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Should Law Schools Be Closing?
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In such a weakened legal job market, many feel that law schools should be closing instead of receiving accreditation.

Summary: In such a weakened legal job market, many feel that law schools should be closing instead of receiving accreditation.

July 6 2015 Update from Dean Bilek at the bottom.

  
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According to Bloomberg, earlier this month, the American Bar Association gave provisional accreditation to a new law school at Concordia University. The ABA has granted accreditation to over 200 law schools throughout the country, and many wonder whether additional schools should be earning accreditation.

Concordia Law School is working hard to attract new students.

Of course, the primary purpose of attending law school is to become an attorney, but many students are not achieving this goal. In 2014, 10 schools could not place over 30 percent of their graduating classes in permanent jobs that required passing the bar exam. These employment numbers do not include positions that schools provide for their graduates, or those who are starting their own practices. In fact, the Washington Post reported that only the most elite law schools will thrive in today’s economy.

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At the University of Massachusetts School of Law, only 22 percent of the 2014 graduating class landed such jobs. Mary Lu Bilek, the dean of the law school, said, “We are a work in progress, and we need to improve our bar pass rate and improve our employment, and I am not embarrassed about that.”



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Of the 60 students who took the bar exam in February or July of 2013, 42 passed. The school’s 2014 graduating class was comprised of 81 students. Bilek commented that employment numbers have improved in the past few years.

Bilek explained, “The traditional elite jobs aren’t the jobs that our students generally want. There’s not room for another law school that wants to have students who want to do that, because there aren’t enough jobs for that.”

Many graduates seek “JD advantage” jobs.

The legal job market has dwindled in recent years, leading to a decline in law school applications. In 2014, enrollment was at its lowest since 1973, Business Insider noted. By the beginning of the 2015 academic year, under 53,000 law school applications are expected. In 2004, there were over 100,000 applications.

Read about the reduced enrollment numbers across the country here.

Should law schools begin shutting their doors? Al Brophy, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, says, “Maybe. But how is that going to happen? Will it happen because places say voluntarily, ‘hey, we aren’t making money, so we should shut down?’”

Brophy explained that schools will not voluntarily close down because alumni, faculty and staff have interests in keeping them open. He remarked, “It is going to take a lot to have schools shut down. What I think we are going to find is that they are going to be able to operate on shoestring budgets.”

Brophy

Brophy

Bilek promised that she will focus on preparing students for the careers they want, even if those careers do not involve the courtroom. She said, “I don’t want law schools to get away with pretending students can get jobs that they can’t get.” She also does not want schools to be measured by how many students they place in traditional firm jobs.

Source: Bloomberg

Photo credit: gruntledemployees.com

 

July 6 2015 Update from Dean Bilek

Dean Bilek:

UMass Law exists to create access to legal education and to graduate justice-centered lawyers prepared for practice. Our affordable tuition is one way we implement our mission; our required pro bono service and clinic or internship courses are others. We are proud of the career choices and the employment success of our graduates, particularly because we are a new school. We regret that the narrow lens used by this article ignores our seven graduates who are starting solo practices to serve moderate-to-low-income clients in our law practice incubators in Boston and New Bedford. Your algorithm also makes invisible the the successes of a graduate who is now the vice president for advocacy for a trade union, a graduate who chooses to split her time between being a real estate agent and working part-time in a law firm, the graduate who is the executive director of well-established not-for-profit that works with lawyers providing services to indigent clients, and the grad who accepted a position as a grants associate at an NGO serving the homeless. This formula also ignores the part-time student who delays taking the bar exam until February because full-time work is inconsistent with the demands of post-graduation bar study. Bloomberg isn’t alone in choosing this measure. However, as long as all law schools are measured this way regardless of their missions, legal education will continue to revolve around preparing graduates to work in a diminishing marketplace of lawyers who work for large firms that primarily represent corporations — while millions of Americans who line up in housing court and family court will continue to go unrepresented. Across the country, some law schools are aiming at a graduating class of judicial law clerks and large firm associates, but a number of law schools have their sights focused on other employment opportunities and are working hard to find a way to make those paths economically viable for their graduates. For its part, UMass Law will continue to offer an affordable tuition, continue to refine its curriculum to insure that it is preparing its graduates to advance justice, and will continue to be proud of its graduates who choose career paths not acknowledged by this formula.

 



 

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