CBA Hears From Legal Education Think Tank

by Julia Cardi

Kyle McEntee, the executive director of Law School Transparency, paid a visit to the Colorado Bar Association’s board of governors on Dec. 6 to talk about current challenges for legal education, such as the need to make law school more affordable and ways to change how schools are evaluated and ranked.

Law School Transparency develops information about the economics of legal education and post-graduation employment and also advocates for policies and practices that improve the availability of reliable information about law school.

“Much of what he shared wasn’t terribly surprising,” said Amy Larson, the CBA’s interim executive director. “These are issues that are not new, but they need to be constantly discussed, managed to, worked with. … So it was familiar food for thought with some fresh information.”

According to LST’s data, the rise in the cost of law school since 1985 has been more than inflationary increases. Private school tuition was 2.73 times as expensive in 2018 as in 1985, adjusting for inflation, and public law school cost 5.82 times as much.

McEntee said legal education’s affordability issues are all interrelated: Students often have to borrow tens of thousands of dollars for law school — average debt for 2018 graduates was $115,481, according to LST and NerdWallet — and the unreliability of debt forgiveness safety nets, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, can scare students away from law school. That hurts law schools, which rely heavily on tuition for their revenue.

“If law schools can’t provide an affordable education, and there [aren’t] these backstops provided by hardship programs, it’s going to get a lot harder to recruit people,” McEntee said. “And that’s just bad all around for the profession.” He said the difficulty of affording law school affects the legal profession’s diversity, since groups like women and people of color are more likely to come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. And debt loads affect law graduates’ choices to go into careers that don’t pay as much as private practice, such as public service, legal aid centers or starting their own firms.

To read this and other complete articles featured in the Dec. 16, 2019 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.