Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"The Economics of Legal Education" (Circa 1998)

Brian Tamanaha

An excerpt from Ohio State Bar Association President Thomas Taggart's column in the January 1998 Ohio Lawyer:

Practicing lawyers and law school administrators have much common ground, but their interests sharply diverge when it comes to their respective views on economics. The practicing lawyers basic concept of economics concerns the disposable income he or she has after paying the expenses.

The law school administrator's concept of economics revolves around obtaining enough money from tuition and state government to pay fixed expenses and raising money to build bigger and better facilities. Their need for money requires maintaining a relatively steady level of student enrollment. Any reduction in student enrollment generally translates into faculty layoffs or elimination of special programs. Law school deans rarely advocate such unpopular measures.

A third group that must be considered in any discussion of legal economics is the law students. A faculty member at a state-supported law school recently confided to me that the average graduate from his law school enters the job market with a combined student loan debt (law school and undergraduate) of $80,000. I have heard other figures for average student debt, but $80,000 seems to be the norm. Assuming the accuracy of this figure, the 966 new lawyers admitted to the bar in November must collectively earn more than $77 million excluding interest, just to repay their educational debt. No matter how you slice it, that represents a lot of legal fees.

I think it fair to say that today's practicing lawyers feel engulfed by the semiannual tidal waves of young, debt-ridden lawyers eager to compete for the relatively finite market for legal services....I think it is also fair to say that law schools, which tailored their faculties and facilities to accommodate the peak demand for lawyers in the 1980s, have done almost nothing to adjust to the new economic realities affecting lawyers and students....

*64 percent of 1996 Ohio law school graduates found full-time legal work compared to a national average of 71.4 percent....

*Despite a steady decline in law school applicants, 2,800 more law degrees were awarded nationwide in 1996 than in 1990 (39,191 and 36,385, respectively)....

These facts are extremely alarming. Unfortunately, they support the proposition that law schools are motivated more by their own institutional economic interests than those of the practicing bar or their own students....

In 2011, 44,500 JDs were awarded--only 55 percent of graduates nationwide obtained full time jobs as lawyers (nine months after graduation). Average combined law school and undergraduate debt exceeded $125,000.


The money would be far better spent on underfunded legal aid than on lining professorial pockets.

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Often these students just wanted to pursue the degree from their institution choices with little thought about the price or how much debt it would take to fund this program.

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