Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Following up on my previous post, Symposium: Uncomfortable Conversations About Legal Education — Student Debt, Diversity, And More: Law.com, Cracking the Case of Law School Cost:
Here’s the million-dollar question on my mind today: How do you make a law degree more affordable?
That was the focus on a day-long session I attended last week on bringing down the cost of a legal education held at the American Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco. It was an interesting—and at times frustrating—discussion, so I’m going to devote this newsletter to parsing some of the ideas that emerged. ...
The U.S. News rankings loomed large in the day’s conversation, and Law School Transparency Executive Director Kyle McEntee tackled it head on with a talk about how the rankings can be improved and their influence curbed. He proposed a change to the rankings formula that would do away with the expenditure-per-student metric, which rewards schools for spending money. In its place, he proposed an alternative measure that would divide the total amount of J.D. revenue a school receives annually by the number of long-term, fulltime bar passage required or J.D. advantage jobs its graduates land. This would essentially reward schools for keeping tuition low while also sending graduates on to good legal jobs.
McEntee also made news when he announced that in 2020 Law School Transparency will launch its own law school certification system, which is intended to create some competition for U.S. News in terms of evaluating the quality of law schools. It will award badges to law schools that meet its criteria in different areas, such as affordability and diversity and inclusion. The badges will offer schools alternative benchmarks that don’t hinge solely on the U.S. News formula, McEntee said. Law schools can then use the LST badges in their marketing materials and websites as a signifier of quality, along the lines of LEED certification for energy efficient construction. He said law deans are hungry for alternatives to the U.S. News rankings because they feel very constrained by those rankings’ narrow definition of what makes a good law school and the perverse incentives they create, such as the need to devote funds to merit scholarships at the expense of need-based ones. ...
[Q]uite a few legal educators associate efforts to reduce student costs with also reducing the quality of legal education. That’s a pretty serious obstacle to overcome. The way I see it, faculty and the various stakeholders involved in legal education need to buy into the idea that law school can cost less while also serving as the gatekeeper into the profession if there is ever to be progress made.