TaxProf Blog

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

We Would Be Better Off If 30 Law Schools Closed

30Following up on last week's post, Law School Moral Hazard:  Above the Law, We Would Be Better Off If 30 Law Schools Closed:

In Steven J. Harper’s recent article, The Real Moral Hazard: Law Schools Exploiting Market Dysfunction ... he details how misguided bankruptcy policy and unlimited, indiscriminate federal student loans have isolated schools from any accountability. In laying out his case, Harper describes how law schools actually operate in distinct submarkets. He identifies three of these submarkets, each offering drastically different employment prospects for their graduates:

1. National schools
2. Regional schools
3. The “Problematic Submarket”

By Harper’s reckoning, there are 89 law schools in that third category. Generally speaking, most graduates of the Problematics are simply not finding work as lawyers. ... Harper’s prescription for this market dysfunction includes linking a law school’s eligibility for the 100% federal guarantee for its students’ loans to employment outcomes. If a school meets a fixed minimum threshold (he suggests 55%) for placing its graduates in FTLT-JD positions, then it would qualify for the full federal guarantee. Below that threshold, the percentage of the guarantee would adjust downward on a sliding scale.

Independently, our friends at M7 Financial — who really have been on a roll lately with data on law student debt — have reached essentially the same conclusions: there ought to be a rational nexus between federal student loan guarantees and graduate employment. ... The straightforward and unsentimental M7 proposal to reform the legal education market is to reduce the number of ABA-approved law schools. This is hardly a novel idea, and probably seems like common sense to most anyone who is not a law school dean. However, M7 takes the analysis a further step and quantifies its implications. M7 estimates that if the 30 law schools with the highest unemployment rates were excluded from the statistics, then the law school Class of 2014 would have an unemployment rate of 17% (way down from 29%). Moreover, the aggregate student loan burden would be reduced by an estimated $500 million (click to enlarge image):


(You can download M7’s full report here.)

Without a doubt, connecting employment outcomes to federal student loan guarantees would be a huge step toward a functional legal education market. It would also force schools to improve their graduates’ outcomes (“innovate dramatically, slash tuition,” etc.) or face extinction. Is there a disinterested party who could argue that this would be a tragic thing?

Legal Education | Permalink


100 is more like a nice round number.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | May 6, 2015 6:23:22 AM

Tragic, no, but guilds/cartels are always evil, so eliminating federal loan guarantees altogether would be a far better solution than messing with school certifications.

Posted by: Jonathan | May 6, 2015 6:25:28 AM

Thirty? We should really seriously consider closing everything below the top 100 or so.

But, we should also remove graduation from an ABA accredited law school as a prerequisite to taking the bar. Let those who want to be lawyers study in a law office as an apprentice/clerk, or whatever.

Posted by: catorenasci | May 6, 2015 6:31:30 AM

If this country had 80 law schools with approximately 250 students per class each then we could really start following the medical school model where getting into any school is an achievement and the vast vast majority of grads get good professional jobs.

Posted by: JM | May 6, 2015 8:30:42 AM

Remove the ABA mandate and the market will take care of itself and sooner than if the cartel still was in effect

Posted by: RRP | May 6, 2015 9:51:48 AM