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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. Am I the only one who sees that the City is essentially giving away the MSA site AND giving millions to build new buildings on the site when this site would be the perfect place for the Justice Complex? Across from City-County, check; keeping it centrally located, check, etc. It's my understanding that the GM site must be purchased by the City from Motors Liquidation Company. STOP WASTING WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE AND OUR TAX DOLLARS! The Ballard Administration has not been known for it's common sense...never voted for him and never will!

  2. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  3. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  4. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  5. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

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