Will Some Law Schools Shut Down?

The hits keep coming at 4th-tier, embattled law schools. The, ahem, unflattering articles in mainstream media continue. The student debt crisis has the attention of Congress and the White House. And Paul Campos at Inside the Law School Scam recently wrote:

I’ve heard from various sources that a certain fourth-tier law school is in fairly imminent danger of being shuttered by the central administration of the university where it’s located. It seems dropping the admissions bar to the floor and saturation email bombardments offering “scholarships” to anybody with a current LSAT score are falling well short of filling this fall’s class.

And Campos is not the only insider playing the role of Prophet of Doom in this drama. Other insiders also predict some law schools will shut down in the near future.

Would the ABA yank a law school’s accredidation?

But why would a law school close? One would think that as long as the federally-guaranteed student loan money keeps flowing, schools would keep operating, despite all the well-deserved criticism.

Applications to law schools (and to take the LSAT) are way down, even at the super-elite schools. So the 4th-tier-but ABA-accredited schools that have for years fought over the ~3.25 undergrad GPA/150s LSAT score applicants are now no doubt having some trouble finding those students. If 4T schools are forced to drop their standards further, it’s (I suppose) possible the ABA might refuse to maintain some schools’ accreditation. In states that require a JD from an accredited school for a law license, that might be the fatal blow.

How low will they go?

Universities might decide on their own to close their law schools, as Campos refers to above. While it’s hard for me to imagine a university killing a cash cow like its law school, perhaps there is a level to which some universities won’t stoop, as they fear the reputational damage to the university might mean more than the law school revenue stream.

Of course, law schools teetering on the precipice could always accept that the traditional approach to legal education is no longer sustainable for all but the wealthiest schools. One would think that a law school that feels the angel of death in the room would try almost anything to survive.

But in the insular, self-aggrandizing, echo-chamber of the law school, it’s entirely possible that decision-makers would rather close their doors than admit that a shot at survival requires fundamental change.

Photo: Shutterstock


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  • During the past few decades, the ABA has accredited law schools everywhere in the US except Alaska.

    This willy-nilly willingness to expand the pool has created a group of law schools whose future is at risk as they meet the perfect storm of high tuition, changing law practice economics, steep decline in public sector employment, and radical shift in technology.

    Two categories of schools come to mind:

    1. Free-standing, tuition-driven schools without large endowments and alumni support which lack the backing of a university.
    2. Schools with high tuition and underwhelming employment results with or without university backing.

    The calculation that must be driving regents to distraction is whether it is better to be distinguished among undergraduate institutions by harboring a law school in jeopardy, or to endure the public indignity of closing a law school.