Speed Link: Brief Thoughts on Two National Law Journal Articles

(1) Nicholas J. Spaeth, “At law schools, age bias co-exists with outdated practices.”

Spaeth blames law graduate unemployment on the lack of skills law schools impart to them. He writes:

The current recession is, of course, a prime reason for the diminution in available jobs. But The Wall Street Journal article [“Law Schools Get Practical”] also correctly focuses on another major issue — the disconnect between contemporary law school education and the skills needed to be an effective, and therefore employable, lawyer … In short, law schools must change their model of instruction if they expect to see an increase in hiring of their graduates.

This is inaccurate. No amount of skills training creates jobs. The actual reason is that law schools are over-enrolled.

Now for a subtler opinion of mine: If you were a hiring authority, of course you want employees who don’t require additional training. We should expect this, and though Spaeth is completely right that legal education is theory-heavy and obsolete, the solution he proposes, more clinical training in law school, is the exact kind an employer would want. The workers seek their own training, on their own time, and the costs are shifted to the workers and taxpayers. Ultimately, the real solution is going to require more training at the workplace, i.e. apprenticeship of some kind. Employers will have to accept that they will have to do more of this kind of work, not law schools, and they shouldn’t be upset about it. Most job training occurs on the job.

The remainder of Spaeth’s argument on age discrimination at law schools is worth reading.

(2) Connecticut Law Tribune (CLT), “The New JD: Just Debt? Job Disabled? Justifiably Depressed?

The CLT presents the opinion of Keith Bradoc “Brad” Gallant, president of the Connecticut Bar Association:

“What really troubles me is not so much the cost of law school,” Gallant said. “The question is, how do they pay for it? How do they get to the point where they’ve got this education and there are no jobs? It’s just such a tragic situation.”

I’m surprised President Gallant isn’t troubled by the cost of law school, for lower tuition would mean lower debt levels.

Another of the CLT’s statements bothers me:

One reason that law school loan repayment is a growing problem, according to a growing number of observers, is that many students enter law school with unrealistic job and salary expectations upon graduation. Much of the blame has been placed on law schools, which release figures showing how many students are employed a certain period of time after graduation.

Law students’ expectations have nothing to do with their (in)ability to repay their loans. The reason that law school loan repayment is a growing problem is that the loans are bankruptcy-proof while law schools overcharge their students despite receiving generous subsidies from society, and they are allowed to enroll without regard to demand for law degrees in the economy. Law schools are not entitled to national accreditation, nonprofit tax status, grants and subsidies, and access to non-dischargeable student debt. Loan repayment wouldn’t be a problem if we rescinded these privileges.

Compounding the problem for some law graduates and others is the fact that student loan debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Compounding? This sounds like the source of the problem.

Andrew D. Balbus … said he believes federal government spending and borrowing policies will ultimately lead to an economic meltdown. “It’s going to be a gigantic problem,” Balbus said. “Imagine that we finally have a big recession; when that recession ends you have almost a generation of students, law and others, who will have no jobs and no way to satisfy those debts.” [Emphasis original]

For federal loans it’s not a problem at all: the solution is to cancel the loans (think of them grants). The federal government wouldn’t suddenly go bankrupt. It is not a bank; it doesn’t make money on debt. It makes money by taxing, borrowing, and printing money (all the same really). Canceling the loans would merely be cutting its losses on a bad investment. The upside would be economic recovery, which would lead to higher tax revenue. Would a federal loan cancelation be popular? Of course not. Not because it wouldn’t work but because it would mean helping zombie debtor lucky duckies and the macroeconomy rather than the folks who brought you Citizens United.

In addition to the ABA call to make loan payback easier, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D.-Ill., and others are pushing legislation that would allow college graduates to discharge private loan debt in bankruptcy. Federal loan debt would still be non-dischargeable to protect the government’s investment in education [wealth transfer to universities at taxpayers’ and students’ expense].

I’ve already written on the ABA’s resolution this article refers to. You can read it here.

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