And according to Barry Currier, identified as “the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education,” law schools have no intention of behaving like businesses. Even though two-thirds of the 202 ABA-accredited law schools reported declines in 1L enrollment, with 60% of them suffering declines over 10% (the ABA promises to name names later).

This gets even richer: Currier seemingly takes schools to task for “[presuming] that the market for law school graduates was growing, [but they shouldn’t have expected] those numbers were going to be sustainable for a long time.” Fair enough, one supposes, had the schools accepted this cold dose of reality and stopped there. But incredibly, Currier goes on to report many schools are still in a state of complete denial: Shockingly, 27 law schools expanded their 1L clases by 10% or more. How is that possible? “Some schools may have corrected and are now in a position to increase their enrollment.”

May we stipulate:

  1. that financial reality is going to dictate that many schools have to redesign their business?
  2. that this is a “correction” that will be in place for the foreseeable future?
  3. and that law schools cannot magically gin up demand for 1L enrollees single-handedly, in the teeth of economic and technological changes that argue that we’ve moved to a new and lower “set point” for new-JD demand?

Note to those running law schools: You will find it bracing indeed when the market decides it wants to buy a lot less of what you’ve been selling.

If law schools come to grips with all those new realities, then the most obvious challenge is simply whether law schools caught in the wrong place in this game of enrollee musical-chairs can react in a sufficiently meaningful and rapid way to the downshift in demand to even survive.

They have large and long-term fixed costs not just in the form of real estate and facilities, which presumably have some non-zero value in alternative uses, but, most glaringly, tenured faculty, which is not an “asset” for which there is a market at all. And even if there were a market for this asset, it doesn’t belong to the school in the first place and isn’t the school’s to sell.

Putting this all together, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that some law schools are going to close their doors.  I actually have a request for those who would differ with this conclusion, since I think the past few years have shifted the burden of proof onto you.  Please explain, in the comments, why all law schools will—and deserve to—remain in business.

If you’re running a law firm and think that  firms are challenged in terms of adapting their business model, count your blessings that you’re not one of the less fortunate law schools. Welcome to dynamic markets.

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