TaxProf Blog

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Whittier: The Canary In The Law School Coal Mine

CanaryFollowing up on my previous posts:

EdSurge:  The Canary in the Law School Coal Mine, by Michael B. Horn:

Whittier College’s announcement ... that it will no longer admit students to its law program makes it the first fully accredited law school in the United States to shut down. There is a good chance it won’t be the last.

As Michele Pistone, a law professor at Villanova University, and I wrote in Disrupting Law School: How Disruptive Innovation Will Revolutionize the Legal World, although law schools have long enjoyed budget surpluses, the financial situation has reversed over the last few years.

Facing dramatic declines in enrollment, revenue and student quality at the same time that their cost structure continues to rise and public support has waned, law schools are in crisis. Many now rely on financial support from their universities to stay afloat.

The steps law schools are taking — in the hope they can survive just long enough for pre-crisis status quo conditions to return — represent a doubling down on their traditional strategies. Most are trying to maintain their prestige within the legacy model used to rank and compare law schools: the U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings. The focus is to stay ahead of their competitors until the market evens out and everything returns to normal.

What’s so punishing is that the good days are over. Shrinking employment opportunities for recent graduates are a direct result in part of the emergence of new legal services. Companies like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, which have created a do-it-yourself model for legal services, and others like Ravel and ROSS that improve lawyers’ research and productivity, have changed the profession and business models. Simply put, disruption is lessening the need for lawyers, which means law schools are producing too many lawyers for positions that increasingly do not exist. ...

To maintain their U.S. News rankings, many law schools offer tuition discounts to students whose LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs will boost the school’s ranking, without regard to whether the applicant needs help paying full tuition. Because most law schools rely on tuition to fund operations, this in turn further worsens their financial position. ...

For schools not yet in full-blown crisis, and with some cash on hand from their parent university, there appear to be four paths forward. ...

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Education | Permalink


Law schools used to have far fewer students and full-time professors. What stops law schools from staying open but shrinking dramatically?

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | May 4, 2017 7:33:46 AM