Will Micro Law Schools Become a Thing?

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Appalachian School of Law. Photo courtesy of ASL.

Summary: Law schools with low enrollment should consider the micro law school model.

It’s now well-known that most non-elite law schools are floundering. Indiana Tech Law School announced this year that it would close in June because of low student enrollment. This fall, only 37,000 students nationwide entered law school, which was a steep drop from the 52,000 first years of 2010. In November, the American Bar Association sanctioned Charlotte School of Law and Valparaiso University School of Law for their low admissions standards, a movement to counter the limited number of quality applications received.

Many potential students are no longer interested in law because of schools’ high prices but no guarantee of a well-paying job, and schools are suffering from this loss of income. While law schools can’t do anything about the dearth of jobs, they could lower their tuition, but that doesn’t seem to be on the table. So what can law schools do to address their problem? One proposed option is the micro law school.

A micro law school is one with entering classes of 50 students or less. According to Law.com, Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia is a viable business model. In 2014, it had a first-year class of 48 students and about a dozen full-time faculty. The purpose of Appalachian was to serve a small community where its students could not travel far from their homes. Being of a small size, they could easily operate in that area without high overhead.

Other schools could follow Appalachian’s lead, and they may be forced to. For instance, in May of this year, The University of Minnesota, a well-respected Midwest school, addressed the loss of income from the shrinking application pool, and it decided to downsize its class number and faculty instead of lower its admission standards. A smart move.

All in all, law schools must bring in more money than its spending to avoid shutting down. If they cannot bring in more money from tuition and application fees, then the only other option is to alter the current business model and decrease expenses. Otherwise, they’re just doomed to fail.

Al Brophy, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, said in a 2015 interview that schools would most likely not choose to close down, even if they faced a financial crunch. This is because the staff and faculty have interests in seeing the school succeed.

“It is going to take a lot to have schools shut down. What I think we are going to find is that they are going to be able to operate on shoestring budgets,” Brophy said.

What do you think can be done to fix the law school crisis? Let us know in the comments below.

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