Law School Is Indeed
Worth the Money

Commentary

Don LeDuc, President and Dean | December 03, 2012

 

A number of law school deans and I have been defending the value of a legal education against the cynics, the uninformed media, and the mean-spirited bloggers who cry out the supposed horrid future for legal education.  Though the naysayers offer no supporting data, no comparison to other professions, and no reasoning, they assert that law school is a bad investment. Nearly all they say is wrong, much of it is intentionally misleading if not purposely false, and all of it is missing in context and perspective. There is no crisis in legal education any more than in other aspects of education

The most recent defense of legal education comes from Lawrence E. Mitchell, dean of Case Western Reserve University School of Law, in an op-ed piece called "Law School Is Worth the Money" published in the November 29 issue of the New York Times. Dean Mitchell says that "it's time to stop the nonsense." He points out how legal education is superb training for any number of jobs, because it is training for "a career in leadership and creative problem solving."  He notes how only a few of the good students who are discouraged from attending law school will find a more fulfilling or remunerative career. He adds correctly, "Investment in tuition is a lifelong career, not a first job."

Dean Mitchell concluded: 

The overwrought atmosphere has created irrationalities that prevent talented students from realizing their ambitions. Last spring we accepted an excellent student with a generous financial-aid package that left her with the need to borrow only $5,000 a year. She told us that she thought it would be "irresponsible" to borrow the money. She didn't attend any law school. I think that was extremely shortsighted, but this prevailing attitude discourages bright students from attending law school.

We could do things better, and every law school with which I'm familiar is looking to address its problems. In the meantime, the one-sided analysis is inflicting significant damage, not only on law schools but also on a society that may well soon find itself bereft of its best and brightest lawyers.

Shawn O'Connor of Forbes Magazine concurs, saying that "[t]he investment a student makes in [business school or law school] degrees today is likely to produce at least a 10x return over his or her career."  

We know that the law of supply and demand has already adjusted the legal market. We also know that the students who enroll in law school this fall and next year will graduate into a market that combines increased demand for legal services at most all levels, an aging attorney base, and graduating law school classes that are much smaller than in years past. In short, there is no better time to enroll in law school than now.

A number of deans have joined in the chorus touting the value of a legal education.  We now need for the national leaders in legal education to join, if not lead, in this conversation.