Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs
This week, the New York Times joined the “sky is falling for legal education” chorus in pointing out the many current obstacles facing law students and recent graduates. Mainly, law schools are still pumping out nearly two graduates for every legal job. All the while, they aren’t being held accountable for the loads of debt the graduates incur.
Yes, employment rates did have an uptick from 2013 to 2014—from 57% to 60%—but as the Times points out, that increase comes with at least three asterisks. First, this was the first year law schools reported numbers from 10 months after graduation (instead of nine). Next, law school-funded positions count, which had the potential to artificially inflate data. Finally, the number of jobs requiring bar passage actually fell from 2013 to 2014.
Yet, law schools continue to enroll students, albeit at a declining rate. More disturbingly, they continue to raise tuition at an alarming rate. Since 2006, average law school debt has increased 25% for private schools and 34% for public schools. The average law school debt now is $127,000 for private schools and $88,000 for public schools.
After laying out the issues, opinion writer Steven Harper challenges one solution provided by the American Bar Association has provided. In May of 2014, the ABA created a task force to determine how to cut back on student debt. However, there was a massive potential conflict of interest in the task force itself. Dennis Archer, former Detroit Mayor and head of national policy board of Infilaw, chaired the task force. You know, the same InfiLaw that owns and runs Arizona Summit, Charlotte, and Florida Coastal law schools as for-profit businesses, feasting on tuition dollars of students.
While law school enrollment dropped from 52,000 in 2010 to 38,000 this year, Infilaw’s schools nearly doubled their graduates from 2011 to 2014. As you’d expect, students from these schools also graduate with around $160,000 average in debt.
Harper calls out the conflict of interest and the task forces’ recommendations of capping student loans in attempt to get law school’s “skin in the game.”
Writes Harper, “The task force, having dodged the issues that should have been the focus of its work, offered four suggestions: law schools should offer students better debt counseling; the Department of Education should develop “plain English” disclosure information about student loans; the A.B.A. should collect and disseminate information about how law schools spend their money; and the A.B.A. should encourage law schools to experiment on curriculums and programs.
None of those will make a difference. The crisis in legal education is real. Magical thinking and superficial rhetoric about declining enrollments, better debt counseling for students, and law schools’ experimenting with curriculum changes will not create more jobs.”
The key to major reform, according to Harper, is to make student loan amounts relational to law school outcomes. Until that happens, the legal education will continue to teeter on the edge of disaster.
Source: New York Times
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