Posts Tagged ‘law school tuition bubble’

Recent news out of Ohio concerning debt-ridden new lawyers underscores the difference between a mandatory membership bar association and a voluntary one. Ohio is one of 18 states where lawyers can practice without being forced to join their trade association.


In states where lawyers are forced to join a mandatory membership bar association as a precondition to practice, there are bar leaders with heads in the sand who act as though the crashing tides of debt drenching young lawyers were nonexistent.

But in voluntary states like Ohio, bar leaders have at last started examining the “unprecedented burdens faced by new lawyers.” Ten years past the “law school tuition bubble,” they may be a tad late — but in contrast to mandatory bars in Nevada and Arizona — at least they’re now considering potential solutions to the astronomical six-figure debt service new lawyers get along with their diplomas.

Futures Commission.

Tasked with researching and developing long-term solutions and “first action steps,” the Ohio State Bar Association established a 29-member Futures Commission more than one year ago to look at new lawyer burdens and “the need for acquisition of knowledge and the skills necessary to develop and carry on a successful practice; the lack of regulation for new legal service delivery options; and the widening access to justice gap.” In July, the Commission released its preliminary report.

Unlike mandatory bars that too often act below-the-radar through top-down mandates, the Ohio Bar sought input from members through town hall style meetings held in each of its 18 districts and supplemented these with input from its 2017 Leadership Academy class of new lawyers.

In Ohio, bar leaders believe “member satisfaction” is one of their association’s “core values” driving the stated goal of making “membership in the Ohio State Bar Association indispensable to Ohio lawyers.” 

It’s one thing to force lawyers to join an organization in order to earn a living in their chosen profession. But it’s another matter entirely when lawyers choose membership because the value proposition is so strong that membership is “indispensable.”


So much debt.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f9/Tin_Woodman.png/105px-Tin_Woodman.pngIt’s not like mandatory bars haven’t heard about the unprecedented tuition debt incurred by today’s young lawyers. More likely, they can’t relate to it. Many graduated from law school when women had big hair to the skies and fashion meant shoulder pads, parachute pants and Members Only jackets. Tuition then was a fraction of today’s troubles. Unsurprisingly, these bar leaders are tin-eared about the problem.

According to Law School Transparency (LST)  “legal education inflation far exceeds the inflation rate.

“In 1985, the average private school tuition was $7,526 (1985 dollars), which would now cost a student $16,294 (2013 dollars). Instead, the average tuition is $41,985 (2013 dollars). In other words, private law school is now 2.6 times as expensive as it was in 1985 after adjusting for inflation. Public school (for residents) is now about 5.5 times as expensive.”

As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in July, “Ohio law school grads face debt of nearly $100,000 and few job prospects, report says,” the Commission’s report finds that the average 2015 Ohio law school graduate has approximately $98,475 in law school debt. Worse yet, “Only approximately 58 percent of 2015 Ohio law school graduates are employed in jobs requiring bar passage.”

And it’s only getting worse. For entering 2017 students, Ohio’s Law School Transparency (LST) numbers are even higher — well north of $150,000 on average.

In Arizona, LST projects even more sobering statistics for wanna-be lawyers starting law school in the Grand Canyon State this year. They should expect a “full price projected debt” for their J.D. degree of $175,084 if they are state residents graduating from Arizona State University. If they’re residents and start and finish at the University of Arizona, the number is $173,280.

At Arizona Summit Law School, one of the nation’s most expensive law schools, the “full price projected debt” is an astounding $252,571. This averages out to $200,978 among the three Arizona schools. It breaks out to an average debt service headache over 10 years of $2290 per month.

In Nevada, LST reports that students matriculating in 2017 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the state’s only law school, can anticipate a “full price projected debt” of $175,310 and a $2000 per month nut over 10 years.

‘What me worry?’

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/Happiness.gif/209px-Happiness.gifThe root problem is that mandatory bars like those in Nevada and Arizona aspire to serve competing interests — those of the legal profession and those of the public. But it can’t be done because these interests often conflict.

Instead of alleviating practice burdens, for instance, mandatory bars constantly tinker with their bureaucratic spigots to open ever increasing cost, time and stress pressures on members. This is because they’re not necessarily looking out for the interests of lawyers.

In mandatory bar Nevada, for example, there’s a bar study group looking at the supposed merits of forcing all the state’s lawyers to buy professional liability insurance. If the model is mandatory bar Oregon, currently the only jurisdiction mandating professional liability insurance, expect only one blessed provider.

Moreover, the cost will be substantial. In 2017, Oregon lawyers ponied up a whopping $3,500 apiece for bare minimum coverage of $300,000 per incident and $300,000 aggregate. And Oregon has almost twice as many lawyers as Nevada.

Voluntary bars look out for the interests of members.

In closing, here’s what the Ohio Bar’s Futures Commission looked at:

•  How to ensure new lawyers enter the profession practice ready and without the crushing burden of student debt;
•  How busy lawyers at all stages of their careers can get the most out of their required continuing legal education credits;
•  The appropriate role of online legal service providers, limited multidisciplinary practice, fee-splitting and other emerging new business models in the delivery of legal services and if they can they help lawyers better serve clients and stay true to the values of the profession;
•  And with the real and perceived expense of legal services, how to ensure access to justice for all, regardless of income.

Besides supporting cost reducing law school initiatives, the Commission also took a departure from the latest gambit being promoted by mandatory bars: the licensing of non-lawyers to practice law. “Believing firmly that any provision of legal services should be done under the direction of a licensed attorney,” the Commission pronounced its opposition to “any effort to establish new categories of non-lawyer legal service providers (NLP) in Ohio and instead, support the development of programs or actions that would connect the unrepresented with available attorneys.”

So before state bars go all in and eliminate unauthorized practice of law rules to allow non-lawyers to directly compete with lawyers, something ought to be done to level the field. Stem the tide of unconscionable tuition debt from overpriced law schools.

But as they bang away on their Access to Justice drums, don’t expect a pronouncement like Ohio’s from mandatory bars in Washington, Utah and Arizona to name just three where non-lawyers already compete for business with lawyers.

Unfortunately, mandatory bar leaders aren’t listening. When they’re not holding expensive annual convention boondoggles like the Nevada Bar in Hawaii (2016), Texas (2017) and Illinois (2018), they’re busy finding new ways to make it harder for lawyers to earn a living. 

The Futures Commission Report is available here


Credits: Bury your head in the sand, by Sander van der Wel at Wikimedia Commons;Tin Woodman, by William Wallace Denslow at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Life user Manual, by Unuplusunu at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Smug by IburiedPaul at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution;3D Shackled Debt by Chris Potter  at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Second Band Drummer 5 Mono, by Dave Shaver, at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.


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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cf/A_Wilde_time_3.jpg/320px-A_Wilde_time_3.jpgOscar Wilde said he loved “talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.”

This week I shook my head reading that the Hon. Jonathan Lippman, former chief judge of New York’s highest court and who spent 43 years as a state court employee but never a year in private practice as a lawyer had taken a job with worldwide law firm behemoth Latham & Watkins LLP — in their New York office, of course. Judge Lippman is best remembered for his 2012 mandate that lawyers work 50 hours for free before being licensed to practice in New York.

http://images.nypl.org/index.php?id=834254&t=w New York became the first to compel pro bono work from lawyers. And it still fries my Arizona bacon. Last time I checked physicians, dentists, architects, pharmacists, engineers, accountants and other professionals have yet to acquire the special snowflake status of lawyers requiring them to provide free services as a precondition to practice their chosen professions. When altruism is coerced — not only is it no longer selfless — it is a tax.

Naturally, for proponents it’s nothing of the sort. It’s not compulsory charity but professional responsibility. Moreover, court cases dating back decades seem to back them up. Those decisions have held that lawyers as officers of the court aren’t protected by the 5th Amendment’s Takings Clause and are instead duty-bound to render service when ordered by court appointment.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/a1/Guercino_God_the_Father.jpg/275px-Guercino_God_the_Father.jpgIn the Empire State, then, as the former chief judge proclaimed at the time from his seat on high, “If you want the privilege and honor of practicing law in New York, you’re going to have to demonstrate that you’re committed to our values.” 

One more burden on the uninitiated.

There are no limits apparently to the belief that ‘To whom much was given, much will be required’ even when the much that’s been given includes staggering law school debt. And never mind that law school graduates in New York and elsewhere at a time of dismal job prospects for lawyers still can’t find good paying jobs as lawyers much less pay down hellacious debts.


While New York’s 2012 pro bono requirement has been roundly criticized by some, other jurisdictions enviously yearn to copy it, including most recently, California.

Mississippi looked at it several years ago as reported by the Wall Street Journal‘s Law Blog at “Forced Pro Bono: But is it Legal?” And take particular note of the trenchant opinions of commentator “Paco”: Law professors and judges who have guaranteed salaries, employer sponsored health insurance, and government retirement benefits are the perennial promoters of mandatory pro bono. Insulated from the economic vagaries of private practice, they nevertheless feel entitled to make pronouncements regarding the “moral” and related financial obligations the rest of us should bear. From my perspective as a private practitioner, the only moral imperative regarding this issue is for legal academicians and jurists to shut up.”

As for New York’s requirement, no one has deconstructed and decried it better than law school professor Paul Campos who entitled his contemporaneous acerbic takedown, “Clueless baby boomer judge orders poor lawyers to subsidize rich ones.” Or in other words, there’s nothing like vicarious noblesse oblige. Campos listed four objections, foremost being that in the hierarchy of indigent needs, legal services do not make the list of necessities.

Of Judge Lippman, Campos opined, “He has spent his entire professional career as a functionary within New York’s court system. I’m betting a Megamillions ticket that he doesn’t have the faintest idea how preposterous it is, under current circumstances, to expect aspiring lawyers to work for free as a precondition for bar admittance in New York of all places.”

broken and untied moccasins | by TracyKoPhoto“Walk a mile in my moccasins to learn where they pinch” is an old proverb. But even its variant, “Until you walk a mile in another man’s moccasins — you can’t imagine the smell,” is disregarded. Whether pinching or malodorous or pristine, legal elites would rather go moccasin-less preferring instead to impose destinations on others without having traipsed there themselves.

Prospecting for clients? Paying business expenses like rent, payroll, utilities, marketing, legal research and insurance? Worrying about paying back six-figure law school tuition debts? Such concerns will never trouble the moccasin discalced. Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, those who talk about nothing they know anything about — always know everything.


Credits: Oscar Wilde, by Napoleon Sarony at Wikimedia commons, public domain;God the Father, by Guercino, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Judiciary Scene : Judge Listening To Witness. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-0ca4-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99; A school class with a sleeping schoolmaster, oil on panel painting by Jan Steen, 1672, at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; broken and untied moccasins, by Tracy Ko at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

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California is besotted with lawyers. One report claims there are at least 42 lawyers for every 10,000 residents. Why, there are so many lawyers that there are even families of them! I know some with parents, sons, and daughters with bar cards.

And thanks to the presence of almost a quarter-million State Bar of California members, I easily conjured up the crazy notion — first told to me by a California lawyer — that somewhere among all the lawyer hordes in California, there’s at least one domus dulcis advocati with a dog also practicing the learned profession.

It’s no stretch either — as though drool and a tail would disqualify a diploma. Indeed, just a few years ago, Skeeter Jones became Canine-at-Law, thanks to Baylor Law School’s Honorary J.D.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f9/Erskine_Nicol.jpg/170px-Erskine_Nicol.jpgNothing succeeds like excess.

But if Oscar Wilde said Moderation is a fatal thing” and “Nothing succeeds like excess,” when it comes to the legal establishment and their zeal for continued expansion of legal service providers, there’s no worry of moderation.

If only they’d heed Mark Twain instead of Oscar Wilde. “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

So much for goose sense.


In one more sign the legal establishment will be the last place to find solutions to the continuing problem of a nationwide glut of lawyers, the California Bar has “at least begun the conversation” to consider granting limited law licenses to non-lawyers “in areas of practice where clients can’t afford to hire attorneys and the type of action required does not call for a licensed attorney.” That makes as much sense as what God gave a goose.

business,careers,ads,classifieds,employees,hands,help wanted,jobs,work,men,newspapers,pencils,marking,circling,people,unemployed

For one, more non-lawyers doing legal work only worsens the pain for underemployed and unemployed young lawyers. Already, “one in six recent California law school grads can’t find jobs.”

And what about the unsuspecting consumer? Or as Matt Leichter wonders at The Law School Tuition Bubble, who knows if “limited practice licenses provide cheap, unbundled services or if they’re just a swinging door for fraud.”

Slow-roasted carved duck.

A decade ago, the complaisant Arizona Bar heeding the siren call of the state’s highest court also certified legal document preparers.

DuckBut for a convenient exception carved out of the Unauthorized Practice of Law Rule (UPL) to except non-lawyers from UPL, the bankruptcy, divorce and will preparation work undertaken by now court-sanctified legal document preparers would’ve amounted to the practice of law. After all, while it may look like a duck, walk like a duck and quack like a duck, by judicial fiat, it’s not a duck.

Nevertheless, without much empirical evidence, proponents argue that legal document preparers expand “Access to Justice” and enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor, the downtrodden and anyone else willing to pay non-lawyer rates that can sometimes run as high as $100 per hour.

And don’t get me started on the higher-than-lawyer rates charged by “notario” immigration legal services document preparers.  Also see “Lost in Translation: Notario Fraud – Immigration Fraud.”

More than salmon spawns in Washington.

California lawyers can blame the State of Washington for spawning the limited license to non-lawyers idea. The Washington State Supreme Court recently ordered its bar to adopt a limited-license program authorizing non-lawyers to engage in the limited practice of law.

And leave it to Washington State for more bright ideas. Despite record nationwide declining law school enrollment; a U.S. oversupply of law schools; and new lawyers unable to find jobs, let alone pay back six-figure tuition loans — there’s a group of clueless Washingtonians hoping to resurrect a law school back to Tacoma, WA — as though anyone needs another law school.

California’s bar bureaucrats must think, if the State of Washington can get away with ill-serving its lawyers, why not California? But when the Holy Grail for legal establishment do-gooders remains the ballyhooed expanded ‘Access to Justice,’ there’s always a way even if it usually doesn’t work.

photoFortunately, the odds are good California lawyers won’t play dead on this one. Unlike Washington State, which has barely 14 percent as many lawyers as California, this idea’s so ugly that even if the Cal Bar’s leaders tie a pork chop around its neck — the dog will never play with it.

                                                                                                                                                     Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind — Load the Wagon.

File:Wagon.jpgSo long as the burdens are inflicted on others, keep loading the wagons the mules ain’t blind — yet. Such is the logic that keeps “Access to Justice” types thinking up new ways to feel good about themselves — so long as the “privilege burdened with conditions” keeps meaning someone else pays.

animals,cartoons,lazy ox,metaphors,oxen

Take mandatory pro bono for lawyers, for example, recently adopted by New York State. Doubtless, other benevolent jurisdictions will rush to adopt. Great stuff when it’s “not your ox being gored.”

A better idea?

But despite critics who call Pro Bono Mandates “indentured servitude,” so long as “Access to Justice” is an end-all, here’s a better idea. And arguably, weighing in the considerable educational training already invested — it may be a sure-fire winner.

Rather than messing around with certifying more non-lawyer-cum-legal-document-preparers — why not model Deck Shifflett and formally credential a new categorythe Paralawyer?

Think of the potential new licensing fees! The new continuing legal education programs! And think of one more governing body of bureaucratic substrata. And what of the talent pool! Why there are thousands and thousands of non-bar exam passing J.D.s — in California alone!

Of course — I’m kidding.


Photo Credits: “Lawyer Dog,” at http://www.quickmeme.com/Lawyer-Dog/;”A Nip Against the Cold,” by Erskine Nicol, at Wikipedia Commons, public domain; “Whisky the Poser!” by Kelly Inspire Kelly at Flickr via Creative Commons-license requiring attribution; “Haskell County, Texas family looking for cotton to pick,” by G. W. Ackerman, USDA Historical Photo 00di0965 CD8151-965 at Wikipedia Commons, public domain.

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