Saturday, March 31, 2012

Michigan's real employment numbers

I spoke at Michigan Law School yesterday to a group of around 100 people.  The audience was made up  mostly of current law students, with a few prospective students mixed in, along with one tenure-track faculty member and one administrator.  People asked a number of good questions afterwards, so we had a lively discussion.

The most thought-provoking question was asked by a man who I would guess was in his early 20s, and who I believe was a prospective student.  Paraphrasing, he asked me what I had to say about the position of people such as himself, who were graduating from college with no apparent good options in terms of career choices.  He acknowledged that the information I presented suggested that law school, even an elite law school such as Michigan, was in many ways a very risky and even flat-out bad gamble under present circumstances, but on the other hand what are young people who have been preparing all their lives to be professional-class persons supposed to do?

It's a good question, to which I don't have anything like a satisfactory answer.  Pointing out that his generation has to a significant extent gotten screwed by economic and social circumstances may be accurate, but the short-term practical value of this insight in minimal.  The long-term value may be something else, since a more general recognition of this could be a starting point for various sorts of reforms in the structure of higher education, not just law school.

I also had a spirited exchange with the one faculty member in attendance, who acknowledged that I was making a lot of good points about the need for genuine reform, but that I was in his opinion interfering with the message by making certain hyperbolic statements.  I spoke to him privately afterwards, and came away with the sense that there are at least some people on the UMLS faculty who actually do believe there's a serious long-term structural problem with legal education in general as well as at their school in particular. So that was encouraging.

The most interesting piece of information I picked up was that according to a 3L who has seen the numbers UMLS paid for about 70 "post-graduate fellowships" in the class of 2011. The way this works, apparently, is that graduates who are still unemployed at the end of the summer are told that if they secure a volunteer position the school will pay them a few thousand dollars (the number I was quoted was $4000, total).

Graduates who accept are then counted as employed full-time for the purposes of the nine-month NALP data.  I was told that around 15% of the 2010 class had such fellowships, while closer to 20% of the 2011 class had accepted them. I was also told that the number was likely to be lower for this year's graduating class compared to last year's, because last year's class was given bad advice by the career service office in regard to bidding for positions with Chicago law firms (far too many people bid given the state of the Chicago big firm legal market).  I was also told an unspecified number of these fellowships had developed into real jobs (that would also be a good number for the school to make public).

Michigan is my alma mater three times over, including the law school, and I retain great affection for the institution in general and the law school in particular.  So it was extremely disheartening to hear that the law school's administration has seemingly gone to such lengths to hide such a crucial piece of information from prospective students, current students, and apparently the school's faculty (I spoke at length with a friend of mine on the faculty later in the day, and I'm certain he knew nothing about any of this). 

If 15% or more of Michigan's recent graduating classes have been unemployed several months after graduation then this is something people who are spending, or considering spending, $70,000 dollars a year to go to law school in Ann Arbor need to know.  It's also something the law school's faculty needs to know.

Of course I welcome any clarifications or corrections the law school's administration may wish to make in regard to this information, and will certainly publicize them, should there be any.  But after hearing all this, I went back and re-read the administration's semi-official reaction to David Segal's first New York Times piece on law school unemployment.  Unless what I was told regarding the post-graduate program is seriously inaccurate (and I was also told the numbers for the class of either 2010 or 2011 were actually posted on the web site for a few days) that response, written little more than a year ago, does not do credit to an institution for which I still care deeply.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

And you may ask yourself: Well, how did I get here?

I just finished reading through the thread from Tuesday's post.  It -- along with some other things -- leads me to ask myself whether there's use in continuing this blog, at least on a regular basis.  Since I started it a little less than eight months ago, I've put up more than 200 posts, totaling somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 words (that's the size of a long academic book).  The site has been visited nearly 850,000 times, and people have left more than 15,000 comments. It has generated a good bit of media coverage as well.  I think it's fair to say that this thing has played its role in getting the word out to people who are willing to consider their options, and/or who have any, realistically speaking (a lot of people don't of course, which is half the problem right there).

This comment from Bored3L is the kind of thing that makes one ask oneself (I actually hate that precious academic formulation -- that makes me ask myself) what exactly the hell I think I'm doing:

I was on an Amtrak train today. I met a student at [insert expensive private school here] who is thinking about going to [insert private TTT law schools already/about to be sued here]. She has 100K in UG debt and a 155 LSAT which she barely studied for ("well, I was working a lot, and it's really hard to study for the test when everyone else is partying!). No scholarship money. She is from a working class family where her mother makes 30K a year and she makes about the same waitressing. In the hour long conversation we had she managed to trot out nearly every single clueless 0L cliche in the book. She has a prelaw degree, so she can't get jobs outside of law school. Her two semesters abroad during UG and basic command of a language will give her a leg up in war crimes and human rights law. She knows the job situation is bad, but adversity hasn't stopped her before. She REALLY REALLY wants to be a lawyer, unlike all her classmates who don't really care. She needs to go to law school, because she sees no other way she can make payments on the 96K of debt she has.

I was floored by that last one. I asked if she had federal loans. She said yes. I asked if she knew what IBR was. She said no. This person, this "sophisticated consumer" to be precise, was thinking of taking on another 150K of law school debt because -- she didn't want to pay back her 100K in UG debt for three years!

This girl knew the score. She knew a lot of unemployed grads. She even knew of people waitressing and bartending at her restaurant with JDs from the schools she wanted to attend!

I asked her how many people in her pre-law program wanted to go to law school. More than half. I asked her how many knew about the articles in the NYT and almost every other major national paper. She said almost none. I gave her the URL of this site and others.

I am writing this post on a red-eye train back to New York. Hopefully I got through to her. But I know I didn't. Next year she will march off to law school. And Judge Melvin Schweitzer will still be convinced she's a reasonable person acting reasonably. And TTT profs and deans will be happy to take her loan checks- while crowing about social justice and fairness.
 Anecdotes are not data blah yadda etc., but the other day I was talking about the reverse diploma dilemma (this is the obverse of the classic situation in which one spouse puts another through school to get a valuable professional degree and then gets dumped shortly afterwards; in other words how do you analyze the situation when the degree is actually a major marital debt rather than an asset?) in the context of discussing marital property in a class of first-years, and I asked how many people knew what IBR was.  Almost nobody did.

The rational maximizer of utility is basically a bunch of bullshit made up by econ professors so that they could claim their equations were about the world, as opposed to constituting another clever self-referential academic game (Yes I'm exaggerating. Sue me if I post too long).  In other words trying to improve transparency has some value but let's not exaggerate: a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

Also, arguing on the internet has some value but that too has its limits.  How many times does this have to be pointed out: THIRTY YEARS AGO HARVARD LAW SCHOOL COST WHAT CUNY COSTS TODAY.  In real dollars that is.  The most expensive private law school cost what the least expensive public law school costs today.   Why?

I'll tell you what the answer to that question isn't: It isn't because legal education today is substantially different from what it was thirty years ago, at least in terms of education.  Law school is still made up, mostly, of three years of large lecture-style classes, which for the most part consist of analyzing appellate court opinions in terms of the doctrinal propositions of law they announce.

Yes there are more clinics (which the large majority of students never take).  Yes there are now lots of first year legal research and writing classes (The one I took, 25 years ago, was actually taught by third years. This was at Michigan, and the class was useless. Plus ca change).  Yes the buildings are a lot fancier, and they're filled with exponentially more administrative personnel, and the tenure track professors are less likely to be straight white guys, and they teach a lot fewer classes, and they get paid twice as much, and they publish a lot more law review articles, and (just for you Bruh) state funding has been cut at the 40% of law schools that are parts of public universities.  It ALL adds up -- to the point where what cost $15,000 30 years ago is going to cost $51K next fall (Harvard's tuition in both cases, in 2011 dollars).

That still works for most Harvard students, it doesn't work for most students almost anywhere else, and I'm not sure what the point is of continuing to repeat this, especially since it tends to provoke the six blind men touching the elephant response (it's a wall; no it's a rope; no it's a tree etc).

Law school is pretty much the same educational experience it was 30 years ago, because it continues to be taught by pretty much the same kinds of people (now with new improved race/gender/ diversity; class diversity not included) in the same kinds of way.  Oh yes there are a whole bunch more PhDs, which ensures that more people who didn't want to go to grad school will be subjected to something loosely resembling a faux grad school experience, and there are five times more articles (this is literally true) being published in law reviews, to the unspeakable benefit of the entire human race, and everybody is getting paid a lot more and teaching a lot less, but other than that it's SNAFU all the way down, except now it costs an arm and a leg while at the same time there are no jobs for the graduates any more, which makes the absurdity of the whole thing tragic rather than farcical, since a process that merely used to be an annoying waste of time for most students has become more along the lines of a life-wrecking disaster.

So again I'm not sure what the point of continuing to repeat all that is, although there are of course various topics I haven't touched on yet which are worth writing about (I've been meaning to do a post about doc review for months now).

Anyway, I suspect I'll post somewhat less in the weeks to come while letting this thing reach what feels like a natural conclusion.  Along those lines I will be giving a talk at Michigan Law School tomorrow at 12:15. It's sponsored by a dozen student groups (In the last few months I've been invited to speak at five law schools by students, and zero by faculty) and lunch will be provided, and a splendid time is guaranteed for all.*

*Not a guarantee.

Update:  Just to be clear I am going to continue this blog for the present, although I will probably post somewhat less.  And in any case I'm going to leave it up even after there are no new posts.  One thing a colleague told me I need to do is to organize the archives into categories -- a list of posts for first-time readers, etc.  BTW while it is of course gratifying to be told this blog has value for readers, I'm well aware that I'm profiting from a fundamentally unjust structure, and that to some extent I'm a hypocrite for not finding another way to make a living.  However this fact seems irrelevant to the truth value of anything asserted here. That's my own problem, as is the institutional blowback "one" deals with when engaging in whistle blowing, so they aren't topics that I'm inclined to address.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The end of the law school tuition bubble?

Northwestern dean Dan Rodriguez sent an email to the law school this morning, announcing a 3% tuition hike for the coming academic year.  Interestingly, he framed this as an aggressive cost control measure, in response to the dire employment situation:

As we all know, the legal market is in the midst of extraordinary change and the present challenges facing our students – as with all law students – are considerable.  Since 2008, the supply of law-related jobs has declined sharply and the speed of recovery remains slow and uncertain.  To be sure, Northwestern provides a first-rate legal education and our graduates are much in demand; we remain a worthwhile investment by any credible measure.  Yet, we need to be mindful of the ways in which the current legal economy affects our current and prospective students.

For decades, tuition has increased steadily at a rate higher than inflation at our law school and at nearly every top law school. Although our rates of increase have been similar to those of our private law school peers, and a good deal lower than the top public law schools, much attention appropriately is being given to the rising cost of legal education and the growing student debt levels of law school graduates nationally.

In order to begin to address this situation in a meaningful way, I am writing to let you know that we are limiting our tuition increase for the 2012-13 academic year to 3%, our smallest percentage tuition increase in at least the past 40 years, if not our entire history. This rate also coincides closely with current and recent measures of inflation.

This is no panacea, of course.  We are well aware that this first step makes only incremental changes on the significant historical increases in law school tuition at Northwestern and elsewhere.  I am committed to address in manifest and meaningful ways the rising cost of legal education and corresponding burdens of student indebtedness.  Limiting tuition increases is one step; controlling law school costs is another; and looking to our Northwestern friends in the private sector to support the Law School, even in the midst of current economic difficulties will need to be at the center of this strategy. Northwestern Law School has been a leader in so many respects.  The time has come for us to be an innovative leader in addressing the challenges of the new legal economy.
According to the CPI inflation was 3.16% last year, so it's fair to call a three per cent increase a freeze in real terms.  It's worth noting that inflation had been below three per cent in 14 of the previous 19 years. Given that as Dean Rodriguez points out, a three per cent tuition hike is in historical terms an act of unprecedented restraint on the part of the school, this merely emphasizes to what extent the assumption that the cost of law school will go up each and every year in real terms has become almost universal.  Therefore any recognition at all by legal administrators that this is not an inevitable state of affairs is a real step forward.

It's also heartening to see a law school dean state that he's committed to getting costs under control. In one of the first posts on his new blog a few months ago, Rodriguez stated that since the cost of a first-rate legal education was going to continue to rise, it was important to find sources of revenue other than increasing student tuition to fund that rise.  Here, he is at least implying that it's not necessary to continue to increase the real cost of legal education.  It's true he doesn't come right out and say that, and there's no hint here that real costs might actually be decreased significantly with little or no loss of educational quality, but still . . . baby steps.

Similarly, while it's true all this is framed in the context of the assumption that everything was fine, at least at Northwestern, until the downturn in a big law hiring in 2008, one can hardly expect law school deans to come out and say that in retrospect raising tuition at above the inflation rate pretty much every year for several decades in a row might have been a bad idea.  If the narrative needs to be "the world suddenly turned upside down, and we must adjust to an unanticipated new reality" that's better than yet more denial.

Speaking of which, Matt Leichter has compiled tuition data for 2011-2012, and discovered that tuition at private law schools grew by less than one per cent in real terms this academic year, and that 29 schools actually cut tuition in real terms.  He also notes that lower-ranked schools raised tuition quite a bit less than high-ranked ones, which, perversely enough, has not been the historical pattern.  (I would add that there's some evidence that lower-ranked schools are becoming even more aggressive about using "merit," i.e., cross-subsidized, scholarships, which of course are functional tuition cuts.  The number of schools that brought in less tuition in real terms this year than last year may in fact be quite a bit larger than 29)

Leichter goes on to analyze what appears to be something of a collapse in law school applications this year, and predicts very hard times ahead for low-ranked schools in particular:

The number of applicants per law school is projected to reach a record low, and given the structure of tuition increases (and decreases) in 2011, law schools will continue to diversify based on the interest people are showing in their programs. Also note that contrary to popular belief, the number of applicants did not grow nearly as much due to the financial meltdown as in previous recessions, and more profoundly, the 2011 and 2012 application years break the countercyclical trend of law school applications. People who normally would've applied to law school are either choosing other graduate-level programs or none at all instead of law school. This is an unprecedented event facing the legal academy, and it is very likely to continue.
The real question is at what point law programs will start retrenching by excusing staff, cutting salaries, and reducing tuition, or when universities begin shutting them down.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The economics of small law and the cost of legal education

The reason that law school no longer makes sense for most people who enroll in it is that it costs too much relative to the kinds of jobs people can now get with a law degree.  This blog has emphasized the extent to which many current students (perhaps half) are never going to have careers as lawyers at all, in the sense that they will never get real legal jobs.  These are people who either will never work as attorneys at all, or will work only in temporary positions of various kinds until they give up on the idea of having a legal career.

But what about the other half?  The crucial difficulty for them will not be getting jobs as lawyers, but rather getting jobs that pay enough to justify what has become an average total cost of attendance of around $165,000 at the typical law school, at least for that half of the class that gets no break on the sticker price (Because of the reverse Robin Hood structure of "merit" scholarships this half of the class is also more likely to end up in the half that never get real legal jobs, but let's ignore that for the moment).

Nearly half of the Class of 2010 (the most recent for which national statistics are available) that went into private practice either got jobs with firms of two to ten lawyers or went solo.  Something like this percentage is typical even at relatively high-ranked schools.  For example Loyola Los Angeles (ranked in the 74th percentile of all ABA schools in the USNWR rankings) saw 114 of the 212 grads in its class of 2010 who went into private practice go to firms of ten or fewer lawyers, or go solo.

There are two big problems with these jobs: a certain number either aren't real law jobs at all, or are only doubtfully so, and almost none of these jobs pay anything like enough to allow typical current law graduates to service the educational debt -- which averages around $125,000 -- they incurred in the course of getting a BA and a JD.  (None of what follows should be taken to imply that there's anything wrong with a career in small law, which after all is what most lawyers in private practice end up doing in the long run, and which provides the only realistic access to legal services for the majority of Americans who have any access to them at all).

As to the first problem, some of these "jobs" are not with a preexisting business. This is obviously true of the solo practices (6% of 2010 grads who went into private law did so by attempting to start such practices), but it's also true in cases where two or three graduates with no other prospects decide to start a law firm, which is an increasingly common strategy among law graduates who find themselves with no other legal employment options post-graduation.  The practical challenges they face are daunting.  A friend of mine who graduated from law school more than 20 years ago, and has had a very successful career in small law, provides the following list of expenses that someone who wants to set up a solo practice or a small practice of any kind will likely have to incur to make a realistic go of it:

Rent (monthly, which includes NNN, i.e., property tax, utilities, and maintenance and repair)
Basic furniture
Parking (quarterly)
Copy machine / printer / scanner (buy or lease)
Computer / IT guy / software license renewal
Billing software
Westlaw subscription (monthly)
Martindale Hubbell Directory
Line of Credit (annual renewal fee, plus interest on balance, I pay 5.5% annually) (also you eventually need to pay it back)
Checks for Trust Account / Operating Account
Accountant (annually)
Phone line
Internet line
Fax line
Cell phone
Malpractice insurance
Website build / maintain
Yellow pages
CLE credits (need 45 every 3 years and they aren’t free)
Archive service (gotta keep client files somewhere)
Supplies (paper / envelopes / files / business cards)

Every year you need to get current publications (minimum):

Court Rules (State & Federal)
Pocket Parts for statutes
Jury Instructions
Legal Directory

If you have an employee (they get paid before you do)

Salary and applicable taxes
Health Insurance
Payroll service
SEP contribution (same % as you take)

Professional dues / bar fees:  Some are mandatory, like paying the Colorado Supreme Court to remain licensed annually, then there is the Colorado Bar Association, the local Boulder County Bar and you probably want to be in the Denver Bar association if you want to capture some of that market.   Then there is the American Bar Association, Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, Boulder County Legal Aid, Colorado Legal Aid, there are honorary organizations to which you pay dues like FACTL, ABOTA, ALI-ABA, International Society of Barristers, Inns of Court

I would say any serious lawyer is going to be in a minimum of 3 dues collecting organizations


Cleaning person
Bottled water
Shredding service

Other things to consider:

Dress clothes
Non-clunker car
Unpaid Accounts receivable
Contingency cases you lose both your time and costs advanced

Of course somebody starting out can try to cut operating costs to the bare minimum, but as law professors know all too well in a different context, giving the appearance that you're competent to do what you're doing can be even more important than actually being competent to do it.  In other words, as hard as it is to make a living in a hyper-saturated market full of experienced attorneys pursuing the kinds of clients who are not serviced by larger firms, it's even harder if your "conference room" is a Starbucks.  (None of this touches on the comparatively minor detail that law school graduates aren't really taught how to practice law, let alone how to run a small business).

The second problem is that even graduates who get jobs as real associates with real, ongoing small law firms, that have real clients and real income streams are going to get paid salaries that are in no way adequate to deal with the debt they've incurred.

How much do graduates going into small law get paid?  The available statistics on this question are very inadequate: only 31.8% of 2010 graduates in this category reported salaries. This contrasts strikingly with the more than 90% reporting rate among graduates who got jobs with firms of more than 50 lawyers.  As always, willingness to report salaries correlates very strongly with the increasing size of salaries, so we can be sure that the reported salaries of graduates who went into small law are quite a bit higher than the actual salaries found in this cohort (which again represents nearly half of all graduates who go into private law). Nevertheless the reported numbers are daunting enough: a median salary of $50,000, and a 75th percentile of $62,500 among those who reported (there are no income figures for what people who went into solo practice managed to net).

People with $125,000 of high-interest educational debt and a salary of $50,000 will, if they don't have very significant alternative sources of income, have to go into IBR, (assuming they're eligible, and that the program isn't eliminated) where they will have a monthly payment equal to about a quarter of what they would owe on a 30-year repayment schedule for their loans. This means, of course, that something like ten thousand dollars in interest will accrue onto their balance for every year in which they remain in this situation.

And note that such people are doing significantly better than the average graduate: after all, they have real legal jobs with real salaries.  They count, in the current context, as law school success stories.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The blue pill

Robert Benchley once remarked that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who divide everything into two categories and those who don't.

Speaking of which, there really are two categories of people in world in at least one particular sense: those whose perceive the social frame in which they interact as constituting an essentially unquestionable "reality," and those who see that frame as in at least some sense contingent, arbitrary, and open to genuine critique.

This is a difficult idea to explain -- either you get it or you don't -- but I'll toss out an example. The Oxford don C.S. Lewis once described how the man who tutored him when he was a teenager preparing to take the university entrance exams would, on rare occasions, be driven to sarcasm. This would be indicated by a slight distension of his nostrils when he pronounced dicta such as "The Master of Balliol is one of the most important beings in the universe."  Now it so happens that to become such an exalted personage as the Master of Balliol it probably is necessary, at some level, to be the kind of person who, in his heart of hearts, is actually offended by that sort of lese-majesty.

For obvious reasons law schools are run by people veritably obsessed with social hierarchy, institutional status, and instilling due deference to the duly constituted authorities (most especially themselves) in their charges. These are not the kind of people who are prone to see their social context as in any sense fundamentally contingent, let alone absurd or corrupt or simply crazy.

Yet law schools have become absurd and corrupt and simply crazy places, as illustrated nicely by the latest student debt figures.  The median debt at the 191 law schools who reported data for the class of 2011 was $105,028, up 5.84% from 2010's figure of $99,236.  This happens to be just about exactly the percentage by which tuition went up for the national class of 2011 relative to the class of 2010.  At this point, law school tuition is so high that tuition increases will be close to 100% debt-financed by the nearly 90% of graduates who take on law school debt.

And keep in mind that these figures, as always, omit other educational debt.  As far as I know law schools haven't bothered to collect any data on how much educational debt the students they admit have already incurred, but given that average undergraduate debt among college graduates with debt was estimated at $24,000 three years ago, that undergraduate tuition continues to outstrip inflation by a healthy margin, and that this figure omits the (much higher) debt loads of graduates of (increasingly common) for-profit colleges it's likely that around 150 law schools featured median educational debt for graduates of more than $100,000. That's more than three-quarters of ABA-accredited schools.

(BTW the numbers for the #1 school on the 2011 list, John Marshall-Chicago, are almost surely wrong. For one thing the debt figure is 30% higher than for the class of 2010, and, even more implausibly, only 50% of graduates are listed as having law school debt, when the figure for the class of 2010 was 92.7%. The second-lowest percentage of graduates with debt on the 2011 list is 71%, at Yale. So it's likely that the school that bestows the most valuable law degree has the lowest percentage of indebted students --  a fact that would probably make even John Calvin smile).

Anyway, what keeps this whole thing going isn't merely lack of "transparency" in the most straightforward sense (important as that lack of transparency has been).  What keeps it going is something DJM emphasizes in her responses to the granting of the motion to dismiss in the NYLS class action suit.  And that's the extent to which law schools are trading on their cultural capital to fool people into thinking that doing something that simply does not make any sense for the vast majority of them to do (going into six figures of educational debt to go to law school) constitutes a reasonable and prudent investment in their futures.

Law schools are supposedly prestigious educational institutions, full of people who explicitly and even more so implicitly represent ourselves every day to our students as serious, honorable people, who can be trusted.   When a law school's administration and faculty require students to incur six figures of educational debt to get a law degree, we are representing that this decision makes sense for most if not all of our students.  To claim we're not doing this is nothing but shameless rationalization.  Why else do we crank out glossy brochures, full of purple words on a grey background? Why else do deans give inspirational welcoming speeches to each incoming class? Why else do we spend tens of millions on buildings that will instantiate through architecture the idea that what is going on here is important and worthwhile and, most of all, economically rational for all those who enter here?

That all this has become a huge, blatant, immoral, and unsustainable illusion is a thought that cannot be thought by people who do not -- who cannot -- question the constitutive beliefs that make up the very basis of the social frame in which they operate.  For such people that idea is no more plausible than the idea that the sensory world is an illusion: something which they may admit is theoretically possible, but which, again, they are so constituted as to find quite literally impossible to contemplate as a real possibility.

They took the blue pill, and they're not going to revisit that decision -- to the extent being (becoming?) a certain kind of person can even be thought of as a decision.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The myth of the sophisticated law student

Here's the key passage in Judge Melvin Schweitzer's decision, granting New York Law School's motion to the dismiss the class action suit brought against it by nine graduates for publishing misleading employment and salary data:

The court does not view these post-graduate employment statistics to be misleading in a material way for a reasonable consumer acting reasonably. By anyone's definition, reasonable consumers -- college graduates -- seriously considering law schools are a sophisticated subset of education consumers, capable of sifting through data and weighing alternatives before making a decision regarding their post-college options, such as applying for professional school. These reasonable consumers have available to them any number of sources of information to review when making their decisions.
The statistics to which the court refers are overall employment rates, nine months after graduation, hovering around 90% for the NYLS classes of 2005-2010, and salary statistics which, for the classes of 2005 and 2006, didn't disclose the percentage of graduates reporting salaries, but included the purportedly limiting caveat "based upon salaries reported."  Although the school did start disclosing what percentage of graduates the salary statistics were based on beginning with the class of 2007 (that is, in materials published no earlier than the spring of 2008), it's important to note that eight of the nine plaintiffs enrolled in NYLS prior to 2008, that is, prior to NYLS' disclosure of this obviously crucial piece of information.

Judge Schweitzer's argument, in a nutshell, is that:

(a) Potential law students are sophisticated consumers of education.

(b) NYLS didn't affirmatively represent that the nine-month graduate employment rate included only legal employment.

(c) NYLS didn't affirmatively represent that the average salary statistics it published were statistically representative.

(d) Because potential law students are sophisticated consumers, and have various sources of information available to them other than the representations made to them by law schools regarding the schools' employment and salary data, they know or should know that employment and salary statistics such as those presented by NYLS would be misleading if taken at face value.

(e) Therefore, potential law students who take such statistics at face value are being unreasonable, and, since New York consumer protection law protects only reasonable consumers, it doesn't protect the plaintiffs in this instance.

It's hardly an exaggeration to say the judge accepted a "it's your fault if you took us at our word" defense on the part of NYLS.  The judge seems to have taken the view that, as long as a law school doesn't literally lie, factually true statements that might well be expected to mislead an "ordinary" reasonable consumer -- and would therefore constitute actionable conduct -- should not mislead a "sophisticated" consumer, and should therefore not give rise to legal liability. In other words, the judge appears to be holding potential law students to a higher standard than ordinary consumers, because they are college graduates, and therefore "capable of sifting through data and weighing alternatives" in a way that at least impliedly grants them less protection under consumer protection laws than would be given to less educated people.

It goes without saying that, in the usual manner of such things, the judge provides no evidence for the assertion that potential law students are (or should be?) less prone to getting ripped off by slick salespeople than their less educated brethren.  It's simply asserted as self-evident that this is the case, which one would think would raise the question of how exactly law schools manage to enroll tens of thousands of obviously "unreasonable" consumers of professional education every year, given the wonders of our information age. (It also goes without saying that this question remains unraised).

The judge is essentially taking the perspective of this commenter:

[Law schools] expected [students] to understand the "contract" involved in law school admission and matriculation. How?

They expected you to read all the info, not just from their schools, and ask questions--especially when you noticed discrepancies or didn't understand or weren't sure about something you read or heard.

They expected you to talk to lawyers practicing the kind of law you want to practice--and not just alumni of the schools you were considering, to learn their perspective on the politics of hiring and promotions, what the day-to-day work is like (does it match your expectations? how hard is it to work 70-80 hours a week, really?), and what they see as the future of the field.

They expected you to take an active part in your career development, to make a point of doing well in interviews, to conduct a comprehensive job search (not refuse to interview with any firm outside of BigLaw).

So it comes back to greed--and the willful blindness it inspires in prospective law school students.
I characterized this position as "if you had been thinking like a lawyer, you would have known lawyers would lie to you," which non-plussed the commenter, who replied in high dudgeon (what does that mean anyway?):

No, you are wrong. If prospective law students would simply adhere to the old warning "buyer beware" -- and not be blinded by their need to believe they are smarter and more special than everyone else, and therefore are guaranteed first-job placement success at a BigLaw firm -- they would do a thorough job investigating their options for law school. The result of these investigation might lead them to determine that they should not go to law school at all, and instead pursue a different career. (I'm starting to think this may be true for you, too, as you seem to be a frustrated academic.)

Your cynicism is sickening. Lying is not the default communication mode for lawyers or law school administrators. 
I have no real idea of the extent to which lying is the default communication mode for lawyers -- like almost all legal academics I know very little about lawyers -- but I do know a lot about law school administrators, and in fact when it comes to the issues discussed in this blog, lying is the default communication mode for a very large number of such people.  In any case, a soon-to-be unemployed Columbia law student's response gets to the point, although with less delicacy and circumspection than is considered proper among the Quality:

Are you aware that [prospective law students] actually, mentally CANNOT do this? It's not a matter of being smart. The optimism bias is hardwired into our DNA. The rational actor model has been thoroughly discredited. Pick up a fucking newspaper.
Yes, precisely. Judge Schweitzer is living in the comfortable fantasy world of "rational actors," where reasonable people decide on reasonable courses of action in a reasonably reasonable way. Out in the real world, "the market" for places in law school consists in large part of inexperienced, unworldly, non-cynical, irrepressibly optimistic young people who have been socialized successfully to believe that law school personnel operate by a more exalted code than that found among carnival barkers and used car salesmen. In other words, people who have not yet learned to "think like a lawyer," i.e., a cynical pessimist who takes it for granted that

(a) In an "arms-length" transaction somebody is going to try to rip you off at least up to the very limits of the law, if not well beyond it; and

(b) Everything is an arms-length transaction.

Their bad, as Judge Schweitzer might as well have said. They should have learned to think like lawyers before they went to law school.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How bad things really are

Bernie Burk, a professor at the University of North Carolina's law school, has posted some data gathered from law school web sites regarding how many graduates of the class of 2010 at a half dozen "top tier" schools were being paid by their alma maters at the nine-month post-graduation NALP reporting deadline. (Paul Caron has organized the information into a handy table).

Burk indicates he's going to post a lot more data on this question soon, which would be extremely useful as to the best of my knowledge no one has published or posted any systematic numbers on this.  Here are a few numbers to add to Burk's list:

Fordham:  70 graduates (14.7% of those reporting employment status)

Virginia:  40 graduates  (10.9% of the class)

Michigan State:  37 graduates   (10.6% of those reporting employment status)

Ohio State:  Approximately 14 (6.7% of the class; i.e., "about a third of the 20% of the class employed in temporary or part-time positions.")

A few notes:  It will be interesting to find out exactly how many schools have posted such information at this point.  As far as I know nobody was posting these numbers until a few months ago.  And some schools are being quite cagey on this score: When asked about the matter directly last week, Columbia acknowledged it had such a program, but claimed to be unable to report how many of its 2010 graduates were taking advantage of it. I've been told by Michigan law students that the school's administration flatly refuses to disclose how many graduates are having their salaries paid for by the school during the NALP reporting window, or even if the school has such a program, although it's generally known among the student body that it does. 

Also, while Prof. Burk's willingness to investigate this matter in a systematic way and to warn his colleagues that the employment situation is really bad are both wholly admirable, his sense of that situation is still in fact far too optimistic:

We’ll have a more complete dataset in a week or two, but I predict that more detail will indicate that significant numbers of the most prestigious law schools in the country are funding temporary employment for significant portions of their graduating classes.  And what that suggests is that the current legal job market is appreciably more depressed than many interested observers had previously estimated.  We thought it was bad, but not this bad.  After all, if something like one in five of the graduates of the 50 most prestigious law schools in the country can’t find a permanent, full-time law job within a year after graduating, what does that tell us about the prospects for graduates of the additional 150 accredited schools falling below them on anybody’s list?  There are a number of schools in the “unranked” section of US News’s listing with nine-month placement rates under 50%.  Holy cow.  [bolding supplied]
In fact, for the real legal employment rate (identified correctly by Prof. Burk as permanent full-time employment requiring a law degree) to get to anywhere close to 80% would require a truly massive improvement in the situation at the vast majority of top 50 schools, and indeed that employment number is currently being achieved by a total of perhaps six schools.

Consider that at the University of Colorado,  17.5% of the class of 2010 was completely unemployed nine months after graduation.  Less than half the class had permanent full-time employment requiring a law degree.  Now it's true CU is near the bottom of the top 50, but let's look a little more closely at the numbers at a much higher ranked school -- numbers Prof. Burk links to in his post.  Minnesota is currently a top 20 school, yet only 191 of 284 graduates (67.25%) were known to have a "long-term" position of any kind, law-related or not.  Yet even this number is misleading.  It includes seven "long-term" positions funded by the law school, and it counts 34 of 39 judicial clerkships as "long-term."  (20 of those 34 "long-term" clerkships are state and local rather than federal.).

The explanation for this is probably that NALP defines "short-term" employment as a definite term of less than  one year, so a contract of exactly one year in duration counts as "long-term."  (Although NALP has treated judicial clerkships as short-term employment in its national stats, I've been told that beginning this year it is going to start categorizing one-year clerkships as long-term. If this is correct, the organization is helping law schools mislead prospective students about the actual long-term employment rate of graduates nine months out).

The Minnesota stats also include 28 "long-term" jobs in "business and industry" (How many of these jobs require a law degree? How many of them are in retail?), plus 36 "long-term" jobs working for law firms of less than 11 attorneys, or as solos.  Indeed, if we count up the jobs Minnesota graduates had nine months after graduation that could be defined (very liberally) as real legal jobs, in the sense of "jobs someone might have considered an acceptable outcome ex ante before investing $160K and three years to get a JD" we get:

64 jobs with law firms of more than ten lawyers

20  "government" jobs

7 public interest jobs

15 federal clerkships

(Note it's not even clear that all these jobs are full-time and/or JD required).

That's 106 positions out of 284 graduates, or 37.2%.  This number, probably not coincidentally, tracks closely with the number of graduates for whom Minnesota has salary data: 37% of those working in private industry; 30% of those working in public positions.

The real  (in the sense of representing a loosely acceptable outcome) employment rate isn't just under 50% at bottom tier schools: it's well under 50% at a top 20 school. That's how bad things really are.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

All down the line

Yesterday LSAC announced the total number of LSAT tests administered for this admissions cycle was down 16.2% from last year, from 150,050 to 129,925.  BTW this does not mean this many people took the LSAT, since multiple test-taking within the same cycle has become very common over the past few years, ever since LSAC stopped averaging multiple scores, thus allowing schools to report an applicant's highest score for the purpose of preserving their precious medians.

We can pretty confidentially extrapolate the total number of applicants in this cycle from the number of LSATs administered, since that ratio was 50.8% in both 2010 and 2011.  So we should anticipate about 66,000 law school applicants this cycle, which would represent nearly a 25% decline in the course of the past two years.

These numbers would wreak havoc with law school admissions if law schools kept their admissions standards constant.  Two years ago 69% of applicants were admitted to at least one school, and 18% of admitted applicants didn't end up enrolling (2010 is the most recent year for which these percentages are available).  Retaining those ratios would yield a total of 37,300 matriculants for this year's class at ABA schools, i.e., a shortfall of about 27.5% relative to the total 2011 entering class.

Since large numbers of lower-tier schools, which are heavily tuition-dependent, could not reduce the size of their classes on anything like that scale without wrecking their balance sheets, they will engage in some combination of cutting admissions standards, decreasing class size more modestly, and cutting their operating budgets.  This will especially be the case at the 20 or so proprietary ABA schools who can't ask central university administration for a break on the skim, that is, the portion of law school revenue extracted by central for the law school's share of general university expenses -- this is a legitimate operating expense like any other -- and, more controversially, for cross-subsidization of other university programs (the extent to which such cross-subsidization takes place appears to vary widely across universities, and there are indications it's declining as law schools come under increasing financial pressure).

It seems unlikely that any of this will have any immediate fiscal effect on elite schools, where demand for admission will remain relatively high -- this article quotes Michigan's admissions director to the effect that applications are down only five percent this year, although it should be unnecessary to emphasize that anything such people say needs at this point to be taken with a pillar of salt -- and whose budgets are not as tuition-driven as those of lesser schools.  Hence the elites are for the present likely to continue the grotesque spending spree they've indulged in over the past decade in particular, thus putting continuing pressure on the sub-elites to do the same, and so forth on down the line.

But at some point down that line a harsh fiscal reality is already kicking in for schools that aspire to be a homeless person's Harvard.  And it seems likely that point in the line is going to be moving up the law school hierarchy at a brisk pace.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Career Opportunities

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard somebody inside a law school complain about the school's career services office I could buy a brand new case book (that's a whole other topic).  Apparently over the last few years just about every CSO out there was staffed by incompetent do-nothings. That, at any rate, has become a popular explanation within law schools for why it's gotten so hard for our graduates to get actual law jobs.

Now it's quite possible that lots of CSOs have been staffed by incompetent do-nothings, but the cold truth of the matter is that a CSO staffed by cardboard cutouts will do just fine when employers are hiring, while when they're not it hardly matters if a CSO is stacked to the rafters with ever-so competent and hardworking people, because career service people can't help students and graduates get jobs that don't exist

It's also true that a good career services office can occasionally dig up job opportunities here and there for particular students and grads those people might not have been aware of otherwise, but let's face it: in the information age, the marginal value that CSOs add must be declining -- which of course hasn't stopped law schools from pouring ever-more resources into these offices, partially because schools have to spend all that tuition money on something, and because all of us are prone to magical thinking (if we just find the right person to run the CSO it can be 1987 or at least 2006 again).

The problem, as cannot be repeated enough, is that there are at least twice as many law grads as there are law jobs. I just went through all the job listings that CU's CSO is currently categorizing as "entry level" positions, potentially available to graduates from the school's last two classes.  For anybody working at a law school who happens to be reading this, I highly recommend undertaking a similar exercise.  Imagine that you graduated ten or twenty-two months ago, and you don't have a law job at all, or you're in a temp position that's about to end.  At all but about four law schools, anywhere from a large minority to a large majority of recent grads are in this position.  Your graduates need legal jobs: where can they find them?

The listings I reviewed included a total of 73 positions. The first problem that should be obvious to any prospective job hunter is that three-quarters of these jobs are outside not just the state, but the entire Rocky Mountain region.  One of the biggest problems in the legal employment market is that you can't just go anywhere to work as a lawyer -- you have to be licensed to practice in a jurisdiction. Most CU graduates are licensed in Colorado, which makes sense: about 40% of  our students are from the state, many more came intending to work here, and, most important of all, law school hiring tends to be intensely regional.

At more than 90% of law schools, even in flush times the chances of getting a legal job plummet for graduates who try to practice outside the region in which a school places most of its grads.  That's where the school's hiring network of alums is located; that's where graduates have personal and professional connections that can help them get a job; and at the very least that's where the people making hiring decisions have actually heard of your school. This is why it's a particularly perverse reaction, especially at a school like CU, for law faculty and administration to complain that our graduates are un- and under-employed because they aren't willing to leave the area.  After all, people came to school here precisely to get a job in the area, and moreover that's where the vast majority of jobs our graduates can get actually are (If you want a mordant laugh, check out this infamous piece of advice from an Emory professor, who chose the occasion of the school's 2011 commencement to advise unemployed Emory grads to look for jobs in, say, Nebraska. The problem with this advice -- leaving aside the awkward detail that there aren't any law jobs in Nebraska -- is that there are no Emory law alumni in Nebraska, which is one big reason nobody in Nebraska has ever heard of Emory, the others being its 1500 miles away and doesn't have a football team).

Thus it's a major practical problem that the 73 jobs uncovered by the CU OCS include 19 in California and 14 in the Washington DC area, but only 18 in Colorado (along with, speaking regionally in the broadest sense, one in Arizona, one in Nebraska, and zero in New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming).  In other words, most of our graduates are not eligible to apply for most of these jobs, since they require that applicants be barred in the jurisdictions in which the jobs are located (This doesn't even consider the further difficulty that, given the overall state of the legal markets in California and DC, the notion that CU law graduates could compete successfully for jobs in these locations would be improbable even if this fundamental barrier to entry didn't exist).

But beyond this, our recent graduates aren't minimally qualified for most of the listed Colorado jobs either, since ten of the 18 positions require at least two years of practice experience, i.e., a standard that no one who has graduated after 2009 could possibly meet.  And, as every recent law school graduate knows, "at least two years of practice experience" ends up meaning, in practice, "at least five and probably seven or more years of practice experience, since there are plenty of people with that much experience who are now desperate to work for 30% less than what a few years ago they would have considered an entry-level salary."

This means most of our recent grads will find in this list a grand total of eight jobs that they are, in the most liberal sense of the phrase, actually qualified to apply for. These jobs consist of:

(1) An assistant city attorney position in a medium-sized town that lists experience as a prosecutor as "desirable." (translation: essential)

(2) A job assisting a sole practitioner with general civil litigation. (probably an eat what you kill arrangement)

(3) A job with an immigration law firm (candidates must be bilingual in English and Spanish).

(4) A job with an insurance defense firm, that requires either a year's practice experience or a clerkship (this would seem to disqualify 2011 graduates).

(5) A job with a firm specializing in family law that doesn't require but clearly prefers previous experience practicing family law. (see job #1 supra).

(6) Three jobs for "tax resolution" positions.  (None of these jobs actually require a JD, and they look suspiciously seasonal.)

That's it.  In just the last couple of years, CU and the University of Denver have graduated a combined total of several hundred current members of the Colorado bar who at this moment don't have real law jobs (again, a real law job = full-time long-term employment requiring a law degree).  This figure doesn't even take into account all the recent grads from genuinely national schools who have gotten Lathamed, or just struck out at OCI, and who have wandered into our fair state, looking like updated refugees from the Joad family, assuming the Joads had picked up some Oakley sunglasses on the road west.  Nor does it include all the licensed Colorado attorneys with five and ten and twenty years experience who have gotten bounced from their positions in the last few months and are looking for work, or who hate their current jobs so much they're willing to take a pay cut at a new one. Etc.

Add all that up and the number of licensed Colorado attorneys (or aspiring attorneys) currently looking for legal work surely runs well into four figures, while the CSO can't find 20 lawyer jobs in the whole state.

This is a reminder that at all but a handful of law schools, many if not most of the people in every graduating class leave law school without jobs, and will have to try to enter a market in which there are very few entry points for people in their position. It's also a reminder of how it's mostly irrelevant to most law schools and most law graduates whether or not big law hiring bounces back to the level it was at five years ago.  If less than ten percent of your graduates get jobs with big firms -- which has always been the situation at more than 80% of law schools without regard to the business cycle -- then the real question is always going to be what happens to that vast majority of your class that doesn't get a job through OCI.

And the answer to that question has become: They'll enter an employment market where they will need a lot of luck to get any kind of real legal job at all, let alone one that will allow them to actually pay back the six figures-plus of educational debt the typical graduate now incurs for the privilege of obtaining a law degree.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Law School Transparency's push for adoption of a revised Standard 509

The ABA's Council of the Section of Legal Education is meeting today in an open session at the Westin Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale.  The key item on the agenda is a revision of Standard 509 -- the ABA's consumer information standard.

Law School Transparency has submitted a memo regarding the proposed revision, which apparently the Council will consider.  The memo is mostly devoted to advocating for various technical changes in the proposal, but ends with a general statement that, at this point, I hope few people in legal academia would be willing to disagree with (at least openly):

(5) Regulatory Barriers to More Efficient Law Schools
It has become apparent that legal education has gotten away from legal educators. There are almost 200 schools vying to be Harvard-like think tanks. The vast majority of these schools set tuition prices in a distorted market, with rates loosely based on a school’s U.S. News ranking and geographic location. This pricing model, which relies on student loans and dwindling credibility, will not survive. The Council should acknowledge this reality and ensure that the ABA standards do not stand in the way of schools needing to substantially change how they deliver a quality legal education.

At some point, as more and more graduates question their own ability to practice law upon graduation and more clients refuse to pay for their services, we must do more than idly theorize on changes to the current model. We believe the Council’s first step should be to conduct an inquiry into how the accreditation standards (a) functionally prevent low-cost alternatives and (b) could be adapted to allow other models to emerge. For too long, cost considerations have been absent from reform discussions. The Council should seize the chance to better legal education for the sake of the profession and society at-large.

In November, we asked that Jeffrey Lewis, dean emeritus and professor of law at Saint Louis University School of Law, create a special subcommittee to review regulatory barriers preventing law schools from adapting low-cost models. To date, plans for such a committee have not been announced. It is critical that the Council ask Dean Lewis to create this committee today, and that the Council urges the new committee to act quickly and thoroughly. If the answers do not come quickly from legal educators, the result will be that educators end up forfeiting their right to control the changes. And if the answers have to come from elsewhere, unbreaking the broken law school model will be as painful as it is necessary.
The last sentence in the quote alludes to the fact that, behind the scenes, a couple of U.S. Senate committees remain keenly interested in what the ABA is or isn't doing to reform a broken system.  The Council has been made well aware of this fact -- a fact which has quite direct relevance to the Council's sudden new-found interest in improved law school transparency.

Speaking of which, the current chairman of the Council, New England School of Law Dean John O'Brien, received a salary of $737,482, plus $44,238 in other compensation in 2010, per IRS tax form 990.  I doubt Dean O'Brien shares LST's views on the extent to which this system is broken, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the opinions of persons such as himself are not going to decide these matters for much longer.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Say anything

I didn't want to pay more attention to the controversy regarding the gap between Columbia's and NYU's NALP reports regarding the number of their grads who got big law firm jobs in 2010 and the NLJ250 statistics (for one thing big law placement is relatively minor side show in the multi-tiered disaster that is the current employment market for ABA law school grads), but a new story in Fortune throws further light on the extent to which anyone should believe anything law school administrators say regarding their schools' employment stats.  Here's the dean of CLS:

Among top tier law schools -- where debt can be steep -- employment data can be hard to parse as well. Columbia University's law school, which kept its No. 4 national ranking this year, says that it did not exaggerate its employment numbers because two dozen law firms did not report their hiring, and employed graduates who had not been admitted to the bar were not included in the overall total.

"It's true that the elite bar is hiring fewer people," says David Schizer, dean of Columbia's law school. "But is Columbia affected? No."
Really, at some point what is there left to say?  Note that Dean Schizer wasn't making an off the cuff remark to cowed law students at "town hall" meeting, or posting anonymous snark on the internet, or mumbling something to a Jobs Creator at the bar after his fourth G&T at yet another unbearably tedious fundraising event. Instead, he said this, while on the record, to a journalist for one of the nation's leading financial publications.

Stats? Stats:

Percentage of Columbia law graduates getting jobs with NLJ250 firms by year:

2006:  69.9
2007:  74.8
2008:  70.5
2009:  54.4
2010:  55.2
2011:  51.7

This chart shows a comparable collapse in big law hiring at most elite law schools for the class of 2009, which continued and deepened for the classes of 2010 and 2011.  On some level it's basically nuts to assert that the elite bar is hiring fewer people but Columbia isn't affected.  It's almost an oxymoron, practically equivalent to saying "the people who hire our graduates aren't hiring as many of our graduates but our graduates are not affected."

Again, I really don't know what to say.  Possible explanations:

(1) Schizer was misquoted.  If so, he ought to speak up now or forever hold his peace.

(2) Schizer said this and believes it's true. If so, he's deeply delusional, at a level I wouldn't have thought possible even for elite law school deans, who often show signs of being less than securely tethered to reality on a whole range of subjects.

(3)  Schizer said this, knows it isn't true, and is lying because he believes it's in his own and his institution's interest for him to lie.

(4) Schizer said this, doesn't know whether it's true or not, and doesn't care, because bullshitting is what deans do in the same way other people brush their teeth at bedtime.

My guess -- and that's really all it is -- is that (4) is the most plausible explanation.  Legal academics in general and legal academic administrators in particular are people who get used to just saying stuff without bothering too much about whether they actually know what they're talking about, because bullshitting is a hard habit to break.

Protip for future reference: Journalists for the national media aren't law students.  You're not a fearsome authority figure to them. In fact, what you are is a schmuck.  They won't tell you so in so many words, but if you lie to them or act like you know what you're talking about when you don't, they'll write stories that make it clear to their readers that that's what you are.

They write letters

I learned that George Washington had posted its 2011 employment stats from a 3L, portions of whose letter I'm posting here with permission:

The most terrifying figure I'm seeing from this -- although they didn't break down percentages for 2011 -- is that in 2008, 66% of our grads went to firms. In 2011, 40% did. That's an enormous drop.

GW, by virtue of being high-quality and located in DC, had the opportunity to assuage this somewhat by shifting to government. But even then, the hiring freeze has clearly taken a toll. We jumped from 13% to 21% in government in 2010 -- and then back to 17% in 2011.

The jobs simply aren't there. I'm thrilled that we just released these numbers in the interest of transparency, but the real lesson I learned from the numbers is that the industry is bleeding jobs and our career services office simply can't keep up (if trying to distort market reality is even their responsibility in the first place). It is, in your own words, the classic "trap" situation.

Personally, I'm doing ok. I had done my research and knew exactly why I wanted to go to law school, and I've loved it. Then, I didn't go to the best school I got into, I went to the best school that gave me the most money. Because of my scholarship (thankfully endowed, not cross-subsidized), I'm nowhere near the full debt load of my peers. But my debtload is still a lot higher than I had budgeted coming into law school. I'm in the top 15% of my class, but in spite of many callbacks and dozens of other interviews I had no offers as a 2L. Iended up working, for free (see: budget crisis), for the federal government during the summer and school year. I impressed my office but even after 8 months they had no funding to guarantee me a paid position. I'd be starving right now and unable to even pay the bar exam fees if my well-salaried romantic partner wasn't currently subsidizing my existence.
 As a 3L, with the prospects of an offer from the government at nil, I did a massive direct write campaign to more than a hundred law firms,and called in every even tenuous connection I had. Miraculously, after many more interviews and callbacks, I got one single offer, in my desired practice area, from a firm. I'm incredibly thankful, but it was one of the most stressful experiences I've eve been through. Many of my friends at the top of my class are in a worse position; the bottom half is struggling even more. And we're still a top 20 school in a great location. My friends at top-30 but rural schools can't find anything. And once you fall below that, it's a bloodbath.
I'm a hard-working middle-class kid with parents who were hit hard by the economic crash. In an absolute emergency they might be able to bail me out, but it'd be tight. That's the main reason I didn't go to T-14 schools, even though I got in. The cost was prohibitive to a middle-class kid. Back during application season as a 0L, I visited one T-14, and literally started crying because I felt like I fit in perfectly but knew there was no way I or my family could afford the $180K price tag. The other students there either were having their parents pay the price tag in cash, or were utterly naive about how much money the education actually cost, and what the opportunities would be coming out. (To quote one: "Yeah, I figure the debt is the equivalent of buying a house. But any lawyer from this school should be able to afford two houses.")

I know I've gotten lucky. But many of my friends demographically identical to me have not been so fortunate. Something is fundamentally wrong with this system when even the smart, savvy, hard-working, middle-class kids who want to live the American Dream are priced out, from the beginning, of going to good schools. And even when they do go to those schools, they've been fed lies about jobs which don't exist. That's not the America I was raised to believe in.
 Lawyers basically do two things: work for law firms, and work for the government.  (Yes this is an oversimplification. Sometimes they manage the St. Louis Cardinals or run the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's a versatile degree!).   70% of GW's most recent class are supposedly in such positions, but when you start digging into the numbers a lot of rats scurry out of the dark (15% of this group have jobs with firms of 10 or fewer attorneys or are going solo, both of which are categories that include a lot of essentially imaginary employment, while "government" work has the charming characteristic of sometimes turning out to be completely unpaid, due to its exemption from many of the requirements of FLSA.)

Right now, firms aren't hiring much and government, in many places, isn't hiring period.  This was driven home to me yet again yesterday during a conversation with an unemployed 2011 grad of a school solidly within the top 20 (grades in the top 40%; tons of extra-curriculars; winning personality blah blah blah).  He pointed out that when calculating acceptable outcomes for graduates of expensive elite and sub-elite schools -- the HELP list -- I may have been a little too hasty to treat federal judicial clerkships as unambiguously "good" outcomes. He keeps in close touch with most of the federal clerks in his class and tells me that many of them have not been able to find any post-clerkship employment yet.  In particular he referenced a friend who has top 15% grades from this top fifteenish school, is Hispanic, female, conventionally attractive (unfortunately this as everyone knows is a factor in hiring), liked by everyone, and working for a judge who normally only hires from HYS, but who still can't get a job.  He spoke to a lawyer at the big firm in the building where he offices (he is self-employed and is receiving a small "fellowship" stipend from his alma mater) about this clerk -- networking! -- and the lawyer said this sounded like an ideal candidate and she would speak to the hiring partner immediately. She did but . . . the firm isn't hiring at all right now (this is a several-hundred attorney shop).

Yes anecdotes are not data but the data are terrible enough.

Speaking of which, I got an email this week from a stressed and depressed 1L at a "top tier" school where perhaps 40% of the grads are getting real legal jobs, liberally defined.  The student has middle of the class grades, is debt-financing law school, logs onto the internet occasionally, and therefore realizes that Houston we have a problem (a remarkable number of 1Ls remain innocent of this knowledge).  The student spoke about his/her concerns to one of his/her professors who assured the student "that there is no need to worry, because [  ] is a top tier law school. She/he also said that being an average B student is ok since we're all excellent, and that there will be jobs for us. (Somehow, this was not very comforting)."

Stupid or evil?  In this business both charity and experience continue to suggest the former remains the more likely explanation, at least for now.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A couple of Class of 2011 placement charts

These are the first two Class of 2011 placement numbers I've seen law schools put up (there are probably others; I haven't done a search):


George Washington


The most striking thing about the GWU numbers is the change over the course of the last four graduating classes.

Total number of graduates getting BigLaw jobs (250+ lawyer firms):

2008:  240

2009:  227

2010:  134

2011: 95

*A side note: GWU is yet another school at which the number of its grads listed as having jobs with firms of 250+ lawyers correlates almost exactly with the number of its grads listed by the NLJ as having jobs with NLJ250 firms (the figures are 95 and 92 respectively for the class of 2011).

Total salaries reported by GWU to NALP:

2008:  359

2009:  325

2010:  188

2011:  170
The percentage of known graduate salaries has declined from 67.9% to 32.8% over the past four years.

GWU also lists 37 2011 graduates as employed in "academia," but only one person in a law-school funded job.

The WUSTL stats are to put it charitably skeletal, but this number jumps out: Percentage of the class with a full-time "long-term" job requiring a JD nine months after graduation: 59.3%

"Long-term" is in quotation marks because both  of these schools are counting judicial clerkships as "long-term" employment.  They can do this while staying ("arguably" as a lawyer might say) within the NALP definitions because NALP defines "short-term" employment as any definite period of employment of less than one year.  Technically most judicial clerkships last one year, although I note that in its aggregated national statistics NALP treats judicial clerkships as short-term employment.  Given that a large proportion of the judicial clerkships taken by graduates of sub-elite schools are state and local rather than federal (slightly less than half at GWU in 2011; comparable number at WUSTL unknown), many of these jobs are very much short-term in both form and substance, as they are essentially a one-year reprieve from post-graduate unemployment.

In other words one doesn't have to look very critically at even these sparse statistics to conclude that less than half the most recent graduating class at the nation's 23rd-ranked law school had a real legal job nine months after graduation, even liberally defined.

Yet more law school numbers

Nearly a week after this blog noted that Columbia and NYU had recently published employment data indicating that 555 of their 2010 graduates had jobs with firms of more than 250 lawyers, while the National Law Journal had only been able to confirm that 448 graduates in those classes had such jobs, both schools have issued responses to this observation.

The responses are quite different in tone, and to some extent in substance.  Columbia, to its credit, did not use the occasion to express outrage over the fact that anyone would dare to ask questions regarding discrepancies in the reporting of employment outcomes for law school graduates. The substance of the school's response is brief:

The NLJ did not discuss with us the difference between their numbers and ours for the Class of 2010, but we had detailed discussions with them about the Class of 2011 and discovered a number of reasons why their numbers are wrong. For example, 24 of the NLJ 250 firms did not respond to the NLJ’s survey. In addition, the NLJ did not count as “employed” some full-time, permanent, first year associates who were awaiting admission to the bar. The reason is that some firms use the term “law clerk” to describe them (in order to avoid an ethical issue about describing employees not yet admitted to the bar as “lawyers”).
NYU's response is another matter.  Readers can decide for themselves what both the tone and substance of that response reveals.  Here I'll address a couple of the response's more curious details.  NYU writes:

To gather its data, the NLJ contacts each of the NLJ 250 law firms. But not all release this information. NLJ editor-in-chief David Brown told NYU Law that in this year's survey, the results of which he just published, 71 of these 250 firms provided no school-specific 2011 hiring data. And, if a firm didn’t participate and a law school declined to say how many graduates it sent to that firm, the NLJ simply recorded that as a zero. “If we didn’t have information from the law firm or the law school, we didn’t publish information we didn’t have,” Brown said. Presto: a sizeable group of entry-level lawyers vanish into the ether.

How did this disappearing act affect NYU’s numbers? It happens that quite a few of the firms that do not release data to the NLJ are major New York-based firms that typically hire a lot of NYU Law grads. We have strong, longstanding relationships with these firms, and if they did not provide the data, we similarly did not disclose it. During its data-gathering process this year, the NLJ sent us a list of NLJ 250 firms that had reported hiring NYU Law 2011 graduates, including the number at each firm. But 21 NLJ 250 firms that hired a total of 58 of our 2011 graduates were missing from the list, and, when asked, the NLJ told us that was because these firms did not provide information. For the 2010 data that Campos cites, five of these firms alone hired 49 NYU Law 2010 graduates, erasing almost the entire discrepancy Campos cites.
First, note that the number of non-disclosing NLJ250 firms seems to vary a lot depending on whether the source for this information is Columbia, which says 24 of the 250 firms didn't disclose in 2011, and NYU, which says NLJ's editor told them 71 didn't disclose. (The fact that a paragraph later the letter states that 21 firms that hired NYU graduates were missing from the list the NLJ shared with NYU makes one wonder if the "71" figure is a typo, although of course not all non-reporting firms necessarily hired an NYU graduate). 

The letter goes on to say that earlier this year NYU determined that in regard to the class of 2011 -- keep in mind my questions were regarding the class of 2010 -- non-disclosing firms hired 58 NYU grads, and that the school asked the NLJ why these grads weren't listed as working for NLJ250 firms.  This would seem to contradict the statement earlier in the same paragraph that "we have strong, longstanding relationships with these [non-disclosing] firms, and if they did not provide the data, we similarly did not disclose it."  Apparently NYU did disclose this data to the NLJ in regard to the class of 2011, despite its impliedly confidential working relationship with the non-responding firms.

Anyway none of this involves the class of 2010.  Did the five firms that didn't report to the NLJ in 2011 that hired 49 NYU grads in 2010 also not report that year? This seems like a natural inference, but given that NYU doesn't say we can assume the school doesn't actually know.  That question becomes more interesting if one examines the analogous data for NYU's class of 2008.  NYU reports that 75% of its 458 employed graduates were working for law firms, and that 92.4% of those graduates were working for firms of more than 250 attorneys, i.e., NLJ250 firms.  This comes out to a total of 317 graduates.  How many NYU class of 2008 graduates did the NLJ report working for NLJ250 firms? 317.

This curious fact serves as a reminder that there was essentially no discrepancy between the law school-reported numbers and the NLJ numbers for any of the other top 11 law schools' classes of 2010, with the partial exception of Harvard.  Did the five firms that hired 49 NYU grads in 2010 and didn't report their numbers in 2011 collectively hire no Yale, or Chicago, or Michigan, or Duke grads in 2010?  Why do the factors referenced by Columbia and NYU -- non-reporting firms, listing of graduates as law clerks rather than attorneys, etc.-- seem to affect only their graduates, or at least affect their graduates in such great disproportion, when it comes to the NLJ numbers? (This isn't a rhetorical question by the way).

This would be a good time to emphasize yet again a point I have already made explicitly, and more than once, in regard to all these questions:

Some commenters responding to the original thread on this topic assumed I was accusing Columbia and NYU of intentionally cooking their numbers. I didn't and I'm not.  What I'd like to know is why one out of every five BigLaw jobs that Columbia and NYU reported to NALP in 2010 has gone missing in the NLJ stats.  There are lots of possible explanations for this that don't include outright fraud by the schools themselves (For instance one possibility is that unusually large percentages of Columbia and NYU grads are taking new non-partner track associate positions, which the NLJ doesn't count when surveying firms).

Simply refusing to answer the question, however, isn't a very good way of getting people to give you the benefit of the doubt.
I'm pleased to see that the two schools have now provided answers, the adequacy of which interested parties can judge for themselves.  In any case, one would think we were well past the point where law schools had cause to feel put upon to be asked these kinds of questions, and to be expected to answer them.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

20 more law schools to be sued; NYU pays $3.6 million for faculty condo

Press release reprinted below:

Law Offices of David Anziska (New York, New York), Strauss Law PLLC (New York, New York), Law Offices of Frank Raimond (New York, New York), The Clinton Law Firm (Chicago, Illinois), Concepcion Martinez & Bellido LLP (Miami, Florida), Finkelstein Thompson LLP (Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, California), Kershaw, Cutter & Ratinoff LLP (Sacramento, California), and Stone & Magnanini LLP (Short Hills, New Jersey and New York, New York) announced today that they are seeking to file class action lawsuits challenging the post-graduate employment rates reported by the following twenty schools:

1. New England School of Law (Massachusetts)
2. Western New England University School of Law (Massachusetts)
3: Roger Williams University School of Law (Rhode Island)
4. Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (New York)
5. Pace University School of Law (New York)
6. St. John’s University School of Law (New York)
7. Syracuse University College of Law (New York)
9. American University Washington College of Law (District of Columbia)
14. Valparaiso University School of Law (Indiana)
15. St. Louis University School of Law (Missouri)
16. Chapman University School of Law (California)
17. Loyola Marymount University Law School (California)
18. Pepperdine University School of Law (California)
19. Whittier Law School (California)
20. Seattle University School of Law (Washington)  

The average debt load for 2009 graduates of these twenty schools is nearly $115,000.  “Seventy-five law school graduates have already shown that they are willing to hold their schools accountable for the misrepresentations they may have made” stated Plaintiffs’ counsel David Anziska. “That is a good start, but there are tens-of-thousands of young lawyers saddled with massive debt and few job prospects. I truly believe that at the end of this process nearly every law school in the country will be sued.”  The Law Offices of David Anziska is advising graduates of the above schools that they may have certain legal rights and should contact David Anziska at or visit to learn more.  

In completely unrelated news

NYU Law '08