Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Should law professors be concerned about the record number of LSAT takers?

Reports began circulating last week that the number of those signing up to take the LSAT hit 60,000, a 20% increase from last year and an all time high.  Of course, just because oodles of people sign up to take the LSAT doesn't mean that all of them will apply to law school (although the U. of Iowa is already reporting a 53% increase in the number of applicants from last year).

We've previously blogged aboutthe train wreck likely to occur when too many law grads with too much debt enter a terrible job market in which some individuals (including a tier 1 grad) so desperately want a job they'll work for free.  The Wall Street Journal blog picked up on a story we'd blogged about concerning the reasons not to go to law school.  The WSJ blog editor added his own thoughts:

 . . . Law school is absolutely the right move for people of a certain prediliction, namely, those people who really want to practice law for a living. And there are a lot of those folks out there. Yes, there are lots of things you can do with a law degree, but the vast majority of them do, in fact, pursue careers as lawyers.

Back when I was applying to law school, the “pre-law” adviser at my undergraduate institution forced me to think if there was anything else I’d rather do than practice law. I told him yes, there was — and I told him what it was — and he very pointedly discouraged me from applying to law school, at least right away. I, driven by a rather overwhelming sense of fear and insecurity and uncertainty and directionlessness, and a sense that what I really wanted to do wasn’t very practical, didn’t take his advice. It was a mistake.

That was in the 1990s. Granted, times are tough now, but the stakes are higher too. Tuition is more expensive and even graduates of top-tier schools struggle to get high-paying jobs, let alone graduates from more middling institutions.

So, I’d encourage you to ask yourselves, LSAT-takers, is there anything else you’d rather be? Try that first. Law school will always be there

One issue all of this raises is what are law schools doing to help applicants make more informed decisions about whether, or when, to attend law school?  Schools hold all the informational cards regarding the employment rates and average salaries of their grads   We also know about the debt loads of these students and their prospects in the current job market.  Given all that, do we have a moral duty, if not a regulatory or legal one, to provide this information to students - many of whom are just kids fresh out of college - before they plunk down all that money for a law degree?  Is what we're doing any different from what mortgage brokers did a few years ago when they encouraged people to buy homes they couldn't afford?  While a few professors such as William Henderson and Dean Matasar are raising questions of this kind, so far they are isolated voices.


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Law professors do not owe any duty to students. Law professors sole duty is to teach students to the best of their abilities, most of whom do an exemplary job at doing so.

On the other hand, the law school administrators absolutely have a duty... However do the administrators have any interest in doing so? If a law school administrator deters students from attending, and paying tuition to a law school, then what would be the use of a law school administrator? Even Dean Matasar, one of the isolated voices, serves on the Board of Directors of Access Group, one of the largest financial aid lenders. This amounts to a mortgage broker serving on the board of a lender for mortgages. What makes this example even worse was that a home is a tangible asset (it's a home, which possibly could increase in value). A JD is just a piece of paper which is not freely transferable as a home is.

Professor William Henderson reminds me of Richard Clarke setting his hair on fire in trying to get anyone in the Bush Administration to listen to him on the threats of Al Qaeda before 9/11.

The only salvation is that information is more available to the incoming law classes so these students could make better informed decisions. Regardless, Sisyphus had better odds than there are for reforms in the legal academia ("recession proof racket").

Posted by: Sujan Vasavada | Nov 28, 2009 1:12:56 PM

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