Thursday, January 14, 2010

For AMSOL to be True to its Mission and its Students, Class Sizes Must Be Significantly Decreased

In the past few months, there have been numerous articles in legal circles that have warned about the crisis that is facing the legal market, namely far too many law school graduates and fewer and fewer legal jobs. A good summary of the issue was recently offered by the LA Times op-ed, "No More Room at the Bench". Here are excerpts that are of particular relevance to AMSOL:

Part of the problem can be traced to the American Bar Assn., which continues to allow unneeded new schools to open and refuses to properly regulate the schools, many of which release numbers that paint an overly rosy picture of employment prospects for their recent graduates. There is a finite number of jobs for lawyers, and this continual flood of graduates only suppresses wages. Because the ABA has repeatedly signaled its unwillingness to adapt to this changing reality, the federal government should consider taking steps to stop the rapid flow of attorneys into a marketplace that cannot sustain them.

Taking into account retirements, deaths and that the bureau's data is pre-recession, the number of new positions is likely to be fewer than 30,000 per year. That is far fewer than what's needed to accommodate the 45,000 juris doctors graduating from U.S. law schools each year.

So what does this mean for AMSOL?

AMSOL started out with a vision, stated publicly by both Tom Monaghan and Dean Dobranski, to be a top tier school (See here and here and here) that would max out around 450 students among its three classes. More specifically, a popular slogan of "160-160" (meaning 160 students with an average LSAT of 160) was thrown around in the early years.

These graphics from Fumare illustrate the decline from Top Tier to Bottom Tier status in just a few years.

This year's 1L class profile on the AMSOL website lists 209 enrolled students, but notably lists LSAT scores only for the "admitted" class, and not the enrolled class, whose scores are definitely lower. How do we know this? Because, despite requests from the Alumni Association for these figures, and Dean Milhizer's recent reference to them in his report at the annual alumni meeting, the school still refuses to release them. What we can assume is that this year's 1L class scores are no better than last years, which placed AMSOL at the very bottom of Tier 4 schools.

Obviously, 209 students is much greater than the original vision of 150-160. What is interesting is that if the school had grown their numbers naturally, and not inflated them to make a few extra bucks off of tuition, they would likely be near their original Top Tier numbers now. I'm not going to do the math, but if you take out the worst 50-60 students in this year's 1L class, you likely have at worst Tier II figures for median LSAT scores among the rest of the students.

The school has to get serious about this issue. Not only will bloated class sizes forever keep them in the 4th tier, but they will also violate the school's Catholic mission and its responsibility of justice and transparency. It will be hard enough in this job market for 150 students to find decent jobs after graduation each year. What are the real prospects of the lowest 50 or 60 students, graduating from a Tier 4 school with heavy debt? Very bleak indeed.

Sure, it will be painful for the school in the short term to forego additional tuition revenue, but it's the only ethical thing to do, and the thing that just might save the school in the long run and help restore it closer to its formerly prestigious state.