Sunday, October 26, 2008

WARNING: The Surgeon General has determined that this is a non-military justice rant

Guess how many students will graduate from U.S. law schools this academic year. Go ahead, guess. Do you have a number in mind?

On Friday, I was astounded to learn from the ABA that the answer to that question is "nearly 44,000." That's 44,000 NEW law school graduates. That means that in 12 years, we will have half a million new law school graduates. How could our country possibly need that many law school graduates? What do all of those people do? 44,000 law school graduates suggests that around 132,000 of our fellow citizens are spending this year enrolled in a law school. Is that a sound use of Americans' time?

My state, Maryland, is in the midst of a horrible budget crisis. Maryland has two state-supported law schools, both in Baltimore. According to Map Quest, the two schools are 1.52 miles from each other. I assume (though I confess that I don't actually know this to be true) that each receives considerable support from Maryland's taxpayers. Should Maryland consolidate the schools or simply axe one of them? Does Maryland really need two state-supported law schools within walking distance of each other? I assume that eliminating one of them would result in substantial savings and I don't think that our collective society would suffer from a slight diminution in the number of new law school graduates spewing out into it each year.


Anonymous said...

The services should also eliminate two of their three justice schools. One joint justice school would work quite well - have the best of the best instructors and no doubt operate at a great cost savings. The next BRAC needs to fix this.

Cloudesley Shovell said...

Rant away! Law schools pump out way too many new lawyers, many carrying crushing debt burdens.

This site lists law school

According to that site, your two MD state schools in Baltimore charge about $32,000 tuition for this academic year. Notably, tuition at both schools has doubled in just the last three years.

As far as state support for law schools, my understanding is that law schools are huge cash cows for universities, which partly explains why new ones keep opening. All you need is a buiding, some eager lawyers who would rather teach than practice (no shortage of those), and decent library. You can probably pass on a good chunk of the capital expenses of the building by selling naming rights to super-ego grads with too much money.

Each MD school as about 675 students. At full tuition rates, thats $21.6 million income per year. Hire 50 professors at $150K a year, that's $7.5 million in expenses. Add another $5 million to pay staff, and another $5 million for library materials, maintenance, utilities, and whatever, and you're still clearing about $4 million a year.

What do the students get out of the deal? For the Univ. of Baltimore, the average employment rate for grads over the last 8 years is 82% within 9 months of graduation (the bar pass rate is a horrid 73%). Avg starting salary this year? $65K private, $42K public.

So some students spends three years at Univ. of Baltimore, spends $96K in tuition, another $38K in room and board, another, say, $50-75K in opportunity cost (earnings over three years foregone while a full-time student). This student thus pays around $180-200K (incl. opportunity costs) for a law school education that gives him a 73% chance of passing the bar, and a 82% chance at a job within 9 months of graduation. It will only cost about $1000 a month for 30 years to pay off that debt.

Is "rip-off" the correct term, or is this trending into "fraud" territory?

I'm not picking on Univ. of Baltimore or U MD, you can do the same analysis for nearly any law school outside the top 20.

I also agree with anon at 825--consolidate the justice schools in Charlottesville.

Marcus Fulton said...

I think there are often disagreements between boards of regents, who advocate for law schools for the sake of having the schools, and state bars, who would prefer to limit the number of attorneys. When the Ohio Supreme Court failed to reduce the number of law students graduating from Ohio's five public and three private law schools, they lowered the bar passage percentage.

That's a blunt instrument that creates problems for the folks with a lot of time and money invested in law school. But let me ask this: Why are we concerned with there being too many law students/lawyers? Can't we count on the benefits of reduced legal costs and higher quality? Isn't that what we would expect from greater competition? Not that I as a lawyer am looking forward to that. But why wouldn't the competition improve legal services to society?

Justin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin said...


Too many law schools might mean too many law professors who haven't mastered their crafts and aren't suited to prepare students to think about and practice law. That could dilute the quality of legal service available to the public.

In an Art. 134 terms, having more, worse lawyers could also tend to discredit the (legal) service in the eyes of the public.

Proliferation of lawyers--JDs for All!--tends to reduce the esteem associated with the profession. Less than a learned craft, lawyering becomes more like sales or brokerage. Fine occupations, but not ones with as meaningful a professional, ethical tradition as service at the bar, and not ones that necessarily require exclusive entryways like the ABA certification of schools and bar and MPRE exams.

Assuming something more like zero-sum occupational slotting, too many lawyers might mean too few teachers, too few welders, too few scientists, too few farmers, etc.

Finally, too many lawyers might also lead directly to too many aspiring law-makers, which is obviously a net societal ill.

Mike "No Man" Navarre said...


While this is a learned profession, remember that unlike the person graduating last in med school, the person graduating last in law school only has to pass one test to become a lawyer. There is no proving ground for young lawyers, passage of which is required to enter the profession. Compare the legal world since the 1980s to the world of baseball post-expansion. Right now there are too many teams fielding a major league level team so they have to fill all the positions. Result, you get talent dilution, and as Prof. Bradbury would argue, more hit batsmen because of less top flight talent on major league mounds. [I am more of a Sabernomics fan than MoneyBall fan, sorry CAAFlog readers, too many sports analogies]

Anonymous said...

And then there is California where non-ABA law schools pump out even more. There are 38 law schools listed with the state bar as either ABA or state accredited. There are in addition 31 non-accredited "fixed" and "distance learning" law schools from which one can register to take the California bar exam. {and you thought you did it bigger in Texas.)

In addition, you can exercise nostalgia, do your best Abe Lincoln imitation and take the bar after working/studying in a law office. (Although I must admit those individuals may be better fit to practice than most law school grads.) Better than Paul Simon, 70 ways to be a lawyer.

I try mightly to discourage young people from law school unless they have some form of income, such as wealthy parents, a hefty inheritance or a Powerball jackpot that will pay the outrageous tuition and fees to avoid indentured servitude.

In most places, you can graduate and be admitted to the practice of law without having drafted a pleading or a contract, heck, even an opinion letter. You may have never interviewed a client.

All of you complaining about being a judge advocates would be well advised to enjoy your cocoon.