In its Annual Meeting in Boston, the ABA’s new Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education held its first public hearing to determine the causes of debilitating law student debts and rising law school tuition rates. The task force is also delving into how law schools use tuition discounts, merit scholarships and financial aid.
Among the witnesses who testified at the hearing, Kyle McEntee the executive director of Law School Transparency, Bucky Askew – the ABA’s former consultant to the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, and Nicholas Allard, dean at Brooklyn Law School, stood out in the stands and opinions.
Allard, whose school plans to reduce tuition by 15 percent, went straight for the throat of law school rankings. He said that law schools are giving too much weight to U.S. News & World Report rankings and focused on what ensures rankings than what they were supposed to do in the first place.
“No one minds rankings, beauty contests,” said Allard. “It’s not anti-ranking per se. But I think we can all agree that the current ranking system is not transparent, not timely, not credible, not accurate.”
It’s preposterous, says Allard that the rankings do not take into account law school graduates working as public service lawyers, solo practitioners and government lawyers. In other words, as Allard put it, “If you’re Perry Mason; if you’re Atticus Finch, you don’t count.”
Askew said, “I think many law schools are on an unsustainable path … In terms of access to justice, there will be a terrible problem if we don’t produce lawyers who will be able to serve communities in need.” According to him, we’re “not over-lawyered, but under-lawyered,” because student debt and rising costs of law schools take away the choice from students in serving the communities they hail from.
True to his reputation, McEntee went directly at addressing the issue of student loan debts and he said the Congress should be urged to enact proper student-loan reform. According to him, it’s time to “go hat in hand to Congress and say the legal education system is broken and it’s propped up by student loans.”
According to McEntee, comprehensive reform should eliminate GradPlus loans; reintroduce bankruptcy protections for student loan recipients; cap private interest rates; require schools to co-sign private loans; and forbid the consolidation of private loans with direct federal loans.