Frank Wu, Chancellor and Dean of UC Hastings Law School, has written a column urging law schools to reduce class size. Dean Wu, admirably, acknowledges that "[o]nly about half of recent graduates . . . are securing permanent, full-time employment in the legal profession," and "[t]here are simply too many lawyers and too many law students in the United States nowadays." Both excellent points that too many law deans and professors continue to deny.
But in the end, Wu and his colleagues are as clueless as deans and faculty elsewhere. Hastings cut its class size by 20% but, as Paul Caron and LawProf have pointed out, it increased tuition to support the reduction in class size. Tuition and fees for in-state residents jumped 15% in a single year, to $48,806. And that's on top of more than a decade of hefty tuition increases: Just eight years ago, in-state tuition at Hastings was $20,900.
Update (LP): Ten years ago annual in-state tuition at Hastings was $11,409. Twenty years ago it was $3,161. Twenty-five years ago it was $1,222. Here are these figures in inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars: 2004: $25,489; 2002: $14,610; 1992: $5,910; 1987: $2,478.
So what has Hastings accomplished for its graduates and the job market? In 2011, when Hastings graduated 411 JDs, only 238 of them had found full-time work of any kind nine months after graduation. The other 173 were working part-time on Hastings money (39 grads); working part-time for other employers (43 graduates); obtaining another degree (2 graduates); unemployed and desperately seeking work (74 graduates); unemployed but not seeking (5 graduates); or lost somewhere on the streets of San Francisco (aka "unknown," 10 graduates).
By reducing its entering class to 317, Hastings is avoiding workplace misery for 94 would-have-been students. But reducing class size won't increase jobs. The marketplace seems to support only 238 full-time jobs for Hastings grads. That will leave 79 graduates of the class of 2015--or one quarter of the class--without any full-time work nine months after graduation. And those graduates will have paid significantly more for their un- and underemployment than the 2011 class did.
Speaking of underemployment, lots of those 238 full-time jobs for Hastings graduates were short-term and/or didn't require bar-admission. Only 191 members of the class of 2011 found full-time, "long-term" (lasting for a year or more) jobs that required bar admission. If we apply that figure to the newly admitted, svelte class of 2015, only 60% of them will end up with jobs in the full-time, long-term lawyer category. The other 126--two-fifths of the class--will be just as underemployed as the class of 2011, but with much higher debtloads.
And what about the lucky three-fifths, the ones who may get full-time jobs that require bar admission? Dean Wu is remarkably candid in describing those jobs as "document review and legal research in an environment that is an exquisite combination of the very boring and very stressful." But he doesn't mention the fact that, for many of Hastings' graduates, this boring, stressful environment will carry low wages and few benefits.
Where are Hastings graduates doing their document review and legal research? Not at large law firms: Only 29 graduates of the class of 2011 went to firms of more than 500 lawyers; another 7 went to firms of 251-500 lawyers. That's a total of just 36 BigLaw jobs--enough for 8.8% of the class of 2011 and, potentially, for 11.4% of the slimmed down class of 2015. Prosecutors, public defenders, and small firm lawyers don't do all that much document review or legal research. Dean Wu may be out of touch with what his graduates actually do in the workplace but, if they're doing lots of document review or legal research, I suspect they're doing it for document review companies, research staffing firms, and other out-sourcing companies.
For this students should pay $46,806 per year? The chance to be unemployed, under-employed, or a contract worker? Class size is a problem, but tuition is an even bigger issue. Hiking tuition to cut class size is like raising taxes on the middle class: the elite (top 10% of the class) keep what they've always had, the poor (bottom of the class) are just as poor, and the middle (most of the class) are paying more for the same bad outcomes.