Only 57 percent of 2013 law school graduates obtained full-time legal jobs nine months after graduation. Yet the federal government subsidizes the production of even more lawyers by lending the cost of attendance to basically anyone who decides to enroll in law school, without regard for the quality of the school or the job prospects of its graduates. A student going to Harvard Law School, where 86.9 percent of 2013 grads had full-time legal jobs, has the same access to federal funds as a student going to Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where just 22.9 percent of 2013 grads work as lawyers.
This policy is hurting students. Federally subsidized loans have enabled law school tuition to spiral out of control. As noted by Professor Paul Campos, “[i]n real, inflation-adjusted terms, tuition at private American law schools has doubled over the past 20 years, tripled over the past 30, and quadrupled over the past 40,” and resident tuition at public law schools has climbed even faster. So long as the federal loans keep coming, tuition is unlikely to stop rising. In the words of Professor Brian Tamanaha, author of “Failing Law Schools,” “Federal loans are an irresistible (and life-sustaining) drug for revenue addicted law schools . . . law schools have been ramping up tuition and enrollment without restraint thanks to an obliging federal loan program.”
If the government were to stop lending for law school or even just impose per-student or per-school caps on loan amounts (perhaps combined with making it easier to discharge student loans in bankruptcy), law schools would have to dramatically lower tuition, in order to attract students.