Some law school deans are revealing what they regard as innovation in the face of the legal profession’s continuing crisis. Plummeting law school applications have tested their creativity in selling classroom seats. But recent trends — fewer applications amid a dismal job market for law graduates — haven’t deterred some efforts to preserve an unsustainable business model.
Moving through the five stages of grief
As deans confront declining applicant pools, many are moving through the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Previously, I looked at deans in stage 1 — especially those who took to the editorial pages of major newspapers, touting the inherent value of a $150,000 legal degree for students who couldn’t get jobs practicing law. Apply now, they urged, because declining applications improved prospects for admission. Then you can do lots of great things that don’t require a JD.
Case Western Law School Dean Lawrence Mitchell made himself a poster child for such deans in denial, but he wasn’t alone. Other deans and former deans have similarly offered analyses that miss the mark on the causes of the lawyer bubble and offer proposals that distract attention from their own culpability. Some have advanced to stage 2 — anger over the situation and anyone who publicizes it.
From anger to bargaining
A few deans have reached stage 3 — bargaining. Some schools have reduced tuition and/or guaranteed freezes during a student’s three years. But Touro Law recently announced a special kind of bargain that targets the least informed potential applicants who are most vulnerable to law schools’ superficial sales pitches.
Under a partnership with the University of Central Florida, prospective law students can apply to an accelerated program whereby they attend UCF for three years and then complete their fourth year at Touro Law. They would receive their UCF bachelor’s degree upon completion of their 1L year at Touro.
Quite a deal, right?
Some things you should know
Touro Law inhabits the world of U.S. News and World Report’s unranked nether regions. Readers know that I’m no fan of those rankings, but it’s safe to say that no one would regard Touro as a top law school by any measure. According to U.S. News, it accepted 64 percent of all applicants last year.
Touro’s recent trends are especially revealing. (The following statistics come from the archives of the LSAC “Official Law School Guide.”)
In 2005, the school awarded 158 JD degrees. Tuition was around $26,000 a year.
In 2009, the school awarded 200 JDs. Annual tuition had increased to more than $36,000.
In 2011, the school awarded 221 JDs. Sixty percent found full-time long-term jobs requiring that degree.
In 2012, the school awarded 244 JDs, but only 53 percent had long-term full-time jobs requiring a JD. Tuition is now $43,000 a year.
In other words, as the Great Recession worsened and the demand for lawyers collapsed — especially for graduates of places such as Touro Law — the school increased both tuition and class size, even as its ability to place graduates in legal jobs declined.
The business model at work
Perhaps it’s unfair to single out Touro for behavior that has pervaded legal education: increasing class size and raising tuition as demand for new lawyers declined. But the school’s latest initiative invites close scrutiny of its motives.
According to Touro Law’s new dean, Patricia Salkin, “It’s a financial bargain for the UCF undergraduates and takes some pressure off the law school application process.”
My guess is that it’s a financial bargain for Touro Law, too, especially if it gets to keep most of the tuition that the UCF students pay to attend first year law school classes. (Annual tuition at UCF is $6,200 for residents; $22,300 for non-residents — compared to $43,000 for Touro Law.)
As for relieving the pressure of the law school application process, Touro can claim that benefit for itself, too. There’s nothing like locking in a law student three years before he or she might otherwise apply.
What are we doing to our kids?
It’s bad enough that current UCF undergraduates are eligible for this “fast-track program.” (Even the name implies a selectivity that sounds enticing, doesn’t it?) But encouraging — or even allowing — woefully uninformed high school students to apply to law school as entering UCF freshmen is something else.
The next step for some law schools seems painfully clear: setting up recruiting tables in middle school cafeterias across the country.