At present, there are about 200 ABA accredited law schools, including 40% which receive some amount of public support. A school’s status as private or public makes a great difference in many ways, especially cost, debt load and responsibility to the public funding source and its taxpayers. National Jurist recently listed 60 “best value” schools that provide affordable education with solid bar passage rates and good job prospects. See here. Of the schools listed, all but three are public. My school, the University of Oklahoma, is listed in the second highest category, graded A-. We strive to keep tuition affordable so our graduates’ futures are not mortgaged by large student loans; The 14 law schools now being sued for alleged inaccurate employment reports are all private. It is not surprising that debt-ridden graduates from some lower tier schools are angry enough to sue because they can’t get jobs that pay enough to pay their student loan debt and provide a modest standard of living. By contrast, average student debt loads at public law schools tend to be much less than those at private schools; while they still worry, they are not among the most vocal complainers. As beneficiaries of the public purse, state-supported schools, faculty and their graduates have special responsibility to give back to the community, in public service, pro bono/low bono service and competent service offered to the general public at reasonable prices.
All law schools should help their students avoid unnecessary student loans and teach them how to take advantage of new loan repayment possibilities. They must teach students about financial literacy and debt management early and often, particularly to the millennial generation unaccustomed to deferred gratification. Stories abound of student using educational loan proceeds for pleasure trips, expensive housing, fine dining, new cars, and expensive drinks – caffeinated or alcoholic. If students want to live like lawyers when they graduate and get a job, they must live like students while in school. Undergraduate and graduate schools should arrange for knowledgeable student loan experts to educate them on how to minimize debt and burdensome payment plans. Georgetown Professor Philip Schrag and Heather Jarvis played key roles in the research, drafting and enactment of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, signed by President George W. Bush Sept. 27, 2007. In October 2011 President Obama announced an initiative to accelerate the effective date of a 2010 law to provide even lower interest rates to those with qualifying federal loans. Some responsible administrator at every school should study now Philip’s January 17, 2012 memo on what schools can do this semester to be ready for their students to benefit immediately from new Department of Education regulations that will come out in April 2012. Prior administrative work must be done now for students to obtain those benefits. A recent work Philip co-authored that succinctly traces the various federal efforts to make higher education affordable and for guidance on loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs). Heather, formerly of Equal Justice Works, started a consulting business to teach students who must borrow for school how to manage their finances and repay their debts without mortgaging their lives to 25 years of loan repayments. Access Group and Graduate Leverage also do this kind of consulting.
Public schools know well of the decrease in government support over the last twenty years. Regardless, I believe that public schools owe a special duty to the governmental entities that allocate public resources, and to the taxpayers who make that support possible.
The ABA accreditation curricular standard was amended in 2006-07 to require that law schools offer substantial opportunities for student participation in pro bono activities. In March 2004, I launched “Students for Access to Justice,” (SATJ) which now is administered by a member of the contract faculty so I can devote full attention to my other faculty responsibilities. Since program inception, our students have contributed over 40,000 hours of law-related pro bono work under what the ABA now categorizes as a “formal voluntary pro bono program.” Standard 302(b)(2) spurred many schools to create programs. An ABA chart identifies 176 programs adopting one of three models: 39 schools require pro bono work in order to graduate; 118 use some variation of a formal voluntary program and 19 identify theirs as “independent student pro bono group projects.” These programs serve multiple educational aims: inculcating professional service as a life-long core value; contributing services to governmental and non-profit programs so they can function better; helping students learn by doing and identify future practice interests (or disinterests); and developing practical skills – especially important for students whose exam grades do not reflect their knowledge, ability or dedication. The latter aim is so significant for the 50% of students who are in the bottom of their class rank; they need affirmation for their decision to attend law school and prospects for success as a lawyer after graduation. Their work – and its recognition by the school – sustain their spirits while in school, add significant value to their resumes, and make them proud. Their volunteer work creates marketable skills, and sometimes a toe in the door for hiring when a vacancy occurs. The intrinsic satisfaction from this work remains with student volunteers long after graduation. Since the ABA’s amendment to the accreditation standard, many schools have further supported their programs with annual recognition events, honors at graduation, stipends for summer work and loan repayment assistance programs to help qualifying graduates repay student loans. After my mother’s death in 2008, I created a memorial fund and since then the school has established several other stipend programs. The national evidence is clear: start small, tend carefully to design and the programs flourish.
Current reality requires that law schools provide opportunities for our students for likely future changes in the delivery of legal services, focusing on important differences among corporate clients, those of moderate income and ability to do some self-help, and those who are poor or otherwise disadvantaged. The writings of Richard Susskind and Tom Morgan on the future of the legal profession should be required reading in some courses that are offered on a regular basis. Students need to learn about the use of technology to provide lower-cost methods of representing clients, including limited scope representation.
Since 2006, I have taught a three credit elective on “Lawyering in the 21st Century,” an advanced course in the law and ethics of lawyering. Topical coverage varies each semester to focus on current issues at the forefront of the modern legal profession, including traditional restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law, and innovations in the delivery of legal service and forms of practice, both within the United States and around the world. At present, the prevailing uncertainty and debates relate to economic competition and technological innovations in delivery of legal services. Many of the hot issues confronting the legal profession are issues of economic competition from both lawyers and non-lawyers in providing related services (multidisciplinary practice and ancillary businesses); multijurisdictional practices; lawyering on the Internet, outsourcing of legal work; civility; judicial independence and impartiality. Practical questions are considered throughout. It has become my favorite course to teach. Previously a confirmed Luddite, I now use a course webpage with course materials, news updates, student papers and presentations. It saves paper and students money. I am even learning multiple forms of classroom technology! See here and here. The course includes presentations by those with student loan and debt repayment expertise, career development, advanced research skills, work/life balance (how to avoid the pitfalls of burn-out, depression, substance abuse and how to be a happy lawyer with life outside the law). Renowned tech guru Jim Calloway demonstrates the bells and whistles that can help savvy new lawyers deliver affordable routine services, reflective of Richard Susskind’s predicted legal paradigm for increasingly standardized, systematized and packaged legal services. Although initially depressed by Susskind’s work, last year’s class felt empowered, having anticipated and ready to arm themselves with the skills needed in the near future. General counsel and ethics counsel of the state bar provide guidance on how to avoid disciplinable behavior and where to turn for ethics advice.
Law professors have among the best jobs in the legal industry and must devote our time and talents to helping our students be good and happy lawyers, grounded in professional responsibility.