THE NEOPHYTE LAWYER
YEAR ONE, DAY 36: FOUR RELATED ARTICLES (OR, “WHAT’S GOING ON IN OUR LAW SCHOOLS?”)
I read three articles yesterday (and one today) that seemed to be at least somewhat related. All of them have me a little concerned about the state of legal education and our law schools.
University of La Verne College of Law’s Woes
First, I read this article in the Contra Costa times (Hat Tip to BarristerBooks.com). Graduates of the University of La Verne in Ontario, California, are facing an ugly situation. The school is without accreditation. It hasn’t had accreditation from the California Bar since 2006, and the ABA denied provisional accreditation last week.
What does this mean for La Verne’s Class of 2011? Simply put, they can’t take the Bar Exam next month. Officials hope that they can get provisional accreditation from CalBar by the fall. But that won’t help the grads for the July Bar.
While I truly feel sorry for these graduates, there’s more to the story here. In 2009, La Verne graduates had a whopping 34% passing rate for first-time California Bar takers. In 2010, that rose to 53%. While an impressive improvement, it still seems to me indicative of a more systemic problem. How was the school preparing students for the Bar? How were they evaluating potential students? What’s going on down there?
The Continuing Saga of Thomas Jefferson School of Law
In other California law school-related news, Elie Mystal at Above The Law writes about the case of Alaburda v. Thomas Jefferson School of Law. I first wrote about this case here, for those who are interested in the background facts. But Mystal makes a good argument that this case might not be laughed out of court.
Supporting this argument is Karen Sloan’s article at the National Law Journal. According to this article, law schools could be leaving themselves open to claims of deceptive advertising, consumer fraud, and violating the Federal Trade Commission Act.
While I doubt that law schools are going to be high-priority targets for the FTC, the threat of federal litigation could have massive ripple effects on schools far beyond poor TJSL. If Ms. Alaburda’s case succeeds, I wouldn’t be surprised to see schools start to adopt more aggressive self-policing policies, in order to keep the feds out of their business.
Law Schools Reducing Admissions
Finally, there’s Debra Cassens Weiss’ article on the ABA Journal web site. She points out that a number of law schools are reducing the number of students in their entering classes. Weiss posits several motives for this reduction: improving job placement of graduates; improving U.S. News & World Report ratings; and responding to the overall drop (11%) in law school applications.
More cynically, she discusses the view of University of California Professor John Yoo. Yoo argues that the reduction of law school admissions could also be a move to reduce the pressure to reduce tuition. Fewer slots in the entering classes results in greater competition for those slots, with the result that the market will accept higher prices for those coveted slots.
Neophyte Lawyer’s Thoughts
These stories reinforce my belief that anyone considering going to law school needs to do a lot of research. How much is tuition at the school(s) you are considering? What kind of financial aid is available? Even more basic, as the La Verne case demonstrates, is the school accredited somewhere? Are you going to be able to take the Bar Exam when you graduate? It’s going to be very hard to pay off that $150K student loan bill waiting tables at Applebee’s.
In addition, you need to evaluate your motivation in going to law school. Will it be worth it for you personally to go through all of the “joys” of law school? Are you just in it for the money? Law school is too expensive, even at state schools, to be a “fallback” position while you wait for the economy to recover. If you don’t really have the “fire in the belly,” perhaps you need to look at other options.
Again, my position is different from most. The pressure to land a high-paying job right out of law school was absent. I knew pretty much where I was going to land (and yes, I fully realize just how lucky I am). I also didn’t incur the crushing student loan debts some of my colleagues did. So it is very easy for me to pass judgment: I graduated from an accredited law school, passed the Bar (granted, on my second try); and have a job. It’s not glamorous or exceptionally high-paying, but it’s a job.
I guess my final conclusion is that we may be witnessing a major sea change in legal education. We should all be concerned about making sure it is a progressive change. And if you are considering law school, make sure your eyes are wide open.
Grads’ Hopes Dashed – Contra Costa Times
Could Thomas Jefferson School of Law Actually Lose? – Above the Law