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.

7 Responses

  1. Some data to counter the “it is only a cyclical/short term problem” excuse:

    1) Approximately 1.5 million law school grads over the last 40 years (25 to 65 work life) -

    http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/enrollment_degrees_awarded.authcheckdam.pdf

    and

    2) Approximately 1.25 million currently licensed by state Bars -

    http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/marketresearch/PublicDocuments/lawyer_demographics_2012_revised.authcheckdam.pdf

    **Where has 17% of the profession – 250,000 lawyers – vanished to?**

    And this leaves entirely unexamined the financial viability/profitability of the 49% of the profession claiming solo status.

    Of course, none of this will dissuade a law school administrator dedicated to deceit (and aren’t they nearly all?) but by publicly asking these sharp questions, supported by specific data, you help to finally start righting the market.

    • And many of those licensed lawyers aren’t employed as lawyers.
      Everything You Wanted to Know About Lawyer Employment
      Re. those 17%. I’m not sure what the percentage of people grads who never pass a bar exam is. I think if you look at National Conference of Bar Examiners data it’s less than 5%. There’s a very high likelihood of passing in two tries. The problem is when do people give up because if you fail twice, you’re not going to be able to work as a lawyer aside from going solo.

  2. On a marginally related note, I think it would be very useful if you could add another tab at the top the page titled “Graduate Employment Data” next to the “Student Debt Data” tab.

    Without having true employment rates/salaries nearby, it is hard for naive applicants to put “Debt Data” into context.

    Newbies believe they are going to be gazillonaires – why, white-haired law deans tell them (wink wink nudge nudge) so!

    By this point, the NALP and ABA have finally coughed up some employment data remotely resembling reality – you could link to it (easy) or graphically present it (more time consuming).

    You may already have the data laying around in some less than conspicuous place on the blog.

    Thank you for all your hard work.

    • I try to leave graduate employment data to Law School Transparency, but I have it gathered and will do more with it eventually ala this post. That, and I’ve started jotting down NALP employment results into a spreadsheet. Median graduate salaries have gone nowhere in 20 years.

  3. Good post. Sky high tuition rates are absurd thanks to unbridled access to federal loan dollars for which the schools are held unaccountable when their graduates can’t find work to pay back their loans.

  4. “They really do live in their own universe”

    The consequence-less corruption has been going on for so long, it has become deeply, deeply institutionalized – thus the alleged “impossibility” of adjusting tuition downwards.

    The administrative apparatus and the professoriat have simply come to think of six figure compensation for six-classroom hour weeks…as *their due* – and that they are self-sacrificing nobly in not taking up the abundant BigLaw offers flung in their path.

    We are talking about a profession deeply buried in mass delusion and self-deception.

    They have been lying so long, most of them believe their own bullsh*t.

    That is why data-driven sites like yours are crucial.

    Your average sleazy academic administrator/professor reigns over the empire of the un-confirmable anecdote and assumes the posture of “Virtue Offended” when confronted with empirical facts.

    Please keep confronting them!

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