Just Like Pulling Teeth: How Dental Education’s Crisis Shows the Way Forward for Law Schools
Chiappinelli, Eric A.
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Nearly all observers of the current law school crisis treat legal education as a unique discipline. In their view, legal education as a whole and individual law schools have nothing to learn from outsiders that would be useful in reacting to, or thriving in the face of, the radical changes in legal education that have resulted from the collapse of the admissions market. Further, many critics focus on legal education’s shortcomings and suggest internal changes such as expanding programs, reducing faculty, and changing the curriculum, that, they believe, will ensure a law school’s survival. Others focus on the closing of Whittier Law School, Indiana Tech Law School, Hamline University School of Law, and Charlotte School of Law, and the perilous situation of other law schools, such as Arizona Summit Law School and Valparaiso University School of Law, suggesting that largescale consolidation is inevitable and close at hand. I take an entirely different approach. I believe legal education is not sui generis. In fact, another profession faced a similar crisis. Its schools’ admissions market collapsed because of a fundamental change in the profession itself. Many schools expanded their programs, reduced their faculty, and changed their curricula. And yet twelve percent of those schools were closed. That profession was dentistry, and the lessons from its crisis are the way forward for legal education and for law schools. Law schools should continue to explore new revenue sources if they can do so consistently with their core mission of Juris Doctor (JD) education. And schools are right to seek to reduce their costs. Of course, a reexamination of curricula should be a constant, or at least frequent, focus at every law school. But schools should recognize that none of these changes is likely to stave off closure. That is a principal lesson from the crisis in dental education. To become less vulnerable to closure, and, in fact, to thrive, a law school needs to take an intentional approach to certain core external relationships. I identify those relationships and offer my observations on how schools can build them. I discuss separately the importance of relative prestige among schools and of a national ranking system such as U.S. News. During the dental education crisis, dental schools were disadvantaged by a lack of both a prestige system and a ranking system.