Indeed, considerable progress has been made in the course of that year. For example, if you compare the general discourse at even a status quo-worshipping site such as Top Law Schools today with that from the fall of 2010, the change is quite marked. Today, people who indicate they're planning to go to any law school outside the top tier, or often even the top 30, at anything close to full price, will be told in no uncertain terms by many respondents that this is a terrible idea, and that they should retake the LSAT until they get a score that allows them to go to a school that's worth going to at sticker (the conventional wisdom at TLS now limits this to the T-14 at best), or can get a big scholarship to go to a lower-ranked place.
Of course the problem with such advice is that it's completely impractical for the vast majority of law school applicants. About 7% of law students go to the T-14, and 75% go to schools outside the top 50. Given their current financial structure law schools can give big scholarships to at most perhaps 10% of their admits, so you do the math.
Over at Above the Law, Elie Mystal isn't sanguine about reversing the march of the lemmings any time soon:
What sane, self-interested law school dean would actually adopt [a] model [eliminating the third year of law school]? [By advocating such a model, Jose] Cabranes and [David] Lat are saying, “Here are some things you can do that will cost you money. Have fun!”In the short term, this is probably correct (although it will be interesting to see what total law school applicant numbers look like this spring, after last year's 11% decline). People have close to an unlimited capacity for rationalization, and the rationalizations for paying big money to go to less than elite law schools are as plentiful as ever. Here are the top five (hat tip: Nick Hornby):
Obviously the profit motive is a big reason that the legal education industry looks the way it looks. But you can’t tell law faculty and administrators to voluntarily take less money. Nobody does that! . . .
And it’s not even like prospective law students are demanding fundamental change. Sure, it only takes a year (or a semester) for most law students to figure out what is horribly wrong with law school. Sure, employers often bemoan how law students come out unprepared to contribute to a for-profit practice. But prospective law students keep coming in droves. So there is little pressure for law schools to change.
(1) I'm going to finish in the top 10% of the class (and then transfer to Georgetown.)
(2) Lots of people who don't finish in the top 10% of the class still get good legal jobs, like this guy I met at a recruitment function who is a senior partner at one of the best firms in town, and he wasn't even on law review.
(3) You can do a lot of things with a law degree besides being a lawyer.
(4) The economy will have turned around by the time I graduate.
(5) It says right here on page 561 of Atlas Shrugged that I am solely and completely responsible for my own success or failure.
This won't do any good but what the heck:
(1) This means your plan has a 90% chance of failure. Furthermore you don't need to be in the top 10% to transfer to Georgetown, you need to be in the top 2%. On top of that a lot of recent Georgetown grads are unemployed and broke. So you'd better amend this plan to include "then finish in the top 30% at Georgetown."
(2) Do you have a time machine?
(3) This zombie argument, so beloved of the sleaziest of law school shills, is completely impossible to kill. Thousands of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 0Ls can no more escape it than all those Sarah Connors could escape the original Terminator: You still don't get it, do you? He'll find her! That's what he does! That's ALL he does! You can't stop him! He'll wade through you, reach down her throat and pull her fuckin' heart out!
(4) Listen to me now and believe me later: If the economy as a whole will have turned around, this doesn't mean the market for legal services will have turned around. If the market for legal services will have turned around, this doesn't mean the market for new graduates of ABA law schools will have turned around. Compare: the international market for new cars is vastly larger today than it was in 1975. How's the market for UAW workers looking now compared to what it looked like then?
(5) A wise man once said:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
The people who will be enrolling in law school this fall are going to graduate with an average of around $130,000 to $135,000 in law school debt (The class of 2011 graduated with an average of about $104,000 in law school debt, and the tuition increases that the class of 2015 will bear are mostly already baked into this particular cake). Given that the average undergraduate in our fair land graduates with about $25,000 of educational debt (there are currently no figures on whether the number for law students is higher or lower than this) we can estimate that, given the likely continuation of a flat housing market, this fall's entering law school class will have on average accrued enough educational debt upon graduation to pay for an average American single family home (the median sale price for this commodity was around $165,000 in 2011).
For how many people in this class will a law degree end up being as good or better an investment than a house? (Not that houses have been fabulous investments for most Americans over the past five years, but everything is relative). Keep in mind mortgage debt is dischargeable in bankruptcy, and in some states first loans on residences are by law non-recourse, meaning that the lender has no remedy for default beyond foreclosure. You can just mail the bank the keys and walk away. Mailing your diploma back to your law school doesn't work nearly as well.