Here’s another indication that law schools are in deep trouble: Law libraries are going the way of the dodo. A working paper by law professor James G. Miles claims that as law schools shrink, revenue-losing departments such as legal libraries are likely to be among the first things to go. Although he notes that the importance these libraries has long been boosted by some odd incentives in the US News and World Report rankings, the cutbacks are reaching a point where retaining them will no longer be justifiable. The WSJ reports:
The problem isn’t just about money. It’s also about demand. Legal historians are “still attached to traditional law libraries,” he writes, but most faculty now are doing most of their legal research electronically. […]“Going forward, [college’s priorities] will not be law libraries,” Mr. Milles concludes. “Revenue-‐generating departments such as development, alumni relations, and career services, and perhaps status-‐enhancing programs such as law journals, interdisciplinary programs, and research centers, will be strengthened, while revenue-‐draining departments will be cut.”
This may be the end of an era, but it’s not altogether a bad thing. A legal education has become far too expensive for the value of the degree, and excessive spending on unnecessary programs like law libraries, which have been rendered mostly obsolete by new technology, is one reason why. These institutions may have some sentimental value, particularly academics used to the old system, but the plight of the law library pales in comparison to the problem facing the thousands of law grads entering the market with six figure debt and no job.