Friday, June 29, 2012

Dear Rising 3L

[Name] School of Law
Office of the Dean

Dear Rising 3L,

I hope you are enjoying your summer.  All of us at the [Name] School of Law look forward to welcoming you back to campus in August; we have created many exciting new programs for you and your classmates.  This letter confirms a few details about your tuition for the coming year:

1.      We are pleased to announce that we are rolling back the rate of tuition increases.  Tuition for next year will increase only 4.99% over the current year’s tuition.  That is a significant decrease from rates in previous years.  We recognize that this is a challenging economy, and we want you and your classmates to succeed.  At the same time, as we explain below, some tuition increase is essential to preserve the quality of education that you want to receive.

2.      We regret to remind you that federal subsidization of Stafford loans ends on July 1.  If you relied upon these loans to fund your first two years of legal education, no interest accumulated on those loans while you were a student.  And here’s the good news:  That is still true!  You will pay absolutely no interest on your existing Stafford loans until six months after graduation.  That’s a value of over $3,000 to you.  Any Stafford loan that you take out to finance your third year will, unfortunately, accrue interest from the first day.  But you won’t pay any of that interest until you have graduated and are earning a salary; you can focus on experiencing the full educational richness of your third year.

3.      As you may have heard, applications to law schools fell again this year.  We know how much our school’s U.S. News rank matters to you, because the rank directly affects your prospects in the job market.  We have been working hard to maintain our admissions statistics—which translate directly into your valuable ranking.  One way to achieve our joint goal is to offer more scholarship money to incoming students with strong credentials.  We have been doing just that, increasing our scholarship aid as much as possible.  Your tuition dollars are essential in this effort.

As a result of these market forces, you may hear about incoming students who have lower LSAT scores or GPAs than you did—but who are receiving much larger scholarships.  We realize that you are subsidizing tuition for these students, and that may not seem fair to you.  But you are giving back to our school in two ways:  You are providing an opportunity for another student to pursue her dreams and you are helping maintain the rank of the school we all love.

This is just the type of honored role you will play as an alum; our alumni pride themselves on giving back to today’s law students.  You can be even more proud of your actions, because you are giving back even before graduation!  To recognize your extraordinary contributions, we want to put you in touch with the first-year student who is receiving a scholarship from your tuition.  [Scholarship Student Name] will let you know about how she enjoys law school, about the summer jobs she obtains because of your financial assistance, and about her aspirations for the future.  We know you will enjoy hearing about the progress of your scholarship student; it is heartwarming indeed to know that you are making a difference in the lives of others.

As always, we thank you for all you do to contribute to the [School Name] community.  We are a family at [School Name] and we treasure your membership.  See you in August!

                                                                          Dean [Name]
                                                                          [Name] School of Law

P.S.  If you would like to pre-pay your tuition, or even add a little extra, we've enclosed an envelope for your convenience.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mail bag

I know I should be immune to surprise at this point, but it still surprises me how much outright deception law schools continue to engage in when attempting to lure applicants.

I have a forwarded email chain in my inbox that I don't have permission to quote from directly, but which the correspondent has allowed me to paraphrase.

It involves negotiations between an admitted applicant and a top 20 law school.  The applicant is a "splitter" in the jargon of the trade -- someone with a low (sub 3.0) GPA and a high (168) LSAT.  The applicant was admitted off the wait list recently and was offered a $60K "scholarship."  (This is a much larger "scholarship" than applicants with much better numbers who were admitted months earlier received).

Unfortunately for the school, the applicant is that rarest of fauna -- an actually sophisticated consumer of higher education. Over the course of a few weeks the applicant squeezed increasingly larger "scholarship" amounts out the school (again, these awards aren't scholarships in the sense of income from endowments -- they're simply straight discounts on the price of tuition). The award went from $60K to $84K to $99K to $105K, as "additional scholarship funding" mysteriously became available every time the applicant said no to the previous offer.

I know from other correspondence that the admissions office at this school was lying routinely to other applicants, having told them months earlier that the school had "run out of funding" for increased "scholarship" aid.

The most mordantly amusing exchange in this particular email chain involves living expenses.  After the applicant rejects the $99K offer, the response containing the $105K offer also informs the applicant that the school's cost of living estimates are "extremely generous" (aka greatly exaggerated), and indeed much more generous than similar estimates made by some competitor schools, because the school intentionally uses the highest-rent district in the city to make them, in order to make sure students can take out the "maximum amount" in federal loans!  The applicant is assured that although the cost of living estimate provided by the school to the federal loan authorities estimates an astronomical monthly rent, there are plenty of apartments near the school that rent for less than half as much as the estimate.

Somehow all this reminds me of my brief and inglorious legal career, which largely consisted of going through corporate documents looking for particularly damning bits of information. Every now and then you'd run into a letter from a corporate officer that all but said in plain English something along the lines of "is the cartel's price-fixing meeting still on for Tuesday?"  At least that guy didn't actually work for a law school.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gone to Texas

Pretty much the only thing I remember about bankruptcy law is that 19th century financial documents would sometimes include the marginal notation GTT, which stood for Gone To Texas, land of generous homestead exemptions and difficult process serving.  This useful piece of information came to mind when I read (h/t Taxprof) about Texas A&M's decision to buy Texas Wesleyan's law school, which shall henceforth be known as the Texas A&M School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University.

Financial details: TAMU is paying TWU $20 million, and in return is getting the school as an ongoing concern.  TWU, however, will retain ownership of the building in which the school is housed, along with the four blocks of land in Fort Worth on which it's situated, which TAMU will lease.

Needless to say this transaction was announced with the help of a Texas-sized hailstorm of business jargon, celebrating the various proactive dynamic synergies this union is intended to produce.

Why is TAMU buying a law school, and why is TWU selling theirs? Obviously because both parties think that the price is right -- and that price is quite low.  $20 million is less than TAMUOLATWU is charging its JD students per year, at least in nominal tuition.  In short TWU -- a quite small (just 1,483 undergraduates) institution -- is dumping what it now considers a fiscally unsound and/or too risky operation, while retaining the operation's most valuable assets (real estate and fixtures).

Meanwhile TAMU, a huge university, thinks it can leverage its institutional capital (these cliches are habit-forming) in a way that will allow it to buy on the cheap what has become a financially dubious enterprise  and turn it into a money maker.

Clearly, Texas Wesleyan is selling at this price because its law school must be having significant financial problems.  TWU's tuition is among the cheapest of any private law school ($30K for this coming academic year), but even at this "bargain" price it's apparently having trouble filling its class.  Here we may be seeing the beneficial effects of improved transparency.  A prospective student who visits the school's web site will find no employment statistics of any kind, but thanks to the work of Law School Transparency and others it's now possible to examine the school's placement data beyond the phony "employed at nine months" number advertised in the USNWR rankings.

What that data show are the following facts for the 223 members of the class of 2011:

(1) Five graduates got jobs with law firms of more than ten attorneys.

(2) Nearly 10% of the class listed themselves as solo practitioners.

(3) The school produced zero federal or state judicial clerks.

(4)  No graduate got a public interest job (including public defender positions).

(5) Nearly 30% of the class was either unemployed or had an unknown employment status.

Basically, almost nobody got a job, if a job is defined as "an acceptable employment outcome given the cost of attendance."  (That cost is north of $160K if debt financed).

From a public-regarding standpoint, there is no conceivable reason why this law school shouldn't be shut down at once -- a judgment which apparently enough prospective law students now share that they've put the enterprise's future in serious jeopardy.

TAMU has chosen to swoop down on this mess for who knows what reason exactly, although I suspect the decision is a product of equal parts willful ignorance about the current employment market for lawyers and unwarranted optimism about its future.  After all the federal student loan gravy train is still running, tomorrow is another day, and the Aggies are in the SEC now, so anything is possible. 

It will be interesting to see if TAMU's administration decides to sink significant resources into trying to patch the Titanic's hull, or whether instead it expends minimal capital on its bargain basement acquisition and simply closes up shop in a few years if and when it discovers that its new cash cow should have been turned into all-beef patties.

In any case I expect we'll see more of these sorts of deals in the near future, as desperate law schools look for various white knights -- even if most of the latter end up looking a lot more like T. Boone Pickens than Sir Lancelot.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review of the literature

Four years ago Bill Henderson pointed out that starting salaries for law school graduates had fallen into a strongly bi-modal distribution, and that this fact had considerable significance for the future of legal education and the legal profession.  A year later he highlighted how the latest data meant that major changes were in store for the standard legal academic business model.

Since then American legal academics have published approximately 38,873 law review articles. (This is an actual estimate based on a review of the literature, not a heavy-handed joke).  Henderson's observation has been mentioned in precisely seven of these texts.  Five of the references are cursory.  Actual discussion of the bi-modal distribution in starting salaries for law school graduates is found here:



 More fun facts:

1,002 law review articles contain the phrase "Affordable Care Act."

Ten of the articles referencing the Affordable Care Act also mention the writings of Michel Foucault.

The phrase "law school transparency" appears in 12 articles.

The phrase "law school scam" appears in eight articles.

The phrases "document review" and "click monkey" do not appear together in any law review articles.

The latter lacuna in the scholarly literature will be remedied by my forthcoming article "The Crisis of the American Law School," which will appear in print in October. (Updated draft version available here).

Monday, June 25, 2012

No help wanted

What's an unemployed law graduate to do these days? Go slightly west of the 100th meridian, young man:

The rural areas' biggest selling point is jobs, which have been hard for law graduates to land in recent years due to a nationwide glut of lawyers and a slump in the legal industry since the 2008 financial crisis. As of February, the employment rate for students who graduated in 2011 was about 86%, the lowest for a class since 1994, according to the National Association for Law Placement.  [A friendly request to Ashby Jones et. al.: please stop quoting this meaningless figure]

"The state of the current market…is the new normal," said Arturo Thompson, dean of career services at the University of Kansas School of Law.

But in parts of the rural Midwest, communities are itching for lawyers. "The job market is good for lawyers in the western and more rural parts of Nebraska, in towns like Ogallala and Scottsbluff," said Susan Poser, dean of the law school at the University of Nebraska. "We're trying to make students more aware of those opportunities," she said . . .

"Twenty years ago, Chadron had 10 lawyers; Alliance had a dozen," said Howard Olsen, a lawyer in Scottsbluff, Neb., and a former president of the Nebraska Bar Association. "Now, they each just have two or three."

Mr. Olsen said that clients in rural Nebraska who used to find a lawyer across the street may now drive "50, 60, sometimes 100 miles" to find one.

Per the United States census, Chadron, Nebraska had 2,313 households in 2010.  One lawyer for every one thousand households?  Sounds like career opportunities may be abundant for unemployed Emory grads and other law talking city slickers. Farm living is the life for me!

But wait. Per that same census, how many of those Chadron households could conceivably pay a lawyer some money for his or her services? A total of 323 of those households had an income of at least $75,000.

And how many lawyers are there in Chadron anyway?  According to the Nebraska bar association there are currently nine attorneys with active law licenses in good standing residing in Chadron.  It's true that two of these are government attorneys, and three of the others do not list themselves as engaged in the private practice of law involving members drawn from the public (does membership in that category create certain obligations in regard to reporting liability insurance status?), but that still leaves four attorneys engaged in the private practice of law, or about one for every 80 households who might possibly be able and willing to pay a lawyer's bill, assuming they had some need for legal services that couldn't be filled by ordering a document from Legal Zoom or the like.

It should give Dean Poser (a remarkable number of people in this business have names straight out of didactic 19th century novels) and Howard Olsen pause that three out of the seven licensed private attorneys residing in Chadron don't seem to be practicing law.  Here's the real problem: the vast majority of people in Chadron can no more afford a lawyer than they can found a hedge fund. The median household income in the town is $29,000; nearly a third of its residents got some sort of cash public assistance -- mostly food stamps -- last year.

Law school administrators are prone to talk about how the idea that there are too many lawyers in America can't be true, given that huge numbers of Americans who have a legitimate need for legal representation can't get such services.  Once again, people who talk this way just don't want to do the math.  What's the minimum revenue that a solo practitioner needs to collect in a year to have a viable business, even in a small town? $100,000?  Where is that money going to come from?  There are a few dozen families in Chadron who can afford to pay a lawyer.  Few if any will need a lawyer this year, and those few that might will almost certainly choose to patronize one of the four private lawyers in town with active practices.

Given all this, how much sense does it make to tell a law graduate to move halfway across the country, spend the time and money necessary to become eligible to practice law in another state, and then try to find a way to make a living in a small Nebraska town?  There are plenty of Nebraska and Creighton grads trying and failing to do this as it is.

The notion that the employment crisis for law school graduates is in any degree a product of the "fact" that graduates won't take "salaries starting in the low (!) to mid-five figures"  because they're holding out for $160,000 big firm jobs is just another rationalization for charging lots of people lots of money to enter a profession which simply doesn't have any jobs for them, whether they're looking for those imaginary jobs in Washington DC or Chadron NE.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The battle of Hastings

A law professor has directed me to a document that offers a fairly comprehensive look at the current and projected budget at UC-Hastings.  The document combines a fiscal overview of the school's current situation with a strategic five-year plan going forward.  Hastings is in a bit of an unusual position among well-ranked schools in that it's not part of a larger university campus, so there appears to be no cross-subsidization between it and other academic departments, i.e., part of the law school's revenues aren't being spent in the English department.  That aside, this is an unusual opportunity to study in detail the financial structure of a large first-tier law school public law school.

Some details:

*While total applications to the school fell by 28% between 2003 and 2011, nominal tuition revenue nearly doubled over the same period, going from $24 million to $46 million.  In-state tuition has gone from $21,000 per year in 2004 to nearly $47,000 this coming fall.

*This academic year, the school nominally took in $46.5 million in tuition, but in fact only collected $33.45 million, because of cross-subsidized "scholarships."  This made the mean tuition paid by students $27,107, while the median was $40,000 for in-state and $49,000 for out of state students.  Here we have a stark example of  the reverse Robin Hood principle at work -- by which the half of the class which are less likely to get well-paying legal jobs, or any jobs at all, subsidize the half of the class getting "merit" scholarships.

Hastings has almost no real scholarships, i.e., endowed private money donated to offset tuition costs.  In 2011 the school distributed $361,000 in such scholarships, i.e., an average of less than $300 per student.

*This past academic year Hastings students borrowed $23,151,000 in Stafford and Perkins federal loans, and $20,141,000 in GRADPLUS and private loans.  We can be confident that the percentage of the latter figure that was made up by private loans was trivial, meaning that Hastings students borrowed around $43 million in federal loan money.  This means Hastings students took out 28.6% more in federal loans than they paid in total tuition.  On average, Hastings students borrowed just over $35,000 each.  This suggests that something close to 100% of the $27.1K per student in tuition Hastings actually collected was federally debt financed, i.e., almost no one is laying out any cash for law school tuition.

*While the class of 2011 graduated with an average of $102,000 in law school debt, current Hastings 2Ls, taking into account interest accrued during law school and tuition increases, will graduate with an average of around $130,000 in law school debt (This is my projection rather than something in the budget).

* The school is raising tuition 15% for the coming academic year, and plans to raise it 5% per year for the next four years after that. (This will put in-state tuition at about $57,000 per year four years from now).  The justification for this, fiscally speaking, is that Hastings is cutting its JD class size by 20%. These tuition increases, along with a 25-student increase in the size of the international LLM program and 12 students added by a new MSL in Health Law, will allow the school (assuming that it can continue to fill its projected classes) to increase nominal tuition revenue from $46 million to $59 million despite the decrease in the size of the JD class.

*Tuition makes up 53% of the school's operating revenue. The rest comes from state appropriations (14%), investments (13%), auxiliary enterprises ( 12%; this includes things like renting space in the school's physical plant, parking, and bookstore revenues), private gifts (5%), grants and contracts (1%) and other revenues (2%).  This past academic year operating revenue exceeded expenditures by $10.5 million.  Over the past eight years the school has averaged about a three million dollar per year surplus in net revenues versus expenses.  (The school lost around one million dollars in 2008 and nearly nine million in 2009, apparently as a result of state appropriations cuts).

*Despite the fact that revenues exceeded expenditures by nearly 20% over the past fiscal year, the school is cutting $2.2 million in operating costs "primarily through the elimination of 20% of the non-academic staff through layoffs or elimination of vacant positions."

*59% of the school's operating expenses are taken up by salaries and benefits ($31.2 million).  Utilities, supplies and services make up 17%, auxiliary expenses are 11%, depreciation is 4%, and interest on debt is 3%.

Note that there's literally not a word in this detailed 60-page strategic five year planning document regarding what an economist would call "outputs."   Hastings has doubled in real terms the nominal price of what it's selling, at a time when the demand for its product is crashing.  Under such circumstances, one would think that the matter of whether the school's graduates are getting a reasonable -- or indeed any -- net return on the skyrocketing cost of their investment would at least be mentioned. It isn't.

That fact alone tells us a great deal about what actually does and doesn't count inside the law school bubble.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A brief note for Jessi Freud et. al.

Yesterday perpetually clueless baby boomer and (unwitting?) law school shill Victoria Pynchon lent her blog space on to prospective law student Jessi Freud, who wrote a short piece on why she's planning on going to law school this fall -- specifically Nova Southeastern.  Ms. Freud's motivations for her decision seem both laudable and painfully naive: she wants to help "the little guy," and "do something I believe in."

An army of commenters soon descended, and let her know -- for the most part politely but firmly -- why her career plan is at best unrealistic and indeed potentially quite disastrous.  The commenters were not nearly so gentle with Pynchon, who proceeded to indulge in demographically symptomatic levels of narcissistic grandiosity that are impossible to parody. Sample:

I’ve been working to change unfairness in the political and justice systems since I was an 11th grade student protesting the war in Vietnam and writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper urging passage of an Act to permit 18 year olds to vote. I wasn’t alone of course. But how about that? The war didn’t end as soon as we wanted it to but there’s no draft anymore (you’re welcome) and the voting age is 18.  [In a later comment Pynchon complains that her critics still refuse to thank her and others of her generation for "ending the draft." This is apparently not intended as a joke]
Pynchon also advises aspiring lawyers to commit malpractice in order to learn their trade:

I know many young attorneys today who hung out shingles immediately after graduation. They found mentors (I’ve mentored young attorneys) and learned the way we all learn how to practice law – by failing. Sure, I had advice from my young attorney employers, but you go to court for the first time alone. The Judge asks you “can you give me an offer of proof?” and you flip the papers in your file thinking “what’s an offer of proof, what’s an offer of proof” until the Judge takes pity on you and asks your witness the necessary questions herself. You take deposition testimony for the first time alone. Opposing counsel roughs you up. Finally, they tell you what you’re doing wrong because they can’t waste their entire day while you re-formulate questions in response to their foundational objections that you don’t need to re-ask. You try your first case alone with butterflies in your stomach, your hands shaking and your armpits sweating. One old grizzled defense attorney told me that if you didn’t gag over your toothbrush the first day of trial, you shouldn’t be trying cases anymore; you’d lost your edge. You enroll at Solo Practice University. You join Bar associations. You stay up all night reading. You pick up the telephone and ask for help. You start with small cases. You’re not representing people in capital murder cases. There’s not that much you can screw up. Just don’t blow the statute of limitations.
(No, I didn't make this up).

Anyway, Freud was given plenty of excellent reasons to reconsider her choices, to which I have nothing to add, other than to emphasize that the main reason going to law school to "help the little guy" is probably not a good plan at present is that the little guy doesn't have any money, and therefore he can't pay you, which you won't find out until you try to collect your bill (The two most critical professional skills for any non-government attorney -- getting clients and then getting them to pay -- are never touched on in law school, for the very good reason that no law professor in the recorded history of American legal education has ever acquired a client or collected a bill).

Again, all this represents progress.  Victoria Pynchon is almost surely beyond hope, but at least she's no longer allowed to broadcast her pernicious nonsense without being called to account by a host of passionate and extremely well-informed voices, including those of unimpeachable authority figures such as Deborah Merritt, who makes an appearance in the comments.

I do have one practical suggestion for Jessi Freud, and others in her situation:  Go to Florida's bar's web site, and do an attorney search for 2011 graduates of Nova Southeastern (Click on expanded search, and use the drop down tabs to search by year of graduation and law school).  Spend a couple of hours looking up what these people are doing, and asking yourself how many of them appear to have jobs -- that is, among those who have jobs -- that bear any resemblance to the kind of job you envision yourself going to law school to get.  Then call or email a random assortment of them, and talk to a dozen or so.  The life you save may be your own.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Welfare reform

Yesterday at lunch time an unknown but apparently quite large number of graduates of George Washington's 2012 class got this email:

From: Dean Paul Schiff Berman <>
Subject: Adjustments to P2P Program
Date: June 19, 2012 9:14:12 AM PDT

Dear P2P Fellows,

I know that most of you are deeply immersed in Bar prep right now, but I wanted to reach out to you to discuss your job search as well as some necessary adjustments to the Pathways to Practice (P2P) Program in which you are currently enrolled.

As you know, the purpose of the Program is to provide some financial support in those first crucial months out in the job market when you are still waiting to be admitted to a Bar and may need volunteer opportunities in order to build your networks and get your first paid law work.  To that end, I note that the support is only available to those who are actively working in P2P placements and who are regularly in contact with our Career Office to take the steps necessary to find paid work.  Such regular contact must, at a minimum, include a monthly meeting (by phone or in person) beginning in August.  You should know that I have recently hired a new head of our Career Office, Abe Pollack, and he is dynamic, energized, and laser-focused on getting each and every one of you some paying law job between now and December.  He and our career counselors are 100 percent committed to working with you, and if you encounter any difficulties in your work with your counselor, please contact Abe as soon as possible so we can make sure you remain on track.

Also, I have now heard several anecdotal reports of graduates turning down paying work so that they can remain in the Pathways Program and hopefully find more desirable work later.  This is not how the Program is intended to be used.  You should jump at any paying legal work opportunity, and if it's not your ideal position, then use it as a launchpad for your next search.  In order to make sure both that the incentives are properly aligned and that we can continue to fund the Program for the many students who have enrolled, we will be adjusting the payments from $15 per hour to $10 per hour beginning December 1.  The new funding amount will remain in place from December 1 until you have been in the Program for a full year, at which time your enrollment in the Program will end.  However, it is my sincere hope that all of you will have found employment by then (or, preferably, far earlier).  My advice is the same as always: follow every lead, get out in the world and meet as many people as you can at Bar events, trade association meetings, and so on, use any network you can find to make contacts, and follow up on any contacts you make.  And do twice as much as expected of you in your P2P placement so people will notice you and want to hire you permanently or recommend you to others.  I know it is an historically difficult job market, but we are here to help you navigate through this transition period. 

My very best to each of you.

Paul Schiff Berman
Dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law
The George Washington University Law School


(1) This letter was written by someone who believes, or purports to believe, that GW grads aren't getting law jobs in significant part because they're not trying hard enough.  This person also believes that cutting the pay of otherwise unemployed GW grads from $15 to $10 an hour as they labor in the non-profit sector "jobs" they had to acquire in order to enroll in the Pathways to Practice program will cause those people to try harder to get real law jobs, which in turn will yield enough success stories to justify a 33% pay cut.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his $400,000 per year salary depends on his not understanding it.  Nevertheless one can try.

GW students are not getting jobs -- 15% of the 2011 class was enrolled in a similar program in February 2012, and therefore were counted by NALP and the ABA as "employed full-time in a position requiring bar admission" -- because there aren't enough jobs.

In America, it is difficult to get a man to understand that sometimes people do everything they are supposed to do to get jobs, but do not get jobs, because there are more people doing everything they're supposed to do to get jobs than there are jobs for these people to get.  Traditionally, it has been particularly difficult to understand this when these people were poor and/or black, but now it is becoming difficult to understand even when they are professional class white people.

Now, even professional class white people are suspected of not working because they do not want to work.  Surely, if "those people" really wanted jobs they could get them.  Because if this were not true it might mean that all those years of study and preparation, and all that networking with a laser-like focus, and all those massive tuition payments, had turned out to be a waste of time and money (except of course for the inherent value of legal education itself, which is literally priceless).  And that simply cannot be true, because if it were true then that would be very disturbing.

New law graduates are not getting jobs because there aren't nearly enough entry-level jobs for new graduates, and in addition many entry-level jobs are going to increasingly desperate lawyers with several years of practice experience.  Memo to America's law school deans: Hiring a new head of OCS does not create any more jobs for your school's graduates.  Perhaps Abe Pollock is a paragon of industriousness and laser-like focus (as opposed to somebody's brother's second cousin by marriage), and as a result two or three or five more GW graduates will get law jobs than would have otherwise.  But this means that two or three or five fewer Georgetown and American and George Mason and Maryland graduates will get jobs than would have otherwise.  You can fire your OCS directors faster than Stalin used to execute his generals, but the math stays the same.

(2) "Several anecdotal reports of graduates turning down paying work" is not evidence. It's at best junior high school level gossip masquerading as data.  Here's some data: 17% of GW's 2011 class couldn't get any job at all, or had to take a law-school funded job.  How many of them were lazy idlers on the dole?  Anyway, how plausible is it that, in the six weeks since graduation, a bunch of GW grads have turned down real legal jobs of any description in order to make $15 per hour working in dead end positions?

What seems to be in play here is some characteristic fantasy of the comfortably entitled that law graduates are rejecting real legal jobs that are beneath them while holding out for glamorous positions that they believe will soon materialize.  In any case I have heard variations on this idiotic claim several times in recent months -- that the problem with Kids Today is that they don't understand that not everybody's first job is with Skadden or the DOJ, and that's why they're unemployed, instead of working for a small family law firm in Rockville or as an assistant DA  somewhere on the Great Plains.

(3)  This email is evidence that GW is feeling some genuine financial strain.  Surely as he composed it a voice somewhere in Dean's Berman's head was whispering that this little adjustment in employment terms (by the way, it would not surprise me if what GW was proposing here was a straightforward breach of contract, although one would have to see the letter participants signed to evaluate this) had the potential to generate a flotilla of bad publicity.  A back of the envelope calculation suggests this move was going to save the school perhaps $300,000 to $400,000 -- this at an institution that has an $80 million annual operating budget.

In addition GW is currently admitting people off its wait list and offering them 60% off list tuition, which must thrill the people with better credentials who were admitted six months ago and will be paying sticker.

Anyway, this story has an edifying if not altogether happy ending, which is that three and a half hours after the original email the recipients got another one:

From: Dean Paul Schiff Berman <>
Date: June 19, 2012 3:52:54 PM PDT

Subject: More on Pathways to Practice

Dear Pathway to Practice (P2P) participants: 

I have heard from many of you in the past 24 hours.  You have expressed disappointment about adjustments made to the P2P program by lowering P2P pay to $10 per hour beginning on December 1.  In hindsight,  I apologize for not doing a better job of explaining my rationale for this decision.  It was not made lightly, nor in a vacuum.
I designed this program to be the most generous it could possibly be, and indeed it is among the most, if not the most, generous program of its kind in the country.  And contrary to what some believe, this program does not impact GW's ABA placement statistics since those statistics specifically separate out positions funded by the University.  [In regard to this claim see this]. The purpose of the program is as I have always stated it to be: to do everything we possibly can to help every GW Law graduate get long-term paying legal work.  GW Law and the new Career Office are committed to working with you to make sure that you are supported in finding permanent positions and maximizing your experience in the P2P Program.  I am determined to personally support everyone concerned in this effort.

You will understand that supporting a program as generous as this one for a full year takes extraordinary financial resources, and I am trying to support the Program as best I can.  With limited resources, our priority has been to accommodate all graduates who would like to participate, and we calculated that this change would make it possible.  

Nevertheless, I am concerned that so many of you have already relied on the earlier funding level in making life choices.  Accordingly, I will redouble my efforts to make the funds available for the Program, and I hereby rescind my earlier e-mail and will return the funding to its previously announced level of $15 per hour.  

Please contact the Career Office as soon as practicable to ensure that we are supporting you to the maximum extent possible.  Again, I regret the anxiety caused by my earlier efforts to adjust the Program.  

All the best, 

Paul Schiff Berman
In the interim, Above the Law had published some thoughts on the issue, which it's fair to speculate may have had  a role in this sudden reversal of fortune.

So progress is happening.  Legal academia is still dominated by magical thinking about how properly crafted resumes and relentless networking will create jobs for lawyers, and the cultural imperative to blame the victims of structural economic forces for their plight remains as strong as ever, but the natives are getting increasingly restless.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The cost of living

One of the many useful features of Law School Transparency's newest breakdown of law school data is that allows one to sort schools by cost of attendance very easily.  Doing so produces some interesting comparisons, that reveal the extent to which schools are free to play around with factors such as the cost of living component of a school's overall cost of attendance.  Any admitted student can borrow 100% of the total cost of attendance in the form of very high interest federal loans, so a school's estimate of the cost of living is really a decision regarding how much money students will be allowed to borrow.

These estimates appear to be completely unregulated by Uncle Sam or anyone else, which creates an opportunity for law schools to manipulate the numbers.  And in fact the cost of living estimates law schools make vary enormously for reasons that don't seem to have anything to do with the actual cost of living students will incur.

Compare, for example, Florida A&M's cost of living estimate ($25,000) with Florida State's ($16,900). These schools are in the same city, yet a FAMU student will be able to borrow $24,300 more in living expenses over the course of law school than an FSU student.  Interestingly, the good folks at FAMU estimate that it costs more to live in the Florida panhandle than NYU estimates it costs to live in Greenwich Village (NYU's estimated cost of living is $24,368).  According to this cost of living comparator, housing is 173% more expensive in New York City than in Tallahassee, and the overall cost of living is 63% higher. Update: FAMU's law school is actually in Orlando. This changes the numbers above only slightly however, as the same calculator estimates Orlando to be just 7% more expensive than Tallahassee.

A cursory glance at LST's curated numbers reveals all sorts of similar anomalies, such as Campbell ($26,700) estimating a cost of living 50.8% higher than Duke ($17,708).  Why, for example, can you borrow nearly $30,000 per year in living expenses to attend Chapman, located in scenic Orange, CA, but only $20,000 if you're admitted to UCLA and must inhabit the slums of Westwood?  This adds up to increasing a Chapman student's limit on the federal loan credit card by nearly $30,000 relative to a UCLA student over the course of their respective law school adventures.

Chapman's estimated living expenses for a single graduate student are particularly striking given the school's employment and salary numbers.  16.7% of Chapman's 2010 class reported a salary of at least $60,000, and 75% of the class failed to report a salary of at least $41,600.  What sort of after tax income does someone have to pay what the school estimates it costs merely to live where Chapman is located?  Keep in mind that all the numbers quoted in this post are only for nine months of living expenses, since that is what schools are required to calculate when Prop Joe the assistant dean for financial aid gets a re-up from the connect certifies the school's cost of attendance for the federal loan programs.

So, subtracting the cost of books and supplies, Chapman estimates it costs approximately $3,100 per month for a single person to live in the area where Chapman's graduates are expected to get jobs.  In order to have such an income, a person must have a pre-tax income of at least $50,000.  In other words, according to the school, the vast majority of Chapman graduates aren't earning incomes sufficient to cover the cost of attending Chapman for "free."

Glancing at these various cost of living estimates, the general pattern appears to be this: Bottom feeder schools tend to make extremely high cost of living estimates, apparently since they at least unconsciously understand that what they're actually selling is a three-year taxpayer-funded postponement of un- and under-employment.  Since these loans aren't going to be repaid anyway, why not allow people to borrow as much as possible without drawing the attention of the authorities to this sordid little grift?

By contrast, some relatively high-ranked schools go if anything in the opposite direction, making quite modest cost of living estimates, no doubt in an effort to make the school's overall cost of attendance seem less daunting given these schools' employment and salary numbers.  For instance, Hastings, located in the middle of the most expensive city in the nation, (and sporting terrifying placement figures) has a lower estimated cost of living than dozens of flyover country establishments.  (See also Boston University etc.).

Anyway, all this merely highlights another aspect of the absurdity of allowing law schools to make up whatever numbers they want when they determine the cost of legal education, before passing that cost on to their students and eventually the American public.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Man paid $867,000 to run fourth-tier law school says law school is a good investment

Not An Onion Story:

But others view [Brian Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools] as just the latest overly dire prediction about the fate of law graduates and misplaced finger-pointing over tuition costs.

"Most people in the profession were already concerned about what it costs to get a law degree," said John O'Brien, dean of the New England School of Law and chairman of the ABA's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. "Nobody feels good that tuitions have gone up. But the claim that a law degree is a bad investment doesn't hold water."

O'Brien currently heads the ABA's Council of the Section of Legal Education, whose regulatory mission is to decide whether it's a good idea for John O'Brien to get paid nearly $800,000 per year  $867,000 per year to run a law school with these outcomes for its graduates.  (Just found the 2011 IRS Form 990 for NESL. I apologize to Dean O'Brien for seriously understating what he earned last year for his charitable endeavors).

American dream

The ABA has released job data for the class of 2011, and Law School Transparency has organized and broken down the numbers. I’ll have several things to say about these figures this week, but preparatory to anything else I want to salute LST for the amazing work they’ve done and continue to do – work that is all the more amazing considering the organization consists a handful of recent law school graduates, and that they have no funding to speak of (Speaking of which, throw these people some money).

And this work is having a major effect. Due to the political pressure put on it – pressure which is in no small part a consequence of LST’s advocacy efforts -- the ABA has now begun to provide prospective students with far more granular information about employment outcomes than what was available even very recently. It seems hard to believe that less than two years ago every single law school in the country was slamming their doors in LST’s face.

Let’s look at the first “Tier One” law school that appears in LST’s alphabetical list to get a sense of what the ABA’s data, and LST’s breakdown of it, tells us about the current state of the market for law school graduates.

American University is charging that portion of its entering class which will pay the full sticker price $50,149 in tuition. The school estimates the full cost of attendance for this coming year to be $70,204.  LST helps prospective students understand that debt financing a law degree from American will result in a total debt of $246,988 for the entering class, assuming modest annual cost of attendance increases. (This debt load would result in 120 loan payments of $2,945 over ten years or 300 loan payments of $1,843 over 25 years, i.e. about $354,000 or $553,000 in total payments respectively).

And what can a student expect in return for this investment?  LST provides interested parties with a school’s “Employment Score,” which consists of long-term full-time employment requiring bar admission, minus solo practitioners.   It’s important to understand what “long-term” means in this context.  LST uses the definition employed by the ABA and NALP, which includes all employment except for employment of a definite term of less than one year.  This means that a large number of explicitly temporary positions – for example law-school funded “jobs” that last for one year, about which more later – count toward improving a school’s Employment Score.

LST also calculates an Under-Employment Score, which is made up of those graduates who are unemployed and seeking work, working part-time, working in temporary positions that have a definite term of less than one year, working in long-term explicitly non-professional positions, or are re-enrolled in another degree program.

Note that these are quite conservative definitions.  For instance the definition of “long term” employment includes many jobs that are long term in name only, and the exclusion of those graduates who are listed as unemployed-not seeking from the Under-Employment Score allows schools to engage in various statistical shenanigans (For example I know of a case in which a law school’s dean instructed the office of career services to ask all graduates who listed themselves as unemployed as of graduation to make an appointment with the office, to discuss their job situation. The dean then ordered the OCS to list all students who declined to make an appointment, or who simply didn’t respond to the request, as “unemployed-not seeking” for the purposes of the NALP and ABA nine-month post-graduation numbers).

Indeed, it’s fair to say that LST is putting as good a face as can reasonably be put on the numbers it is analyzing.  This is certainly a legitimate choice, as it ought to preclude claims that LST is exaggerating the gravity of the situation. But prospective students should be aware of that choice, and recognize that in many instances a school’s Employment Score would be much lower, and its Underemployment Score much higher, if one employed even moderately skeptical assumptions in regard to this data.

Now let’s look at American’s data.  (American is currently in the 76th percentile of the USNWR rankings).  167 of the 467 graduates in the class of 2011 -- 35.76% of the class -- had a full-time “long-term” position requiring bar admission.  56 graduates (12% of the class) had a long-term job with a law firm of more than ten attorneys, while 61 graduates were listed as unemployed and seeking work. Another 21 graduates were listed as unemployed-not seeking.  27 graduates were working in law-school funded jobs, although only two of these jobs were both full-time and “long-term” (As we shall see in another post many schools have placed large numbers of 2011 graduates in school-funded jobs that the schools characterize as full-time, long-term, and requiring bar admission – thus greatly increasing their Employment Score per LST’s methodology).

An astonishing 42.4% of the class was underemployed according to LST’s -- again, conservative and quite generous to legal academia -- definition of underemployment. This number is made up of 61 unemployed-seeking graduates, 49 graduates in short-term (less than one year) full-time positions, 44 [!] in short-term part-time positions, 15 in long-term part-time positions, 26 graduates pursuing another graduate degree, and three graduates listed as employed in long-term, full-time non-professional positions.  

Sometimes it helps to step back for a moment and consider how extraordinary things we treat as quite ordinary really are.  Given these catastrophic employment numbers, it’s extraordinary that the federal government will loan nearly $250,000 to anyone who American University chooses to admit to its law school.  And American is a “good” school!  We’re a long, long way from the bottom here.   Thanks to Law School Transparency, everyone who bothers to look can now see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Blessed are the scambloggers

Today at the Washington Marriott:

3:30 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.          Plenary III: Is the Legal Education Bubble (Still) Bursting?
                                                Salons A, B, C & D
                                                This distinguished group of law school deans and professors, some of whom have been most intimately involved in assessing the state of the legal profession and legal education, will have a conversation focused on providing answers to the following questions:  How would you describe the current job market for recent law school graduates?  How are the employment numbers in 2011-12 different than in 2005-06?  Are these changes likely to disappear as the economy improves, or are they becoming structural, long-term changes? What legal employment information will the ABA require law schools to disclose in future years and how will this information be made available? Is full disclosure enough?  Are there too many law schools, given the available job opportunities?  What advice would you give to a person considering law school and the legal profession?  Who should be going to law school?   How should cost, scholarships, geography and specialization be factored into one’s decision about whether or where to go to law school?  What level of debt is advisable?  How does or should Income Based Repayment factor into one’s decision to consider going to law school? How should law schools change to better prepare students for the changing legal employment economy?
                                                Moderator:           Jerry Organ, University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
                                                Panelists:               Paul F. Campos, University of Colorado Law School
                                                                                Ken Gormley, Duquesne University School of Law
                                                                                William D. Henderson, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
                                                                                Maria Pabon Lopez, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
                                                                                Brian Z. Tamanaha, Washington University School of Law

 A message:

A year and a half ago I finished my first year of legal studies at a private top 50 law school.  Although I was awarded a fairly generous scholarship, I was still looking at a total of somewhere between $80,000 and $100,000 in debt for tuition, living expenses, books, etc. to complete my degree.  After my first year of studies, I was ranked square in the middle of my class.  Although I was able to keep my merit scholarship, I was becoming very concerned about the odds of finding suitable employment after graduation to repay my debt.  Despite my school having a “solid reputation,” it seemed every student I spoke with, whether current or recent graduate, had the same story to tell… no job yet… but next summer will be different…. or in two years when we graduate the market will be better… or when I pass the bar…  Reality started to set in when even the top students from my class had nothing lined up after OCI.  Reality sank in when only a couple of “employers” contacted me for interviews for the volunteer positions for which I had “applied.”  Reality bit when I was turned down for one volunteer position because recent graduates were also interviewing for the “opportunity.”  I figured, if I can’t even give my services away for free, what employer in their right mind would pay a decent wage for what I have to offer?  It was at that point that I seriously started to contemplate dropping out of law school and trying to move on.  

At that point, the full extent of the “law school scam” had not been fully revealed.  There were whispers of the true grim reality, but most of my classmates were still stuck in the bargaining phase of mourning and hadn’t moved on to full depression.  I contacted my mother, the wise old sage of down-home common sense, for guidance.  I explained the situation… I explained how it seemed the rules had changed – abruptly – that it seemed a law school education no longer made economic sense… the legal profession would never be the same.   Then my mother asked me how much debt I was looking at if I finished.  I almost couldn’t tell her the figure, because the figure sounded absurd when you said it out loud, “At least $80,000, probably $100,000 by the time interest and deferrals are figured in.”  And then a moment of silence on the other end.  I figured my mother must be thinking… “that’s more than we had paid for our house… that’s more money than you ever hope to see son.”  Instead, my mother, the same woman who grew up without electricity and running water, whose feet were deformed because she couldn’t afford proper shoes as a child, and who never took out a credit card or a car loan because, “you don’t buy something unless you have the money to pay for it,” replied,  “well that doesn’t sound too bad.”  It was at that moment that I knew this whole thing was a bubble waiting to burst.  

Despite an assurance that, “You’re bound to find something when you graduate,” I knew, thanks to websites like jdunderground, that it was entirely too possible not to find any kind of legal employment after graduation.   In fact, the JD might actually disqualify me for the kind of employment I held prior to beginning law school.  So I made the gut wrenching decision to drop out.  One year of law school had wiped me of everything.  I moved in to my girlfriend’s place with no savings, no car, no job, and $30,000 in law school debt.  Still, I felt like I had made the right decision for the long-term. 

Today, while my fellow classmates are graduating with six figures of debt and no jobs - at least I haven’t talked to a friend that has secured employment… “yet” – I have a decent job with good benefits.  The job, in case you’re curious, is nearly identical to the job I left for law school hoping for more financial security.  I’m also now married to my wonderful girlfriend who took me in with nothing after I left law school.  I figured if we could survive that together we could last through anything together.  After I found a job, we were able to purchase a house - a nice 3 bedroom, 2 bath house for $97,000 – ironically almost exactly what it would have cost me to finish my law degree.  With the security of two incomes and manageable debt, we were able to start our family and recently welcomed our first child into this world.  I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that [people like Brian Tamanaha, Law School Transparency, Bill Henderson, Deborah Merritt, Nando, JD Underground, Matt Leichter and others] willing to discuss the truth about law school and the legal employment market, saved my life.  Without the knowledge being disseminated, I know I would have kept soldiering through law school, glossy brochure in hand, to land that mythical high paying firm job after graduation.  I would likely be unemployed and in a 6 figure hole with no bottom in sight.  I certainly would be in no position to purchase a house and start a family.  I am so grateful for what I have now and I know I wouldn’t have what I do had I decided to finish law school.  Please continue the work all of you are doing.  Remember, “Whoever saves a life, saves the world entire.” 


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Demoralization costs

I did an interview with Bloomberg Law yesterday afternoon, which can be seen here.

There are days when I'm thoroughly sick of this whole business, and this is one of them.  Here's an email I got a few days ago from somebody who just graduated:

Prof. Campos,

In your recent blog post, you twice criticize state-court clerkships as one-way tickets to legal unemployment.  I am writing to ask about your basis for those statements.  Also, are you referring primarily to state district court clerkships or do you also disparage state intermediate and supreme court clerkships?

I am a recent graduate set to start a state intermediate court clerkship in the fall.  The competition was extremely stiff and those who will be working there are primarily from the top quartile of a T20 law school.  I'm wondering (hoping) that there is a certain degree of hyperbole in the relentless "no matter what, you're all hopelessly screwed" meme.  I understand the importance of puncturing the relentless sugar-coating of the law school deans and career services counselors, but I'm wondering if going overboard in the other direction has a perverse effect of insulting and demoralizing some people unnecessarily.
I sent this person a much nicer reply than he deserved, but I'm now inclined to use this correspondence as a cautionary missive for anyone who might profit from reading it.

Don't be this guy, OK?  Don't be somebody who resents being exposed to disturbing information because it makes you feel less warm and fuzzy about all the gold stars you've been collecting as a junior achiever.  Or if you're going to be that guy, don't read this blog.  There are plenty of places on the internet you can go to feel good about yourself and argue about the constitutionality of the ACA.  For now anyway.

Nearly 30 years ago, Paul Carrington, then the dean of Duke's law school, suggested in the pages of the Journal of Legal Education that there was no place in legal academia for certain kinds of teaching and scholarship. "When the university accepted a duty to train professionals," Carrington asserted, "it also accepted a duty to constrain teaching that knowingly dispirits students or disables them from doing the work for which they are trained."

Carrington's point was that certain critical perspectives on law which might be perfectly appropriate to pursue within the walls of a political science or sociology classroom should be excluded from law school classes, because they tended to have, one might say, a perverse effect of insulting and demoralizing some people unnecessarily.

Carrington was concerned that genuinely critical teaching and scholarship might interfere with the professionalization function of law schools.  He needn't have worried: the social structure of legal academia ensures quite effectively that there won't ever be much work of this kind -- and in any case the vast majority of law students have no interest in exploring whether their (hypothetical) faith in The Rule of Law ought to be questioned. They just want to get a job.

What really risks demoralizing people are not critiques of the intellectual or political or metaphysical underpinnings of the legal system, but rather critiques of its economic structure that suggest people who go to law school aren't going to get what they came to acquire -- which again is not intellectual enlightenment or a renewed faith in Law's Empire, but something much more practical, i.e., professional employment that justifies the price of admission and egress. 

It's easy to see how such critiques can undermine what legal academics think of as "professionalism," which I suppose some people will see as a valid reason for excluding them as much as possible from law school classrooms.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Time is money

I had a long phone conversation last week with a 2010 law school graduate, who asked me to employ his story for the purpose of illustrating the extent to which the current legal market makes even going to law school for "free" a risky proposition.  Anecdotes are not data, but the data reflect clearly enough that there's nothing unusual about this particular outcome.

"Ben" has a classic But I Did Everything Right story.  He was valedictorian of his high school class, an accomplished athlete, a community volunteer, etc. etc.  He got a full-ride academic scholarship (tuition and living expenses) to a top private college, from which he graduated with honors and no debt.  During college summers he did two internships with DA offices and participated in a DOJ program for undergraduates aspiring to work in public law.

He spent a year after college working and studying for the LSAT, on which he got a very high score.  He was offered admission to several top law schools at sticker, but, having avoided all educational debt despite coming from a comparatively modest SES background, he instead decided to take a full tuition scholarship at a school ranked in the middle of the top tier.

While in law school he was one of a half dozen applicants selected out of a pool of hundreds for a very prestigious public law summer position.  He got good grades, worked for a journal, "networked" with all the right people for the kinds of jobs he was aiming to get, and so on and so forth.

Ben is exactly the kind of person that law schools claim should be going to law school.  He knew exactly what kind of legal work he wanted to do and why, and he did everything one was supposed to do to get that kind of job.  But that kind of job -- public sector work -- has become even more difficult to get than big law firm work.  And given that the Republican party's official position on the matter is that socialism makes the baby Jesus cry, while the party's liberal wing makes impotent gestures suggesting this may be an overstatement, the situation doesn't seem likely to change any time soon.

Thus Ben, despite excellent work experience and stellar recommendations from his employers, graduated from law school without a real law job.  He has spent the last two years working at a couple of fake law jobs that count as real law jobs in the fake statistics put out by law schools -- temporary positions without benefits, one funded by his alma mater -- while applying for literally every public law job opening in the state in which he is barred, as well as private law positions that it doesn't seem inconceivable someone with his resume might be able to get.  For the last few months he's even been applying for non-law jobs, and getting nowhere, no doubt because he is "obviously" overqualified.

His latest temp gig is about to run out, and he's thinking about hitting the re-set button, and throwing in the towel on the whole law thing.  There are almost literally no jobs for someone who wants to what he wants to do, and what he wants to do isn't to be an international environmental sports law lawyer -- he just wants to be a lawyer who works for the goddamned American public (my adjective).  Apparently this is now a highly unrealistic career goal.  He would take a private firm job in order to stay in the game, but there's hardly anything in the way of firm jobs to speak of for people who have been out of law school for two years, especially people who have public law all over their resumes.  So what exactly are his options?

The kicker is that Ben has $50K in educational debt, because of course he had living expenses while wasting three years of his life on a degree from a "top tier" law school.  Except it wasn't three years -- as he emphasized to me it has added up to more like eight: a couple of years in undergrad doing all the right things in order to have the kind of resume you have to have to get into public law, a year after college dedicated to acing the LSAT and applying the right way, three years learning to think like a lawyer, and two years afterwards, learning to think like an unemployed lawyer.

Imagine if he had actually had to pay to go to law school.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Earnest money

So much work out there for the catchers in the rye:

Major: Computer Engineering
Graduation: Dec 2012
Personal Statement: been reviewed by many and received positive feedback.
LORs: Manager from internship, head of computer science department.

-4 Years Work Exp within undergrad; 3 years work xp prior to undergrad; total of 7 years work xp.
2 Years of paid systems engineering internship at Fortune 500 company, led to lucrative job offer.
5 Years of part time sales job
-1 Year of being President of fraternity (won chapter of the year during my term)
-1 Year Treasurer of fraternity
-1 Year Judicial board fraternity
-3x Deans List
-2x Presidents List
-Over 100 hours of community service during undergrad.

So my question is where to apply? I realize my LSAT score is very low. Unfortunately I did not have time to study beyond taking a few practice tests due to obligations to family and work. I do not plan on retaking the test due to monetary constraints. My plan is to attend a lower ranked law school with the intention of transferring. From New England so prefer to stay local; but open to all suggestions.

-Larger schools
-Job placement high
-active student life (no commuter schools)
-school with d1 sport teams wouldn't hurt either.

Some anonymous person -- almost surely a law professor -- loves to post on this site that he doesn't believe it's his role to tell people what to do with their lives, which in theory sounds all philosophical and Marcus Aurelius-like, but which in practice is really an excuse to take candy federal loan money from babies 0Ls. I don't really like to tell people what to do either, but so often these days people insist on asking if shooting themselves in the head is a good idea, all things considered.

Take this guy for example.  He's going to borrow $200,000 which he'll never be able to pay back to buy a worthless law degree, because he doesn't want to spend $160 in cash to retake the LSAT, even though that could give him law school attendance options better than his present ones, which consist of the economic equivalent of mailing himself a letter bomb.

Which leads me to submit the following modest proposal to The Section of Legal Education of the ABA: Nobody can go to law school without first putting down cash equivalent to one percent of the financed sticker price of the law school they are proposing to attend.

Want to go to Cooley? Awesome: you have to come up with $1,786 in cash first, and hand it over immediately.  Why? Because amazing things begin to happen when people have to reach into their metaphorical pockets for real money right now, as opposed signing a bunch of documents which commit them to promising to pay back vastly larger sums of psychologically hypothetical money some day in the distant and golden future.

Oh but what about "access?"  Is this proposal not horribly classist and racist and doubleplusungood?  Here's another little secret they don't tell you before you sign on that dotted line: the legal system is not a meritocracy.  It's not just that there's (at best) one legal job for every two ABA law school graduates. It's that you, lower middle class striver without much in the way of either literal or cultural capital, are not going to get that job, because for among other reasons you're "socially awkward."  You've heard that one, right? Oh everybody at X with decent good excellent grades got to summer with a big firm except a few socially awkward people.

You know what counts as being socially awkward? Not being the kind of person who finds it natural to use "summer" as a verb.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Smart Money

Here’s an examples of why it’s extremely difficult to stop people (and by people I mean in particular soon to be college graduates) from making ridiculous financial decisions in regard to attending law school.
It’s provided, ironically, by an article on the Wall Street Journal site SmartMoney, which tries to warn prospective students about “Ten Things Law Schools Won’t Tell You.”  Here are some pieces of information that are supposed to serve as red flags to 0Ls:

The latest survey data available by the National Association for Law Placement shows that about 88% of law students who graduated in 2010 were employed by February 2011 -- the lowest rate since 1996 and down from a peak of 92% in 2007. And almost a third of the graduates known to be employed were not working in a legal position that required passing the Bar exam.  [The new NALP stats for the class of 2011, released a couple days after this article was published, show this number declining to 85.6% for that class.]

Now what are prospective law students going to think about this stat should they happen to encounter it?  What they’re all too likely to think is:

(a)    An 88% chance of employment sounds pretty good in our “post-industrial” economy.
(b)   There’s no chance I’m going to be in the bottom 12% of my class.
(c)    If things were so good in 2007 why does a four percent decline in the chance of becoming a lawyer add up to such a terrible crisis anyway?

But wait, what about the final sentence, revealing that almost a third of graduates known to be employed were not working in a legal position that required passing the bar exam? Shouldn’t these words fill our sophisticated consumers with foreboding?  

For several reasons, that sentence is going to be ignored.  First, this article is already getting kind of complicated.  Remember most 0Ls know next to nothing about this subject.  What’s a legal position that requires passing the bar exam? This seems to suggest that there are legal positions that don’t require passing the bar exam. And there are -- for example being a law professor. Besides, the quoted statistics also mean that many graduates are employed in jobs other than those which require you to be a member of the bar, which in turn will sound to a receptive audience very much like an argument for the legendary (in every sense) “versatility” of a law degree.

In other words, confirmation and optimism bias (also known as “the American can-do spirit, the gospel of success, etc.) are pushing our 0Ls rapidly away from actually contemplating the risks which the piece is trying to get them to consider.

Things get much worse when the article starts talking about salaries.

While public service and government attorneys don't expect to make the big bucks, corporate law positions have traditionally paid some of the highest salaries of any industry. But even these lofty positions aren't recession-proof. Law school students who graduated in 2010 earn $84,111 on average during their first year, down 10% from 2009, according to the most recent available data from NALP.

And fewer graduates are landing six figure jobs. Eighteen percent of 2010 graduates earned $160,000 compared to 25% in each of the previous two years. Nearly half of 2010 graduates made between $40,000 and $65,000, up from about 40% for the prior two classes. In some cases, starting pay is even lower: Last week, Boston-based civil practice law firm Gilbert & O'Bryan posted a full-time associate position that pays $10,000 annually. Larry O'Bryan, a partner with the firm, says it has just two lawyers, hires when it receives extra cases, and that the salary is based on the amount of work billed and collected. So far, he says, the firm has received around 35 applications, mostly from recent law graduates. 

These numbers have two flaws: they’re going to encourage people to apply to law school, and they’re completely fantastical.

Does anyone think that reporting an average salary for the class of 2010 of $84,111 is going to lead your average political science or broadcast journalism or film studies major to not apply to law school?  Of course what the most recent data (salary data is not yet available for the class of 2011) from NALP indicates is not that law students who graduated in 2010 earned an “average” of $84,111, but rather that the median salary of the the 41.5% of graduates whose salaries were reported was $63,000. This means that nearly 80% of the class did not have a salary reported of as much as $63,000.

Given the very high reporting rates for high-salaried positions, the low reporting rates for low-salaried positions, and the bimodal distribution of those salaries across the profession, only a small minority – perhaps 12% to 15% -- of 2010 grads earned as much as this supposed “average” (mean) salary of $84,000.

Which brings us to the claim that 18% of 2010 grads earned $160,000. In fact 18% of reported salaries were as high as $160,000, and since we can be sure that the number of law graduates who made $160,000 and didn’t have their salaries recorded, with or without their cooperation, by their law schools was minuscule, this means the real number of grads who earned $160,000 was approximately 7.5%.
Similarly consider the claim that “nearly half” of 2010 grads made between $40,000 and $65,000. Again, this actually means that nearly half of reported salaries were in this range. But here, this information is presented in the context of a claim that the average salary was $84K, and that one in six grads made $160K. It will therefore leave impressionable 0Ls with the impression that making between $40,000 and $65,000 in the year after graduation is something approaching a worst case scenario, as opposed to what it really is, i.e., a better outcome than that enjoyed by a solid majority of the 2010 graduating class. (In this context, the story about the law firm offering a $10K starting salary will be dismissed easily enough as an extreme anecdote).

In short, many 0Ls would read this story and conclude that the average law graduate gets a starting job with a salary within hailing distance of six figures, that there’s a pretty decent chance of getting a mid-six figure salary, that a bad outcome consists of getting a legal job that pays $40,000 to $65,000, and that failing to get a legal job at all is fairly unusual. And that is an accurate description of the current employment situation for law graduates – as long as we’re talking about schools like Michigan and Virginia.

On the other hand, by the time you get to the 19th- ranked law school in the country (that is, in the 91st percentile of ABA schools) that scenario is far too optimistic.  As for the average law school, this “average” employment and salary information has about as much relevance to its graduates as the average NBA salary has to that of pro basketball players in Iceland (submit your resume now).