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The Price To Play Its Way
December 18, 2011 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Want your new law school to get accredited by the American Bar Association? Be prepared to jump through some hoops.
posted by reenum (39 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Makes me mad, this.
posted by bz at 1:53 PM on December 18, 2011


When you make $150k a year, you bet you're going to be against changes in your industry that will cut that pay way down.
posted by nrobertson at 2:01 PM on December 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Though David Segal's anti-law school vendetta in the NY Times has been a bit weird, I'm glad that this article focuses a bit more on who benefits from the current system. It's certainly not current students, or practicing lawyers, regardless of how successful they end up being. Even your average law student who wins the lottery, relatively speaking, and gets a job paying $160k is in debt up to his or her eyeballs, and has a good chance of getting booted out or burning out of biglaw before even breaking even on the investment. It's just professors and administrators who benefit. It really is quite the cabal.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:04 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Top 20 sites for DIY law.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:06 PM on December 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's a glut of lawyers, a glut of law schools, a glut of law students -- why wouldn't the ABA be stingy with their accreditation?

nrobertson, these changes aren't cutting pay way down -- you're lucky if you're getting paid at all.
posted by incessant at 2:08 PM on December 18, 2011


There's a glut of lawyers, a glut of law schools, a glut of law students

but if you're poor, there's a shortage of legal representation - funny how that works
posted by pyramid termite at 2:12 PM on December 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


It has never benefitted the priestly caste to allow unfettered access to the inner sanctum. If just anyone could say the magic words and perform the paperwork rituals to propitiate the dark-robed little gods, the secret knowledge would be worthless!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:13 PM on December 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's the faculty he's talking about, not the lawyers. And the key thing to keep in mind with the glut of lawyers, I think, is that right now, we've got too many lawyers to serve the people who can afford their services. Drop the barrier to entry, prices go down, and now there are more people paying for legal services.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:14 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


but if you're poor, there's a shortage of legal representation - funny how that works


So the solution is to create a glut of unemployed attorneys so desperate for work that they're willing to work for pennies?
posted by gyc at 2:14 PM on December 18, 2011


There's a glut of lawyers, a glut of law schools, a glut of law students -- why wouldn't the ABA be stingy with their accreditation?

The point is that there's also a glut of debt and there's an argument to be made that that a system that requires that law schools all be very expensive has led to a situation in which, despite the glut of lawyers, law services are very expensive, since every lawyer has these massive loans to deal with. We have a glut of one thing (expensively educated, deeply indebted, lawyers), when what we may really need is a lot of something slightly different (modestly educated, not-very-indebted lawyers-or-other-legal-types.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:16 PM on December 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


It costs money to be in practice. That includes if you're willing to live on next to nothing. The system demands lots of time to be spent on each case, usually, and if any given case has to cover a large chunk of your overhead, it will never be able to be cheap without some kind of outside subsidization. Producing more law graduates will not make that any better. Legal Aid does far, far better work for the poor than a random bottom-25% graduate who somehow found the money to go solo right out of school with no guidance or direct supervision.

It would help to have more people practicing medicine in general because there are overall shortages, but what helps the poor get access to medical care is not more doctors, it's Medicaid/Medicare/etc.
posted by gracedissolved at 2:16 PM on December 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


There is no glut of lawyers overall. There is a glut of lawyers who absolutely need to get a BigLaw job in order to pay off their staggering tuition bills. Lower the tuition bills, and they'll be able to hang up a shingle and do wills and divorces for $50 an hour.
posted by miyabo at 2:17 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


gyc: No, the solution is to have regulation applied by a disinterested party with a dual mandate of ensuring that standards are adhered to and that legal education can be obtained without crushing debt burdens rather than by a guild who's interest is solely in perpetuating their own affluence and status.

I know, I know, it's an insane pipe dream. Our only realistic options are the status quo or hordes of starving attorneys roaming the streets in packs looking for cases to litigate.
posted by Grimgrin at 2:19 PM on December 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


It costs money to be in practice. That includes if you're willing to live on next to nothing. The system demands lots of time to be spent on each case, usually, and if any given case has to cover a large chunk of your overhead, it will never be able to be cheap without some kind of outside subsidization. Producing more law graduates will not make that any better.

Yup, thank you for saying this. Top graduates from top schools fight tooth and nail for the limited job opportunities that exist at legal services organizations, public defenders, etc. These are jobs that pay something like $40,000. In NYC. There is a glut of people who want to do this work for that money.

The problem is these clients have no money to pay lawyers. It's not that you can't get rich doing it, it's that there is no money to be made at all in this line of work, at least if you aren't doing litigation, and litigation involving fee-shifting cases or substantial damages. Unless they're working for an organization with outside funding, no one will ever make any money at all doing much of the types of legal work that are presently undersupplied. This is a political problem.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:25 PM on December 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


since every lawyer has these massive loans to deal with.

The thing is, they don't; there are plenty of lawyers who have little to no debt, even these days. There's a lot of scholarship money out there. Those lawyers still can't find work. The imbalances in demand and supply arise from more systemic causes than merely the cost of legal education (though that is part of it).
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:35 PM on December 18, 2011


So on this topic, what are the hoops one would go through to open a medical school?
posted by mullingitover at 2:41 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you want a diploma blessed by the A.B.A. — and you don’t have rich parents, a plum scholarship or an in-state public law school with lots of taxpayer support.

I wonder how much of the current situation stems from this lack.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:45 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another article on law school from the New York Times? Did a bunch of editors send their kids to law school and find out how hard it is for young lawyers to find work? Because they can't seem to stop gnawing on that bone.
posted by anniecat at 2:49 PM on December 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Perhaps it shouldn't just be artists and musicians that are expected to ply their trades just for the joy of it, in this brave new world of ours...
posted by Thorzdad at 2:50 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


So on this topic, what are the hoops one would go through to open a medical school?

I can't find a great article, but here's a weird one that's sort of related.

I've never understood why people compare law school to medical school, especially since the latter requires prerequisites and even hard sciences testing in its admissions exam. Law school doesn't require anything but a bachelor's degree and the LSAT, which obviously requires studying your ass off, but isn't the same.

The better comparison would be business school, wouldn't it?
posted by anniecat at 2:54 PM on December 18, 2011


I had a few American classmates go to medical school in the Caribbean and they all came back and have jobs at US hospitals.
posted by anniecat at 2:56 PM on December 18, 2011


Medical schools, for comparison, get accredited by the LCME, which does, among other things, demand that you have a reasonable library, which I would guess probably costs as least as much for medicine as law, just to borrow something used as an example in the article.

Law and medicine are both professions. "Business" is not a self-regulated profession. Accounting is, to some degree, but the accounting standard-setters do not choose to directly accredit accounting programs, probably because many accountants are not actually professionals in that kind of a capacity. Which would be, of course, an option--stop insisting on these standards for the schools and just make the bar exam much harder to pass by people who've already poured in the money. I don't think that'd help most of the problems in the legal industry.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:00 PM on December 18, 2011


You absolutely do see the same problem happening with business schools. The cost of an MBA is skyrocketing to over $120k, the number of business schools is multiplying as every university sees the dollar signs, and the actual value of the degree has dropped to a tiny fraction of where it was a decade ago (except for graduates of the top 10 schools). And yet students keep coming.
posted by miyabo at 3:01 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


So on this topic, what are the hoops one would go through to open a medical school?
posted by mullingitover at 4:41 PM on December 18 [1 favorite +] [!]

you have to make these people happy.
posted by lester at 3:02 PM on December 18, 2011


stop insisting on these standards for the schools and just make the bar exam much harder to pass by people who've already poured in the money.

I suppose they could put a cap on the amount of Federal loans available for each law school, because schools right now have no problem creating bigger classes so long as the money is coming to them up front, and is guaranteed by the US government. And schools, even law schools, and Goldman Sachs is profiting off of them.
posted by anniecat at 3:06 PM on December 18, 2011


I apologize for my last sentence. I was trying to say something and I can't remember what it was exactly. Basically it was something like "Western State is one of those for profit law schools and Goldman Sachs owns the company that owns Western State."
posted by anniecat at 3:13 PM on December 18, 2011


Top graduates from top schools fight tooth and nail for the limited job opportunities that exist at legal services organizations, public defenders, etc. These are jobs that pay something like $40,000. In NYC. There is a glut of people who want to do this work for that money.

I don't know that this is quite an accurate representation of the situation. Yes, there may be competition for these lower-paying do-gooder (and I say this in an entirely non-pejorative sense) legal jobs. But this is largely because these are the jobs these lawyers wanted in the first place, so they can take the cream of the crop from Tier 1 law schools who didn't get a JD so they could work in biglaw. It's not too often that someone whose heart was set on a high-paying biglaw job decides to pursue a $40k do-gooder law career because they didn't get a phone call from Dewey Screwum & Howe LLP. Rather, what ends up happening on average is that they end up pursuing careers in a non-legal field so that they can pay off their mountainous las school debt and generally regret going to law school in the first place. I know at least a dozen people in this situation.

On the other hand, if it were more possible to get out of law school for a reasonable amount of money and make a decent middle-class living hanging up a shingle and doing work for middle-class people... maybe more law students would find that path attractive. And I have to say, there are a LOT of middle- and working-class people out there doing divorces and wills and name changes and contracts and agreements and whatnot (or NOT doing these things when they should be) because it's simply too expensive to find a lawyer to do this kind of work.
posted by slkinsey at 3:16 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not entirely comfortable with the article's barely merely implicit praise of adjunct faculty labor (though it's certainly less bad when the adjuncts are judges with secure jobs who teach on the side) and barely merely implicit castigation of tenure.

Not to mention the fallacious identification of tenure with a high salary. You could be tenured, and be payed only $30K a year. Tenure isn't the right to a high salary; it's the right not to be fired except for cause (along with a definition of what that cause is that protects academic activities). Tenure is also not the right to publish, though publication is usually one of the criteria for gaining tenure. You might even think that the peace of mind that generally accompanies having tenure is worth some money and accept a lower salary for that reason.

It's certainly true, though, that someone with tenure will be more comfortable negotiating better working conditions than someone without.
posted by kenko at 3:20 PM on December 18, 2011


Frank Pasquale has a pretty good take on the Times' recent fusillades against legal education here. Basically, the people baying for law schools to lower their costs are mostly rich partners who are sick and tired of having to train new lawyers on their own dime. Their ideal world is one in which the practice of law is little different from the practice of plumbing; lower debt means lower salaries for associates, which means a bigger cut for well-established partners. It's the kind of short-termism that you'd normally expect to see in the financial world.

Yes, cheaper law school is all well and good if you are interested in doing wills, but the elephant in the room is the costly, complex litigation that more often than our dysfunctional legislature is the agent for progressive social change.
posted by anewnadir at 3:23 PM on December 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


a glut of unemployed attorneys

You read the article, right?

Look, the point they're making is that right now being a lawyer, for various reasons, either involves winning the scholarship lottery, having wealth at your disposal or taking on enormous debt. The last option pretty much means you need to price your legal services high to pay back your massive commitment. This is not good for the myriad of poor or even averagely positioned people who need lawyers. The idea is not just -more- schools, but cheaper schools that produce just as good lawyers.
posted by Phalene at 3:53 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


ABA is a guild ...nothing more nor less. They tell schools what they want and schools comply ...
It cost a lot for a medical program in terms of facilities etc but a law school needs a decent library and staff and then they bring "prestige" to a university. ABA sets standards for salaries and conditions for those teaching in a law school and the pay is usually significantly better
that for others teaching at the same university.
posted by Postroad at 3:54 PM on December 18, 2011


Britain, on the other hand, has a long menu of options... And you can buy a simple divorce over the Internet for a set fee...

This is not exclusive to Britain; I'm not sure why the author seems to be implying as much.
posted by asnider at 4:00 PM on December 18, 2011


Phalene: figure that out and I can offer you a job as dean of a prestigious law school; I'll only require a small head-hunter's fee. You can pay for it with a federal student loan.
posted by anewnadir at 4:13 PM on December 18, 2011


Basically, the people baying for law schools to lower their costs are mostly rich partners who are sick and tired of having to train new lawyers on their own dime.

And every law grad over the last decade who missed the biglaw lotto. And even a lot of them who "won" the lotto... "Mostly rich partners" drastically overstates the case. Those may be the people the NYT mostly hears from. And that professors mostly hear from. But "the rich" aren't the only people who care about this.

The existing law school establishment would like nothing more than for everyone to ignore this. If casting the issue as "rich people being greedy" turns you off, then that's what they'll go with.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 6:20 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Basically, the people baying for law schools to lower their costs are mostly rich partners who are sick and tired of having to train new lawyers on their own dime.

No, not all. How 'bout me, as the middle-class parent of a law student, who is trading his retirement for his daughter's education and the hope she won't have to continue living on peanut butter the rest of her life so she can help women escape abusive situations and provide middle class families like ours legal services.

I don't know any rich law firm partners, but I do know how hard it is for the middle class to gain access to legal education, and I can't help but feel it is one of the structural problems leading to the feudalization of US society.
posted by tommyD at 6:31 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't know about anyone else, but the first thing I always think about is how labor just costs too god damn much. Fuck labor, god damn expensive tools -- why doesn't the cost of labor drop in half every couple of years like computers -- now there is something for all you youngins to emulate.
posted by Shit Parade at 7:10 PM on December 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


By the way, I suggest anyone interested in actually hearing from people who are trying to do the kind of mid-level work (for non-indigent, non-corporate clients) being discussed here spend a few minutes perusing JD Underground. Posters there tend to have a pretty intelligent, albeit bleak, take on things. The anecdotal upshot there seems to be that hanging a shingle is extremely tough, even without debt, and clients don't want to pay fees for services that allow them to make a living. I don't know that lack of competition from other lawyers is really the problem there.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:21 PM on December 18, 2011


Ah yes, JDUnderground, the spiritual successor to JDJive, one of the most toxic and nasty forums on the Internet. I hope the tenor of discourse is better now. I remember a group of people on there who made it their life's mission to expose and humiliate one forum member who had taken and failed the NY Bar 8 times. Bad times.

As for faculty salaries, most of the tenured faculty at my old law school earn over $100K. This includes the law librarian who doubles as a law and literature professor. Professor salaries are at least part of the problem. As for adjunct faculty, my law school had very few of those. The majority of the faculty were dinosaurs who taught with indifference and then went back to their offices to work on a paper examining the effect of Assyrian cave paintings on Mesopotamian jurisprudence.
posted by reenum at 9:48 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


ABA is a guild ...nothing more nor less. They tell schools what they want and schools comply ...

To write off the ABA as a monopoly on the industry feels simplistic to me, because there is more to the situation than that. As someone who works with law, I can tell you that the number of lawyers who attend an ABA-accredited school, pass the bar and STILL aren't able to adequately represent their clients in the courtroom frustrates me. (Really, why mess up your own divorce proceedings when you can have a trained professional do it for you for $250 an hour?!) Subsequently, I feel strongly that there needs to be some sort of body of regulation on the legal industry to call the shots. The problem of incompetent lawyers would only get worse without the ABA's involvement with law schools.

I agree that there are huge problems with current system of law school, I agree that there are problems with the ABA accreditation process, but I disagree that the problems begin and end with the ABA. Call the ABA a monopoly if you want, but ABA accreditation still most effective way we have come up with to distinguish between law schools that produce effective lawyers for the most part and law schools that are essentially scams.
posted by hypotheticole at 12:00 PM on December 19, 2011


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