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If something cannot go on forever, it will stop


The law school reform movement gets a boost from an unexpected source:

It is no mystery what has prompted the current calls for a two-year law degree. It is, quite simply, the constantly increasing cost of legal education . . . If I may advert to my own experience at Harvard, once again: In the year I graduated, tuition at Harvard was $1,000. To describe developments since then, in the words of a recent article:

Over the past 60 years, tuition at Harvard Law School has increased ten-fold in constant, inflation-adjusted dollars. In the early 1950s, a year’s tuition at the school cost approximately $5,100 in 2011 dollars. Over the next two decades this figure more than doubled, so that by 1971 tuition was $11,664 in 2011 dollars. Tuition grew at a (relatively) modest pace over the course of the 1970s, so that by 1981 it was $14,476 in 2011 dollars. Then it climbed rapidly again, rising to $25,698 in 1991, $34,484 in 2001, and nearly $50,000 in 2011, again all in constant dollars.

This is obviously not sustainable, given that over the last 25 years there has been a sharp contraction of the legal-services sector, compared with the rest of the American economy . . .The graduation into a shrunken legal sector of students with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt, non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, cannot continue. Perhaps — just perhaps — the more prestigious law schools (and I include William and Mary among them) can continue the way they are, though that is not certain. But the vast majority of law schools will have to lower tuition. That probably means smaller law school faculties . . . and cutting back on law-school tuition surely means higher teaching loads. That also would not be the end of the world. When I got out of school the average teaching load was almost 8 hours per week. Currently it is about half that. And last but not least, professorial salaries may have to be reduced, or at least stop rising. Again, not the end of the world. To use Harvard again as an example: faculty salaries have much more than doubled in real terms since 1969.

Antonin Scalia, commencement speech to the William & Mary law school graduating class of 2014.


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