Jacob Garber: Law school needs to chart a new course

Jacob Garber, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

Law school applications were way down again last year, and the GW Law School was faced with two choices: Admit a smaller number of students, or increase the student population to keep the money flowing in.

It chose the greater of the two evils.

When the law school announced a 22 percent increase in enrollment, in September, I expressed skepticism over the what this could do to the value of that education. Now, as predicted, GW announced that the law school’s acceptance rate skyrocketed 13 percentage points in one year.

Law school applications are down across the board, a total 12 percent nationally. But this decrease makes sense, as the investment in law school isn’t paying off. Nearly half of all law school graduates across the country – 44  percent – in 2012 did not find jobs in law after graduation.

If we consider this GW as a moral institution, the law school seems to be in the wrong. Debt for law school graduates is at a high and job prospects are at a low, yet GW is as welcoming as ever, even as the school continues to put forth millions of dollars subsidize the unpaid work that its students find after graduating. It seems irresponsible that GW would accept more students given the state of employment in the law field.

Many law schools around the nation are doing the exact opposite of GW, shrinking their programs to accommodate the tightening job market. George Mason University School of Law has cut its enrollment in half since 2010, and Northwestern’s law school, despite being ranked 12th in the nation, plans to cut its enrollment by 10 percent by next fall.

Had GW decided to downsize the law program, accommodating this trough in law school popularity, it would likely retain prestige and have a higher percent of students finding employment after graduation. Cuts in faculty and programs might follow, but it’s clear the law school is unsustainably large.

Before he shifted from the dean’s office to the provost’s office in 2012, one of GW Law School Dean Paul Schiff Berman’s top priorities was to shrink the size of the law program. To make up for lost dollars, the school would get more innovative by offering dual-degree programs. But now that he’s gone, administrators are thinking about the bottom line first, making up for the lack of applications with significantly more acceptances.

With a new law school dean likely arriving soon, GW will have the opportunity to change its strategy. He or she needs to keep these facts in mind: the average GW law grad walks away with over $125,000 in debt and less than half of 2012 graduates nabbed full-time, salaried jobs. Those scary indicators means it’s time to change course.

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