Lawrence E. Mitchell, dean of Case Western Reserves's law school, wrote this NYT op-ed to counter what he sees as inaccurate accounts of the economics of going to law school. I found Mitchell's piece to be superficial and somewhat misleading, but perhaps that's inevitable to some degree for a short op-ed in the popular press.
For example, Mitchell suggests that the recent downturn in legal hiring outcomes is just another downturn like earlier ones, without acknowledging how porous the boundaries of the profession have become. When he discusses employment outcomes, Mitchell doesn't acknowledge the hard data. Mitchell doesn't acknowledge the divergence in interest between the needs of debt-burdened students and the desires of the tenured faculty who are for the most part professional writers with an audience of other tenured professors. MItchell uses overwrought language to make it seem like the critics of law school economics have no substantive arguments -- when we all know that it was the critics who finally got the hard data out in the open for everyone to discuss despite recalcitrance and dissembling from the law schools. And so on.
Philip Schrag's new article, available on SSRN and soon to be published in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, is a substantive counter argument to Brian Tamanaha's book Failing Law Schools. I think we can expect more of these counter arguments, especially from professors at schools that are preceived as offering a bad economic deal for students. UPDATE: Brian Tamanaha responds to Schrag's article at Balkinization. Abstract for Schrag's article:
Brian Tamanaha’s book, Failing Law Schools, usefully collects in one
place the recent critiques of law schools for reacting excessively to
U.S. News rankings, manipulating admissions data, spending excessive
amounts of money to hire “star” professors and to circulate glossy
brochures and magazines, and in some cases, falsifying graduates’
employment statistics. But Tamanaha’s main argument is that law school
has become unaffordable for most applicants, because it will saddle them
with debt that they cannot afford to repay on the incomes that they can
reasonably expect. His thesis is based on a misunderstanding of student
loan repayment methods. In particular, he erroneously assumes that the
only proper way to repay student loans is through so-called “standard”
repayment (over a ten year period). Actually, many law graduates will
find typically law school debt manageable if they repay federal student
loans through income-based repayment plans, particularly the new Pay As
You Earn (PAYE) plan. Tamanaha disparages income-based repayment,
however, because he incorrectly believes that total debt, rather than
the ratio of current repayment obligations to current income, primarily
determines a borrower’s credit-worthiness for mortgages and other large
Based on his belief that law school is no longer affordable for most students, Tamanaha offers several radical proposals, such as amending accreditation standards to permit a two-tier system, in which only a few expensive law schools would continue as research institutions offering three-year degrees, while most would offer law degrees after two years of classroom study and a year of some sort of lightly-supervised apprenticeship. He would also do away with the standard that requires schools to put most faculty members on tenure tracks and to support faculty research. This review essay questions the need for those far-reaching changes in legal education and concludes with the suggestion that Tamanaha focus his considerable critical skills on the problems not of law students, but of lower-income clients who are unable to obtain the legal services that they need.