Saturday, August 3, 2013

Why law schools should line up to pay LST for honesty certification

Not many people like lawyers.  By extension, not many people care for the law schools that produce the law graduates that become lawyers.  To make matters worse, the last few years have been exceptionally tough on the law school industry.  For example:

  • Numerous law schools have been sued for false advertising about their graduates’ employment outcomes.  And even when those lawsuits are dismissed, judges sometimes do so because the reported numbers were so obviously false, it wasn’t reasonable for prospective students to rely on them—not exactly a “win” for law schools in the court of public opinion. 

  • Worse yet, several mainstream media outlets (for example, here and here), and even several current law school professors (for example, here, here, and here) have been highly critical of law schools, especially with regard to the cost of earning the degree and the limited employment opportunities that are really available for graduates.       

  • These events are at least partly responsible for the dramatic decline in law school applicants.  And with demand for product way down, many law schools have now moved to a near open enrollment policy to try to keep revenues up. 

Even if you disagree with the claims in the lawsuits, and feel that the law degree is still well worth its price, and think that the drop in applications is just a temporary glitch, there is no denying that it has been rough going for the law school industry.  Further, with schools just starting to feel the hit of lower enrollments, it is undisputed that revenues will be down and times will be tough for at least a couple of years.  So, given that, what can a law school dean do to improve his school’s fortunes? 

The first thing a dean of a law school should do is to get in line—fast!—for the Law School Transparency (LST) honesty certification program.  Here’s why:

  • You probably don’t know how to properly report your school’s data.  Remember, even when schools win their lawsuits, it’s often because the schools’ numbers are so obviously false, prospective students shouldn’t have relied on them.  This underlying problem doesn’t go away when the lawsuit is dismissed. 

  • The ABA probably doesn’t know how to properly audit the numbers you report to it.  In fact, it just hired an “independent advisory firm” to teach it how.  Don’t wait around for all of this to get ironed out.  As the business consultants say, be a “first mover.”      
  • The certification fee of a couple thousand dollars is incredibly cheap.  In fact, it’s far less than what you pay annually for a single professor to fly around the country to conferences to talk about his law review articles with other professors.

  • Certification cost increases will be capped.  Unlike the double digit tuition increases that many law schools have enjoyed in recent years, LST won’t increase its annual fees by more than 5 percent.

In short, law schools as a group have taken a serious credibility hit.  The LST honesty certification program will help restore that credibility—at least for those schools with deans smart enough to go through the process and get certified. 

At least one unnamed dean believes this is a shakedown because LST is “promising some version of ‘certification’ at a price[.]”  First, it is true that LST is offering a certification at a price.  (I wasn’t aware that was an example of a shakedown.)  But it’s a certification that law schools desperately need, and that the ABA seal of approval simply doesn’t provide.  Think of it this way: with all the horrible press out there about law schools fudging their employment numbers, what will prospective law students think of your non-elite school's data if one of your non-elite competitors has the LST honesty certification, and your school doesn’t? 

And second, deans shouldn’t start playing the victim and crying “shakedown.”  No one will feel sorry for you.  Remember, even before all of this bad press about law schools, few people liked the product (law graduates) that you are in the business of producing.

1 comment:

  1. I fear this cheapens the noble goal which LST has effectively promoted since its inception. Is it a "shakedown"? Arguably, sure.

    Perhaps LST's pricing model should be equitable, based on the school's tution and/or unemployment rate, as to make pricing proportionate to how severely some schools have mislead their graduates.

    That said, the degree to which it can be labeled a "shakedown" is miniscule compared to the tuition increases, at a dean's whim, that 2Ls and 3Ls face annually.