Reducing the Cost of Legal Education: The Profession Hangs Together or Hangs Separately
14 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 22, 2016
Is a legal education worth the cost? Until just a few years ago, there was little doubt that the answer was yes. The recession that began in 2007 changed everything. The job market for entry-level lawyers suddenly collapsed. With tuition high and job prospects low, many concluded that legal education was a bad investment. This essay documents the challenges confronting legal education and advises law schools to meet those challenges by reducing the cost of a JD degree. But forces within the legal profession itself make it unnecessarily difficult to follow this advice.
The first section of this essay briefly recounts the events of these years of crisis in legal education. That discussion suggests that, while significantly cutting the cost of legal education is the only effective way to deal with that crisis, some of the same forces that created the crisis in the first place undermine the ability of law schools to pursue such a strategy. Those forces include the national law school rankings and unnecessary requirements imposed by the organized bar. The next section describes ways in which the legal profession responded to the crisis in legal education. Much of the profession’s initial response, from the ABA to members of the Supreme Court to the President himself, was uninformed, politically motivated, and focused on passing judgment while also passing the buck. In fact, the response of the profession continues to make it more difficult for law schools to pursue a strategy of cutting costs. This essay argues that the factors that drove up the price of a legal education will be easier to tame if there is a concerted and constructive effort by the entire legal profession to facilitate the controlling of costs. The stakes are high, since the very future of the profession will turn on whether legal education is once again financially accessible to the American middle class. We either hang together or hang separately.
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