Young lawyers with huge educational debts and no jobs in a depressed U.S. legal market should have known what they were getting into, the president of the American Bar Association [William Robinson] said on Wednesday. …
“It’s inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate-level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago,” he said.
College graduates are capable of making “an independent decision and a free choice” to go to law school, he said. …
Critics including two U.S. senators have asked whether the bar association does enough to police law schools, a handful of which face allegations that they inflated statistics about post-graduation employment in order to attract more students.
Robinson said the number of schools in question is “no more than four” out of 200 with ABA accreditation, and he said few lawmakers have expressed interest in the subject. “It hasn’t been a groundswell of comment from Congress,” he said.
Stories in The New York Times and elsewhere have scrutinized the accreditation process, suggesting some ABA standards, such as encouraging tenure, unnecessarily raise law school costs.
Robinson called such suggestions unfounded.
“None of the studies show that the ABA rules of certification are what’s responsible for the cost of legal education,” he said. Other factors, such as competition for professors, are driving the increase in cost, he said. …
Robinson recalled his own experience paying for law school at the University of Kentucky, where he got a degree in 1971.
“When I was going to law school, and I sold my Corvair to make first-semester tuition and books for $330, a sizeable portion of the faculty had tenure. They had tenure then and they have tenure now,” he said.
There are still inexpensive options outside the elite law schools, he said. According to ABA statistics, 68 ABA-accredited law schools have annual tuition at or below $25,000.
Among elite schools that charge double that, the ABA is powerless to hold down costs, he said.
“I should take the lead in telling these schools that they should reduce their tuition to $25,000 a year? No, I don’t think I should do that. I don’t think it would be purposeful. I don’t think it would be meaningful. I don’t think it would accomplish anything for me to do that,” Robinson said.
He said “it’s a complex question as to whether the cost is higher than it should be or is justified.”
Transcript from William Robinson’s August 2011 video on law school transparency:
In America, we have absolutely the best system of legal education anywhere in the world. We also have some of the best students in the world. And we have in this country a wonderful opportunity to practice law in a free democracy.
In the face of current economic realities, the ABA supports making financial and job information complete and transparent for students and the public. We want to assure, in working closely with our deans and dedicated faculty members, that these students get all of the needed information to make informed decisions.
We want them to be comfortable that when they take on debt they understand the terms and the dimensions and the responsibilities that go along with that debt.
- Above the Law: Law School Professionals Want Bill Robinson to Put a Sock in It (January 6, 2012)
- Nat'l Law Journal: Law School Professionals Want Bill Robinson to Put a Sock in It (January 6, 2012)