Law schools are in trouble. Applications are down almost 50% to an
estimated 54,000 this year from 100,000 in 2004. Little wonder.
According to the National Association for Law Placement, barely 65% of
2011 graduates had landed law-related employment within nine months of
graduation, the lowest rate since NALP began reporting in 1985. Even the
65% number is suspect, given the powerful, rankings-driven incentives
schools have to cook the figures. Meanwhile, many of the unemployed
graduates have law-school debt exceeding $100,000.
It is a true crisis, and law schools are scrambling to figure out how
to manage with fewer tuition-paying students. Law-school budgets have
soared for several decades as faculties multiplied, salaries rose and
facilities became ever grander. With annual tuition approaching or even
exceeding $40,000 at most schools, even a dozen fewer students a year
blows a $500,000 hole in the budget.
Riding to the rescue is the ABA's Task Force on the Future of Legal Education. The task
force's assignment is to study and make recommendations addressing the
economics, delivery and regulation of legal education.
The ABA should start by looking within: The organization is a major
source of the problem. Those large law-school faculties with some of the
highest salaries in the academy, the palatial facilities, a persistent
emphasis on theory instead of practical-skills training, and a limited
reliance on online instruction have all been encouraged, if not
mandated, by ABA regulations and the accreditation process. As often happens with regulatory systems, whether governmental or
professional, the ABA accreditation process was long ago captured by
legal education's most influential stakeholders. ...
The ABA's influence over the accreditation process has come at a
significant cost to legal educators. In return for the gift of better
facilities, greater job security and a job description of their own
design, they have had to accept an inevitable proliferation of rules
limiting their ability to experiment, innovate and respond to the
changing realities of 21st century law practice.
There is a way out. Instead of the
one-size-fits-all approach the ABA has taken for decades, what is needed
is some creative competition for the declining pool of prospective
The ABA should free law schools from
most of the existing standards and encourage them to draw on the
enormous intellectual power of their faculties to design and test
innovative approaches—and let a thousand flowers bloom. The ABA's role
should be limited to assuring that prospective students and legal
employers get full and honest information about what could become a
bonanza of legal education alternatives.