Understanding the Costs of Experiential Legal Education
1 J. EXPERIENTIAL EDUC. 28 (Winter 2014-2015) (peer reviewed)
33 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2014 Last revised: 7 Feb 2015
Date Written: September 16, 2014
Law schools across the country are under pressure to do two seemingly contradictory things. First, we must do a better job of preparing our graduates for practice. Most commentators, including me, believe that this requires law schools to increase the quantity and quality of experiential education we provide. At the same time, law schools are under pressure to control costs. If we do not do so, we risk pricing a large and growing segment of the population out of our market.
Can law schools meet both of these mandates simultaneously? The received wisdom seems to be that experiential education is the most expensive type of education. So can we offer more and better experiential education and still control costs? The short answer is probably yes. But to do so, it is important to understand the cost structure of experiential education. This Essay will attempt to help with that project.
The Essay will start by examining some of the work that that has already been done on trying to understand the costs of experiential education, noting some important gaps in that work. The Essay will then fill those gaps, providing a comprehensive and up-to-date model of the costs of different types of experiential legal education, as well as the costs of some types of more traditional legal education. It will conclude by discussing some ramifications of the cost model for deans and curriculum committees as they think about how to manage and expand their schools’ experiential offerings. And it will discuss some promising new hybrid experiential courses, which have the potential to provide high-quality opportunities for students at relatively low cost.
It is important to note that this is an Essay about cost, which represents only half of the important question of value – which deals with costs versus benefits. The other half of the equation is the set of benefits provided by experiential education. For purposes of this Essay (and more generally), I will assume that the benefits of experiential legal education are extremely high. Thus, even where the costs of experiential education are high, there is likely to be significant value in offering this type of education to our students. But the focus of this Essay will be on the cost side of the value inquiry. Without understanding cost, as well as benefits, we cannot meaningfully discuss the value of experiential legal education.
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