The Law School Bubble: How Long Will It Last if Law Grads Can’t Pay Bills?

Henderson and Zahorsky warn law schools of the danger in relying on a steady flow of federal student loans. Those familiar with Professor Henderson’s work recognize his ability to drive important issues to the forefront of academic discussion. As a journalist, Rachel Zahorsky has also covered legal education reform in the past. Their warning is designed to rally both the academy and the legal profession to take preemptive measures, calling for long-term planning and significant responses to permanent shifts in the legal market.

This poses an interesting question: how can the legal profession craft a model for educating new lawyers in a way that doesn’t require $4 billion of student loans per year? In other words, what model and pricing scheme can survive government scrutiny about whether graduates can actually meet the terms of their federal loans? And how many existing law schools can find the motivation and political will to change their cost structures and adapt to a more stable model before the so-called bubble bursts?

Henderson and Zahorsky’s warning about government action has more truth to it than many are comfortable admitting, and the numbers support their assertion. An educational model that sees students averaging $100,000 in debt to gamble for the right to enter the legal profession is not sustainable. Perhaps schools aren’t interested in normative justifications as to why they should aim to reduce the cost of legal education, but their interest in institutional self-preservation may be sufficient to get the ball rolling.