The Perennial (and Stubborn) Challenges of Affordability, Cost, and Access in Legal Education
Contemporary law schools face a perfect storm of sharply declining enrollments and revenues. Their students face high tuition and substantial debt along with dreary job prospects. This chapter explores what is a perennial challenge for legal education – simultaneously addressing cost, affordability, and access to legal education. Building on the generation-old criticisms of the late Dean John R. Kramer (Tulane Law School), it focuses on the business model legal education has relied upon to meet this challenge – a value proposition in which an expensive, loan-financed education is seen as a worthwhile long-term investment. It is divided into three substantive parts. The first two provide an historical context without which today’s challenges cannot be fully understood. One looks at financing in post-World War II legal education to understand the business model itself – its development, logic, and how it became so entrenched. The next adds a longitudinal exploration of seldom-analyzed data on key patterns and changes in post-World War II legal education – specifically, the number of schools, enrollments, and tuition. These patterns and changes are a key part of the story and today they seem not so well understood or even known. The final part treats the changes in enrollment and job prospects in the wake of the Great Recession as a kind of rough natural experiment for the business model’s continued viability. Post-2010 data on enrollment and employment paint a sobering picture for most of legal education. Only the top schools, where job prospects remained relatively robust, are an exception.