Law School as a Consumer Product: Beat ’em or Join ’em?

Abstract:

With rising costs, pressure on performance metrics and competitive high-profile rankings, law schools are more than ever before being judged on a consumer satisfaction basis by both students and the public. While this perception has been growing over the past two decades, it has reached a crisis point in legal education. When students have their choice of educational institutions, they may act like consumers, and choose to spend their money based on metrics that satisfy them as buyers. This consumer mindset not only impacts admissions, but also can play out in the retention of students. The loss of students transferring out can take a serious toll on a law school, including potential detriments in bar passage, productive classrooms, the loss of future high performing alumni, and the cost of replacing the tuition generation. Schools are thus pressured to address the consumer issue.

Many of the conflicts that arise as between students as consumers, and their institutions, are not necessarily based in the substance of rules. Instead, much of the complaints can easily stem from the institution’s transparency and communication about various aspects of the educational experience, from in the classroom, to a student’s prospects on the job market. As such, institutions should be considering the student perspective in formulating how they present their program of education, and the various aspects within it.

While others have asked the question outright whether college students are consumers, this article does not debate whether law students treat their institutions with a consumer mindset. It presumes they do and seeks to solve the problem for institutions. Part II of this article summarizes how this mindset arose in education and specifically how it arose in legal education, and examines previous conflicts between students and institutions as a result. Part III examines different areas of law school operations where traditional academic mindset and student consumer mindset may clash, and offers solutions and strategies as to where and how the consumer pressure should be embraced to make institutional change, and where it should be resisted to ensure the consumer pressure does not result in changes that are not in students’ best long-term interests. Part IV offers some conclusions on the approach.

Citation:

Vollweiler, Debra Moss, Law School as a Consumer Product: Beat ’em or Join ’em? (July 10, 2019). Available at SSRN.