As Glenn Reynolds notes,the bursting “higher education bubble” is hitting law schools first.

Megan McArdle takes a look at the possible aftermath of the deluge in The Daily Beast.

“I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have tenure.”

That’s what law professor Paul Campos told me, sitting at a table in Brasserie Beck after a Cato panel on law schools.  By “this”, he meant “criticize law schools for their graduation rates”, something he’s been doing, vociferously, since 2011.  In an interview with me a few months ago, Campos laid out the dire math facing current law students:

I found that half of our graduates, like more than half of graduates nationally, weren’t getting real legal jobs at all, and the majority of those who did get jobs weren’t making enough money to service their loans in a timely manner. I was also shocked by the radical increase in the cost legal education, and what has turned out to be a two decade long contraction in the market for the services of lawyers. This is a disastrous combination for our graduates, and indeed for lawyers at all levels of the profession.

At the Cato Panel, Campos and Tamanaha argued that while lawyers from mid-ranked schools have actually been struggling for years, the last decade has seen a radical collapse in the fortunes of all but the very elite.  Enrollments have expanded, and tuition has skyrocketed, even as the profession is contracting.  Technology and outsourcing are taking over the most mundane tasks, leaving less work for lawyers.    At the same time, they argue that federal student loans have allowed schools to ratchet up tuition.  That means that the schools, rather than the graduates, are capturing more of the value of the degree . . . to the point where many schools are capturing more value than the degree actually confers.  Professor Campos argues that at this point, the expected value of all but the most elite degrees is probably negative unless you have personal connections to help you get a job afterwards.

..What Campos and Tamahana are saying implies that the entire apparatus of law school needs to change radically, with fewer professors more focused on scholarship.  At this point, says Campos, law school is largely serving the needs of only one group: tenured law professors.

McArdle then projects what may happen to faculty at non-elite institutions.

What happens to someone who has been teaching law for 20 years? Many of them are very smart people who might once have been great lawyers, but comparatively few of them have actual experience practicing law. When a law school shuts down, the professors will go from having one of the best jobs ever, to having to scramble for a job in a pretty lackluster market.

McArdle concludes with the following thought: What if the entire professional class is about to lose its tenure?