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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Brilliant Future of America's Law Schools II: A Response to the Responses

The number and variety of responses, both passionate and thoughtful, to my post about the future of America's law schools makes a succint rejoinder a daunting challenge.  But here goes.

First and most emphatically, and as I already replied to Kevin Heller, there are excellent institutions of legal education outside the US.  By characterizing these institutions as "exceptions" in my initial post, I was not trying to present them as marginal-individually and collectively they make an enormous contribution to the global academy-but rather simply to suggest that the demand for excellent legal education outside the US today greatly outstrips the supply today by my observation.

Second, some of the responders saw in my remarks about the foreign JD market the hidden premise that the attractiveness of a US JD to the students in question would be their supposed employability in major transnational law firms.  I certainly don't think we should be selling ourselves that way to such potential students. 

There are many reasons or motivations for wanting an American-style legal education just as there are for going to an American (or other foreign) undergraduate institution rather than staying at home.

But the assumptions about employment and income prospects relate to what some responders rightly identified as a weakness of my initial post:  I did not address the most obvious and apparently most significant constraint on further tapping the market  question, namely the cost of American legal education.   While I believe that even given this constraint there is further potential in the foreign  market, cost is clearly a major limitation and I ought to have addressed it up front.   I would point out that while most (though not all) of the responses focused on my remarks about foreign JDs, this was only one of three areas where I identified growing opportunities, the others being executive/continuing education, and the provision of legal education to non-lawyers.  Thus, clearly, I did not consider a "vast" foreign market for JDs to be a panacea, but rather as just one dimension of the brilliant future of America's law schools.   As far as cost goes, I don't think it is inconceivable (depending on the country and the student) that there could be new funding and financing possibilities.  As well, concepts such as a 2 year JD as well as a part-time JD, which can be earned in part through distance study and in part through shorter periods of residence in the US over a period of years, might also respond to the cost constraint (there are some MBA degrees that work that way).

Finally, and this may perhaps be what is behind some of the accusations of "arrogance", there is the criticism that the strategies I suggest are only available to a certain subset of law schools that are ranked relatively highly.  This is not the place to give my rant about the rankings racket.  It is certainly true that if a law school is already a global brand, so to speak, it is likely to have to do less work to exploit the trends I identify.  This being said, if a law school is a global brand, it may have less need to exploit these possibilities further in order to survive.  But my message is not one of complacency for any institution; my optimism is not premised on the status quo but the possibilities for innovation.

In the financial world, I know people who work at places like Goldman Sachs and people who work in boutiques that one would probably need to be an insider of some sort to have even heard about.  The people in the boutiques are, as far as I can judge, on average as smart, imaginative, and individually successful as the people at the name brand institutions.  This doesn't take anything away from the collective excellence of those big players and their ability to put together a stunning amount of talent under one roof.  But the boutiques also have their global clients, and their niche markets.  And they don't see themselves as doomed because of the presence of the big players.  I don't think the issue is rankings as such but leadership, attitude , and awareness.  I once explored the possibility of a position at a quite highly ranked institution in the Midwest (though not as highly ranked as Michigan, where I taught for a number of years).  Anyhow, I realized when I talked to faculty and students there that a consciousness of global realities and possibilities hardly existed at all in that school.  This was in stark contrast to the business school at the very same state university in the Midwest, which had developed major ties with, and a strong reputation in, parts of Asia for example, and which also had various programs that  leveraged on some of the businesses with multinational reach in that part of the US.     There is no reason why leadership with a global vision could not have produced similar successes in the law school at that same state university.  Each institution needs to identify its particular strengths (comparative advantage)  and find local and global synergies with those strengths.  For some American law schools, realizing the strategies I outline may require close partnerships with other institutions, whether business schools, public health schools, policy schools etc., foreign law schools, or even government and the private sector.  Here too many possibilities will emerge when one stops thinking rankings and starts thinking strengths and synergies.

Posted by Rob Howse on February 6, 2013 at 08:20 AM | Permalink

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"As far as cost goes, I don't think it is inconceivable (depending on the country and the student) that there could be new funding and financing possibilities. As well, concepts such as a 2 year JD as well as a part-time JD, which can be earned in part through distance study and in part through shorter periods of residence in the US over a period of years, might also respond to the cost constraint (there are some MBA degrees that work that way). . . . But my message is not one of complacency for any institution; my optimism is not premised on the status quo but the possibilities for innovation."

So your belief that law schools have a glorious future is premised on the fact that you are assuming that they will make massive changes to address cost? That they will suddenly become cost conscious despite decades of going in the opposite direction?

No offense meant, but that is like saying, "I would think my spouse was attractive if she or he was 2 feet taller, had dark instead of blonde hair, looked like Angelina Jolie, was built well and was about 50 pounds lighter. Other than all those changes I mention, he or she would look great!"

In other words, if law school became everything it currently is not today (cost conscious) it has a glorious future.

Posted by: M.M. | Feb 6, 2013 9:11:12 AM

Also, Mr. Howse, I have a sincere question for you: do you feel just a little guilty for advocating that one of the reasons you believe American legal educational institutions have a bright future is the ability of foreign students to be able to take advantage of what you perceive to be an excellent legal education when it is increasingly clear that American students no longer have that opportunity due to the increasingly high tuition costs of America's legal institutions?

Nowhere in either of your essays is acknowledgment that American legal institutions need to address the high price issue so that AMERICAN students can still have access to an education that you hold in high-esteem. You seem content to believe that all will be well because you believe that there will always be foreigners who will pay the high price. If you are correct (and I think many have already pointed out that that is dubious because even foreigners have commented that America's prices are just too ridiculously high) - but, if you ARE correct, then everything will be well because even though Americans will be dropping off in droves because they can't afford the tuition, American law schools will still do well because they can capitalize on foreign students being able to pay America's steep prices.

If you are correct, will it bother you to know that the world-class education you are giving will be only available to better-financed or better heeled foreigners because American students can no longer justify and afford the costs? Will it bother you to look out in your classes to see the majority of seats filled by foreigners because American students can't even participate in their own legal educational system (financed in part, by America's taxpayers themselves for public institutions) anymore because they didn't have the high funds that are now required to attend law school?

If you truly believe that American legal educational institutions are as valuable and good as you think they are, shouldn't you be working on solutions that will help ensure that such institutions remain financially accessible to our own fellow countrymen instead of gloating that all is well because, 'hey, if we don't get the American attendance, we can always count on the foreigners being able to pay to fill up our seats!' I am a little disconcerted that you don't seem remotely concerned about ensuring that what you obviously think is an excellent educational system is available to Americans themselves, who typically finance such institutions through their tax dollars. So, is your premise that Americans should foot the bill for public institutions through their tax dollars so that foreigners can benefit and enjoy our esteemed institutions?

Posted by: M.M. | Feb 6, 2013 10:54:32 AM

Thank you for clarifying what you weren't claiming in your first post. Unfortunately, it seems to me that with those claims clarified and cut down in extent, there does not seem quite enough there to justify the adjective "brilliant". If there isn't a huge foreign market for American JDs, what makes the industry's future brilliant rather than merely not-hopeless? (For instance, are there really so many non-law professionals dying to take law courses? They seem to have got on very well without.)

Posted by: Nicholas Liu | Feb 9, 2013 11:53:13 AM

The underlying issue is a massive glut of attorneys: close to 1/2 of recent grads end up in the proverbial breadline. Word is out and the fresh-scrubbed faces will cease applying in appreciable numbers to your institutions until the law job economy turns around (assuming it ever does). It seem that in the near term, a scaling down is on the way: fewer law schools, smaller faculties, a paring down rather than a ramping up of programs. Counting on a well-heeled foreign student bailout (or any type of bailout, really) smacks of eleventh-hour desperation.

http://www.abajournal.com/mobile/article/massive_layoffs_predicted_in_law_schools_due_to_big_drop_in_applicants

Posted by: lolzskoolzbclozing | Feb 9, 2013 10:57:37 PM

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