ABA Journal Roundtable: Lowering The Stakes - How Law Schools Can Help Next Gen Lawyers Take the Gamble Out of Hefty Tuition
The ABA Journal Online has a terrific Podcast here , that also includes a handy transcript. They had a roundtable discussion with two law school deans and a law student, Kyle McEntee, who also co-founded Law School Transparency, a non-profit dedicated to improving access to law school employment information. The deans include David Van Zandt of Northwestern University, and a frequent critic of legal education (see this note at Above the Law). Van Zandt is one of the leaders of the ALDA deans who advocate doing away with faculty status for clinicians and librarians (GRRR), among other innovations, and struggle against the ABA standards as they exist now. He seems excited by the new standards being considered by the second dean, Dean Donald J. Polden of Santa Clara University, who heads the ABA Standards Committee, and is considering outputs rather than inputs as the measure to consider.
The discussion is wide-ranging and interesting. I recommend you click in and listen or read the transcript. Highlights include:
* Improving the information that schools make available to prospective students on the employment of their recent graduates, including improving the nuances, such as types of employment, and salary levels. The idea is that prospective students should be able to decide if the investment in a JD from school X, Y or Z would be worth it in terms of the probable improvement in the student's earning power upon graduation.
* An interesting side-note from Dean Van Zandt where he calculates that, on average, law students need to earn $65,000 in order to recoup the lost wages they would have earned in the three years of law school, plus the cost of law school. That's pretty depressing if you look at the average salary for lots of different law schools...
* The unreasonable optimism of law students, where 80% believe that they will be in the top 10% of their class.
* And an interesting discussion of the reasons that law school tuition has risen so dramatically in recent years. This is an interesting discussion, and tends to boil down to 2 main pieces: 1) An increased number of small classes, reducing the faculty-student ratio and 2) An increase in the number of staff such as IT, academic support, career development, etc. So you have more faculty and you have more student support. Dean Van Zandt also notes that law schools compete on these, and on quality, and the US News rankings, both of which require spending to attract quality faculty and better quality students with higher LSAT scores. It would take a major sea change to get law schools to compete instead on cost.
In the comments, some of which are strikingly bitter, there is a pointer to an EXCELLENT article at LawJobs.com. Dated April 16, 2008, this article still has lots of very useful analysis and data. The authors, William D. Henderson and Andrew P. Moriss, writing for the National Law Journal, analyze "What Law School Rankings Don't Say About Costly Choices." They do in-depth analysis of post-graduation debt and jobs, by US News Ranking, type of employment. This is an excellent article and should certainly be in the reading list for professors who are discussing the problems of over burdened students.