Send a Comment to the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education

A while back I wrote about how the ABA was convening a Task Force on the Future of Legal Education and how it has its work cut out for it. It’s asking for comments before its February 9 meeting in Texas, so if you feel like saying something, do so. I’m reprinting my comment here, with a couple of corrections to watch out for in the endnotes. I admit I didn’t plan on submitting a comment until I was asked to, but it helped me summarize my thoughts on what the problems are and how they should be solved. It also gave me an opportunity to dumpster-dive into the LSTB and find posts on topics that don’t come up often but lurk in the background. The LSTB crested 300 posts recently, so there’s a lot there.

I’ll add that some of the comments are quite good (UC-Hastings dean Frank Wu’s is getting some deserved attention), and I mentioned a few of the better ones. I’ve at least skimmed through all of them (not so much the one by the Canadian lawyers that spanned hundreds of pages), but of the ones uploaded after mine I recommend most the one by UC-Los Angeles law professor Richard L. Abel because it addresses the history of how lawyers are licensed in the U.S.

****************************************

Matt Leichter

[email]

lawschooltuitionbubble.wordpress.com

January 16, 2013

Task Force on the Future of Legal Education

c/o Art Garwin, Deputy Director

Center for Professional Responsibility

American Bar Association

futurelegaled@americanbar.org

To the Honorable Randall T. Shepard and Task Force members,

I write at the encouragement of Task Force member Thomas Lyons, and I thank you for considering outside opinions such as my own. The Task Force is to be commended for accelerating its timetable, for such eagerness reflects positively on the ABA’s willingness to take seriously the problems facing new lawyers and legal education.

Until now, legal education reform has primarily focused on what I consider “demand-side issues”: furnishing more accurate information about law school graduates’ employment outcomes to prospective applicants so they can hopefully make informed decisions about becoming lawyers. The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar responded quicker to the information deficit than I’d predicted, but the successes of demand-side reforms of legal education pale against those problems remaining on the supply-side of lawyer licensing: The barriers to obtaining a law license (which includes law school costs) are too high and arbitrary, and they harm both aspiring lawyers and the public the profession serves. I recommend the Task Force consider legal education as one of many practices that require reform.

The Task Force Should Encourage the ABA to Shift Its Position on Federal Student Loans and Bankruptcy Reform, Embrace Novel Education Financing Options

            That said, the education requirement for becoming a lawyer is obviously the most salient issue today, but recognizing that one of the Task Force’s subcommittees is dedicated to improving the delivery of legal education, I believe this is one of the last items that require revision. Overall, I find demands for “practice-ready” attorneys to be a distraction from more legitimate concerns. If employers want certain skills they should train their workers themselves and advocate simplifying the lawyer-licensing process accordingly. That’s how it works other industries, and asking educators to provide training for jobs that employers aren’t obliged to create costs students unfairly.

Rather, the dominating problem with law school is the over-generous Federal Direct Student Loan Program (DLP), which obligingly lends most students up to $20,500 in Stafford loans and the remaining total cost of attendance plus living expenses in Grad PLUS loans each year. I believe that access to unlimited student loans, well-intentioned as it may be, enables law schools to increase their tuition for as long as people are willing to attend them.[i] I suspect that without Grad PLUS loans and the restrictions on discharging private student loans in bankruptcy, both authorized in Congress’ 2005 bankruptcy reform,[ii] tuition at private law schools would have begun to level off or even decline by now because students would have been unable to finance it.

My views break with those long held by the ABA, which regularly supports increased lending to law students,[iii] and calls for ending the DLP are often met with hostile responses that the legal profession would only be accessible to the wealthy. I disagree. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting a surplus of law school graduates into the indefinite future, I see no justification for the government to lend money to people to buy degrees for which jobs are unavailable.[iv] Nor am I convinced that legal education is a public good requiring government support. I further believe the often-made claim that legal education is versatile and opens job opportunities beyond law practice to be unsubstantiated and fallacious.[v] Cheaper lawyer training is possible, and the current system does not open doors to the poor but in fact creates poverty by saddling law students with large loan burdens.

Consequently, many of the people who will graduate law school in the future, to say nothing of those from the past, will have very large debts and no place in the legal profession commensurate with the effort they put into law school. Although the government’s Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan will rescue these students from destitution, it will still require them to pay essentially an additional, regressive tax on their earnings for twenty years, which will be acutely felt if they are not working as professionals. IBR’s loan cancelation privilege (if it is not abolished in the near future)[vi] coupled with excessive loan burdens persuade me that the federal government will lose billions of dollars canceling money lent to law students. Law schools and the ABA ignore the approaching confrontation with legislators at their own peril.

The ABA’s most-recent response I know of to existing student loans is to advocate requiring private lenders to extend IBR-like protections to debtors.[vii] I think instead the ABA should shift its position towards reforming the bankruptcy code to restore full bankruptcy protections to all student loans and ending the DLP. It can also encourage state governments to require their public universities to offer, instead of debt financing, an equity option called “human capital contracts,” which obligate graduates to pay a certain portion of their incomes for a fixed time period back to their universities. Unlike IBR, this type of policy forces universities to internalize the costs of their own programs, and if their programs become insolvent, universities should terminate them.[viii] Embracing these policies would signal to the public that the ABA understands the causes of factors enabling law school tuition increases and excessive student debt, and it would begin to heal the generational rift forming between new law school graduates and the profession from which they are increasingly alienated.

As for the law schools themselves, the student loan system animates many of their frequently discussed inefficiencies, such as competition over U.S. News rankings, overcompensation of employees, needless new buildings, funding positions for graduates to improve their employment statistics, over-focusing on GPA and LSAT scores at the expense of other factors,[ix] and using fees from some students to attract well-credentialed students with scholarships. If possible, rather than regulating bad behavior, the ABA should address the incentives that encourage bad behavior.[x]

Even other reforms such as easing accreditation requirements or reducing the required number of credits for law school[xi] might not affect how law schools operate so long as their students are fully financed by the government. For example, many private law schools that do not rank very highly on U.S. News are nevertheless very expensive. Also, the lure of federal loan dollars is so powerful that many law schools in states that license graduates of non-ABA institutions forgo the option of delivering cheaper legal education in favor of national accreditation and the DLP loans that accompany it. For these reasons I believe the Task Force should take student loan reform as the most urgent priority for law licensing and legal education reform.

The Task Force Should Encourage Bar Authorities to Reduce Remaining Entry Barriers to the Profession

Student loans, however, are not the only problem the profession’s entry system faces. In recent years critics have used the discontent directed at law schools as an opportunity to advocate for deregulating the legal profession entirely. Many of their arguments are poorly researched, particularly those demanding reform by claiming without evidence that doing so would cure an attorney shortage in the United States.[xii] They are correct that the profession’s entry barriers are arbitrary, and the longer the profession defends them and the DLP, the more likely outside forces will unilaterally rescind its autonomy. Outside of the risk of incompetent practice, this might not be a bad thing, even if done for the wrong reasons, but rather than resisting calls for change, the Task Force should acknowledge the weaknesses in most states’ lawyer-licensing rules and encourage efforts to change them.

For instance, bar exams in their current form are not defensible entry barriers. They almost always occur long after bar petitioners have sunk enormous costs into legal education,[xiii] they are too hard for some people who might otherwise make fine lawyers (“false negatives”), they test many obsolete legal doctrines, and they also omit entire substantive practice areas to which many attorneys dedicate their entire careers. Although I agree that some showing of legal knowledge (especially of ethics and constitutional law) is justifiable, demanding too much is not. Streamlining bar exams along practice lines would greatly reduce the incidence of false negatives among bar petitioners and conserve resources for all test-takers.

Simplifying the bar would also reduce the possibility of law schools knowingly accepting applicants who probably lack the aptitude to pass the exam because of the correlation between LSAT scores and bar passage.[xiv] Perhaps between five and ten percent of ABA law school graduates who take a bar exam never pass. Some test-takers might take more than one exam, passing one and not another, but the ABA should do everything in its power to prevent law schools from enrolling students who will waste precious time and money for a license they probably will not obtain, even if it means tightening bar passage requirements for accredited law schools. It’s unfair to deny people a place in the profession because the exam wasn’t calibrated to the knowledge they need as practicing attorneys. It’s also unfair to the clients they could have served.

It’s also probable that the law licensing system allows too many “false positives,” people who by virtue of their LSAT scores and GPAs appear to make good lawyers but don’t.[xv] I’m not knowledgeable of data on firm associate retention rates or similar topics, but front-loading the legal education requirement makes it too easy for people who do not know if law practice suits them to enter the profession. It also widens the information asymmetry between law school applicants and law schools, which the latter has greatly used to their advantage by admitting applicants who serve law schools’ reputational goals before their students’.

The mandatory legal education requirement doesn’t serve potential lawyers well either. For instance, the aforementioned correlation between LSAT scores and bar passage rates disserves those on the opposite end of the bar exam aptitude spectrum as well, which raises the question: Why require someone who will likely pass the bar exam by self-study anyway to attend law school? If the principal benefit law school provides these individuals is signaling their competence for good job opportunities, then I believe the Task Force should consider eliminating the formal legal education requirement altogether.

Conclusion

Declining applications and hostility towards law schools and law practice are teaching the public that demand for legal education (or, rather, law licenses) is not connected to demand for legal services. If the near-term solution to many of legal education’s problems is curbing the government’s lending to law students, the longer-term solution is to align the profession’s licensing system to the public’s need for legal services. I believe adopting my suggestions will accomplish both goals.

Thank you for considering my thoughts.

Regards,

Matt Leichter


[i] For information on the theoretical basis of my beliefs, I recommend, Andrew Gillen’s “Introducing Bennett Hypothesis 2.0,” from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. http://centerforcollegeaffordability.org/uploads/Introducing_Bennett_Hypothesis_2-1.pdf (PDF). I have yet to see a convincing author discredit Gillen’s analysis.

[ii] [Update: This is incorrect. Grad PLUS loans were authorized separately from bankruptcy reform by Congress in February 2006.]

[iii] See e.g. ABA president Carolyn Lamm, “Law School Debt Has a Manageable Solution,” 2009. http://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_students/initiatives_awards/advocacy/debt_solutions.html

[iv] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Lawyers,” Occupational Outlook Handbook. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm

[v] Matt Leichter, “The Juris Doctor Is ‘Versatile’ Thanks Mainly to Numerous Logical Fallacies,” The Am Law Daily, August 14, 2012. http://www.americanlawyer.com/PubArticleALD.jsp?id=1202567415810&The_Juris_Doctor_is_Versatile_Thanks_Mainly_to_Numerous_Logical_Fallacies

[vi] One bill that may make its way through Congress proposes to end the loan forgiveness portion of IBR for future students, which will condemn many law school graduates to a lifetime of debt. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-04/student-loan-collection-targeted-for-overhaul-in-congress.html

[vii] ABA Resolution 111A, Young Lawyers Division, http://www.abajournal.com/files/111a.pdf (PDF).

[viii] Similar ideas have been proposed by a student organization advocating reform of the University of California systems, called “FixUC,” which I wrote about here: http://lawschooltuitionbubble.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/fixuc-stumbles-onto-human-capital-contracts/.

[ix] One comment to the Task Force that illustrates law schools valuing incoming student credentials over applicants’ strengths is by non-traditional law student Elizabeth Paskiewicz, who has significant experience in the legal profession as a non-lawyer and performed very well in her paralegal education, but most ABA law schools overlooked her because of their mechanistic decision-making processes that exclude applicants with low undergraduate GPAs.

[x] For example, even without the student loan system, law schools still have an incentive to compete over their magazine rankings, which is fine, but they may still falsify student data they send to the ABA. If so, then auditing them is a good idea.

[Update: This sentence didn't come out right. Something more like "If possible, rather than regulating bad behavior, the ABA should address the factors that aggravate bad behavior." My point is that we might not be able to live in a world where law schools don't engage in needless competition (over their U.S. News rankings, for example). Regulations like auditing make more sense if addressing the loan program is insufficient.]

[xi] Although there have been growing calls (most recently in New York) to reduce the education requirement from three years to two, I discourage the Task Force from endorsing such proposals simply because the third year is expensive and not useful. This ignores the root cause of tuition increases, and one private law school in five has raised its tuition by 50 percent or more since 1999, meaning two years in 2011 buys a full degree then. Rather, I recommend the Task Force address the DLP but flip the question of usefulness around: How much formal legal education is necessary and why?

[xii] The primary example that springs to mind is Clifford Winston’s, Robert W. Crandall’s, and Vikram Maheshri’s book, The First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All The Lawyers, 2011. A blurb from their Wall Street Journal article on the subject can be found on TaxProfBlog: http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2011/08/its-time-.html. I’ve written more on the topic: http://lawschooltuitionbubble.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/wsj-op-ed-brings-shock-doctrine-to-law-practice/, http://lawschooltuitionbubble.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/the-economist-has-never-heard-of-the-bureau-of-labor-statistics/.

[xiii] One influence for this section are the sentiments expressed in the comment to the Task Force by Nicholas L. Georgakopoulos.

[xiv] Here are two examples documenting the connection: http://www.unc.edu/edp/pdf/NLBPS.pdf (PDF); http://academic.udayton.edu/thewhitestlawschools/2005twls/chapter2/Legaled04.htm (more recent, but hearsay).

[xv] I believe the “26 factors of lawyer effectiveness [plus one]” cited in Nancy B. Rapoport’s comment to the Task Force are the definitive factors for “true positive” lawyers.

A Reading List for the “Conversation about Employment in the Law and Legal Occupations”

Expressing relief at not being named in Cooley’s lawsuit against four John Doe bloggers, BIDER’s Angel includes the e-mail by Cooley’s president, Don LeDuc, to his students assuaging their possible concerns that their law degrees may not be very marketable. He writes:

The entire conversation about employment in the law and legal occupations is almost entirely wrong [eyebrow rises]:

1. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate among lawyers in 2010 was 1.5%, for those in all legal occupations it was 2.7%, and for all occupations it was 9.6%, which drops to 8.9% when those who have never been in the labor market or are returning from military service are excluded.

2. The 2.7% unemployment rate for legal occupations, including lawyers, was better than the rate for all other occupations in the BLS category of management, professional, and related occupations except for health care practitioners and technician occupations (2.5%). This data shows that becoming a lawyer is a better choice for those considering a career, not a worse choice.

(I omitted the third and fourth points about NALP and Cooley’s unemployment rates because they aren’t germane to this post.)

I spent more time than I wanted to verifying President LeDuc’s facts, not because I thought he was making them up but because I wanted to know where in the BLS they came from. I mostly succeeded; most of what LeDuc is discussing can be found here, but the only place I found the 1.5% lawyer unemployment number is at the Wall Street Journal. The non-seasonally adjusted legal sector unemployment rate jumped to 4.2% by June of 2011, so much of what President LeDuc says loses whatever force it had.

The lawyer unemployment rate, of course, is not the appropriate measure of a law degree’s value for at least two reasons: (1) Only the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook includes self-employed attorneys in its data, so anything else about unemployed attorneys is probably excluding ousted partners and failed practices. (2) Measuring unemployed attorneys assumes the legal profession is a closed system, that is, everyone who finished law school before 2008 had gainful employment in the legal profession if they wanted it. Not so. There are far more JD-holders in the economy than are needed to staff the legal profession, and we are producing more than are necessary going forward.

By the way, this is what employment in the U.S. legal sector has looked like:

Notice how there was almost no job growth until dotcom bubble and how its current employment has both fallen to 2003ish levels and stagnated since late 2009.

As far as law schools are concerned, LeDuc’s “conversation about employment in the law and legal occupations” is only now starting to take graduate output seriously, a development I welcome. A good example of the conversation is between Professor Theodore Seto of Loyola, Los Angeles and Professor Brian Tamanaha of Washington University. TaxProf Blog served as the forum. I think the two viewpoints are important because they introduce readers to many themes I’ve written about before, making it a good reintroduction to the LSTB. Tamanaha sees the drop in applicants (what I called “Scam Blogger Victory (V-SB Day)” a while ago—an interregnum until some kind of formal reform is enacted), and Seto stands by the “bottleneck” and “versatile juris doctor” arguments to show there is no long-term employment problem. Here’s a summary:

  • Tamanaha, “The Coming Crunch for Law Schools,” showing that law schools are continuing to over-enroll relative to available lawyer jobs due to overexpansion of faculty. The declining number of applicants will force them to adjust or fail.
  • Seto, “Is The Sky Really Falling in Legal Education?” focusing on Tamanaha’s over-enrollment point by giving us the bottleneck argument (graduates per capita is the same as 20 years ago) and the versatile JD argument as well as a novel one that faculty spending isn’t growing relative to other law school expenses so faculty expansion is irrelevant.
  • Tamanaha, “The Crunch Is Coming for Law Schools,” pointing out that tuition has increased over inflation and over the perceived ROI of a law degree, which is leading to the applicant decline.
  • Seto, “The Law School Pricing Problem,” restating that graduates per capita is unchanged and that faculty expansion is not causing law schools’ problems, while conceding that he doesn’t know whether tuition has increased past the point of equilibrium.
  • Tamanaha (comment), reiterating that he’s writing about the number of applicants dropping and that graduates per capita isn’t relevant to projected job openings.

For extra credit you can read Stephen Bainbridge’s, “Consolidation in the Law School Industry,” pessimistically arguing that law schools and their alumni will not go quietly into the night, resisting closure and consolidation for many years to come.

The two professors’ discussion advanced my thinking in some ways.

(1)  Bottleneck-believing law school faculty appear to have contradictory views of legal ed. reformers and scambloggers. On the one hand these are disgruntled graduates, among others, who are fomenting a “bank run” on the law schools, depriving the legal profession and the public of the high caliber attorneys they need. On the other hand, they see the drop in applications as a response to the business cycle, making reformers a “natural” economic outcome.

(2)  When discussions of ROI lean on noneconomic benefits for persuasiveness, the utility of government loan programs becomes dubious. For example, Seto writes, “Many parents would prefer to be able to say ‘my child is a lawyer’ rather than ‘my child is a plumber’ even if plumbers, on average, make significantly more than lawyers.” Government loan programs don’t exist to make people’s parents happy; they exist to provide the economy with human capital. Once we start selling degrees as status symbols, the loans cease to be necessary.

(3)  Tamanaha asserts that structural forces require law schools to over-enroll to maintain their faculty while Seto says faculty aren’t taking as much out of the budget as before. This isn’t a conundrum. Law schools spend the increased tuition on something, and lower faculty/student ratios combined with salary increases above inflation should verify Tamanaha’s claim.

(4)  How do we reconcile Tamanaha’s prediction that law schools are structurally constrained against Seto’s students per capita argument? Here’s a new graph for you:

While the ABA law schools aren’t enrolling more people per capita than they did in the past, fall 2010 was the second highest year for students per law school. The record year, starting fall 2004, was merely 0.2% higher. 1991 comes in third. To give you a better perspective, the decade average students per law school was highest in the 2000s. This translates to a record decade of revenue for the existing law schools, especially since tuition is higher than ever before.

DECADE ENROLLMENT PER LAW SCHOOL
1970s 684.2
1980s 708.4
1990s 712.2
2000s 726.1

Thus, an applicant decline will hit the law schools relatively harder today than if it occurred in the past.

Circling back to the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, which began today’s discussion: Cooley built three branch campuses in Michigan (the ABA still counts it as one law school), the Lansing baseball stadium is named after it (the school, not the jurist!), and it has been a significant driver of the 2000s enrollment increase. From the Official Guide:

YEAR ENROLLMENT NUMERIC GROWTH GROWTH RELATIVE TO 2004
2004 2,868 N/A N/A
2005 3,252 384 13.4%
2006 3,606 354 25.7%
2007 3,664 58 27.8%
2008 3,678 14 28.2%
2009 3,727 49 30.0%
2010 3,931 204 37.1%

In 2010, Cooley’s enrollment accounted for roughly 2.7% of all ABA JD candidates (147,525), or roughly one law student in 38 (I should add that the majority of Cooley’s students are part-time, which distorts its 1L class sizes from its matriculation rate). That’s up from 2% in 2004. Seeing the unusual growth in 2010, Cooley’s 204 students account for 8.9% of the 2010 ABA enrollment increase (2,286), leading me to speculate that either this growth is wholly attributable to its Ann Arbor campus (opened in 2009 at Ave Maria’s old building), or it is “saving up” enrollments in preparation for law school applicant winter.

As Tamanaha points out in his first post, Cooley accepted more of its applicants than any other law school, 83.3% in 2010, up from 79.1% in 2009, and 61.3% in 2008. Contrary to what President LeDuc says, the entire conversation about employment in the law and legal occupations is almost entirely right, college students—law schools’ target demographic—distrust the sellers’ representations about their employment prospects and they’re voting with their feet. The crunch is coming, and for Cooley, it may have already begun.

The Law School Tuition Bubble: Tuition Increases Law School-by-Law School from 2005 to 2011, Part 1

As a member of a learned profession, a lawyer should cultivate knowledge of the law beyond its use for clients, employ that knowledge in reform of the law and work to strengthen legal education. – Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct “Preamble: A Lawyer’s Responsibilities,” ¶6, (WI SCR Chapter 20)

Introduction

Last May, I started the Law School Tuition Bubble for two personal reasons. One was to maintain my writing skills while I was unemployed (and ironically I found work around the time I started writing). The other reason was to contribute to the legal profession. At the very least, I could fulfill the Wisconsin Bar’s directive: reform the law and improve legal education. This blog fulfills that requirement.

My goal was to keep the candle alive on the supply side of the issue. Other reformers focus more on the demand side, gathering better graduate employment statistics and then transmitting them to prospective law students. Coverage on legal education’s ills has crested into the public’s knowledge over the last several months, but the tuition increases that animate the problem and their connection to the nondischargeability of student debt in bankruptcy, whether protected by income-based repayment, frequently appear as an afterthought.

I often run across quotes like these:

Tuition costs at law schools accredited by the American Bar Association have doubled in the last nine years. Total inflation during that same period was less than 25 percent. –Dean Michael Coyne, Massachusetts School of Law (non-ABA)

It’s always given as a statistic, even by the ABA. More sophisticated writers will distinguish between the causes of tuition increases in public versus private law schools. But it’s always a statistic. Somewhere someone has the spreadsheet with all the law schools’ tuition increases on it. I looked myself and it’s impossible to find it on the Internet.

So I built it myself.

Literature Review

As always, every discussion of the tuition bubble requires distinguishing a bubble from what I call a bottleneck. Law school staff (and sadly even progressive economists whom I agree with over just about everything else) look at the problem in terms of the economy. Every industry is doing badly, they will say. It’s just “cyclical” unemployment. Assumedly, as the economy improves, lost generation attorneys will be reabsorbed. In the meantime, unemployment remains high, the country is saddled with detritus of an $8 trillion housing bubble, and the federal government refuses to intervene on debtors’ behalves. Worse, structural problems plague the legal sector, too many attorneys chasing too few jobs, even if the economy reached a new normal.

You need not take my word for why I believe the bottleneck argument is false. Students, you are now enrolled in the Law School Tuition Bubble’s eponymous graduate-level seminar. Here is your syllabus culled from the Internet. I think that’s fairly comprehensive. If readers would like to add anything, let me know, and Professor LSTB will assign it.

  • “Competition for job openings should be keen because of the large number of students graduating from law school each year,” and, “Job Outlook: About as fast as the average employment growth is projected [for lawyers], but job competition is expected to be keen.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Lawyers,” and, “Judges,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition.
  • The ratio of attorneys per capita has risen from 1:695 in 1951 to 1:264 in 2000. Jason Dolin, “Opportunity Lost,” California Western Law Review, Vol. 44, 219-255 (2007).
  • The legal field has not grown along with the rest of the economy. Amir Efrati, “Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers,” The Wall Street Journal, September 24, 2007. [I believe this article is slightly crisper than David Segal’s recent and noteworthy New York Times piece.]
  • Over the last twenty years, the distribution of graduate starting salaries gas shifted from a common mode of $30,000 per year to a bimodal distribution with a minority of graduates (about 25%) earning more than $160,000 and 34% of graduates earning between $40,000 and $65,000. NALP only reported 19,513 salaries in this stark 2009 graph. No one knows what the remaining 25,000 law graduates are earning, if anything.
  • ABA records indicate that around 1.4 million juris doctors have been conferred in the period between 1968 and 2008. By contrast, the BLS reports 759,200 people employed as lawyers and 51,200 people employed as judges (total 810,400). No one knows how many people entered the field via non-ABA accredited law schools, especially in California, nor does anyone know if the remainder of those with ABA law degrees are gainfully employed or even if their law degrees helped them get their current jobs. No one knows how the employment situation is since 2008.
  • The ABA also collected data from state bar authorities reporting 1,180,386 attorneys licensed and active within their jurisdictions as of 2009. No one has explained the gap between the ABA’s numbers and the BLS’s.
  • The ABA’s MacCrate Report, published in July 1992, finds that law schools mostly do not adequately prepare law students for practice. Things have not changed since then.
  • Using comparable back-of-the-envelope calculations, Fluster Cucked independently arrived at similar conclusions.
  • Shilling Me Softly diligently reports the growth in Legal Process Outsourcing.
  • Practioners: Jerry Kowalski informs readers that law jobs are down to 1991 levels. The Legal Dollar provides similar analysis.
  • Growing numbers of law professors, likely too many to track, publically agree on these issues to varying degrees: Professor Bainbridge, Richard Sander, Steve Harper, Maimon Schwarzschild, Bill Henderson, Herwig Schlunk, Christine Hurt (whose article helped inspire this blog), and my favorite on the subject Brian Tamanaha +1.
  • Dean Richard Matasar of New York Law School has long predicted the end of easy federal money to law schools. Richard Matasar, “The Rise and Fall of American Legal Education,” New York Law School Law Review, Vol. 49, No. 2, 465-504 (2004-2005); “Does the Current Economic Model of Legal Education Work for Law Schools, Law Firms (or Anyone Else)?New York State Bar Association Journal, October 2010, 20-26.
  • On the good news side, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) reports fewer LSAT takers in 2010 than in the previous year. Assuming legal education is highly countercyclical, this may indicate that the reform movement is successfully discouraging people from going to law school when it has a low return on investment.

Your three-page critical reviews are due next week.

So what?

What’s the benefit of knowing law schools’ tuition increases severally if we know them jointly? Shouldn’t hypotheses accompany research? Yes. The data I have collected tell us nothing we don’t already know. Although, all we can find easily is the post-aggregated statistics. Partly, this is an exercise in ensuring this blog lives up to its name. Those of you who want a tuition bubble, here is your tuition bubble.

More importantly, I think the statistics disconnect people from the reality of the crisis. Older practitioners can compare what law schools are charging today to what they paid. Younger graduates can see how much tuition has increased since they’ve left (even my recent successors’ fates sadden me). Students can envy what their recent predecessors paid, and hopefully prospective law students can grasp the bigger picture, especially since they don’t really know what they’ll be paying until they’re asked to pay it.

Data Collection Methodology:

I’ll explain how I gathered the tuition data autobiographically to explain the scope of the project.

I started collecting the data from U.S. News’s website, which gave the 2009-2010 school year’s tuition (with a few exceptions). Then came the hard part: finding the pre-2010 tuition data. At first, I went to law schools’ websites and went through the Wayback Machine, but this proved frustrating and took too much time. Then I made a breakthrough. The LSAC maintains data reported by law schools to the ABA going back to the 2004-2005 school year. I downloaded all 970 pdf files, 80.2 megabytes in all, and will provide them to those who don’t want to go through the LSAC themselves. Finally, to gather data for the 2010-2011 school year, I visited every law school’s website, seeking its tuition data.

Most of what I learned from the data-collection experience occurred while sifting through the websites. I can’t imagine too many other people having done this, save Nando from Third Tier Reality. It usually took only two clicks to find a law school’s current tuition, unless it was available via a pulldown menu. However, applicants trying to assess next year’s tuition are out of luck (except University of Hawaii, which estimates its 2011-2012 tuition). Law schools’ sites are well-designed. Eerily like a for-profit university, finding out how to apply for or obtain financial aid is far easier than finding the law school’s actual cost. That prospective law students can’t finance their own way through law school is usually taken as a given, not as a problem. How current students are given notice of tuition increases, I know not.

Notes on the Data:

The critical rule in empirical research is accuracy and precision. Accuracy refers to the degree to which the observations accord with the actual measurements, and precision refers to the reproducibility of the observations. These data are precise to the extent that one can look over the three sources and compare them, and I’m pretty damn good at data entry so I doubt there’re any mistakes. As to accuracy, because the data come from three distinct sources, they may vary. I’ll go into them.

  • The LSAC data come directly from the ABA, and for the first five years, they should be consistent unless stated otherwise. For instance, sometimes, I conclude that a law school’s semester tuition is reported instead of its annual tuition.
  • U.S. News data are reported by the law schools to the magazine. I doubt they differ from what the ABA reported in the LSAC data. When the LSAC publishes its law school reports for 2011, I’ll reenter those into the 2009-2010 school year.
  • Law School websites are far different from the other two data sets. Often readers may find that tuition dropped in the 2010-2011 school year over the 2009-2010 school year. This is not evidence the bubble is deflating! Rather, I took the bald tuition statistic the law school published and excluded fees whenever possible. Law schools are very inconsistent in how they measure fees. Some include them in tuition, others separate them, and still others itemize them. Law schools are very much like airlines, which pay a tax based on fares, so they add numerous, sometimes vague, fees (e.g. a “9/11 Security Fee”) to retain income. By separating tuition from fees, law schools appear cheaper than they actually are. As a result, when the 2012 edition of U.S. News is published this year, I will update these data as well.

I’ve organized the data by state in alphabetical order, noting whether the school is public or private. Along with the tuition, I also calculated the percent increase over the consumer price index according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is not the place to discuss whether you think headline inflation is more relevant, or if you think CPI doesn’t mean anything anymore because the government switched to hedonic measurements in the last several years. More inflation is actually a good thing for those with massive non-dischargeable debts.

For private schools, a little treat for you. Using the regression coefficient for each law school’s tuition increases, I projected what the law schools’ tuitions will be five and ten years from now. Unsurprisingly, it’ll get absurdly expensive in the future. Note: I’m assuming tuition is increasing linearly rather than exponentially. If it’s growing exponentially, which may in fact be the case, then the problem is nightmarishly worse. I may recalculate the predictions using exponential regression after the next LSAC/U.S. News publishing cycle gives me an opportunity to update the data, which should be before the summer. So remember, what you see is a conservative estimate.

In Part 2, I share the data.

Bottleneck Attack!

I dove right in to drawing the connection b’ween the number of law schools and the tuition bubble.  Then I realized that I really hadn’t sufficiently distinguished bubbles from bottlenecks and got bogged down.  I apologize for delaying your numbers-crunched, but fumbling through this post helped me crystallize my opinions on this project.

Bottleneck and bubble both try to explain rising law school tuition.  They accept cost-benefit analyses of legal education’s value (e.g. Schlunk), though bottleneckers emphasize non-monetary benefits to those earning below the break-even starting salary.  The term “bottleneck” refers to the upfront costs of entering the legal labor market that eventually pay off.  I call the argument for those who do not accept cost-benefit analyses “denial.”

Why is the bottleneck problem important?  The bottleneck is the only sophisticated argument opposing this blog’s premise, which is why I addressed it in my first substantive postThe debate is between time and space.  The bottlenecker believes in time law school can pay off, just with a few tweaks to the system; the bubbler believes that the legal education system’s size must be reduced to match the legal market’s needs before legal education becomes valuable again.

The bottleneck summarized: Continue reading

Bottleneck or Bubble?

Here’s your summer reading list on the increasing cost of legal education.  I arranged it in chronological order beginning in late 2009.  Indented pieces are responses to the original.

Costs rising, two explanations exist: bottleneck or bubble.  I consider a bottleneck to mean that a legal education is either a breakeven or beneficial investment, albeit a big one.  Fortunately for this blog, only Jack Crittenden comes close to arguing this.  He’ll be dealt with later.  By contrast, a bubble in legal education (strictly speaking this is a “Juris Doctor bubble” not a law school tuition bubble) requires demonstrating insufficient demand for JDs in the actual post-law school market.

***”BOTTLENECK OR BUBBLE” IS A GOOD DICTION EXERCISE, BUT READ MORE BELOW*** Continue reading

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