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ABA task force advises review of law school costs

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In its year and a half examination of how lawyers are educated, the American Bar Association Task Force on the Future of Legal Education concluded the financial system law schools have developed to provide that education must be re-engineered.

While it made recommendations for other aspects of legal education, the task force conceded the problems of pricing and funding were too tangled with economic and political issues for it to tackle. Retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard, chair of the task force, said he did not want to issue a report that said let’s have another study but, in this case, the group did not have enough time to develop solutions.

Randall Shepard Shepard

Law school deans can point to reasons why prices have risen and agree the criteria for awarding scholarships should be changed. But they have few suggestions for how to bring the financial aspect under control.

“It’s important to explain to people why costs have grown the way they have. Not to justify it, but to explain it,” said David Yellen, dean of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law and member of the task force. “Some people act like one day law schools decided to double tuition and pocket the money. It’s way more complicated than that.”

Law schools experienced a boom for two decades prior to the recession which included tuition rising considerably faster than the rate of inflation. Driven by competition with other law schools and the desire to meet the demands of students and establish a good reputation, legal education institutions spent.

The schools installed more assistant and associate deans, added extras like career services for the students, brought in new technology, hired more faculty to lower the student-to-teacher ratio, and ballooned the number of courses and specialized programs offered.

To fund all these things, law schools rely on tuition dollars along with revenue from other sources like donations and state appropriations. Accordingly, tuition rises as budgets grow.

yellen-david.jpg Yellen

In 1990, state-run law schools were charging in-state students a median of $3,012 for tuition and fees, according to the ABA. Ten years later that had increased to $7,201; by 2010 the median tuition and fee amount was $18,077. It hit $21,532 in 2012.

For out-of-state students, the 2012 median was $33,056 while students at private schools were paying $40,732.

Peter Alexander, dean of Indiana Tech Law School, pegged most of a school’s expenses to personnel. Salaries and benefits can gobble more than half of an annual budget and as law schools have added layers of administrators, the need for more revenue has increased as well.

“Schools just have to ask themselves, ‘Do we need to have all these people?’” Alexander said. “These are somewhat luxury positions that we’ve come to expect in law schools, and at some point we have to ask, ‘Can we afford all these luxuries?’”

Merit over need

The task force found the funding scheme to be very complex, but it was disconcerted to discover a wide disparity in how much students are charged.

As chair of the task force, Shepard has spoken out several times about scholarships being given disproportionately to law students with high grade-point averages and LSAT scores at the expense of students who need financial help.

“The adverse effect on equal opportunity is really quite serious and needs to be restructured,” Shepard said. Presently, those who already have had a lot of advantages are getting tuition discounts subsidized by students who may have less opportunity in the workplace and, therefore, struggle to repay their loan debt.

bodensteiner Bodensteiner

He provided the task force with statistics from the ABA that illuminated the shift during the 1990s. By the 2009-2010 school year, the system had tilted to the point where about 39,800 law students were receiving merit-based scholarships representing $522 million while roughly 17,600 students had need-based scholarships totaling $143 million.

Even though law school deans decried the increase in merit-based scholarships, they were hesitant to buck the system because doing so would put a school’s status at risk.

All, including Shepard, pointed to the law school rankings by U.S. News & World Report as the culprit. The news magazine’s use of students’ GPA and LSAT numbers when calculating its ratings results in law schools offering money to the high-achieving students in order to boost their U.S. News profile.

Giving scholarships based on merit to increase a law school’s prestige has become, Yellen said, an “irresistible temptation.”

Schools work to improve their rankings, in part, because potential students pay attention to the list, said Alexander. Price and ranking color students’ perception of quality, leading many to believe that expensive tuition and higher position on the U.S. News list means it is a better school.

As a consequence, he said, law schools are spending more money to try to become mini-Harvards. He pointed to his own experience in opening the law school at Indiana Tech as evidence that schools that attempt to do something different can get pillaged in the blogosphere.

Alexander Alexander

While graduating from an Ivy League law school may open more doors, going to a mid-level law school will still provide the education graduates need to be a lawyer, said Ivan Bodensteiner, interim dean at Valparaiso University Law School. Education, in general, and efforts to diversify the legal profession are hurt when schools pad their rankings by focusing only on certain students.

He said many legal educators agree that LSAT scores are not good predictors of who will do well in law school. But chasing after students with dazzling GPAs and LSATs has created a perverted system that helps those who come from privilege, he said.

Cutting and freezing

To Kyle McEntee, executive director and co-founder of Law School Transparency, scholarships are just a symptom of the financial problem. The true crux of the matter is to change how students finance their debt.

tuition_facts.jpgYellen also voiced concerns about the student loan program. Students are able to borrow as much as they need which removes market controls from pricing decisions by universities and law schools.

A fix, Yellen said, should spread some responsibility to law schools if their students cannot repay the loans.

The ABA has the ability to push Congress to make changes to student loans without appointing another committee to make recommendations, McEntee said. The association could make an impact just by telling the federal government that law schools can’t get their house in order because the loan program keeps giving them blank checks.

Some law schools are addressing the issue of affordability in a dramatic way by announcing reductions in tuition. Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law, Penn State University Dickinson School of Law and the University of Iowa College of Law are among the schools that intend to reduce tuition rates.

Bodensteiner has made a recommendation that the Valparaiso Law School not raise its tuition next school year. The question for Valparaiso and other law schools is whether the cuts and freezes are sustainable.

To control expenditures, law schools may consider cutting faculty and hiring more adjunct professors or reducing the number of courses offered, Bodensteiner said. With fewer applicants, schools now have to decide if they should increase tuition rather than automatically wondering how high they could raise it.

McEntee applauded the tuition reductions but he, too, worried about law schools’ appetite for continuing to cut costs.

“We have a window here before we see enrollment creep up,” he said. The job market will improve and that could entice law schools to revert to their former pricey practices.•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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