Chronicle Publishes Law School Dean’s Argument From Authority

Via the ABA Journal, Katherine Mangan, “America’s Longest-Serving Law Dean Defends the Value of a Law Degree,” Chronicle of Higher Education.

The news is Rudy Hasl, the dean of Thomas Jefferson School of Law, whose former career services staff claimed under oath that she was told to juke graduate employment data, is stepping down after 32 years of law school deanery. To honor him, the Chronicle captures his parting thoughts because he’s a law school dean, which means anything he says should be taken with equal validity to what anyone who researches the issues says.

This has been a tumultuous period for law schools. It’s not that we haven’t gone through similar periods. It’s just that the trough is a little bit deeper and the issues are a little more difficult than they were in previous times when we reached those bottoming-out periods.

So the problems are quantitative, not qualitative. The fact that the applicant nosedive is occurring during a period of McJobbery for college graduates instead of high employment doesn’t faze the dean. However, we have to credit his gall for looking at employment data and saying, “BAH!”

I remind students that what law schools are providing is a set of skills that are valued in our society and that will ultimately lead to a meaningful employment opportunity. To try to measure that by what job you have on graduation, or even nine months later, doesn’t make sense.

In 2010, only 46.2 percent of TJSL’s graduates were employed long term; 19 percent were unknown. In 2011 that dropped to 37 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively, but don’t worry 31.4 percent of them were unemployed and seeking. While we should credit TJSL for doing a better job of finding its unemployed graduates for the purposes of the employment survey, it doesn’t look as though society values their skills much.

Whether legal education “leads to” a meaningful employment opportunity is a claim that’s difficult to substantiate. Those making it must demonstrate that (a) the graduate’s job requires a law degree, or (b) the substantive knowledge gained in law school is a substantial factor in the graduate’s employment. Contributions that supplemental knowledge like computer programming or chemical engineering adds to a job must be discounted as well. This does not bode well for law degree holders, which is not to say they’ll be unemployed forever (the economy has to recover someday, right?), just that many of them will find their earnings no higher than college graduates’. They’ll be IBR-ing away their law school loans while think tanks tell them that people in their positions should pay more because they’ve gotten a free lunch.

The good news for TJSL, though, is that under Dean Hasl’s stewardship the law school is solving the profession’s “diversity problem.”

The legal profession has been slow to respond to the increasing demand for diversity. Students of color made up 10 to 12 percent of the student body when I arrived here, at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, in 2005, and they’re a little over a third of our student body today. For me it’s an important social issue that we produce individuals who can work within their communities to provide service and develop leadership … I’m optimistic that we’re producing graduates who will be quite attractive to firms and have a great future ahead of them.

Tell that to all of TJSL’s unemployed graduates. They’re unlikely to ever work in firms, and in 2011 only 11 out of 236 graduates were employed full-time/long-term at law firms larger than 10 lawyers. A mere two of them were at firms larger than 50. Law school deans’ optimism is not valid grounds for future predictions, nor does it put food on graduates’ tables.

The we-need-more-minorities plea never fails to displease me. The idea that minorities are better off and can better serve their communities with mountains of law school debt is toxic garbage. Those interested in making the profession more accessible can do so by … making the profession more accessible: eliminating the three-year graduate education requirement, focusing licensing along practice lines rather than generalist lines. These policies would make it a lot easier for minorities, and everyone else, to become lawyers, and the only people who lose out are the handsomely compensated deans.

Speaking of which, Rudy Hasl did quite well for himself a-deaning. According to Guidestar, in 2011 TJSL paid him $366,514 in base compensation plus $51,332 in other compensation. If you think that’s too low for a law school dean, fret not, for TJSL also extended him a $977,179 loan for “housing assistance”—something I’ve never seen in my admittedly scant experience with Guidestar reports. Such a large loan for “housing assistance” suggests that he’s not living in the 21st century’s answer to Pruitt-Igoe (a fucking depressing documentary I wholeheartedly recommend).

Maybe instead of allowing Dean Hasl to dictate an editorial with unsubstantiated claims to readers, the Chronicle should ask him how he intends to repay such a generous loan while in retirement.

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