New York Law Schools?

Brian Leiter and his readers have noticed three related stories about the new New York budget:

Sen. locks $3 million for law school:

State politicians have guaranteed $3 million to fund initial design and planning stages of a proposed Binghamton University law school, Sen. Tom Libous announced Wednesday.

Libous and Donna Lupardo, assemblywoman for the 126th district, secured the money from the 2008-2009 state budget because they say the proposal would benefit BU’s reputation and offer economic development.

Stony Brook scores $45 million for law school:

Stony Brook University secured $45 million in the budget for the purchase or the construction of a new law school.

The money, part of $221 million included in the budget for the school’s capital improvements, was put there by State Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, who said adding a law school to Stony Brook is important to making it a comprehensive university.

Downtown might draw a law school:

St. John Fisher College is expected to get $2.25 million in state funding to help create a new law school in downtown Rochester.

Fisher spokeswoman Anne Geer said school officials were hoping that the money obtained by state Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, would attract additional funding to move the project forward.

Something is very, very strange here. Either New York’s pork problems have gotten seriously out of control, New York is about to be glutted with law schools, or some of its state senators have some serious ‘splainin to do.

You’d think the free market would be more likely to know the proper number of law schools than would the state government. Either law firms should pay to create new law schools, or wealthy lawyers should fund new schools, or somesuch. Seems to me that we want there to be a proper feedback between demand for lawyers and supply for lawyers: when the former goes down, so should the latter. I can’t imagine the supply and demand will be kept in check if state governments are deciding this sort of thing.

Maybe this will just be an initial disequilibrium. If no one wants to attend Binghamton’s law school, they probably won’t be able to afford the faculty, so the proper equilibrium will be restored in time.

This is all by way of arrant speculation, if it weren’t obvious.

I’m the sort of guy who gets upset when others misuse the subjunctive, so let’s all just pretend that final phrase reads “if it wasn’t obvious.”

As with many other forms of education, the arguments for public funding of legal education shouldn’t be ignored. There’s always the standard public-good argument, though here it probably depends on your feelings about lawyers.

One important line is that law firms aren’t the only consumers of lawyers; governments and public-interest groups also need legal work. Graduating lawyers who aren’t crippled with debt is one way to provide lawyers to do society’s work. Another goal is to direct the content of legal education so that it contains stronger emphasis on public service and less emphasis on self-interest (not that many states do this, but one does see arguments that state-funded law schools ought to).

The flow of lawyers among states is another reason that some states fund law schools. The smallest states might not have critical mass to support a law school without funding; some states might lose too many graduates to other states unless they produced a local oversupply. This last reason seems particularly inappropriate for New York, which has a constant inward stream of out-of-state law school graduates sitting for the New York bar.

Anyway, I’m just pointing out that there are reasons why many reasonable people don’t want the let the market sort things out by itself when it comes to funding law schools. It’s hard to see those reasons adding up to three new law schools in New York, though.

There’s long been a perception that law schools are cash cows for their parent university: over time a law library probably costs less to maintain than a science lab, plus students are locked in to at least 3 years of tuition as opposed to 2 years at biz schools, and lawyers as a profession earn more than many other professionals thus allowing them to donate more as alumni. I think it’s this perception that’s partially responsible for driving the glut of new law schools over the last decade.

Whatever happened to the plan for Stony Brook to buy Touro Law instead of building a law school from scratch?