Dennis Archer.
Dennis Archer. (Courtesy photo)

The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates on Tuesday adopted a resolution urging law schools to better inform students about their educational loans and how to repay that debt.

The ABA’s Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education sponsored the resolution. That group—an outgrowth of an earlier task force that examined the future of legal education—spent nearly a year looking at tuition, student debt, student diversity and graduate employment.

“I was quite delighted,” said Dennis Archer, chairman emeritus of Detroit law firm Dickinson Wright and chairman of the task force, who presented the resolution the delegates. “The task force put a lot of work into this. It was rewarding to find such overwhelming support.”

The task force report, issued in June, said that average debt for graduates of private law schools had increased from $102,000 in 2006 to $127,000 in 2013, adjusting for inflation. Graduates of public law schools borrowed an average of $66,000 in 2006 and $88,000 in 2013.

The resolution urges that:

  • Law schools enhance financial and debt counseling for prospective and current students.
  • Law schools and loan providers use easy-to-understand language in documents.
  • The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar should collect expenditure, revenue and other financial data from law schools each year and make it available to the public.
  • The ABA should encourage law schools to innovate to bring down student costs.

The resolution is nonbinding on law schools, although Archer said he believes educators will take it seriously.

Several current and former state bar leaders from New York and California spoke in favor of the measure. No one spoke against it during Tuesday’s debate, but it did have critics. In a recent column in NLJ affiliate The American Lawyer, retired Kirkland & Ellis partner Steven Harper called the recommendations “superficial fixes.” Kyle McEntee, executive director of the nonprofit Law School Transparency, said the task force failed to address the most pressing cause of rising law student costs—the easy availability of federal loans.

But Archer anticipates positive changes. “There will be more intensive sharing of information on loans and what students will have to pay back,” he said. “Hopefully, students will act responsibly and with good judgment.”