January 7, 2013
Law Librarians Part of The Problem For High Law School Costs
The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) is reporting on the mood at the current AALS meeting. The coverage suggests that law deans are considering their options to the crisis in legal education. It’s bad enough that they are acknowledging the possibility that some law schools could close. I posted about the downtick in LSAT applications this past December; see Current Law School Admission Stats Not Looking Good. The Chronicle indicates that the trend in downsizing class seats may delay (but not necessarily prevent) that eventuality. The trend for the current admission year is for 53,000 students to fill 55,000 available seats.
The article further points out the rise in tuition costs where a private school’s tuition averaged $25,574 in 2003 and now runs at $39,184. Public schools are the better bargain though the rates have gone from an average of $10,819 to $22,116 for the same time period. Why the significant rise in tuition one may ask. For one answer, see Does Law School Have A Future? published last December in Fortune:
Salaries are a major factor, with some law professors at elite or large law schools earning in excess of $350,000 to $400,000 annually. These sums significantly outpace other legal remuneration, except for the 10% in the upper ranks at top law firms.
For another view, see We Must Break the Law School Cartel by Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts School of Law. He blames, as the title implies, the standards set by the American Bar Association in conjunction with the cozy relationship the ABA has with the law school faculties and the state supreme courts. And, if there was any doubt, he blames the librarians as well:
Buildings are plush. Libraries -- which are very costly -- are huge, and many expensive administrators are required.
Now we know that academic librarians are part of the problem. I just want a moment to mention that many on an academic law library professional staff had to go to law school (at significant personal cost) and library school (at a further cost) to get a job with a starting salary somewhere in the $40,000s or so for the service they provide. This may not refer to “expensive administrators” per se, but a law school either runs a library (with attendant costs) or it doesn’t. Technology can replace some staff and materials but it has its own similar overhead in staff and equipment. The money just moves somewhere else.
The fundamental problems with law school economics may require radical change. My personal solution would be to make law an undergraduate major with graduate law school acting as the point where students learn those practical skills required for practice. That could save a lot of time and money to get to the bar exam. Graduate or undergraduate, there is still a need for a library and staff. [MG]
If the US News model remains the same, a law school will have to continue to spend the same or more per student to maintain its ranking. Perversely, if you have two identical law schools and the only difference is that one pays its faculty and staff more, the school paying higher salaries will rank higher in US News due to the effect of the 'direct expenditure per student' part of the equation.
Posted by: Jonathan | Jan 8, 2013 9:15:04 AM