Month: April 2013

First Law School Closes … In Japan

Editorial, “Reviewing Legal Education Reform,” Japan Times.

In the last decade, Japan went on a 74-law-school binge (!!) because too many people were failing its bar exam. The belief was that American-style law schools would better-train people to pass the test. Instead, the result is more law school graduates who’ve wasted a lot of money on a legal education that opens no doors to them. It’s an old, old story that I’ve written on before here and here.

So the Japan Times is back with another editorial on the topic. Now it appears that people have wised up to the Failing-Law-Schools-Japan-Edition, and they’re not applying. The result is that one law school shuttered its doors in March. The government’s current solutions are to drop its 3,000 annual bar passage rate target and consolidate some of the law schools. Kill the metric, not the messenger.

The Times believes the problem is that some law schools are just bad at teaching to the test, not the licensing system itself, so it argues:

The government, bar associations and law schools should redesign the system for nurturing legal professionals. They should think about how to increase [rural] job opportunities for novice lawyers and how to improve legal services for people even if the pace of reform slows.

Although the editorial may be right that the government isn’t willing to analyze “what went wrong,” it too still seems unwilling to admit that American-style legal education doesn’t in any way increase access to legal services or create jobs (except in the law schools). That’s the lesson that’s slowly being learned in the United States with no thanks to resistance from law schools and indifference by licensing authorities. Can someone direct me to the first Japanese law school scamblog?

IBR Makes Contact With the Bankruptcy Code

I have a confession to make: I like reading appellate court opinions and thinking about the issues they discuss. Maybe I should’ve gone to law school or something. I don’t collect them like comic books, but it’s a rare perk of blogging that I get to read one every once in a while.

Today’s adventure is Krieger v. Education Credit Mgmt. Corp., (7th Cir. 2013) (No. 12-3592), a bankruptcy case appealed from federal district court. The district court reversed the bankruptcy court’s finding that denying discharge of plaintiff-appellant Susan Krieger’s student loans would constitute an “undue hardship.” In a compassionate move, the Seventh Circuit sided with Krieger, allowing her discharge.

The opinion was written by law and economics powerhouse Frank Easterbrook, who baldly opens with, “Susan Krieger is destitute.” There are other nuggets like when he echoes anti-neoliberal zealot Michael Hudson (somewhat uncharacteristic of a Chicago-school type):

[I]t is worth recollecting that Educational Credit concedes (as the bankruptcy judge found) that Krieger simply cannot pay. She is essentially out of the money economy and living a rural, subsistence life. She does not have assets or income and, the bankruptcy judge found, is not likely to acquire any. Krieger at 2.

Krieger (53), who lives with her 75-year-old mother, hasn’t held a job since 1986, and before then she’d only earned $12,000 in her lifetime. She owed $25,000 in student loan debt for a paralegal degree she obtained more than a decade ago, and she applied to 200 jobs since then to no avail.

Debts that cannot be repaid, will not be repaid.

This opinion exists because Congress never bothered to define the circumstances constituting an “undue hardship.” 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8) (2012). The pertinent statute reads:

(a) A discharge [in chapter 7, 11, 12, and 13 bankruptcy] does not discharge an individual debtor from any debt—

(8) unless excepting such debt from discharge under this paragraph would impose an undue hardship on the debtor and the debtor’s dependents, for—


(i) an educational benefit overpayment or loan made, insured, or guaranteed by a governmental unit, or made under any program funded in whole or in part by a governmental unit or nonprofit institution; or

(ii) an obligation to repay funds received as an educational benefit, scholarship, or stipend; or

(B) any other educational loan that is a qualified education loan, as defined in section 221(d)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, incurred by a debtor who is an individual.

Why is “undue hardship” undefined? Because until President Clinton signed the Higher Education Amendments of 1998, section 8 read:

(8) for an educational benefit overpayment or loan made, insured or guaranteed by a governmental unit, or made under any program funded in whole or in part by a governmental unit or nonprofit institution, or for an obligation to repay funds received as an educational benefit, scholarship or stipend, unless –

(A) such loan, benefit, scholarship, or stipend overpayment first became due more than 7 years (exclusive of any applicable suspension of the repayment period) before the date of the filing of the petition; or

(B) excepting such debt from discharge under this paragraph will impose an undue hardship on the debtor and the debtor’s dependents.

In other words, one only needed to show an “undue hardship” if her loan had been in repayment for fewer than seven years before the petition date. After that, student debt was treated no differently than credit card debt. Note also that nonprofit institutions (e.g. Access Group) were also shielded from debtors well before private institutions received the same protection in 2005.

The 1998 amendment was passed with extraordinary bipartisan support (Ron Paul voted against it), which suggests that no one bothered to think about the consequences of permanent government-backed student loan debt. The primary such consequence is that for student debtors who wish to include their student loans in their bankruptcy petitions, their fates are basically in the hands of a federal bankruptcy judge. Or Article III federal judges, going up the line, as is the case here. The circuits have, I think, three different tests for determining an “undue hardship.” The circuit you live in could mean the difference between discharge and debt peonage.

Thus, in Krieger, the debtor pretty much threw herself at the mercy of the federal courts, and thankfully they ultimately sided with her. In the trial over the dischargeability of the debt, the bankruptcy judge wrote:

Never has the Court seen such utter futility be the result of a debtor’s job search efforts. Krieger at 5.

(How many times have you read comments on scamblogs, Above the Law, and elsewhere of people who’d sent out 700 or more resumes in a handful of years rather than 200 in ten years?)

I don’t want to dive too deeply into the minutiae of the “undue hardship” test that the Seventh Circuit uses, but its third prong requires the debtor to show that she has “made good faith efforts to repay the loan.” The district court believed the debtor didn’t meet this requirement.

So law school gunner, answer me this lest I Socratic cold-call you: Does the debtor’s decision not to sign on to Income-Based Repayment mean she has failed to meet the good faith requirement?




No, writes Easterbrook, who argues that logically IBR’s existence does not repeal § 523(a)(8).

[T]he judge concluded that good faith entails commitment to future efforts to repay [i.e. IBR]. Yet, if this is so, no educational loan ever could be discharged, because it is always possible to pay in the future should prospects improve. Section 523(a)(8) does not forbid discharge, however; an unpaid educational loan is not treated the same as a debt incurred through crime or fraud. The statutory language is that a discharge is possible when payment would cause an “undue hardship”. It is important not to allow judicial glosses, [like the “undue hardship” test], to supersede the statute itself. Krieger at 4. [Emphasis original]

But what makes Krieger an even bigger bellwether over IBR is the concurrence by Judge Daniel Anthony Manion. It’s really only a concurrence in the loosest sense: He agrees with the bankruptcy judge’s determination that the loan is dischargeable only because the standard of review the Seventh Circuit is using requires a showing that the bankruptcy court’s decision was “clearly erroneous,” which Manion happens to believe is not the case.

Otherwise, Manion warns that a successful discharge of $25,000 by someone who is in good health “should be labeled as an extreme exception and an outlier” because with student debt growing to “crisis” (his words) levels, he’s afraid that debtors will flock to the bankruptcy courts instead of signing on to IBR. Krieger at 9.

What I don’t get is if Manion thinks people who are in good health and are IBR-eligible at $0 per month shouldn’t be able to discharge their loans, then why did he not find the bankruptcy court’s ruling “clearly erroneous”? How is Krieger an exception? Why is this not a dissent?

While I don’t think this is the first time a student loan bankruptcy case has encountered IBR, I’m pretty sure it’s the highest-profile example, so I’m going to call it Bankruptcy 1, IBR 0. Although it’s still a factual matter left to the mercy of bankruptcy judges, they have more leeway to side with a debtor than if the debtor were seriously injured but ineligible for an administrative hardship discharge by the Department of Education. Destitution is enough.

NY Fed: Young Student Debtors No Longer Taking on Other Debt

Meta Brown and Sydnee Caldwell, “Young Student Loan Borrowers Retreat From Housing and Auto Markets,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York

At last, a New York Fed research paper that doesn’t promote perpetual debt-financed education. In seriousness, this article is quite well done, so I don’t have too much to say about it. The only line I object to is the beginning when it states:

Student loans have soared in popularity over the past decade, with the aggregate student loan balance, as measured in the FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel, reaching $966 billion at the end of 2012.

“Popular” isn’t the word I’d use to characterize student loan debt.

The paper principally finds that young people without student loans are buying houses and cars—and they have better credit scores—than those with student loan debt, a stunning (if you didn’t stop to think about it) reversal from several years ago. The authors state two possible reasons: (1) Young debtors expect lower future incomes, which hampers their spending, and (2) Lenders will no longer loan money to people with high debt-to-income ratios. You can guess which one I think is more prevalent.

The only other observation I’ll note is that the average 25-year-old has less overall debt than several years ago, but more if it is student loan debt. This is a big deal because if the educations they purchased (if they completed them) increased their productivity, then there isn’t a lot to worry about. If we correct a few imbalances in the economy, we will expect them to be good drones.

On the other hand, if the debt did very little for their productivity, then it’s no worse than borrowing nondischargeable money to buy a large amount of lottery tickets.


In other news, the hawk-eyed TaxProf refers us to a New York Times blog post informing us that President Obama’s proposed budget would remove the tax obligation accompanying canceled loans on IBR. So what’s the call debtors? A tax break potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, or a cut to your Social Security checks that will amount to 12 percent in 40 years thanks to the wonders of chained CPI?

But You Can’t Eat Passion

Or can you?

Catherine Groux, “Law School Students Use Passion and Flexibility in Struggling Job Market,” U.S. News University Directory.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that [the reason the NALP says the employment rate for 2012 law school graduates hit its lowest point since 1994] is largely due to the fact that accounting firms and paralegals now handle many of the tasks once reserved for lawyers.

No, that is not what the BLS said. Its reference to paralegals and accounting firms was a future projection:

[G]rowth in demand for lawyers will be constrained as businesses increasingly use large accounting firms and paralegals to do some of the same tasks that lawyers do.

The BLS said that some amount of the current law graduate underemployment is due to there being too many law schools:

Competition should continue to be strong because more students are graduating from law school each year than there are jobs available.

The important words being “should continue” because it’s been going on before. The other reason the 2012 grads couldn’t find jobs is that the currency isn’t circulating, i.e. the economy is in a depression.

Yes, rich people are loaning the government money at a loss.

But that’s just par for the course. The substance of the article is much more entertaining:

According to a new survey by Kaplan Test Prep, half of pre-law students say they plan to use their JD in a non-traditional legal field, largely because of the current job market for lawyers. Approximately 43% of these individuals said they hope to use their legal degree to work in the business sector.

Oh God, half of pre-law students are sold on the juris doctor’s versatility?

Although the legal industry is struggling, many students say they want to earn a JD because they are passionate about law. About 71% of pre-law students said the main reason they are applying to law school is to “go into a career [they] are passionate about,” while only 5% said their primary motivator was the potential for a high salary.

Passion won’t make those bondholders sell their inflation-protected Treasuries and invest in real goods and services.

According to the Kaplan survey, 43% of pre-law students said they would be likely to postpone or alter their law school plans if they did not receive enough financial aid.

Except we all know they will receive enough financial aid—as much as they can spend really.


In other news…

Tom Brennan, “The Looming Threat for South Korean Law Grads? Unemployment,” The Asian Lawyer.

The large expansion in the number of law graduates stems from the introduction of U.S.–style postgraduate law schools in 2009. Before then, the law was only open to 1,000 students a year who passed a notoriously hard bar exam and then trained at the government’s Judicial Research and Training Institute. Unemployment was practically unheard of in this elite group. But the 25 new law schools pumped out about 1,900 graduates from their first classes last year.

I wrote a while ago on how Japan did the same thing: Adopt the defective U.S. legal education model right as it alienates just about everyone outside the law schools.


And finally, you should watch this:


Albany Law School’s Bond Rating Downgraded

Scott Waldman, “Standard & Poor’s Downgrades Albany Law School,” Times Union.

From the folks who rated mortgage-backed securities as AAA and have been downgrading sovereign debts denominated in their own currencies, S&P now thinks Albany Law School’s bonds aren’t as safe as they used to be. (Hey, it might not be credible in some things while retaining credibility in others.)

The report suggested that Albany Law is more vulnerable to the national trend of enrollment decline because it is not connected to a larger university. Law schools that are part of a larger university or university system were better able to absorb losses of the last few years. Schools tied to a university also can better attract students amid the shrinking market in the future because they are more able to offer bigger financial aid packages.

Standard & Poor’s believes enrollment will eventually stabilize at a lower level than where it is today and schools will adjust accordingly.

I opened an account with S&P, and while it doesn’t list ALS’s rating, I did manage to find Cooley’s, which is BBB – stable, where ALS now finds itself.

“We believe that over the outlook’s two-year period, Albany Law School will likely maintain its financial resources at current levels, continue to generate surpluses on a full-accrual basis, and stabilize student enrollment,” Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Emily Avila said in a statement.

The real question is how many of ALS’s students are paying full tuition.

Albany Law School Grant Distribution (FT Only)

The answer: About two-thirds. The median grant for both years was $20,000, which puts it in an 11-way tie for the 20th highest median grant to full-time students at a private law school. Remember: The nucleus of every law school enrollment body consist of people willing to pay whatever the law school tells them to.

Also, don’t forget that the schools can do whatever they want and no individual will ever be held personally liable for any of their debts. Student debtors, on the other hand, aren’t so fortunate.

Law Grads Not Responsible for Lack of Rural Lawyers

Ethan Bronner, “No Lawyers for Miles, So One Rural State Offers Pay,” New York Times.

Before I start ranting, let me first say that South Dakota’s plan to subsidize legal services for rural communities is the exact type of thing I’ve supported for a while now, much more so than subsidizing law schools, even cheap public ones in western states.

Now I start:

Rural Americans are increasingly without lawyers even as law school graduates are increasingly without jobs. Just 2 percent of small law practices are in rural areas, where nearly a fifth of the country lives, recent data show.

[South Dakota’s law] follow[s] a growing call for legal education to model itself on medical training to increase practical skills and employability. They also come amid intense debate on the future of the legal profession, and concerns about a possible glut of lawyers. In the past two years, only about 55 percent of law school graduates, many with large student loans to repay, have found full-time jobs as lawyers.

“In some areas we probably do have an oversupply of lawyers, but in others we have a chronic undersupply, and that problem is getting worse,” said David B. Wilkins, who directs a program on the legal profession at Harvard Law School. “In the 1970s, lawyers spent about half their time serving individuals and half on corporations. By the 1990s, it was two-thirds for corporations. So there has been a skewing toward urban business practice and neglect of many other legal needs.”

In other words, law graduates don’t move to rural communities because they aren’t trained to serve individuals instead of corporations. The law schools corrupted the profession, so moving those underemployed, indebted law graduates to a rural community would be like laboratory animals perishing in the wild after eco-terrorists liberate them. The fact that such a large percentage of lawyers live in urban areas supports this.

I’m dubious of this theory. One, as the big daddy of lawyer-per-capita calculations, I can tell you that the land need not be blanketed with a minimum number of lawyers per person. Demand for lawyers’ services is what counts. Two, human lawyers are a little more resilient than cutie-wootie fluffy bunnies in some cocaine addiction experiment at the U. For example, the rural lawyer the Times interviewed started working in 1949 and claims there were five or so other lawyers in Bennett County, SD at the time. Now he’s the last, and he’s surprised about it. Here’re a few questions the Times could’ve asked if it cared about the causes of rural legal deserts:

(1)  Why didn’t anyone replace the other lawyers as they retired since 1949? It’s not like there haven’t been any recessions that produced underemployed, indebted law graduates since then.

(2)  Did the lawyer interviewed by the Times, much less his former peers, ever hire any associates if the work was as plentiful as he claims?

(3)  What income does operating a small practice in rural America provide? Is it greater than what one could get in non-legal service sector jobs in a city?

(4)  What differences were there between rural and urban America in 1949 as opposed to 2013? What differences are there in law practice?

(5)  What are the employment outcomes of lawyers graduating from the University of South Dakota?

As you can imagine, my intuition on questions (1)-(4) suggest that there’s more going on than simply law school graduates being programmed only for corporate work. It’s unlikely that all the previous lawyers there retired since 2005, so if law school graduates from decades past didn’t want to practice there, why should we expect current law graduates to want to? If the last-lawyer-in-town says there’s work to be done, why didn’t he try to hire anyone to help him do it? Isn’t he loaded down with currency from his free monopoly?

The obvious source of replacement candidates would be South Dakota’s law school, and a quick analysis of its graduates’ outcomes suggests the question isn’t “Why won’t they open small practices?” but is instead, “Why won’t they open their small practices in Bennett County?

University of South Dakota Employment Type Distribution

The article gives a possible answer:

Thomas C. Barnett Jr., executive director of the State Bar of South Dakota, said … that in contrast to an earlier era, law graduates seemed increasingly drawn to urban life for the better shopping and dining as well as job opportunities for their spouses. In addition, he said, young graduates need mentors.

Another thought is that perhaps a lot of law school graduates, including those from South Dakota, are unmarried and aren’t too keen on their romantic prospects in a county with a population of 3,400, 35 percent of which is below the poverty line.

I suspect that today’s new lawyers aren’t much different from the medical professionals in the National Health Service Corps (who aren’t shamed by boomers into living in places they otherwise don’t want to live in). Like most people in their twenties, they prefer urban life. If that means they’d rather work at Wal-Mart (or Wall Drug) than open a small practice, that’s their right. If you don’t like that, then do as South Dakota is doing and pay!

New Column on Idaho Statesman

Valley View by Matt Leichter: With a surplus of lawyers, there is no need to expand school,”

The Statesman gave me the opportunity to air my beef with the University of Idaho College of Law’s dean’s specious claims that student debtors pass their loan costs onto their employers and clients.

Also, it’s spring! So time to listen to the Byrds.


Kinda wonder what happened to the cage dancers.

More on the (In)elasticity of Demand for Law School: Tuition Cuts Edition

Karen Sloan, “Arizona Cuts Law School Tuition, Marking a First,” National Law Journal

Following up on Wednesday’s post on neoclassical economics gone wrong, we have the University of Arizona loudly announcing a 10.7 percent tuition cut for in-state students. That’s $27,288 in 2012 down to $24,381 in 2013. The last time Arizona’s tuition was this low was … uh, 2010 when it was $23,540. In fact, Arizona’s mean nominal tuition increase since 1999 has been 16.2 percent, which is certainly due to state funding cuts and not academic bingeing. This is why I focus more on private law school tuition increases.

The painfully obvious question the first-publicized “big” tuition cut raises is, Will it persuade more people to apply (and attend)?

Answer: Not nearly to the extent that the dean interviewed by the NLJ hopes, but Brian Tamanaha makes a good point that it might help UA poach some applicants from ASU, which isn’t a great victory since applications are dropping there too. Instead, Arizona intends to “make up for the lost revenue by expanding existing master of laws and doctor of juridical science programs [HA!] and introducing a new LL.M. for non-lawyers [BIGGER HA!]. It also plans to reduce its pool of scholarship money.” With less scholarship money, the price cut is even more likely to be a non-event.

Why won’t this entice the swarms of 0Ls? you ask? Because people like Eric Posner wrongly believe that the elasticity of demand for legal education is static throughout time. (Did I mention I loathe neoclassical economics terminology? It’s so stilted.)

So yes, until 2010, you could increase law school tuition and people would still apply. Did I mention that you can increase tuition after 2010 and people will still apply? (Okay, it’s probably lower on average due to scholarships, blah blah blah.)

Applicants Per Law School and Mean Law School Tutiion (2011 $)

According to what I’ll call the “conventional thought,” applicants are insensitive to tuition hikes, yet the opposite is also simultaneously true: Make law school cheap and the deans will have to stand at opposite ends of a console, and then turn their keys simultaneously to open the weapons locker containing all the pitchforks they’ll distribute to the green professors to fend off the insatiable hoards of 0Ls demanding to pay someone a six-figure salary to tell them the difference between the parol evidence rule and the statute of frauds. If law school isn’t expensive, the “conventional thought” warns, it’ll be like WarGames meets Zulu.

However, the “conventional thought” suffers from a flaw: The 0L hoards only came because there was just about no way for them to know the net present value of a law degree minus that of their college degrees. Then along came a bunch of scamblogger types who said that it was probably negative, and the 0Ls realized the solution was not to play.

Take it away John Bates Clark and Alfred Marshall: Not only is demand for legal education dropping, but also the price elasticity of its demand is shifting.

PED of Legal Education

For illustrative purposes only. I’m not an economist; I just play one on the Internet.

If you think that an upward-sloping demand curve hints that I think legal education was once a Veblen good (and possibly a Giffen good too), you have gained wisdom grasshopper. The question is to what extent that’s still true.

The other reason no one should take the “conventional thought” too seriously is that law school tuition has never been uniform throughout the country. For example, we’d expect dirt-cheap law schools like the University of D.C. or New Mexico to be overflowing with students. Instead, Georgetown, NYU, Harvard, American, Columbia, and George Washington have some of the largest student bodies in the country and aren’t known for their bargain-bin prices.

We’d also thus expect price competition among law schools, especially in California where you can become a lawyer via correspondence programs. If you object that ABA degrees are a separate class of goods from those of the unaccredited mills, you’ll have to tell me why that should matter. A lawyer is a lawyer, and the ability to pass a bar exam is largely set in stone before one has taken out one’s number two pencils at the LSAT center. If the fact that UCLA charges more than $45,000 per year for its law degrees has nothing to do with its (perceived) reputation for placing people in good lawyer gigs—and 0Ls perception of how many good lawyer gigs there are, the likelihood that they’ll get them, etc.—then you too are ready to start editorializing on economics.

Just be sure to wow your readers by using “at the margin” every third sentence.

‘The Real Problem With Law Schools” Real Problem Is Poor Research, Flawed Reasoning

Eric Posner, “The Real Problem With Law Schools (They Train Too Many Lawyers),” Slate.

“A crisis is looming in legal education,” writes the author. Why this isn’t a “student debt crisis” or “jobs crisis” instead of a “legal education crisis” is unclear, but the article earns a response because it so heavily leans on my new favorite logical fallacy, argumentum ad econ one-o-oneum: the misapplication of neoclassical economic principles to a policy (non-)conundrum due to a failure to research the underlying facts, or the misunderstanding of the neoclassical economic principles themselves.

Posner believes that the group of law school professors from mostly prestigious universities who sent a letter to the ABA calling themselves the “Coalition of Concerned Colleagues” “will make the crisis worse than ever.”

If you think that handing vouchers to everyone 18 years and up to attend law school at full cost to the government plus living expenses would be the only way things could get worse than ever (if people still even bother to apply at that), you obviously don’t know economics.

The crisis could have been predicted. Demand for legal services boomed in the 1990s and 2000s. College graduates, drawn by skyrocketing pay and subsidized by government-guaranteed loans, flocked to law school in ever greater numbers. Law schools, rational market actors that they are, hiked tuition. The higher prices people were willing to pay for legal education encouraged universities to enlarge classes and open additional law schools. Not surprisingly, supply overtook demand. The mismatch is now exacerbated by the development of technological substitutes for some legal work, including online services that enable people to fill out legal forms, and a weak economy.


(1)  If the “crisis” could have been predicted, did anyone? Did they comment on the government’s decision to nationalize graduate student lending in 2005-06?

(2)  Did demand for legal services boom in the 1990s and 2000s?

Real GDP & Legal Sector Value Added (Billions 2005 $)

Pct Change Real Legal Sector Value Added Minus Pct Change Real GDP

(3)  If the federal loans are part of the problem why not cut them?

(4)  Did pay for all lawyers grow in the 1990s/2000s, or just for those lawyers who happened to work in biglaw? Is there a difference between compensation for lawyers and compensation for J.D.s? Was this difference carefully given to applicants on a school-by-school basis? Is it today?

W&S Lawyer & Paralegal Hourly Wages (2012 $)

(5)  Did “skyrocketing pay” draw applicants, or was there a correlation to the overall (negative) employment level? If not, then why do deans sometimes argue that people hide out in law school to wait out recessions?

Applicants per Law School

(6)  Did law schools hike tuition before the 1990s? After the 2000s? Do they hike tuition even when the number of applicants drops?

Real Law School Tuition (1985-2011)

Applicants per Law School and Average Law School Tuition (2011 $)

(7)  Does higher demand for legal education influence universities’ decisions to open law schools? If so, why are some law schools still opening after 2010 when demand has already tanked?

(8)  When did supply overtake demand? Supply for what and demand for what? Is demand for legal services the same as demand for legal education?

The “crisis,” then, is just part of the normal cycle of the economy—familiar to anyone who has held a job as construction worker, software engineer, salesman, or journalist. And the market is reacting in a predictable way. Fewer people are applying to law schools; class sizes are shrinking; some law schools may shut down.

But since the 1990s applications have been counter-cyclical: People apply to law schools when they don’t have jobs, now apparently, they’re not.

Posner then argues that the “Coalition of Concerned Colleagues'” proposals don’t “make sense in light of the group’s diagnosis of the problems lawyers face” because:

(a) Reducing the number of years of law school will counterintuitively encourage more applicants, and

(b) It’ll dump lots of lawyers on the market in the transition year.

(b) is right on; (a) is silly. Demand for legal education/law licenses is no longer such that people will apply if it’s cheap even if there are no jobs, and it’s not like law schools are obligated to accept everyone who applies.

(c) More clinical courses raise prices.

True! They also don’t create jobs.

The next one is the kicker:

[Y]ou can’t blame government subsidies for the plight of young lawyers. Government guarantees lower the cost for lawyers to obtain training. If the subsidies create a larger supply of lawyers, it should also create a greater demand for their services, by reducing the costs that they pass on to clients. Depriving students of government-guaranteed loans is hardly a solution to the problem that legal education is too expensive.

(1) Government loans (they’re direct, not guaranteed) enable tuition increases per the Bennett Hypothesis 2.0. Who would be able to afford law school at current prices if Grad PLUS loans were eliminated and bankruptcy protections restored to private loans?

(2) Once the market is saturated, the cost of legal services is determined by demand for legal services. Poorer lawyers will simply quit to work in Wal-Mart or they’ll practice out of a cardboard box. They do not pass their law school costs onto their clients, but things like malpractice insurance, bar fees, etc. create a price floor that makes it harder to serve people who don’t have money.

Posner then argues that loan forgiveness/bankruptcy will create a moral hazard, but IBR has been in operation since 2009 and the mass of IBR freeloaders has yet to apply.

[P]roposals to create a two-year curriculum and other fast-track routes to the bar will mainly help clients by reducing the cost of legal services.

No it will reduce law schools’ incomes. Who benefits? Everyone else.

Did I say that defending unlimited government student lending was the kicker? Ha! This is better:

The only realistic way to help lawyers today is to increase the demand for legal services—somehow convincing governments, for example, to pay for adequate representation of indigent defendants—but in the long term, greater demand will create the expectation of yet more job growth, and that could lead to another bust. The critics seem to think the legal profession can escape the logic of the market. It can’t.

In other words, after the law schools get their cut of the tax base, then the government should tax people to fund services we more urgently need. Readers are invited to enlighten the LSTB as to how an article whose title indicates we should train fewer lawyers can conclude by arguing for not training fewer lawyers.

The worst thing anyone can say about the “Coalition of Concerned Colleagues'” letter to the ABA is that it was too cautious re. the Direct Loan Program, which isn’t even worth a comment on a scamblog. Rather, Posner’s argumentum ad econ one-o-oneum is the only kind of logic we really need to escape from.