As a self regulating profession, lawyers (and anyone thinking of going to law school) should read this article by Professor Paul Campos called "The Law School Scam."
We are proud to be the firm that brought some of the initial litigation against the law schools for deceptive marketing. While not successful in recovering monetary damages for our clients (caveat emptor unfortunately seemed to rule the day), plaintiffs and attorneys can be proud that the ABA changed its reporting rules. Now law schools must report whether the jobs its graduates obtain even required a law degree in the first place. The result of this is college graduates - the consumers - have decided to not apply to law school because they know that it is a poor investment decision (intangibles aside). Why risk having $200,000 in non-bankruptcy dischargeable debt if there is no reasonable way to pay it back in your lifetime? The free market is helping with law school applications and admissions declining, but this is not the only answer.
No doubt studying law is a luxury and anyone who can afford it benefits. This could be said as well about advanced studies in art history, biology or computer programming. The important issue that Campos raises however is that the idea the degree should pay for itself is now not true with law school. Some things are still rotten in Denmark and something is still amiss in the legal profession: Students are graduating with enormous amounts of debt, many lawyers since the start of the Great Recession have had trouble finding steady work, and the industry seems to be a bit turned upside down generally. (See for example, the Wall Street Journal reporting that law firms are now competing with their own clients).
Doctors graduate from medical school with large debts but then find work as doctors and make a decent living. It would be great if the same were true for law school. And the only way that this will happen is if the American Bar Association stops accrediting schools that will accept nearly anyone to help finance the exorbitant salaries of law school deans. Based on lackluster bar passage rates of their graduates, the American Bar Association should also consider seriously de-accrediting some law schools since the only interest they seem to be serving is giving the administrators and professors jobs. We need to better regulate how law school advertising is ubiquitous (or do away with it entirely) and state attorney generals need to better scrutinize the spending that these "non-profits" get away with such as paying their deans $500,000 a year when the majority of their students graduate debt ridden and jobless.
Beyond the ABA who helped get the profession into this mess, however, the United States Congress needs to address the issue of giving schools the right to profit from these students. For-profit or not-for-profit, if the school is not serving the common good, it should not have access to the easy money train that Federal Direct Loan Plus Program created. With the non-bankruptcy dischargeable loans, Congress created a "privatized profits and socialized losses" situation that it needs to fix.
Finally, since we know Congress is filled with entrenched elites skilled mostly at blaming the other side of the aisle (or Obama) for all problems near and far, the highest courts of each state should reclaim their inherent authority from the ABA and regulate law schools themselves. Rather than give a blanket "if the school is approved by the ABA, then their students can take the bar exam" the New York Court of Appeals, for example, could create a list of law schools for which it allows students to take the exam. Why give a student a $200,000 bill and then tell them that they are not smart enough to pass the bar? Save them (and possibly the taxpayers) the trouble. We welcome your comments and feedback on our contact form.
June 7, 2018 Edit: