Justice Scalia: The Current Law School Model Is ‘Not Sustainable’

By David Lat

Justice Antonin Scalia

[I]f law school is to remain three years, costs have to be cut; the system is not sustainable in its present form. The graduation into a shrunken legal sector of students with hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt, nondischargeable in bankruptcy, cannot continue. Perhaps — just perhaps — the more prestigious law schools (and I include William and Mary among them) can continue the way they are, though that is not certain. But the vast majority of law schools will have to lower tuition.

– Justice Antonin Scalia, in his commencement speech at William & Mary School of Law. More highlights from Justice Scalia’s remarks, after the jump.

Legal education is a hot topic among Supreme Court justices these days. Not long ago, Justice Samuel Alito told us what he really thinks about the U.S. News law school rankings.

Back to Justice Scalia’s speech. After getting in some digs at Judge Richard Posner and President Barack Obama for supporting proposals to make law school two years, Justice Scalia declared:

I vigorously dissent. It seems to me that the law-school-in-two-years proposal rests on the premise that law school is — or ought to be — a trade school. It is not that. It is a school preparing men and women not for a trade but for a profession — the profession of law.

Now this makes it sound like Justice Scalia, a former law professor himself, is down with the “law is fascinating,” don’t worry about the loans school of thought. But in fairness to the justice, he is concerned about cost, as reflected in the quotation above.

What are some of the consequences of lower tuition? They’re not necessarily bad, according to His Honor:

[Lower tuition] probably means smaller law-school faculties — though not necessarily one-third smaller. That would be no huge disaster. Harvard Law School, in the year I graduated, had a faculty of 56 professors, 9 teaching fellows, and 4 lecturers; it now has a faculty of 119 professors, 53 visiting professors, and 115 lecturers in law. A total of 69 then and 287 now.

And cutting back on law-school tuition surely means higher teaching loads. That also would not be the end of the world. When I got out of law school, the average teaching load was almost 8 hours per week. Currently it is about half that.

And last but not least, professorial salaries may have to be reduced, or at least stop rising. Again, not the end of the world. To use Harvard again as an example: Faculty salaries have much more than doubled in real terms since 1969.

While judicial salaries have dropped in real terms since then, as noted by Chief Justice John Roberts. If his former colleagues in academia were to complain to him about slower growth or even drops in compensation, Justice Scalia might reply, “Welcome to my world.”

Scalia v. Posner (& Obama), Round XXIV – Nino “Vigorously Dissents” From 2-Years of Law School
[Josh Blackman's Blog]
Justice Scalia’s commencement speech at William & Mary Law School
[Volokh Conspiracy / Washington Post]
Reflections on the Future of the Legal Academy [William & Mary School of Law]

Leave a Comment: