Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Links–Louisiana College of Law, & Rankings vs. Grades

(1) We have a David Lat piece at Above the Law on Louisiana College’s proposed law school, “A Law School Is Coming to Shreveport—Hallelujah!

I have a few points to add to Lat’s piece.  First, Louisiana, as you may know, has one of the worst ratios of law students to residents in the country (1 for 1,628.15 persons).  It also fares poorly economically with 1 law student for every $80.54 million in GSP.  Louisiana is in the top ten for both.  A fifth law school there is an unusually bad idea.

Second point, unlike Lat, I use combined statistical areas rather than municipal populations.  Here, the Shreveport-Bossier City-Minden CSA has 432,060 residents with ~200,000 in Shreveport.  That doesn’t help much given the above, but with an opening class of 40, it’ll have an enrollment of about 120, leaving 1 law student per 3,600.5 residents.  This is likely well offset by the J.D. cadres pouring out of Louisiana’s other law schools.

Looking through the original article, I’m reminded of the enthusiasm of the folks in Northeastern Pennsylvania over Wilkes Law School.  They thought a law school would bring prestige to the region, and would serve the community like a legal hospital where people could bring their legal problems.  Or something like that.  Here it’s worse: the building is owned by a bankrupt entity.  Shreveport will pay $450,000 (!) to buy the building and then hand it over to the Shreveport Downtown Development Authority to remove the asbestos and renovate it for $4 million.  If the college backs out of the deal, it’ll have to repay the city.  Bear in mind, the article doesn’t say what the college is actually going to pay the city for the school, or where the city will get the $450,000 to buy the building.  Here’s hoping the bankruptcy judge does not sign off on it.

Let’s review: a poor region in a state saturated with law students is going to spend taxpayer dollars to build a law school during a tuition bubble.  People, think about this for a moment, a law school may be cheaper to build and operate than a medical school, but it’s really something a community can only build when it is surging with growth.  Like China or India surging.  Not U.S.A. deflating.  You don’t build a law school to revitalize a city because unemployed indebted JDs are a net detriment to the local economy.

(2) Daniel Luzer, “The Law School Problem,” vs. Sander & Yakowitz’, “The Secret of My Success: How Status, Prestige, and School Performance Shape Legal Careers.”

What stood out here was Luzer’s opinion that U.S. News’ third and fourth tier law schools are lost to us.  By contrast, the Sander & Yakowitz study says grades matter more than schools’ eliteness in the long run.  Is there a contradiction?  Probably not actually.  Here’s why:

  1. The legal labor cartel may not be great at figuring out who’ll make great lawyers but it’s good enough to tell us who won’t be good in the long run.  Poor performance in law school correlates to poor performance in practice.  Makes some sense.
  2. Anyone who’s been to a less than elite school knows how On-Campus Interviews (OCI) works, they’re happy to cull what I call the Top5%MootCourtLawReviewRequired, so obviously great grades will help.
  3. A school’s rank provides “distributional value” to its students.  Employers look at the rankings and figure they’re getting something more from a student from a better-ranked school.  Students at higher-ranked schools essentially pay higher tuition for more OCI opportunities.  It insulates them in case they’re not Top5%MootCourtLawReviewRequired at a lower-ranked school, even if they’re no smarter.
  4. Law students have a documented optimism bias: they think they’re better than their classmates, so attending a lower-ranked school hoping they’ll be the best in their class is a riskier strategy than forking over the tuition for OCI opportunities at a better school.

Luzer writes, “In the words of one lawyer friend of mine: ‘When first tier law school graduates are having trouble finding jobs, the ones down the rung are just f—ked.’”  He’s right if lower-tiered students are competing for typical legal positions.  Because of the recession, a 0L who is confident enough to open her own practice might as well go to a lower-ranked local school, while those who go to top-tier law schools and come up with nothing may have wasted their money.  Those in between are better off avoiding lower-ranked schools, or better yet not bother applying at all.  As a result, I don’t see too much of a clash between these articles because the majority of 0Ls don’t know a priori how well they’ll do after one semester.

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