Could 3L Tuition Waiver Have Unintended Consequences?

Like Orin, my initial reaction to Harvard Law School's announcement of a tuition waiver for 3Ls who choose to work in public interest law for five years after graduation is a neat idea. Insofar as HLS is a trendsetter in legal education, this decision could induce other law schools to attempt similar measures (insofar as they can afford it). But could this policy have unintended consequences? UCLA economist Matthew Kahn thinks it might. Specifically, he thinks it could reduce the number of female HLS grads who become partners at large firms.

If women have a higher probability of accepting this new offer then men, and if once you pick this path you can't return to the private sector and make partner then my proof is complete that an unintended consequence of this new policy will be to reduce the number of women from HLS who get promoted to partner at the fancy NYC law firms.

Now , you may counter that these women weren't at the margin. You might say that the liberal women who want to enter public law were never at risk to prove Larry Summers wrong. You may be right but this subsidy doesn't help.

A key assumption in Kahn's prediction is that female law students, on the margin, will be more likely to accept the HLS offer than male students. Is this a reasonable assumption? For instance, is there empirical data suggesting that women are more inclined either a) to work in the public interest sector than men, or b) to seek alternatives to the traditional partner track? If not, is general research on political differences between men and women enough to support this assumption? And if Kahn's assumption is valid, if the new policy enables more women to pursue their desired career path, wouldn't that be a good thing? I'd be interested in the thoughts of those who know something about these issues.

UPDATE: More on Harvard's new policy at Law School Innovation.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Could 3L Tuition Waiver Have Unintended Consequences?
  2. Harvard to Waive 3L Tuition For Students in Public Interest Law for Five Years: