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Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Dean's Advice on Downsizing Legal Education

DownsizingThe Faculty Lounge:  The Downsizing of Legal Education, by David Yellen (Dean, Loyola-Chicago):

I have been a dean at two schools for a total of 11 years, recently completed six years on the ABA Section of Legal Education’s Standards Review Committee, and currently serve on the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education established by the ABA President. ...

[L]aw school applications have plummeted.  Enrollment is going down, too, although at a slower pace.  In 2010 there were approximately 52,000 first year law students.  In the fall of 2013, that number is likely to be around 40,000. 

In my view, 52,000 is far too many law students and even 40,000 is too many.  The “right” number of law students must surely be related to the job market.  We are in a profound restructing of the legal services market, as Bill Henderson and others have pursuasively argued.  Projections based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate that there will be approximately 20,000-25,000 jobs per year for lawyers in the coming decade.  Of course, as Yogi Berra (allegedly) said, “Predictions are very hard, especially about the future.”  Perhaps, as has happened in the past, predictions of the decline of lawyers will prove to be overstated.  Still, the BLS data is the best evidence we have, so we must take it seriously. ...

In the end, I have little doubt that if there were an Emperor of Legal Education, he or she would order schools to enroll fewer students.  My best guess is that the target would be 35,000 students, a drop of about 33% from 2010.  Others, I’m sure, would place the number lower. ...

For an individual school, the decision about whether, when, and by how much to downsize is a complicated one.  Downsizing is painful.  Because almost all of our budgets are personnel, enrolling fewer students means pay cuts, layoffs or other difficult steps.  There has to be a compelling rationale.

It is tempting to say that we are downsizing because it is the morally right thing to do, but that would not be honest.  Any benefit to society or even to individual students from a single school’s downsizing will likely be mostly symbolic. ...

So why are we, and so many law schools, downsizing?  Candidly, it has a lot to do with rankings.   No one likes to see their median LSAT’s and GPA’s decline, and we worry that if they do, we may fall in the rankings.  With rapidly declining applications, most of us are experiencing drops in the average credentials of our students.  In an effort to minimize that decline, and out of concern about our relative standing if other schools succeed in holding their credentials steady by getting smaller, we decide to downsize. 

A great deal of what is wrong with legal education is a result of the impact of U.S. News & World Reports and our complicity in playing that game.  I will have more to say about U.S. News and law school behavior in future posts.  For now, I note the irony that in this crisis, U.S. News actually provides a strong incentive for us to do something that ought to be done, but that we would otherwise have great trouble doing.  The Emperor of Legal Education would be happy.

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Comments

So Dean Yellen is saying that his school has to reduce enrollment because its ranking is at stake.

If Dean Yellen's cunning plan is to work, he will also have to procure massive scholarships to their ideal candidates in order to maintain the "gene pool".

So where is the money going to come from? I guess we'll have to see how great Dean Yellen's fundraising skills are.

Posted by: Forgotten Attorney | Feb 2, 2013 3:02:16 PM

"20,000-25,000 jobs per year for lawyers" does not equal 20,000 to 25,000 jobs per year for *law school graduates.*

Given a choice between hiring someone with a bachelor's degree and a graduate degree, employers will usually opt for the candidate with the graduate degree. Especially if the graduate degree is something useful like a JD or an MBA. Larry Summers allegedly said that he didn't know why public policy schools existed, since anyone who wanted to go into government, policy work, or journalism would be better off going to law school or business school.

Law degree holders are beating bachelor degree holders' on earnings and employment.

Should law schools downsize?

It will make life a bit easier for law degree holders. But it will make life harder for the bachelor degree holders who are denied the opportunity to go to law school.

Not to mention employers facing a less well-prepared, less-qualified applicant pool.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 2, 2013 6:39:09 PM

"Given a choice between hiring someone with a bachelor's degree and a graduate degree, employers will usually opt for the candidate with the graduate degree. Especially if the graduate degree is something useful like a JD or an MBA."

http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/000/004/403/Girls.png

Posted by: girlslaughing.jpg | Feb 2, 2013 9:23:42 PM

Anon 6:39 said:

"Given a choice between hiring someone with a bachelor's degree and a graduate degree, employers will usually opt for the candidate with the graduate degree."

"Should law schools downsize?
It will make life a bit easier for law degree holders. But it will make life harder for the bachelor degree holders who are denied the opportunity to go to law school."


That's just adorable.

Posted by: LOL, no | Feb 2, 2013 10:14:21 PM

How many students attend law school without planning to practice law?

It is easy to find students studying for a law degree with no plan to take the bar or, if they do, have no plan to practice.

My oldest student, a serial entrepreneur, hoped to better understand contracts to better protect his next fortune. Another anticipated being the fourth generation head of a family business and wanted to know how to minimize legal costs by understanding the law.

Others I have spoken to at Syracuse and at law schools that invited me to give talks have told me they planned careers as executives and public administrators. Some of the very best journalists have law degrees and never practiced or did so only to get enough practical experience to make them better print or broadcast reporters.

And I have known many police officers who attended law school, not just detectives or supervisors, but career street cops.

So to understand what is an economically viable number of first years we need data. That would include past figures on how many a) wash out, b) never take the bar, c) take the bar but will not be practicing and d) how many will return or move overseas.

Does anyone have this data? Or other analysis of the numbers?

Posted by: David Cay Johnston | Feb 3, 2013 10:05:38 AM

- The serial entrepreneur was already successful.

- Fourth generation money doesn't have to worry about student loans

- "planned careers as executives and public administrators." Doesn't mean that they will become those things after they graduate. I could plan to be an Olympian and write the great American novel; it doesn't mean that I'll be able to.

- Lots of unemployed attorneys I know who are trying to various law enforcement exams.

For my own part, I attended law school so I could be unemployed for years, buried in debt, and almost completely locked out of the job market, whether we are talking Sullivan and Cromwell or working part-time at the local five and dime store. Yep, that's totally why I went to law school. What an amazingly versatile degree - it makes you unattractive to EVERY employer.

Sincerely,

One of America's tens of thousands of underemployed attorneys.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 3, 2013 1:07:33 PM