Curing the Cost Disease: Legal Education, Legal Services, and the Role of Income-Contingent Loans
Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 68, No. 3, pp. 521-547 (2019)
27 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2018 Last revised: 5 Nov 2020
Date Written: September 21, 2018
The costs of both legal education and legal services have been rising steadily for decades. This is because they share a common root: the constant above-inflation growth in the cost of labor-intensive goods and services known as the “cost disease.” The cost disease story roots cost growth not in market failure or bureaucratic waste, but in natural, even healthy, economic forces—productivity and wage growth. Because the source of this cost growth is productivity growth, the nature of the cost disease is such that an economy as a whole can afford these rising costs. But in a world of deep income inequality, the costs must be socialized, to be shared collectively. In this article for a symposium on financing legal education, I argue that the Income-Driven Repayment program for student loans is a mechanism for partially socializing the costs of both legal education and legal services, while still maintaining the vital independence of both law schools and the bar. I also take a critical look at the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, counter-intuitively arguing that it has serious flaws in its goal of serving the broader public interest.
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