Law School: “Shut the Damn Place Down”

Despite increasing criticism about their economic model, and simple reason, the law school racket continues to grow.

According to an article by David Segal in the New York Times:

Legal diplomas have such allure that law schools have been able to jack up tuition four times faster than the soaring cost of college. And many law schools have added students to their incoming classes — a step that, for them, means almost pure profits — even during the worst recession in the legal profession’s history.

It is one of the academy’s open secrets: law schools toss off so much cash they are sometimes required to hand over as much as 30 percent of their revenue to universities, to subsidize less profitable fields.

In short, law schools have the power to raise prices and expand in ways that would make any company drool. And when a business has that power, it is apparently difficult to resist.

But the continuing recession means that graduates of low-tier law schools, who were never likely to get lucrative jobs, are even less likely to get good jobs now, if they manage to get legal jobs at all.

Law schools are a market, however, and people continue to go to law school, and take out gigantic loans to do so, even though the actual demand for lawyers, and their salaries, isn’t moving much.

Legal scholars seem to understand this. People go to law school to get jobs as lawyers; if they can’t do that, the legal education isn’t worth much. According to the article, Richard Matasar explained at a 2009 meeting of the Association of American Law Schools that law schools “should be ashamed of ourselves. If a law school can’t help its students achieve their goals, ‘we should shut the damn place down.”

But Matasar is the dean of New York Law School, a school that increased its size by 30 percent since 2009, and charges at $47,800 a year in tuition. This is despite the fact that, as a third-tier law school, most of its graduates seem to have a hard time finding jobs to pay off their law debts.

New York Law School, it’s worth pointing out, operates pretty much like other law schools. Segal appeared to use the school as an example only because of the bizarre fact that it’s headed by a man who urges—though he does not appear to have implemented—major structural reform of the law school system.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer