more lawyers. Not yet, at least.
So what’s a fledgling law school to do? According to 2014 ABA job placement statistics, 10 law schools were unable to place at least 30% of their graduates. The worst? The University of Massachusetts School of Law, another provisionally accredited law school located in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The school has an interesting history. Once the Southern New England School of Law, the University of Massachusetts system tried to purchase the school in 2004 but the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education voted to stop the deal.
In 2009, in a move of desperation, the school said it would donate nearly everything on its campus to the University of Massachusetts system—a value estimated at the time of $22 million. The first class matriculated in 2010 and now, five years later, only 22% of its graduates held full-time jobs requiring bar passage and a J.D. nine months after graduation. The law school is failing to do its job as a law school—produce contributing lawyers.
“We are a work in progress, and we need to improve our bar-pass rate and improve our employment, and I am not embarrassed about that,” Mary Lu Bilek, dean of the school, told Bloomberg Businessweek.
The truth is, they’re not alone. Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego had an employment rate of 27%. Capital University was 28%. Santa Clara was 29.5%. The reason these schools are alive is simple: They aren’t going to commit to their own demise. As long as people keep attending them, they will find a way to survive. Yes, interest has dropped significantly—like by nearly half. In 2004, more than 100,000 people applied to ABA accredited schools. This fall, it looks like it will be less than 53,000. But apparently it’s enough. And many don’t see the number dropping much more.
Chalk this one up on the “law schools will survive” side of the debate.
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek
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