The Law School Bubble

Paul Campos does some excellent spadework getting to the bottom of the wildly inflated claims put out by law schools about their graduates' employment prospects. One implication is that the entire law school industry -- and it is an industry of sorts, representing a significant profit center for universities -- is a giant bubble. The students are the investors, and the school ranking indexes (like U.S. News) are like the rating industries. The whole thing is supported by the obscuring of vital information which would expose the unsoundness of the enterprise. Once that is corrected, it's all going to pop.

I'm not saying law schools will go away -- the prestigious ones, especially, will probably come out just fine -- but vast swaths of it will probably disappear.

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COMMENTS (7)
04/25/2011 - 11:32am EDT |

The financial piece of the law school industry (and higher education as a whole) is a missing piece of the puzzle. These students are taking on $100,000 $250,000 in non-dischargeable student loans to obtain what are often worthless credentials.

04/25/2011 - 11:43am EDT |

Paul Campos has indeed written a fine piece on the law school bubble. It is amazing how such bubbles can rise and be sustained until a critical mass of the relevant publics come to see that the emperor has no clothes.

04/25/2011 - 12:15pm EDT |

Just after I read Campos's piece, I also read an article on Nature's website describing a similar problem with academic PhD programs. Perhaps we do need to revamp our priorities with postgraduate education.

04/25/2011 - 12:39pm EDT |

It's true that law schools have been cash cows, with high enrollment, high tuition, and high student-faculty ratios. And it's true that the customer is getting less than he/she bargained for. Nevertheless, college presidents, faculty outside the law school, and alumni will continue to press for law school funding, even the creation of new law schools. Why? Public colleges are dependent on state legislatures for a large (albeit shrinking) part of their budgets. And which profession has the greatest representation in state legislatures? Lawyers. And which colleges receive the largest appropriations from those lawyer/legislators? An example of efficient markets, I'd say.

04/25/2011 - 2:30pm EDT |

Not everything about Paper Chase is accurate, but I'd have to say every law school has someone close to a Kingsfield. And the student who hides the case books so the other students can't find the legal authority fir the assignment? Right on the money.

04/25/2011 - 4:27pm EDT |

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I've lived my life in a bubble (AKA The Baby Boom). Yeah, the value of everything that was cool become inflated and then crashed. I hope I live long enough to see the supply of doom flood the market for pessimism so grim predictions will be as worthless as those wheelbarrows of cash Germans were pushing around. Then we can be like Nicholson in 'As Good As It Gets, "... go sell crazy someplace else, we are all stocked up here ...".

04/26/2011 - 2:21am EDT |

Benjamin81, as someone who will have a life sciences Ph.D. in a few months, I've thought a lot about this issue. It's actually pretty different from the problem the law schools have.

The too many law students problem may ultimately prove self-correcting. As it becomes widely known that lots of people graduate with law degrees and make 50k a year, fewer people will apply to law schools. Indeed this is already happening. Less prestigious law schools could shut down and/or the ABA will decide they aren't turning out good lawyers and remove their certification (I think this can happen, right?), and the oversupply will be over.

The problem with life sciences Ph.D's is that the current model is an i ... view full comment

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