Dr. Byrds & Mr. Links—Yes, But What Happens if Law School Transparency Succeeds?

The legal web-o-sphere spares me with only four links over the past few weeks.

(1) Betsy Z. Russell, “Labrador Still Saddled with Student Debt,” in The Spokesman-Review

Idaho’s new representatives (the only one, for I think the other’s an incumbent) still has a mountain of law school debt to pay off.  Good thing a 2-year gig in Congress pays over $150,000 with cost of living adjustments that aren’t subject to the 27th amendment.  In the article, it’s speculated that Raul Labrador may be the only representative with student loan debt.

More interestingly, for all you Microsoft haters, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is co-funding The Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit group researching the issue.  I’ll also point out that Bill Gates can’t’ve had that much student debt since he dropped out of Harvard.

(2) Editorial, “A Dearth of Data about Costly Law Degree,” in the Minneapolis Star Tribune

In a minor blip for law school watchers, the Strib catalogues some of the maddening ways in which law schools juke their employment stats.  It then gives a resounding endorsement of Law School Transparency* (it’s an “ahead-of-the-curve organization”), complemented with a rebuke to law schools refusing to reply to LST’s questionnaires because it’s a boat-rocker.

I think I’ve said it elsewhere, but I’ll repeat: transparency is a good thing, but I don’t think LST will get far if law schools believe it’s out to civilly shame them into confessing that they’re nonperforming institutions, especially during a severe contraction in the legal sector.  I suspect law schools think along these lines.

As for Minnesota, the dark horse of oversaturated legal markets, William Mitchell responded by stating it’d decline to provide information.  Hamline and St. Thomas both ignored LST’s request.  My intuition tells me that the legal education establishment is banking on some cosmetic transparency changes until employment picks up.  Then it’ll sigh relief without too many schools closing—much less addressing tuition and faculty composition.

Economic ideologies differing, I think the system will run aground before a recovery.  As for transparency, I don’t want to say it’s an utterly lost cause, but the question isn’t what happens if LST or a complementary effort fails.  We already tasted that when only Ave Maria submitted its outcomes data.

But what happens if it succeeds?

(1) Assuming a high response rate and high law school compliance, the data will show two things:

(a) That many graduates don’t get jobs in the legal sector, and their salaries are significantly lower than their law schools posted on their websites.  In other words, entry-level job opportunities for legal professionals decline as the legal profession contracts.

(b) Employers are more willing to hire graduates from some schools rather than others, and employers prefer graduates who get better grades than their peers, regardless of curriculum.

(2)  Kyle McEntee and Patrick Lynch obtain valuable skills in running a nonprofit.  I include this because it’s true and shouldn’t be belittled.  Founding LST will do much for its principals’ careers, and law students might want to ponder the risks these two have taken as graduation approaches.

The point of this brief thought exercise isn’t to make LST appear pointless, though I doubt law schools will seriously comply with it.  I should also add that the social scientist in me sees other methodological problems, but that’s not on today’s docket.  Instead, I quarrel with those like the Strib’s editors who think LST is “ahead-of-the-curve.”  If at best, LST tells us something we already know, albeit far more accurately, how can it really be ahead of Herwig Schlunk or Brian Tamanaha?

(3) Scammed Hard!, “Subsidized student loans in the crosshairs.  Is IBR far behind?” in Scammed Hard!

Turns out the Deficit Commission, which violated its charter and bylaws by failing to vote on a final plan by December 1 among other sins, thinks that the government shouldn’t subsidize student loans and repeal income-based repayment.  Since a post-2008 law grad could fully fund a law degree with Direct Loans and Grad Plus loans and then go onto IBR (likely, for the legal field is imploding like dying star), repealing the program is a really bad idea.  Doing so would gravely impact law students as opposed to taxpayers.  We should address flaws in the Higher Education Act instead.

(4) Martha Neil, “As 1L Ponders Cost-Benefit Ratio of Dropping Out Now, ATL Survey Says: Do It,” in ABA Journal

I like how Neil steered clear of the law school ROI problem and tuition bubble by quoting a beautiful blaming blog post criticizing law students for greed.  By this point you can probably tell my heart aches whenever law students appear in the legal press.  Those poor law students (and 0Ls): slackers to professors, lemmings to scambloggers, sellouts to The Profession, paydirt to collectors.  Will they ever get there?  Law students are the next generation in a venerable tradition, yet they simultaneously cower behind their laptops, biding their time until their graduation and first fat paychecks.  Graduates, for their part, are whiners, victims of a withering economy, lacking in emotional intelligence, insufficiently entrepreneurial, greedy, and ignorant that “Law is a business.”

I can’t put my finger on it, but I suspect somewhere in here lies a lesson about the future of a profession that holds such schizoid views of its young.

* For more on LST, check out the interview Down by Lawcast conducted with Kyle McEntee.  LST’s website embeds the condensed interview.

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2 Responses

  1. Keep plugging away at these pigs.

  2. The thought of repealing IBR makes my stomach turn. It’s not the greatest for the taxpayer, but it does the taxpayer more favors than pushing scores of students into default.

    IBR seems to at least have all the incentives lined up: (1) push students to go out and get a job, (2) comply with loan repayment for the forgiveness at the end, and (3) with enough students going into IBR, perhaps the schools that inflated tuition prices to the point where they are now will take a step back from the brink, or the government will reevaluate how much it gives out to incoming students.

    It still amounts to a quasi-bailout of student debt, but by encouraging voluntary compliance with IBR, you cut down on the transaction costs of garnishing paychecks, angry phone calls from debt collectors, and maybe destroying the credit score of an entire generation.

    Fixing the bankruptcy laws on this stuff would be preferred from a student-perspective, but if you’re not going to give that, at least let the kids have their IBR…

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