The Law School Debt Crisis: Forget Reforming Law Schools, Start from Scratch

Spiraling, uncontrolled costs. Crippling personal debt. Long-term joblessness and underemployment. Downward pressure on wages. Hand-wringing. Finger-pointing. Ineffectual half measures to address the crisis.

Sound familiar? But unlike the U.S. sovereign debt, there still are no urgent or comprehensive efforts under way to slow — let alone reverse — the job-killing effects of law school costs. Lots of talk, though.

This week saw another round of disingenuous harumphing when a post by an anonymous “whistleblower” law professor rehashed what’s been manifestly obvious for years: Law schools are revenue-generating machines with no checks or balances from the marketplace or government, and with plenty of self-interested reasons to push their costs ever higher. [Apparently this is an “astonishing” indictment because an anonymous law professor said it.]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMvARy0lBLE&w=420&h=345]

Fortunately, this week also saw a refreshing antidote to that impotent hand wringing — a well-reasoned and eminently achievable way to cut the Gordian knot: Build from scratch a no-frills, ABA-accredited, university-based private law school covering all its costs at the $20,000-per-year tuition level.

On The Faculty Lounge blog, Roger Dennis, Dean of the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University, posted a precis for The Class of 1957 College of Law. The thought exercise begins simply:

“The Class of 1957 College of Law will have 500 students.  It will not offer any financial aid; one price [$20,000] for all will create $10 million in revenue.”

It then goes on to explain how the school will be structured, staffed and operated within that budget.

Key elements include:

  • A full-time faculty of 20, earning $100,000/year, plus benefits.
  • No research requirements for faculty, allowing them to teach three courses each per academic term.
  • No sabbaticals.
  • Professional development focused on teaching only.
  • The curriculum will be meat and potatoes (e.g. evidence, commercial law, federal income tax, business organizations, trust and estates, family law and legal drafting).
  • Beyond trial advocacy and legal drafting programs, the experiential education program will be based on other simulation courses and well-monitored externships.

No call to arms to actually build and test a model school, though. No discussion of approaching the Carnegie Endowment for the Advancement of Teaching or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help underwrite a pilot.

Alas, while interesting, Dennis’ post is just another abstract academic parlor game (and it has the comment thread to prove it). But it was a refreshing counterpoint to the usual jeremiads — a welcome rhetorical sorbet.

Speak Your Mind

*