Thursday, October 8, 2015
[by Rick Bales]
I had the pleasure yesterday of seeing Jim Obergefell speak at Bowling Green (OH) State University. He is speaking widely these days, telling his very moving story. As or more importantly, he makes the case that marriage equality is only one battle in the much larger fight for nondiscrimination -- that the LGBT community may be free to marry, but they are still not free from employment or housing discrimination, and trans individuals in particular still live in fear for their lives. (It's a point echoed recently in Keith Cunningham-Parmeter's Marriage Equality, Workplace Inequality: The Next Gay Rights Battle (67 Florida L. Rev. (2015)).
If you have a chance to see Mr. Obergefell speak, I highly recommend it; better yet, bring him to your campus.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
I suspect at least some readers may be surprised by one aspect of the recent deans vs. clinicians debate relating to California’s proposed 15 credit-hour skills requirement. It should be no surprise that clinicians have come out in support of the initiative; clinicians are all about the skills. It should be no surprise that a group of deans acted collectively to oppose it; deans tend to oppose anything that might add to the cost side of the ledger. What may be surprising is the absence of comments from deans who support the proposed requirement. Does anyone seriously believe that all deans oppose it?
Years ago, my tax law professor would regularly say in class, “If you ever observe people engaging in unexplainable behavior, think tax law.” I have a corollary, “If you ever observe deans engaging in unexplainable behavior, think US News.”
A few stories of bizarre behavior fueled by US News considerations will make this point.
My first story involves bizarre university behavior and not bizarre law school behavior. Many years ago, my wife received a letter in the mail from one of the three universities from which she graduated. The letter enclosed a crisp one dollar bill and a stamped, self-addressed envelope. The letter that accompanied this mailing explained that US News (at that time) weighed percentage of alumni giving as one factor in the rankings. The letter explained that my wife, who had not previously donated to that university, was free to keep the dollar as a gift from her alma mater but encouraged her to return it to support the university. It also encouraged her to give more. As I recall, she sent back the dollar and more in the enclosed envelope. (By the way, that university’s US News ranking has soared since then.) I cannot imagine a university making such a choice outside the shadow of US News.
Three stories from within legal education suggest legal education is no different. First, we all know that some law schools play the US News ranking game by taking a high number of transfer students. Transfer students’ LSAT scores and undergraduate grades are ignored by US News; the law schools that adopt this approach can therefore swell their ranks while maintaining their entrance credential numbers. Second, we all now know that some law schools doctored their entrance credential data; other law schools manipulated their placement data by hiring their own grads. Most recently, I have heard reliable rumors that two different law schools are getting law firms and in-house legal departments to hire their grads on one-year contracts by agreeing to pay those salaries.
I lack the imagination to picture a US News-less world in which any of these things could have occurred.
The absence of disagreement among deans about the California skills credit-hour proposal is another manifestation of US News concerns driving surprising behavior.
I believe we deans hesitate to disagree with each other because of US News rankings. Deans know that all of us are US News voters. Sure, it’s possible we might gain respect in some corners by thoughtfully asserting a contrary viewpoint. However, staying silent is surely the safer path.
Why is silence so much safer? Because reputation scores are the largest factor in US News rankings. Every year, all of us rank all of the 200+ US law schools. I believe, when we are ranking most of those law schools, we are making up our rankings to a degree that makes professional wrestling seem legit. There are no criteria. Most of us have visited less than half of the law schools we rank. We have no basis, aside from a past pleasant visit, past rankings, or our knowledge of the scholarly work of the few scholars at each law school who write in our fields, for drawing conclusions about what actually goes on at other law schools.
Thus, it’s better to remain silent and have our dean colleagues think we might oppose their views than to speak and remove all doubt.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
The ABA's Accreditation Committee has recommended that the Council acquiesce in the planned merger between William Mitchell and Hamline's law school.
It has been at least mildly surprising that there have been no law school closures or other mergers until now.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Thursday, September 24, 2015
As states have been reporting their (generally lower) bar pass rates from the July examination, the debate about what is the cause and what should be done is intensifying. The New York Times has an interesting Room For Debate feature today. Professor Derek Muller has some interesting analysis here.
Friday, September 18, 2015
It is easy to understand why people regard academics as arrogant.
We choose our scholarly projects via a process that appears to be self-centered, deciding what topics are worthy of our research time and energy simply by asking ourselves. Without even a drop of input from our communities, we decide how we will conduct our studies and think through solutions to the problems we address. We then publish our results, too often just to each other, and, when we do share our work beyond academia, we have a tendency to frame our presentations in an off-putting way: “You have this problem. I know the solution. Here.” In other words, we say, in our best Captain Picard (of Star Trek Next Generation) voices, “Make it so.”
As a result, non-academics have coined pejorative terms for our hard work such as “ivory tower” thinking and “navel gazing.”
Even our plentiful, excellent, and admirable service work can possess a degree of self-reference to it. We decide there is a need, and we rush in to fix the problem, bringing our expertise and delivering it like a military aid air drop. And then we leave. Having worked on two ABA Rule of Law Initiative projects and a USAID project working with law teachers in three different countries, I must acknowledge my own, well-meaning service has involved some of this swooping in and out.
There is an attractive alternative. Community-engaged research or, as it is also known, the scholarship of engagement, is a national trend outside legal education. It is a different, arguably more humble, approach to planning and implementing the service and research projects we undertake. This form of research blurs the lines between scholarship and service and between researcher and community. Community-engaged researchers collaborate with community leaders in dialogues about the subjects they might choose to research, the methodologies they adopt for accomplishing their research objectives, and the solutions they develop. They do not delegate their scholarly agendas to their communities, but they do solicit, accept, and rely on community input. Read the materials at this link, from Loyola University Chicago, if you are interested in this movement.
Yesterday, my law school, UALR Bowen, and the UALR College of Social Sciences and Communication co-hosted a Community-Engaged Research Summit. We partnered with the College of Social Sciences and Communication because that college has a long tradition of community-engaged research, because my dean colleague there is herself an expert in such research, and because the faculty in that college possess the quantitative research design, survey construction, and statistical analysis skills needed for some of the projects we thought might be useful to Arkansas. If there is nothing I have learned from the humbling job of being a dean, I better know what I don’t know and make sure I get the help I need.
In preparation for the Summit, the two colleges surveyed roughly 350 Arkansas community leaders, including judges, legislators, agency heads, non-profit leaders, and law firm managing partners, asking for their input into our future research projects. Our response rate was good, over 20%.
Based on this input, the two colleges shared the survey results during the Summit, inviting community leaders to identify research projects that can serve the state and local communities. A large number of the faculty members from the two colleges have indicated a willingness to participate in at least one project that comes out of the Summit.
Our first Summit went well. We were heartened to discover that most community leaders do not see us as ivory tower-dwelling narcissists, and many had thoughts about research projects we should undertake. However, we were concerned that a significant segment of the respondents either did not believe our work could help them or at least did not recognize how our research work might serve their professional work. For a first-time event, attendance was pretty good. Attendees included the Arkansas Attorney General and a number of other lawyers in her office, a federal court judge and a state court judge, a legislator, the executive director of Arkansas Access to Justice, several prosecutors, a number of private practice attorneys, a prominent legal aid lawyer, two representatives of Arkansas’ medical school, and a senior employee of a high tech business. A second legislator asked me to send her the video of the event. Several collaboration connections were made. I am optimistic.
I wish I could “Make it so” and magically convince our government and community leaders to collaborate with us immediately, but we are at a starting line. I hope this post convinces other law schools to consider joining us here.
Law professors often contribute to important public policy issues. Here as story about a debate between four distinguished law professors (including Dean Michelle Anderson) about whether colleges or courts should adjudicate claims of on-campus sexual assaults.
Very interesting exchange between writer/blogger Steven Harper and Dean Jeremy Paul:
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Many deans around the country have expressed concern that the National Conference of Bar Examiners is purposely gaming the MBE to reduce the number of lawyers entering the profession. While the NCBE has stated that declining credentials for entering law students has been the primary reason for a decline in bar passage rates in many jurisdictions, I have spoken to many deans who say that their entering credentials have remained flat, because they have reduced the size of their entering classes.
I find it interesting how many lawyers told me when I was dean that law schools are producing too many new lawyers. I heard the same sentiment about the booming population of Florida, when I lived there. Politicians and citizens advocated for limiting the numbers of people migrating to the state. Why do we naturally assume that the best solution for overpopulation of a state or a profession is barring (pun intended) the entry of new participants? Many senior members of the bar entered law school before there was an LSAT, and several states even admitted those lawyers through the diploma privilege. Maybe we should thin the profession by requiring a practice competence exam for lawyers every decade or so. Those who do not pass would lose their licenses, or be required to take special training to regain the skill necessary to practice law.
If there are too many lawyers, why do we assume that the best solution is to make it harder to enter the profession?
Monday, September 14, 2015
Robert W. Adler
S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah
At the dedication of the new home for the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, I announced our new 100/100 Initiative, which establishes a firm goal of attaining 100% first-time bar passage and 100% full-time professional employment for our new graduates as quickly as possible.
Although our roles as law school administrators often diverge from our work as scholars, in this case my strong belief in the value of setting aspirational goals derives in part from my scholarship. I recently published an article on this issue in connection with the thirtieth anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA) (Robert W. Adler, The Decline and (Possible) Renewal of Aspiration in the Clean Water Act, 88 Wash. L. Rev. 759 (2013), available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2567451). The CWA is full of highly aspirational goals: full restoration of the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters; “zero discharge” of pollutants; “fishable and swimmable waters” nationwide. Although we have not met those goals despite three decades of effort, our waters are far cleaner and healthier than when Congress adopted the law. One reason for that success is that we set the bar so high, and another is that Congress backed up the goals with concrete (although imperfect) implementing tools.
I fully expected mixed reactions to my announcement of the 100/100 Initiative, from praise to some serious skepticism. In his otherwise positive blog post, Professor Paul Caron referred to the 100/100 goals as “audacious.” I agree. They are bold, and intentionally so. We care about every one of our students, and we want every one of them to succeed.
Just as important, our goals are backed up by very concrete steps we will take to meet them as quickly and as aggressively as possible. For bar passage rates, those measures include better academic support to our second and third-year students; increased and enhanced formative assessments during core bar exam courses; and better predictive modeling of those students who face a higher risk of not passing the bar exam. For employment, they include more one-on-one mentoring; improved student-alumni networking; exploratory incubator programs; and rural job placement programs.
I am quite serious about our intent to meet these goals. And if we fail to meet the 100/100 goals, we will add and modify strategies with the intent of getting closer and closer. Every year. As aspirational goals, they prompt us to do better than we are now, and better than we would have otherwise. Thus, even as goals, they will serve a very useful purpose. In my CWA article, I labeled this phenomenon “aspiration as asymptote.” The goals prod us to get closer and closer, even if we never quite reach the end.
The alternative attitude, which I refer to in my CWA article as “the pathology of excessive aspiration,” is that we view such lofty goals as “so ambitious that they cannot possibly be met,” and therefore we simply stop trying. That unfortunate and pessimistic view, I fear, is how some in the legal community now view legal education today, particularly in light of declining applications and other challenges.
Our task is to shun the pathological view, and instead to set—and to use—lofty aspirations as challenges to push us to do better. Our students deserve no less.
Friday, September 11, 2015
Dean Dan Rodriguez and I have been sharing some thoughts about tuition discounting in legal education. In this post I would like to raise the possibility of ending or scaling back the destructive practice of merit scholarships.
To summarize and add to some of Dan’s points, among the negative attributes and effects of merit scholarships are these:
*”merit” is typically defined very narrowly in terms grades and standardized test scores;
*directing so much scholarship money toward merit aid has caused need based aid to shrink (at many schools, there is now effectively no need-based financial aid);
*the students who receive the most merit-based aid are often the least needy, because high test scores correspond with socio-economic advantage, and generally translate into higher law school grades and, consequently, employment opportunities;
*the need for large sums of merit-based aid has contributed significantly to the excessive rise in tuition.
I am not proud to participate in this system of allocating financial aid. Yet individual deans and schools are essentially helpless to resist. The process by which merit scholarships proliferated was very rational, even if the results are undesirable. When the first schools tried to move up in the US News rankings by discounting tuition for students with strong academic credentials, other schools had to copy them if they wished to remain competitive. It is tempting to believe that schools could ignore this trend, but that simply ignores reality. Our susceptibility to the influence of rankings is not admirable, but it is widespread in higher education, particularly in law. At almost all schools, a dean who refused to play this game would have been replaced by one who would play. These trends have been playing out throughout many segments of higher education, not just law, which demonstrates the stickiness of the problem.
The only real way to resist the logic and power of merit scholarships is through collective action. An agreement among schools that all aid will be need-based, if adhered to, would be a game-changer. The obvious questions are whether such an agreement among law schools is lawful and practical. Frank Wu has done some excellent research on the law pertaining to this. He will be posting on this site soon to explain. In essence, there is a federal statute that seems to offer protection from antitrust rules that otherwise might prohibit this. This is why the Ivy League schools can agree to offer only need-based aid.
If lawful, would such an agreement be attainable? Could law schools reach and abide by such a policy? Would it result in a lower tuition rate over time? I hope that we can start a conversation on these and other related questions.
The request has a very good memo summarizing some of the strengths and weaknesses of the UBE. Now that New York has signed on, I expect that the UBE will sweep much of the country, which will be a good thing.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
[by Rick Bales]
Inspired by an email Michael Wolff shared several months back, I used the occasion of our hiring a new Clinic Director to write an op-ed for the local paper explaining the role of a law clinic. Here's an excerpt; the entire op-ed follows the break. Feel free to borrow freely for your own purposes.
... The ONU Law Clinic serves two critical purposes. First, it represents Lima residents who cannot afford to hire a private lawyer. ONU Law students represent Lima clients with domestic violence proceedings, divorces, expungements (sealing an arrest or conviction so it is not publicly available), wills and trusts, and many other types of cases. Unfortunately, the need for such services exceeds our ability to provide them, so we often have a waiting list even for residents who are income-eligible.
Second, our Clinic gives our students hands-on experience doing things that real lawyers do, such as interviewing clients, appearing in court, and drafting legal documents, under the close supervision of an experienced attorney. Because the Clinic’s clients tend to be from poor and marginalized communities, the Clinic helps ONU Law students understand that everyone deserves a voice and vigorous representation, and demonstrates to students why it’s important that they continue to serve the underserved later in their professional careers.
As dean of the Law School, I don’t choose the Clinic’s clients, and I don’t choose the clients’ cases. Sometimes, the Clinic represents unpopular clients, on unpopular cases. But so do real lawyers – and every once in a while, today’s unpopular legal cause becomes tomorrow’s groundbreaking legal advance. Civil rights is the perfect example. ...
We at ONU Law are proud of our Clinic. It gives us an opportunity to serve the Lima community while at the same time training law students to be better lawyers and, more importantly, better people. The French poet Anatole France famously said that the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal bread. The ONU Law Clinic helps ensure that tomorrow’s lawyers understand that in the United States, justice is not the privilege of a wealthy few, but a right that all of us are entitled to.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Sunday, September 6, 2015
On behalf of Professor Lee Ann Lockridge from LSU Law Center:
Friday, September 4, 2015
With this fall's class at my law school, we reached an interesting milestone. Roughly half of the entering students are in programs other than the standard three-JD program. In our case, this is the result of several programs, including LLM for foreign lawyers, dual degree students, LLM Tax, a 2-year accelerated JD, and our next program, a Master of Science in Law for STEM professionals. Although this particular mix of programs is unique to us, I know that a growing number of other law schools have a combination of innovative programs that, too, bring in a sizeable cohort of "other" students.
An acute challenge is how best to integrate these students into the law school community. I should begin by articulating and defending the premise. The law school community benefits from the perspectives and backgrounds that students in what I will call, clumsily, non-core programs, provide. In our experience, JD students learn in important ways from non-US students sitting side-by-side with them in their courses; they also learn from students whose professional ambitions are sufficiently distinct that they are drawn to non-core programs (such as, for instance, a dual degree with a management or engineering school). Moreover, if a law school is deliberate about fostering teamwork and modalities of blended learning, then the diversity of the law school cohort is enormously advantageous. As in so many other walks of life, diversity = strength.
That all said, integration provides significant challenges to the modern law school. For example, career services is bound up inextricably with the rather conventional job search by 2nd and 3rd year JD students. This group is high maintenance and rightly so. And the job search for law firm positions (especially for those law schools with a reasonably robust OCI scheme) are within the wheelhouse of career services pros. Students in non-core programs will face unique challenges and a law school needs to be fairly strategic and intentional about how they assist students in their employment objectives.
Students services presents another piece of this puzzle. Foreign students present unique challenges and, in my experience, only the most well-resourced schools have truly undertaken to provide special, purposive support -- beyond English language and immigration assistance -- to students who come to our U.S. law schools for a year. There are indeed a myriad of challenges and one of the most vexing ones is how to integrate a critical mass of foreign law students into a community of law students and faculty so as to capture for all community members the true benefits of an international diverse and engaged student body. Law schools are in dire need of attention to "best practices" in this space, for the challenges of integration are substantial.
Law faculties are experienced primarily with JD students. They were all JD students once upon a time, and most of them too were lawyers, thereby doing (even if briefly) the jobs to which the traditional JD students aspire. Calling upon them to teach and mentor a distinct cohort of non-core students presents some unique challenges. In the case of our new MSL program, we have elided this challenge somewhat by putting together a retinue of separate courses (more than thirty this year!) for which the faculty, a mix of full-time and adjunct, are very carefully selected. But, in reality, most of the work of teaching non-core students will fall on the shoulders of the core law faculty. We would do well to think strategically and structurally about how best to help faculty in tackling what are clearly unique challenges.
Last, but not least, there is the matter of the social. The strength of our respective student communities is in no small part tied to the lengths we go to be supportive of our students' well-being. Creating and nurturing a collaborative student culture is a part of this; designing mechanisms to deal with crises and difficulties (through counseling and such) is a part as well. Creative efforts are necessary to ensure that the integration of diverse students into the complex cohort of our omnibus student community is successful not only in bringing all students to graduation, but in shaping a community in which all of our law students thrive, professionally and socially.
This post is mainly a polemic, any way you slice it. But my plea is that we as deans think of new ways to share information and ideas to improve integration in our law student communities. As new non-core programs proliferate, the imperative of doing so can only grow.
Where you stand depends upon where you sit, as the saying goes. For eligible law students, tuition discounting provides an unalloyed good. Q.E.D. This a wealth transfer from law school general revenue, more often than not from tuition generated by other students who are providing this cross-subsidy. What's not to like?
How about this: The overall scheme redounds to the detriment of needy students in the aggregate. Students who collect the subsidy are not necessarily -- and I would suggest not especially -- in the pool for which financial support to address the gap between what they can afford and what the school charges. And, to make matters worse, law schools have a clear incentive to increase tuition precisely in order to pay for this cross-subsidy, the result of which is needy students are farther and farther from the shore. So, it would be a mistake to think of tuition discounting are "pro student" in some global sense. Rather, it is a way in which law schools (a) down the pecking order (and, except for Yale, we are all down the pecking order), and (b) who can afford to do so, maintain their competitive credentials and enrollment levels. That this benefits a few meritorious (lucky?) students at the top of the applicant food chain is a by-product of this strategy.
The systemic effects of the strategies are problematic in the long run. A large group of students are on the other side of the glass looking in, as they are paying a high sticker price to support the overall economic structure of the law school. A small group of students get a windfall. And for these group of students, they are making a choice that is not necessarily optimal in that they are eschewing prestige and the professional advantages that accompany it in order to reduce their financial burdens. To be clear, no one should judge the individual student who insists with evidence that they cannot afford higher tuition at [first choice school]. But we are back to the basic point: If it is need, not want, that is driving this enrollment decision by the high merit student at the margin, then a more ideal system would look more fundamentally at need-based financial aid in order to reduce debt.
A short digression here about debt load: Tuition discounting may indeed bring down aggregate debt load, but the devil here is in the details. Is the effect of this financial sorting to increase significantly the number of students who will leave with zero or modest debt (beneficiaries of the sort) while increasing by some measurable amount the students who will see their debt loads increase? The ABA furnishes us data about aggregate debt, and also about % of students who receive scholarships. We can certainly extrapolate tuition discount rates from extant data. But we don't typically know exactly how the benefits and burdens are distributed. Nor can we know what needs knowing, which are the employment & entry-level compensation profile of students who receive these discounts and at which level. Nuanced information about both the magnitude and the impact of this cross-subsidy requires such fine-grained information.
In a last post on this topic, I will offer some thoughts about discounting and professional school economics more generally. For now, I hope to have sparked at least a bit more thinking about the connection between aggressive discounting and student well-being. No clear conclusions or profound wisdom here, but just a modest suggestion that the matter is complex and controversial.
I agreed to try my hand as a guest on this blog because of my interest in offering a dissent. I am frustrated by how the media has framed a one-perspective, evil, legal education monolith. In my perhaps distorted dean mind, I am imagining The Death Star of Star Wars fame somehow viewed only in one dimension.
I make no promises about my ability to successfully ingratiate an alternative narrative, and I worry that blogging might humble me in the way athletics did when I was younger. But I will try this one time, see how it goes, and, with luck, I will get feedback that guides me (and the editors of this blog) as to whether I should ever blog again.
Today, I hope to tell a story that adds a second dimension, our students. This dimension might be headlined, “Law Students Provide Critical Value to Our Communities.”
Students serve our communities through our public service externships (working for judges, government agencies, prosecutors, public defenders, and non-profits), our legal clinics, and our pro bono programs. I recently calculated an estimate of the number of hours students attending my law school, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H Bowen School of Law, contributed between August 1, 2014, and July 31, 2015. The number: more than 20,000 hours. In one year. Multiply that number by 205 law schools, and you can estimate that law students provided more than 4,000,000 hours of public service last year.
According to Independent Sector, the latest estimated hourly value of volunteer time is $23.07 per hour. Surely, law students volunteering their time in legal settings cannot be worth less per hour. At $23.07 per hour, UALR Bowen’s students contributed an estimated $461,400 worth of volunteer service to Arkansas last year, and all law schools contributed an estimated $92,280,000 worth of volunteer service throughout this country.
The service our students provide has become critical to our underfunded legal system. For example, in Arkansas, judges, prosecutors and public defenders in areas near the state’s two law schools have plenty of access to research support for their work. For all the other judges, prosecutors, and public defenders, particularly those who work in rural parts of the state, support is uneven at best and non-existent most commonly. UALR Bowen recently created new practica courses in which our students will work for the underserved judges, prosecutors, and public defenders using distance technologies and under the supervision of a judicial clerk, prosecutor, or public defender here in Little Rock. This change allows us to ensure that all our students, even our night students, are able to complete our experiential learning requirement while also serving the state. How many judges, prosecutors, and public defenders are law students supporting nationally? I would be excited to know.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Not the panacea, that is, to the economic woes facing U.S. law schools and the debt predicament of our students. As noted in my earlier post, the key dilemma for law schools engaged in heavy discounting is how to pay for this subsidy. For schools using existing tuition revenue, rather than external sources of cash, they have two choices: Increase student enrollment in order to pay for the discount (assuming here that such discounting is being used as merit aid) or increase tuition. There is a fair amount of research (e.g., Hillman, Research in Higher Educ. 2012 and Martin, Econ. of Educ. Rev. 2002 are two good surveys of the evidence & literature) which points to diminishing marginal returns to schools that engage in discounting. The Hobson's choice looms squarely before law schools who engage in aggressive discounting.
What is interesting, but ultimately unsustainable, is the apparent strategy in recent years of discounting without augmented student enrollment on the JD side and without accelerating tuition (at least in the last few years). So where is the $$ coming from? Augmentations in non-JD enrollments is one clear answer. The question here -- and hence the title of this post -- is whether such strategies are sustainable in the intermediate & long-run. I predict that the answer will be no, for reasons that warrant a separate, more nuanced, analysis. However, even if and insofar things on the LLM & Masters degree front continue to look rosy, law schools will need to take a hard look at how these enrollment strategies jibe with the overall objectives of the law school and, critically, the complex, dynamic marketplace that is implicated by moving headlong into the non-JD space.
I suppose little should be said here about the tactic of increasing tuition, except to say that it is a fairly bad option, for all sorts of reasons. What is scary is that the perceived imperative of steeply discounting tuition imposes pressure on law schools not to engage in substantial tuition reductions, reductions which we would expect would redound to the benefit of a wider cohort of students -- that is to say, all of them! David Yellen's observation at the end of his post that tuition discounting improves well-being of students by lowering their debt load begs the question: Compared to what? Compared to meaningful reductions in tuition? Debt load is calculated as an average. Wouldn't we want to know whether and to what extent debt load on the part of students least able to afford it is decreasing?
One other skeptical comment about the relationship between tuition discounting and student well-being: Such strategies will usually mean ("usually" meaning for all but the wealthiest schools) a reduction in resources being devoted to other worthwhile endeavors within the law school. If we assume that faculty costs are essentially fixed (not a wholly accurate assumption to be sure, but plausible when you factor in the politics of the matter, and also the competitive instinct toward relentless competition among law schools to recruit and retain faculty talent), then what will be shaken loose will be variable costs for, say, student services and other mechanisms of support. It is not that simple, of course. But my small point here is just this: The wealth transfer from the law school budgets to the "best and brightest" has more complicated impacts on overall student well-being than meets the eye.
In the end, I do not mean all of this to be a screed against tuition discounting. Engaging in calculated efforts, through aid, for top students is a common strategy, and increasingly so in this rankings-sensitive environment. And there are in fact some positive aspects for students facing difficult economic conditions and tough choices. But the unintended consequences of such rapid run ups in these discounting strategies -- especially on the part of law schools which can scarcely afford to be making such expensive investments in this turbulent environment -- warrants more careful analysis, based upon theory and data, and perhaps a bit more caution.