In older times, faced with the choice of attending Harvard Law School at full price or Duke on scholarship for half the price, the choice was that there was no choice at all. In the credential-obsessed legal world, Harvard would open more and pricier and arguably better doors than Duke. Even for people of limited-to-modest means, the choice was simple, because tuition was affordable, and if it wasn’t, debts were easily manageable.
Go to the best law school you can get into. For a long time, that was really the only decision that you had to make. The ideal situation was to be left without a decision. When you could afford to attend any school, then what choice was there, really (aside from location)?
Nowadays, writes Brian Tamanaha of Balkinization, the children of modest means have to deal with a decision-making process that pits cost versus prestige. While no one will shed any tears over the poor soul who must choose between two top schools like Duke and Harvard, the consequences of such a choice magnifies when you consider the differences between schools like Vanderbuilt and Iowa. Poor folk, he notes, “will, reluctantly, select the lower school at a discount.” Multiply that by the thousands of people making the same decision and what do you get?
In this manner, the tuition-scholarship relationship to the higher-versus-lower-school choice constitutes an allocation matrix that uniformly funnels wealthy applicants to the higher school, securing the attendant advantages, while people with less financial means divide between higher and lower. Multiply this out by tens of thousands of like decisions each year and the effect is large. The pricing structure of law schools thereby helps the wealthy in America further consolidate their grip on elite legal positions.
Translation: Law schools are content to allow the elites to continue reproducing themselves at an even faster rate than before. This will have major effects on the law.
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