Pay Students to Quit Law School?

November 20th, 2011

Akhil Amar and Ian Ayres have this interesting proposal:

Law schools might analogously offer to rebate half of a student’s first-year tuition if the student opts to quit school at the end of the first year. (If the student has taken out government loans, this rebate would first go to repay this debt.)  A half-tuition rebate splits the loss of an aborted legal career between the school and the student. Each has skin in the game, so students will not go to law school lightly, and law schools will have better incentives not to admit students likely to fail.

The idea is to mark the end of the first year, after students have received their grades, as a salient decision-making point. At that time, students will have learned more about their legal abilities and inclinations. Law schools will also have learned more about each student’s abilities, and schools could now disclose how previous students with similar first-year grades fared after graduation. Students accepting the offer would be choosing to quit not just their school, but the pursuit of a law degree. Anyone who took the money but re-enrolled in another law school—within, say, five years—would have to repay the rebate.  This would guard against the risk that good students would take the rebate and transfer to another school just to reduce their cost of becoming a lawyer.

This is somewhat related to the practice of law schools to offer scholarships to students for maintaining a certain class rank–and the school knows that only a small fraction of the students will maintain that rank.

After my first semester of law school, I sucked. I was barely in the 50th percentile of the class, and I had no idea what I was doing. By the end of my first year, I worked my ass of, and managed to get myself to the top 25%. I made Law Review. My grades were in the ballpark to get interviews with law firms. If I hadn’t made it there, this offer may have been tempting.

Tyler Cowen links to an interesting program at Zappos, where they offer employees $3,000 to quit after a four-week training course.

Update: Brian Tamanaha has a different suggestion for Yale:

 If Yale law professors want to make a real difference going forward, they are uniquely situated to have an outsized effect: they can lobby their dean to declare a five year tuition freeze effective immediately. That would be a dramatic statement with industry-wide ramifications. Anything less than that is tinkering.