Por qué cae la demanda por la carrera de derecho en los EEUU
Febrero 20, 2013

The Collapsing Demand for Law School

If there is one place bucking the worldwide trend of rising higher education enrolments, it’s American law schools.

As the New York Times noted last week, demand for US law schools is down by something like 40% over the last two years.  The effect on enrolments hasn’t been as pronounced – excess demand meant that schools were collectively only meeting about 60% of total demand in 2010.  But inevitably, outside the very top tier, all schools are cutting admissions standards in an attempt to keep the numbers up.

The reasons for the collapse aren’t hard to find.  Tuition at American law schools is astronomical – in some places $70K per year, or more.  Meanwhile, signs indicate that the current  hiring lull at law firms isn’t just a temporary fad; most observers seem to think that billing margins are tumbling and remuneration – at least below partner level – is likely to be squeezed for some time (see: The Atlantic’s Jordan Weismann for more).

In the US, there’s a lot of vitriol attached to this debate.  There are a pair of new “insider” books on the subject: Failing Law Schools, by Washington St. Louis Law School Professor, Brian Tamanaha, and Don’t Go to Law School (Unless), by Colorado’s Paul Campos, (who also writes the very good blog “Inside the Law School Scam”).  And the anger’s easy to locate  – it’s not just the high fees, but also the perception that law schools were either deliberately negligent, or outright deceptive, about reporting their graduates’ outcomes.

There are echoes of this in Canada, particularly in Ontario.  As I noted in a piece a couple of months ago, Law school admits were increased just before the economic bust, leading to a shortage of articling spaces (and, presumably, of underemployed law students).  And though our law school fees aren’t in the same league as American ones, they’re high enough that this situation causes serious irritation among graduates.

Some of the criticism of law schools is misplaced.  The idea that there’s some kind of “scam” going on unless every single law school grad gets a job in the legal profession – which some of the wilder critics occasionally imply – is nuts.  Not everyone who wants to study the law wants to practice it (same goes for teacher’s college).  And we no more need to align law school intake with labour market needs than we do philosophy program intakes.  If people want to use their hard-earned money to study law, let ‘em.

But there is a lesson here: as tuition rises, so too does the need for better data and greater transparency about outcomes.  That truth is universal, and Canadian law schools need to take it more seriously than they currently do.




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