Legal Education Reform that I can Stand Behind

Back in 2007, before it was all cool and shit to do so, I wrote “What is Wrong With Legal Education?” Looking back on it, I think that it somewhat missed the mark. One of the worst things about legal education is the fact that any moron can walk into a shit law school, get a guaranteed student loan, and start racking up debt. The system essentially is a government-sponsored indentured servitude program, which allows law schools to churn out a product that would never be able to survive if market forces were allowed to act on it.

Professor Howard E. Abrams of Emory Law School hits the ball out of the park with his “application” to be dean at Emory. The best part of it? How he would deal with financial aid / student loans.

I would shift most or all financial aid into student loans with interest deferred until graduation and with reduction of interest and principal payments for up to five years depending on post-graduation income. That is, those of our students who seek and achieve immediate financial success can afford to bear the full cost of their legal education. But those students who have other goals or whose goals cannot immediately be achieved should have the burden of their debt reduced for a reasonable period. This has the added benefit of tying the Law School’s economic interest to that of its students: if the students cannot find jobs, the school does not get paid.

I proposed something similar in November of 2010. I simply suggested that if a student gets a government backed student loan, the school should have to be a guarantor on the loan.

If the school doesn’t want to co-sign the loan, students could still be free to go to banks and beg for loans. However, just like any other business loan, the student would need to demonstrate that the loan is a good investment. If someone came to me and said “I want to borrow $60,000 to study engineering at the University of Massachusetts,” that might be a good investment. If that same person wanted $200,000 to study art history at Bennington, well … I hardly think that would be a prudent use of my money.

It would seem that this plan would cure a good number of ills in the legal profession as well. Every law school chases the U.S. News Rankings like a dog digging for a shit-filled diaper in a trash bag. Then, every year, law students and law schools scream about the rankings and say that real employment figures should be factored in to the rankings.

If the school was on the hook for the loan, U.S. News would wind up where it belongs — recycled into toilet paper. Schools would be pretty damn committed to getting their students jobs, and those that were not would dry up and die under the blistering heat of the free market. We would likely see 25% of the law schools close, and most of those remaining open would be forced to drop their tuition. Law professors might suffer a little bit of a pay cut, but let’s face it, 75% of the full time profs are worthless anyhow. The legal teaching field would likely start to embrace more adjuncts – meaning more people who do the thing that they are supposed to be teaching.

Imagine that. Law schools actually having an investment in whether or not their graduates succeed. It would likely mean the end of at least half of the nation’s law schools, but I can’t say that would be a bad thing. It would certainly mean the end of U.S. News, and that would definitely be a good thing.

6 Responses to Legal Education Reform that I can Stand Behind

  1. Alexis says:

    I had a long talk about this in class the other day with a couple of my students who think they want to go to law school. Both of them will have to self-finance the experience. I showed them the NYT article about the law grads living in NYC working as nannies and folding yoga pants at Lululemon whose law schools were counting them as “employed” to USNews. As long as law schools can lie with impunity for these bogus rankings while they collect insane sums of tuition money from students who should never have gone to law school in the first place, the vicious cycle will continue its spiral.

  2. Rajan says:

    Things are slowly coming to a boil. Recently at the UNLV law school Paul Campos of “Inside the Law School Scam” fame came and gave a fiery speech to law students. Definitely opened a lot of eyes there.

  3. blueollie says:

    Good. There are rumors that our school is planning on starting a law school…to which I say “Are you kidding me?”.

  4. KS says:

    I would like to point out the model Norway uses, as a good example:

    For one, there is a fully state-owned bank dedicated to giving students loans.
    Secondly, whatever debt you get from that bank is 100% personal, so if you for instance die right after graduation, they can’t come and take over your parents house.
    Thirdly, after graduating, you are not required to pay a single cent (øre as in the case of Norway) until you actually get a job. You *are* required to pay in full however, after you get one. (There are rules and clauses that let you freeze payments if you simply don’t have enough income to pay, though)

  5. Will says:

    @KS doesnt really address the issue of people taking useless degrees and racking up tons of debt though. I assume much like Canada where I live the fees are pretty reasonable for Norwegion universities though.

    The main change thats needed is student loans should NOT be government gauranteed. It would give much the same effect as the school being on the hook for the loan. Try selling a bank on a 200K arts degree with no employment prospects vs a science degree.

    • Therein lies a small problem — I don’t want us to turn into a country without art history majors just because it isn’t financially profitable. We are not Ferengi.

      So, I wouldn’t mind some form of subsidy for the “creative but no profit motive” degrees. I think that a school administered loan program could do that.

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