Law Schools Are Charging Students and Paying Professors Too Much

Law Schools Are Charging Students and Paying Professors Too Much

Like many law school leaders, Justice Antonin Scalia opposes shortening law school to two years. But the justice is hardly a defender of the legal education establishment.

In a commencement speech this week, Justice Scalia uncorked a withering indictment of the U.S. law school industry, faulting legal educators for watering down their curriculum while allowing tuition to skyrocket.

Justice Scalia spoke to William & Mary’s graduating students on Sunday. On Thursday, the law school posted the justice’s prepared remarks on its website. And not surprisingly, given its author, the text is filled with blunt and provocative opinions.

“It seems to me that the law-school-in-two-years proposal rests on the premise that law school is—or ought to be—a trade school,” the justice said. “It is not that. It is a school preparing men and women not for a trade but for a profession—-the profession of law.”

If law schools are feeling pressure to shrink their degree programs, they have themselves to blame, according to Justice Scalia, who said educators have helped perpetuate “the belief that all the law you really need to know can be acquired in two years.” That’s because, he said, law schools “increasingly abstain from saying there is anything you really need to know.”

Justice Scalia, who graduated from Harvard Law School, thinks schools have drifted away from teaching the fundamentals of law by allowing students to bypass traditional law courses and instead select courses from an à la carte menu of specialized electives that have a “distinct non-legal flavor.”

Said Justice Scalia:

It is something of an open secret now that the second and third years of school offer a student the chance to study whatever strikes his or her fancy—so long as there is a professor who has the same fancy… In more than a few law schools, including some of the most prestigious (the University of Chicago, for example), it is possible to graduate without ever having studied the First Amendment.

(An email sent to the dean of Chicago, Michael Schill, was not immediately returned. Justice Scalia taught law at Chicago from 1977 to 1982.)

But while the value of a degree has diminished, the price has soared, he said. Justice Scalia thinks the “vast majority” of law schools will have to cut tuition. And to do that, he says law schools are going to have to make some painful choices.

“Cutting back on law-school tuition surely means higher teaching loads,” he said, adding: “And last but not least, professorial salaries may have to be reduced, or at least stop rising.”

The American Bar Association’s task force on the future of legal education didn’t take a hard position on the two-year degree, an idea floated by President Barack Obama last year. But it recommended that the ABA’s law school accrediting body and bar admission authorities at least study the issue.

Source: The Wall Street Journal Law Blog

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