Boston Globe op-ed: Bail Out Law Schools – But With Strings Attached, by Paula Monopoli (Maryland):
When I joined the legal academy more than 20 years ago, American law schools were the cash cows of higher education. Revenue flowed from law schools to central administrations, and campuses were happy to let law schools oversee themselves. New programs sprang up by the dozens. Lots of new hires each year became the norm, and expensive symposia the order of the day. It never occurred to us that the party would end.
Then it did. In just the last few years we’ve become the Classics Department — too many faculty and too few students. The sharp downturn in law school applications and enrollments — down almost one-third since 2010 — has resulted in a corresponding decrease in the tuition revenues that make up the bulk of law school budgets. Law schools that are part of larger universities have been forced to go hat in hand to the central campus, asking to be relieved of their obligation to contribute financially to university operations.
Law faculties, accustomed to the long-cherished autonomy that came with being a revenue-positive unit of the university, chafe at the new oversight that’s come with asking to be subsidized instead. They cling to an administrative and programmatic infrastructure that is simply no longer financially viable at a time when Moody’s Investor Service characterizes the financial outlook for legal education as “negative.” So why should our universities keep us? ... To demonstrate our value and to prove that we fit into the core mission of the university, we need to move toward them in ways that we have historically resisted.
First, we need to embrace more rigor in legal scholarship. ... Second, we should rethink the training of legal academics. The vast majority of the legal professoriate has the same training and degree as the practicing bar. Nothing more than a JD is required to teach at an American law school. That three-year curriculum doesn’t include any training in traditional academic research skills like empirical methods. While a full-blown PhD may not be necessary, some additional training in standard research tools like statistical analysis would add intellectual rigor. Finally, we need to assume the burden borne by our colleagues in other fields and support our own research through outside sources. ...
[W]ith crisis comes opportunity. The jury is still out as to whether law schools will be able rise to this challenge, but to survive and thrive we’ll undoubtedly need the financial assistance of our broader universities. It’s time to show that we add value — other than cash — to those institutions, too.
For a contrary view, see Boston Globe op-ed: US Legal Bubble Can’t Pop Soon Enough, by Jeff Jacoby:
The legal profession, like so many others, has been permanently disrupted by the Internet and globalization in ways few could have anticipated 10 or 15 years ago. Online legal guidance is widely accessible. Commercial services like LegalZoom make it easy to create documents without paying attorneys’ fees. Search engines for legal professionals reduce the need for paralegals and junior lawyers. Maurice Allen, a senior partner at Ropes & Gray, is blunt: “There are too many lawyers and too many law firms,” he said in a published interview last week. That means less work for new law school grads, and therefore less reason to go to law school. And who, except perhaps for law school admissions deans, would be sorry to see America’s lawyer bubble finally burst? ...
From environmental rules so inflexible that fixing a bridge can take years to licensing rules so onerous that kids’ lemonade stands get shut down, all of us are paying for those “hordes of lawyers, hungry as locusts,” that Warren Burger warned of long ago. Students by the thousands are shunning law school? That’s the best trend I’ve seen in ages.