Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Not Buying What You are Selling: Law School Economics

By now anyone reading this has probably read the piece in the Times on law school economics and featuring former UF law dean Rick Matasar. I though Rick was a good dean although deaning does seem to be a process that leads to a redefinition of what it means to be fair, honest, and ethical. I have not walked in those shoes and would like to think, but cannot know, if I too would "adjust." Probably I would as I have yet to discover any convincing evidence that I am sturdier morality-wise than the deans I have seen come and go.

I do not understand the expose-like nature of these articles when it comes to private schools. At this point anyone who does not know that law school does not mean a high paying job must be living in a bubble. And, at the tuition levels private schools often charge, I am sincerely puzzled. The same people would not pay $100,000 for a motor scooter; why do they become unstuck from reality when it comes to buying a legal education.

On the issue of public schools I feel differently. Supposedly public schools exist to provide something that would not be produced at sufficient levels in a market economy. They do this by forcing people other than the students to pay. There are two possibilities here:

1. More lawyers supposedly with the goal of forcing the cost of legal services down. If this is true, then the current rush to teach more skills makes sense. The problem with this goal, however, is that the market seems to be screaming "enough."

2. It could be that the "product" a more educated and analytic population. If this is the case, it seems like the skills courses, except for writing, should be deemphasized and law school should be more like graduate school with the whole operation greatly downsized. The problem here is that not too many people have the luxury of spending three years in school just to be more well rounded.

So, what is the current goal of public law schools? That actually is pretty easy. It is not about students or taxpayers. Right now it appears to be to preserve the institution, the jobs it provides for faculty, and the process of selling lottery tickets to students. If you think about it, many people still rode horses when they became obsolete. Many people refused to get a microwave oven. Unless public law schools figure out something to do, they may too be put out to pasture.

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