Friday, February 4, 2011
American law schools are an integral part of a vertically integrated system of production in which the end product is lawyers. Law schools are having rapidly increasing problems “selling” their “products” to potential employers/purchasers. Even if the law schools do not voluntarily cut back on the numbers of admitted students some states will decide there should be no public subsidy for educating students for employment areas such as law where there is no demand. Even though many private law schools will be affected negatively, publicly-funded law schools will also be dramatically affected due to declining state budgets and competition for scarce resources from areas of public expenditure with far more powerful lobbying support and, in fairness, greater and more demonstrable and immediate needs. For publicly funded law schools there is significant danger in the fact that there is no shortage of lawyers in America after decades of rapid expansion.
Several potential shifts in ABA accreditation standards and policy will have significant implications, including approval of credit for distance learning, rapid movement toward assessment of law schools based on what are called “output” measurements, and even a decision that scholarly productivity measures are an inappropriate factor for the American Bar Association (contrasted with the AALS) to rely on in assessing the accredited status of a law school. These three accreditation prongs will have enormous effects that include significant faculty reductions, higher faculty workloads, changes in tenure standards, and large-scale eliminations of the traditional law school research library. For the (many) law schools that choose to remain oblivious to the altered operational context, their adaptations will be ones developed in a crisis context as their applicant pools shrink, angry graduates are increasingly unable to find employment even while faced with educational debt equivalent to a home mortgage, and less expensive competitive institutions emerge that offer alternative approaches to legal education.