TaxProf Blog

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

Friday, July 11, 2014

Law Schools Peer Into The Abyss, But The ABA Blocks Serious Change

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):

GatheringNot 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.

Book Club, Legal Education | Permalink


A little background on the Pope Center. It's a right wing think tank that basically functions as an attack dog for the Republican party.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 11, 2014 8:28:48 AM

Massachusetts School of Law's atrocious 36.9% bar passage rates pretty much prove the point that low cost legal education is low quality legal education.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 11, 2014 8:35:54 AM

"'Pope Center is a right-wing attack dog,' ergo their arguments should automatically be considered flawed, even in the face of incontrovertible corroborating evidence."

...If there was only a name for this type of logical fallacy...

Posted by: anon | Jul 11, 2014 8:54:35 AM

@ Anon
MSL's pass rate proves no such general point. Other low costs schools manage to post far better bar pass rates. E.g., CUNY (83%), SUNY Buffalo (84%), U. Oklahoma (83%).

Posted by: Former Editor | Jul 11, 2014 9:58:35 AM


Massachusetts School of Law's atrocious bar passage rates do not prove the point that low cost legal education is low quality legal education, but nice attempt at tautology. Actually, it's a pathetic attempt at tautology. By your statement, are we meant to infer that every law school in the country was "low quality" from 1875 through 1985 or so? Or to put it another way, tuition for the last academic year at Brooklyn Law School was $1000 higher than Harvard ($54k v. $53k). Does that mean Brooklyn is a higher quality legal education than Harvard? Or perhaps it just means the stench of Veblen Good Theory pervades the legal academy...

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jul 11, 2014 10:41:48 AM

Everything is a power-play. But it shouldn't be. What we should discuss is the best way to educate future attorneys who will properly help their clients through the legal system.

Posted by: Mark P. Yablon | Jul 13, 2014 12:30:51 AM

We should "allow anyone to attempt the bar exam, no matter where or how they studied?" Wow. Sounds like a great idea. Should we also apply it to engineers, physicians, and teachers? This only works--even in theory--if the bar exam is of almost total comprehensiveness and is nearly perfectly valid. I have yet to see a test that good anywhere, anytime.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jul 14, 2014 8:14:06 AM