(2) The ABA is considering a couple of important proposals that cut in opposite directions as regards law school reform:
(a) The reformist proposal is to simplify and toughen up bar passage requirements by requiring schools to get 75% of the graduates of a class who take the bar to pass it within two years of graduation. This still rather lax standard (note that students who don’t graduate or don’t take the bar don’t count) is something a whole bunch of low-ranked schools couldn’t meet now, and a whole bunch more won’t be able to meet as plunging admissions requirements are reflected in declining bar passage rates.
(b) On the other hand, the ancien regime is still slinging crack rock, with a proposal to eliminate not only the LSAT but any standardized test at all as a requirement for ABA law school admission. This would mean that literally anybody with a four-year college degree (in Michigan, anyone with 60 credits of college; Donald LeDuc says hello) could apply to law school on a sudden whim, which of course is very much the idea.
(3) Access Group, the consortium of almost all ABA law schools that used to originate loans to students in the bad old days before GRADPLUS removed any barriers to borrowing the full cost of attendance from an indulgent Uncle Sam, commissioned a paper by an economist to investigate the question of when law school is and isn’t a good investment. The results were, to put it mildly, problematic from the perspective of the status quo, with the analysis suggesting that for large numbers of potential matriculants, it’s not a good idea to borrow more than $100,000 to get a law degree (the average educational debt of current law graduates is probably about 50% higher than that).
Unlike the much-publicized MILLION DOLLAR PREMIUM study from a couple of years back, which didn’t bother to try to make a distinction between, say, a Harvard and a Cooley law degree, this paper acknowledges that asking whether people should go to law school is an unduly and indeed misleadingly broad question.
(4) The University of Minnesota, a top 20-ranked law school, is estimating that it will have incurred $16 million in net operating losses by the time it prospectively balances its budget two years from now. Sacrifices are being made:
“We cut the coffee in the faculty lounge, and I get more complaints about that than all the other faculty cuts combined,” dean David Wippman told the Board of Regents’ finance committee Thursday.
As far as I can tell, the difference between Minnesota and a huge number of other university-affiliated law schools (90% of ABA schools are university-affiliated) is that the central administration has put its foot down in regard to further subsidization. A couple of years ago I estimated that somewhere around 80% to 85% of law schools were running deficits, and given the sharp decline in total enrollment since then, that number has if anything probably increased.