I began this blog one summer afternoon in exactly way I’ve started every other professional project I’ve undertaken which ever amounted to anything: without thinking about whether doing so would achieve anything worth achieving, or at least win the approval of important people.
I started it because I had something to say, and this seemed a good way of saying it. For a few days I wrote anonymously – something I had never done before – more as a stylistic experiment than anything else. But naturally people in legal academia instantly became more concerned with Who Was Saying These Outrageous Things than in whether those things might actually be true. So I dropped the mask -- which ensured that a few of those people would busy themselves henceforth with irrelevant personal attacks, rather than substantive responses.
19 months and 499 posts later, it turns out that the core message of this blog – that legal academia is operating on the basis of an unsustainable economic model, which requires most law students to borrow more money to get law degrees than it makes sense for them to borrow, given their career prospects, and that for many years law schools worked hard, wittingly or unwittingly, to hide this increasingly inconvenient truth from both themselves and their potential matriculants – has evolved from a horrible heresy to something close to conventional wisdom.
That enrolling in law school has become a very dangerous proposition for most people who consider enrolling in one is now, if not a truth universally acknowledged, something that legal academia can no longer hide, either from ourselves, or – far more important – from anyone who doesn’t go out of his or her way to avoid contact with the relevant information.
ITLSS has played a role in what can be without exaggeration called a fundamental shift in the cultural conversation. How big of a role it’s not for me to judge. Within legal academia, the pioneering work of Bill Henderson on the economics of legal education, and Brian Tamanaha’s writing and research culminating in his book Failing Law Schools, were both critical contributions to that shift. Others inside law schools – Jim Chen, Deborah Rhode, Herwig Schlunk, Akhil Amar, Ian Ayers, Paul Caron, Ben Trachtenberg, Orin Kerr, and Jeffery Harrison to name a few – have moved the conversation forward in various ways. And of course Deborah Merritt has lent her name and talents to this blog for nearly a year now as a co-author, greatly enhancing both its intellectual and stylistic range.
Outside the legal academy, a diverse group of voices, ranging from the scam blogs that had such a strong effect on at least Tamanaha and me, to Above the Law and JD Underground, to the tireless unpaid labor of Kyle McEntee, Patrick Lynch, and Derek Tokaz, aka Law School Transparency, found their way into the pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and onto the CBS Evening News. A movement that begun on the margins of the legal world, through the work of people like Loyola 2L, and Scott Bullock of Big Debt/Small Law, and Nando of Third Tier Reality, has gone mainstream.
This blog is now the length of about four typical academic books. Anyone who wants to browse through it will find posts touching on just about every topic related to legal education and the legal profession regarding which I have something to say. Readers looking for a more concise statement can buy or borrow a copy of my book Don’t Go to Law School (Unless), either in paperback or e-book form.
All of which is to say that I’ve said what I have to say, at least in this format. I’ll continue to write on this topic, both in academic venues, in the popular media, and even from time to time in blog form, at Lawyers, Guns and Money. But the time has come to move on from here.
I’ve never written anything about the professional and personal price I ended up paying for starting to investigate, more than a year before I began this blog, the structure of contemporary American legal education. Perhaps I’ll tell that story someday. For now I’ll merely note that if people enjoying the extraordinary protections afforded by tenure aren’t willing to confront institutional corruption, then academic tenure is an indefensible privilege.
People have asked me how I can continue to be on a law faculty, given my views. This question – when it isn’t simply a hostile attempt to derail conversation – is based on a misunderstanding. I very much believe in the potential value of higher education. And I believe that legal education can and must be reformed radically. (On one level the most important short-term reforms couldn’t be simpler: the cost of law school attendance must be reduced drastically, and the number of people graduating from law school must be decreased by a significant amount. In the longer term, the American legal system will need to confront whether it is either pedagogically justifiable or financially viable to continue to require the basic law degree to be acquired through postgraduate education).
In some very concrete, practical ways, reform is much easier to achieve from the inside. I’m proud of the fact that, as of this coming fall, my law school is on track to have cut tuition in real dollar terms over the past two years – something which perhaps no other ABA law school will be able to claim. I’m proud that CU Law School, which two years ago was publicizing highly inaccurate employment information, is now one of the most transparent schools in the country on this score. I don’t happen to believe that I would be more effective working for reform as an ex-law professor. Still, even if I did believe this, I’m well aware I wouldn’t have the moral courage to quit. That makes my belief suspiciously convenient -- but it doesn’t make it false.
In any case, reform driven by forces both outside and inside the law school establishment is essential, and it’s beginning to happen.
I hope and believe that, as the unsustainable and unjust nature of the status quo becomes more and more apparent, more people inside law schools will openly advocate for real change.
In closing, I would like to thank the commenters on this site. Nearly 50,000 comments have been posted here. With very rare exceptions, I chose not to censor what anyone had to say because one goal of this project, both on this blog and elsewhere, has been to give voice to people who have been carrying their anger, shame, and grief in silence. Helping to break that silence is what this blog has been all about, and internet commenters, here and elsewhere, have played a critical role in doing so.
I would wish everyone good luck but I won’t. It sounds terrible when you think about it.