7 ways to fix law schools

(MoneyWatch) Citing a crisis in the U.S. system of educating lawyers, dozens of prominent law school deans and professors are asking the American Bar Association to help find solutions that "alter the economics of legal education."

In a letter signed by 67 legal scholars from such institutions as Harvard, Duke, Columbia, Ohio State, Georgetown, Yale and New York universities, they lay out many of the challenges facing law students that has hurt the popularity of a law career.

What's wrong with law schools

The scholars note that over the past three decades, the cost of a law school education has increased roughly three times faster than the average household income. Law students are now borrowing more than $100,000 for their degrees, and yet the legal job market continues to constrict. Law school graduates with these debts who make the median salary, or $60,000, cannot afford to cover their monthly loan payments. 

The letter suggests some possible solutions to this serious problem:

1. Reduce the undergraduate education required for law-school admission to three years.
2. Award the basic professional law degree after two years, while leaving the third year as an elective or internship.
3. Provide some legal training through apprenticeships.
4. Reduce expensive accreditation requirements to allow greater diversity among law schools.
5. Take advantage of online education.
6. Alter the influence of current law school ranking formulas, such as the annual US News & World Report ranking
7. Modify federal student loan programs.

The lawyers conclude the letter by observing, "As legal educators, it is our responsibility to grapple with these issues before our institutions are reshaped in ways beyond our control."

One of the best moves that law schools and the ABA could take is to stop its focus on what's in the best interest of the law schools and instead look out for the interests of the law students.

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