Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Closius: Survival Guide for the 132 Non-elite, Non-flagship Law Schools

Baltimore Sun op-ed:  American Law Schools in Crisis, by Philip Closius (Fromer Dean, Baltimore):

The Golden Age of American legal education is dead.

Every law dean knows it, but only some of them will feel it. Elite schools (the top 25 in U.S. News & World Report's rankings) and the 43 non-elite state "flagship" law schools are almost immune to market pressures. Those at risk will come from the other 132 law schools — the ones that produce the majority of law graduates. ...

Law schools in crisis must become student-centric. Faculties are mainly interested in curriculum, publication and their teaching schedule. Presidents are focused on revenue. Deans, selected by these two groups, normally share these priorities. The things that matter to students — admissions, career services, tuition and budget, bar passage, transparency and teaching quality — are frequently ignored or delegated to staff. This paradigm, derived from the elite/flagships, will no longer work for the schools facing a radically different market. Their deans must have CEO skills informed by academic values and be actively championing student priorities. ...

Deans must also insist on personal service, transparency and the finest classroom experience possible. Students are more likely to believe law school is worth the long-term investment when their school cares about them and is trying to address their concerns. In my experience, with use of this formula at two non-elite/flagship law schools, all the metrics of law school success, in matters as diverse as U.S. News ranking and faculty publication, improved. I therefore know that student-centered administrations can navigate schools through crisis and change.

A school's positive results will disappear if student values are subordinated. Both of my deanships essentially ended when "enough" improvements had been made to justify prioritizing revenue or faculty over student interests. The prior gains at my first school were lost in a few years. My second deanship recently ended in a well-publicized dispute over diverting an increasing percentage of law revenue to non-law university concerns.

The dean, faculty, staff and president must be committed to addressing the quality issues inherent in student concerns. It's the only way to save a law school in crisis.

Paul Campos (Colorado), Just Say No Jobs:

Closius' heart is in the right place, and at least his head acknowledges there really is a crisis, but unfortunately the piece is a tangle of bad data and wishful thinking. ... Closius does make some good points about the extent to which law school faculty, deans and university presidents busy themselves with counting law review articles, marginal curricular tweaking, and raising tuition like clockwork rather than paying attention to how much all this costs and whether it's actually worth it to our students, but his suggested reforms are an exercise in denial:

In today's depressed environment, resumes must be reviewed, mock interviews mandated and realistic job searches ensured. Not every alumnus can donate $1 million, but all can help a student get an internship or job. The dean, faculty and staff must also visit potential employers.

I'm sure Closius doesn't mean it this way -- unlike most legal academics he actually seems to have a clue regarding the extent to which our students are facing a genuine disaster -- but his response comes across as essentially victim-blaming: Graduates aren't getting jobs because their resumes aren't sufficiently well-crafted and they don't interview as well as they could.

This is sheer nonsense on its face, as is the stuff about deans, faculty, and staff visiting potential employers. ... There are twice as many graduates (at least) as there are jobs. The most better-drafted resumes and successful sales pitches from law faculty to legal employers will accomplish is to very slightly improve the catastrophic employment rate of our current students at the expense of our alumni.

Can't anybody in this business do basic arithmetic?

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The entire problem in the law school debt and employment crisis is very easy to solve with leadership at the Congressional level: the federal government can simply cap the number of loans extended to incoming law school graduates, using any number of means to do so, such as hard caps on the number of loans it will extend, or qualifying caps based on factors such as employment percentages, salary caps, etc.

The legal educational industrial complex has proven that it cannot will not behave in the best interest of the profession or as responsible stewards of federal student loan funding. (Also, while law school deans and faculty bear much of the responsibility for the current crisis by continuing to admit far to many students into classes, much of the problem lies with university administrators who view law schools as cash cows and resist changes proposed by the law school.)

Posted by: Unemployed Law School Graduate | Jul 3, 2012 8:11:48 AM

Revenge: There are probably many things for which "LIBERALS" can be blamed, but the disastrous 2001 and 2005 changes to the student loan laws were passed when Republicans controlled the Presidency, the House, and the Senate.

Posted by: Liz | Jun 7, 2012 10:25:22 PM

The comments above show that the bubble and its causes are really coming into focus. Good.

Next, (1) about half the law schools need to shut their doors completely and forever, and (2) discharge of student loan debt in bankruptcy court must become legal. We cannot count on law school deans to lead, obviously. They are happy because well-paid & deluded; the outside world will have to burst their bubble and let them crash to earth, lose their jobs, and try to restart. Maybe some deans will have to declare bankruptcy! I have no pity for them; they have done too much damage to too many.

Posted by: Lowellguy | Jun 7, 2012 7:24:12 AM

I pledge to spend my post-law-school days destroying the institution that ripped me off. This is not a joke. I will stand on their f***ing street corner and talk to every fresh faced new 1-L victim.

The federal government created a monopolized market in order to fund its apparent moral superiority (see what we do for the poor!) in order fool ignorant people into voting for them. No one wants to talk about the fact that thanks to the federal government and their (OVERWHELMINGLY LIBERAL) fund-sucking institutions intentionally fixed the market for a degree well above what the market can bear. The disproportion between wages and tuition (not just post-degree wages, but family incomes, median personal incomes) FORCES THE POOR TO BUY ON CREDIT OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT and pay 2, 3, 4, 5x as much for the SAME SERVICE as the wealthy who can still pay cash. This is a scam to enslave the poor, i.e. increasingly the largest demographic in the country. And we are livid.

Posted by: Revenge | Jun 6, 2012 1:51:34 PM

Like a sleazy mortgage broker in the mid-2000s, most law professors are parasites living off of funds borrowed by people who don't know what they're doing.

As in the mortgage/housing market, there is a two step process required for this unsustainable process to stop

1) returns fall (housing prices fall, law grads get no jobs)

2) supply of funds falls (banks stop lending).

Not surprisingly, in each bubble there was a government lender involved. For housing, Fannie/Freddie changed their standards after the crash (as did banks/private lenders), causing a market correction.

For education, there is no sign that the government is easing back on its credit policies. In fact, taxpayer-backed student loans have tripled since Obama took office.

While demand for law school education is falling amongst informed graduates with other prospects, there are plenty of people taking advantage of government money to go to school for "free". Payment plans capped at a percentage of income are quite reasonable if you have no prospects of earning much income. The taxpayer can eat $150k of loans (paid to law school admin and faculty), while the borrower/student pays only 10% of the $30k a year they will make for 20 years. Better yet, work for an NGO or government agency in a low level job and get much of the $150k forgiven,

The college loan system is almost entirely government controlled and immune to logic, reason and market forces. Under that system the law bubble could continue for awhile longer.

Posted by: guydreaux | Jun 6, 2012 8:50:13 AM

Apparently the law school faculty cannot do arithmetic.

They are poisoning the lives of most of their students, ruining them, and they cannot bring themselves to see it. People do not change their ego positions easily. A law school prof whose belief used to be "I am helping students and society" cannot very easily admit the truth: "I am part of a pathological social machine whose *only* certain outcome is the absolute ruination of half the students facing me in class."

Posted by: Lowellguy | Jun 6, 2012 7:58:55 AM

"Can't anybody in this business do basic arithmetic?"

It is amazing how long people can cling to a falsehood when their paycheck depends on that falsehood.

In other words, the minute they do the math, most of those 132 schools would look to close their doors... and then people would be thrown into a job market that is even tighter than the law school grad market -- the market for law school faculty.

Posted by: geek49203 | Jun 6, 2012 7:19:22 AM

Maybe what law schools need is more people teaching and writing and fewer people telling other law schools what to do.

Posted by: michael livingston | Jun 6, 2012 2:13:03 AM