I will also note, in all fairness and because some of those responses are quite interesting, that my students, and others I have heard about, have a variety of responses to these issues, some of them consistent with what one reads in the comments here and some quite different, focusing as much on personal agency as on the responsibilities of legal educators or structural issues. I make no judgment on those responses here, except to say that at least some students feel strongly that both 1) the law schools themselves have things to answer for and 2) the students themselves have made willing and knowing choices that they also have to answer for, and 3) that they seem able to hold both thoughts in their heads without doing injustice to either or having their very heads explode. My students seem entirely able to think about issues of personal agency without ignoring larger questions of institutional responsibility or structural problems. If they can, professors should be able to do so too.I certainly agree with this sentiment in general, although in fairness to particular facts quite a few commenters on this site, in the six months it's existed, have put forth some variation of the claim that "students themselves have made willing and knowing choices that they also have to answer for."
Since this isn't a subject I've discussed much I will now. If we were to go into the business of ascribing responsibility for the construction and maintenance of the law school scam, how should we distribute it? Three responses I believe ought to be rejected are:
(1) It's all X's fault.
(2) It's nobody's fault.
(3) It's everybody's fault so let us avoid ascribing blame and move forward.
The first response denies the complexity of the situation. The second response embraces that complexity, attributes it to structural factors, and denies individual agency (at least moral agency) altogether. The third is descriptively true in a banal sense, but then extracts a conclusion that doesn't necessarily follow from the truth of the description.
It's true that the current crisis is in a sense everybody's fault. The responsible parties include, but are not limited to:
(1) University administrators who continue to treat most (but not all) law schools as cash cows.
(2) Law school administrators who are more focused on empire-building than economically sustainable and ethically defensible educational models.
(3) Law faculty who have remained conveniently blind to every aspect of the crisis which might require them to sacrifice any of their current job benefits.
(4) Legal employers who love to complain about the current structure of legal education, but who often behave in a fashion that's inimical to encouraging any reform, and who in addition are more than willing to take every advantage of a saturated market in order to exploit an increasingly debt-ridden and desperate labor force.
(5) Prospective and current law students who are insufficiently curious about whether what they are told regarding the putative value of a law degree relative to the cost of acquiring one actually happens to be true.
Now I wouldn't deny that (5) has been a factor in the construction and maintenance of the current disaster. But I do think that, on the whole, it has been a minor one in comparison to the rapacity of central administrators, the purblind ambition of deans, the self-interested cluelessness of faculty, and the complacence and indifference of legal employers.
An epigram which is (apparently mistakenly) attributed to Schopenhauer is that all truth goes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, then it is violently opposed, and finally it is accepted as self-evident. This is obviously not true, but it does capture a certain pattern that does tend to accompany the collapse of ideologically well-defended pieces of conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom about law school is now in the process of collapsing, but it's important not to lose sight of how early we still are in that process, culturally speaking, and how far that process has come in a very short time.
Two years ago, you could count the number of people in legal academia who were raising the alarm about the unsustainability of the current model on the fingers of Mordecai Brown's pitching hand. Now it sometimes seems "everyone" is talking about it. (This is a misapprehension. From what I can tell most legal administrators and law faculty remain cocooned in a deep and comfortable denial).
Given this rapid progression of events, it seems quite unrealistic to me to ascribe anything more than very minimal blame to recent graduates, or current second and third year law students, for failing to have been more skeptical about the conventional wisdom, and in particular for failing to have engaged in the kind of skeptical interrogation of employment and salary statistics that until about fifteen minutes ago almost no one in legal academia was undertaking (despite the fact that those of us inside the law school scam were, of course, in a vastly better position to recognize what was going on, if we had chosen to make inquiries).
The situation for current 1Ls is perhaps slightly different. The last year has featured an explosion of mainstream skepticism regarding the supposed value of law degrees. But we shouldn't exaggerate: by the time that explosion began to reverberate widely (a crucial date here is David Segal's initial NYT piece, published 13 months ago today) most current 1Ls were very far down the pipeline in last year's application cycle. As a particularly perceptive correspondent pointed out, there are very powerful psychological factors that make it difficult for people in the position 0Ls were in last spring to rethink their decisions.
In my view, only when we begin to discuss the current admissions cycle -- the people who are applying to law school for admission this fall -- are we beginning to discuss a cohort whose members are actually making something like "willing and knowing choices" that would make it appropriate to ascribe more than minimal responsibility to them for choosing to participate in a process that in a large majority of cases is going to end badly. But I would emphasize "beginning to discuss." Again, we shouldn't exaggerate the extent to which anything like straightforward and transparent information regarding the value of a law degree is actually available, as a matter of social knowledge that can be obtained via a realistic expenditure of cultural capital, to prospective law students.
To engage in such exaggeration is a form of victim-blaming that ought to be avoided -- especially by people in the four other categories listed above, given the far larger share of responsibility they (we) have in these matters.