[Update: You can read the Am Law Daily version of this article here.]
Probably because students are still too busy protesting an $800 fee hike from earlier this year (Tamar Lewin, “In Puerto Rico, Protests End Short Peace at University,” in The New York Times). The university chose to compensate a $200 million budget cut with the new fee rather than a tuition hike, which led the students to take over buildings, frequently with professors’ support.
As at many public universities elsewhere in the United States, students here worry that the new fiscal realities will restrict who can attend.
This is definitely not a problem with Puerto Rico’s law schools, which are over-enrolled relative to the island’s market. When gathering and analyzing data on legal education, Puerto Rico is second only to D.C. in distorting my averages and standard deviations. So outside the mainstream is the Commonwealth that none of its three ABA law schools send their data to U.S. News. I’ve seen them, and I can tell you their tuition is much lower than elsewhere, probably due to their refusal to play the rankings game as well as the island’s low purchasing power parity per capita GDP relative to the rest of the U.S.
Here’s one datum that surprised me. Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics connects us to the number of employed attorneys by state in 2008, and the ABA gives us the numbers of attorneys “active and resident” in American jurisdictions for 2008 and 2009, I can give you a statistic I dub, “idle attorneys,” which is the proportion of “active and resident” attorneys not “employed” as lawyers. Idle attorneys could very well be gainfully employed, but the high percentages and variance between the states suggest that their legal educations weren’t that useful unless they are the few who sit on the bench or are working for the government in some other capacity, e.g. as legislators. I’ve also calculated the number of idle attorneys per 100,000 residents.
|#||STATE (# ABA Schools)||Idle Attys||Idle/100k||←#|
|1||Puerto Rico (3)||66.44%||209||5|
|9||New York (15)||42.78%||331||2|
|20||West Virginia (1)||36.34%||92||30|
|27||Rhode Island (1)||33.17%||128||15|
|28||New Mexico (1)||32.60%||86||33|
|31||New Hampshire (1)||28.98%||73||35|
|35||New Jersey (3)||27.25%||124||18|
|36||South Carolina (2)||25.90%||52||40|
|38||North Carolina (7)||24.55%||50||41|
|45||District of Columbia (6)||9.16%||725||1|
|46||North Dakota (1)||7.81%||16||48|
|N/A||South Dakota (1)||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|USA Average (199)||34.60%||130|
66.44% of Puerto Rico’s attorneys were active and resident but not working as lawyers in 2008, and it comes in fifth in number of idle attorneys per capita after D.C., New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, a clear misfit.
Now I’ll do something I’ve been avoiding: diving into LSAC employment data. Because I find the composition of these data so suspect, I’m going to limit myself to the percentages of non-responses to post-graduate employment surveys. If you look in the source pdfs, enrollments at Puerto Rico’s three law schools are distributed fairly evenly, so it’s not like Pontifical Catholic has only 12 graduates per year while the University of Puerto Rico has 500. Also, I had to exclude Puerto Rico’s fourth law school, Eugenio María de Hostos School of Law (founded 1995), for want of data.
First of all, Inter-American’s employment numbers are extremely suspect. The reason its line plateaus as it does is that all its employment numbers (# employed in law firms, # employed in “business and industry,” etc.) published in the Official ABA Guide for 2008 are identical to those from 2007, and the same goes for with 2005 and 2004. I’m surprised the editors of ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools wouldn’t notice that or alert its readers. I wonder if more is going on here…
Second: Look at the University of Puerto Rico. Even in its best year, only 46.7% of its 2007 grads bothered to return their employment surveys. And the Times says the protesting students are worried that enrollments will be restricted.
Third, I included the University of Hawaii in the graph because I think it makes a good comparison. It’s actually quite interesting.
|Law Schools (total)/10 million Residents (2010)||10.736 (4)||7.351 (1)|
|ABA Law Students/10,000 Residents (2009)||5.863||2.641|
|Percent Idle Attorneys (2008)||66.44%||28.02%|
|Idle Lawyers/100,000 Residents (2008)||209||90|
|Annual Grads/Job Opening (2008-2018)||5.54||1.47|
|Annual Projected Surplus Graduates/100,000 Residents (2008-2018)||11||2|
|Projected Job Growth (~2018)||4.07%||-0.67%|
Obviously, Hawaii still has a surplus of graduates relative to its own economy, and there’s no deficit elsewhere in the country, so the comparison doesn’t let the Five-O off the hook. That said, if Hawaii is over-enrolled, then Puerto Rico’s law schools are a disaster and badly need to be pared down, even if we can expect 4.07% job growth there.
So: What the buh?
The answer may lie in a fairly good analysis of Puerto Rico, a 2006 Economist article with a title that hints at the Gilligan, “Trouble on Welfare Island,” which closes with the following:
[B]ecause of the small private sector, too few well-educated Puerto Ricans are gaining useful skills and experience in the marketplace.
As he walked through Aguadilla’s town hall recently, [Mayor] Carlos Méndez boasted about each employee’s university or graduate-school credentials as he introduced them. The trouble, he says, is that “All they want to do is find security only. They have no ambition…Everybody wants to work for the government.”
Puerto Rico thrives on federal government transfer payments via Social Security and other programs, and because people can more easily claim disability there than elsewhere, they don’t work. The result is a moribund private sector and with it an unemployable—and occasionally overeducated—labor force. These circumstances differ from the mainland U.S. where educated Americans can’t as easily claim disability benefits and not work, and unlike the Puerto Rican government, holder of 30% of the island’s jobs, the U.S. government is trying to cut jobs when it should be expanding to utilize idle workers.
I don’t know whether students attending Puerto Rico’s law schools are debt peons like their American peers. I can say that if there’s any place not worth going to law school, it’s Puerto Rico. I just hope the students aren’t demanding cheap, over-enrolled higher education that will only hurt the poor more than help them.