NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Law School is Too Costly

April 25, 2003

The high cost of attending law school is making it hard for government agencies and public interest organizations to recruit new lawyers. According to "From Paper Case to Money Chase," a report published by Equal Justice Works, the average law student today leaves school with debts of more than $84,000.

The obvious question raised but never mentioned in the report is why the cost of law school is so high. Should a legal education cost as much as it does?

The answer is no, says George C. Leef, but thanks to connivance between state legislatures and the American Bar Association to create a monopoly, a legal education is costly. Furthermore, the ABA's accrediting body, the Council of the Section of Legal Education, has established standards that are designed to keep law school very costly and restrictive. Among those standards:

  • Law schools must be nonprofit institutions -- thus while for-profit schools are finding innovative ways to deliver educational offerings to more and more Americans, the ABA will not allow those schools in the field of legal education.
  • Law school faculties must by staffed mostly with full-time instructors -- the ABA regards it as a sign of professionalism that law school courses are taught by full-time academics -- although it would be much less expensive to have courses taught by adjunct working attorneys.
  • The teaching workloads of faculty members must be kept low -- the ABA envisions law professors who are scholars and have lots of time for research -- thus many professors teach only three or four hours a week.

All of these input rules drive up the cost of legal education. If entrepreneurs were free to find ways of delivering the optimal amount of legal education, many law students would be able to obtain the education they want at a far lower cost.

Source: George C. Leef, "Why Law School Costs so Much," Regulation, Vol. 26, No. 1, Spring 2003, Cato Institute.


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