Paul L. Caron

Friday, August 24, 2018

Vermont Is The Tip Of The Law School Spear

Vermont Law School Logo (2017)Mark Cohen (CEO, Legal Mosaic; Distinguished Fellow, Northwestern), Vermont Law School Redux: The Numbers Still Don’t Add Up:

Why Most Law Schools Must Abandon the Academic Arms Race and Become Price Sensitive

Last month I wrote an article, When the Numbers Don’t Add Up: Vermont Law School’s Tenured Faculty Purge and What It Portends. It cast a harsh light on the economics of Vermont Law School (VLS), noting the all-in $70K annual cost of attendance, $122K national average law grad debt; 2.71 times adjusted-for-inflation cost of law school over the past 3 decades; lack of practice readiness or augmented skills possessed by most law grads; a harsh job market; and the folly that all law schools should cost the same or prepare students for identical careers. The dire straits of Vermont Law School—those that lost their jobs and remaining students that will be impacted by the fallout—is no cause for celebration. It does demand sober reflection and prompt action by the ABA and the legal Academy, because, VLS is the tip of the spear.

Kevin Colangelo published a response, Widening the Lens on Vermont Law School, to my article and others focused on VLS. While the author’s title purports to apply a “wider lens” to the subject, it narrows the focus to his personal experience and fond memories of Vermont Law School. He also chronicles some steps the institution has taken to get ahead of the curve in a time of unparalleled legal industry change. Conspicuously absent is a focus on VLS’s finances apart from mention that it is a stand-alone law school in a rural setting that has a meager endowment. ...

The legal Academy must “do more with less.” Vermont Law School—and others—must face the reality that their model of ever-escalating tuition, fancy new buildings, arcane new courses that fascinate their instructors but don’t add much value to students, and a faculty wholly unfamiliar with the marketplace are over. The sad story of Vermont Law School is not new and no doubt will be reprised by others. It’s time to face the numbers and take some painful steps to reduce the cost of tuition and to provide students with the tools required to succeed in today’s marketplace. That’s the lens that matters.

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"Vermont Law School—and others—must face the reality that their model of ever-escalating tuition, fancy new buildings, arcane new courses that fascinate their instructors but don’t add much value to students, and a faculty wholly unfamiliar with the marketplace are over."

Perfectly stated. This is the conclusion to the whole post-2008 law school downturn in a nutshell.

Posted by: JM | Aug 24, 2018 6:49:51 AM

According to NALP, over 90% of law grads from the class of 2017 were employed. Graduates employed in bar passage required jobs earned average salaries near $100,000. Graduates employed in JD advantage and other professional jobs earned average salaries of about $70-80,000. Women and minority law grads earned salaries in the $90-100,000 range. Those salaries are nearly double what the average college graduate earns. Obviously the market is not harsh and employers value the skills taught to law graduates by law professors.

Posted by: reality | Aug 24, 2018 11:42:52 AM is the tip of they butcher knife. By 2030 all the mundane work in the legal marketplace will by the province of technology.

Posted by: OldLawProf | Aug 24, 2018 5:49:39 PM

All of Cohen's observations/conclusions are spot-on, but the bit which deserves greater emphasis is the increase in "arcane courses" beloved of faculty which do not "add value" to the students' legal education.

I've seen this happen over the last 30 plus years of my practice at my own (public, flagship university) alma mater. Students I've interviewed have fewer of the nuts and bolts courses which I need for new associates to have in order to actually meet with clients and solve their problems. A seminar in European LGBTQ rights is fine, I guess, but if it comes at the expense of a wills and trusts course, we have a problem. Add in the outrageous costs of a legal education, and you have a situation where rural communities, such as my own, cannot find lawyers to service their needs. Even if there are 3Ls who would want to practice here, their debt won't allow it and their education falls short of what's necessary to jump right in and start doing productive work.

Posted by: RS | Aug 24, 2018 6:25:16 PM

Adjunct explains why more law schools should hire adjuncts.

Posted by: Adjunct | Aug 25, 2018 12:05:52 PM

Even the NALP admits that its data collection techniques overrepresent large law firm salaries and skew their averages upward by 12 to 15%. And of course the median pay is a lot lower, and as everyone in the legal profession knows, there is a bimodal salary distribution for new grads. And only ~70% of grads found jobs as lawyers, which shouldn't be surprising given that even as the economy has recovered over the last several years, the number of new lawyering jobs has been steadily declining. Structural change and all that.

And the unemployment rate for recent law school grads is DOUBLE the unemployment rate for recent bachelor's recipients. Facts are stubborn things.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 25, 2018 2:18:34 PM

And of course in real dollars the NALP median starting salary is still 18.5% less than it was for the class of 2008, even as many law schools have increased tuition 40% to 50% or more over the last decade. It... does not help those fabled ROIs.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 25, 2018 2:21:35 PM

Reality - the response rates on salary data are infamously low and generally come from the very highest earners in the class. Importantly, less than 60% of VLS' class supposedly found long-term jobs that require a JD.

Posted by: Real Reality | Aug 26, 2018 5:05:32 AM

@Real Reality,

Hey now, just because Vermont has fewer people than Oklahoma City, 4 of the 7 largest employers are ski resorts, the state capital has 7,000 people, barely half of VLS grads find FT/LT/license-required work within ten months of graduation, and only one (1) graduate wound up at a large law firm doesn't mean we shouldn't create a constructive reality where there are enough people in Vermont to justify a standalone law school, those people can afford legal services, there are bountiful white-collar employers hidden among the cow pastures and ski hamlets, and every last VLS grad starts out at $190k/year because reasons.


Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 26, 2018 1:21:15 PM

Is Vermont Law School becoming “The Thomas Cooley of the East”?
Instead of lowering tuition, Vermont Law School went the other way and raised it on us. And switched to more and more courses being taught by local VLS grads, as adjuncts, now that they’ve laid off so many faculty in the “restructuring.” Even a section of Civ Pro is being taught by a VLS grad adjunct.
For this, I'm going into such debt? Classes dropped, classes now being taught by adjuncts. And we weren't told there would be all these course changes until late summer, a few weeks before classes started.

Posted by: PO'd VLS Student | Aug 31, 2018 8:41:54 AM