Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Toxic" Press Environment for Law Schools?

"Toxic" Press Environment 
for Law Schools?

At the October 2013 conference of the Midwest Association of Prelaw Advisors, Washington University School of Law Dean, Kent Syverud, gave a speech on the Future of Legal Education.  I have discussed different aspects of the speech in several postings.

At one point, he identified the current press environment surrounding law schools as "toxic."  I recently had my own experience with this press environment.

Yesterday, Brian Leiter discussed this toxic environment in his own blog, which I highly recommend.

A Complex Set of Factors

This week-end, I finished reading Brian Tamanaha's 2012 book, Failing Law Schools. I found his discussion of the ABA regulatory environment of law schools especially interesting.  While it created high quality law schools, it also drove up the price of a legal education by requiring additional "inputs," including higher salaries for faculty members; more time for faculty members to produce scholarship; more faculty members to reduce student-faculty ratios; shiny new buildings; advanced technology; and bigger library holdings.

A mission-driven school, like ASL, even if it wanted to pursue a low-cost strategy, had to comply with the ABA requirements if it wanted to obtain and keep accreditation.

I also liked Tamanaha's discussion of the role of the U.S. News and World Report rankings in escalating tuition costs. Law schools competed on services rather than price to ensure a higher position in the ranking. (ASL, as an unranked, 4th-tier access school, has been indirectly affected by the ranking system, but that story is too long to tell here.)

Falling Tuition Costs

The good news is that the cost of law school is coming down.  Several schools have cut tuition costs, including New York Law School, Seton Hall Law School, and University of Arizona College of Law.  Other schools are freezing tuition, including the Appalachian School of Law, the University of St. Thomas School of Law, the University of Massachusetts School of Law, and Ave Maria Law School.

Most law schools are offering scholarships to applicants with higher LSAT scores, thus substantially reducing the sticker price of law school.  Many schools, including ASL, offer 100 percent tuition scholarships to especially attractive students.  For some students, it has never been a better time to get an affordable legal education.

Tamanaha's book also discusses the risk of student debt, which all applicants to law school should read.

I will continue to do my best to sort through the data on the New Normal.  If that means I also personally deal with the "toxic" environment created by a few scambloggers, so be it.

And, I will continue to be proud of ASL, its faculty, staff, students, and graduates.  I know what we are doing here.   I know how dedicated we are to helping people.

Dec. 8, 2013 update:  The University of Iowa School of Law announced a tuition reduction.  For stories about it, see herehere, and here.

Dec. 14, 2013 Update:  More on the "price war" among some law schools in highly competitive markets.

Dec. 31, 2013 Update:  Even Above the Law (or at least its readers) seems to be tired of the law school "crisis" storyline.  Perhaps, having declared "victory," even he will reduce the toxic environment surrounding law schools and the decision to become a lawyer.

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