Weighing Benefits vs. Risks In Attending A New Law School

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I recently had this question from a reader:

What do you think of the new law school at University of North Texas – Dallas? I am a Texas resident and plan to live/work in the Dallas area.

UNT-Dallas is opening it’s doors this August. Right now seems like a fairly rough time for a new law school to get its start: as of last As of 3/21/14, there are 307,854 fall 2014 applications submitted by 44,384 applicants. Applicants are down 9.2% from 2013. That’s on top of a much bigger drop last year. Compared to the mid-2000s, applications are at a trickle. It’s surprising then that any law schools would pick now to open, but several are doing just that.

Indiana Tech got started this fall with a tiny inaugural class of just 30 students. That’s 70 fewer than the Dean was aiming to get for year one, and roughly 300 fewer than the building is designed to accommodate. Add to that, Indiana Tech became the 5th law school serving a very small state. 

Needless to say, Indiana Tech is off to a rough start. The school is located in a small market, Fort Wayne, Indiana, where cost of living (and salaries) are very low. Everything indicated that Indiana Tech should have gone to a very low-cost model of legal education, but they didn’t do so: tuition is set fairly high at 30k per year.  The result has been very tepid interest in the law school.  

Evaluating A New Law School

University of North Texas-Dallas, on the other hand, is taking a much smarter course. They serve a larger market in a state that’s been insulated to some extent from the woes of the wider legal profession. And while Dallas is not quite the boomtown that Houston is right now, there is a lot of activity.

Also, although the new law school is situated not far from an existing law school, Southern Methodist University Dedman School Of Law, UNT-Dallas will be occupying a very different niche: in-state tuition is at a very low $12,400, which looks reasonable indeed next to SMU’s $48,796 for full-time tuition. They can keep it so cheap because they are attached to an established public institution.

UniversityofNorthTexasDallasLaw

UNT-Dallas’ campus

That low cost, in my opinion, justifies creating a new law school. Lower cost is the direction that all schools except possibly the very top elites should be heading, and schools that can fill that niche right now are much needed. While some commentators question the wisdom of any new law schools right now, I question the continued existence of the expensive ones that aren’t finding their students jobs. If someone new wants to muscle in and give a good legal education for less, it should be them, and not the dinosaurs that charge too much, who survive.

Evaluating Job Prospects

The most important question though, is whether UNT-Dallas can get you a job. While the pressure may be lessened to some extent by not carrying a huge debt load, people attend law school to find a job. UNT-Dallas becomes the 10th law school to call Texas home. Even though the state has a thriving economy and a growing population, there are more lawyers being created here than the market will bear.

UNT-Dallas is no UC-Irvine, which has had fantastic hiring numbers despite its brief existence. You can expect UNT-Dallas to have hiring prospects about comparable to other lower ranked Texas institutions. For the past several years, that has meant that only about half of the class has secured full-time legal employment 9 months following graduation.

That means that even at a low cost, you need to think very seriously about whether the school is worth the investment of your time and money. Typically, students rely heavily on an alumni network heavily to secure employment at regional law schools, and with UNT-Dallas you won’t have that. Be prepared to compete with better connected graduates for jobs in the Dallas market. That said, your school is staking it’s reputation on your results, so I would expect that UNT-Dallas will do everything it can to help find you a job. Unfortunately, that may not be enough.

Additional Help With Law School Decisions

There is a lot to consider when picking a law school, enough to write a book about. That’s why we recommend you read one: Ann Levine, former law school dean, has a book designed to help you navigate through the choices The Law School Decision Game. This book offers the combined experience of some 300 lawyers to help you decide whether law school is right for you, and which one to go to if it is.

Also, we are always here to help. Certainly let me know what your final offers from UNT-Dallas and other schools look like and I’ll be happy to help weigh your decisions. The same goes for anyone else facing a tough choice: just ask in the comments or use our new Q+A beta!

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University of Chicago, J.D., 2012 Ready to Kickstart your LSAT Prep? Join the LSAT Mastermind Study Group

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