Could a Bare Bones Law School Succeed?
In an earlier post, I described how a law school could provide a no-frills legal education for a small fraction of the current cost, ten thousand dollars a year for two years. That raises the interesting question of whether something along those lines could succeed under current circumstances.
The two problems I discussed were ABA certification requirements and pressure due to the US News and World Reports rankings. The school I described would not get certified and it would not get a high ranking. But graduating from an ABA certified school is not a requirement to take the California Bar, and law schools that score low in the USNWR ratings still get students—at a price lower than the top schools but still much higher than what I am proposing.
Checking the online description of what is required to be admitted to the California bar, the requirements include one of the following:
- J. D. degree from a law school accredited by the State Bar of California or approved by the ABA;
- Four years of study at a fixed-facility law school registered with the Committee;
- Four years of study, with a minimum of 864 hours of preparation and study per year, at an unaccredited distance-learning or correspondence law school registered with the Committee;
- Four years of study in the law office/judge’s chambers study program; or
- A combination of these methods.
My BBLS will not be approved by the ABA and probably not accredited by the state bar, so its students will have to put in four years, but that could include time apprenticing in a law office with some supervision by the school, so it should be possible to do it as two years of classes, at a cost of ten thousand dollars a year, plus two more years of apprenticeship at a much lower cost—with, presumably, some salary going to the apprentice. Call it a total of thirty thousand.
The school faces a problem that it shares with any school that wants to improve its reputation. It will be judged by the performance of its graduates, most immediately their bar passage rate. That depends partly on the school and partly on the graduates, and until it gets a good reputation good students will go elsewhere.
The problem might be insoluble if BBLS had to start out by competing with relatively good schools, say the top hundred in the USNWR ranking, but it doesn't. It starts out competing with other unaccredited schools. Compared to them, it has one large and obvious advantage—a savings of close to a hundred thousand dollars. That should give it its pick of students who can't get into an accredited school, or can get into one but can't afford it, as well as some who can afford it but choose not to. With better students than other unaccredited schools and at least equally good instruction—what it's saving money on isn't the education but the gold plating—it ought to get better bar passage rates. Which will bring better students. Which will ... .
It just might work, which raises the question of why nobody, so far as I know, has done it yet.