Paul L. Caron

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Law School Survival Strategy From a Former Dean: Cut Tuition by 50%

NewsweekNewsweek:  Law Schools: Reform or Go Bust, by James Huffman (Former Dean, Lewis & Clark):

Like it or not, law schools face real business challenges. Demand has declined every year since 2010—not just a little but by nearly 40 percent. The same number of law schools have 33,000 fewer prospective customers than they had five years ago. ...

The longer legal educators remain in denial about the true magnitude of the financial crisis they face, the more devastating will be the crash. It should be obvious to even the casual observer why the existing business model is broken for all but the well-endowed, elite law schools.

Through the first half of the last century law schools relied on small faculties to teach large classes in facilities consisting of a few lecture halls, offices and a library. Today large faculties teach small classes in elaborate facilities housing high tech classrooms, court rooms, cafes, lounges, suites of faculty, administrative and student organization offices, computer labs, libraries and even workout rooms in a few schools. Faculty teach not only smaller, but fewer, classes, with frequent sabbaticals and research leaves. Little wonder tuition has risen in excess of inflation for four decades.

As someone who promoted all of the above as a law school dean and benefited from it all as a law professor, it pains me to acknowledge that during my nearly four-decade career legal education, I abandoned frugality for profligacy. Some of the rise in cost resulted from program expansions in response to a plethora of new legal specialties and from steady pressure from the American Bar Association for more training in lawyering skills that requires a much lower student-faculty ratio.

But the core factor in the escalating cost of legal education is that the guild of law school professors long ago captured the combined regulatory apparatus of the American Bar Association (ABA) and the AALS. We law professors have constructed a legal education model that, first and foremost, serves faculty interests—higher salaries, more faculty protected by tenure, smaller and fewer classes, shorter semesters, generous sabbatical and leave policies and supplemental grants for research and writing. We could not have done better for ourselves, except that the system is now collapsing.

With a new business model, a quality legal education could be provided at half of today’s average tuition. Here are a few suggestions for how to do it:

  • Cut faculty numbers in half by requiring faculty to devote most of their time to teaching
  • Eliminate tenure and take advantage of a highly competitive market for law professors.
  • Reduce law school from three to two years
  • Stop the facilities arms race.
  • Take greater advantage of online instruction technologies.

Legal Education | Permalink


LS costs can be cut. That process has been well underway nationwide. But rather than opportunistically seize upon the legal profession's restructuring as a justification for jettisoning tenure -- with its myriad benefits for teaching, research, and service that accrue from tenure (while admittedly, also some downsides that can be managed) -- law schools should endeavor to reduce costs without disrupting academic freedom.

Perhaps it should be recalled, as Huffman acknowledges, that LS deans were leading the costly expansion of LS facilities & services to achieve competitive edge. Deans and other administrators can err, like the rest of humanity.

To equip deans with the capacity to shape via annual or short-term contracts entire LS faculties to reflect their own personal ideologies, teaching methods, & preferred personalities (or friends) would lead to even worse outcomes than the overbuilding & excessive costs of LS currently.

Posted by: LM | Feb 25, 2015 8:47:36 AM

Well, we don't get sabbatical or research leave at my school, but we do teach some relatively small classes. When I studied law in France as a law exchange student, the classes were taught in huge, crumbling, pigeon-infested ampitheaters, with a professor who would stand, tiny (due to the distance between him and me), reciting lectures from memory, with no socratic participation. I imagine it was very cheap on a cost-per-student basis. Should U.S. law schools go that route? Perhaps. Though how to reconcile with the push for intensive skills training? That seems difficult.

Posted by: Jason Yackee | Feb 22, 2015 2:56:36 PM

AProf, that is fine because if schools right size they won't need to hire for 20 years.

Posted by: JM | Feb 22, 2015 9:05:09 AM

It's obvious law school have to cut costs, but it won't happen without a fight. My own law school's response has basically been to hire even more expensive and less practical people, and hope that a rather plainly insubstantial "merger" will cover their tracks. Essentially they're betting that the market will turn around before the bill comes due. Right now, that doesn't look like a very good bet.

Posted by: mike livingston | Feb 22, 2015 4:49:12 AM

The solution isn't hard, but it is hard to implement. There must be fewer schools producing fewer graduates at lower prices, who have better opportunities.

Posted by: Jojo | Feb 22, 2015 4:48:02 AM

If you double teaching loads and get rid of tenure, that "highly competitive market for law professors" will cease to be very competitive.

Posted by: AProf | Feb 21, 2015 4:20:23 PM

"[M]ost graduates of most law schools will spend most of their careers paying for their legal education, while many will never be able to do so. The economics of legal education are inextricably linked to the demand for new lawyers, which is linked to the market for legal services. That market has changed dramatically and permanently over the past decade resulting in six consecutive years of decline in the demand for new lawyers."

Wow, he clearly didn't read the sentence in Million Dollar Degree where S&M tautologically *proved* that there was no structural change occurring in the profession now or ever in the future, and because this is such an axiomatic truth it doesn't need actual reasons or supporting evidence, so none are given. But then again, Huffman is merely a dean emeritus of a law school; what can he possibly know of legal education?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 21, 2015 2:12:30 PM