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Law schools need money whoas

Former and current law school deans discussed theoretical ways to cut tuition Thursday, but none had concrete plans for slashing the rising cost of legal education.

The event, held by the Library Company of the Baltimore Bar in the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in Baltimore, featured a panel composed of University of Baltimore School of Law Dean Ronald Weich, former University of Baltimore School of Law dean Phillip J. Closius and University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Dean Phoebe A. Haddon.

The main speaker, however, was Paul DeWitt Carrington, former dean of Duke University School of Law. Carrington talked about the high costs of tuition that leave students deep in debt after graduation.

“What do we do about that?” Carrington said. “There are not many good answers.”

Carrington advocated trimming the number of years in school by admitting students after three years of undergraduate studies and requiring only two years of law school. He also said technology could be used to cut costs by doing training via email.

Closius, who resigned his dean post in July 2011 and has returned to teaching this year, was more pessimistic.

“Legal education is in a meltdown,” Closius said.

In today’s economic downturn, he said, even those students who do find jobs after law school are struggling financially because they are still paying off student loans.

Closius said he thinks law schools are going to get smaller and some are going to go out of business.

“This is a problem that is immediate in impact,” Closius said.

Weich, on the other hand, said he did not think things were quite so dire.

“I don’t think we are in a meltdown,” Weich said. “Maybe I am naive from my short time on the job. I don’t think we are in a burning building.”

But Weich agreed that high tuition was a problem. Tuition at his school is $13,078 per semester for full-time in-state students and $19,220 for out-of-state students.

“Phil is absolutely right,” Weich said. “Law school is too expensive.”

Weich, who started in July after working as the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs for the U.S. Justice Department, said while he is new to legal education, he also thought law schools could look to government, foundations and the alumni community for revenue.

Weich advocated an increased concentration on experiential learning and rethinking loan forgiveness, themes he has advocated to students and faculty since coming on as dean this summer.

“Maybe it’s my relative inexperience talking, but I am relatively optimistic about the future,” Weich said.

Haddon said she had met with her faculty in the past month to discuss rising tuition and ways the school could reduce it. Tuition for full-time in-state residents at Maryland’s law school is $9,152 per semester and $13,508 for out-of-state students.

“We don’t have the answers yet, but we do agree there are some things we can do,” Haddon said.

She did not favor shortening the number of years in undergraduate as well as law school.

“I see more students that need some more seasoning,” Haddon said.

She did, however, say that more a more diverse offering of law schools could help, with the addition of a variety of schools offering two- or three-year programs.

All members of the panel were cautious when talking about cutting faculty as a way to save money.

“Academic institutions do not do well with firing people,” Closius said.

“I think some cost-cutting is imaginable, but it is hard to do,” Carrington said.