The Dubious Value of Law School Study Abroad Programs

Rev. Michael P. Orsi
By Rev. Michael P. Orsi | May 12, 2013 | 5:20 PM EDT

Much ink has been spilt lately over the high cost of law school and its cost effectiveness in light of the paucity of jobs in legal profession.  Many students accrue federal loans amounting to $150,000 over the three year period without counting outstanding undergraduate debt.

Proposals have been made to shorten or condense the curriculum into a two year program instead of the current three.  Certainly, this may be a possibility and should be further investigated.  Even if it were to come to pass it could be years before it is implemented.

But, what can be done now without waiting for the system to change?

Two things in particular can make a difference: First, by not adding frivolous Study Abroad Programs to our educational mortgage; and second, and contingent on not doing the former, take a summer internship.

Every spring numerous Law students seek permission to enroll in costly Summer Abroad Programs.  These events, often held in exotic places, are costly ranging from $7,000 to $15,000 per summer depending on whether or not the student is enrolled for one or two sessions. This does not include travel.   It is quite possible then that at least $30,000 or more can be added to the final law school tab if they sign up for these programs at the first and second summers of law school.

These excursions are seldom motivated in search of knowledge. They are rather an opportunity for a vacation on money borrowed from tax payers. There is little concern for the subject matter.  For sure, whatever is taught will in no way have an effect on BAR Exam passage.

The following examples will suffice. As advertised by a major law school for a Summer Study Abroad Program: Session I, Greece and Italy, June 2 - July 1, Comparative Constitutional Law. The course will be taught on a cruise ship that will stop at the Aegean Isles and then transfer to coaches for Italian tourist cities. Session II, London, July 8 - 27, Global Legal Entrepreneurship or International Human Rights. It includes all of the site seeing and fun things to do in a Globus vacation. Having gone on packaged tours, I have been so exhausted that I barely had time to wash out my socks no less to study.

Education is an investment. It costs money and time which is also calculable in terms of dollars. Some will argue that the travel and lectures are good to help a student grow through different experiences. Well, yes and no.

It is true that travel is good; it is not a sine qua non for one to be a good lawyer. It can in fact, be bad if its cost causes a default on a student loan later in life. Is it worth jeopardizing our credit for future projects both personal and business? Certainly not!

One way of aiding in landing a job after law school is to get a summer Internship. Of course this precludes summer study abroad.  Summer Internships provide a greater return in the short term and in the long run. Here's how:

First, there is the potential of making money if it's a paid Internship, to help with present living expenses and lessen the amount of money needed to be borrowed from the Federal Student Loan Program. Second, a hands-on experience is invaluable for any profession. And finally, getting one's foot in the door may be the key to a future job.

The only people who benefit from law school Study Abroad Programs are the professors who get a free vacation out of them and law schools that make money on them. It is time for the ABA to exert greater oversight on this boondoggle. They are not doing future lawyers any service by encouraging self-indulgence and by increasing their debt.

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