WARM BODIES

Colleges have entered a game that law schools have been playing for years. According to a recent New York Times front page headline, “Colleges Seek Warm Bodies From Overseas.” The title of the online version was equally pointed: “Recruiting Students Overseas to Fill Seats, Not to Meet Standards.

For years, law schools have been dropping standards to fill classrooms. Marginal schools have been the worst offenders, and the profession is now paying the price in declining bar passage rates. But even among top schools, a more subtle and profitable technique has pervaded law school business plans for years: expanding LLM programs.

The Numbers

From 2006 to 2013, the number of law students enrolled in non-JD programs increased by almost 50 percent — to more than 11,000. Leading the way are LLM programs that now exist at more than 150 law schools. And students from foreign countries are flocking to them.

What began decades ago as a noble effort to encourage international cultural diversity has become a cynical method of revenue generation. The Times article focuses on colleges that use foreign recruiters. But its money quotes apply to law schools:

“[T]he underlying motivation for the university…is to get warm bodies in the door.”

“It is ethically wrong to bring students to the university and let them believe they can be successful when we have nothing in place to make sure they’re successful.”

“[C]olleges began to look at foreign students, who pay full tuition, as their financial salvation.”

Need Money?

Warm bodies. Graduate outcomes that aren’t the schools’ problem. Students who pay full tuition. If you’re running a law school as a business, the solution to declining revenues from a JD program becomes three letters: LLM.

Professor George Edwards at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law explains:

“I would like to think that U.S. law schools are creating LLM programs or expanding existing programs primarily for altruistic reasons…The reality is that law schools are businesses, and to stay afloat they must generate revenue to pay law school expenses, such as faculty salaries. Law school revenues primarily come from tuition revenues, and revenues are down due to fewer U.S. students enrolling in the degree programs for the basic U.S. law degree, the JD.”

“U.S. law schools have been seeking ways to make up for lost revenue,” Professor Edwards continues. “One way is to create or expand enrollment for international LLM students who may not have the same worries that are driving JD enrollment downwards.”

And so, he concludes,

“The desire to increase law school revenue has triggered a proliferation of new LLM programs and triggered the expansion of existing LLM programs.”

So What’s the Problem?

What exactly should a law school’s mission be? Some deans are unwilling to ask the question because they fear honest answers: revenue generation, short-term profits, and maximizing U.S. News rankings. Moving away from those safe harbors risks reorienting the profession toward what it was when they decided to become lawyers.

An institution’s mission statement should be the starting point for every decision its leaders make. Law schools are no exception. From the faculty hired to students admitted to programs offered, clear goals produce coherent behavior. But at law schools throughout the country, discussions about objectives — what they are and what they should be — aren’t happening.

Restating platitudes is easy. Developing a statement of principles to govern conduct is a challenge. Requiring consistent action in accordance with those principles creates accountability.

For centuries, the legal profession has occupied a transcendent role in the preservation of civilization. Law schools have been the custodians of that tradition. To retain that stature, the people who run them should view their responsibilities as something more than managing just another business. If they don’t, their schools will become exactly that.

2 thoughts on “WARM BODIES

  1. In other news, it appears that the Univer$ity of Wa$hington is planning to move ahead with a separate law school in Tacoma. With state taxpayer dollars as seed money, of course. They apparently believe in the need for Tacoma to have a law school so much that they are willing to spend OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY for that purpose. By the way, Seattle has two ABA diploma mills, and that city is about 35 miles from Tacoma.

    http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/politics-government/article72979102.html

    Meanwhile, there is news that nearly one-fourth of JDs in Texas, from the Class of 2015, are unemployed or underemployed. This is further sickening, when one recalls that the law schools consider any work as employment. If you are an insurance agent, sell timeshares, or serve drinks in a bar, you are counted among the lucky ones – for the purpose of reporting data to NALP and US “News” & World Report.

    http://www.dallasnews.com/business/headlines/20160422-nearly-one-fourth-of-texas-law-grads-are-unemployed-or-underemployed.ece

    I can hear the law school swine chortle now: “B-b-b-but, but, Washington is d-d-d-ifferent from T-t-tex-as. We have a real need for lawyers in the city of Tacoma!”,

  2. My law school has created both LLM and MLS programs as it watched its 1L matriculations drop about 55% over the last few years…

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