Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Law School Pricing and Pro Bono

The top 21 U.S. law schools by rank in the popular U.S. News and World
Report rankings all list tuition of over $40,000 per year. In the case of public universities in the top 21, tuition exceeds $40,000 only for out-of-state students. Another 7 among those ranked 22nd through 50th likewise have tuitions exceeding $40,000.

Graduates having made this investment and not finding employment in the current downturn might turn to pro bono work as a way to use skills while awaiting improvement in market conditions. More broadly, an earlier post makes the case for an ethical obligation to undertake pro bono work, given that we, as gatekeepers of the self-regulating profession which this education entitles us to enter, should help secure access to justice for all.

Some, though, may view the large investment and its uncertain payoff as a deterrent from such high-minded objectives. A student recently disputed the presence of any ethical obligation to undertake pro bono work on the grounds that his education was so costly that he could properly dismiss any non-profit-making calls on his time.

Certainly one who is pressed financially can seek an institution with more manageable tuition. And some of the top-tier, top-price schools forgive loans for students working full-time in public interest positions.

But if the high price of legal education is stoking indifference to pro bono work, that's cause for concern for all of us.

Your comments are eagerly solicited.

Posted by
Robin Wright Westbrook
IBA Pro bono and Access to Justice Committee


  1. I must admit, I struggle to find any logic behind the comment of the ethically-challenged student! If anything, it demonstrates not only an overly self-centred approach to life, but also, a lack of understanding of professional practice and of the benefits to be gained from becoming involved in pro bono. Where there's a will there's a way and most employers will be more than happy for young lawyers to round out their skills while contributing to those less fortunate.

  2. Vital principles for all of us to observe. One hopes the student was speaking from the chagrin of entering a nearly hopeless job market with a very large debt, and one hopes that this chagrin will dissipate for all.