University of Idaho Law Dean Covets Real Tax Dollars to Prevent Fake Ones

Betsy Z. Russell, “Law School Dean: Idahoans Pay ‘Hidden Tax’ on Lawyers,” The Spokesman-Review.

Kevin Richert, “U of I Seeks to Expand Boise Law School,” Idaho Education News.

Small western public law schools seldom make the news, but I think Richert’s title reflects a more accurate assessment of the situation. He writes:

University of Idaho administrators found themselves in a tough position Wednesday. They were lobbying for an additional chunk of state dollars – to graduate more lawyers.

The U of I is seeking $400,000 to expand its Boise law school. The money would expand the satellite campus, now serving about 30 third-year law students, to serve 40 second-year students and 40 third-year students.

Why does the law school need more money? Does Idaho have an attorney shortage?

According to the Idaho Commerce & Labor, Research & Analysis Bureau

Idaho Commerce & Labor, Research & Analysis Bureau

It’s like Idaho dares you to read its lawyer projections…

…Idaho will add 69 lawyer jobs per year between 2010 and 2020 (690 total), and the Official Guide tells us that 198 people graduated from the University of Idaho in 2010 and 2011. Obviously not all of Idaho’s law grads take or pass the state’s bar (more below), but usually at least 75 percent who take it do so on the first try. Thus, there’re still enough graduates to cover the annual number of jobs. Also if grads from the newish law school, Boise’s Concordia University, start adding to the mix, the number will increase.

But University of Idaho president Duane Nellis is resolute:

We actually import lawyers from other states, because we’re not supplying enough.

Only 26 percent of Idaho’s new lawyers graduate from the U of I, law school Dean Don Burnett told JFAC.

So much for the free movement of labor.

The Idaho Legislature might want to ask President Nellis why Idaho needs more law grads if so many of his university’s regularly leave the state. The Official Guide also tells us that a few dozen of U of I’s grads take the bar in other states each year (there might be some overlap with Idaho). If there is lawyer work needed to be done in Idaho, one would think the law school’s graduates would want to stick around. If not, firms should charge more for legal services to pay associates to stay. Alternatively, someone could convince the Legislature to fund legal services for people who need them but can’t afford them rather than handing money to the state university to train more lawyers who will leave the state.

U of I grads also have an unemployment problem. For the last two years, at least 20 graduates have been out of the workforce or didn’t respond to the school’s employment survey. Doesn’t sound like a shortage to me.

[T]he rest [of Idaho’s lawyers] come from out-of-state institutions — and if they return to Idaho, after paying three years of out-of-state tuition, they may go to work with student loan debts exceeding $100,000. If Idahoans can take law school classes in Boise, perhaps while a spouse works in [Treasure Valley], a student can graduate with a smaller loan debt.

And that, Burnett argued, makes law school funding an economic development issue. He called student loan debt a “hidden tax” on anyone who seeks legal counsel — including small businesses.

IBR aside (God, I say that a lot), the “tax” incidence of student loans falls on the debtors unless they form a labor cartel and fix prices. Otherwise, their labor is traded on the free market and they eat the student loan burden with lower living standards. Just as you’ve never heard of a business that was forced to pay a worker a higher salary because the worker chose to live in an expensive house, so too do businesses not eat the cost of student loans. Notably, the people protesting student loan debts aren’t businesses but debtors.

Since there’s no shortage of lawyers in Idaho, contrary to President Nellis’ assertions, we can suspect that this is really just about rationalizing university expansionism.

Not being fooled, legislators tighten the vice (Switching to Russell).

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, asked Burnett about national reports that new lawyers are having trouble finding jobs.

This is when sweat would form on my brow, but I’m not particularly good at spinning. Burnett is so good that he doesn’t discuss his graduates’ job prospects, just debt.

“It’s true that applications to law schools are down this year, they have been the last two years,” Burnett replied. But he said that’s because private law school graduates now average more than $125,000 in debt when they graduate, which on top of their undergrad student loan debt, doesn’t fit well with the pay at entry-level lawyer jobs, particularly in Idaho.

“That’s why public legal education continues to be very important,” he said. “Our students come out with five-figure debts not six-figure debts, and they can manage them and they can stay in Idaho. … They can represent communities, they can be public defenders, they can be prosecutors.”

Someone should teach Dean Burnett about IBR/ICR, etc. It’s really sad to see these people selling degrees without knowing how their students are supposed to pay for them. Also, Idaho is one of the cheaper ABA law schools outside of Puerto Rico, if what Dean Burnett is saying were true, then no one would hire grads from expensive law schools, but even if Columbia law grads come with an average law school student debt load of $132,000, employers are still more enthusiastic about hiring them than those with significantly less debt.

He also noted that law degrees can lead to successful careers for many outside of practicing law, with examples ranging from top corporate CEO’s to the current investment manager of Idaho’s state pension system.

Did I mention that 20 of Idaho’s 2011 grads were either not in the workforce or didn’t respond to the graduate employment survey? When do they get to run the state’s pension system?

Idaho ranks 49thin the nation for its number of lawyers per capita, Burnett said.

I really hope Dean Burnett isn’t citing the LSTB’s enormously popular if lamentably out-of-date research on the number of lawyers per capita by state without acknowledging the context within which I posted it. That would mean I’d have to add him to the list of deans working in bad faith.

Gotta give credit to the University of Idaho. It takes a lot of gall to claim that the state should pay it to home-grow something it can essentially import for free by saying importing it actually costs the state money.


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