Are law schools cash cows, or do some have a soul? With all the talk about the rising tuition at law schools, The New York Times wrote a scathing article (“Law School Economics: Ka-Ching!”) about New York Law School and its allegedly dubious practices.
Despite the fact that NYLS is ranked in the bottom third of law schools in the country, its tuition is higher than Harvard’s ($47,800), and it recently increased its class size. The article suggests that NYLS has irresponsibly accepted more students than it can help find employment for. The responsibility for accepting 30% more students this year than in past years is placed squarely on the shoulders of the dean, Richard A. Matasar.
Dean Matasar has been dean of NYLS for over a decade and is believed to have good intentions. He has been one of the major critics of law school business models that don’t “put the interests of students first,” which is partially why the NYT is so intrigued by his decision to increase class size.
Although the article attacks Matasar, the piece is really more about the general law school profit model. In the past it was a practical decision for young college grads to take on six-figure loans in order to become lawyers—they would be able to pay the money back within a few years (after they got paid a six-figure annual salary at a BigLaw firm). Yet after the BigLaw job openings began disappearing, law schools kept growing. This is partially because schools like NYLS gave the impression that many of these jobs were still out there. The article explains, “It’s kind of like makers of breakfast cereal reporting the nutrition levels of their products, without worrying that anyone will actually count the calories.”
The article accuses Matasar of other transgressions, such as accepting too many students as a means of keeping his school’s bond ratings stable: “Was Mr. Matasar more worried about bond ratings than the fortunes of his new students?”
To hear the other side of the story, read Dean Matasar’s response to the NYT, in which he explains why the article was misleading and did not take into account the student’s ability to “make informed decisions,” the “lifelong value of a legal education,” and the inability of any one school to control costs.
Moreover, in his response Matasar includes his full comments to the author of the article, which the NYT choose not to print. Despite the allegations made against his business practices, and the business of all American law schools, Matasar insists that it is still possible “to reform legal education from within.”
Above the Law also wrote an interesting piece that looks at how other law schools have responded to this expose on law school economics.