Advocates for Starving Advocates

BC Law Dean Thinks It’s Time to Inform Naive Undergrads

BUT MANAGING EXPECTATIONS WILL NOT MAKE A BETTER LAW SCHOOL

SCREAMING EAGLE: Vincent Rougeau, Dean of BC Law, says it's time to inform undergrads on the realities of law school.

SCREAMING EAGLE: Vincent Rougeau, Dean of BC Law, says it’s time to inform undergrads on the realities of law school.

The condescending notion that prospective law students need to be educated on “reality” in order to “fix law school” is uttered far too frequently. Vincent Rougeau, Dean of Boston College Law School, promoted this red herring in his recent U.S. News & World Report article, “Four Ways to Fix Law School.” His ideas to mend the system include more hands-on learning and exposure to international law in law school, more post-graduation partnerships with employers for recent graduates, and the radical idea that prospective law students should be told what they’re getting into. Those first three ideas are important  and indeed many schools have moved or are moving toward similar innovations. But the last idea is misguided, narrowly focused and even dangerous.

Rougeau mistakenly assumes that law students don’t know what they’re getting into. Puzzling, since this same group of people are often characterized as intelligent, diligent, and thorough. Certainly they possess the ingenuity and cleverness to investigate law schools and weigh their options. One hopes that they had the common sense to do so prior to making the commitment. As long as the information offered by schools is accurate, open, honest, and reflective of actual realities instead of manipulated to boost a school’s rankings, prospective law students will be able to make the determination for themselves.

He also shares the mistaken belief that law students think that the degree entitles them to a six-figure salary post-graduation, and that this is what drives them to attend law school. Firstly, not all law students elect to attend for the money. Reasons vary, and law schools should be ready to accommodate students regardless of motivation. Secondly, those who do attend for the big payday don’t believe that the J.D. is an automatic ticket to it. They strive and compete for grades and internships to position themselves for those lucrative jobs. While many of those have dried up, try convincing someone who wants to go to law school to make a lot of money not to do so because they won’t be the one to land that six-figure job.

The idea irresponsibly draws attention away from real reforms that law students and recent graduates need most. Measures that will help students and recent grads with mounting debt, shrinking salaries, and fewer job prospects. While Rougeau correctly points out that law schools must add programs that enhance students’ practical skills and job prospects, he neglects to address the other half of the equation. Namely, what law schools need to subtract in order to meet the needs of students. For instance, nowhere in his article does he mention costs or inflated tuition (BC charged $43,170 in 2012-2013). Without a discussion of costs, a law school’s commitment to real reform can’t be taken seriously. This doesn’t just mean freezing tuition, it means lowering it. It means fewer school facilities with unnecessary bells and whistles. It means a two-year program option. And it means either lowering salaries of administrators and professors, or demanding more from them to justify those salaries. If law students need to be educated about the realities of law school and their prospects thereafter, administrators and professors need a lesson about the realities of a 40 hour work week and merit-based salary scale.

The argument that efforts to fix law school must include lowering expectations of law students is nonsensical. Schools must improve the product, not manage the expectations of the customer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jon Cohen is a founding partner of Boston MicroLaw, LLP, a firm of small business attorneys in Boston, and a recent graduate of the Northeastern University School of Law. He swears he researched the average annual salary for an entry-level attorney before he entered law school.

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