Month: February 2011

Speed Link—Future of Legal Education Symposium Portrayed as Waste of Time

Katherine Mangan, “As They Ponder Reforms, Law Deans Find Schools ‘Remarkably Resistant to Change’” in The Chronicle of Higher Education

A while back J-Dog of Restoring Dignity to the Law informed readers of a symposium on the future of legal education (his response is here), and the Chronicle discusses its results.

“Putting one professor in front of a large group of students is very efficient.” Clinical classes and simulations, which require low student-to-faculty ratios, cost more, [UC Irvine Dean Irwin Chemerinsky] said…Asked by an audience member how the school could afford to do that, he answered, “It starts with having to charge ridiculous levels of tuition.” Annual tuition and fees at Irvine total just over $40,000 for California residents and $50,000 for out-of-state students.

The problem I have with hands-on training is that it’s a lot easier to have a boss teach someone this type of stuff on the job. In other words, no amount of clinical training will create jobs. The word I bet wasn’t uttered here? Apprenticeship (or “articling” in Canada and outside North America). But that would mean shutting down law schools, which the deans probably didn’t want to consider.

Mr. Matasar took issue with the latter charge [that law schools churn out too many ill-prepared lawyers and mislead students about their job prospects with inflated placement statistics]. “There’s a common myth that law schools are engaged in the business of lying to people to get them to come to law school,” he said. If it were “some giant conspiracy” by law deans, “that would suggest we’re all a bunch of immoral, unethical, and terrible people, and we’re not.”

Law students know what they’re getting into when they sign promissory notes for their student loans, and they have no doubt read the many blistering critiques questioning the value of a law degree, he said.

Yes and no. True, law schools aren’t moustache-twirling grifters selling bridges. But they’re not guileless suburban preschools either. They freely acknowledge that they’re overcharging students relative to what the market can return for them, and they frequently admit that tuition hikes are for prestige, i.e. they’re valueless. If law schools know that they’re not providing value, then they’re accepting federal debt money in bad faith (private lenders had to warp the lending laws to their advantage, and that’s moot now with the advent of Grad PLUS loans). Title IV of the Higher Education Act is meant to help students gain a higher standard of living via education—not allow higher educators to charge whatever they feel like. Also,we shouldn’t need scambloggers to trash law schools’ for their excesses and distorted employment advertising, and I’m sure some would retire if disclosures were more accurate. Then again, there’d be fewer law schools as a consequence. So long as law schools treat the federal student loan system as an entitlement, they deserve every savaged toilet Third Tier Reality hurls at them.

Legal education does cost too much, Mr. Matasar said, mainly because it is “grossly inefficient.” Schools could cut costs by stratifying—offering, as a friend characterized it to him, a “Motel 6” education with few bells and whistles, in which practicing lawyers teach many of the courses, as well as a “Ritz-Carlton” version taught by full-time, tenure-track professors. Neighboring schools could share library, faculty, and other resources, he said, adding, “Does every law school need an expert in the law of Timbuktu?”

This doesn’t quite contradict Dean Chemerinsky’s point about efficiency, and Dean Matasar is largely right. The problem though isn’t just that legal education isn’t “unbundled,” it’s also too large and the educators don’t take on the financial risk of their students’ failures. If they’re interested in cutting costs, schools could also not paying instructors so much.

[S]everal speakers…argued that accreditation rules set by the American Bar Association discourage innovation.

Yup. I wonder if anyone pointed out that Dean Matasar has disagreed with Dean Jay Conison (also present and of the ABA’s Standards Committee) that the changes in the ABA’s accreditation standards won’t lower costs. That would’ve been an interesting exchange.

Many students entering law school today won’t earn enough to make their investment pay off, [former Northwestern Dean David Van Zandt] said, adding that under the current system, going to law school makes economic sense only if a graduate earns a starting salary of at least $66,000 a year.

It’s more than $66,000 per year as Herwig Schlunk calculates. Also, again, if the deans know their model is failing students today, they shouldn’t be taking the money, and on a moral level they shouldn’t accept private loans either. They should take on their students’ financial risks and should be arguing for student debt reform for existing debtors. If they were truly virtuous they’d think of ways to rehabilitate the Lost Generation to the law. The Chronicle article didn’t discuss this, and I suspect that’s because such a discussion never occurred.

Task Force to NYSBA and Law Schools: More Debate + Transparency Please

Instead of the clichéd approach of finger-pointing between and among law schools, employers and the bar, the Task Force recommends an approach in which the various sectors and stakeholders work together to undertake the professional formation of young lawyers. [Report from the NYSBA Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession, Page 38]

On Friday, the New York State Bar Association’s (NYSBA) Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession published its report on the NYSBA website. Unlike your typical ABA committee, the Task Force wasn’t crammed full of law school deans along with token general counsel; only five of fifty-eight members were law faculty, including New York’s legal education prognosts, Prof. Rachel Littman of Pace and Dean Richard Matasar of NYLS. This is as real a deal as you’ll get from a very large non-integrated state bar association.

Excluding the executive summary, the Task Force devoted about two-fifths of the 102-page report to legal education and lawyer training, and it has some worthwhile ideas like mandatory mentoring. Skipping to the meat on pages 66-67, it appears the Task Force finds plenty of poo to fling around. I’ll itemize my response:

Helping New Lawyers Form a Professional Identity

IV. Attending to the National Debate Regarding Law School Debt

Recent commentators within and outside legal education argue that the current structural and business model of law schools is no longer sustainable. These commentators call attention to the burden our current economic model places on unsuspecting law students while law school administrators point out the stranglehold that U.S. News & World Report’s criteria and rankings have on law school finances.

(1)  I find it hard to sympathize with the law school administrators’ hatred of U.S. News. Law schools’ core business is training lawyers, not earning a magazine’s approval.

(2)  Whenever someone says “X” is unsustainable, I take it seriously, whether it’s someone warning about an $8 trillion housing bubble or someone mistakenly thinking the national debt is going to wipe us out. Such claims demand prompt, correct responses. So, the NYSBA Task Force’s shoulder-shrug at people claiming the legal education system is unsustainable confuses me. If true, the Task Force should be sounding the alarm before thousands of students matriculate to New York’s fifteen law schools this fall. If not, the Task Force needs to say why not.

Escalating law school tuition, drastically increased student debt, and the high probability that most debt-burdened law graduates will not quickly obtain high paying employment has not only created an economic nightmare but a real moral and ethical challenge for law schools and the profession. [Emphasis original]

(3)  Spot on. Watchya gonna (recommend the NYSBA) do about it? Answer further down.

Law schools must continue to examine the real cost in human terms that flows from new graduates carrying such large debt loads and ensure more realistic financial expectations for those entering law school by providing more transparency in employment data. However, a balance needs to be struck. Law schools cannot afford to be saddled with additional, costly regulatory requirements, nor should applicants from disadvantaged economic or diverse social backgrounds be discouraged from entering the profession in the attempt to create “realistic expectations.”

(4)  “Continue to examine”? The truth is that no matter how much a law school frets over its debt-burdened graduates, it took on none of the financial risk—not just the information risk that transparency attempts to equalize—but the financial risk of its graduates’ failures. Law schools aren’t going to examine “the real cost in human terms” any more than they already do. Either their graduates are employed or they’re not, and law schools get paid from current law students not former ones.

(5)  I’m not here to do the transparency people’s work for them, but as far as I know, they just want the raw data law schools already collect and transmit to NALP made directly available to applicants. This is not a “costly regulatory requirement,” especially if a magazine can have a “stranglehold” on their finances.

(6)  The “economic or diverse social backgrounds” stuff is a red herring for a few reasons:

  1. The deans of the non-ABA-accredited Massachusetts School of Law tout they can do the job of a private law school for $15,000 per year. I’m not here to do MSL’s work either, but it’s contradictory—not to mention confusing—for the Task Force to claim that law schools are strapped for cash appeasing U.S. News and then lament how we need the poor and the diverse to pay as much as law schools feel like charging to enter the profession.
  2. “Realistic expectations” does not mean patronizing the poor and the diverse: why would they want to enter a profession that doesn’t provide them with upward mobility or meaningful social visibility? Why would they want to jump into an “economic nightmare”?
  3. If law schools were so concerned about the profession’s accessibility, I wholeheartedly invite them to change their business model from unlimited federal debt financing to equity investment such as human capital contracts. Law schools could be paid from ten percent of their graduates’ incomes for ten years after graduation. What would that do to those law schools that care more about their U.S. News ranking than providing a valuable education? To quote Michael C. Macchiarola and Abraham Arun, “If a school doubts its own value proposition, it might think about becoming an unschool; and we will all be better off…No one should be overly sympathetic to the plight of these schools; expensive, lower-tier schools in their current form never represented a good deal for non-upper income students to begin with.” [129-130]. Ouch.

At the same time, law firms that decry the lack of practice-ready law graduates need to examine whether their own hiring criteria are based on elitism or fundamental lawyering ability and skills. For example, do large-firm employers request interviews with those law students who have excelled in clinical experiences, or do they simply emphasize more heavily those who have the best GPAs from the most prestigious institutions or who have law review credentials?

(7)  I suspect the Biglaw example is another, albeit unintentional, red herring to distract us from the oversupply problem. It’s one thing for employers to capriciously hire graduates based on pedigree when others are demonstrably better (theoretically the market would correct for their incompetence), and I suspect this happened until the recent past. It’s another thing for employers to use credentials to filter hopelessly large stacks of resumes to save time. Here’s something for law school administrators to internalize as they’re being choked by U.S. News: Legal employers don’t need you; they are under no obligation to hire all of your graduates no matter how qualified they are, and if you fail, as I predict many will, you will not be missed.

Yes, that's actually what Stanford said to justify its 5.75% tuition increase for Fall 2011.

 

The Task Force’s recommendations aren’t bad (the uniform bar exam and psychometric testing are good ideas [page 69]), but it’s all you’ll get from an authority without power. As for what the Task Force thinks the NYSBA should do about its “economic nightmare and moral and ethical challenge for law schools and the profession”: participate in the debate and ask the law schools to be transparent.

V. Support Appropriate and Realistic Entry Into the Profession

15. The Task Force recommends that NYSBA closely monitor the issue of law student debt. The issue of debt, combined with the decreased hiring due to the economic downturn, has a tremendous impact on the future of the legal profession. NYSBA should play an active role in all aspects of the national debate regarding law school debt and full disclosure of tuition costs and job prospects, including working cooperatively with other entities to develop ways to reduce the impact of student debt on the future of the legal profession and to promote greater transparency regarding the cost of legal education and prospects of employment.

18. All law schools should provide accurate and meaningful information to entering and current students regarding the job market, career options, and their placement of recent graduates both at the J.D. and at the LL.M level. Self-reported information should be audited and include data concerning recent graduates hired by private sector employers, including size of firm, starting salary, type of position (e.g., partnership track, staff attorney, temporary, other), geographic location of employer, substantive area(s) of practice, and diversity, particularly at the leadership and equity-partner levels. [Pages 71, 72]

I’d like to see the NYSBA play an active role in the national debate regarding law school debt.

If you can’t tell whether I’m being sarcastic, the good news for you is that I can’t either. Bar association heavyweights have had plenty of time to educate themselves on the law school debt crisis, and while the Task Force should’ve mentioned Income-Based Repayment as an alleviation, there really isn’t a lot left to debate. No one seriously believes law schools are undercharging their students, aside from law schools like Stanford recently. Nor does anyone seriously believe demand for legal services will increase rapidly to accommodate all the juris doctor-holders who want to enter or desire reentry to the profession.

As for transparency, I’ll say it again: law schools must take on the financial risk of their graduates’ failures not just the information risk. Even with full transparency post-bubble, there will still be underemployed law graduates whose tuition effectively subsidizes the educations of their successful classmates. Admittedly, I’m more partial to human capital contracts than Macchiarola and Arun’s 10-year put option, but the effect would largely be the same. Changing the financing mechanism actually makes transparency easier as it would be a natural function of law school revenue collection.

After listing some more admirable recommendations (I don’t mean to belittle them, but I can only write so much), the Task Force backstabs its readers’ in the dignity:

VII. Work With U.S. News & World Report

21. The Task Force recommends that NYSBA meet with representatives of U.S. News & World Report to discuss current methodologies and to proposed changes to the U.S. News methodology that are aligned with improvement to the profession outlined in this Report. [Page 73]

Bob Morse accompanied by his merry half-dozen subordinates create nationwide rankings for all of higher education. Such is his power that the NYSBA Task Force feels it’s necessary to negotiate with him over his ranking methodology. Of all the players who least deserve a seat at the table when discussing the Future of the Legal Profession, it’s a magazine, yet the Task Force thinks the NYSBA has some kind of leverage over Bob Morse. It does not. U.S. News will keep doing what it can to sell magazines, and Bob Morse has no interest in the legal profession’s future beyond his own and his employer’s valid profit motive. If his rankings have a “stranglehold on law school finances,” it’s because law schools can raise tuition indefinitely without bearing any risk for failing to provide value. Paragraph 21 indicates that the Task Force doesn’t want to consider that.

I didn't know U.S. News looked like this either.

 

The New York bar’s situation isn’t enviable. New York should be infamous for increasing its number of law schools by 50% during a period of economic and demographic decline in the 1970s and 1980s, and there’s no evidence suggesting that the newer schools are remarkably good at exporting graduates elsewhere, though CUNY is unusually cheap and Cardozo has a good reputation considering it’s, like, four in law school years. New York’s thirteen private law schools are all over the average in cost, though some of them are very well regarded, and living expenses are very high. New York’s law schools, especially the disreputable ones in the southern part of the state, are ticking tuition time bombs. The Task Force wants the bar to avoid the “clichéd finger-pointing between and among law schools, employers and the bar,” but it won’t. Put simply, the Task Force can’t suggest numerous changes to lawyer training without taking a concrete opinion on the legal education system’s sustainability. Thus, it seems pretty clear that those pointing fingers at the law schools are right.

Their Satanic Majesties Links—House Votes to Defund “Gainful Employment”

Default: The Student Loan Documentary’s Facebook page related a couple interesting links:

(1) Melissa Linton, “USC Ranked 7th for Debt by CNBC,” in The Daily Trojan

So USC’s graduates carry an average $36,787 in debt. Its law students are charged $10,000 more than they were seven years ago.

(2) Sharona Coutts, “House Passes Amendment to Block Funding of Oversight Measure for For-Profit Schools,” in ProPublica

Arch-nemeses of higher education reform, representatives Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and John Kline (R-MN) sponsored a bill to defund any attempt to monitor enforcement of the yet-to-be-adopted “Gainful Employment Rule” to federal lending to for-profits. Coutts doesn’t believe it’ll pass the Senate, though. If conservatives were serious about balancing the budget, they’d cut the entire federal lending program and change the bankruptcy code to allow student debtors to restructure and spend their money on things they need.

Which leads me to…

(3) Richard Vedder, “From Wall Street to Wal-Mart: Why College Graduates Are Not Getting Good Jobs,” in Center for College Affordability

Dr. Vedder slipped this past me a couple months ago. A very quick and good read.

Here’s your quote of the day:

[R]ecent efforts by President Obama’s U.S. Department of Education to enact and enforce “gainful employment” rules primarily on for-profit higher education institutions are misguided. This report has shown clearly that severe gaps exist between college-level training and labor-market job opportunities for graduates. Underemployment is a persistent problem permeating throughout all of American higher education and is by no means limited to only one sector. Using for-profit institutions as a scape-goat fails to address the full-extent of this problem.

Quick Link–Albany Law School’s Tuition Hike Is Newsworthy

Adam Sichko, “Albany Law Plans Tuition Hike, Pay Freeze,” in The Business Review

Usually when a law school announces a tuition hike (like Stanford’s) I ignore it because it’s not newsworthy. This time though, the law school is raising tuition but *gasp* freezing professors’ pay. According to SALT’s 2009-2010 salary survey, Albany’s law professors do fairly well: Assistant/Associate/Full professors made $96,600/$102,600/$138,500 respectively. The increase is more a shift because the school is taking in fewer applicants, which is good, though I still doubt the legal market will be good enough 3.5 years from now to justify $41,570 per year plus tuition increases over the next two years for applicants. I don’t know how healthcare costs can be mounting for people in this income bracket (I do know it’s a national phenomenon due to our rent-seeking healthcare system), and library resources can’t really be that useful. I’ve always been under the impression that tuition hikes were more a function of U.S. News rankings feuding than reasonable cost of living adjustments and maintaining a passable library. Nonetheless, while I see these changes as cosmetic, it’s interesting to note that one law school is not behaving business as usual.

Sticky Links—YLD Transparency Resolution Drops the Ball on Tuition Transparency

(1) ABA Young Lawyers Divison (YLD), “Resolution 1YL,” via J-Dog, “ABA Young Lawyers Division Adopts Transparency Resolution,” in Restoring Dignity to the Law

The ABA Young Lawyers Division proclaims:

BE IT RESOLVED…that the American Bar Association urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to similarly publicize the actual cost of law school education, on a per-credit basis, and the average cost of living expenditures while attending law school…

The [Truth in Law School Education] resolution urges all ABA-Approved Law Schools to include the actual cost of law school education, on a per-credit basis, and the average cost of living expenditures while attending law school, which will assist law students during the decisionmaking process of applying to law school. The ABA has also addressed this issue in a document entitled The Value Proposition of Attending Law School, which can be found at: [http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/lsd/legaled/value.authcheckdam.pdf]. [My emphasis]

First of all, the ABA’s “Value Proposition” document is not a reliable source. Former Northwestern dean David Van Zandt low-balled the break-even starting salary a law degree requires: private law school tuition is higher than $30,000 on average, student loans accrue interest, and there’s a glut of attorneys on the market which means the 5% discount rate is likely too low as well. Though in his defense, no one makes $60,000 annually before law school so that lowers the break-even point from the other factors I’ve specified.

Last week, I predicted the ABA wouldn’t be foolish enough to require law schools to publish their tuition on a per-credit basis because law schools charge all kinds of fees as well. If passed, law schools will start behaving as airlines—keeping tuition down and shifting costs to arbitrary fees for which they aren’t held accountable. Here’s an example from the University of Montana.

Yeah, you're gonna have to click on this one.

Obviously, in fairness, UMT isn’t exactly gouging its residents, but for the sake of argument do the math:

Tuition + all fees = $10,972. Tuition on a per-credit basis? $145, assuming thirty credits per year. Tuition ends up accounting for 39.6% of the total cost of attendance less books, transportation, and living expenses. Law schools are also entitled to change their tuition and fees at any time without notice.

As to what the ABA wants: First, law schools are already providing this information in standardized annualized form to the LSAC. It’s not the current school year’s tuition; it’s not next year’s tuition. It doesn’t predict tuition increases, which are certain at all but a handful of schools that are making token resistance (University of Maryland and Ave Maria). But at least it’s a fully inclusive number that law schools don’t dodge by fee-shifting.

Second, what’s so great about per-credit tuition? It requires applicants to multiply the numbers to get a meaningful idea of what they’ll be paying over three years (or more). The varying fees between law schools make tuition calculations incomparable, and it shields the perceivable impact of tuition increases from the actual impact on students’ bottom lines. For example, a 5% increase at UMT will make next year’s per-credit tuition only $152.25. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal right?

Third, prepare for the fee onslaught. Instead of increasing total costs, law schools will shift increases to their opaque fees. Take a look at University of Oklahoma:

You want transparency? Why not ask your law school what the “Academic Excellency Fee” means. Why does it cost $59.45? Is that more or less than at other schools? What’s it spent on specifically? Are there cheaper ways of obtaining um…academic excellence? Is all the money collected spent on it? If there’s a surplus, where does it go and what is it spent on? When will increases to this fee be announced? Is there a way students can opt out of fees they feel don’t impact them, like the $5.95 “Student Activity Fee”? My other favorite example is at Louisiana State University with its “Mandatory Fee” and “Operational Fee.”

I know I’m picking on public schools over this, and that’s because these are the best examples from my memory. But remember two things: all schools charge fees on top of tuition, and public law schools are increasing costs faster than private ones—they’ll soon be identical as state governments cast them out like Hagar and Ishmael.

Prospective law students—whom the YLD apparently believes are too stupid to be convinced that a legal education has a disastrously low ROI should they read its own resolution’s summary of publicly available NALP data—are already getting better tuition transparency from the LSAC than what the YLD proposed to the ABA.

Hopefully the LSAC and the law schools will continue to publish tuition information as they currently do. I really don’t want to be the consumer advocate here.

Also, why is the ABA’s Annual House of Delegates meeting in Toronto?

(2) Brian Leiter, “Law Schools with Largest 10-Year Tuition Hikes,” in Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog

I’m vain. I like seeing the Law School Tuition Bubble popping up all over Google searches for “law school tuition increases,” though it’s not at the top yet. Further down the list Brian Leiter gives us a blast from the past in 2005.

The January 2005 National Jurist [tragically unavailable online] has striking data on which law schools have raised tuition the most in the last ten years; unsurprisingly, state schools dominate the list (yet most still remain far cheaper than their peer privates).  Strikingly, the University of California law schools are four of the top ten!  Here are the ten law schools that have raised tuition the most between 1993 and 2003; next to each school’s name is the percentage increase and the 03-04 (resident) tuition.

1.  University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (589.7% increase, $10,429)

2.  University of Hawaii (376.2% increase, $10,942)

3.  University of California, Davis (294.5%, $17,195)

4.  University of California, Los Angeles (277.8%, $17,012)

5.  University of Arizona (272.9%, $10,604)

6.  University of California, Berkeley (269.1%, $16,294)

7.  University of California, Hastings (257.7%, $15,615)

8.  University of Washington, Seattle (242.6%, $13,630)

9.  Arizona State University (235.6%, $9,545)

10. University of Idaho (214.7%, $6,696)

Today: These law schools charge:

University of North Carolina – $17,068.00

University of Hawaii – $15,960.00

UC Davis – $41,605.00

UCLA – $40,616.00

University of Arizona – $23,527.00

UC Berkeley – $44,244.50

UC Hastings – $36,000.00

University of Washington – $24,339.00

Arizona State University – $21,598.00

University of Idaho – $12,940.00

Moral: Stay clear of the California “public” law schools.

Here’s my favorite quote:

Michigan—which is already de facto private (in terms of state support and percentage of state residents)—had the lowest increase during the 10-year period, of 123.5%.  But that still left it with an eye-popping tuition of $27,884, higher than many private law schools…

So Michigan’s $27,884 was “eye-popping” in January 2005, eh? What does that make its $44,600.00 today?

Law School Foundation & Accreditation over Time

Every time I go to the Wikipedia’s “List of Law Schools in the United States,” (despite its inaccuracies) my eyes move towards the “Year Founded” field. I did this recently and then thought, “Hey, what’s the relationship b’ween foundation and accreditation?” Fortunately, the ABA keeps track of this, and it’s also in the mountain of pdfs the LSAC maintains.

Why should we care about this?

The ABA is often criticized for allowing too many law schools to open, with citation to the sixteen schools that have been at least provisionally accredited in the last decade. Is it just those bad apples, or does the problem go back to the fifty-four that have been accredited since 1970? Earlier?

Here’s a graph.

The average law school was founded in 1917 and was accredited in 1950. The median law school opened in 1909, and the median accreditation year is 1939.

A few notes on what you’re seeing:
(a)    These are all 199 of the currently operating ABA-accredited law schools. No JAG school, online schools, or non-ABA schools are included.
(b)    More importantly, law schools that have closed or merged with others were not counted. If you’re interested in that stuff, see the Wikipedia above. That number of law schools in question is miniscule nonetheless.

Some observations:
(1)    Law schools are very much industrial era institutions. Fifty-four opened in the 27-year period between 1890 and 1916.
(2)    By the time the ABA began accrediting law schools in 1923, 121 of the existing 199 law schools that would eventually join the ABA were operating.
(3)    Law schools did not open during the Civil War or both World Wars (as far as U.S. involvement was concerned), but they’ve opened uninterruptedly since.
(4)    The gap between existence and accreditation stops shrinking after 1970, which is probably due to state bar authorities mandating ABA law degrees for legal competency requirements in the 1950s. It’s only after about 1960 that law schools open and receive accreditation two to three years later.
(5)    So, from the late 1960s until about 1980, the rate of law school establishment increased. From 1967 to 1977, 23 law schools opened. I attribute this to the Higher Education Act’s student lending programs. The post-Carter/Reagan/Volcker era has seen a steady rate of law school foundation that is still not quite as steep as the Gilded Age’s.
(6)    Two law schools received immaculate accreditation: University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Widener Harrisburg were both accredited before they were founded. Most likely this is due to existing part-time satellite programs.
(7)    Two law schools that have been accredited recently have been operating for decades. Faulkner University opened in 1928 but joined the ABA in 2006, and John Marshall Atlanta opened in 1933 but received accreditation in 2005.

Let me be clear here: Not all law schools were created equal. When we find that 61% of the currently accredited law schools existed when the ABA began accrediting them in 1923, those law schools were a world apart from the Super Law Schools of today. Their class sizes would have been much smaller relative to the population. Some law schools would unashamedly provide a more barebones education than others. Jobs would’ve been easier to come by, though we don’t know if law always and everywhere had a high ROI. Tuition would’ve been cheaper but would’ve required savings rather than debt. University of San Diego Professor Maimon Schwartzschild provides the qualitative analysis:

Until the 1970s, it is fair to say, most law schools were not burdened by excessive intellectual ambition. At all but the elite schools the classroom teaching tended to be unimaginatively doctrinal; faculty scholarship was not a priority; there was very little interdisciplinary academic work. Even some of the more prestigious law schools were not necessarily intellectual hotbeds, but there was an enormous gap in terms of scholarly activity and ambition between the best law schools—Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and a very few others—and all the rest.

In the 1970s and ‘80s that began to change. Most university law schools, and even “free-standing” proprietary law schools, began to encourage faculty scholarship, publication, and a more academic style. Academically and intellectually ambitious faculty were hired at law schools where they would have been out of place, to put it gently, in the past.

Add to this U.S. News’s national unitary ranking system in 1987 along with mispauperous bankruptcy laws, and we get the Super Law Schools of today.

However, arguably the problem isn’t just that the ABA is asleep at the switch (notwithstanding its insistence that antitrust regulations tie its hands behind its back). Rather, critics of Christopher Columbus Langdell’s 1870 pedagogy are right: the ABA’s accreditation standards still enable the elite industrial era law school of 1923, and U.S. News encourages it. Thus, it’s inaccurate to say that the law school problem began in the last decade. Sure, the standards must’ve changed in the last ninety years, but most of the law schools were already in existence when all this began.

Frequently predicting that numerous law schools will have to shut down, I think it’s too late. Even if law schools reduce their local impacts by returning to their more varied non-intellectual forms, there simply is not and will not be demand for 45,000 new nationally accredited juris doctors in the legal market for the foreseeable future. No matter what the “I” is, when the “R” in ROI is zero or just less than what one could earn in traditional working class occupations then the system is too big. Though I believe the ABA’s accreditation privileges will be rescinded as the crunch matures, hopefully new lawyer training systems will reflect 21st century practices instead of 19th century ones.

No Bubble, Just ROCK!!! Vol. 4

A year ago, Forever Yours purchased Tiger Trap’s eponymous album and concluded that Tiger Trap was the band Pennsylvania punk band Weston was always pining for. And let’s be serious: the idea of a 1990s four-piece all-girl twee-pop band sells itself. The album opens with Rose Melberg punishing us for doubting true love.

Mid-January 2010 rolled around, meaning it was time to use my eMusic coin once again, and because I recently described law schools as federal debt money addicts, I have been appropriately cursed by bumbling onto Melberg’s second mid-1990s group’s first album, It’s Love by the Softies. Here’s a taste of the wistful universe I’ve condemned myself to.

Here's my spatial sequence for the days of the week.

It gets worse. Readers don’t know this but I’m blessed with synesthesia, which mainly manifests itself in spatial sequences I see in my mind’s eye when I think of numbers, time, or sides of cassette tapes. It’s more commonly known as number form synesthesia. I didn’t know I had it until two years ago, overturning an ancient conclusion that I was the only person on earth who saw the world this way. On occasion though, I experience mild sound → color synesthesia, with light blue pleasantly clouding my mind when listening to dream pop such as the Clientele.

I also tend to get addicted to new music—sometimes like love at first sight—and I can listen to a new piece I fancy on repeat for days or weeks at a time until it enters my personal pantheon of awesome.

When I first heard the next track I felt so much light blue I thought eMusic spiked my downloads. The rest of the album teleports me to whatever Melberg or Jen Sbragia are singing about. It’s quite draining, yet I can’t stop!

Well, I’m boned. When I’m out, the album’s in my head, and when I’m home, every few hours I find myself working my way to the directory the Softies are in saying:

No LSTB! Don’t listen to it again! It’ll make you sad! No! Stop! Don’t open those files!! NOOOOOO! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! It’s so beautiful…Aaaaaaaaagh…I hate you.

Damn you Melberg. I am enthralled to your voice and clean guitars, and I hate how you make me feel like a pitiful Title IV-snorting law school.

Bonus Link–Alan Nasser Wants Students to Organize

Studentpwns linked to this interview of old-school New Dealer Alan Nasser and his new book, The Student Loan Debt Bubble.

[CounterPunch’s Mike Whitney]–Why haven’t the victims of these toxic loans used social networking and campus organizing to fight back against this ripoff? Are there grounds for a class action suit? What about organizing a collective action to withhold loan payment for one month to send a message to the banks?

Alan Nasser–There have been isolated instances of efforts to educate and mobilize. My and Kelly Norman’s original article has been made into a booklet by an Indiana University faculty member, for distribution to the student body. And many readers have forwarded the article to their circle. But the key to effective resistance is organization, and the most likely initiators of organization, the left-of-liberal Left, remains dormant. We can’t even get it together to mobilize an antiwar movement in this age of official permanent war.

During the period of widespread student opposition to the Vietnam war there were intercampus communications networks that helped to bring about nationally coordinated demonstrations and draft resistance. A comparable network, organized around the student debt crisis, could be formed if a few campuses got the ball rolling by developing student and faculty organizations dedicated to informing and mobilizing students and those in solidarity with them to resist debt predation. Your suggestion of a payment moratorium is a good one. One of its chief benefits in my opinion would be to draw attention to the issue as a catalyst for the ultimate development of a broader resistance to the entire regime of austerity and debt peonage that the vested interests are imposing on working people.

Alan Nasser is a badass.

Links It Bleed—New Law Schools and ABA President Zack on Tuition Transparency

For some reason, new law schools quietly hit the newswaves today.

Sean Cockerham, “Can Alaska Grow Its Own Doctors, Lawyers?” in the Anchorage Daily News

The Institute of Social and Economic Research at UAA concluded in a 2004 report that a law school wasn’t feasible in the state. ISER said it would take 250 students to support a law school and that not enough Alaskans would attend.

ISER based its conclusion on the number of Alaskans who took the Law School Admission Test each year. Wickersham said the report was flawed. Many Alaskans don’t bother to take the LSAT because they have no way to leave Alaska for law school, he said.

I have two thoughts. One—a chuckle—the ISER appears to have found Jerry Kowalski’s mythical law school that has too few applicants. Two, if there is a shortage of lawyers in Alaska, and it’s plausible in its vast rural outlands, the solution isn’t a centralized law school in-state. The state judiciary, which the state had no problem importing, should decentralize the system and liberalize licensing requirements. It’s a perfect example of why centralized legal education should wane.

Melissa Ludwig, “Lean Times, yet 2 New Law School Pitched,” in My San Antonio

Amid a state budget crisis so severe there’s talk of shutting down four community colleges…the Texas House has quietly set aside $2 million over the next two years to feed an upstart law school in Dallas attached to the University of North Texas. And two South Texas lawmakers have filed bills to establish an additional law school in the [Rio Grande] Valley.

At least Alaska doesn’t appear to have any serious budget problems. Texas is a whole different story. What I liked about this article over other pieces is that the author took the time to quote employment experts rather than trust what some nearby law school deans said.

However, there are gaps in rural and poor areas, such as the [Rio Grande] Valley, because lawyers tend to cluster in big cities. If lawmakers did choose to start a new law school, it ought to be in South Texas, the report says.

Again, if a region within a state is somehow having trouble luring lawyers (have local firms/state offices tried posting on Craigslist in nearby urban areas?), then the solution isn’t a new law school but a cheaper, more efficient way of turning locals into attorneys.

ABA President Stephen N. Zack, “Law School Transparency Needed,” in ABANow (YouTube)

Shilling Me Softly posted this and I have a few things to say about President Zack’s points.

We always need new lawyers.

That’s debatable, at least in the very near term (say two to four years?) we could shut down every law school and the labor market wouldn’t miss the law schools’ output. Any demand growth wouldn’t be visible until entry-level wages start rising and all the JD-holders have left their Taco Bell jobs for The Law. I’m not in favor of such a drastic measure without changes to licensing requirements, but I am of the opinion that many law schools will have to close in the medium term.

We’re asking law schools to better inform potential applicants as to what the real costs of their legal education will be. For example, what their hourly credit cost is, and what the standard of living in their given areas would cost over a three-year period.

The three-year living costs isn’t so hard to do, but as to the rest, good luck. As a card-carrying member of the Order of Weirdoes Who’ve Seen Every Law School’s Website (OWWSELSW?) will tell you, only the University of Hawaii provides its 2011-2012 tuition information, and given that tuition is certain to increase in private law schools and skyrocket in public law schools, applicants are not well-informed as to their total cost of attendance.

On top of that, many law schools do provide per credit costs. That’s easy. They then assess all kinds of fees, such as the “Academic Excellence Fee.” I promise you that if tuition information were standardized like this, law schools would start shifting more of their total costs into fees, such as “seat charges” and “wireless bandwidth use fees.” I hope the ABA doesn’t let this happen.

The Federal Government is NOT Making Money on Student Loan Defaults

Homer: And you didn’t think I’d make any money. I found a dollar while I was waiting for the bus.

Marge: While you were out “earning” that dollar, you lost 40 dollars by not going into work. The plant called and said if you don’t come in tomorrow, don’t bother coming in Monday.

Homer: Woohoo! A four-day weekend!

The Simpsons, “Lisa’s Rival”

Observers of the student debt bubble quickly point out that the Department of Education expects to make a gross recovery of $1.02 to $1.22 on every dollar of defaulted loans, and when collection costs are included, the net recovery is 85¢ on the dollar. This, of course, is madness, especially when credit card defaults give the creditors a more realistic 10¢ on the dollar. Often, debtors pay off some student debt before going into default, so the 85% recovery only applies to the remaining balance. The government can often make a profit anyway. According to the Wall Street Journal:

[T]he government stands to earn $2,010.44 more in interest from a $10,000 loan that defaulted than if it had been paid in full over a 20-year term, and $6,522.00 more than if it had been paid back in 10 years.

FOX Business blithely asks, “Default Rates Climbing for Student Loans: Who Pays?

[A]ccording to government officials [WHO???], the default rates should not cause alarm, as they argue the profits brought in from student-loan programs more than offset the balance on loans that went under.

Picking on FOX isn’t particularly challenging (though its business channel is milder and gets credit for quoting the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Kelly Field), but combined with the WSJ article above, its sentiment isn’t as uncommon as one might think: Some loans are going into default, the government isn’t losing much money on them, and even if it is, the profits from the rest of the system make up for it. Everything’s fine; borrow responsibly.

NOT TRUE!

First, the default rate is higher than the media realize because the DoE only tracks defaults that occur two years into repayment rather than defaults system-wide. As Alan Collinge ominously puts it, though using outdated data:

Based on Inspector General Data initially reported on by Nick Perry of the Seattle Times, and in view of recent 5-year default data, We are confident that the true default rate across all federal student loans is between 25 and 33 percent (perhaps even greater) – clearly higher than described in the Chronicle article, and higher even than the default rate for sub-prime home loans, payday loans, credit cards, or any other lending instrument in this country.

Second, we turn to the Simpson’s exchange that pops into my mind whenever I think of opportunity costs in economics. When people are forced to repay a loan rather than save money or spend it on consumer goods, they’re not contributing to economic growth. They’re also discouraged and often barred from fully participating in the labor force, which means they’re highly unproductive too.

If the government claims the system is working well overall and taxpayers aren’t losing their shirts, it should compare its student loan “profits” to the lost tax revenue from zombie debtors. Money going to the DoE is the dollar that Homer Simpson found; the federal government lost more in potential tax dollars and overall economic growth by standing at the bus stop than by accepting the fact that an uneducated productive workforce is better for everyone than an educated (if that) unproductive one. The situation benefits no one, and as a result that underused indicator of economic unhealth, the ratio of total economic debt to GDP, rises.

The obvious solution is to rescue student debtors and do a 180 on student lending laws and the bankruptcy code, for bankruptcy redistributes capital from unproductive uses to productive ones. See, that’s what makes capitalism better than feudalism. Astonishingly, debt peonage injustices the scope of the consequences. There’s a word for what happens when people are forced to pay down debt instead of saving or spending money: Disinflation.

If only we could give FOX Business’s government officials a “four-day weekend.”