A recent study suggests that prospective law students can get an affordable education if they are strategic about their school choice and select a school based on the size of available scholarship awards rather than prestige. That’s the conclusion of Professor Jerry Organ based on his study on law school tuition, reported in the National Law Journal’s story “Study Looks At How to Get a Law Degree For Less.” He discusses his conclusions in this report, which he presented at a recent meeting of the Association of American Law Schools.
Professor Organ has been looking at the affordability of law schools for several years. His initial results suggested that to him to undertake this detailed study focusing on five LSAT categories and five cost categories to see where students would fit. He notes that he had an excellent research assistant who put together an Excel spreadsheet that involved over 42,000 students from 196 schools. The results are based on some reasonable assumptions.
One thing that the research shows is that the people with the highest LSAT scores are not necessarily paying the highest tuitions. Those who are, Professor Organ points out, are paying to attend certain schools. Student with the highest LSAT scores can get considerably more affordable law degrees if they are willing to attend schools that are not at the top of the law school rankings. “There’s a difference between paying $40,000 to go to a school in the top twenty versus paying $40,000 to go to a school that [ranks down the list].”
Professor Organ notes that the job market for new lawyers has been challenging. It appears that the job market hit the bottom in 2011 and has modestly improved since that time. He suggests that the market will continue to improve not because there are more jobs, but because there are fewer graduates. The decline in enrollment is beginning to affect the job market. The percentage of graduates finding meaningful employment will improve.
But the employment reality has taken a bite out of the pool of prospective law students. Fewer college graduates are viewing law school as an attractive option, given the expense of a legal education and the difficulty in turning that education into a job in a law practice.
One caveat Professor Organ offers is that this study looks at the class of 2010. He does not yet have data on the class of 2012 or later. He believes that his study is accurate for the period in question. However, he suggests that the cost may be going down for some students because of the availability of scholarships to help defray the cost of a legal education.
Jerome M. Organ is a Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He is a graduate of the University of Miami and the Vanderbilt University School of Law. Before his employment with the University of St. Thomas, he practiced law with Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and served as a law professor with the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.