While you've explained potential reasons why the costs of running a law school may be rising, what I think we're trying to understand is why students are willing to pay higher and higher tuition rates. Even if the costs of running a law school are going up, there still need to be students willing to pay the price. That is, looking at the costs involved in running a law school doesn't explain what's going on with demand.aryncita wrote:Say what? That is true for biglaw attorneys, but it definitely isn't true for anyone else. The earnings for non-biglaw attorneys has barely kept up with inflation for the past 20 years or so.showNprove wrote:Also keep in mind that attorney salaries generally rise at a rate above the average.
In any event, I think the main reason that law school tuition is so ridiculously expensive is b/c of the way that USNWR ranks schools (plus the fact that it is virtually the only system out there for ranking law schools). For a law school to improve its USNWR rank, they have to do one of 3 things: 1) They can try to improve their subjective "reputation" score, which usually requires hiring "big-name" faculty members, which requires lots of money. 2) They can try to improve the LSAT/UGPA numbers of their admitted students, which usually requires giving money to students who are above their current medians. 3) They can spend more money on libraries/facilities/student aid, which obviously also requires money.
Bottom line is that to keep up in the rankings game, schools needs to have lots of money to spend, and the only easy way for law schools to raise money is by raising tuition. And this incentive is much worse for law schools than it is for medical schools (where rankings are determined primarily by the amount of NIH money the schools can attract) and business schools (where rankings are determined primarily by how much money their new graduates earn). And unfortunately this trend will probably continue until a viable alternative to the USNWR rankings exists. (Personally, I would love to see schools start publishing more reliable employment statistics so that one can easily rank law schools based on the likelihood of obtaining a high-paying job. This system has some drawbacks of its own: Its basically the system used to rank business schools, and as a result, most business schools are reluctant to admit anyone who didn't have a very successful career prior to business school. But I still like the idea that law schools could improve their ranking by trying to ensure that all their students get good jobs rather than by hiring famous faculty member or spending tons of money to trick out the law dorms.)
As others have mentioned, I think the primary reason why tuition is astronomically high is due to easy access to credit.