Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Wall Street Journal has a story on new law schools that are opening in Indiana and Texas, despite a cratering job market, skyrocketing debt, and a rapidly shrinking applicant pool. From the story:
“Members of the law-school class of 2011 had little better than a 50-50 shot at landing a job as a lawyer within nine months of receiving their degree, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis last year. At the same time, some law graduates are saddled with as much as $150,000 in student-loan debt, in part because tuition is rising faster than the rate of inflation.
The statistics do give some educators pause. ‘It seems like the worst possible time to open a new law school,’ said Brian Z. Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and frequent law-school critic who last year published a book titled ‘Failing Law Schools.'”
It’s worth noting that, rather than representing anything like a worst-case scenario, $150,000 probably represents the average law school debt carried by 2012 graduates of private law schools at graduation. (The average amount borrowed during law school by 2011 graduates of such schools was $125,000, which doesn’t include accrued interest. The average amount borrowed has been going up by about 5% per year, and accrued interest adds more than 15% to the principal at these debt levels. These figures don’t include other educational debt).
One feature of this subject that doesn’t get much attention is the rate at which law school expansion has been accelerating. The number of ABA law schools increased by four over the course of the 1980s and by seven during the 1990s. Between 2000 and and 2009 the ABA accredited 18 new law schools, even as the evidence of a hyper-saturated market for lawyers became increasingly compelling.
BTW one myth purveyed by denialists — Steve Diamond, who makes the claim in the WSJ story that “the financial backing [these new schools] have is presumably looking down the road beyond the downturn,” is particularly fond of it — is that the market for new attorneys was basically fine until it suddenly collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007. In fact a full third of all law graduates weren’t getting legal jobs in the “golden years” prior to 2007.
Here are the percentages from NALP of graduates whose employment status was known who had full-time jobs requiring bar admission nine months after graduation:
This is an average for all schools. For the bottom 100, and especially for schools in the tier to which Indiana Tech and UT-North Dallas aspire, the percentage of graduates getting jobs was more on the order of 50%, even in the “best” of times.
The 2007 financial crisis hit BigLaw hiring hard, and by extension the employment figures for elite and semi-elite schools, but of course the vast majority of law schools have never sent more than a small percentage of their graduates to large law firms. The crisis had only a marginal effect on the already-bad employment numbers of about 170 of the 200-odd ABA schools.
As for the justifications for opening yet more law schools in the even more dire post-2007 environment, the WSJ story quotes the usual nonsense about access and affordability and practice-ready hands-on graduates:
Ellen S. Pryor, associate dean for academic affairs at UNT Dallas College of Law, said her school aims to serve local college students seeking an affordable, hands-on legal education, and will draw a different pool of applicants than other north Texas law schools.
“I know applications are down,” Ms. Pryor said, but “the fact that nationwide numbers are down doesn’t dishearten us from thinking we’ll get really good students and fulfil our mission.”
UNT Dallas hasn’t revealed yet what it plans to charge in tuition for its entering class of 2014, but Indiana Tech, which is putting forth precisely the same babble about why it’s opening a law school, will charge nearly $30,000 per year to this fall’s entering class, assuming there is one.
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