A “Must Read”

I just finished reading a book that everyone who cares about legal education in the United States should read: Failing Law Schools by Brian Z. Tamanaha. The book does an excellent job of describing the economic realities of law schools for prospective law students and society as a whole. Tamanaha gives a compelling and highly critical analysis of how law school became so expensive, and what can be done about it now. And, he doesn’t pull punches. If the law school you went to wasn’t mentioned, the law school you teach at, or that your colleagues went to will be named (and shamed). Tamanaha is critical of law schools and law professors from the top 14 to the 4th Tier and every school in between.

For those of us who went to law school before it became so expensive, Tamanaha does an excellent job of breaking down what it means to graduate with $100,000 or $120,000 in student loans for the average law student with the average salary of around $70,000. He also lays out the statistics about how difficult it is, and will probably continue to be, for many law graduates to find full time work as lawyers. This is a situation that Tamanaha argues will continue well past the time when the economy recovers. Tamanaha also describes the shift from needs-based to merit-based scholarships that has, among other problems, made it even tougher for lower income law students to attend law school without high debt.

Tamanaha gives a number of suggestions, all of which require legal academia at every level to stop conducting business as usual. Tamanaha is highly critical of both the ABA accreditation process and US News and World Report, explaining that the combined impact of both has been to have one model of legal education which is too expensive to sustain. Tamanaha suggests that the time is now to allow for variable models of law schools including decreasing law school to two years, increasing practice/externship opportunities, and allowing schools to move away from the research/scholarship model of legal education. Tamanaha’s suggestion to increase the teaching load for non-research professors and to allow for non-research institutions will be criticized. But, the suggestion that is likely to have the biggest backlash is to move away from the model of legal education where most law professors are tenured. Tamanaha suggests that law schools should be free to adopt a model with fewer tenured positions, thereby lowering costs.

Tamanaha invites the federal government to get involved through capping student loans and suggests other measures to put the pressure on us all to do better. No doubt many of us would like to avoid thinking about the tough choices and actions that are necessary, but Tamanaha makes an impressive case for why we do so only at our collective peril.

5 thoughts on “A “Must Read””

  1. The number of sacred cows that Tamanaha has skewered is amazing. All in one book! It certainly sounds like heresy to the tenured faculty!!

  2. A big benefit is if more schools would adopt an incubator/residency type program like ASU Law has proposed. Hopefully the clinical, skills based and theoretical professors can get on the same page and do what is best for the students, profession and school and not just what is most comfortable for themselves (which is typically avoiding change, since status-quo is so much more enjoyable)!

  3. A lot of my law school classmates graduated with $150,00+ of student load debt. They assumed that student loan debt based on assurances from the law school faculty that there are plenty of jobs out there for newbie lawyers.

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