Over the last year, U.S. law schools have come under increasing fire for producing more graduates than there are available legal jobs. Roughly 45,000 law students graduate annually into a legal employment sector that shed that many jobs during the “Great Recession,” and has continued to contract even as other sectors make tentative employment gains. Ohio’s law schools graduate nearly twice as many new lawyers each year than there are positions available.
For Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University, these statistics prompted radical changes. The law school plans to decrease its entering class from 200 to 140 students, revamp the curriculum, and expand opportunities for experiential learning.
“The ‘140 Plan’ is a common-sense response to what’s going on in the marketplace. It is about adapting to a legal sector that is undergoing major, long-term transformation and doing the right thing for our students,” says Cleveland-Marshall Dean Craig M. Boise. “Ethically, we were not willing to take tuition dollars from students who would not have a reasonable chance of using their degrees.
“By implementing substantial curricular changes and expanding practical and skills training, we expect to increase the odds that our students stay on the right side of the statistics ‑ that they are prepared to pass the bar and are highly employable.”
The Law School Admissions Council reports that 167 of the roughly 200 U.S. law schools, including some of the most highly ranked, are suffering significant declines in applications for the 2012-2013 academic year. This follows on the heels of an 11% decline in applications in 2011-2012. Law schools must determine, based on a number of academic indicators, how likely each applicant is to pass the bar exam and have a career in law.
The 140 Plan is part of a larger, changing picture at Cleveland-Marshall, one that includes increasing the ratio of clinical professors to students in order to provide more practice opportunities, funding a bar exam preparation course for all graduates—typically a $3000 out-of-pocket expense for students—and building on the school’s already strong network of alumni to engage students with the legal community.
“When employers look at our graduates, they will see a smaller, but stronger pool of candidates who have already had meaningful practical experience,” says Boise.
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law boasted a state-high 92% pass rate for first time takers of the 2012 February bar, and according to the most recent law school employment data, 2010 graduates of Cleveland-Marshall led all Ohio public law schools in graduates employed full-time in positions requiring a JD, exceeding the national average. Additionally, among Ohio public law schools, the class of 2010 had the lowest percentage of graduates with a student loan.
The school plans to pay for the smaller numbers through budget cuts, faculty and staff attrition, and by making incremental tuition increases over three years. Even after tuition increases, Cleveland-Marshall—already the least expensive law school in Ohio—will offer one of the most affordable law degrees in the state.