The Law School Crisis Could Crush 'Stand-Alone' Schools

Vermont Law SchoolVermont Law School, which isn’t attached to a university.

Photo: Wikipedia

The New York Times’ most emailed story Thursday analysed the sharp drop in law school applications and the brutal impact it could have on legal education.University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter made the story’s most ominous prediction: He estimated 10 law schools would close within the next decade.

Now, law school closures are rare.

We spoke with Washington University Law Professor Brian Tamanaha, author of Failing Law Schools, who could recall maybe one law school closure in the 1980s. (He couldn’t remember the school’s name.)

But Tamanaha agreed that some law schools could be in trouble now that so many folks seem to be abandoning the notion of getting a JD.

The law schools whose deans should be freaking out a little are so-called stand-alone law schools that aren’t attached to universities, like New York Law or Thomas Jefferson.

With no university to fall back on, “they run like any other business,” Tamanaha said.

Most stand-alones aren’t ranked or have low rankings and are extremely dependant on tuition to operate, says law professor and law school “scam” exposer Paul Campos.

“They have negligible endowments and almost no other sources of income,” Campos told BI. “If their tuition revenues decrease markedly they may become unsustainable operations very quickly.”

These schools also rely on loans to cover their daily operating expenses, Tamanaha pointed out. A dramatic drop in law school applicants might make banks charge them higher rates.

“To the extent that applications are collapsing, that makes the [stand-alone] schools riskier borrowers,” he said.

Some stand-alones may closing or merge with other stand-alones to stay afloat.

Law schools attached to big universities are probably here to stay, though.

“It’s really hard to pull the plug on the law school at a big university,” Tamanaha said, “Law school alumni tend to be very generous donors. A university would be reluctant to alienate its alumni donors.”

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