Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Arkansas Dean: Law School Critics Are 'Flat-Out Wrong'

Bloomberg Law interviews Stephen M. Sheppard, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, William H. Enfield Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law:

[F]undamental tenets of the law school reform movement are flat-out wrong.

  • Reformers say there are too many law school graduates. Sheppard says America is producing fewer lawyers than we used to, compared to the total number of college graduates.
  • The cost of legal education isn't too high, because that's what the market will bear. "I reject the premise that American law students are too stupid to know the cost of their degree," he says.
  • It's not the fault of law schools that they produce more graduates than there are jobs. "The idea that we must have jobs for our students is not only a mistake, it's a dangerous mistake," he says.
  • Criticism of legal education has become a "self-fulfilling prophecy," scaring away prospective law students even though they could find good jobs as attorneys, he says.

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Enough with the "market will bear" arguments... Your so-called "market" has been supported by the Department of Education for far too long. Higher education doss not operate in a "market." Higher education financing is backstopped by the Federal Government. In response, the Santa Claras, Case Westerns, and Fayetvilles decided they could continuously increase tuition without any qualms, and FINALLY they are receiving backlash.

I named these schools because they all feature faculty victimized from reduced applications attributable to purported inaccurate information regarding their employers' schools (really, with exception of Professor Leiter, where are the faculty members from elite schools complaining about the bad rap they receive??). In an efficient market, the respective alma maters of tenured law professors could probably get away with charging much higher tuition, while the diploma mills would need to drastically reduce their prices in order to compete.

Truth is that Professor Sheppard is correct. American law students (or prospective ones) are not too stupid to know the cost of their degrees. In fact, they are behaving as rational consumers in a "market." They are making the calculated decisions that if they cannot get into elite law schools where the biggest law school apologists attended such as Yale (Diamond), Harvard (S&M), Columbia (Sheppard and the Dean of Case Western) or Michigan (Leiter), then it's not worth the costs of going to poorly ranked law schools. The legal education debt crisis has metastasized into a $1 trillion debt-ridden higher educational cancer. American society has decided to undergo chemo, and while there may be pain along the way, it is necessary.

Posted by: Cent Rieker | Jul 28, 2013 12:55:51 PM

I correct myself... I meant to say "The legal education debt crisis is one symptom of a disease that has metastasized into a $1 trillion debt-ridden higher educational cancer." Neither fair nor accurate to blame the $1 trillion only on legal education (only 700 billion of it... that last part was a joke).

Posted by: Cent Rieker | Jul 28, 2013 1:05:56 PM

The two University of Arkansas campuses combined placed three (3) graduates of the 2012 class in law firms of over 100 attorneys. The majority of grads from 2012 did not procure real legal jobs of any type. And that is despite the fact that U. of Arkansas Law is pretty much the only feeder school into the legal market in that State. Still, Prof Sheppard says critics should not be "scaring off" prospective students who could find good employment after law school.

Posted by: JM | Jul 29, 2013 5:26:34 AM

The purpose of law schools is primarily to employ law school professors and deans.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 29, 2013 9:18:46 AM