Sunday, November 26, 2006

Public and Private: Do the Rules Change?

My discussion with Orin Kerr leads to an issue that I think MoneyLawyers need to address: Are there different MoneyLaw rules for public and private law schools? Put differently, should there be different rules depending on whether students are paying full cost tuition or are enjoying taxpayer subsidization. If there are, the argument would be that the identity of the principal shifts and with it the programs, courses and opportunities a school might offer. In baseball terms, one could see it as whether the fans should vote on who is invited to the All-Star game. That decision – allowing the fans to vote – can be linked to a simple private sector desire to increase profit, not to a duty to present the highest quality play. Maybe private law schools should operate in a parallel fashion. Perhaps they already do. I concede that I have not done a comparison of public and private school offerings.

An argument that the rules should be the same and that student demand should not play a different role can be made by comparing law professors to any other professionals who are paid for their assessment of what is in the best interest of the client. Most physicians, do not just dispense whatever medication the patients think they need. One the other hand, could it be that private law schools should operate more like cosmetic surgeons and do more of what make students feel good? Is it even possible that the students know best?

I have already put my two-cent’s worth on this by saying that I do not see the rationale for public schools to offer a Tax LLM. I would add to the Tax LLM any relatively non public service oriented LLM unless the idea is to charge above cost tuition in order to cross-subsidize other programs. In fact, ideally, I would like all public law schools to vary tuition depending on a post graduation requirement of some form of public service. Yes, this means private law schools would have a better shot at relatively affluent students and that seems fine to me. This suggestion is impractical and not likely to happen but it illustrates the complexity of what it means to have fiduciary obligations in the context of public and private suppliers.

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