Should Law Schools Pay Some Students to Drop Out?Should law school students be eligible for tuition refunds if they decide they'd rather not accumulate six-figures in debt studying for a career in which job prospects are dismal? That's what two Yale University professors recently argued in Slate. The National Association of Law Schools, not surprisingly, rejected the idea.

"The hypothetical was an absurd one," said Michael A. Olivas, the association's president, adding that he is not aware of any law students who have actually made such a request. "We have never guaranteed that our graduates will have jobs."

Olivas, a law professor at the University of Houston, makes a persuasive case that letting law school students escape their debts is a bad idea. After all, he notes that people have to pay off their car loans even if they grow tired of their vehicles.

An Idea Borrowed From Zappos

In their article, Akhil Reed Amar and Ian Ayres argue that the problems facing young lawyers are a matter of excessive supply and weak demand. The way to rectify the situation, they suggest, is to "rebate half of a student's first-year tuition if the student opts to quit school at the end of the first year."

It's an idea they are borrowing from Internet shoe retailer Zappos, which famously offers new employees who complete its training course $4,000 to quit.

The proposal, though, makes no sense economically. The aggrieved law student would still owe tens of thousands of dollars in tuition under the Amat and Ayres plan. Most people who hate law school that much would figure that they might as well stick it out and gamble that their degree would enable them to land a better-paying job than they would have otherwise.

Paying people to quit law school is not a new idea. An anonymous Boston College law student made headlines last year when his "open letter" to the school's interim dean offering to quit in exchange for a refund made headlines. And there have been at least two lawsuits seeking class action status alleging that law schools misled students about the employment rates of their graduates.

Yet Another Blow to Lawyers' Reputations

The negative publicity surrounding debt-ridden law students and their poor employment prospects is already having an effect on law schools.

According to the Law School Admissions Council, or LSAC, which oversees the law school entrance exam, 16.9% fewer LSATs were administered in October's test-taking period, and 18.7% fewer tests were taken during the June period. This represents a reversal from the 2009-2010 school year, when the number of tests administered spiked 13% during the height of the economic slowdown.

"The word is getting around about the job market," says Wendy Margolis, a spokeswoman for the LSAC, in an interview.

For his part, Olivas said he wasn't concerned by the LSAT statistics, noting that "most law schools in major metropolitan areas continue to have gravity-defying levels of students and record numbers of applicants."

Though there may be surpluses of lawyers in parts of the country, some areas don't have enough of them. "There are counties in the state of Texas that have fewer than a dozen lawyers in them," Olivas said.

According to the American Bar Association, more than 44,000 law degrees were awarded during the last school year, the most since statistics were kept in the early 1960s. These statistics also reflect that about a dozen or so new law schools have opened up shop over the past few years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that lawyers held 759,000 jobs in the U.S. in 2008.

Motley Fool contributor Jonathan Berr managed to avoid the temptation of law school and has no regrets.

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I feel badly that many of these people were told they were "brilliant" for writing some stuff down on essay exams for three years. The poster below said a law degree is like a liberal arts degree, he is so right about that.

March 01 2012 at 8:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They should raise their standards instead. Robert White in his book THE OFFICIAL LAWYERS HANDBOOK observed "thousands of morons have passed it ( the bar exam ) ". Mr. White knew what he was saying

December 05 2011 at 3:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to josephn126's comment

I have known some of those morons.

December 05 2011 at 8:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No, If They are so Called smart Enough to Get A Law Degree , They Should be Smart Enough To Know That Good Pay Is Not Guaranteed

December 05 2011 at 8:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is the stupidist thing I have ever heard of. If you my admission to a theme park, go on a few rides, the go back and ask for a refund. You're telling me that that is ok to do. Where is the common sense. What ever happened to capitalism and making a buck? This article plays right along with the occupiers. They to want something for nothing. They to want an education and then turn around and ask anmd their loans (and all of their other monies that they have paid) be returned. Stupid.

December 05 2011 at 1:44 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

i belive they shuld because,if it's not wat they expected thn the school shuld refund their income so that the student would be able to put the money towards a better or secondary legal use.that way there wont be any pissed off students,nd less pissed off students makes it a better and reasonable school,aswell process.

December 04 2011 at 10:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to grimreapper777's comment

if it's not what they expected then they just don't go back for a second semester. they shouldn't be allowed to take semesters and then not pay for them because it's not what they expected. they used the campus, attended the classes, and used the school's resources. if it's not what they expected, it's their loss. they should be mature enough to make their own decisions to drop out or keep going - that should not be anyone else's responsibility.

December 04 2011 at 10:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

it comes down to this: should people be held responsible for the voluntary purchases they make?

my brother wanted to open his own business, so he invested in thousands of dollars in computer and office equipment, and then he opened his business. a year later he wasn't making a profit and regretted opening his business. so he went back to Best Buy and demanded a full refund because his business failed, and he only bought the equipment to open a business, so now he regrets spending the money on it and wants his money back. but he doesn't want to return the equipment, just like law students can't return the classes they took or the knowledge the law school has already provided them. do you think Best Buy would give a refund for products a customer had already used and could not return?

law students presumably already have a high school diploma and some type of bachelor's degree by this point. in this regard, i would consider any additional education a luxury that should not be purchased unless the student agrees that he/she is responsible for paying for it. i wouldn't purchase a big screen tv for my superbowl party and then demand a refund because my team lost. why would people think they shouldn't have to pay for things they use just because life has obstacles and things (like jobs) are sometimes harder to obtain than you first thought? and who's to say that these law students will still be unemployed in 3 or 4 years? just because their law degrees aren't usable now does not mean they will never be in the future. and what about the huge door this opens for people who want to abuse it - people who graduate and then refuse to work, claiming that there are no jobs so that they can get all their tuition money back, and THEN go out and start a career after they collect their huge refund?

December 04 2011 at 10:15 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Best and Worst Reasons to Go Back to School:

December 04 2011 at 9:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Michael Olivas,

Could you point me in the direction of the Texas counties where fewer than a dozen lawyers practice. That's where I want to live!!

December 04 2011 at 5:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

just goes to show u what these people running these schools really care about and it sure isnt u

December 04 2011 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Where is that County in Texas? Sounds like a great place to live!

December 04 2011 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply