Following up on my previous posts:
Andrew Morriss (Dean, Texas A&M), Still Cheerful About the Future of Legal Education:
It was a privilege to have three such eminent commentators on my Reasons to Be Cheerful essay. Brian Tamanaha deserves enormous credit for being among the first to sound the alarm on the financial problems of legal education. Sam Estreicher is not only a pioneer in bringing bench, bar, and academy together through his programs at NYU but also deserves some of the credit and/or blame for my presence in the academy. Not only was he enormously helpful and kind in participating in a workshop on my dissertation, he has proven equally helpful and kind ever since. Finally, Ken Randall is not only without peer in the world of deans for his success at the University of Alabama, where I had the privilege of being a faculty member, but has become a good friend. Responding to such eminent commentators is thus a challenge.
Prof. Tamanaha is gloomier than I am, because he thinks tuition levels are too high, debt burdens too great, law schools are admitting unqualified applicants, and bar pass rates are likely to continue to decline. He thinks loans and Income Based Repayment (IBR) and Pay as You Earn (PAYE) will continue to subsidize bad behavior by law schools and innovation will be blocked or slowed by a combination of faculty resistance and ABA accreditation standards. I think we should be cheerier than Prof. Tamanaha because I think that while there is some truth in each of his concerns, things are better than he recognizes. ...
Prof. Estreicher is also less cheerful than I am, as he worries about the persistence of the “New Haven model” of legal education and its lack of fit for most students. I agree with him that there has been a long-term trend toward an academic model for law schools. ... [F]inancial pressures and competition for students are already producing change in legal education, and more is to come. For example, I was impressed by the widespread level of support for innovation among deans at my first ABA deans’ meeting. There are a lot of smart people who recognize the problems and there’s a lot of effort being put into improving legal education’s quality and reducing its costs. Yes, in the past the “academic model” was dominant. What is already happening suggests to me that this will not be true in twenty years. I think the non-virtuous circle is already broken at many, many schools.
Dean Randall is an optimist, as I am. I think he’s on to something important, with his current venture at iLaw. The company is offering online courses to law schools to supplement the schools’ own curriculum. It packages impressive technical support with award winning faculty from around the country into a course each school can deliver in its own system, following its own grading standards, and including local content where appropriate. This can allow a school without, say, an Admiralty course to offer one. It can also allow a summer course to be offered that is available to students in jobs outside the locale of their law school. I do not think this will be the only model of innovation, but it is an attractive one for some courses. What Dean Randall saw before others in legal education, both at Alabama which did innovative online education before many and now at iLaw Ventures, was that schools have to be create value differently for their students if they are going to avoid running deficits. ...
So, at the end of the day, I remain an optimist for several reasons. First, markets really do work. Legal education has excess capacity relative to demand for JDs, and so prices will fall. Real prices have already. The “New Haven model” is insufficient to meet the needs of ordinary Americans for legal services, so the gap in demand will draw entrepreneurs to develop new ways to meet the demand. This change has begun. Technology offers new ways to deliver legal education. Entrepreneurs have already begun to respond. These are all reasons to be cheerful.