Following up on my previous posts on the closure of Whittier Law School (links below): USA Today, Law Schools Hunker Down As Enrollment Slips:
Whittier Law School in California is closing its doors for good next spring, and students and faculty are stunned. It is, after all, a shocking milestone — to be the first ever accredited law school to shut down. ...
Future lawyers, heed this. Whittier's demise could be a sign of things to come.
As several trends hit the law profession — fewer graduates, fewer jobs and the specter of growing automation in legal services — experts say more law schools could take a hit.
For young lawyers in all but the most elite schools, jobs are already harder to find. While a newly minted Harvard, Yale or Stanford Juris Doctor (JD) will nearly always find security and top-paying work, those attending non-rated or poorly rated schools will struggle as their profession contracts. Even students at moderately rated schools could see their prospects shrink, statistics suggest.
Whittier’s travails are fairly well-known — it has long struggled to stay afloat, with downturns in both applications and average LSAT scores. But its struggles are taking place, in some form, at schools nationwide. That’s making many wonder: Is Whittier an outlier or a bellwether, an unfortunate white elephant or the proverbial canary in the coal mine?
Over the past six years, Whittier’s first-year enrollment had dropped precipitously, from 303 students in 2010 to 132 last year, according to Law School Transparency, an online watchdog. Average student GPA and LSAT scores dropped, and its state bar passage rate fell to 22%. Whittier’s estimated full price — $284,377, according to the transparency site — put it at 28th highest nationwide, even as its “employment score” put it among the bottom 10 law schools nationwide. Only 2.3% of graduates in 2016 landed jobs with large law firms, a common measure of quality, according to the site.
Even with its difficulties, Whittier is “not an isolated case," said Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute, a business think tank that focuses on innovation. "A lot of non-elite law schools are in this situation.” Like many schools hovering below the top tier, he said, “They’re hunkering down just long enough until it thins down at the bottom.” ...
Chas Rampenthal, general counsel of LegalZoom, said the startup is “not looking to put lawyers out of business.” But he estimated that 70% to 80% of every hour billed by lawyers “probably doesn’t require a law license.” Finding new clients, wining and dining them and fretting over billing, he said, can be done by someone else. “That is not what lawyers should be spending their time doing.”
If technology can take over low-level tasks, he said, law firms can bring down costs. That could make legal services cheaper, which would make them more widely consumed by those who can't afford them now. ...
[Andrew M. Perlman, dean of Suffolk University Law School in Boston, noted that ... “The kind of work that lawyers are going to be doing in the future is going to be quite a bit different, and in many ways could be quite a bit more interesting than the kind of work that I did when I graduated law school,” he said.
It’s actually “a great time” to go into the legal profession, he said. “From my perspective, it is an especially exciting time to be part of the legal industry, because I think it is changing more significantly and more rapidly than at any time in anyone’s memory.”
LegalZoom's Rampenthal said technology may well shrink the job market in the short term, but if costs go down, public demand for legal services will eventually rise. In the long term, he said, demand for lawyers could rebound and more law schools may open.
Actually, he said, if technology can make legal help more widely available, the profession has a moral duty to make it happen.
“There’s no doctor in the world, no research scientist, who would say, ‘You know what? I’d rather (assign) 30 research scientists to spend two or three months to crack a protein instead of having an artificial intelligence do it in three minutes so I can start treating people,’" he said. "They don’t look at it and say, ‘Geez, it might put me out of a job.’ They look at it and say, ‘It might save millions of lives.’ We can’t look at technology as a demon when it’s doing such great things."
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- Whittier Law School To Close, Will Not Admit A 1L Class This Fall (Apr. 19, 2017)
- Tenured Faculty Sue To Stop Closure Of Whittier Law School (Apr. 20, 2017)
- Experts: Whittier Law School’s Collapse Won’t Be The Last (Apr. 20, 2017)
- Faculty Weighs Legal Options To Block Closure Of Whittier Law School After Court Rejects TRO; Board Pulled Plug With Only 40 Students Expected In Fall 2017 1L Class, Down 70% From 2016 (And 87% From 2010) (Apr. 21, 2017)
- 100 Students Protest Closure Of Whittier Law School (Apr. 22, 2017)
- Steve Diamond (Santa Clara), Whittier's Decision To Close Its Law School Violates AAUP Tenure Protections, Harms Diversity, And Ignores The Rebounding Legal Employment Market (Apr. 23, 2017)
- Robert Anderson (Pepperdine), Whittier Law School Closing Is Another Sad Story Of Generational Wealth Shifting, With Millennial Students Incurring Huge Debts To Subsidize Baby Boomer Faculty Sinecures (Apr. 24, 2017)
- Temperature Rises In Debate Over Closure Of Whittier Law School; Are 5-25 Law Schools In A 'Death Spiral' Leading To Closure Over The Next Five Years? (Apr. 25, 2017)
- More Data On The Closure Of Whittier Law School (Apr. 29, 2017)
- Whittier Law School Died Many Years Ago, When It Strayed From Its Founding Mission To Prepare Students To Pass The Bar And Succeed As Lawyers (Apr. 30, 2017)
- Should La Verne And Other Law Schools With Low First-Time Bar Passage Rates Follow Whittier's Lead And Close? (May 20, 2017)