Law schools have come under fire during these tough economic times, with
critics saying that they leave too many graduates in debt, chasing too
few employment opportunities. ...
There may be valid criticism about lower-ranked law schools,
particularly those U.S. News places in the third and fourth tier. Such
private schools often charge significant tuition but do not obtain the
same employment outcomes. The question is whether changes can be made to
lower their costs, and whether this will lead to better opportunities
for their graduates.
The problem of law school is one that is
ubiquitous to higher education — the current model is inherently
expensive but even today, lower-priced alternatives don’t seem to meet
the standards or be desired by many students.
It is here where revolutionary technologies like online learning may
come into play. If it becomes accepted that many basics like contracts
law can be easily taught by one professor online to thousands of
students, then a law school can charge a lot less. But this is still
mostly a theoretical change embraced by those outside academia that has
yet to sweep universities. Even with one online course, some local
presence will be needed to facilitate learning, particularly if there is
skills training involved.
It may not be simple enough to just pin
the blame on the costs of law school education. For 2011 law school
graduates, as of nine months after graduation, only 65.4% were employed
in jobs requiring passage of the bar. And law schools should learn to
be more innovative, as other types of graduate programs are doing.
schools have also hurt themselves badly by failing to fully disclose
certain statistics, including their employment rates. It is clear that
the number of lawyers in the United States will fall as fewer people
apply to law school. But this trend will probably shrink enrollment, not
decrease the number of schools over all.
In the longer term, the
question is whether there will be a recovery in law jobs as the economy
heals. There is hope that will be the case. One study has found that the
average lawyer will earn about $4 million — or twice as much as someone
with a bachelor’s degree — over their lifetime of employment.
In addition, law school provides a general education that is useful in
other areas. Both presidential candidates have law degrees, as do the
chief executives of a substantial number of companies in the Standard
& Poor’s 500-stock index.
A hard look at reform appears to be a
worthy goal, but any changes should consider whether they will actually
reduce costs, and provide something students want. The problem of law
school is thus the problem that all schools of higher education, even
veterinary school, face.