Law School Transparency has submitted a memo regarding the proposed revision, which apparently the Council will consider. The memo is mostly devoted to advocating for various technical changes in the proposal, but ends with a general statement that, at this point, I hope few people in legal academia would be willing to disagree with (at least openly):
(5) Regulatory Barriers to More Efficient Law SchoolsThe last sentence in the quote alludes to the fact that, behind the scenes, a couple of U.S. Senate committees remain keenly interested in what the ABA is or isn't doing to reform a broken system. The Council has been made well aware of this fact -- a fact which has quite direct relevance to the Council's sudden new-found interest in improved law school transparency.
It has become apparent that legal education has gotten away from legal educators. There are almost 200 schools vying to be Harvard-like think tanks. The vast majority of these schools set tuition prices in a distorted market, with rates loosely based on a school’s U.S. News ranking and geographic location. This pricing model, which relies on student loans and dwindling credibility, will not survive. The Council should acknowledge this reality and ensure that the ABA standards do not stand in the way of schools needing to substantially change how they deliver a quality legal education.
At some point, as more and more graduates question their own ability to practice law upon graduation and more clients refuse to pay for their services, we must do more than idly theorize on changes to the current model. We believe the Council’s first step should be to conduct an inquiry into how the accreditation standards (a) functionally prevent low-cost alternatives and (b) could be adapted to allow other models to emerge. For too long, cost considerations have been absent from reform discussions. The Council should seize the chance to better legal education for the sake of the profession and society at-large.
In November, we asked that Jeffrey Lewis, dean emeritus and professor of law at Saint Louis University School of Law, create a special subcommittee to review regulatory barriers preventing law schools from adapting low-cost models. To date, plans for such a committee have not been announced. It is critical that the Council ask Dean Lewis to create this committee today, and that the Council urges the new committee to act quickly and thoroughly. If the answers do not come quickly from legal educators, the result will be that educators end up forfeiting their right to control the changes. And if the answers have to come from elsewhere, unbreaking the broken law school model will be as painful as it is necessary.
Speaking of which, the current chairman of the Council, New England School of Law Dean John O'Brien, received a salary of $737,482, plus $44,238 in other compensation in 2010, per IRS tax form 990. I doubt Dean O'Brien shares LST's views on the extent to which this system is broken, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the opinions of persons such as himself are not going to decide these matters for much longer.