The American Lawyer: The Intractable Crisis in Legal Education, by Steven J. Harper (Adjunct Professor, Northwestern; author, The Lawyer Bubble):
To understand why the crisis in legal education persists, take a look at how law deans and professors are wishing it away.
My August 25 Op-Ed in The New York Times went viral. It became number one on the Times’ “most-emailed” list. It rose to the top-five in “most viewed,” “most shared on Facebook,” and “most tweeted.” Within hours of publication, it generated more than 600 comments.
It also produced letters to the editor, three of which the Times chose to publish on September 2. Two are from law professors whose responses reveal why the current crisis in legal education is so intractable.
Milan Markovic is an associate professor of law at Texas A&M. He argues that current law students will soon have better job prospects because there are fewer of them. ... Professor Markovic perpetuates the sloppy analysis infecting virtually all academic discussion about law student debt and the crisis in legal education. In particular, his macroeconomic prediction about the fate of future graduates ignores a crucial fact: job opportunities vary dramatically according to school.
A 2018 graduate from Professor Markovic’s school — Texas A&M — will not have employment prospects comparable to students at top schools that regularly place more than 90 percent of their new graduates in full-time long-term bar passage-required positions. In that key category, Texas A&M’s employment rate for 2014 graduates was 52 percent. Likewise, only three Texas A&M graduates in the class of 2014 began their careers at firms where attorney compensation is highest (that is, firms with more than 100 lawyers). ...
Professor Jeremy Paul is dean at Northeastern University School of Law. His letter to the Times editor notes correctly that many Americans cannot afford legal services and analogizes the situation to doctors.
“No one would say we had an oversupply of medical students if millions of Americans resorted to self-medication and treatment because they could not pay for a doctor,” he writes.
One commenter to Tax Prof Blog countered Professor Paul’s analogy with this one: “How can anyone say there are too many restaurants when there are still so many starving and malnourished people in the world? That’s how 12-year-olds think, not lawyers, which I’ve heard is law school’s reason for being.”
For the indigent needing legal services, there are not enough lawyers. But that’s because our society isn’t willing to pay for them. ...
Like Professor Markovic, Dean Paul knows there’s no unitary legal education market. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1981. For Northeastern Law School — where he has been dean since 2012 — the full-time long-term bar passage-required employment rate for the class of 2014 was 53 percent.
Professor Paul’s final observation is that “studies show that a law degree remains a sound investment…”
Which takes us back to the pervasive and persistent academic canard that aggregate data matter to individual decisions about attending particular schools. What study tracks outcomes by individual law school to “show that a law degree remains a sound investment” for graduates of every school?
No such study exists. But for those determined to resist necessary change in the broken system for funding legal education, magical thinking combines with confirmation bias to trump reality every time. Federal student loan subsidies unrelated to student outcomes encourage otherwise thoughtful legal academics to become unabashed salespeople. ...
Would Professor Markovic and Dean Paul — among many others who similarly ignore the crisis in legal education — counsel their own children to attend a marginal law school that, upon graduation, assured them of six-figure debt but offered only dismal JD-required employment prospects?
Update: Law School Truth Center, If It's Broke, Leave It As-Is