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Field of nightmares


This is the first of what may be a series of posts about how law schools are dealing with the sharp decline in demand for legal education. (The second post is here. The third is here).

The University of Iowa is currently the 26th-ranked (out of 202 ABA law schools) law school in the nation, per the US News rankings. Iowa is typical of fairly highly ranked law schools at state flagship universities, in that it has raised tuition drastically over the past ten to fifteen years. In state tuition has gone from $7,100 per year in 1999 to $28,047 this year, while out of state tuition has risen from $17,600 to $49,025.

Graduate debt has risen rapidly as well: members of the 2012 graduate class averaged around $110,000 in total law school debt alone when the first payments of their loans came due in November of last year. Such debt levels would be problematic under any circumstances, but despite the school’s relatively lofty ranking, very few Iowa graduates get high-paying jobs with large law firms (17 of 185 2012 graduates got such jobs), and only 53 graduates in the class (28.6%) were reported to have a salary of $57,408 or more.

Until about six years ago, the school typically enrolled 215 to 240 JD students each year, and had at any one time around 650 to 700 such students in total (Iowa usually loses a few students on net in the post-1L transfer market).

Then a few years ago the school’s entering classes began to shrink, slowly at first, then quite suddenly:

Total JD students enrolled

2004: 712
2005: 656
2006: 644
2007: 633
2008: 616
2009: 590
2010: 574
2011: 550

In the fall of 2012, only 155 1Ls matriculated – by far the smallest class the school had seen in decades. Total enrollment fell to 517: nearly 200 less than the 712 students attending the school in 2004. Then this fall the bottom fell out. Although the school hasn’t officially announced its entering class numbers, the university’s on-line enrollment system shows only 95 first-year students matriculated last month. This story essentially confirms that number, as it reveals only 422 students (I assume this means JD students; Iowa does have an LLM program) are enrolled this fall. Total enrollment has declined 41% since 2004, and first year enrollment is down an even more startling 62% since 2004.

Why has enrollment at Iowa declined so sharply? The precise reasons are no doubt complex, but a simple answer is largely sufficient: because the school has neither reduced admissions standards nor cut real tuition (real tuition = nominal tuition minus “scholarships,” i.e., deep tuition discounts for students with high LSAT and GPA scores, cross-subsidized by students with lower scores who pay full price).

The entering 75th/median/25th LSAT percentiles for last fall’s entering class were actually higher than those of the much larger classes from a few years earlier, and while the stats for this year’s class haven’t yet been released, it seems clear that a willingness to admit a class less than half the size of the school’s traditional 1L group indicates that the school is refusing to cut admissions standards at all. Meanwhile the real cost of tuition to attend the school, as measured by nominal tuition minus discounts, continues to rise.

It’s an interesting strategy, although one that doesn’t seem sustainable, especially given that the school’s student to faculty ratio has declined from 15.5 to 1 in 2009 to 10.8 to 1 last year (I’ve been told that the faculty features a large number of very old very highly paid professors who appear to have no intention of ever retiring). At any rate, these numbers suggest that the school is experiencing a radical decline in its revenues relative to expenses. Indeed the school at present is likely to be losing a great deal of money — something which most universities (though not all) are unwilling to tolerate from schools that have traditionally been profit centers.

Iowa’s strategy is just one of several being pursued by law America’s law schools, as they confront a world in which something resembling accurate entry-level employment statistics for law graduates are now widely available, and (not coincidentally) it is suddenly no longer possible to indulge in unending consequence-free tuition increases that fund reckless institutional spending sprees, while remaining willfully blind to the effects of these policies on law school graduates.

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  • bobh

    On the way to becoming a lawyer-free state. Go Hawks!

  • JM

    1L enrollment at my alma mater in Oklahoma has declined by about half. In three years.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    I wonder how much of the increase in tuition is making up for the cuts in state appropriations for the college. state support of the community colleges went from 45% of their funding in fiscal year ’99 to 30% in fiscal ’12. means tuition and fees that once made up 39% of the operating resources now contribute 58%. I imagine roughly the same thing happened at U of I. no doubt the tree is top-heavy but it doesn’t help when someone is hacking away at the roots

    • 2lol

      This is a common argument trotted out by univeristies in general. While there is often some truth to the argument that funding has decreased over the years for state schools, it is no where near at the rate that tuition has increased. the vast majority of increases in tuition come solely from an increase in revenue for the law schools. Additionally, I don’t see why states should subsidize more attorneys. As far as I know, every state, besides Alaska, already has more attorneys than it needs. Thus, I don’t see why states should subsidize he creation of a resource it does not need, and I feel as though state funding to law schools should be minimized or eliminated.

  • ChrisTS

    @Paul: I wonder if you saw Bernstein’s George Mason is doing FINE, post on Volokh?

    • Barry

      ChrisT: “@Paul: I wonder if you saw Bernstein’s George Mason is doing FINE, post on Volokh?”

      Could you please link to that? I searched over there, and couldn’t find it (obviously, ‘George Mason Bernstein’ is not a good search over there).


  • Anon

    Of course, schools like Colorado that drastically increased enrollments should be just fine, right?

  • Warren Terra

    Then a few years ago the school’s entering classes began to shrink, slowly at first, then quite suddenly

    In the fall of 2012, only 155 1Ls matriculated – by far the smallest class the school had seen in decades

    Your math may be badly flawed. If I put these numbers into Excel, and make a few admittedly flawed assumptions (essentially equal classes entering in 2002, 2003, and 2004; no significant number of net transfers or drop-outs), use these assumptions to determine how many students enrolled each year, and plot the resulting numbers, you basically get noise around a fairly steady decrease of ~10 per year. Any year-to-year fluctuation from that straight line looks most likely to be noise.

    These assumptions are doubtless flawed (among other features: they suggest a 2012 incoming class of 165, not 155 – and they suggest fewer students entered in 2008 and far fewer in 2011. Still, the numbers you provide seem to suggest a continuous and constant trend, not an accelerating one.

    • Pablo

      Actually, the percentage decline over this period has been increasing. Regardless of semantics, a 2013 entry class of 95 would be a dramatic one year collapse.

      • Warren Terra

        I plotted the percentage change, as well; the linear best-fit was still fairly horizontal. Noisy as heck, though. Still, I’d concede that data giving a pretty good fit at 10 per year, starting at ~240, will mean a much bigger percentage change towards the end than at the start.

    • cpinva

      I did a far rawer calculus than you, and used the years 2004-2013 as my denominator, since those are the actual years prof. campos references. even at that, I came up with roughly an average decrease of 12 1L’s per year. looking at the total enrollment, by year, from 2004 through 2011, plus the # for 2013 provided in the narrative, the biggest drops there seem to have occurred between 2004-2005 (56), and 2011-2013 (avg. 43 per year). I assume some of that is transfer/drop-out related.

    • ichininosan

      The decline in the number of students has primarily taken place in the 2010 – 2013 period. Data for 2010 – 2012 is here:


  • Law Student

    It will get interesting when Deans / Board of Directors start to realize increasing tuition means less revenue. This will mean it will no longer make sense to raise tuition no matter what. I’m waiting for that shake out to happen.

    • cpinva

      kiddo, we’re talking law school here, not accounting/finance. i’m not holding my breath that they’ll actually notice the inverse relationship between the two. :)

      • Barry

        “kiddo, we’re talking law school here, not accounting/finance. i’m not holding my breath that they’ll actually notice the inverse relationship between the two. :)”

        The leadership will; that’s their job.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if ultimately these flagship state law schools will be among the survivors. If you just want to stay in Iowa and practice law or going into Iowa politics, isn’t this still going to be a top choice? And doesn’t the Iowa state legislature have a lot of Iowa Law alums?

  • Beg to disagree

    I would think that if you wanted to practice law in Iowa at today’s tuition rates your best bet would be to go to YHS or Chicago (or maybe Northwestern or Michigan) and try to get a job with one of the biglaw offices in Des Moines (I know Faegre has an office there, and I suspect a handful of the Midwest-based biglaw firms do as well). Perhaps with a clerkship with the D. Iowa or one of the 8th Circuit judges there or the Iowa Supreme Court right out of school.

    • Barry

      “I would think that if you wanted to practice law in Iowa at today’s tuition rates your best bet would be to go to YHS or Chicago (or maybe Northwestern or Michigan) and try to get a job with one of the biglaw offices in Des Moines (I know Faegre has an office there, and I suspect a handful of the Midwest-based biglaw firms do as well). Perhaps with a clerkship with the D. Iowa or one of the 8th Circuit judges there or the Iowa Supreme Court right out of school.”

      That is the big question from the law school’s viewpoint. At this point their top 10% of applicants might be both far better off and able to either go to a better school (and then return to Iowa) or to negotiate an aggressive discount from the U of Iowa Law School.

  • Ken

    You’re missing the important story. What effect will the conversion of a profit center into a loss leader have on U of Iowa’s ability to sustain its NCAA teams?

  • SV Bob

    U Iowa Law School is doing the right thing (as far as any law school is capable of acting morally). That should be the story.
    They could have lowered admission standards and admitted more (less qualified) students, but they didn’t, unlike GWU and other law schools that felt compelled to “feed the beast” at any cost.
    I think we are seeing two approaches to the problem of declining enrollment: one where schools cut enrollment to adapt to the bad employment reality, and one where schools maintain enrollment by lowering stands and taking anybody with a pulse,in order to feed the beast. The schools in the latter category are probably thinking that every other law school will lower standards too so their ranking won’t go too much since everyone else is doing the same thing. Or maybe they are thinking ratings don’t matter — the main concern is to maintain enrollment, and income, at any cost.

    This is really a collective action problem, but nobody wants to cooperate. The top schools should cut enrollment by 10%, the next tier by 20-30%, and the rest by 50% or more. Or they should all cut tuition by 50%. Or schools should combine J.D. programs with MBA and offer a free year of accounting, a useful and marketable skill. But of course none of the schools are willing to act against their short-term interest. Instead, the solution will be left to the free-market. The lower (anybody but the non-elite) law schools will scramble to stay above water and apply their crude methods: taking any warm body who can pay, bribing others with discounts. lying about employment outcomes, sucking in the gullible, burying jobless alums, carping on JD advantage, resorting to a variety of rhetorical and mathematical tricks, and so on.
    It is all so sad. 30000 people have their lives ruined every year, and the persons responsible merely give that “so-what, not my fault” shrug.

    • justme

      I’m not so sure that Iowa’s motives are all that pure here. Iowa’s reputation is one of a wanna be ivy, ever concerned about climbing the US News rankings. Their faculty only hire people with pure pedigrees and they are generally known as status obsessed.

      I doubt their egos could handle a big drop in their perceived prestige.

    • Barry

      “This is really a collective action problem, but nobody wants to cooperate. The top schools should cut enrollment by 10%, the next tier by 20-30%, and the rest by 50% or more. Or they should all cut tuition by 50%. Or schools should combine J.D. programs with MBA and offer a free year of accounting, a useful and marketable skill.”

      No, the top schools should really tell the rest to f— off; the middle should cut both students and tuition, and the bottom half should just close.

    • kindasorta

      The alternative explanation – supported by the continually increasing tuition – is that it’s not about concern for current students so much as it is about maintaining a U.S. News rank that really doesn’t mean much to their employment prospects outside of the top ten or fifteen schools. In terms of employment prospects, Iowa and West Virginia are basically the same school, with a slight edge for West Virginia (#22 vs. #80-something).

      If Iowa could expand its student body while keeping its U.S. News rank constant (or increasing it), it would. This is about marketing, not altruism.

    • jan

      People enamored with the elitist myth of the free market need to think again. The free market created school loans when the government got out of funding education.
      Even if all private and government loans got out of the loan business, schools would just lower tuition and increase enrollment. Nothing is pure here: we’re dealing with elite institutions and their government lackeys.
      A school has never shut down from lack of enrollment. Schools have only shut down from a nerd faux concern of the lowering rigors of the saps they matriculate and how it reflects on the ‘honor’ of the in$titution.

  • I’m Nobody — what’s it to you?

    I wonder if this isn’t and won’t be a drag on undergrad humanities majors — esp. history and English majors. Because, you know, the default version of “your degree is useless unless you want to teach” has always been, “I’ll go to Law School!” Having spent a couple of years not at all gently discouraging my English majors from going to Law School — which was always The Practical Thing You Could Do after reading and writing for four years — I fear the ripple effect on humanities generally might be substantial. Skew to topic, but I hope not irrelevant.

    • Rigby Reardon

      Because, you know, the default version of “your degree is useless unless you want to teach” has always been, “I’ll go to Law School!”

      The problem is, the former has always been bullshit. The impact of one’s choice of undergraduate major on employment prospects has always been vastly overstated, and usually (at least in my experience, so let me go ahead and acknowledge the anecdotal nature of this aside right now) by people who either a) never went to college, or b) did go, and majored in business or engineering.

  • lafcolleen

    I am a lawyer at a non-profit. (LSC funded). We have about 5 “law school fellows” starting this month. Some of them are one year, but most are 3 month renewables with a cap on 9 or 12 months. 1 northwestern, 1 Harvard, several Loyola. Every nonprofit I deal with has at least one fellow. The terrible law school employment stats are being openly talked about both by grads and younger lawyers. (Older lawyers without much direct contact with young lawyers still don’t understand the scope of the problem). The funnel into non-profit work is getting smaller b/c we only have so much room for ‘volunteer’ staff. Law school fellows have income and tend to be already invested in non profit work. New law grads are also competing for space with experienced retired lawyers.

    • MacK

      Lafcolleen – your wrong about older lawyers not knowing the scope of the problem. Most older lawyers with any hiring authority are scared to admit that they have it because of the desperate pressing of resumes on them. As far as a I can tell, just about everyone from senior partners to judges know what has happened

  • BoredJD

    I suspect law schools are still engaging in some self-delusion, which is why almost none of them have significantly lowered tuition to a level that is going to start to attract students again (I’d say 10-15K per year would probably see a big jump in the applicant pool). To slash tuition by 2/3 would make it very hard to then increase tuition when (they assume) there is an inevitable rebound in applications when the economy gets better, the scambloggers shut up, or when employment stats three years from now are released and the numbers jump from 50% to 75%.

    There could be other reasons for this. I’ve heard schools with central universities may not be able to unilaterally lower tuition. They may like the certainty of being able to buy high-number students with large scholarships vs. try to increase their yield of desirable students with decent numbers in a world where costs are back to 1980 levels (adjusted to inflation). And it’s well known that students treat higher ed as a Veblen good.

    The other shoe that needs to drop is salary information. Students would never pay 200K if they knew that 90% of the 50% FTLT legal jobs paid less than 60K, regardless of how many times the phrase “million dollar law degree” is repeated. Without this, prospective students are left to speculate with NALP numbers, the information from the school, and general cultural factors. I guarantee if you asked students what they think the median entry-level salary is it’d be something in the high-five, low-six range.

    • MacK

      I suspect that many law schools are engaging in rampant Micawberism – and trying to persuade parent institutions to be patient. This month will be the one where the numbers start to come in and budgets start to fall apart.

      • Barry

        Somebody pointed out that a logical tactic for many of the lower tier schools is to just survive, and hope that a couple of their peers in the same market will die first (“I don’t have to outrun the bear, just you”). If there are five direct competitors, and youur school would be the third to die, then your school will probably live.

        You could tell your university’s board that they aren’t getting the usual profit from your school, which they very much don’t want to hear. For them, a very reasonable approach would be to broom out their law school’s upper administration, and see if some new blood can help (if it doesn’t, it still doesn’t hurt the board). So even for those powerful people in the law school who might not be fired, they’d still face a new administration who’s been brought in to make radical changes.

        • Hogan

          Sounds like the catchphrase of the Marvel Comics Runaways: “Try not to die.”

        • Andrew

          The problem is there a limit to how much a new administrator can do about large-scale trends. One of the common responses to the crash in legal hiring was to hire more career services personnel, which obviously doesn’t address the reason for the crash in legal hiring, i.e. no jobs.

  • lafcolleen

    Mack K – I know from talking to older lawyers at non-profits that they don’t know what is going on if they are not directly involved with the early stages of hiring. They aren’t seeing the numbers of resumes that come pouring in for every possible job.

    I work in an urban setting and the job markets for big to mid law firms have always functioned differently than the non-profit world. There have always been a limited number of slots at non-profits and it has long been accepted as true that getting hired at a non-profit was more stressful (not necessarily more difficult) that getting hired at a efirm because the hiring cycle was less predictab le (both in terms of when hiring happened and how many slots might be available) and hired later. Many, many of our staff can recall the stress of trying to decide whether to hold out waiting for the non-profit hiring to start up when our friends and classmates were getting interviewed and hired.

    Now our funding has been stagnant and we haven’t hired a new ‘class’ of law grads for about 7-8 years. As a result, as an institution we’ve gotten more detached from the local law schools hiring reality. We haven’t done any type of on campus recruitment for years (including informational interviews). What’s the point?

    We’ve hired new staff but our hiring hasn’t functioned in synch with the law school calendar for a long time. we also expect to see some practical experience on the resume. (Not too much ’cause we want cheap but if you haven’t set foot in a courtroom don’t even bother.) So people have long been used to seeing resumes for un & underemployed law grads during hiring. Hell, when I was a 3L a long time ago, big law firms made their offers before we started back in the fall. But public interest lawyers didn’t even bother sending out resumes until graduation. That’s the ‘normal’ in a lot of peoples’ minds.

    The lawyers I am talking about have seen boom & bust cycles of hiring in the non-profit world – cycles that were generally not part of the larger legal market. They don’t realize what is going on in the larger legal market. They are used to the bright, eager new grad still trying to get a public interest job 2-3 months after graduation. They are also used to seeing Skadden & and EJW lawyers trying to secure a permanent position as their temp gigs wind down. What they don’t realize is in addition to what we’ve always seen, 50% of their classmates are also looking for permanent work after graduation.

    One unfortunate side effect is that lawyers here are actually overly optimistic about young lawyers’ ability to get a job if they just ‘hang in there.’ That always meant continue to opt out of the for profit market and wait for the hiring cycle to work out. They still don’t realize that there may not be a realistic for profit job opening to fall back on if the non profit work doesn’t come through. They also don’t grasp the extent of students’ debt.

    • MacK

      I see your point. I have to say that I do not know any private practice lawyer that thinks that everything will be ok for those who just “hang in there.” I may from time to time make encouraging noises to the struggling – because I hate to kick someone that is already down. However, the harsh reality is that a lawyer who has left the profession for 2+ years, or failed to launch after say 18 months in the current environment is really not going to get a foothold in practice. This was pretty well the case in the 90s and very much the case today.

      Certainly the senior lawyers I know look at US law schools and also law programs in Europe with shock at how many graduates they are churning out and complete bewilderment at how anyone expects so many new JDs and BLs to get jobs in law or even a related field. I do not know a partner in small law, BigLaw, mid law, or a judge who is not privately quite savage about the conduct of law schools and deeply pessimistic about the career prospects of many law graduates.

      I just wish a few more would be publicly vocal about the issue.

  • MacK
  • Gloria Mundey

    Excellent post. Frankly, Iowa and Case are doing what they should be doing. It is unfair and cruel for a professional grad school to milk marks that they know cannot (as a statistical matter) even enter the profession.

  • RobNYNY1957

    Number 26 in the US News poll is not “fairly highly ranked.” Duke and Northwestern are at the very bottom of “fairly highly ranked.”
    From the point of view of major firms in big cities, Iowa is no different from Ave Maria or Cooley.

    • Hogan

      By my count they’re eighth among “law schools at state flagship universities,” which is how Paul described them.

      • RobNYNY1957

        Exactly. “Eighth among state flagship universities” doesn’t exist for big law firms in big cities. The only state law schools that exist for big law firms in big cities are Virginia, Michigan and Berkeley. I’ve worked for big Chicago and New York law firms, and we never interviewed in Iowa.

        • Hogan

          Well yes, if you’re at the top of Mount Olympus then Ossa and Pelion don’t look like much.

          • Lee Rudolph

            On the contrary, piling Ossa on Pelion let the Titans come pretty close to defeating the Olympians.

            • Hogan

              I think the “piling on top of” thing is really key here. People who are three feet tall don’t look tall to me, even knowing that if I stacked two of them up one could look me straight in the eye.

              Also it was the Giants, not the Titans. No AFC team has ever gotten anywhere near Olympus.

    • Nick

      Iowa is certainly different than Ave Maria or Cooley (are you kidding?). And big firms/big city/big salary firms do look at Iowa. I should know, I just did 2L recruiting, only top 25% of the class, and I did callbacks in SF to DC, accepting an offer in Chicago.

    • Francis

      Your observation may be true for biglaw in NYC, but I assure you its not for most biglaw firms throughout the Midwest.

    • JeffPDX

      “From the point of view of major firms in big cities, Iowa is no different from Ave Maria or Cooley.” This is a ridiculous statement.

  • How many lawyers can the Iowa market absorb? Does Iowa export a lot of lawyers? I tend to think not.

    • RobNYNY1957

      And Iowa, unlike most northern states, lacks a major city. Most northern states have a city that has about half of the state’s population (New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, etc.) That means that Iowa basically has only small-town legal practice, and the sort of big city commerce that other states have drifts off to Minneapolis, Chicago, elsewhere.

      • Doug M.

        Tch. The Quad Cities have around 400,000 people, the Des Moines metro area has well over a quarter of a million, and even Cedar Rapids clocks in at 125,000. Not New York or Chicago, but still a very far cry from “small-town legal practice”.

        Anyway: Iowa is a net importer of lawyers, and has been since forever. The state only has two law schools, U. Iowa and Drake. Drake graduates about 140 per year. So even when U. Iowa was cranking out at full blast, the two together were only putting about 350 lawyers per annum into the Iowa market. In a state with 3 million people, that’s not really flooding the market.

        Of course, now those 350 grads have to compete with thousands of grads from other law schools, most of whom are altogether desperate enough to pack up a U-Haul and move to Davenport.

        Doug M.

        Doug M.

        • 400,000 is Staten Island. That’s small town practice.

          • Cornelius McCracken

            Wow. +1 Informative.

        • Denverite

          Actually, wikipedia has the Des Moines metro area close to 600,000. I’ve driven through the state a bunch and have always thought that Des Moines would be a pretty cool place to live.

        • BoredJD

          The significant percentages of people not employed as lawyers or totally unemployed out of UIowa and Drake would probably disagree. These guys would also beg to differ: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/27/the-lawyer-surplus-state-by-state/?_r=0

          Almost no state is a “net importer” of lawyers in the sense that the local law schools could not fill the need. They may be a net importer of lawyers where local graduates are displaced by Iowa residents who attend other schools, but that isn’t much of an argument for keeping Drake.

          It’s not even about total population. It’s about the local legal market. Iowa does not have the industries or government support that creates the demand for large numbers of entry-level lawyers. A major law firm or DAs office in Iowa might have a summer class in the single digits, and a small five person firm might hire an associate every five years or never.

          • Doug M.

            That’s an estimate based on 2009 figures. It says that 290 people passed the Iowa Bar Exam that year. That’s pretty consistent with my estimate of 350 grads from both schools during the heyday: not everyone who goes to law school takes the bar, and not all who take the bar pass it. (googling, I see Iowa’s pass rate tends to float around 85%.)

            It then goes on to estimate annual job openings 2010-2015, and comes up with a figure of 155. That seems awfully low. Iowa is a state of more than 3 million people. And its economy is actually doing really well right now — unemployment is only a bit over 6%, and most of the local industries are in good shape.

            BTW, you’re wrong about Iowa not having industry. It’s actually a major industrial state: manufacturing is a bigger part of state GDP than agriculture. Iowa is also a major financial center, especially for the insurance industry. A bunch of big companies are either headquartered there (Principal Financial, Rockwell Collins, Hy-Vee) or have large offices there (Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, MetLife, Wells Fargo). The popular image of Iowa as a state full of hicks on tractors is annoyingly incorrect.

            Iowa currently has about 7,500 licensed attorneys. (Which is well below the national average in terms of lawyers/capita.) 155 new jobs / year would be around 2% of that figure. Even in a recession, that’s awfully low. Simple death and retirement should be opening up more jobs than that.

            Doug M.

  • Casual Observer

    I think most people view Iowa as a very good law school. There are 3 or 4 outstanding public law schools (Michigan, Virginia, California), but without doing any research at all I’d mentally place Iowa with Indiana, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, William & Mary, Oregon, Ohio St., etc. as a very good public law school.

    It would not surprise me one bit if Iowa jumps into the top 20 in 3 years by employing this methodology. Iowa can get 95 lawyers per year jobs.

    • Casual Observer

      So, I just looked at US News. Apparently Texas is very highly regarded, as are Minnesota, UCLA, Alabama and Wisconsin.

      It’s funny that these rankings have the undue influence that they have. Once you are away from campus for a few decades, no one really pays attention to “rankings” until their children are school age. Note to students: the people who hire you don’t know the rankings and don’t put any stock in them (excepting biglaw recruiters and perhaps the DOJ).

      That’s not to say that all schools are equal. Everyone knows that Harvard, Stanford, Yale are exceptional and that there are a few other outstanding national schools — Columbia, Duke, Chicago, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, etc. But past that, as long as you are in a legit school, there is little difference.

      I’m sure you can get a good education at Ohio Northern or Akron, but I’d rather be an applicant from Ohio State. Tulane and LSU are likely a push in the South, but I’d think both carried more weight than Loyola New Orleans, etc.

      • My $0.02

        Lots of stuff wrong with this. Law school alums — especially the ones who give money — care intensely about rankings. Deans have been fired because of a slide (with the concomitant drop in donations). In the smaller markets where firm recruiters don’t have the national rankings committed to memory, they frequently rely exclusively on USNWR to weed through resumes.

        As for the national schools, I think there is a distinct pecking order where Chicago and Columbia (and maybe NYU, though this is more questionable) have a good bit more cache than does Duke, Penn, Northwestern, etc.

        Finally, my sense is that Tulane and LSU aren’t particular close in pull except maybe in Baton Rouge (and a lot of this has to do with Baton Rouge’s cultural animosity towards New Orleans).

    • As i pointed out above, Iowa lacks a natuneral market. Berkeley is near SF, Virginia is near DC. Iowa is not near any big city job market. Chicago has two big schools, and many smaller ones. Maybe MPLS, but if you want to work there, go to UM instead.

      • Hogan

        Kansas City?

      • Denverite

        Again, Des Moines isn’t tiny. Plus, a lot of the Midwest-based insurance and financial services companies are headquartered there. It’s sort of like the Hartford of the Midwest.

        • Doug M.


          Iowa went to some trouble to attract financial services companies — tax breaks and so forth. So it has a bunch of them.

          Doug M.

  • Pablo

    The sharp decline in Iowa’s enrollment is the first step that virtually all schools need to take. The next step is that their tuition needs to come down sharply to reflect the earning potential of a J.D. from that school. When you look at what other nearby state universities charge (MO, KS, NE etc.)Iowa has pushed up their US News ranking by spending more, but this doesn’t translate into better earnings coming out of school. Maybe 1 or 2 students get a big law job in Chicago or St. Louis by virtue of the higher ranking, but the cost has to be brought down to reflect what the market pays in Iowa’s small metro markets.

    • Brett Turner

      This. Iowa is doing the right thing enrollmentwise, but they have got to be losing a ton of money. It’s not a stable solution. Long term, they are going to have to cut expenses to a level that can be supported with only 95 1Ls per year.

      • MesaPizza

        How are they going to fund the pensions without enslaving kids to non dischargeable debt?

        That aside, the University cannot get rid of the professors and trim the fat since if the tenured professors were fired the university would owe them their salary until they found a job paying equal or better.

        Bahaha there isn’t even a solution to the problem at Iowa.

  • matt

    Tuition doesn’t need to come down; the schools need to do a better job of getting the news out about the gov’t’s Pay as you earn program. It means no matter how much you borrow, you never have to pay more than 10% of your income on your debts and they are eventually forgiven. Schools should also teach their students how to set up their own non-profits, as the U. of Oregon is doing. Then the students hire themselves when they can’t get jobs and their entire debt is forgiven in 10 years.

    The other thing schools need to do is to hike their “cost of attendence.” Let’s say we have a school that charges $50,000 in tuition and estimates living expenses at $20,000 per year for cost of attendence at $80,000. The school should hike tuition to $60,000 and hike estimated living costs to $40,000 so students can borrow $100,000 per year, money they’ll never have to pay back. $40,000 per year is far more than a student can earn at starbucks (and saying you are in law school impresses dates more than working at starbucks). Then schools just need to get the word out that you can live much better for the next three years if you go to law school. Moreover, there’s no risk, if law school doesn’t work out, borrow more and do an LLM, if that doesn’t work, borrow more and do an MBA.

    • Lee Rudolph

      I am interested in your ideas and wish I could afford to subscribe to your newsletter.

    • Sooner

      These certainly are the perverse incentives the new payment systems are creating. Add to that other unintended consequences such as foregoing purchasing a home and getting married. The tax benefits of filing jointly (to incur savings such as student loan interest deduction or everything regarding home ownership) are blown away by the increase in student loan payments if you’re on IBR. And that’s with my spouse and I both with salaries in the 40’s and each with significant amounts of debt (both in government and on our way to 10 years).

  • dybbuk

    How to remain economically viable with smaller classes? I predict that within a couple years, law schools will be peddling online one-year certificate programs in things like dispute resolution and health care compliance to couch potatoes across the land.

    It will be embarrassing to see one’s semi-prestigious law school scamming fools on daytime TV. But the schools will quietly tell their JD students that those things are for the suckers– a JD is completely different, as evidenced by selectivity in admissions.

  • matt

    Another thing law schools should be doing, rather than cutting class size or tuition, is to follow Georgetown’s lead. Hike tuition by $40,000 and use half of that to fund a loan repayment assistance program so grads on pay as your earn won’t have to pay anything out of their own pocket.

    If they do that, you’d have to be an idiot not to go to law school. If you don’t get a high paying job, you pay nothing. If you get a high paying job, you can afford to pay 10% of your salary for 20 years.

  • Lox

    Although I agree that Iowa, like all law schools, has increased tuition unjustifiably in recent years, I think they’re otherwise doing the right thing. Contrary to some of the snide comments made by the my-self-worth-depends-on-degrading-everyone-less-fortunate-than-me crowd, Iowa is very well regarded in the midwest. As an Iowa grad myself, I can state to a certainty that Iowa is well represented at every major firm in Minneapolis (where I work), and I know many people from my vintage (Late 2000’s) that went to Chicago and other major markets. Iowa needs to maintain its ranking not because rankings are intrinsically important, but because there are still many employers that use rankings as a short cut to screen applicants. If they drastically lowered their admission standards and went tumbling down the rankings then it really would create a situation where Iowa grads were confined to working in Iowa. While I would love to Iowa take the lead on cutting tuition, they are otherwise doing the responsible thing by their students by cutting class size while preserving quality.

    • Hawklawl

      Pretty sure the administration didn’t cut the numbers due to concerns about the student’s job prospects… But you’re someone who graduated a few years before the administration / navel gazers became desperate.

      Also, the # matriculated this year is actually 94 (one student didn’t show up.) And the class size of 155 students was the smallest since world war II, or so said admissions.

      FWIW the law school is hosting another fund raising event this year where they parade current Iowa students and scholarship recipients around like dogs and ponies to grovel for money for the administration and faculty to pay for themselves. There campaign website is here.

    • kindasorta

      According to LST, 70% of Iowa’s 2012 graduates found full-time/bar-required jobs within nine months. About 5% got federal clerkships, and about 9% of them went to firms of 101+ attorneys. The estimated total COA for Iowa was $235k, assuming that the student borrowed the full amount for living expenses. With a resident discount, the estimated total COA is $160k.

      Meanwhile, 72% of West Virginia’s 2012 graduates found full-time/bar-required jobs within nine months. About 5% got federal clerkships, and about 15% of them went to firms of 101+ attorneys. The estimated total COA for West Virginia was $160k, assuming that the student borrowed the full amount for living expenses. With a resident discount, the estimated total COA is $110k.

      My point is not that Iowa is uniquely terrible or that WVU is awesome. My point is Iowa is far higher ranked and much more expensive than WVU despite qualitatively identical employment outcomes. Maybe maintenance of Iowa’s U.S. News rank is the wrong priority for Iowa to have.

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  • JH

    Hey Prof. Campos

    Here’s the next institution to consider for your series of posts on this topic: University of California – Davis.

    I am dumbfounded by this press release by UC Davis Law, a “public” law school (one of 5, YES 5 University of California law schools, the most shameful of which being recently established,notoriously ridiculous, vanity project that is the University of California Irvine law school).

    Davis (and the other UC law schools) costs more in in-state tuition, than many private schools (about 45k in tuition/fees alone).

    UC Davis, like many mid-ranked schools, non-elite law schools, has seen a sharp decline in J.D. matriculants.

    But that’s ok, because, as the dean gloats, it has managed to enroll a “robust” number of heads by increasing its LL.M. enrollment exponentially…The dean says this is good for the school!?! Ya, it helps to sustain the school’s superfluous existence!

    Why a press release UC Davis? Have you no shame in your desperate attempts at self preservation? Is that the goal? Dollars? That’s not what your mission statement says.


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  • Lauren

    Such debt levels would be problematic under any circumstances, but despite the school’s relatively lofty ranking, very few Iowa graduates get high-paying jobs with large law firms (17 of 185 2012 graduates got such jobs), and only 53 graduates in the class (28.6%) were reported to have a salary of $57,408 or more.

    I don’t think your assumptions about salary are necessarily fair. 50% of each Iowa law class is from Iowa and, statistically, about half of each graduating class stays in Iowa. Cost of living in Iowa is extremely low, especially in Des Moines where most aspiring lawyers would go and, therefore, starting salaries, and salaries in general, are lower. An Iowa law graduate starting around $50,000 in Des Moines would be living VERY comfortably.

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