December 2011 (To print, click the print icon on your browser
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Would You Take Money to Quit Law School?

Tuition at private law schools nearly tripled over the last 25 years. Many law school graduates face six-figure debt and have trouble securing a job that can repay that debt. Students have accused law schools of misrepresenting their chances of securing a well-paying job after passing the bar. Although high debt is a problem across American higher education, law school is geared toward a specific degree and career which makes data collection easier.

Amar suggests all students who receive federal loans should be required to disclose if they passed the bar and their annual salary for the first 10 years after graduation. The data would show the long-term value of a juris doctorate. The status quo among law schools is to disclose self-reported salaries, and those students that obtain high-paying jobs are more likely to report their salary. Also, law schools only report salaries for the first year after graduation.

After more rigorous data collection and analysis, law schools could pay students to quit law school at the end of the first year. The chance to pull the ripcord on their legal education comes at the end of the first year because students will have received their grades and will have learned more about their legal abilities and motivations. After the initial years of the program law schools could release data that would provide applicants with powerful new information that would help them direct their legal careers. A student with a "C" average would be able to look at students that fared similarly and see his or her employment prospects for 10 years down the road.  

Amar proposes that a half-tuition rebate splits the loss of an aborted legal career between the school and the student. “Each has a skin in the game,” he writes, “so students will not go to law school lightly, and law schools will have better incentives not to admit students likely to fail.” If the student has taken out government loans, this rebate would first go to repay that debt. A student that took the money but restarted his or her legal education at another institution within five years would have to repay the rebate.

Amar acknowledges an inherent institutional bias because it is likely that few Yale students would take the chance to quit early. Better law schools could tout the low percentage of students taking the rebate offer, while the federal government would think twice about lending funds for law school if too many students take advantage of the offer. Amar is lobbying Yale’s dean to make the school the first in the country to offer students money to quit.

To view Amar’s full article in Slate, please click here.

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