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Legal Education Reform that I can Stand Behind

Back in 2007, before it was all cool and shit to do so, I wrote “What is Wrong With Legal Education?” Looking back on it, I think that it somewhat missed the mark. One of the worst things about legal education is the fact that any moron can walk into a shit law school, get a guaranteed student loan, and start racking up debt. The system essentially is a government-sponsored indentured servitude program, which allows law schools to churn out a product that would never be able to survive if market forces were allowed to act on it.

Professor Howard E. Abrams of Emory Law School hits the ball out of the park with his “application” to be dean at Emory. The best part of it? How he would deal with financial aid / student loans.

I would shift most or all financial aid into student loans with interest deferred until graduation and with reduction of interest and principal payments for up to five years depending on post-graduation income. That is, those of our students who seek and achieve immediate financial success can afford to bear the full cost of their legal education. But those students who have other goals or whose goals cannot immediately be achieved should have the burden of their debt reduced for a reasonable period. This has the added benefit of tying the Law School’s economic interest to that of its students: if the students cannot find jobs, the school does not get paid.

I proposed something similar in November of 2010. I simply suggested that if a student gets a government backed student loan, the school should have to be a guarantor on the loan.

If the school doesn’t want to co-sign the loan, students could still be free to go to banks and beg for loans. However, just like any other business loan, the student would need to demonstrate that the loan is a good investment. If someone came to me and said “I want to borrow $60,000 to study engineering at the University of Massachusetts,” that might be a good investment. If that same person wanted $200,000 to study art history at Bennington, well … I hardly think that would be a prudent use of my money.

It would seem that this plan would cure a good number of ills in the legal profession as well. Every law school chases the U.S. News Rankings like a dog digging for a shit-filled diaper in a trash bag. Then, every year, law students and law schools scream about the rankings and say that real employment figures should be factored in to the rankings.

If the school was on the hook for the loan, U.S. News would wind up where it belongs — recycled into toilet paper. Schools would be pretty damn committed to getting their students jobs, and those that were not would dry up and die under the blistering heat of the free market. We would likely see 25% of the law schools close, and most of those remaining open would be forced to drop their tuition. Law professors might suffer a little bit of a pay cut, but let’s face it, 75% of the full time profs are worthless anyhow. The legal teaching field would likely start to embrace more adjuncts – meaning more people who do the thing that they are supposed to be teaching.

Imagine that. Law schools actually having an investment in whether or not their graduates succeed. It would likely mean the end of at least half of the nation’s law schools, but I can’t say that would be a bad thing. It would certainly mean the end of U.S. News, and that would definitely be a good thing.

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