For The Record

Dear friends,

Each year, as one academic year ends and another approaches, I like to reflect on what went well, along with areas of possible improvement. This year, in my role as president of the Association of American Law Schools, I’ve been thinking about not only issues that impact us here at Richmond Law, but those shared across legal education.

In the good news category, law schools have seen an increase in applications, particularly from applicants with higher LSATs. Surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest that the increased interest in law school reflects a renewed sense that law matters and that lawyers can be agents of change. Here at Richmond Law, we see this commitment to service reflected in the admissions essays of prospective students and in the thousands of hours of pro bono service that current students are providing within our community.

On the challenges side, proposed changes in the federal education loan program have brought into sharp focus the obstacles that law schools — and all of higher education — face with respect to finances. Quality legal education, like other types of quality higher education, is expensive, and there are relatively few funding sources aside from tuition. For the past decade, the federal government has been the primary education loan lender — but the PROSPER Act, pending in the House, would change that by capping at $28,500 the amount that graduate students can borrow per year and would also eliminate Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Irrespective of whether this law passes, it has brought into focus an obvious point: Most students today cannot fund their legal education from accumulated wealth or current income. If we want a legal profession that is diverse and open to all students with the requisite drive and ability, we need to look hard at both the cost side and the financing mechanisms for legal education.

But even as we explore new financing mechanisms and ways to keep costs down, we must make the case to policymakers and the public that high-quality education is, at least in part, a public good that warrants public investment. Just as society needs well-educated engineers to build and maintain our physical infrastructure, we need well-educated lawyers to build and maintain our legal infrastructure. As Carel Stolker puts it in his book Rethinking the Law School, “No matter where you find yourself in today’s globalized world, good legal education and research are of utmost importance for social stability, the rule of law and economic growth.”

Looking at the challenges and the opportunities, I see reason for optimism. In March, Congress increased funding for the Legal Service Corp. by $25 million, resulting in its largest budget allocation since 2010. And our Richmond Law community is doing its part to assure both access to justice and access to quality legal education. Each year our students provide thousands of hours of pro bono legal services. And our alumni, in addition to their own pro bono service, continue to financially support this outstanding law school. Indeed, this year was the highest giving year in the history of Richmond Law.

The challenges confronting law schools will not magically disappear, but they will be easier to solve against a public backdrop that recognizes the importance of law and justice — and the education that makes them both possible. Thank you for being a part of a community that invests so strongly in the legal education here at Richmond Law.