We can now report that we’ve made great progress towards securing a hearing on law schools’ presentation of employment information in their recruiting materials, in the ABA Official Guide, and in U.S. News. It became apparent that additional involvement was necessary after the ABA Section of Legal Education’s questionnaire committee failed to ask questions pertaining to the legal employment rate on the 2011 questionnaire, despite pleas to the contrary.
For almost a decade, the Section of Legal Education has asked law schools the very basic question of, “how many of your students worked in a full-time legal job after graduation?” Despite having the answers, the section has never published this information. Whether intentional or careless, this is concerning. And with all eyes on the section’s reform efforts, failure to remedy this problem in a timely fashion appears to be worth an investigation.
If and when this hearing happens, we expect the discussion of law school transparency to broaden to questions about the law school cost structure. It is important to ask why and how the average law graduate’s debt (over $100,000) could reach such an extreme. To this end, structural transparency is crucial to understanding and fixing the broken law school model.
Some of the reason for the massive debt is that prospective law students, but not law schools, lack the information they need to make meaningful decisions. Some of it is that law school is an all-but necessary gateway to the legal profession. Additionally, there is a deeply entrenched view in the U.S. about law school being a magic ticket to financial security.
But the increase in law school costs go deeper than the reasons people choose to attend law school. It has much to do with how those who attend choose to finance their educations. Law schools run on essentially limitless student loans. With this constant stream of financing, law school budgets expand, often in the name of better quality. But is law school quality three times better than it was in the 1980s? Four times? While difficult to quantify, few would say it is.
Unfortunately, cost considerations have been absent from reform efforts because there are insufficient checks in place to keep costs down. It is time for the ABA Section of Legal Education, Congress, and law schools to explore how to change the law school model. The damage needs to be undone. The effects of this broken model are felt well beyond the individuals who choose to debt-finance their education. Good economy or bad economy, the issue is not going away.
To read more, check out the Wall Street Journal’s story.