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Is the American Bar Association finally taking law school debt seriously?
On Monday, the ABA's House of Delegates adopted Resolution 106, which "encourages law schools to offer comprehensive debt counseling and debt management education" to students and encourages bar associations to provide the same for newly admitted lawyers.
But curiously missing from the two-paragraph resolution is any serious discussion of employment statistics, law school prices, and the unwillingness of the ABA to do anything about these issues.
How Not to Solve a Problem
To some, it may seem like the ABA hasn't met a law school it won't accredit. As a result, there are 205 ABA-accredited law schools in the United States, all of which charge about the same, but only about the Top 100 if which are (maybe) worth it in terms of employment statistics (maybe).
The fact that the House of Delegates resolution is willing to use the D-word indicates that the ABA knows there's a problem. But the fact that it "encourages" law schools to offer "debt counseling" indicates that the ABA is either unwilling or unable to change the problem.
What's the problem? It's not that law students buy too many Fabergé eggs and need to be counseled not to. It's that they pay way too much for schools that largely aren't worth it. To offer debt management programs is sort of a backhanded method of helping: "We'll tell you what you're doing wrong. But this is your problem, not ours."
It's a Little Late for That
Of course, the ABA has been tone-deaf for a long time when it comes to the issue of law school tuition. In 2012, former ABA President William Robinson basically told law students to stop whining about the high cost of law school because he could pay for it in 1968. "When I was going to law school ... I sold my Corvair to make first-semester tuition and books for $330," he said.
The fact that Robinson thought current law students could just sell their cars to pay their $15,000 per semester tuition isn't laughable (at Robinson's alma mater, the University of Kentucky College of Law, in-state tuition is $36,000 per year). His comments exceeded the bounds of "laughable" and made every law student wonder why someone so deliriously out of touch with the world was in charge of the country's law school-accrediting organization.
So, kudos to the ABA for encouraging "debt counseling," which does nothing to solve the actual impetus for the debt counseling, which is too many students admitted to too many law schools (many of which pad their employment figures, with the ABA's sanction) paying too much money to earn too few jobs. Perhaps you could "encourage" more transparency and lower tuition.