Action Items

How law schools can set legal education back on track.

Actions Needed
A. Take a hard look at your school's entering class statistics
B. Use a transparent pricing model
C. Prioritize real opportunities for promising at-risk students
D. Grow responsibly
E. Improve culture and academic programs to enhance opportunity

Law Schools

A. Take a hard look at your school's entering class statistics: When LST fought for better employment data, the vast majority of faculty we spoke to or heard from had no idea what their admissions offices and career services departments had cooked up. We believe something similar is happening today. Many faculty may suspect or know of a decline in student ability, but do not know just how cavalier schools have become with their enrollment choices. Faculty can just as readily as the ABA demand the evidence of success administrators relied upon in choosing to enroll large percentages of at-risk students. Faculty should do so.

B. Use a transparent pricing model: The current pricing system rewards secrecy. Two similarly situated students could pay totally different prices based solely on one student's positional advantage. Under the current system, schools will hope that the disadvantaged student will not overcome the information asymmetry and thereby pay more tuition. While prospective students increasingly realize they can negotiate prices, this knowledge does not extend universally and likely provides first-generation law students a tremendous disadvantage. Eliminating merit scholarships will stamp out positional advantages and stop the students who are least likely to succeed from subsidizing those who are most likely. Both create a fairer pricing system. Elimination will also reduce the sticker shock caused by sky-high tuition. Additionally, guaranteeing tuition prices for three years will allow students to produce a better financial plan. By making the cost of education more transparent, law schools should better attract students.

C. Prioritize real opportunities for promising at-risk students: Schools should certainly take some admissions risks, but schools should not set these students up to fail. Shift financial aid resources to at-risk students instead of using their tuition dollars to subsidize their academically stronger peers who are more likely to succeed. Charge the students who you want to take a chance on no tuition and cover their modest living expenses. This lessens their risk and proves to the legal community that your goal is to provide opportunities, not secure federal loan dollars.

D. Grow responsibly: If one or some law schools near your school close, there will be both the opportunity and need to increase enrollment. This is an opportunity to make your legal education more affordable through the advantages of economies of scale. Based on internal factors, such as employment numbers, projected graduates, and bar passage rates, many law schools should be bigger right now. External factors such as applicant interest and local competition (even from non-peers) limit the prudence of that plan. Schools should not grow quickly just because internal indicators suggest they should be able to grow. Without empirical support that extends well beyond the need to alleviate financial pressure, schools that grow too quickly will only hurt future graduates and create a vicious cycle of up and down enrollment.

E. Improve culture and academic programs to enhance opportunity: Research consistently shows that minority students and those from disadvantaged backgrounds suffer numerous burdens in higher education. Stereotype threat, a well-documented psychological phenomenon, can impair performance by these students. Lack of economic resources and effective mentoring also play a role. All schools, even those with high bar passage rates, should develop programs that overcome these obstacles, objectively assess outcomes of those programs, and share successful models with other schools.