Law Schools Cause Tuition Increases, not ABA
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David Segal released a new piece on problems that law schools face in the New York Times. His piece is titled ‘For Law Schools, a Price to Play the A.B.A.’s Way.’ Segal places the blame for tuition increases on the accreditation regime of the American Bar Association. Segal writes the following:

“In 1995 . . . the Department of Justice in an antitrust suit . . . charged that A.B.A. standards had artificially inflated faculty salaries. The A.B.A. signed a consent decree, agreeing to a number of strictures intended to pry the process out of the hands of legal academics and end the fixing of salaries.


Since then, the cost of law school tuition has soared, though at the high end, those prices are not the fault of the A.B.A. They are attributable to the prestige race prompted by U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of law schools, along with the wide availability of student loans.”

The Am Law Daily believes that Segal is attempting to make three claims and they include the following:

The first is that law school tuition increased over the inflation rate because of the consent decree. The second is that tuition increases that occur at highly regarded law schools are caused by rankings released by U.S. News and the Federal Direct Student Loan Program. The third is that tuition increases at schools not highly regarded by U.S. News occurs because of standards set forth by the ABA.

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The first claim can be shot down pretty quickly because there is no known link between the consent decree and tuition increases. Check out the graph below for law school tuition since the decade of the 1980s from the ABA and the CPI.

The claim regarding tuition increase caused by U.S. News can be substantiated because the U.S. News ranks law schools based on their spending, and in turn, charging more money. There is a problem with this though; because of the struggling economy, applicants will still flock to law schools and graduate programs to avoid the job market.

The third claim is not substantiated by Segal because he does not show which of the accreditation standards cause tuition increases in schools across the country. ABA standards require three years, large libraries, and plenty of full-time instructors. Full-time faculty members must be paid a living wage because they cannot work anywhere else. Should the ABA remove this requirement, law schools will be forced to hire more adjunct professors, who cost the school less money to employ.

Low-end law schools dispute the claim that the ABA forces them to increase their tuition each year. That is backed up by New England School of Law dean John O’Brien, who claims that salaries, not accreditation, increase the costs of his law school:

“The argument for high salaries has always been that law professors could earn even more money at a law firm. As for tenure, one oft-cited reason for requiring it is that the most sought-after talent demands it, putting a school that doesn’t offer tenure at a disadvantage.

‘I need to get the best teachers out there,’ says Mr. O’Brien, the [ABA Section of Legal Education] chairman, ‘and the fact of the matter is that in order to do that, to compete for top-quality faculty, I have to offer tenure.’ ”


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