I believe in the market. People generally know what they want and how much it’s worth to them. Or they should. So it’s buyer beware. But around the time of the Financial Crisis—give or take a few years—the market for legal education was dysfunctional, and some think it’s still so.
The main issue was that schools, from the prominent to the struggling, were fudging their employment statistics and costs of attendance. Common tactics included lumping part-time, non-legal jobs, and law school funded jobs into a school’s employment rate, and leaving off living costs during winter and summer break. That’s misleading when attending law school could cost students $100,000 a year, including cost of living. Part-time non-legal jobs ain’t gonna cut it. The market failed because law schools had all the info and presented it in self-serving, unethical ways. This, in part, gave rise to the law school transparency movement.
While others have tried before and failed, we are now going to for the first time see a law school be put on trial over its claimed employment statistics. Anna Alaburda is suing the Thomas Jefferson School of Law. According to Law School Transparency, only about a quarter of Thomas Jefferson School of Law graduates get full-time, bar-passage required jobs. The full cost of attendance is nearly $300,000. Out of these fortunate 25%, even fewer will get the kind of jobs that will allow them to pay off their loans.
Back before the law school transparency movement, when Alaburda decided to go to law school, it was really hard for prospective students to figure out whether a law school was worth the cost. Especially because a reasonable prospective student wouldn’t think that a law school would try to lie to them. People know better now. It took me only a few minutes to figure out that, at least for me, the Thomas Jefferson School of Law is not.
Law schools certainly should not attempt to mislead prospective students. This is a minimum. But as professional schools where the ethics of the profession demand a higher standard of conduct, law schools should do better. Law schools should actively engage in advancing the law school transparency agenda. A favorite example of mine is the University of Michigan Law School which provides a full list of its students’ employers.
At my undergrad, the school held a special assembly to essentially try and convince students not to major in psychology. They did so by simply disclosing the costs, time, and employment prospects of the various career tracks in psychology. Law schools should do something similar. Every law school should hold a talk on the costs, employment prospects, and realistic career expectations their graduates can expect. Every law school already holds numerous events for admitted students to try and entice them. I’d like to see such admitted students’ weeks include a panel of current students who didn’t manage to get jobs during on-campus recruiting—a sizable proportion at even the very best schools. I hear that there is something like this directed at 1Ls at Penn Law. I don’t expect law school administrators to lead the way, so the current students should. We have a Wine Club, a Beer Club, a Board Games Club, but no Law School Transparency Club. Maybe there should be one.