With the demise of Valpo apparently on the way, it is interesting to reflect on the change of tone between Indiana Tech's feasibility study (ITLS) proposing the need for a law school in 2011 and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission's feasibility study (THEC) denying the need for a law school in 2018.
While it is somewhat difficult to draw up a line-by-line comparison between the two studies, as each study chooses to highlight different points, you can certainly hear the difference between a "sales job" on the one hand and a "pragmatic denial" on the other. This should not be surprising, as hind-sight has proved to be more than 20-20 given the years that have transpired. While the Law School Cartel has not been completely shaken up, the toll that has been exacted has shown who was swimming naked when the tide did go out, and who is still treading water.
Here are a few examples:
* Comparing Legal Outcomes
The After the JD Longitudinal study of legal careers sponsored by the American Bar Foundation (ABF) and the NALP Foundation provides encouragement that student loans are a good investment, even for those who take lower-paying jobs when they graduate…[i]t first surveyed them in 2002 and again in 2007…[i]n the 2007 survey, 20 percent of respondents had paid off their loans in the preceding five years, and median debt had fallen by $20,000 to $50,000…[i]t appears that most law students do not pay high law school tuitions seeking a pure economic return on investment. Rather they see their education as the gateway to meaningful, interesting careers (p.16,17) (data from before the Great Recession but cited by the study in 2011. Ed.)
At full (enrollment) capacity, there is roughly a balance between the numbers graduation from law school in Tennessee and project employment opportunities, but: (1) the occupation projections are predicated on “full employment,” which is proven overly optimistic in past cycles, (b) It is not clear that the current 10-year projections on employment of lawyers fully comprehends the impact of disruptive technology, particularly artificial intelligence, on the quantity, nature and location lf legal services work, (c) while the current occupational projects may comprehend the fact that 10 percent of lawyers work past the age of 65, it is less certain how the methodology takes into account legislative initiatives in Tennessee to reduce the need for legal services, such as tort and workers compensation reform (p.4)
Already, you can hear the pitch - look, even though its expensive, look at the great results! Debt isn't so bad after all! Plus, who can put a price on an interesting career? Seven years later, the THEC is saying "not so fast, let's look at the data. There is optimism bias here, past performance does not guarantee future results, and there is market pressure."
More below the fold:
* The Need for More Law Student Opportunity
Many of these [Indiana] students are likely to a have applied for admission to law schools in Indiana. Of Indiana residents, 1,901 applied for admission to law school in 2010…[only] 384 ended up attending an in-state school[.] [I]n the current cycle of decline in law school applications Indiana’s rate of decline has far exceed the national average. This weakening…may be the result, at least in part, of a lack of opportunity to attend an Indiana law school…[t]he success of Indiana’s law schools nationally appears to be the primary reason so many Indiana residents pursue legal education beyond the state’s boundaries [due to an inability to get in due to competition]. In such situations there appears to be a strong market for a new law school in the state. Data indicate that is the case in Indiana (p.18,19)
A new law school will increase competition for employment opportunities, especially in the middle of the state. (b) While unemployment among law school graduates has declined since the 2008/09 recession, there are still 7.5 percent of recent graduates from Tennessee Law Schools, likely with student loans, who have been unable to find work 10 months after graduation…(d) Corporate law jobs generally require experience. Few corporation hire new graduates into their legal departments, (i) Jobs in business or industry employment tend to be categorized as “JD preferred,” not using the full range of knowledge and skills acquired in a JD degree. (p.4)
Clearly, people aren't going to law school because people just can't get in! The schools are just too darn selective! Seven years later, the THEC is saying "yet another law school is just going to add to an already saturated market and increase completion for the few opportunities that are there." Plus, look at that dig at "JD Preferred," the also-ran of the law school enterprise - ouch!
* Defending Liberty/Pursuing Justice
Leadership theory and practice could provide a key to building a distinctive program at Indiana Tech…[the school] possesses unusual positioning with respect to leadership education, offering both a master’s degree in organization leadership and a Ph.D. in global leadership…it should be possible for…students to obtain joint JD-MSOL degrees in three years[.] (p.33)
Access to justice is an important mission and initiative but hard to make economically viable without increases in federal funding or massive increases in state funding to make the economics work. (p.4)
Indiana Tech didn't really have much to say about the liberty/justice angle as a motivation, but they did go into why a law school could partner with other aspects of the university in order to leverage leadership skills for the future. Seven years later, contrast this with the notion of "access is important, but any call for access without a commitment to significant funding is very likely going to fail." Sounds like everyone needs to have some skin in this game in order for this to be a success, rather than just saying, "oh, a bunch of indebted young people should just, you know, go meet this need pro bono."
There are many, many more examples, but this is but a small representative sample. One could cynically say that the THEC is engaging in its own form of protectionism in denying Valpo's transfer, and no doubt there is some truth to that. But it also sounds like the scambloggers somehow got hold of the THEC - they are saying things that we here at OTLSS and other places have been saying for years! Or the legal landscape has indeed morphed in such a way that it has become apparent that the scambloggers were indeed telling the truth. It is easier to tell the truth when your economic interests are not directly tied to the truth, I guess.
Law School is an option for some, but not for all. And that is not an assessment based on snobbery, it is based on practical reality. 0Ls, don't make a rash choice - it's amazing what a difference a few years makes.