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

Monday, May 12, 2014

Why Universities Should Bail Out Their Law Schools

Boston Globe op-ed:  Bail Out Law Schools – But With Strings Attached, by Paula Monopoli (Maryland):

BailoutWhen 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.

Legal Education | Permalink


I find the Monopoli article to be very uniformed. What is needed is greater rigor in teaching. Professors need to be trained in how to teach so that law schools can add value to what their students learn and so that lawyers can better serve society.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | May 12, 2014 1:51:07 PM

I find the Monopoli article to be very uniformed. What is needed is greater rigor in teaching. Professors need to be trained in how to teach so that law schools can add value to what their students learn and so that lawyers can better serve society.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | May 12, 2014 1:52:54 PM

Given how many impositions that lawyers, inside and outside government, impose on 'the rest of us,' many of us will have trouble sympathizing with law schools getting told what to do.

Given how research over teaching has distorted priorities at many universities, I'm not sure making law schools fit a more academic model makes much sense.

Given that there's already an excess of faculty to students, it also makes little sense to train law students to fill those already over-filled positions.

And finally, I tried for a moment to understand just what legal research would mean and found myself confused. Whatever it means, it doesn't mean the same as in the sciences or medicine. There are no, as yet unknown truths to be discovered and not illnesses to be cured. Law is simply law. Maybe some laws can be improved, but I fail to see how an academic training would prepare someone to do that. Life experience and court experience would be more helpful.

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | May 12, 2014 4:11:25 PM

This piece by Monopoli reeks of self-importance and is a very myopic view of the current state of legal research and discourse. News flash: You do not need to be a tenured professor in a law school in order to do research. Unlike medicine, physics, etc., law does not require the use of expensive lab equipment or materials that the school provides gratis to its faculty in these disciplines. Rather, most of everything a legal scholar needs can be found online. Moreover, blogging has obviated the need for law reviews.

Taking in money from JD candidates is why law schools exist. Changing the qualifications for becoming a professor or changing research methodology won't help the ivory towers from crashing down.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 12, 2014 8:09:05 PM

Wow. How far under a rock can you live? Prof. Monopoli, you seem to see only a small part of the problem–the part that effects your job, apparently. Intellectual rigor in scholarly research is not among the top five problems faced by legal education today. Law professors should not–allow me to repeat–NOT be engaged in “empirical legal research” at all. That is not the proper concern of law professors. It is, rather, the realm of the Ph.D. political scientists, economists, and sociologists in the liberal arts branch of the university. Moreover, and let me see if I can make this clear to you, the purpose of law schools is not to produce law professors. Law school is a professional school, a component imperfectly and uncomfortably resident in the modern university structure that confers a terminal, professional degree. The object of the law school is and should be the training (yes, training) of lawyers. The production of candidates for the “legal academy” should be a small and relatively insignificant by-product of training lawyers. And that training should be done almost exclusively by law teachers and instructors who have had substantial experience in the practice of law, whether such experience be in transactional law or litigation.

Posted by: Publius Novus | May 13, 2014 8:25:58 AM