In talking about these issues, we keep circling back to reducing tuition (and resulting law school debt) as the best way to re-align the costs and benefits of a JD degree. One of the most common proposed solutions as to how to do this involves getting rid of ABA accreditation regulations. Deregulating legal education would allow law schools to:
- use non-tenure track and adjunct faculty to teach
- have professors teach more and do scholarship less
- virtualize law school
Whenever reformist ideas get aired, there is concomitant hand wringing about our entrenched professoriate, student loan complex, and the ABA’s slow-moving deliberative processes. Dean Chemerinsky is absolutely correct to express doubt as to whether or not law schools will change.
I want to point out that outside of the mainstream ABA/U.S. News system, lower cost legal education alternatives do exist. Some schools that have chosen to forego ABA accreditation and have convinced a few states to allow their graduates to practice law. There’s Kaplan’s Concord Law School, which offers a virtualized JD. The Nashville School of Law, a survivor of the historical night law school movement, is dedicated to providing a low-cost legal education to working students. We recently learned of a new opportunity law school opening in Indio, California. What these schools have in common is that they are cheap. A JD from the Nashville School of Law costs $21,168. Tuition at the new Indio law school is set at $12,000 a year. A JD from Concord Law School is more expensive, but at $40,000, it is still cheaper than one-year’s tuition at many ABA accredited schools. These schools follow a teaching model where mostly adjunct instructors teach substantive law and skills but do not get paid to write law review articles.
There is a caveat in imagining legal education without ABA regulation. A hands-off deregulatory approach will increase reliance on adjunct or contingent faculty with much lower pay scales and job security. The higher-ranked law schools will likely retain a scholarly focus. In these contexts, traditional doctrinal scholars might remain relatively unscathed. But faculty who already occupy a precarious position in the U.S. News model – clinical, skills, and legal writing faculty – will likely get the short end of the stick. Deregulation may also open up the floodgates for ugly large-scale proprietary models, along the lines of the University of Phoenix.
The point here is that the incentive to change might come from the outside. If states begin responding to demands that lawyers from non-ABA law schools be allowed to practice law, then this could side step the ABA’s longstanding role in defining American legal education.
-- Lucille A. Jewel, Assoc. Prof., Atlanta's John Marshall Law School