In March, Law School Transparency published LST’s 2025 Vision: A Modern Blueprint for Change, which outlines plans and proposals for law schools to become more accessible, affordable, and innovative.
“When we collectively fail to address serious problems with law school access, affordability, and innovation, the legal profession loses out on people who could positively impact clients and diversify our profession. It also worsens our access to justice problem, whether because people take fewer entrepreneurial risks, cannot go into public service, or never enter at all.”
LST cites affordability as one of law schools’ biggest challenges, something exacerbated by a business model that may be unsustainable in the long run. Law school tuition has exceeded inflation for decades and students are borrowing at excessive rates to attend. Additionally, recent proposed changes to the federal student loan program would make it much harder to borrow the large sums of money required to attend, which could be devastating for law schools.
Another big issue the LST report discusses is the U.S. News rankings. These rankings have long been the standard by which law schools are judged and compared, yet the incentives they create and the hierarchies they reinforce impede law schools from offering accessible, affordable, and innovative programs of education.
LST doesn’t propose a complete elimination of the U.S. News rankings—just some healthy competition.
The report outlines problems with the current U.S. News methodology, which currently includes four categories of metrics: reputation, selectivity, outcomes, and faculty resources. For example, the latter category—although purporting to assess the quality of legal education—ends up rewarding schools that spend the most money. These costs are then passed off to current and prospective students, contributing to law schools’ exorbitant costs and locking schools and students alike in a vicious cycle.
An alternative set of rankings could both provide law schools and students alike with a different set of incentives to consider—ones that actually correspond to the quality of legal education—as well as push the U.S. News rankings in a better direction. LST proposes that meaningful competition can come in the form of their LST Reports, as well as their LST Index. The index will be a “deliberate, thoughtful, and transparent assessment tool that will reward law schools for valuable societal contributions on a range of measures that U.S. News does not reward.”
Criteria in the LST Index will relate to transparency, access, affordability, and curricular innovation, and schools will earn points based on their performance in these areas. Those schools will be able to earn a certification by meeting or exceeding a points threshold, and therefore demonstrate their values and achievements to the marketplace.
LST’s 2025 Vision also points to needed changes from the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the nationally recognized accreditor of JD programs, which can help law schools adapt how they do business. The report encourages the Section’s Council to reconsider their standards for accreditation with three themes in mind:
- Fewer limits on innovation;
- Increased consumer protection; and
- Increased transparency.
By removing barriers to help schools meet societal needs, bolstering consumer protection, and crafting empirically based reforms, the Section can strike a balance between the need for regulation and the need for flexibility and innovation. “Smart regulation will lead to more effective and innovative programs of legal education—potentially at a substantially lower price.”
Unsurprisingly, learning outcomes play a key role in LST’s vision for modernizing law school regulation, along with expanding distance education, permitting of novel structures, lowering costs, and providing open access to law school data. IAALS has done much work in developing and advancing use of evidence-based learning outcomes in law schools. As part of the second phase of our Foundations for Practice project, we have refined model learning outcomes with law schools and legal employers across the country. Once released, these learning outcomes can be used by law schools in order to provide a more forward-thinking, data-driven legal education.
The latest version of the LST Reports are slated for release in August of this year, and the Index in August 2022. Their current work with the Section to improve the accreditation standards will continue through at least February 2023. Undoubtedly, these ambitious projects will help LST achieve their vision of “lower tuition, less financially-stressed graduates, and a profession that looks more like our diverse society.”