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Red Flag Warnings at Lower-Ranked Law Schools

In case you need a primer on signal flags, there's a big difference between red and white flags.

In battle, soldiers wave a white flag to signal surrender. They fly a red flag to warn the public of live fire exercises. People generally know a red flag means something is wrong, but they don't realize it could be deadly.

That's why it's important to know what's going on with some law schools. First, a little history about their distress signals.

Red Flags

The red flags have been out at many law schools for almost a decade. Fighting a faltering economy, they have lost students like Custer lost soldiers at the Little Bighorn.

To stop the bleeding, some law schools lowered admissions to attract students. That didn't work, especially as students learned they were not prepared for the battle of the bar.

Some schools raised the white flag before regulators or economics killed them off. In retrospect, the signs were always there: falling enrollments; failing law students; and finally surrender.

With new recruits, the funeral march is slowing down. But not all of the law schools will make it. Here are the signs:

Vital Signs

U.S. News & World Report is famous for ranking law schools. In a recent article, the news organization focused on bad signs at the lower-ranked schools. It said:

  • Beware of the unaccredited law schools
  • Watch for declining admission standards
  • Do a cost-benefit analysis

Perhaps you are thinking that cost-benefit analysis means weighing the cost of a legal education against the return on investment. That would be right, but wrong for checking a law school's vital signs.

What you really need to do is look at the school's financials. It may be difficult to find the balance sheet, but there are signs of trouble.

Teacher layoffs, fewer classes, top-tier resignations; these could be red flags. Loss of accreditation; campus closure; bankruptcy; these would be white flags.

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