Links for Sale–Tenure, Bimodality, & Big Star

Re-emerging from the depths, here’re some links.

(1) Scott Jaschik, “Law School Professors Tenure in Danger?

Dean David Van Zandt of Northwestern has been spearheading policy changes in ABA accreditation requirements that leave tenure systems up to law schools’ discretions, and so far it’s meeting with success in the ABA’s draft proposals.  The article quotes various instructors as horrified at the prospect of getting fired for publishing work that is too radical for the university community and the public to tolerate.

It gave yours truly a chuckle when it discussed policies regarding clinical instructors and legal writing professors:

Another key issue in the changes concerns the rights of faculty who may not be on the tenure track—in law schools, clinical and legal writing faculty members are most commonly in this category. Clinical law professors run programs in which students are supervised as they take on legal cases—frequently on controversial issues—and law schools are regularly attacked over the choice of such cases.

I guess it’s no wonder that businesses and conservatives claim academics are ivory tower liberal elitists, misusing their public powers to corrupt the youth, and how we’re City v. Socrates, 46 Athens 304 (399 PE), all over again.

For those of you who’ve had your hands raised and squealing, “Ooh, ooh!” since paragraph one, “But M, what does this have to do with the tuition bubble?”  My reply: it doesn’t really.  Though one could argue that because demand for legal education is so high currently, combined with plenty of attorneys who’d love to gaze into the eyes of roomfuls of 20-somethings for increasing salaries rather than the alternatives, one could see the desire for quality control.

(2) Ilya Somin, “The Bimodal Distribution of Lawyer Pay

Professor Somin tells us that starting salary bimodality doesn’t make things as bad for lawyers as much as we should think.  There’s a wisp of good points to his claims but ultimately I disagree.  Let’s summarize his arguments.

(1)  These are starting salaries.  According to the BLS, median incomes for attorneys in the US are $113,000 per year with the 25th percentile taking in $76,000 per year.  Only the bottom 10% receives less than $55,000.

(2)  2009 starting salaries depict recession effects, and we must look at 30-40 year career spans, and predictions that far out are “imprecise.”  There’s an increase in regulations, ergo increased demand for lawyers.

Okay.  Here’re my thoughts:

(1)  Since my hippie law school days, I’ve always found The Volokh Conspiracy to be the most uninspired blog title in the history of blogdom.  I groan *every* time I read it.  Dear libertarian law professors: you are on tenure-track positions (okay, maybe not for long per the above article) with ever increasing five- to six-figure incomes.  Your radical ideology fails to instill me with paranoia.

(2)  The problem with the NALP chart is it excludes unemployed attorneys, which brings starting salaries down further.

(3)  Yes, these are starting salaries, but that ignores the law school tuition bubble.  NALP points out that tuition has been increasing faster than starting salaries have over the last two decades.  Thus the following “generational” argument is unhelpful.  All it tells us is that older attorneys are well established.  Even the BLS says it’ll be tougher for fresh JDs, and we shouldn’t forget lawyer attrition.  The other problem here is that starting salaries matter to the extent that they factor into whether a juris doctor is a worthwhile investment.  I don’t care if attorneys all make millions of dollars each, but if they’re saddled with nondischargeable debt in the tens of millions, then the money should’ve been invested elsewhere (yes that ‘should’ve’ is important because I’m making a free market claim to a libertarian, *sigh*).  Thus, Professor Somin will have to disprove Herwig Schlunk’s and Dean David Van Zandt’s analyses before I’ll let the bimodality issue lie.

(4)  Professor Somin should also tell us why he disagrees with Bill Henderson’s argument that the credential bubble has burst.  If starting associates won’t be making $160,000, then the averages drop further.

(5)  Yes, we’re seeing recession effects, big time even, but unlike Professor Somin, I buy into the bubble and not the bottleneck.  Unlike other typical bottleneckers though, his belief in increased demand for lawyers centers on an ideological belief in increased laws leading to increased legal work.  The BLS above disproves this claim.  There are still plenty of unemployed attorneys who’d love to work in government.  State and local governments’ budget cuts are already depressing the economy, slashing attorney positions too.  The federal government hasn’t exactly committed itself to a Neo-New Deal due to obstruction by neo-Hooverists.  My gut tells me the legal education system will reform itself to save us all from the law school tuition bubble before Professor Somin’s feared bureaucratic winter occurs.

(6) Okay, in fairness to Somin, his desire to abolish all law schools makes him de jure anti-bubble.

(3) Simon Vozick-Levinson, “Big Star Bassist Andy Hummel Dies at 59

The Law School Tuition Bubble mourns the loss of Big Star’s Andy Hummel.  I’ve written before that I saw Big Star last October in Brooklyn.  It was a truly magical show.  Thus, you should get out your copy of #1 Record and listen to it.


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