Friday, January 18, 2008

Tamanaha and Solove on the High Cost of Legal Education

Brian Tamanaha clarifies his post on why interdisciplinary studies may be bad non-elite law schools:

My point was not to be anti-intellectual but to get us to think about a growing crisis in non-elite law schools.Signs of the crisis are evident in many recent reports. The basic elements are this: tuition at private law schools ranges around $35,000-$40,000 per year, doubling in the past decade and still rising; pay for law jobs outside corporate law has stagnated, many in the $40,000-$50,000 range; the overwhelming majority of graduates from non-elite law schools will not get corporate law jobs, and will be saddled with a huge debt.

This is not just a problem for the employed graduates who find themselves moving back home with their parents because they can't make rent payments, car payments, and $1500 monthly student loan payments. It is also a problem for society because the lower middle class and poor cannot obtain lawyers--it just doesn't pay enough. This vacuum is currently being filled by "do it yourself" divorce and immigration mills run by self-taught "paralegals". [For anyone interested, the previous post contains three links to discussions of various implications of the situation].It's time we start thinking more seriously about whether non-elite law schools would be better served, and would better serve their students, if they develop a different model for training people who want to be lawyers.

Dan Solove responds at Concurring Opinions:

I wonder how much costs could be cut at non-elite schools by moving away from interdisciplinary studies. Why would this be a significant way to cut costs? I'm no expert on the economics of running a law school, but I don't think that interdisciplinary studies is the primary problem. Brian's argument could be applied to scholarship more generally, not just interdisciplinary scholarship. Costs at law schools might be cut more if some non-elite schools were to hire fewer professors and make them teach more classes and do less (or no) scholarship. These schools could require professors to teach many more classes than the norm -- maybe 3, 4, or even 5 classes per semester. As with the catch phrase in this season's The Wire, these schools could "do more with less."

If I understand Brian's argument, it is that there should be cheap law schools for students who have no desire to go to big law firms or otherwise pursue highly-lucrative legal jobs. So there should be a group of law schools that are designed to be "economy class" -- offer an inexpensive legal education for students who desire it. I have no objection to schools that decide to recast themselves in this model or to schools that are created based on this model. This would be the legal equivalent of the 'teaching university."

But I see this as a very different claim than the argument that non-elite law schools should move away from interdisciplinary studies. That some schools should have professors teach more and write less is a different issue than what the professors would teach -- they could teach interdisciplinary studies, for example, or they could teach only doctrines and practice skills, or something of both.

I personally believe that having professors who produce scholarship is good for a law school. But this need not be a requirement for all law schools. If students want to a cheaper education without scholarship-producing professors, then I don't see why there shouldn't be some options for them.

Your thoughts? Mine are in agreement with Solove and Tamanaha, even as I am an unabashed promoter of interdisciplinary legal education, even at non-elite law schools.