11 February 2013

Bare Bones JD

Ideas | David Friedman | Could a Bare Bones Law School Succeed?

The [new bare bones] school faces a problem that it shares with any school that wants to improve its reputation. It will be judged by the performance of its graduates, most immediately their bar passage rate. That depends partly on the school and partly on the graduates, and until it gets a good reputation good students will go elsewhere.

The problem might be insoluble if BBLS had to start out by competing with relatively good schools, say the top hundred in the USNWR ranking, but it doesn't. It starts out competing with other unaccredited schools. Compared to them, it has one large and obvious advantage—a savings of close to a hundred thousand dollars. That should give it its pick of students who can't get into an accredited school, or can get into one but can't afford it, as well as some who can afford it but choose not to. With better students than other unaccredited schools and at least equally good instruction—what it's saving money on isn't the education but the gold plating—it ought to get better bar passage rates. Which will bring better students. Which will ... .
I would hope that people are logical/honest enough to evaluate Bare Bones Law by comparing it along the proper margins, ie to the students of other uncredited schools. Judging from the rhetoric deployed against for-profit higher ed, charter schools, and other reformers/boat-rockers, I am not optimistic that will be the case.

Either way, I think it would be very important to attract a better-than-average student, because people are going to be judging the final state of Bare Bones' graduates, not Bare Bones' treatment effect.

One potential route would be to heavily recruit people from other professions rather than undergrads and 20-somethings. There are plenty of people who have success in one career and go back to professional school. I think the idea of not laying out six figures for gold-plated schools*
mahogany-paneled libraries, PhD law profs with more journal articles than teaching ability, etc.
would appeal especially to these people, compared to the average undergrad. (Who tends to be dumb enough to think act as if anything you're buying on credit is free.)

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