June 1, 2012

"The problem is that the cost of a law degree is now vastly out of proportion to the economic opportunities obtained by the majority of graduates."

Writes lawprof Brian Z. Tamanaha, in a NYT op-ed:
... How did we get into this mess? And how do we get out?...

First, consider the loan system....

Then there’s the problem of the American Bar Association-imposed accreditation standards.... [B]y imposing a “one size fits all” template, these standards ensure that there is little differentiation among law schools — no lower-cost options and no range of choices comparable to what exists at the undergraduate level among community colleges, teaching colleges and research universities.

One solution to this problem is to strip away the accreditation requirements that mandate expenditures to support faculty scholarship — for example, deleting the requirement that the bulk of professors be in tenure-track positions, removing limits on teaching loads, not requiring paid research leaves for professors, not requiring substantial library collections and so forth....  Law students would then be able to choose the type of legal education they desired and could afford.
Tamanaha has a book: "Failing Law Schools."

37 comments:

Bob Ellison said...

The Bar is a guild, a union. These groups unknowingly create and invite their own destruction.

Quayle said...

It is a guild that allowed so many schools to open that it indeed created its own demise.

MadisonMan said...

Is there a problem that market forces will reduce the number of lawyers?

Only if the number of laws keeps growing.

Matthew Sablan said...

"For more than three decades, law schools have steadily increased tuition because large numbers of students have been willing and able to pay whatever price the schools demanded."

-- I think that's only partially right. Students also have been told they *have* to pay. If you do not get a degree, until a few years ago, you were basically told you were going to be flipping burgers, if that, for the rest of your life.

Heck, I went somewhere and was talking with people my age. Everyone else was in grad or doctorate programs. The father of one of the people asked me what I was studying; I said I was working. There was a noticeable drop in my value in his eyes because I wasn't pursuing higher education (which I couldn't afford, and probably good I didn't try!)

It's even worse, I imagine, with specialized degrees, like law and medicine. Any degree is enough for most non-specialty fields, but for those two, those pieces of paper are barriers to entry you need to purchase if you want to pursue those career fields. So, as long as only certain institutions can dispense them, they will increase the cost because there are enough people willing to pay to enter the field.

"If we don’t change the economics of legal education ... we will also be erecting an enormous barrier to access to the legal profession: the next generation of American lawyers will consist of the offspring of wealthy families who have the freedom to pursue a variety of legal careers, while everyone else is forced to try to get a corporate law job — and those who fail will struggle under the burden of huge law school debt for decades."

-- The worst part is this is going to be equally true if the education bubble doesn't burst for many other colleges too. Of course, I don't think it'll get that bad, but, dystopia!

Pogo said...

Medicine has the same problem.

Geez, even beauticians owe more than they can pay back.

The unintended consequence of making college more accessible is creating a large swath of indentured servants.

Debt slaves, just like working for the coal mines and owing your soul to the company store.


"The AAMC (1) recently reported that over the past two decades, the cost of private medical schools has risen 165% and the cost of public medical schools has gone up 312%. A similar study by the AMA (2) found that medical school costs have been increasing at a faster clip than inflation. On average, medical students graduate with about $100,000 in debt.

Compound this with slow physician salary growth, young physicians are faced with increasing difficulty in paying their college student loans and medical student loans.
"

lemondog said...

In the video with Reynolds, Tamanaha mentions 'professor bloat'....

Bob Ellison said...

Pogo, I wondered about that connection between law and medicine. Both share another similarity in that private practices in law and medicine are mostly partnerships, which also tends to distort business in ways that promote hierarchy and fake credentials.

Your comment makes me wonder: what will be the result, long-term? We could probably do with fewer lawyers, but fewer doctors?

Dave D said...

Pogo:

I wanna know whiuch medical school your linked quote is referring to to only have 100K in debt upon graduation. A 4 year degree at most bublic schools costs that much. Med school is probably double that. The bubble is ridiculous and out of control and is, indeed, slavery.......

Pogo said...

The doctor guild needs to be broken up, but that's a long debate.

PAs and NPs are part of that answer, but they achieve it using the same guild approach.

Tim said...

"The problem is that the cost of a law degree is now vastly out of proportion to the economic value created by the majority of graduates."

Fixed.

Long past due, too.

Dave D said...

Additionally:

1) Sorry for the errors above.

2) The REAL bubble victims are the parents who have been coeced in to (easier to get) Plus loans and have, effectively, no retirement because of this. I had two choices with my kids:

a) Let them get loans at almost credit card rates and cosign. Default definitely on the horizon.

2) Take out Plus loans at lower rates. Paying them back will effectively delay my retirement by at least 10 years.

It's really ridiculous.

Pogo said...

Student loan debt figures are skewed because the average mixes people who owe every cent of undergrad and postgrad costs with those whose parents or "scholarships" footed the bill.

traditionalguy said...

It would help if we stopped conflating Lawyers who are paid for traditional work such as Real Estate, Wills and Estates, divorces, adoptions, contratc disputes and Tort claims for injuries with the Huge Cadre of lawyers who now deal with the Vast and expanding Governmental Colossus demanding we create a paper work world that toes the line to get everyday life permitted by Mega Useless Regulatory Make Work Government Agencies both on the inside and the outside. Those are another field entirely.

The first group are expenditures that are actually discretionary and timed until they can be paid.

The second group may be literally useless, but they have a guaranteed future at serving the enslaved population owned by the Colossus and more and more as a part of a crony system worked of, by, and for DC insiders.

Teach that and the students will focus better.

Bender said...

If this were private industry, then there would be little problem in identifying the main problem -- greed and price gouging.

Professor pay needs to be slashed. Tenure abolished. Professors terminated. School administrators pay cut and terminated.

Remove the leeches and many of the problems of high debt go away because then tuition can be cut back to what the teaching they receive is actually worth.

(Same problem with the healthcare industry. An awful lot of people profiting and doing quite well financially off of the misery of others.)

MadisonMan said...

I disagree that Professor pay should be slashed. Most of the Professors in the Departments I work with bring money into the state. Why should you disincentivize that by slashing their pay?

Lyssa said...

Matthew S said: Students also have been told they *have* to pay. If you do not get a degree, until a few years ago, you were basically told you were going to be flipping burgers, if that, for the rest of your life.

They've (we've, I'm certainly in this demographic) also been told that education, any amount at any cost, is *always* a good investment, and that we should follow our dreams, no matter the costs or setbacks, we can do whatever we want to do or be whatever we want to be.

There are costs to these things. We're only just now realizing it.

John said...

Bender is da MAN!

lemondog said...

Most of the Professors in the Departments I work with bring money into the state.

Example please of how that is done.

Does it result in private sector job creation? If so, then reward as do shareholders to a high performing CEO.

Matthew Sablan said...

"Tenure abolished."

-- I disagree, but I think it should change some. Right now, it very rarely actually is the shield that it was envisioned to be, protecting academic speech and inquiry, and is more just job security. Then again, if you change tenure, you risk people with unpopular speech suddenly having their courses audited and sat in more frequently, their student evaluations read more closely. It's a tricky thing, but I think the idea behind it is too good to just get rid of in total.

We should mainly axe administrators. I think that's much more bloat than professors.

Matthew Sablan said...

"Example please of how that is done."

-- Good professors bring more students, potentially from out of state. That's a stretch, but for research schools, they also bring grants and tech funding. So, yes, they do -- but to what extent matters on individual schools.

Tank said...

Not that I disagree with the idea of lowering and/or eliminating barriers to entrance into this, and other, field, but Tamanaha starts with the premise that we don't have enough lawyers.

Really?

Really?

How many more do we need?

MadisonMan said...

Example please of how that is done.

You demonstrate to a private company, for example, how a product you've created benefits that company. Company agrees to fund further development of the product.

Skipper50 said...

Enough treating legal "education" as some kind of scholarly pursuit. Teach law in, perhaps, a four year combined BA/JD program, combining liberal arts and law into a single program. Seven years of wasted time and money in college is stupid.

purplepenquin said...

While I don't agree with every proposal that Gov. Walker has put forth, his latest promise to get rid of faculty tenure at the UW does seem worthwhile.

Krumhorn said...

Law school standards should be higher, not lower.

However, it would be useful to license a level of practioners who can provide straight-forward inexpensive legal assistance such as help with small claims, workers comp, simple wills and trusts, basic real estate. If LegalZoom can do it, why not a practioner?

--Krumhorn

...

Methadras said...

The cost of many degrees outweigh the earning potential that many graduates will make.

virgil xenophon said...

Why do we even need law schools AT ALL??? It didn't used tro be that way until the profession made the possession of a union-card (i.e., law degree from an "accredited" institution) mandatory to practice. Years ago (as in the day of Lincoln or later even in Huey Longs day in the 30s--two guys who never went to law school but were practicing lawyers of no little note) one could simply "read law" and if one passed the bar exam youze is one, period. End of subject. Lincoln wasn't a good lawyer? Or go read the strength Huey Longs arguments before the Supreme Court. What in Gods green earth do we need law schools and law professors for anyway?
Lincoln needs remedial education, eh? Gotta send him to law school to fix that, right?

Dave D said...

Colleges need to:

1) STOP building 120+million dollar buildings every year.

2) Reduce administrators down to the same percentage that corporate America has per productive EMPLOYEE.

3) THEN reduce the pay of all other emplyees to bring tuition back to the infaltion rate. Tuition here in Michigan has increased 3-6 times the rate of inflation versus starting salaries since I graduated from undergrad in 1982. This is immoral and unsustainable.

This parent who (reluctantly) sold off his retirement to put his 3 kids through school will ENJOY watching these Universites dry up and wither away as students cease to be able to afford the ridiculous costs of attending even our state universities.

Peter said...

Perhaps what's really failing is not so much law schools, but that the market for legal services has become saturated?

Patrick said...

I disagree that Professor pay should be slashed. Most of the Professors in the Departments I work with bring money into the state. Why should you disincentivize that by slashing their pay?

Madison Man - You're something in STEM, aren't you? Assuming I'm correct, I think your experience would contrast greatly with those in Humanities, Politics, etc. I don't really know, though.

In addition, wouldn't it make sense to peg professors pay to what they bring in? That is, don't pay them like they bring in money to the department until they actually do so. Would you see a problem like that?

Bryan C said...

"Then again, if you change tenure, you risk people with unpopular speech suddenly having their courses audited and sat in more frequently, their student evaluations read more closely."

The problem isn't the presence or absence of tenure. It's that (1) substantial numbers of college faculty think that punishing certain speech is a noble thing, and (2) there exists a monoculture in which virtually everyone agrees on what should be punished.

Bender said...

wouldn't it make sense to peg professors pay to what they bring in?

Not when what they bring in is based on over-priced tuition. You can't unjustly charge people an arm and a leg and then say that you aren't overpaid because you bring in so much.

It makes sense to pay someone for what their services are worth to the customer in a true free and open market. Would anyone in their right mind pay $3000 to $5000 for some run-of-the-mill three-credit-hour class? Or is the vast majority of what students learn self-taught by reading the textbook and other material?

Larry J said...

I've read there are more than 1 million lawyers in America. How can it possibly be rational or desirable for 1 out of every 300 Americans to be a lawyer? It's crazy.

Close at least half the law schools, raze the buildings and salt the ground to keep anything from growing there again.

virgil xenophon said...

@Larry J/

Close only HALF!!!??? When there exist law schools where over 50% of the graduating class flunks the bar exam one wonders of what use is ANY law school..

Joe said...

The fixes are logically simple, politically impossible

1) The government should get out of the student loan business completely (including no guarantees of any kind.) (I'd keep Pell grants, but make them harder to get and cut them to $4000 a year.)

2) Make student loans dischargable in bankruptcy.

Larry J said...

virgil xenophon said...
@Larry J/

Close only HALF!!!??? When there exist law schools where over 50% of the graduating class flunks the bar exam one wonders of what use is ANY law school..


Yeah, close half the law schools, then lather, rinse and repeat as necessary, providing math classes a wonderful real life example of exponential decay.

Smilin' Jack said...

""The problem is that the cost of a law degree is now vastly out of proportion to the economic opportunities obtained by the majority of graduates.""

Angels are weeping in heaven.