Earlier this week, my Alma Mater received an $8.3 million dollar gift to support Mizzou Athletics. The gift will support

Athletic department facility improvements and expansions, including renovations to Memorial Stadium and a new clubhouse for the men’s and women’s golf teams at The Club at Old Hawthorne.  The new clubhouse will house coaches’ offices, team locker rooms, indoor heated hitting bays and the latest in swing instruction technology.

Gifts like this are not rare. Universities across the nation raise billions annually to support extracurricular activities, particularly  athletics which bring an incredible return on investment. I am a tremendous fan of my Alma Mater in every sport, every season. But these gifts are not the types of gifts that help us from an educational standpoint. Student debt as at an all time high.

For as long as there has been art, music, writing, there have been Patrons of the Arts. Today, law students across the nation are faced with the toughest economy since the great depression, rising tuition rates and the burden of student loans. Google “cost of law school” and you will be astounded to find institutions charging students over $150,000 for a 3 year education.

It makes sense to charge that much or more for the highly specialized training you receive in medical school, but the law is quite different. The law was a profession, for a great many years, that one could learn outside of school, through apprenticeships and practice. In fact, Abraham Lincoln learned to practice law using this very method. He did not take out federal student loans. He worked.

Today’s law students are much like the writers and artists of the early 20th century. They are creative, hard working, and often come from undergraduate backgrounds in the humanities. So why are there no Patrons of the Law? Philanthropists to support law students and young lawyers get on their feet in exchange for free or discounted legal services?

Economists and political analysts have been pointing to the fact that student debt, especially government insured student debt, is going to be the next “bubble to burst.”  Student debt is growing exponentially, outpacing credit card debt and preventing an entire generation of American from buying homes, starting families or businesses or spending to boost our service based economy.

 

Once the bubble bursts, the ramifications for students, practicing attorneys who are saddled with the debt of attending law school, and the economy (or even further an economy without highly trained attorneys) will be similar to the tech or housing bubble bursts. What law students need now is less $8.4 million dollar donations for a new golf course clubhouse, and more Patrons of the Law. An 8.4 Million dollar donation to individual tuition would pay for over 1000 law student’s tuition at your average state school.

The cost of 1000  (or more, given my generous math) young people in America able to buy their first house, raise a family, start their own law practice or small businesses is the price of a club house on a golf course in Columbia, Missouri. Before we need a “bailout” maybe we could use a patron of the law. Philanthropists (who often need attorneys as much as they need financial advisers) would be wise to trade a small portion of their wealth (approximately $75-100k per student) for free or discounted legal services from young attorneys eager to get practicing.

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