TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Survival Strategies for 'Ordinary' Law Schools

David Barnhizer (Cleveland State), Survival Strategies for "Ordinary" Law Schools:

This analysis is focused on approaches and actions that involve “ordinary” American law schools located in the middle range of competition that are not insulated from the worst of the trends. It is important to understand that for those “ordinary” law schools there is no single choice that could be effective in their struggle to adapt to the changing environment. The specific conditions for creating and implementing effective strategies vary depending on the particular law school, and the applicant and employment markets to which the school has access. These are further influenced positively or negatively by reputational and programmatic realities and opportunities, by sources and scope of funding and by the degree of competition with other law schools in the specific markets served by the law school.

Many law schools are entering an era in which their student bodies and faculties must shrink, where job security is reduced, life-tenure is questioned and even terminated, and the level of acceptable productivity takes on a different meaning than showing up twice a week for classes and producing an occasional article every two or three years that is read only by a handful of academics who already agree with the author. As stark as the situation must seem, there are competitive options that many “ordinary” law schools can pursue to enhance their odds of survival.

It is critical to differentiate between the large-scale macro considerations dictating important institutional and structural actions—such as American Bar Association accreditation rules, state Supreme Court governance, bar examination requirements, total potential applicants on a national level, financial costs to law students and the declining earnings potential of lawyers--and the micro-factors impacting on specific law schools. This is because it is in the micro-factors where individual law schools can identify and implement strategies and develop individualized tactics that are within their ability to control. The strategic points raised in the latter part of this brief analysis focus mainly on such factors.

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You don't have to outrun the bear.

Posted by: New Theory | Feb 4, 2014 10:13:33 AM

There is nothing that can be done. Each year law schools graduate another class with massive numbers of unemployed, highly indebted young adults that now realize that they have made the biggest mistake of their lives. This ever increasing group then takes their discontent to social media, where they vent against law schools and warn others how it has ruined their lives.

The only way for a school to survive in this climate is to provide genuine value. That means, leading the way to a GOOD job. The potential applicants are just to savy now, and if law school enrollment is ever limited to just the total number who are making a wise decision (in light of the tuition), then the total number each year will be approximately 10,000. That is the number we are headed toward.

Posted by: JM | Feb 4, 2014 10:25:42 AM

One of the problems is that the law schools have graduated so many in the past fifteen years that there is an enormous "dam" or barrier comprised of people who already have the jobs. Since they are too early in their careers to retire, and the profession has slumped in much of its earnings returns, and the newer lawyers can't afford to "get out", the increase in job opportunities of any quality is simply not going to occur until a very large generation of lawyers die out or can afford to retire. Rock and a hard place. Don't know about whether it is 10,000 or 15,000 but it isn't very positive for the law schools.

Posted by: David | Feb 4, 2014 2:34:33 PM

This is all absurd. Didn't anyone see S&M's latest analysis over on Northwestern Law's site? EVERY law school grad is an immediate, lifelong financial success. EVERY SINGLE ONE. So there's nothing to worry about. I mean, who are you going to believe? The law firm leaders and senior statespeople of the profession, or two very junior professors with minimal work experience at middling universities?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 4, 2014 3:39:20 PM