But I Thought There Were No Cheap Lawyers…

If you did, then I recommend Daniel Fisher’s article in Forbes, “Class-Action Firms Capitalize on Wretched Market for Law-School Grads.”

Fisher managed to find a lawyer (or two with the same name) who went from charging $500 for a fixed-fee case a few years ago to $1.5 million for 2,711 hours of “legal” work in a class action lawsuit against Citigroup—except there’s no evidence he received anything close to that kind of compensation because he was contract attorney. He was billed out at $550 per hour when according to an anonymous source on the same job the contractors were paid a $35 rate at most. If the case lasted two years, that’s about $47,500 annually. That’s not the worst salary to have in the city, but it’s one-fifteenth what he was billed at, which might vex clients and the class action lawsuit activists mentioned at the end of the piece.

I liked Fisher’s article, especially the well-deserved mention of Tom the Temp’s Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition, which might be the earliest scamblog, starting in late 2005. What’s surprising though is that Fisher added the law school tack at all because it wasn’t really necessary. The story’s really about the very large multiplier between the contracting rate and the billing rate. I suspect that if this piece came out three years ago, it would’ve noted the contractors’ student loans only in passing. Instead, in 2013 we get:

Many of the temp attorneys on the Citigroup case graduated from law school in the past five years, some of them from prestigious schools like NYU and Georgetown.

Whoa.

I can’t say I expected Forbes to present the legal contracting world through the eyes of Big Debt Small Law.

Business Insider Article Shows Why Measuring Applications Alone Isn’t Helpful to Readers

Aleksi Tzatzev, “Despite Getting Sued By Graduates, This Low-Ranked Law School Has More Applicants Than Ever,” Business Insider.

The article’s opening speaks for itself:

“While some other law schools are struggling to attract applicants, New York Law School is doing better than ever.”

Additionally, according to the dean quoted in the article, NYLS received 5,998 applications in 2011, up from 4,510 in 2010 and even 5,606 in 2008.

The photo, however, is my favorite part.

I just wish I knew who was saying “People want to go to our school!” because while it’s literally correct, relative to other law schools nationally it’s not.

I should preface by saying that I’m not going to delve into part-time applications, which the dean above is obviously doing. Tracking full-timers is enough of a burden, so there will be a little apples/fruits comparison going on here, but most of the fruit are apples.

In 2008, NYLS received 4,721 full-time applications, 3,685 in 2010, and 5,054 in 2011. This is all fine and good, but the number of applications doesn’t matter so as the number of people who ultimately show up, which is why I torture readers with arcane stats like the number of “full-time matriculations per 100 applications.” This figure has the benefit of giving an estimate of how good a fit law students are with their law schools, the higher the better. Tracking it against law schools’ acceptance rates helps us distinguish between law schools that reject many of their applicants and applicants who reject the law schools they apply to, like that one in the lower right whose name we daren’t utter. Discovering schools that tend to accept more applicants who are willing to show up tells us something that the rankings don’t as it measures what applicants are thinking rather than what U.S. News wants them to think. This doesn’t mean such schools’ outcomes are any better, but that’s a little off-topic today.

In 2011, NYLS had 7.42 matriculants per 100 applications, way down from 14.11 a year earlier. An inauspicious fall, but it’s not the only New York Law School in those parts of the chart, just north of St. John’s but south of Hofstra and Pace. NYLS accepted 45.4 percent of its full-time applicants (the fourth fifth of all law schools), and its yield was only 16.3 percent (25th lowest for 2011, the bottom fifth system-wide). The size of its full-time entering class was only 375, down from 520 in 2010, the smallest class since 2004.

Although NYLS had a large haul of applications, the vast majority of them apparently preferred going elsewhere. A better title for the article would be, “Sued by Graduates, This Low-Ranked Law School Is Only Slightly More Preferred Than St. John’s, but Less Than Hofstra and Pace.”

You are, of course, invited to take Business Insider‘s survey on whether you believe law school is worth the cost of tuition.

New Am Law Daily Article: ‘New York’s New Mandatory Pro Bono Requirements a Step in the Wrong Direction’

‘New York’s New Mandatory Pro Bono Requirements a Step in the Wrong Direction’

A little shorter than most of my publications, so enjoy.

Open Letter to the New York State Bar Association

I didn’t intend to write anything about the new mandatory 50-hour pro bono requirement New York will impose on its bar applicants next year, figuring I had nothing new to add. However, I received an e-mail from the New York State Bar Association’s Office of the President, saying:

In his Law Day speech on Tuesday, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced that beginning next year, people seeking admission to the bar in New York will be required to perform at least 50 hours of pro bono service at some point prior to their application. According to Chief Judge Lippman’s speech, this service can be performed during law school, or prior to the admission process. (Text of Lippman’s speech: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/whatsnew/Transcript-of-LawDay-Speech-May1-2012.pdf)

The New York State Bar Association has not yet seen any written version of this new requirement, but will follow the matter closely. In the meantime, we are interested in our members’ reactions and comments. Email us at probonocomments@nysba.org.

It appears the new requirement was hatched without the NYSBA’s knowledge, which surprises me. If I were to politic it, I’d reckon that the request for members’ reactions suggest the association is nonplussed by the announcement and doesn’t know how to proceed, so since it asked, I sent this e-mail with the appropriate subject line, “All Oblige and No Noblesse Makes Law a Dull Profession.” It gets a little sharp at the end, but that’s where the muse took me.

**********

Dear NYSBA,

Thank you for asking NYSBA members for their opinions about Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s announcement regarding the new mandatory 50-hour pro bono requirement applicants to the New York bar will have to meet before admission. This issue is important to me not just because I have friends in law school who might seek licensing in New York but because I research the cost and value of legal education in the United States on my blog, The Law School Tuition Bubble, and in my submissions to the Am Law Daily. Here are my thoughts.

Judge Lippman grounds the new pro bono requirement in a belief that holding a law license entails a “responsibility” (a word he uses five times) that demands a sacrifice on the lawyer’s part. For example, he opens his Law Day 2012 speech saying, “Those who are privileged to call ourselves lawyers have a special duty as the gatekeepers of justice to participate in preserving what we hold so dear.”

Unfortunately, as a lawyer of four years, I do not know what privileges Judge Lippman is referring to. He never lists them in his speech, and I will not waste my time looking for a “List of Lawyers’ Privileges” on the State Judiciary’s Web site, for I suspect there is none. Indeed, since I am currently licensed but not practicing, I barely see myself as a lawyer. I rarely refer to myself as one, and when people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I am a “writer,” a profession that does not come with any “privilege” I know of. Although I intend to renew my license this summer, there is a growing possibility that I will never use it again, though I believe I am more likely to than my peers.

Thus, from my standpoint a law license allows a person to represent people before a court. That is it. There is no other grand responsibility be it “pressing,” “special,” “social,” or “professional” as Judge Lippman qualifies it. Pro bono service should be done out of a lawyer’s magnanimity, not the requirements of bar authorities. I would take a different opinion if the law schools and the bar colluded to engineer a shortage of attorneys in New York to ensure stable practices for them. Were that the case, then I would easily be able to work as an attorney and collect economic rents along with my wages. In this circumstance, I would feel honor-bound to provide free legal services, and I would simultaneously argue that an artificial scarcity of lawyers is fundamentally unjust. (Ironically, Judge Lippman disagrees, for a mandatory pro bono requirement discharged only in New York will hamper out-state petitioners’ applications.)

However, there is no shortage of lawyers in New York. The State Department of Labor projects that between 2008 and 2018, 1,700 new lawyer jobs will open each year due to both growth and replacement. Meanwhile, the state’s 15 law schools graduated nearly 5,000 people in 2010, and there is no Shangri-La legal market in the United States for them to move to. Many will never practice law in any meaningful way.

Although Judge Lippman is correct that many poor people need legal services, one wonders why aspiring lawyers should be ordered to provide them. Bar applicants often lack experience as lawyers, and since they will mostly be providing their services through programs organized by their law schools, they will ultimately be paying wealthy institutions money to supervise their service. Given how much law school costs—especially in New York—there is a high probability that there will be no net social benefit from these programs: Law students will indenture themselves to the U.S. Department of Education to help the poor—something they can do more effectively by not going to law school.

At the same time, neither judicial authorities nor the ABA (i.e. those who are “privileged to call themselves lawyers”) has shown any interest in advocating eliminating the monumentally wasteful federal student loan program or reforming the law to enable the tens of thousands of lawyers who owe excessive debt on their degrees to reduce or discharge their loans in bankruptcy. Instead, these “gatekeepers of justice” quietly prefer to shift the problem onto future taxpayers. It is in this context that I find appeals to lawyers’ “special responsibility” to serve the poor galling. Consequently, I do not support the new pro bono requirement.

Thank you for considering my thoughts,

Matt Leichter, Esq.

New York Spared a 16th Law School, for Now

Emily Melas, Daniel O’Connor, and Nate Fleming, “Plans for law school tabled by BU officials,” in Pipe Dream (State University of New York (SUNY) Binghamton newspaper)

It appears SUNY Binghamton’s law school has gone wherever law schools go when they’re tabled indefinitely, like Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania.

“There are law schools right now who are not filling up their seats, there are graduates from law schools who aren’t getting jobs, and so the environment right now to found a new law school isn’t a particularly favorable one,” [Vice President for Academic Affairs Brian] Rose said.

Remember, it’s good to open law schools as long as it appears that law schools are doing well. Graduates’ long term outcomes aren’t to be considered. Okay, that’s not true; they do consider graduates’ long term outcomes but only in the most outrageously irresponsible manner conceived, such as Indiana Tech.

In order to create an accredited law school, the University took steps to gain approval from the New York State Division of the Budget, the SUNY Board of Trustees, the Board of Regents and the governor, as well as the American Bar Association. The University secured $3 million in state funding for the initial design and planning stages of the law school.

Please don’t say the $3 million has already been disbursed.

As to more law schools in New York … Query: What are the actual graduation plus nine-month outcomes for SUNY Buffalo and City University of New York law grads? What are their five-year career outcomes? Twenty-year outcomes? What about New York’s other 13 private law schools? The rest in the region? The J.D. plants in New England?

Also, since law degrees are very easy to find in the northeast, why should New York’s taxpayers (esp. the ones who already have to subsidize all the real estate speculators midstate and upstate who just got their property taxes capped) subsidize training for something they can import from elsewhere? Or worse, subsidize training that can be exported to different states?

Public legal education may be cheap, but is it necessary?

NYSBA Journal Article Relies on Several Logical Fallacies to ‘Connect the Dots’ on Legal Education’s Outlook

Gary Munneke, “Race to the Finish Line: Legal Education, Jobs and the Stuff dreams are made of,” New York State Bar Association Journal

Citing his 40-years’ observation of the legal job market, Pace Law School professor Gary Munneke writes, “So when I say the writers and bloggers in the legal press have missed the mark in their criticism of legal education, it is not without recognizing that there is some merit in what they have to say.” (11) Professor Munneke is a frequent contributor to the NYSBA Journal. I’ve liked some of his past articles, particularly one about the end of general practitioners last year. He’s only touched on legal education briefly, until this month’s Journal. It’s not good, and because the article isn’t on line yet (check here later), I’ll quote it extensively. He writes:

“It is true that the recession of 2008-2009 seriously undermined the job market for both new and experienced lawyers. It is also true that legal education is expensive, and many students pay for it through loans that have to be repaid after graduation. And it is well documented that some law schools misstated employment and other statistics in the tight, competitive job market of recent years. But connecting the dots in this case does not lead to a conclusion that our system of legal education is bankrupt or that law school is not an excellent career choice for many students. This article will attempt to re-connect the dots in a way that more accurately reflects contemporary legal education and the job market for lawyers.” (11)

At least Munneke leaves us with no questions as to where he stands on the issues. Instead of giving us hard evidence, though, (who exactly is saying that the system is “bankrupt,” aside from scambloggers? And what does this mean?) he essentially opens by telling us that “everyone” has known about legal education’s problems: high tuition and few high-paying jobs, yet this is a non-sequitur. Our focus is the law degree’s value, not whether criticisms are novel. Moreover, it’s not just “some law schools” that misstate their employment data. Anyone who even skims Law School Transparency’s Winter 2012 Transparency Index Report can see the embarrassing results, law school by law school. Worse, in 2011 it also came to light that at least two schools, Villanova and Illinois, had been defrauding the ABA for years with inaccurate incoming student data. Munneke whitewashes these problems.

Munneke’s article then confuses readers. Beneath a header titled, “The Good News,” he writes:

“Signs abound that the market for legal services is picking up, in concert with the general economy … It is not likely, however, that we will return to those halcyon days before 2008.” (12)

This, much less the subsequent paragraphs predicting the rise of staff attorneys, pro se litigants, and online non-lawyers, does not sound like “good news” for the median 2L in most law schools.

“With respect to graduates who go to work for small firms, government agencies, not-for-profits and other organizations, anecdotal evidence suggests that they do pay their bills and repay their loans. Chicken Littles who cry that it cannot be done are simply wrong. Thousands of law school graduates have been following this path for years. It may not be as easy to get by when you are making $60,000 compared to $160,000, but somehow you do it, and you survive.” (13)

Is this satire?

The problem is that like most law students, Munneke believes the $60,000 jobs are there for graduates if they want them, unless they decide to make the noble sacrifice and choose to work for $30,000 helping the destitute. On the one hand, Munneke thinks the economy will create enough law-ish jobs for everyone to pay down their debt, but on the other he says that things won’t be as good as they used to be. This is the “good news.” I can only explain this dissonance by assuming Munneke is committing the lawyer/J.D. equivocation fallacy. Sure, people in small firms, government agencies, and nonprofits have law degrees, but that’s not what happens to everyone who completes law school. For example, how many Pace grads over the last decade have defaulted on their loans?

If you knew where this was headed, you’re right. Munneke’s next point: the unsinkable, versatile juris doctor.

“[T]hose who claim that there are not enough legal jobs to go around fail to understand that the job market for lawyers is incredibly elastic, because a law degree is incredibly malleable and flexible.” (13)

Munneke leans on the findings of a 40-year-old ABA task force study that researched the “oversupply of lawyers” and determined that if law graduates couldn’t find work in law firms, they went to work in non-legal jobs. This is another straw man argument. Reformers are not committing the Luddite fallacy, arguing that law grads who can’t find work as lawyers never work a day in their lives again. But have heart, for Munneke anticipates this:

“[A] legal education provides training that will give you an advantage in the job market – both in getting the job and performing the job. What the [ABA] Task Force discovered in the 1970s remains true today.” (14)

He then provides an endnote to a book he coauthored, Nonlegal Careers for Lawyers.

Now, I’m not criticizing Munneke for citing his book in the endnote or even writing one on the topic. I’m sure plenty of lawyers would like to go into non-legal careers, and it gives them good advice. Rather, I’m going to point out two things. One, I have yet to see anyone quantify the “advantage in the job market” that a law degree provides. Even reputable organizations researching the topic make the shocking methodological error of equivocating holding a juris doctor and working as a lawyer, such as the Pew Center’s “Is College Worth It,” and Georgetown’s “The College Payoff.” Any skills taught in law school can be learned in a solid undergraduate program—and should be. Two, many lawyers seeking alternative careers are pretty intelligent to begin with. I seriously doubt law school (much less college) found them as lazy dolts and forged them into precision workers. This is a post hoc fallacy: you went to law school, then you became a good worker, therefore law school made you a good worker. At this point, I’ll add a line from the BLS’ Occupational Outlook Handbook that I typically underemphasize:

“As in the past, some graduates may have to accept positions outside of their field of interest or for which they feel overqualified.”

Notice that “overqualification” here is based on a “feeling,” not on an empirical observation that the graduate’s qualifications exceed the employer’s demands. This is the heart of the rebuttal to the versatile juris doctor: it’s unfalsifiable. Law school ends up working out for everyone regardless of the outcomes, be they monetary or intangible, particularly higher workplace autonomy. Yet, it’s one thing if people who can’t find lawyer jobs earn some premium for their law degree elsewhere, but it’s another if the degree provides no benefit or a detriment. The BLS is open to this possibility; Munneke is not. Ultimately, he provides no reason for us to believe that making diligent workers requires $120,000 in tuition debt, plus living costs and forgone income.

Which leads me to my favored elephant: Munneke doesn’t discuss the federal student loan program’s impact on how legal education is financed. Sure, he says law schools should be more “cost-effective,” but throughout his article, he implies that tuition increases are accidental. No discussion on the Direct Loan Program, bankruptcy nondischargeability, or any serious inquiry as to why law school needs to be expensive. It just is. He’s perfectly content to let taxpayers loan unlimited sums to law students like it’s Monopoly money, no matter what their future incomes are or how many loans on IBR will have to be canceled 25 years after graduation. Again, this is a straw man, or well, an invisible straw man argument. For example, in 2011 Brian Tamanaha wrote on the intersection between federal education policy and legal education, I’ve also researched it as well, but Munneke declines to directly engage these claims.

“There is no evidence that people will stop coming to law school, nor is there evidence that they should.” (14)

On the contrary, we’re seeing a decline in applications and LSAT takers, and there’s good reason to believe that marginal law schools will see shortfalls in desired applicants.

(I’m assuming February 2012 LSATs are the same as 2011, so this is conservative.)

And there’s plenty of evidence, which Munneke characterizes as “anecdotal” in the beginning of his article, that a law degree is not a good investment. For example, law students going on to IBR would suggest law degrees aren’t self-sustaining. Also, Herwig Schlunk recently redid his 2009 calculations and found that everyone loses money on law school. University of Louisville dean Jim Chen conducted similar calculations and their implications lead to the same conclusion. Batting these efforts away as “anecdotal” reflects either an unwillingness to research contrary evidence or a deliberate attempt at evading them.

Yes, it’s true that law schools didn’t cause the housing bust and overall wage stagnation in America, but Munneke’s attempt at “reconnecting the dots” on legal education employs so many logical fallacies that I think it’s worthwhile to list them for the sake of practice:

  • Straw men
    • Who is claiming legal education is “bankrupt”? What do they mean by this? Is this a commonly held view?
    • Who is saying that graduates will be permanently unemployed? Is this a commonly held view?
  • Argument from authority
    • Munneke’s experience over 40 years, while interesting, is not evidence of legal education’s value.
  • Hasty generalization
    • Munneke’s experience of graduating during a recession in 1973 is not comparable to those graduating in 2009 due to differing economic factors and the nondischargeability of student loan debt.
  • Non-sequitur
    • “‘Everyone’ has known about legal education has problems, therefore critics are saying nothing new.” That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.
  • Post hoc ergo propter hoc
    • “Lawyers are good workers, therefore law school makes people good workers.”
  • (Hidden) Argument from incredulity
    • “Knowledge and skills picked up in law school can’t possibly be learned elsewhere for cheaper.”
  • Unfalsifiable claim
    • “The juris doctor is so versatile that everyone who obtains one still finds gainful employment, even outside the legal profession.”
  • Composition fallacy:
    • “There’s no evidence that people will stop going to law school.” There were fewer applicants in 2009 than we would’ve expected, and now there’s a decline, so won’t some law schools be more adversely by the applicant shortfall than others?
  • Invisible straw men (ignoring contrary evidence)
    • What about reformers who criticize the Direct Loan Program?
    • What about reformers who are looking at the root cause of tuition increases?
    • What those asking about the responsibility the profession has to ensuring tax dollars are well-spent on legal education?
    • What about those who point out that the number of people applying to law school is dropping?
    • What about those who calculate that law school requires an income-to-debt ratio of 2.0 or higher?

Then there are a few borderline cases.

  • Equivocation
    • “Lawyers can be found in good jobs, therefore all law graduates have access to good jobs.”
  • Misleading statement
    • “Some law schools are misstating their employment data.”
  • Refusing to research contrary information
    • How many law grads have defaulted on their loans?
    • How many require family help to pay them?
    • How many are on Income-Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment?
    • What are their income-to-debt ratios?
    • How many law grads believe they are underutilized in their work?

I count nine (really eight) classes of clear logical fallacies in Munneke’s article, along with three classes that are judgment calls, and that’s only from excerpts gleaned from reading the article twice in one evening without taking detailed notes. I also didn’t need a legal education to see them (okay, my grad degree did, like, 25 percent of the work). Gary Munneke did not connect the dots on what’s really going on in legal education and disserved NYSBA Journal readers as a consequence.

Update on News in the Law School World

There were a bunch of articles I couldn’t get around to this past week, and they’re worth consolidating into one post.

(1)  Law School Lawsuits

New York Law School fights class-action suit over job rates,” Thompson Reuters.

NYLS’s attorney states:

“The allegations are not only baseless, but also belied by the plaintiffs’ own complaint, which demonstrates this case has nothing to do with New York Law School and everything to do with a crusade against the entire law school industry.”

The graduates’ attorney says:

“The fact remains that when our clients paid the annual tuition of over $40,000 to attend New York Law School, they did so based on New York Law School’s misleading representation that they had an over 90 percent chance of getting a job, and that those jobs paid certain salaries,” [Jesse] Strauss said. “That representation is demonstrably false.”

We’ll see how this plays out.

(2)  University of Baltimore Law School

Karen Sloan, “Following dean’s resignation, Baltimore relents on law school money,” National Law Journal.

Debra Cassens Weiss, “U of Baltimore Law School to Retain More Money After Outgoing Dean’s Protest,” ABA Journal.

Sam Favate, “Law Schools Recover Lost Cash, As Grads Seek Tuition Refunds,” Wall Street Journal.

A few months ago, U Baltimore asked Phillip Closius to resign after he blew the whistle on the university for allegedly over-taxing the law school to pay for other university programs.

“Under the new funding agreement, an estimated 90% of the funds generated by the law school will return to it, [Baltimore Law Professor] Meyerson said. The arrangement ensures that law student tuition will not increase next year. Students were informed by e-mail that the administration would try to minimize future tuition increases.”

A year without tuition increases is good, but whether they will occur is indisputable.

(3)  Irate Senators

Coburn, Boxer Call for Department of Education to Examine Questions of Law School Transparency,” Office of Senator Barbara Boxer.

Senators Barbara Boxer’s and Tom Coburn’s joint press release opens with, “To help better inform Congress as it prepares to reform the Higher Education Act…” Reform the HEA? What’s on the table here? This is the first I’ve heard of planned HEA reform. Returning to the lawsuits:

The New York Times found the same school [NYLS] is ranked in the bottom third of all law schools in the country and has tuition and fees set at $47,800 a year but reported to prospective students median starting salaries rivaling graduates of the best schools in the nation “even though most of its graduates, in fact, find work at less than half that amount.”

Ouch. Even if NYLS wins its motion to dismiss, it’ll still have to convince legislators that it’s not doing anything wrong.

Other reports question whether or not law schools are properly disclosing their graduation rates to prospective students.

Graduation rates? I’ve never heard of law schools concealing their graduation rates.

The senators then ask the Department of Education to provide them with the following things:

1. The current enrollments, as well as the historical growth of enrollments, at American law schools – in the aggregate, and also by sector (i.e., private, public, for-profit).

2. Current tuition and fee rates, as well as the historical growth of tuition and fees, at American law schools – in the aggregate, and also by sector (i.e., private, public, for-profit).

3. The percentage of law school revenue generated that is retained to administer legal education, operate law school facilities, and the percentage and dollar amount used for other, non-legal educational purposes by the broader university system. If possible, please provide specific examples of what activities and expenses law school revenues are being used to support if such revenue does not support legal education directly.

4. The amount of federal and private educational loan debt legal students carried upon graduation, again in the aggregate and across sectors.

5. The current bar passage rates and graduation rates of students at American law schools, again in the aggregate and across sectors.

6. The job placement rates of American law school graduates; indicating whether such jobs are full- or part-time positions, whether they require a law degree, and whether they were maintained a year after employment.

Enrollments and tuition are publicly available, though it may require dumpster-diving into paper editions of the Official Guide to go back ten years (1. & 2.). Revenue will be in universities’ hands (3.). I’ll publish federal and private debt data very soon (4.). Graduation and bar passage rates are mostly available in the Official Guide. I use “mostly” because bar exam data are published in calendar years while graduation rates are in school years, and not all graduates immediately take the bar exam (5.). Job placement rates? Good luck prying that from the law schools or NALP. The primary difficulty with legal education reform via self-reported employment data by law school is that it’s trying to gather the highest-hanging fruit to reform the system when BLS data already tell us there’s a structural overproduction of juris doctors (6.).

(4)  Can law schools save themselves?

Kyle McEntee & Patrick J. Lynch (“LST”), “Do law schools defraud students?New York Post.

Brian Tamanaha, “The Depth and Breadth of Misleading Employment Numbers by Law Schools (And How to Solve It),” Balkinization.

These two pieces bring up some subtle points worth my editorializing. First, the LST editorial refers to prospective law students as “consumers,” a term I dislike not because it hints of mindless consumerism, but because it tries to take a neutral view of the Direct Loan Program. For instance:

This year, ABA-approved law schools will get at least $4 billion in taxpayer support, thanks to the government’s decision in 2010 to directly lend to students. But when graduates can’t find jobs that allow full loan repayment, they either default or sign up for hardship programs. The taxpayers are on the hook for the lost interest income and unpaid loan principal.

So isn’t the Direct Loan Program the bigger problem rather than law school employment data? It’s not the law schools’ fault that the bank is knowingly loaning money to students whom it knows will not work as attorneys according to its own employment projections. Maybe the government shouldn’t nationalize credit markets and then guarantee the loans to itself.

There are a few more points I disagreed with in the editorial, but I didn’t start this blog to criticize transparency advocates when they’re not the ones profiting from the current system. The important line, though, is towards the end:

Whether tuition drops because consumers finally receive the real employment statistics, or because the government stops lending essentially unlimited amounts of money to students, schools will need to either reimagine the kind of education they provide or close down.

Okay, I give LST credit for putting Direct Loan reform on the table, but there are two false dilemmas in this passage. One, the choice is not between transparency and student debt reform. Both are necessary. Two, LST is offering the legal academy a Biblical ultimatum: Reform or close, which assumes there’s a face-saving option for law schools. There is none. Law schools will close, regardless of what reforms they choose to implement and especially if they essentially admit to the public that they are nonperforming institutions wasting Direct Loan dollars, or worse, wasting Direct Loan dollars and redirecting them to other university programs.

Contrast LST’s internal reform belief with Brian Tamanaha’s suggested transparency proposal:

The law school funny number problem is out of control. And it won’t stop on its own. Anyone who thinks the fix will come from the current ABA efforts to provide greater transparency is deluded.

There is only one possible solution in the short run. The deans at the top 20 law schools must sit together in a room, agree on the standards, and personally guarantee the veracity of what they report. All the other law schools will follow (or be embarrassed by continuing to post ridiculously implausible salary numbers). This must be done soon, before the next cycle of numbers comes around.

Tamanaha’s solution is realistic, but it comes with two costs. One, he knows full well that the transparency trickle-down effect will wipe out the unranked law schools because no one will take U.S. News’s rankings seriously if the Ivy League law schools all suddenly dropped into the middle hundred. Second, look at who’s in charge here. The most reputable law schools potentially have more power than the ABA Section of Legal Education, which is nominally superior to them. It would be quite a rebuke of the Section indeed.

Tamanaha’s proposal, though, is the limit of what some law schools can do to save themselves. Mandating or shaming law schools into disclosing that their graduates have poor career prospects is all but asking them to commit suicide as well as potentially open themselves up to more lawsuits.

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