With rising costs, pressure on performance metrics, and competitive high-profile rankings, law schools are more than ever before being judged on a consumer satisfaction basis by both students and the public. While this perception has been growing over the past two decades, it has reached a crisis point in legal education.1 Courts have been more readily viewing the policies and practices of educational institutions as that of a customer-provider relationship and seeking ways to enforce solutions to the problems they see regarding the product sold.2 The growing trend of treating education as a consumer product that is sold to students has forced courts to consider contract claims by students and has shaped the policies of educational institutions nationwide.3 The connection between consumerism and higher education scrutiny has been explored for quite some time.4 Some have theorized that law schools are leading the way in being scrutinized from this perspective and that universities as a whole can learn from their experiences.5 When students have their choice of educational institutions, they may act like consumers and choose to spend their money based on metrics that satisfy them as buyers. This consumer mindset does not only impact admissions, but also can affect the retention of students.6 The loss of students who transfer out can take a serious toll on a law school, including potential detriments to bar passage, productive classrooms, the loss of future high performing alumni, and the cost of replacing tuition generation.7 Schools are thus currently pressured to address the consumer issue. Many of the conflicts that arise between students, as consumers, and their institutions are not necessarily based in the substance of rules. Instead, much of the complaints stem from the institutions’ transparency and communication about various aspects of the educational experience, from the classroom to students’ prospects on the job market. As such, institutions should consider the student perspective in formulating how they present their program of education and the various aspects within it. While others have questioned outright whether college students are consumers,8 this article will not debate whether law students treat their institutions with a consumer mindset. It presumes they do and instead seeks to solve the problem for institutions. Part II of this article will summarize how this mindset arose in education—specifically how it arose in legal education—and will examine previous conflicts between students and institutions as a result. Part III will examine different areas of law school operations where traditional academic mindsets and student-consumer mindsets may clash, and offers solutions and strategies as to where and how the consumer pressure should be embraced to make institutional change, and where it should be resisted to ensure the consumer pressure does not result in changes that are not in students’ best long-term interests. Part IV offers some conclusions on the approach.
Recommended CitationDebra Moss Vollweiler, Law School as a Consumer Product: Beat 'em or Join 'em, 40 Pace L. Rev. 1 (2020)
Available at: https://digitalcommons.pace.edu/plr/vol40/iss1/1