TaxProf Blog

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

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cost Cutting in an Age of Declining Law School Enrollment

Cutting CostsThe Faculty Lounge:  Cost Cutting in an Age of Declining Law School Enrollment, by David Frakt (Barry):

Five years into the great law school recession, most law schools have presumably found all the obvious ways to cut costs and explored feasible alternatives for increasing revenues. The low-hanging fruit having been picked, more and more law schools are going to be faced with some very difficult choices. In this post, I will explore some of those choices and offer some ways that law schools might cut costs so they will not have to lower standards any further. I invite those with other good ideas, either theoretical or based on experience at their schools, to share them in the comments.

  • Voluntary Retirements/Voluntary Pay Cuts 
  • Cuts to Faculty Research Support
  • Cut/Consolidate Administrative Positions
  • Reduce the Number of Course Offerings/Mandate More Courses
  • Law Library
  • International Programs
  • Overhead

Over the past few decades, law schools have evolved from one dimensional institutions, offering a standard menu of courses taught in a standard method primarily by white men to white men, to multi-dimensional institutions offering an incredible diversity of courses and programs from highly diverse faculties to highly diverse student bodies.  While this incredible diversification has brought great richness to legal education, it also has resulted in a vast proliferation of the number of constituencies within legal education, including clinical education, legal writing, academic support, etc..  Therefore, it is likely that any discussion of a modification of any program with cost saving in mind will face fierce institutional opposition from one faction or another.  (The debate in the comments about the value of full-time legal writing instructors vs. adjuncts is a good example of this.)  Yet, if law school administrators and faculty refuse to consider all options and make tough but necessary choices in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, more and more schools will be forced by their university administrations and financial realities to make sudden and Draconian changes which will be potentially more disruptive and destructive to the quality of legal education and institutional morale.   While the easiest option may be simply to lower admission standards to maintain class size, continually lowering standards is neither viable nor wise.  A great lawyer is a highly creative problem-solver. It is time for faculty members and administrators to put this skill to work.  And please share.

Legal Education | Permalink


Cutting costs only gets you so far. It would be very interesting to hear original ideas on new ways of generating/increasing revenue.

Posted by: JTM | Jan 17, 2015 9:54:08 AM

Not a substantive comment, but David Frakt is no longer at Barry (and has not been for at least a couple of years). He is a full-time, active duty JAG officer (Lt. Col. I believe) in the Air Force.

Posted by: anon | Jan 17, 2015 12:48:21 PM

The problem with all these things is that they have a cascade effect. For example, our first step was to cut adjunct faculty--the very faculty with most practice experience and employment contacts. The next step is research support, which is the most cost-effective expenditure and the reduction of which inevitably demoralizes people and causes them to be less involved in the day-to-day life of the faculty. And so forth. At some point, as JTM suggests, someone is going to have to think of new positive approaches rather than a leaner, less effective version of the old one(s)

Posted by: mike livingston | Jan 18, 2015 3:22:50 AM

S&P puts out a number of reports on the finance side of higher education, which include a discussion of what schools are doing to fix both side of their balance sheets. Ultimately, S&P is bearish on higher education.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Jan 20, 2015 8:16:48 AM