Dean Baker Thinks We Need More Unemployable Indebted Law Grads

Center for Economic Policy and Research co-director Dean Baker is probably this blog’s number one inspiration. He’s frequently right about the big issues (spec. the housing bubble) and I recommend people regularly read his blog, Beat the Press, but ironically he is completely utterly clueless when it comes to America’s law schools. I’ve adapted this from a comment I wrote on his post, “Protectionism for Lawyers“:

“The NYT had a good piece on Sunday on how the American Bar Association limits the numbers of law schools and lawyers in the country. This inflates the salaries of lawyers.”

The ABA has many sins, but operating a labor cartel is not one of them.

(1)  The ABA in no way limits the number of law schools at all, period.

By my count, the ABA at least provisionally accredited 15 law schools in the last ten years (La Verne swaps out for UC Irvine). This doesn’t even count Cooley’s three branch campuses in Michigan and its fourth in Florida. Indiana Tech announced it’s opening a law school, and John Marshall (Atlanta) just announced it’s opening a branch campus in Savannah. There are several other proposed law schools, but I don’t have the patience to list them all. California has a swarm of non-ABA law schools, many of them correspondence schools, so the ABA doesn’t even have a total monopoly on legal education. There are 199 ABA law schools compared to ~120 med schools with smaller enrollments. (I wrote “50” in my comment on Beat the Press. That’s dental schools.) Moreover, the accreditation rate is accelerating:

If the ABA has any power over the number of law schools, this is solid evidence it’s not using it.

(2)  The ABA does not limit the number of lawyers in the country through law school enrollments.

As the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook says, “Competition for job openings should continue to be keen because of the large number of students graduating from law school each year … As in the past, some graduates may have to accept positions outside of their field of interest or for which they feel overqualified.” This isn’t something new either. The 1996 OOH put it even more starkly, “During the 1970s, the annual number of law school graduates more than doubled, outpacing the rapid growth of jobs. Growth in the yearly number of law school graduates tapered off during the 1980s, but again increased in the early 1990s. The high number of graduates will strain the economy’s capacity to absorb them.” The BLS projects that between 2008 and 2018, lawyer jobs created by replacement and economic growth equal 240,400. ABA law schools graduate about 45,000 people per year, which suggests a 45 percent surplus by 2018, and that excludes everyone who goes through non-ABA law schools or find other means into the profession. Other professions, such as medicine and dentistry, do not have these surpluses, and the OOH projects a shortage of practitioners, using with phrases such as “excellent job prospects.”

Again, if the ABA has power over enrollments, it’s not using it.

(3)  Segal’s article didn’t really make either of the claims Baker attributes to him.

Segal said that the accreditation system was causing tuition increases at low-end law schools, but the people he quoted, such as New England School of Law’s Dean John O’Brien, said they were increasing tuition to pay for super star faculty, which has nothing to do with accreditation.

The point of this exercise isn’t just for me to play Dean Baker on Dean Baker. It’s to show how little “penetration” discussion of legal education and student debt have outside the legal media. If progressive economists like Baker–people who should be on our side and ahead of the mainstream curve–don’t understand the legal academy’s pathologies, then it will make reform that much harder. Worse, publicly claiming that the ABA is exercising power to limit entry into the legal profession and driving up salaries is no different than explicitly telling readers that law school is a wise move for applicants. This is very, very, very untrue, and I hope no one relies on Baker’s uninformed beliefs.

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One Response

  1. Baker is clearly clueless about the law school cartel.

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