Chesterton Tribune

Too many lawyers? Indiana Tech defends law school plan from critics

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Indiana Tech’s plans to open the state’s fifth law school are drawing criticism from experts who say the state doesn’t have enough jobs for the lawyers it already has.

The school announced its plans to open a law school near downtown Fort Wayne in May. Officials expect to enroll about 100 students when the program begins in the fall of 2013.

Indiana Tech President Arthur Snyder says the U.S. economy is predicted to expand and that demand for lawyers rises as the economy grows. He told The Journal Gazette that the decision to pursue a law school was made after extensive research.

But critics question the timing. The Association for Legal Career Professionals, which tracks employment data, said the class of 2010 faced the toughest job market since 1996, and it predicts the class of 2011 will have an even harder time landing legal jobs.

Fewer than 400 jobs are expected to be open in the legal field in Indiana each year through 2015, while about 600 people will pass the bar each year.

“There’s no shortage of attorneys in Indiana,” said Indiana University law professor William Henderson, who writes about law school education. “We do have too many law school students.”

Critics also are questioning how students will repay the debt they incur. Tuition at Indiana Tech’s law school is expected to cost about $28,500 a year. But Snyder acknowledges it’s unlikely that Indiana Tech students will go on to earn six-figure salaries. The school’s feasibility study showed that most beginning lawyers in Indiana make between $35,000 and $65,000.

Snyder and consultant Leary Davis say Indiana has few lawyers compared with other states, and they believe there is sufficient demand for another law school in Indiana — particularly in the northeastern part of the state. Their feasibility report argued that many Indiana college graduates would like to attend an in-state law school but can’t get admitted.

Robert Wagner, chairman of Indiana Tech’s board of trustees, says not every graduate will be clamoring for the kind of legal jobs that are in short supply today. He notes that many law school graduates are taking jobs in business and other fields where law degrees are considered an asset.

Moreover, Snyder and Wagner say they plan to create a law school that will give students opportunities they wouldn’t have elsewhere.

Snyder said the school will pair students with attorney mentors, place them in internships at local law firms and draw on other resources to ensure students are prepared to practice as attorneys immediately after graduation. Students will be able to earn dual degrees in law and organizational leadership.

“We don’t need another law school,” he said. “We need another kind of law school.”

Henderson acknowledged that there is room to improve legal education.

“It is possible to create a really terrific law school that does a better job than others,” he said.

But he said graduates of the new school will face an uphill climb because their program is an unproven entity.

“They’re an unknown brand,” Henderson said. “They have no alumni network to rely on. There’s a little suspicion they’re not as capable as someone from an established law school.”

The school, he said, will pair students with attorney mentors, place them in internships at local law firms, and draw on other local resources to ensure students are prepared to practice as attorneys immediately after graduation.

Once Snyder appoints a dean, which he hopes to do by September, he said he will have a better idea of how the school will distinguish itself. For now, he plans for the school to concentrate on leadership, with a chance for students to earn a dual degree in law and organizational leadership.

Henderson thinks the team is heading in the right direction.

“I don’t think it’s fair to heap scorn on the people starting this thing at Indiana Tech,” he said. “It creates problems for the legal profession when you have too many law schools cranking out lawyers - that’s something we’re going to have to deal with. But there’s room for improvement in legal education . It is possible to create a really terrific law school that does a better job than others.”

Snyder acknowledged that many students could leave the school with heavy debt.

As a result, he said, the school will make financial aid a priority and keep tuition low.

For comparison, in-state students at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law pay $27,040 in annual tuition - about $1,460 less than at Indiana Tech.

He also said the school has a responsibility to be candid with students about the kind of salaries they will earn.

“Honesty is the best policy,” he said. “Less than 1 percent (of law school graduates) get the big-firm jobs in Chicago and New York. We’ve got to be very straightforward.”

In addition to benefiting students, Snyder thinks the school will boost the local economy and broaden the academic discourse on campus.

Whether the new law school will also benefit the school financially is unclear. Law schools can sometimes serve as cash cows for universities, bringing in funds often used to subsidize other struggling programs.

Indiana Tech is projected to spend about $8.7 million on the school, breaking even in 2017, according to the feasibility study. By the fifth year, the law school is projected to start operating at a surplus.

Snyder said the decision has nothing to do with money.

“We’re not planning on it being profitable,” he said. “We’re planning on it being successful.”

 

 

Posted 8/15/2011