Closius' heart is in the right place, and at least his head acknowledges there really is a crisis, but unfortunately the piece is a tangle of bad data and wishful thinking. As to the data, I realize it's "only" an op-ed, but if anything legal academics should be even more careful when quoting statistics regarding the state of legal education and the legal employment market to the general public (who have no realistic way to judge their accuracy) than when discussing the subject in academic fora. Closius starts with an implausible claim:
Elite schools (the top 25 in U.S. News & World Report's rankings) and the 43 non-elite state "flagship" law schools are almost immune to market pressures. Those at risk will come from the other 132 law schools — the ones that produce the majority of law graduates.Meanwhile:
Northwestern University's law school, one of the top programs in the country, is considering shrinking its class size because of the continuing job crisis in the legal industry.The key numbers Closius quotes in support of his argument are completely wrong. For example:
Law schools have increased tuition drastically for almost 20 years, beginning in the 1990s when universities refused to continue subsidizing the affordable public law schools. Annual tuition increases, previously modest, moved into the double-digit range to eliminate deficits.In real inflation-adjusted terms, Harvard Law School's tuition increased far more between 1971 and 1991 (119.9%) than it did between 1991 and 2011 (74.9%). (Since elite private law schools all more or less charge the same tuition every year this single data point is sufficient to illustrate how inaccurate Closius' claim is). This doesn't even touch on the obvious question of why cutbacks in state subsidies to public law schools have any relevance to private law school tuition (the solid majority of ABA law schools are private).
Closius' claims regarding the employment crisis for law graduates are no more accurate:
Pre-2007, law students did not require much institutional support to find jobs.Per NALP, percentage of graduates in full-time legal jobs nine months after graduation:
2001: 68.3 percent
2002: 67.0 percent
2003: 65.5 percent
2004: 65.1 percent
2005: 66.7 percent
2006: 68.3 percent
2007: 70.7 percent
2008: 67.2 percent
2009: 62.5 percent2010: 59.9 percent
Closius does make some good points about the extent to which law school faculty, deans and university presidents busy themselves with counting law review articles, marginal curricular tweaking, and raising tuition like clockwork rather than paying attention to how much all this costs and whether it's actually worth it to our students, but his suggested reforms are an exercise in denial:
In today's depressed environment, resumes must be reviewed, mock interviews mandated and realistic job searches ensured. Not every alumnus can donate $1 million, but all can help a student get an internship or job. The dean, faculty and staff must also visit potential employers.I'm sure Closius doesn't mean it this way -- unlike most legal academics he actually seems to have a clue regarding the extent to which our students are facing a genuine disaster -- but his response comes across as essentially victim-blaming: Graduates aren't getting jobs because their resumes aren't sufficiently well-crafted and they don't interview as well as they could.
This is sheer nonsense on its face, as is the stuff about deans, faculty, and staff visiting potential employers. (To be fair to Closius his suggestions appear to be the standard response of concerned legal administrators and faculty to the mess we've created). There are twice as many graduates (at least) as there are jobs. The most better-drafted resumes and successful sales pitches from law faculty to legal employers will accomplish is to very slightly improve the catastrophic employment rate of our current students at the expense of our alumni.
Can't anybody in this business do basic arithmetic?
Since I quoted the Crain's Chicago article above I can't leave this subject without highlighting this choice apercu from John Marshall's dean:
[Despite the employment crisis] not everyone sees a reason to change.
“People want to go to our school, and why should we say no?” says John Corkery, dean of John Marshall Law School. “There are people who really want to go to law school because that is how they want to spend their lives.”