If you're a Careerist reader, you know that I've analogized law schools--particularly those that rank near the bottom or are newly opened--to those infamous mills. Like breeders, law schools seem to be in it for the buck, showing little concern about what happens when the their students reach maturation and are tossed out into cold world with poor job prospects.
But some schools seem to be getting a conscience. Recently, the deans at third-tier Albany Law School and fourth-tier Touro Law Center in New York announced that their schools would each admit ten fewer students. More astoundingly, Touro's dean, Lawrence Raful, told New York Law Journal: "It is the ethical and moral thing to do."
"Ethical and moral"? Let me fall off my chair. Why didn't law school deans mention those factors during the recession, when their graduates went begging and law firms were laying off young lawyers, all while law schools were making money hand over fist? Raful goes on to say:
I don't think the [job] placement situation is going to turn around for a number of years, and I think we are concerned about the ethics of turning out quite so many students in debt when we know that not everyone can get a job to pay off that debt. . . . If I had my druthers, I'd go from 280 students to 150, if I could afford it. Classes would be smaller, and I'd feel pretty good about the quality of education in the small classes and pretty good about students' chances of placement.
Raful might be late to the game, but he's at least acknowledging the problem. He and other law school officials might also be noticing that there's been a decrease in applicants. Albany's dean, Thomas Guernsey, told NYLJ that applications shrank "about 20 percent for this fall compared to last year's record-high number of applications at his and many other law schools."
The decrease is also showing up at other New York law schools. NYLJ reports that St. John's law school is seeing a 10 percent decrease in applicants this year; Cornell, a 12 percent drop (though the application rate is still the second-largest in Cornell's history); and University at Buffalo, a 9 percent drop.
The decrease in law school applications is happening nationally. The Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, "reported that only 27 of 198 U.S. law schools expect larger enrollment," says NYLJ. "The council said applications are down nationally by nearly 13 percent."
So will more law schools be cutting back their class or shutting down? Well, let's not get carried away. Law schools are still good businesses. It's low-overhead (no costly equipment or labs), and labor is cheap--provided you're not looking for star faculty, which is probably the case with bottom-scraping law schools. (Addendum: "Professor John Yoo at Ricochet "sees these moves as economically rather than ethically motivated," reports Above the Law's David Lat.)
The nonaccredited law school at University of Massachusetts, for instance, is enjoying a great run, reports South Coast Today (hat tip: ABA Blog): "Instead of being a financial drain, as many had argued during the long-fought battle that resulted in the creation of the state's first public law school a little over a year ago, officials say it's turning into a cash cow."
Moreover, The National Law Journal reports that Louisiana still plans to start a new Baptist-affiliated law school, which is scheduled to open in Shreveport in 2012. Texas, New York, and Delaware are also debating opening new public law schools.
Fact is, there will always be people who are willing to pay for law schools--any law school. And there will always be puppy mills, because who can resist those little cuties?
Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.
Photo: Yuri Arcurs