Barrocas and Park discussed undergraduate education rather than law school, and I was struck by how, for all the very serious problems now plaguing higher education in general, the debt levels being taken on by undergraduates seem comparatively "reasonable." Park revealed that average (mean) undergrad debt for students who graduate from private colleges in Minnesota with debt is currently $29,000, but that one third of graduates have no debt at all. (That $29,000 figure is seriously inflated by the figures for graduates of for-profit institutions, who have average debt in the neighborhood of $50,000).
Park emphasized that he certainly wasn't arguing that these debt levels aren't problematic, especially if "people don't get jobs."
The problem in legal education, of course, is that people aren't getting jobs (indeed in many cases they are disqualifying themselves for jobs they could have gotten or even actually had before they went to law school) while at the same time they pile vastly larger quantities of debt on top of their undergraduate debt. I pointed out to the audience -- which consisted of a mix of practitioners, current law students, and prospective law students -- that the current 1L class at ABA law schools is going to graduate with around $150,000 of educational debt, on average. This statistic understandably provoked a certain degree of incredulity from some of the older members of the audience, who wanted to know how in the devil (went down to Georgia) things could have gotten this bad.
In the limited time available I shared a few other stats, including these:
Harvard Law School annual tuition IN 2011 DOLLARS
During the question period, an audience member -- I was later told he is a quite successful local lawyer -- objected to what he took to be the whining of the younger generation, who apparently, as he put it, wanted to go to school "for free." He revealed that he came from he characterized as fairly humble economic circumstances, and that his father had approved of his decisions to go to college and law school, but had not provided him with any money for tuition in either case. As a consequence he had to work during both college and law school to help pay the costs of attendance, and, when he graduated from UGA law school, he got a job that paid only $11,000. I asked him when he graduated from law school, and the answer turned out to be 1970.
I don't know what UGA law school's resident tuition was in 1970, but I know what it was in 1995: $2,990 in nominal dollars ($4,185 in 2010 dollars). Given that CU's resident tuition in 1995 was 50% higher than UGA's, and that CU's tuition in 1970 was less than two thousand dollars per year IN PRESENT, INFLATION-ADJUSTED DOLLARS, it's safe to say that this gentleman went to law school, essentially, for free (or rather for the opportunity cost of attendance).
Furthermore, his starting salary out of law school was $61,000 in constant dollars, i.e., probably more than ten times the total cost of tuition for his three years of law school in constant real dollars. In other words, to get as good a deal as Mr. Clueless Baby Boomer, Esq., (if this guy was a K-JD he was born around 1946, which is the first year of the baby boom per the standard definition) a UGA law graduate today would have to get a first job out of law school featuring a starting salary of around $550,000. And UGA is one of the least expensive law schools in the country (although it's more expensive than Harvard Law School was 30 years ago).
Somehow though, the problem in his mind -- and something like this view is shared by tens of millions of people in his demographic -- is the attitude of today's entitled younger generation.