“It is not defensible to charge people $200,000 for a degree which is worse than worthless. We have a systemic catastrophe on our hands.”
Campos blames the federal loan program, which he says issues loans to cover any amount of tuition, to any number of law students, with no regard for post-academic realities. In his Law School Tuition Bubble blog, 2008 Marquette University JD Matt Leichter, who writes frequently for AmLaw Daily, estimates that 2010 law school graduates took on $3.6 billion in loans, and that students over the next decade (for whom there are statistically zero jobs) will borrow $53 billion.
“If the federal government applied any actuarial standards, half the law schools would shut down tomorrow,” Campos says. “The whole thing is a basically a giant subsidy machine run for the benefit of legal education.”
Campos says his crisis of confidence in his industry reached a tipping point in May 2010, when “one of my all-time favorite students committed suicide a year to the day after he graduated. He was a very, very thoughtful and gifted young guy; and the long and the short of it, he couldn’t find a job.
“It was a triggering event for me. I started doing some nitty-gritty research into how many people were getting jobs, what kind of jobs and what level of debt. And I was genuinely shocked.”
About a year after his student’s death, Campos launched a blog, Inside the Law School Scam, and he published a book in the same vein in September, not long after Washington University law professor Brian Tamanaha’s well-received “Failing Law Schools.”
This is not a crisis of the elites. The exceptional, those graduating at the top of their law school classes at Stanford, Yale or Harvard will, as ever, do just fine. And choosing to attend a third- or fourth-tier law program, which can have tuition on par with the most-expensive elite schools, has long been seen as a dicey proposition.
Given that, perhaps Chemerinsky is brilliant in his bid to create a Yale of the West. If the middle is now doomed, the bottom has always been doomed, and only the elite are likely to weather the storm, then join the elite.
But if UC-Irvine Law ends up being just another respected middle-of-the-pack academy, its graduates, who will soon number 200 a year, will join the crisis already affecting the students of mid-tier schools.
Consider this: Of the 576 who graduated George Washington University this year, 20 percent — 112 — are employed as lawyers only because GWU pays them $15 an hour, up to $525 each week, to do volunteer work. The average indebtedness of GWU’s class of 2011 was $127,360. Trying to adjust, the school trimmed first-year enrollment this fall by 16 percent, to 400.