A new book on the current state of legal education is generating a lot of buzz. Failing Law Schools, by Brian Tamanaha, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, provides a detailed look at the things that are wrong with today's law schools. He contends that behind the facade of high paid professors and the key role that lawyers play in all parts of the judicial system, business, government, and politics, the law schools are failing.
One of the book's key themes, according the University of Chicago Press, is that going to law school is a raw deal for many of today's students:
The out-of-pocket cost of obtaining a law degree at many schools now approaches $200,000. The average law school graduate's debt is around $100,000—the highest it has ever been—while the legal job market is the worst in decades, with the scarce jobs offering starting salaries well below what is needed to handle such a debt load. At the heart of the problem, Tamanaha argues, are the economic demands and competitive pressures on law schools—driven by competition over U.S. News and World Report ranking. When paired with a lack of regulatory oversight, the work environment of professors, the limited information available to prospective students, and loan-based tuition financing, the result is a system that is fundamentally unsustainable."
Our take: It's clear that some law schools and their recent grads are facing real problems. Some prospective law school students are catching on that the reduced job prospects for new law school graduates could make it difficult for them to earn enough to pay back large loans: There has been almost a 25 percent decline in the number of law school applicants over the last two years.
The jury is still out in regards to how much and how quickly law schools themselves will change given the new realities that the legal profession is facing.
The main audience of the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings is not meant to be law schools or law school deans—and the rankings should not be a management tool that law school administrators use as the basis for proving that their school is improving or declining. The rankings are produced primarily for prospective students as one tool to help them determine the relative merits between schools they are considering.
Other notable reviews and commentaries on the book:
• The National Law Journal: "Book gives law schools failing grade"
• The Chronicle of Higher Education: "Law Professor Gives Law Schools a Failing Grade"
• The Legal Whiteboard: "Review of Failing Law Schools, by Brian Tamanaha (Part I)"
• Brian Leiter's Law School Reports: "CHE Write-up on Tamanaha's Forthcoming Book on Law Schools"
• TaxProf Blog: "Orin Kerr Reviews Brian Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools"
• TaxProf Blog: "Chemerinsky: You Get What You Pay for in Legal Education"
• ABA Journal: "'Failing Law Schools' Author Challenges Law Schools to Make Dramatic Changes"