Discredited Cooley Arguments Just … Won’t … DIE!

Today’s installment of law school zombie arguments comes from none other than Nelson Miller, dean of Cooley’s branch campus in Grand Rapids, who asked for an editorial slot on The Careerist, operated by Vivia Chen, who writes, “[H]e wanted to present a view that’s ‘data-based.'” Miller then presents data that are wholly irrelevant.

Data shows that the recession affected lawyers less than others, and that lawyer employment prospects remain strong. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyer unemployment rose from 1.1 percent in 2007 to 1.9 percent in 2008 and 2.3 percent in 2009 but fell to 1.5 percent in 2010.

Now, my ego isn’t bruised if people decline to read my refutations of Cooleyist arguments here on the LSTB, but, well, I mean. Dude. The Careerist is owned by American Lawyer Media, which not two months ago published a very direct refutation of Dean Miller’s same arguments that lawyer unemployment data are useful to tell us anything about law school’s value. *sigh*

One the bright side, Dean Miller drums up a few new claims to refute, so don’t call Bruce Campbell just yet.

From 2000 to 2010, the economy created another 123,000 lawyer jobs while adding only 7,000 unemployed lawyers. Employed lawyers grew by 39,000 from 2007 to 2010 across the recession.

These numbers should immediately raise alarms. One sentence earlier, Dean Miller states that 1,040,000 lawyers worked in the U.S. According to ABA data, between 2000 and 2010 (11 years), 455,529 people graduated from an ABA law school. That means 332,529 lawyers would’ve had to’ve left the field in the previous decade, or 32 percent turnover. I’m no labor expert, but that sounds high for an industry that requires entry costs of three or more years of formal education and much debt.

But my favorite part is when Dean Miller says:

Negative media has discouraged applicants from pursuing a law career path that holds good employment prospects. Law school applications usually increase during economic downturns and decrease in periods of economic growth. Indeed, during the recession, applications rose 3.8 percent for the fall of 2009 and 1.5 percent for the fall of 2010. However, with a recent onslaught of negative publicity, national applications for the fall of 2011 nosedived. The preliminary figure is down 9.9 percent.

I’ve only seen one other law school dean say something like this: Larry Kramer of Stanford University in an alumni letter posted on Inside the Law School Scam. The argument is a dizzying shift from law school faculty and admissions personnel saying that the recent drop in applicants signifies that all the greedy Millenials who apply for the “wrong reasons” and would be awful lawyers no matter what the circumstances are now deciding against going to law school, and that now only those who are pure of heart (and are therefore destined for greatness) are applying. Nevertheless, I’m surprised when the dean of Stanford essentially says scam bloggers and journalists who see blood in the water are depriving America of its vitally necessary legally educated workers. When the Dean of a Cooley branch campus says the same thing? Not surprised.

Yet the core question is not what is good for lawyers or new law graduates … lawyers and their firms contribute substantially on their own to the national and global economies … I strongly suspect that we will continue to need them in a world that every day grows more complex, sophisticated, challenging, and uncertain.

No, the core question is what’s good for student debtors and taxpayers. Law schools create debt that taxpayers will be forced to cover, and law schools cost the economy in terms of labor output. We will not need new layers to handle the more complex world because contrary to popular perceptions the world is not becoming more complex. The vast majority of the U.S.’s GDP is and ever will be domestic consumption. The volume of international trade we have today is due to China undervaluing its currency and the U.S. borrowing money to overpay its own healthcare system, cut taxes on rich people, and spread democracy by invading other countries. Will we need more specialized lawyers? Very likely, but not even close to 45,000+ per year.

I used some strong language when discussing Cooley’s “Report One,” but I stand by it: Dean Miller is either “willfully misleading readers into believing the legal profession will provide jobs for law students,” or he is “irresponsibly ignorant.” Today, I’m guessing it’s the latter.


  1. Any idea why the BLS link claims 561,350 people are employed as attorneys, when the Current Population Survey puts the number at 1,040,000?

    Is the “Current Population Survey” a BLS source? If not, I think it’s unethical for Mr. Miller to claim that he used the BLS as his source when in fact he ignored the BLS’s count of attorneys, choosing instead to use a higher number from another source. That sort of chicanery is worthy of an ethics complaint in my humble opinion.

    1. Anon, yours are good questions. The BLS link you’ve found is from the BLS’ “Occupation Employment Statistics” program. It’s a measure solely of employed attorneys and excludes self-employed lawyers, i.e. partners and solos. I believe it includes government attorneys though.

      The Current Population Survey I linked to above–and that Dean Miller used–is from the BLS.

      Not to toot my horn, but if you’re still interested in the subject, read the post I wrote for the Am Law Daily. It’s linked in the post above, and explains exactly why I find the Cooleyist argument so shockingly irresponsible.

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