Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The ABA Fiddles While Law Students Burn?

Brian Tamahan, a law professor at Washington University, writing to his fellow law professors on the failure of the law school business model:
It’s grim reading. The observations are raw, bitter, and filled with despair. It is easier to avert our eyes and carry on with our pursuits. But please, take a few moments and force yourself to look at Third Tier Reality, Esq. Never, Exposing the Law School Scam, Jobless Juris Doctor, Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition, and linked sites. Read the posts and the comments. These sites are proliferating, with thousands of hits.

Look past the occasional vulgarity and disgusting pictures. Don’t dismiss the posters as whiners. To a person they accept responsibility for their poor decisions. But they make a strong case that something is deeply wrong with law schools.

Their complaint is that non-elite law schools are selling a fraudulent bill of goods. Law schools advertise deceptively high rates of employment and misleading income figures. Many graduates can’t get jobs. Many graduates end up as temp attorneys working for $15 to $20 dollars an hour on two week gigs, with no benefits. The luckier graduates land jobs in government or small firms for maybe $45,000, with limited prospects for improvement. A handful of lottery winners score big firm jobs.

And for the opportunity to enter a saturated legal market with long odds against them, the tens of thousands newly minted lawyers who graduate each year from non-elite schools will have paid around $150,000 in tuition and living expenses, and given up three years of income. Many leave law school with well over $100,000 in non-dischargeable debt, obligated to pay $1,000 a month for thirty years.

This dismal situation was not created by the current recession—which merely spread the pain up the chain into the lower reaches of elite schools. This has been going on for years.
All too true...

Elie Mystal
joins Tamahana in asking where are law profs in all of this?

Rarely, if ever, does the media turn its gaze towards law professors and their culpability in the epic scam of taking money from kids who don’t know any better and will never be able to pay off their debts. Most law professors don’t set tuition rates. They don’t determine the scope of loan forgiveness programs. They don’t mislead the world via U.S. News in order to pad employment stats... [M]ost of them aren’t even directly engaged in recruiting the next class of minnows that will keep the scam alive. All they do is teach, research, and take as much money as the market will offer.

But Washington University law professor Brian Tamanaha thinks that his professorial colleagues need to step up to the plate and start taking some responsibility for what is happening to law students — especially law students at low-ranked law schools. He says that professors can no longer turn a blind eye to the sadness of their students….

You’d think that legal scholars would at least want to be educated as to what the system is doing to the consumers of legal education.

We probably shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for law professors to suggest a course of action that will lead to a reduction in their salaries.

But if this system is going to change, pressure will have to come from all sides. With the ABA fiddling while law students burn, it is incumbent upon everybody else to demand that legal education become something other than a potentially ruinous financial decision.

Glenn Reynolds, another law prof at the University of Tennessee, writes in response to Tanamaha's article:

Not all law schools are that expensive, but even state schools are pricey now, and for out-of-staters may cost as much as private schools. If I were looking at law school today I absolutely wouldn’t go into debt except for an absolute top school — like Yale, Stanford, Harvard. And even then I’d be wary. The debt is too enormous, and the prospects too uncertain — not only because of the economy, but because of the uncertain future even of big law firms.

As a recent law grad currently preparing for the bar, I completely agree with Tamanaha, Mystal, and Reynolds on all counts. I've been disturbed ever since I started law school on the sad state of employment prospects for a majority of law grads relative to the astronomical tuition charged by most law schools. And that was before it became the worst time in history to graduate from law school.

I suppose I'm one of the lucky ones. I still have a year or so left to finish up my PhD and plan to pursue a career in economics, not following the traditional legal route. My future isn't as intricately bound up in the legal job market as many of my peers.

But for the sake of those who are considering going to law school, I make this request to the ABA and law professors around the country: Please help these students to become better informed and hold law schools to a greater standard of transparency. To far too great an extent, law schools are profiting off of the financial ruin of thousands of students each year. It's time for this to stop.

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