Forbes: Law Schools Peer Into The Abyss But The American Bar Association Blocks Serious Change, by George Leef (Director of Research, John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy):
Not so long ago, law school was a growth industry, with new schools being created and enrollments going ever higher. No more. There has been a dramatic turn-around over the last ten years.
Enrollments of first-year students are back where they were 40 years ago. According to the Law School Admissions Council, in 2004, more than 100,000 students applied for law school, but in 2013, just 59,000 did. Some law schools have had to lay off faculty members and administrators. Four independent law schools have recently had their bonds downgraded to “junk” status by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, reflecting their questionable finances. ...
Law schools are not free to make many other changes that would do a lot more good, both for law students and for the clients they will eventually serve. That is because the accreditation standards imposed by the ABA require schools to operate in costly and inefficient ways.
Arguably the most vociferous critic of the ABA’s law school mandates is Larry Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law. In the short but impassioned book he wrote with Kurt Olson, The Gathering Peasants’ Revolt in American Legal Education, he made the case that law schools could train future lawyers at much lower cost if only the ABA would allow that.
Velvel and Olson write that the ABA’s policies are “designed to ensure continued and increasing economic and professional benefits for professors and deans.”
Specifically, they state, the rules “are focused on inputs that aggrandize faculty desires. These include rules limiting the hours of teaching, limiting overall workloads, demanding large, full-time faculties, and a requirement that most students be taught by full-time, tenured professors housed in plush facilities.”
It’s as if the hotel industry could mandate that all hotels must have king-size beds, Jacuzzi tubs, the plushest of carpeting, and state-of-the-art TVs, all justified by the twin considerations of ensuring quality and protecting the consumer. ...
The change that would have the greatest effect would be to free legal education from the self-interested clutches of the ABA. Its accreditation standards prevent innovation and competition that would lower costs, lower time commitments, and improve learning outcomes.
Of course, those changes won’t come from the ABA itself. They will only occur if states repeal the laws that give the ABA its stranglehold on legal education and allow anyone to attempt the bar exam, no matter where or how he has studied. Then and only then will we get robust competition among existing schools and an open field for new forms of legal education.