Interdisciplinary Scholarship and the Cost of Legal Education
The other day, I responded to a post by Brian Tamanaha regarding interdisciplinary legal study at non-elite law schools. Brian suggested that non-elite schools reconsider whether they ought to pursue interdisciplinary legal scholarship, and I argued that they should.
In a follow-up post, Brian has clarified his argument:
My point was not to be anti-intellectual but to get us to think about a growing crisis in non-elite law schools.
Signs of the crisis are evident in many recent reports. The basic elements are this: tuition at private law schools ranges around $35,000-$40,000 per year, doubling in the past decade and still rising; pay for law jobs outside corporate law has stagnated, many in the $40,000-$50,000 range; the overwhelming majority of graduates from non-elite law schools will not get corporate law jobs, and will be saddled with a huge debt.
Brian suggests that the high cost of law school “is also a problem for society because the lower middle class and poor cannot obtain lawyers–it just doesn’t pay enough.” He concludes:
It’s time we start thinking more seriously about whether non-elite law schools would be better served, and would better serve their students, if they develop a different model for training people who want to be lawyers. Otherwise the crisis might be one that non-elite law schools bring upon themselves, as more and more prospective law students decide that the cost of law school is not worth the return.
Brian points to an article about a Boston University Law School graduate who decided after graduating from law school to take a non-legal job and remains saddled with massive debts.
I now understand Brian’s point to be more about the high cost of law school than about interdisciplinary studies. In fact, I see his argument as almost entirely independent of the question of interdisciplinary studies.
I wonder how much costs could be cut at non-elite schools by moving away from interdisciplinary studies. Why would this be a significant way to cut costs? I’m no expert on the economics of running a law school, but I don’t think that interdisciplinary studies is the primary problem. Brian’s argument could be applied to scholarship more generally, not just interdisciplinary scholarship. Costs at law schools might be cut more if some non-elite schools were to hire fewer professors and make them teach more classes and do less (or no) scholarship. These schools could require professors to teach many more classes than the norm — maybe 3, 4, or even 5 classes per semester. As with the catch phrase in this season’s The Wire, these schools could “do more with less.”
If I understand Brian’s argument, it is that there should be cheap law schools for students who have no desire to go to big law firms or otherwise pursue highly-lucrative legal jobs. So there should be a group of law schools that are designed to be “economy class” — offer an inexpensive legal education for students who desire it. I have no objection to schools that decide to recast themselves in this model or to schools that are created based on this model. This would be the legal equivalent of the ‘teaching university.”
But I see this as a very different claim than the argument that non-elite law schools should move away from interdisciplinary studies. That some schools should have professors teach more and write less is a different issue than what the professors would teach — they could teach interdisciplinary studies, for example, or they could teach only doctrines and practice skills, or something of both.
I personally believe that having professors who produce scholarship is good for a law school. But this need not be a requirement for all law schools. If students want to a cheaper education without scholarship-producing professors, then I don’t see why there shouldn’t be some options for them.