The New York Times published an article last week about the bleak future of American law schools. Enrollments have taken a hit due to the economic recession in which law firms cut positions and government agencies froze hiring. In order to stay afloat, many law schools are now accepting students with lower LSAT scores and GPAs than in previous years, or are laying off staff and faculty. The university-affiliated law schools are leaning on their parent institutions for financial help or combining resources and activities with the parent university. Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School recently announced that it would close its Ann Arbor campus because of shrinking enrollment.
The wealthier law schools like Northwestern have increased financial aid in order to entice prospective students. Only 30 percent of Northwestern law students received financial aid in 2009 as opposed to the 74 percent of first year students that received it this year. Mid-tier law schools like University of Arizona, University of Iowa, Penn State, Wayne State University, and Roger Williams University have slashed their tuition prices. Come get your Groupons and Black Friday deals, ladies and gentlemen!
I didn’t know what to make of this dreary news as I have no clue how to run an educational institution, so I reached out to the dean of my alma mater. Dean Ronald Weich of the University of Baltimore School of Law put things in perspective:
All this doom and gloom has little to do with UB. Here’s what’s different about us: We’re one of only two law schools in Maryland, so we have a solid role in this legal market. We’re a state school, so our tuition is a bargain compared to the private schools in DC and elsewhere. Our faculty and loyal alumni work overtime to make sure UB students succeed, both in the classroom and in the job market. There’s a reason our bar passage rate is high and our employment stats are strong. Sure, the profession is changing and you have to hustle for that first job. That’s why applications are down everywhere, and that’s why we’re intentionally enrolling fewer students. The students who come to UB really want to be lawyers, and they have the skills to succeed.
Given my obvious bias towards the institution that armed me with a law degree, I must say I have to agree with him based on conversations with other young lawyers. Austerity has affected some law schools around the country, but the two Maryland law schools and the legal community in Baltimore are fascinatingly intertwined. Due to our relatively localized but loyal alumni networks, students that graduate from these two schools have a much greater advantage than graduates from the Ivy Leagues or schools concentrated in major cities. However, these uncertain financial times continue to deter students from joining our profession, and it will be interesting to see how this changes the legal community.
So when Dean Weich said, “I have no idea if other law schools will close, but I know that UB will always stand tall,” I concurred and humorously pointed out that also may be thanks to our new 12-story law building that can’t be missed when you’re in the neighborhood!