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Signs of progress

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(1) The Washington Post Magazine has a good story on the law school crisis, full of statistics which will be familiar to many LGM readers, but remain too-little known or understood by prospective law students. Among other things the story highlights the mind-boggling absurdity that is UC-Irvine’s new law school (I would give roughly even odds on what is essentially a combination of vanity project for its dean and a cash grab by the UCI central administration continuing to exist ten years from now).

There are days when it’s easy to feel pessimistic about how much progress has actually been made toward cleaning up the mess that legal education in this country has become, but I will say this: If people tried to launch a new hyper-expensive law school with “top 20” aspirations in the midst of the tire fire that is the southern California legal market today, they wouldn’t be able to get such a project off the ground.

(2) Speaking of law schools going out of business, I’ve heard from a reliable source that a certain Midwestern law school that sits — or at present wobbles — a considerable distance from the bottom of the ABA-accredited hierarchy has unilaterally slashed its entire faculty’s salary by a non-trivial percentage. (Hopefully not too many of them decide to become partners at Davis Polk in fits of pique).

(3) In recent days I’ve seen signs of real progress at the institutional level, as faculty and administrators grapple with the latest debt and employment numbers. At some point, in a crisis of this type, the numbers become so disturbing that complacency begins to give way to engagement, and there’s evidence, both at my school and others, that that inflection point is approaching.

(4) The movement toward genuine reform will accelerate rapidly as soon as even a handful of ABA law schools go out of business. This, I believe, is likely to happen over the course of the next few years. It won’t take many such events to bring about a sea change: given the intensely risk averse character of so many people in legal academia, the sight of a couple of hundred suddenly unemployed former law faculty will, I expect, have a most beneficial effect on institutional deliberations all across the land.

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