Newsweek: 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.