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Thursday
Mar042010

432. Near-term career-related uncertainties

My law school has been scaring me recently, which is pretty impressive considering it's been more than 24 years since I last darkened its doors, and nearly as long since it darkened my life.  For instance, the dean recently emailed me:

The current economic environment presents significant employment-related difficulties for all law schools, and I am cognizant of the anxiety that many of you face in confronting the near-term career-related uncertainties.

Frightening, isn't it? - the thought of "employment-related difficulties for all law schools."  I mean, if even a law school can't land a job...  Then again, "career-related uncertainties" are a lot less worrying than career uncertainties, and facing anxiety is better than feeling it.  Then again again, how can you face anxiety and at the same time confront ("to face in hostility or defiance") uncertainties? - by being two-faced, I guess.

The law school recently offered a "an alumni-oriented career webinar" (pronounced uh-oh) and the university-wide alumni association is chirping about "encore careers," presumably for those shown out the door to a prolonged standing ovation.

In the midst of this attack of insufficiently-opaque euphemisms, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth announced plans to open the state's first public law school, setting its tuition and fees at "about $23,500 for in-state students and $31,000 for out-of-state students."

Actually it's taking over a non-ABA accredited law school (remind me again how the ABA, a trade group, acquired such authority in the academic world) and proposing to double its size.  That appears to be a trend, according to the AmLaw Daily:

Negotiations are also underway between the University of California at San Diego and California Western School of Law, as are long-running merger discussions between the University of New Hampshire and the Franklin Pierce Law Center.

Want to know where it all leads?  Big Debt, Small Law explains it all for you.  (Hat tip, Ben Barlyn.)

One convincing explanation was offered by the former president of the University of Puget Sound, Susan Resneck Pierce, explaining the university's 1993 decision to sell its law school to Seattle University for what the website discreetly calls "an undisclosed sum."  At the time of the sale in 1993, President Pierce disclosed that "the law school was generating nearly $700,000 per year for the university’s operating budget."

Now, for a university administrator to admit that a unit of the institution produced a positive cash flow is as rare and remarkable as a Hollywood accountant admitting that a movie turned a profit.  The figure named, while not princely, nonetheless probably put Puget Sound's law school in a league with the library's copy machines as a profit center.

A law school's economics of scale are awesome.  A single lawyer equipped only with an overhead projector connected to a PC can teach a class of 100 students each paying "about $23,500" and northwards.   And there's never any shortage of lawyers eager to land a teaching gig, with all that implies about downward pressure on salaries.

Jeff Jacoby buys the claim that the law school will require subsidies.  The funny thing is, he thinks he's being hard-headed and cynical.

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