Author: Matt Leichter

Last Gen X American Book Review: Consider Phlebas

In the not-too-distant future

The 22nd century

(LA LA LA)

The Culture made first contact

Now we live in post scarcity

(LA LA LA)

But in the time of Kublai Kahn

A galactic war was going on

A Changer chose to fight

Alongside giant lizards and that’s not alright

 

Incidentally, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme has a very difficult meter.

Among my vices is only making time to read fiction on vacations, so on my recent holiday to New Mexico I chose to read Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas, the first part of his “Culture” series.

My motivation was a conversation I had with a reader about whether Star Trek was a post-scarcity universe, a topic I discussed here. I said that it’s interesting that the Enterprise crew never bumps into an even bigger, more advanced Federation that absorbs them, to which he laughed, “Yes, they never run into the Culture.” So, I decided to read up on it.

Naively, I figured that Banks’ first novel was the best place to start as usually the first work in a series is the best. After reading Consider Phlebas and perusing some reviews and recommendations I realize that may’ve been a mistake because the book disappointed my expectations. To quantify it, I give Phlebas two out of four stars, though I admit that I’m not very versed in science-fiction literature to confidently assert that I didn’t miss any tropes that would raise my rating. (I’ll discuss the significance of the book’s title later.) Anyway, this review will contain spoilers, though the book was published in 1987, so really, this one won’t be water-cooler discussion anytime soon. (Although, I hear rumors that it will be made into a TV series or a movie soon, whatever.)

Plot Synopsis

The Culture is at war with the religiously fanatical Idirans, a race of giant, immortal, tri-pedal lizard monsters. Phlebas‘ protagonist Bora Horza Gobuchul (Horza), is a Changer, a humanoid shapeshifter, who is spying for the Idirans. They order him to recover a Culture “Mind” (sentient supercomputer) that crashed on a planet (Schar’s World) that a Trek-like energy-being race closed to all outsiders, except fortuitously for Changers like Horza. Schar’s World is a monument to its inhabitants, who annihilated themselves in an apocalyptic nuclear and biological war thousands of years ago. The planet is mostly frozen, but one of the factions built a tunnel system to protect its senior officials ala Dr. Strangelove. Presumably this is where the Mind hid itself.

Much of the story’s bulk, 496 pages in my library’s edition, consists of Horza escaping from one set-piece deadly situation after another. Notably, he falls in with a mercenary crew, assumes the identity of its leader, Kraiklyn, after murdering him, and then pilots their ship, the Clear Air Turbulence, to Schar’s World, taking his captured Culture foil, agent Perosteck Balveda, with him. He searches for the Mind in the tunnels, but a group of his comrade Idirans, who have no reason to trust him, beats him there. After believing he’s subdued the last two of them, they run amok, killing everyone but Balveda.

Discussion

Let’s start with our protagonist Horza. His motivation for opposing the Culture, even if it means allying with xenophobic lizard monsters, is at least coherent. In his eyes, the Culture ruins everyone with machine-provided goods. It’s not an obvious mistake of fact on his part (certainly given what we know he knows), so it’s hard to view him as a tragic figure.

And if we’re talking about tragic figures, then we need to discuss Horza’s arc. If there is one, it’s not executed particularly well, or if I’m being chartable it isn’t executed conventionally. The first 308 pages of Phlebas are just a yarn of Horza’s adventures, backloading the only opportunity for character development to the 188 pages that take place on Schar’s World. (Credit to Banks for making the first 308 pages feel so much more epic than the remainder, I guess.)

At best Horza’s is a negative character arc of the “fall” variety. He wrongly believes the Culture is hollow and weak. He’s given the opportunities to see the truth of its resilience, but he nevertheless blindly marches forward to his doom. I’m not persuaded but I’ll give it its best case: Upon arriving on Schar’s World, Horza learns that the Idirans who preceded him killed his fellow Changers guarding the tunnels, including one who was his lover. Rather than take this as a clue that the Idirans are ruthless murderers (to say nothing of the fact that they would’ve killed him too had he not left to join the war), and even predicting that these Idirans wouldn’t believe that he’s on their side, he continues with his mission for them, blinded by his resentment towards the Culture. Later on, he catches up with them, loses two of his crew fighting them, and nevertheless chooses not to kill the one that is his prisoner, hoping to shame it later instead.

Those really are Horza’s only chances to avoid his fall because Phlebas then turns to outrageous bad luck and idiot plotting to thwart him. It just so happens that the one mutilated, mortally wounded Idiran Horza thought was dead wasn’t. It just so happens that it was able to start a train in the tunnels to slam into the one Horza and his crew happened to be working on—and where the errant Mind hid. It just so happens that it knew where to send it. It just so happens that the one computer screen in the station that monitored the train was broken, so Horza couldn’t learn what was happening.

At the same time, Horza spares the other Idiran, who plays dead and then attacks Horza’s crew, damaging crucial equipment. He even loosens its bonds at its request, and then it manages to escape by fooling the crewmember assigned to guard it by asking him—and get this—to scratch an itch in its right eye.

Wow that’s dumb. A rational Horza, even if he valued completing the mission for the Idirans over reassessing his allegiance to them, would’ve utterly destroyed both Idirans, and he would’ve probably schemed to kill Balveda, his other prisoner, knowing she couldn’t be trusted and had an ace up her sleeve, in this case a false tooth that could transform into a laser gun. Culture technology, ftw.

Okay, this may be idiosyncratic to me, but probably nothing breaks my immersion in a story more than idiot plotting. By the time I was working through this section of the book, I was throwing my head back muttering, “Oh, come on! Really??” It probably annoyed the airplane passengers around me.

If Horza had destroyed just one of the two Idirans, he would’ve had a chance at survival, if not success.

Returning to the discussion of Horza’s as a fall arc, I just don’t think there’s enough meat in it because the Culture’s ideology isn’t portrayed as the truth and he isn’t given enough opportunities to see it. One could instead turn to the subtle thematic aspects of Phlebas as an explanation of Horza’s character, either as a Changer becoming what he changes into or a meditation on leadership. Specifically, the Clear Air Turbulence‘s captain, Kraiklyn, never makes a good decision in the narrative, promising “easy in, easy out” missions that end up fruitlessly killing crewmembers. Sometimes this isn’t wholly his fault, but you can tell his star is falling. Horza, by morphing into Kraiklyn, essentially becomes him as well, condemning all who follow him to their deaths.

Meanwhile, at the other extreme we have the Culture, which is an ungoverened, leaderless society that is essentially run by a collection of Minds that in Horza’s estimation will eventually wipe out its useless human wards. In this tale, the humans who’ve abrogated their leadership to machines come out on top of wild-west libertarians who can chart their own destinies. Again, I don’t think there’s enough here to say “leadership” is the focus of the book.

Moving on, in stories with body counts as high as Phelbas, I wonder if the author simply has it in for his characters. Even our humanoid survivor, Balveda, ends up “autoeuthanizing” in the appendices on account of her experience on Schar’s World, and when one of the Clear Air Turbulence‘s crewmembers, Horza’s new lover Yalson, tells him she’s pregnant by him, I knew that one or both of them was dead. The detail plays no role in the story (tellingly, Yalson doesn’t even make the cut for my above plot synopsis) other than to increase the tension and manipulate the reader into wanting the characters to live. (By the way, the competent, non-ideological, furry Yalson is the only character in the book I had any hopes for, not that she was better developed than anyone else.)

I do sense some authorial sarcasm at the deaths of the characters in Phlebas, or at least some of them, and that’s problematic. But the answer is no, I don’t think Banks is throughout a juvenile sadistically chuckling at all the mayhem he can cause with the written word, and while I haven’t read the title’s namesake, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, a little DuckDuckGoing tells us that in that poem Phlebas the Phoenician’s death by drowning is meant to remind us of our own mortality. This makes the book’s themes death, futility, and failure—especially on Schar’s World. Thus, I think there is a point to the violence.

Does it successfully deliver on these themes?

Yes, if you don’t mind its tasting bitter. Futility is a challenging theme to depict because it’s hard to care about characters whose actions will lead nowhere. Moreover, Phlebas‘ episodic structure until Schar’s World doesn’t create a stable set of characters to invest in. Had Banks fully developed Horza, I think he could’ve brought out these themes better. Another hurdle is the book’s length. I hold longer texts to higher scrutiny than shorter ones, and a long book about failure, death, and futility demands a lot of the reader’s energy just to say there wasn’t a point after all.

Good Bits?

Okay, I didn’t put the book down, so it can’t be that bad, but certainly by the time Horza found himself captured by a grotesque, obese, cannibal cult leader, I began wondering. But what can I say? Phlebas is a romp. It delivers Han Solo’s world with the crew from Alien. It’s entertaining, and while I’m sure the tropes of giant orbital habitats and spaceships are nothing new to science fiction, Banks serves them well. His galaxy is detailed, and he subtly takes on themes such as how sentient supercomputers would go about stochastically conducting a war, human nature in a post-scarcity society, and whether one person can make a difference in a cosmic war. Even the info dumps, though noticeable, weren’t clunky. I can’t say the book is bad if it’s still on my mind.

Again, I’m not that well read, but Phlebas‘ structure owes a debt to Dune, where the book’s narrative merely dramatizes the richer substance in its appendices. I may’ve cheated by reading them one third of the way into the narrative, but you learn that for all the destruction the Culture-Idiran war caused, it was a blip compared to the galaxy. In fact, my MST3K parody is based mostly on the appendices, not the story itself. So attention to them is warranted.

In the end, though, I gather that there are better books in Banks’ Culture series, notably Look to Windward (also based on that section of The Waste Land). I don’t know when my next vacation is, but I may double-down on the Culture series to see if I like it more.

My hope, though, is that someone comes up with Trek‘s final frontier when the Enterprise runs into not another species that challenges its values, like the Borg or the Dominion, but into something that embraces them all the more so as the Culture does.

Conclusion: Is Phlebas Fit for the Screen?

As written, decidedly not. True, the cliffhangers and eye candy can make for a good streaming series, but the characters are insufficient to create a good drama. I think audiences would be bewildered by the violence and darkness throughout Phlebas only to find that the point was that there was no point to what anyone was doing. A movie might work better, but as with Dune it’s hard to dramatize crucial material appearing in the appendices, and a lot of the story would have to be cut out. I think the same of the book itself, so that shouldn’t be too much trouble for the thoughtful screenwriter. I think the temptation (or producer interference) to tease out a happy ending would probably prove too great to overcome and would damage the story. I could see Phlebas still working if more characters survived Schar’s World, but I don’t see it helping the story if Horza’s beliefs and choices don’t matter more to the plot.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: September 2018 Edition

It appears the LSAC backed down after I—and my very powerful allies—intimidated it into publishing its test-taker-volume information. Now I can discuss the number of test takers since last summer thanks to the LSAC’s return to transparency.

Okay, okay. Enough with the silliness.

In June, July, and September of 2018, the LSAC administered 62,931 LSATs. (I have no idea how many unique test takers there were during this period.) This is down 2.8 percent from the June and September administrations in 2017 (64,752). In 2016, the number was 56,614, so interest in the LSAT is still elevated thanks undoubtedly to the Trump bump.

Here’s the chart going back to the late 1990s. The July 2018 administration is interpolated between the June and September ones because there is no moving sum to base it on.

The LSAC is also now including first-time test takers in its data tables. This is one of my favorite datasets, but until now it only came out infrequently. Good on the LSAC for publishing it regularly. What we learn is that 41,104 people took the LSAT for the first time this summer. By contrast, in June and September of 2012 (the last year for which I have data), as many as 42,490 new faces took the test.

I’m not sure if we should read too much into that because of the expanded administration dates. First timers accounted for about the same amount of total test takers in June 2018 (69.2 percent) as in June 2012 (71.1 percent), and in July it was about the same as well (68.9 percent). Meanwhile, September first-time test takers differ quite a bit: 65.0 percent in 2012 and 60.8 percent in 2018. In fact this year the percentage of first-time test takers in September is the lowest on any records I have, and given that there were more than 10,000 fewer overall test takers in September of this year than last year, it’s a good bet that 0Ls are shifting their habits to July.

I’m glad to be able to use these data going forward though. Again, good on the LSAC.

In other news, law-school applicants and applications are continuing their climb. As of the end of the third week of November (the 21st of 2018), 16,071 people applied to a law school, submitting 82,012 applications. The data for the early period of the application cycle tend to be erratic, but this is 9.6 percent more applicants than in 2017-18 and 5.6 percent more applications. Last year (that is, November 21, 2017), these percentages were in the double digits, indicating the Trump bump is waning this year.

You can see charts of this on the LSAC’s Web site.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Peace.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Readi- Wait, What The-

I patiently waited for the LSAC to update its Web site so I could report on the start of the 2018-19 LSAT-administration year. And I waited. Then I waited. Then I saw that the LSAC’s Web site was revamped and was all excited to post about the number of people who took the LSAT, including first-time test takers, which was displayed for the first time ever.

Then I procrastinated a bit.

Then the LSAC locked its Web site from the peasants.

Seriously? The number of LSAT takers per administration has been publicly available in some form for decades, and now it’s too important for the public to know? Why? Since it’s been trending upward, why would the LSAC not want to publicize it?

Office of Management and Budget: +$845 Billion in Direct Loans by 2028

Nearly every year in July the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) publishes its Mid-Session Review (MSR) of the federal budget, which includes the Federal Direct Loan Program, and projects its future. These direct loans consist primarily of federal student loans, but there are a few other programs in there as well. However, it does not include private student loans, but these are a small percentage of all student loans and smaller still of new student loans. Thus, the MSR measure is both over- and under-inclusive of all student loans, but it covers most of them.

The OMB classifies direct loan accounts as financial assets totaling $1.281 trillion in 2017, but careful readers of these reports will find that OMB has now combined direct loans with “Troubled Asset Relief (TARP) equity purchase accounts.” No reason is given, and these items don’t appear related. In prior years TARP amounts have been negligible, so I’ll continue this series, assuming these TARP accounts make no impact. According to the office’s projection, by 2028 this figure will grow to $2.126 trillion—66 percent growth.

(Source: OMB FY2018 Mid-Session Review (pdf))

As with previous years, the current (2017) direct loan balance is below the OMB’s past projections, but not by much. For example, in FY2012, it predicted the balance would be $1.593 trillion by 2017, $312 billion (24 percent) higher than what actually occurred. Here are the OMB’s direct loan projections going back to FY2010.

As with last year, the OMB projects less student lending than during most of the Obama presidency. At the time, I noted that the projection came in much lower, but now it’s trending back upward. By 2028, federal student loans will reach $2.126 trillion. Because the OMB expects GDP to grow as well over this time period (we’d have bigger problems than student loans if it didn’t), the ratio of direct loans to GDP will level off below 7 percent over the next decade.

The OMB’s measure of direct loans is the net amount owed to the government, and the annual changes to that amount are not the same as the amount lent out each year to students. The Department of Education tracks its lending, which I discuss on the Student Deb Data page.

———-

Past coverage of this data series:

Manic Pixie Dream Girl Movie Matchup

For inexplicable reasons in the last couple months I saw three movies accused of featuring manic pixie dream girls (MPDGs), the most beloved and reviled of 21st-century stock characters. For those unfamiliar with the term, film critic Nathan Rabin defined it as a woman who, “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Rabin “retracted” the term in 2014 because, as one might expect, any trope leveled at female characters is rapidly deployed indiscriminately against all of them. But retractions be damned! For I write in good faith.

I thought it might be fun to stack the three MPDG characters together and see how they matched up. To be clear, though, these movies aren’t regarded as paragons of the trope, so this post is more of an exploration than indictment.

In chronological order we have:

  • Danielle – The Girl Next Door (2004)
  • Summer – 500 Days of Summer (2009)
  • Ramona Flowers – Scott Pilgrim Versus the World (2010)

Seasoned readers will undoubtedly predict that I would be partial to Scott Pilgrim for its ’80s fan service, but I’m on the level here: Bias is bad. Here are three brief, spoilerific plot synopses.

The Girl Next Door: High school overachiever Matthew (Hm.) is caught peeping on the slightly older, attractive Danielle, who is house sitting next door. She goads him into spending time with her—after tricking him into running naked in the street—and encourages him to skip school, trespass in other people’s swimming pools, and go to a party that disallows uncool kids like him. Matthew kisses Danielle, proving he is capable of impulsiveness.

Then for some reason the movie keeps going for, like, another 90 minutes, and we learn that Danielle is actually an adult film model who needs saving and whom Matthew saves. Matthew also gets into a load of trouble from which he claws his way out. (The movie is actually a soft remake of Risky Business (1983).)

500 Days of Summer: In a non-linear narrative, preppy architect-cum-greeting-card-writer Tom, a romantic idealist, meets Summer, the woman he believes is The One. He charms her at an office karaoke night, and after agreeing to be friends, she makes out with him in the office copy room, things progressing from there. Tom is happy, but months later Summer breaks up with him and changes jobs. Tom is miserable, but he serendipitously encounters Summer again on the way to a co-worker’s wedding. Summer declines to tell Tom about her new boyfriend and spends the wedding with him. She invites him to a party she’s throwing where, fantasizing about winning her back, Tom finds out she’s engaged. Embittered, Tom quits his job to try to be an architect again, but he runs into Summer one last time, and she tells him he was actually right to be a romantic idealist.

Scott Pilgrim Versus the World: Scott Pilgrim is an unemployed hipster bassist, who believes he’s blameless in all his past relationships’ failures. He falls for Ramona Flowers, whose seven evil exes ambush Scott one by one Street Fighter-style to prevent her from being with him. In defeating them, he learns that he’s actually been a jerk to everyone around him all along, particularly to his previous girlfriend, Knives Chau, whom he cheated on with Ramona and who spends most of the film trying to win him back. Scott finally wins over Ramona, even though it feels unearned and the movie never really establishes why she likes him.

So, let’s compare these MPDGs.

  • Are these characters really MPDGs, or are they false positives?

It’s a fair question because arguments are made that Summer and Ramona don’t fit the term; Danielle’s fate is pretty much sealed. To aid in answering, let’s establish who an MPDG is and what she does. As a person, the MPDG is a vaguely defined character. Where she comes from doesn’t matter; she frequently has no social or family life of her own (though this may be a common trope in romances); she doesn’t have many goals for herself. In the movie she must be the sine qua non of the male protagonist’s transformation from brooder into man with a destiny.

Danielle fits the term so well that she disappears for much of the last two thirds of The Girl Next Door after it’s revealed that she’s made adult films. She practically becomes a MacGuffin, and we spend more time with the film’s antagonist, Kelly, Danielle’s ruthless producer. Given audience perceptions of adult models, we don’t expect Danielle to have much more of a backstory, but she certainly doesn’t have her own ambitions. She is, however, definitely necessary for Matthew’s transformation.

Summer is introduced with a backstory, but it plays no real role in the movie. She moves to Los Angeles out of boredom. We’re told (and I’m not sure why) that she’s popular and radiant, but we don’t see her friends until the end of the movie, and it’s clear Tom never meets them when he is involved with Summer. Does she transform Tom? Actually, I don’t think so. In the penultimate scene he professes his cynicism and looks at her like she’s an unstable airhead for marrying a man she’s only known for several months. Yet in the final scene, Tom nevertheless musters the courage to ask out the architect with whom he’s competing for a job, Autumn. It may be that Summer lifts Tom out of his cynicism, in which case 500 Days defies the MPDG framework by depicting Tom as the soulful brooder in the middle of the narrative and not its beginning. Or the final encounter between the two central characters may just be coincidental.

Ramona moves from New York City to Toronto to escape the heartbreak from the last of her evil exes. Before then, she’s also a mystery. She has no friends, standing uncomfortably alone at the party where Scott first meets her, and she too has no goals. We only learn about her through flashback expositions about her exes. How does she affect Scott? She doesn’t really teach him to enjoy life but offers him a moral lesson on himself instead. If we broadened the definition of MPDG to include men who aren’t “broodingly soulful” then Ramona fits the definition better as a necessary agent of Scott’s growth.

  • How do the female characters’ MPDGishness disserve these movies as romances?

Danielle – Girl Next Door is so bad that it’s actually better when the movie focuses on just Danielle’s and Matthew’s MPDG romance. Danielle’s most cringeworthy moment is when she tells Matthew, “This is what I am,” referring to her adult modeling. Damsel, meet distress.

Summer – I didn’t really catch why Summer falls out of love (if that’s what you’d call it) with Tom. Their relationship just fizzles out on her end, and she moves on. Although the movie wants us to see Tom as unreasonably naïve, I found myself sympathizing with him more than Summer, who escalates a relationship with Tom knowing that he wants something more from her than she’s willing to offer. (Tom isn’t blameless because he lies by saying he’s happy to just be friends with her.) She then deceives him by not disclosing her relationship with her new boyfriend, whom she marries after knowing for only a few months. If anything, I’m surprised Tom’s final encounter with Summer doesn’t reinforce his cynicism about romance. Summer becomes the caricature of naiveté that Tom is at the beginning of 500 Days.

Ramona – Scott Pilgrim‘s biggest failure is not including a montage scene showing Scott and Ramona falling for each other, something the other two movies did well. We don’t get why she likes him. Worse, as the plot progresses, we get the sense that Ramona treats men like disposable toys. Complicating the film even more, Ramona has the most power over the plot and does the least to change it. She doesn’t try to discourage her final evil ex, who’s their boss, from calling the others off from attacking Scott, nor does she break up with Scott just to save him. She adopts more of a passive-aggressive let’s-you-and-them-fight attitude. I’m left finding Knives Chau the most sympathetic character in the movie.

  • Despite their MPDGishness, what endearing qualities can we find in these romances?

Girl Next Door – The May-July age difference between the protagonists is what makes the first act of the plot believable. It gives Matthew a reason to feel intimidated by Danielle and willing to go along with whatever she asks.

500 Days – I think this one had the most believable romance with the least amount of cringiness. Too often romances don’t explain why two characters would be attracted to each other, especially the female participant. Tom dresses well, he shares interests with Summer, and subtly he’s fun to her too. I also appreciated that 500 Days kept the awkward, embarrassing male dialogue to a minimum. In fact, it gave some to Summer, e.g., “In college they called me Ms. Anal.” The line itself is juvenile, but few romances are willing to place their female protagonists in such an awkward light.

Scott Pilgrim – In a way Scott Pilgrim does a better job of achieving what 500 Days set out to do: Smack down the male protagonist for idealizing the woman he’s fallen for. We learn through the incessant attacks by each of her exes that Ramona really isn’t so stable herself. That Scott goes off with her at the end anyway is just bad writing.

I could write more, especially about how the female characters are established by their romantic (or pornantic) pasts rather than their other facets, but I’m going to stop here. As I said at the top, these films are not necessarily great examples of manic pixie dream girl movies, but they were all very different stories. Girl Next Door is a coming-of-age story, 500 Days is a romance, and Scott Pilgrim is an action flick. This genre breadth made this post interesting to think through.

However, none of these women compete with the best MPDG, Tyler Durden from Fight Club.

And you thought I only wrote about Star Wars movies. Ha.

State-Level Employment Projections: High Lawyer Replacement

Every two years the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes state-level employment projections on its affiliated Web site projectionscentral.com. The data from this site include estimates of the number of lawyer positions (not people who are lawyers) out there in 2016, a prediction of how many there will be by 2026 (assuming full employment), and the projected number of annual lawyer job openings.

In past years this topic was one of my favorites because I could compare the number of lawyer job openings to the numbers of law-school graduates (via the ABA) and new bar admits (via the NCBEX). However, because the BLS changed its methodology for calculating occupational replacement rates a few years ago, this is no longer possible. Instead, I can show the ten-year replacement rate for lawyers by state, but first here are the basic numbers compared to those from the previous cycle two years ago.

STATE/BEA REGION NO. EMPLOYED LAWYERS LAWYER EMPLOYMENT PROJECTIONS ANNUAL LAWYER GROWTH RATE
2014 2016 % CHANGE 2024 2026 % CHANGE 2024 2026 % CHANGE
Alabama 7,050 6,860 -2.7% 7,410 7,400 -0.1% 140 350 N/A
Alaska 1,070 1,030 -3.7% 1,020 930 -8.8% 20 30 N/A
Arizona 9,630 11,830 22.8% 11,870 13,310 12.1% 370 670 N/A
Arkansas 4,720 3,900 -17.4% 5,360 4,520 -15.7% 130 240 N/A
California 91,900 97,400 6.0% 102,700 108,000 5.2% 2,420 5,330 N/A
Colorado 15,800 14,630 -7.4% 19,270 17,370 -9.9% 600 1,010 N/A
Connecticut 12,620 12,260 -2.9% 13,080 12,960 -0.9% 230 590 N/A
Delaware 3,540 3,270 -7.6% 3,660 3,550 -3.0% 60 170 N/A
District of Columbia 38,920 39,360 1.1% 41,480 41,770 0.7% 830 1,920 N/A
Florida 59,400 60,180 1.3% 68,400 67,970 -0.6% 1,770 3,440 N/A
Georgia 18,160 20,570 13.3% 19,690 22,800 15.8% 420 1,120 N/A
Hawaii 2,410 2,690 11.6% 2,500 2,820 12.8% 40 130 N/A
Idaho 3,030 1,460 -51.8% 2,960 1,610 -45.6% 50 80 N/A
Illinois 35,840 36,230 1.1% 37,950 39,280 3.5% 740 1,870 N/A
Indiana 9,450 10,500 11.1% 10,520 11,530 9.6% 250 560 N/A
Iowa 4,340 4,330 -0.2% 4,880 4,880 0.0% 120 250 N/A
Kansas 5,090 4,750 -6.7% 5,570 5,350 -3.9% 130 270 N/A
Kentucky 9,490 6,850 -27.8% 10,640 7,250 -31.9% 250 330 N/A
Louisiana 9,180 8,390 -8.6% 9,730 9,210 -5.3% 190 450 N/A
Maine 3,170 3,000 -5.4% 3,210 3,020 -5.9% 50 130 N/A
Maryland 11,690 14,520 24.2% 13,370 14,930 11.7% 360 540 N/A
Massachusetts 22,100 22,220 0.5% 23,080 23,880 3.5% 420 1,120 N/A
Michigan 17,900 18,770 4.9% 19,230 20,140 4.7% 400 940 N/A
Minnesota 12,640 12,640 0.0% 13,340 13,800 3.4% 260 660 N/A
Mississippi 3,760 4,150 10.4% 4,030 4,200 4.2% 80 180 N/A
Missouri 12,470 12,220 -2.0% 13,160 13,510 2.7% 250 660 N/A
Montana 2,550 2,490 -2.4% 2,830 2,700 -4.6% 70 130 N/A
Nebraska 3,910 3,720 -4.9% 4,400 4,220 -4.1% 110 220 N/A
Nevada 6,030 7,050 16.9% 7,880 7,560 -4.1% 270 350 N/A
New Hampshire 2,010 1,950 -3.0% 2,070 2,090 1.0% 40 100 N/A
New Jersey 24,520 26,610 8.5% 25,140 28,660 14.0% 420 1,350 N/A
New Mexico 3,810 3,600 -5.5% 3,830 3,760 -1.8% 60 170 N/A
New York 90,830 84,230 -7.3% 99,020 93,900 -5.2% 2,150 4,660 N/A
North Carolina 16,020 14,430 -9.9% 17,870 16,010 -10.4% 420 790 N/A
North Dakota 1,740 2,080 19.5% 1,790 2,240 25.1% 30 110 N/A
Ohio 20,180 20,150 -0.1% 21,290 20,120 -5.5% 410 830 N/A
Oklahoma 9,480 8,280 -12.7% 10,290 8,930 -13.2% 220 420 N/A
Oregon 8,250 8,180 -0.8% 9,440 8,960 -5.1% 240 430 N/A
Pennsylvania 31,240 31,640 1.3% 32,960 33,790 2.5% 630 1,570 N/A
Puerto Rico 4,420 4,260 -3.6% 4,500 4,250 -5.6% 70 170 N/A
Rhode Island 4,210 4,050 -3.8% 4,460 4,250 -4.7% 90 190 N/A
South Carolina 7,220 8,160 13.0% 7,670 8,870 15.6% 150 420 N/A
South Dakota 980 970 -1.0% 1,080 1,070 -0.9% 20 50 N/A
Tennessee 7,990 9,660 20.9% 8,690 10,850 24.9% 200 550 N/A
Texas 51,420 N/A N/A 63,140 N/A N/A 1,920 N/A N/A
Utah 5,310 5,550 4.5% 6,360 6,800 6.9% 180 380 N/A
Vermont 1,940 1,950 0.5% 1,990 1,940 -2.5% 30 80 N/A
Virginia 21,860 21,530 -1.5% 24,150 23,660 -2.0% 550 1,150 N/A
Washington 17,290 15,510 -10.3% 18,940 17,040 -10.0% 430 830 N/A
West Virginia N/A 3,230 N/A N/A 135 N/A N/A 150 N/A
Wisconsin 9,620 9,400 -2.3% 9,940 9,870 -0.7% 170 450 N/A
Wyoming 1,160 1,020 -12.1% 1,130 1,060 -6.2% 20 50 N/A
STATES (EXCL. P.R.) 774,940 777,640 0.3% 854,470 857,480 0.4% 19,410 40,240 N/A
U.S.A. (EXCL. P.R.) 778,700 792,500 1.8% 822,500 857,500 4.3% 15,770 40,700 N/A
New England 46,050 45,430 -1.3% 47,890 48,140 0.5% 860 2,210 N/A
Mideast 200,740 199,630 -0.6% 215,630 216,600 0.4% 4,450 10,210 N/A
Great Lakes 92,990 95,050 2.2% 98,930 100,940 2.0% 1,970 4,650 N/A
Plains 41,170 40,710 -1.1% 44,220 45,070 1.9% 920 2,220 N/A
Southeast* 164,850 164,680* -0.1%* 183,640 182,740* -0.5%* 4,300 9,020* N/A
Southwest* 74,340 75,130* 1.1%* 89,130 89,140* 0.0%* 2,570 >3,180* N/A
Rocky Mountains 27,850 25,150 -9.7% 32,550 29,540 -9.2% 920 1,650 N/A
Far West 126,950 131,860 3.9% 142,480 145,310 2.0% 3,420 7,100 N/A

(Note: Only Texas did not report its numbers this year, which is lamentable because it’s a large state. West Virginia did not report two years ago. For the purposes of the regional estimates, wherever there were gaps, I used Texas’ 2014 numbers for this year and omitted West Virginia entirely.)

Superficially, one can tell that the data are erratic. It’s unlikely that half of Idaho’s lawyers disappeared in two years, and there are other wide swings like Maryland and Kentucky. The BEA regional numbers look steadier though.

On to the specifics. You can clearly see that the annual job growth numbers are much higher for 2016, but that’s because of the methodology change, not anything to do with the legal labor market. Presumably, had the new methodology been used in the past, the numbers would have been quite higher. Even as it is, unfortunately, the new methodology gives the misleading impression that the legal profession is capable of absorbing significant numbers of law-school graduates and new lawyers. Indeed, the class of 2017 only had about 34,500 persons, and nearly 42,000 people were admitted by examination or diploma privilege. Certainly this should indicate a healthy employment situation for law graduates, right?

The question isn’t simply whether grads get jobs, but what kind of jobs they are and how long they keep them. Moreover, lawyer positions that open by replacement won’t necessarily be filled by new lawyers. So, here’s a table depicting the projected annual number of new lawyer jobs created each year until 2026, the number created by replacement, and an estimate of the ten-year replacement rate.

STATE Annual New Lawyer Jobs Annual Replacement Lawyer Jobs 10-Year Lawyer Replacement Rate
2024 2026 2024 2026 2026
Alabama 36 54 104 296 43.1%
Alaska -5 -10 N/A N/A N/A
Arizona 224 148 146 522 44.1%
Arkansas 64 62 66 178 45.6%
California 1,080 1,060 1,340 4,270 43.8%
Colorado 347 274 253 736 50.3%
Connecticut 46 70 184 520 42.4%
Delaware 12 28 48 142 43.4%
District of Columbia 256 241 574 1,679 42.7%
Florida 900 779 870 2,661 44.2%
Georgia 153 223 267 897 43.6%
Hawaii 9 13 31 117 43.5%
Idaho -7 15 N/A 65 44.5%
Illinois 211 305 529 1,565 43.2%
Indiana 107 103 143 457 43.5%
Iowa 54 55 66 195 45.0%
Kansas 48 60 82 210 44.2%
Kentucky 115 40 135 290 42.3%
Louisiana 55 82 135 368 43.9%
Maine 4 2 46 128 42.7%
Maryland 168 41 192 499 34.4%
Massachusetts 98 166 322 954 42.9%
Michigan 133 137 267 803 42.8%
Minnesota 70 116 190 544 43.0%
Mississippi 27 5 53 175 42.2%
Missouri 69 129 181 531 43.5%
Montana 28 21 42 109 43.8%
Nebraska 49 50 61 170 45.7%
Nevada 185 51 85 299 42.4%
New Hampshire 6 14 34 86 44.1%
New Jersey 62 205 358 1,145 43.0%
New Mexico 2 16 58 154 42.8%
New York 819 967 1,331 3,693 43.8%
North Carolina 185 158 235 632 43.8%
North Dakota 5 16 25 94 45.2%
Ohio 111 -3 299 N/A N/A
Oklahoma 81 65 139 355 42.9%
Oregon 119 78 121 352 43.0%
Pennsylvania 172 215 458 1,355 42.8%
Puerto Rico 8 -1 62 N/A N/A
Rhode Island 25 20 65 170 42.0%
South Carolina 45 71 105 349 42.8%
South Dakota 10 10 10 40 41.2%
Tennessee 70 119 130 431 44.6%
Texas 1,172 N/A 748 N/A N/A
Utah 105 125 75 255 45.9%
Vermont 5 -1 25 N/A N/A
Virginia 229 213 321 937 43.5%
Washington 165 153 265 677 43.6%
West Virginia N/A 15 N/A 135 41.8%
Wisconsin 32 47 138 403 42.9%
Wyoming -3 4 N/A 46 45.1%
U.S.A. (EXCL. P.R.) 4,380 6,500 11,390 34,200 43.2%

(Note: States that predict declines in lawyer counts do not have replacement rates. Also, the U.S.A. totals at the bottom are not the sums of the individual jurisdictions of them.)

The one ray of hope here is the faster rate of new lawyer job growth nationwide. The BLS appears to be predicting it’ll accelerate at about 50 percent. However, most jobs are created by replacement, not growth. Thus, we have a set of ten-year replacement rates that are consistently above 40 percent, which astonishes me, but is still consistent with the national data from last year. I question whether the methodology is producing reliable results. Perhaps law practice is too small an occupation to accurately measure, unlike retail salespeople. Although, it’s necessary to bear in mind that not all lawyer jobs are created equal and some may turnover multiple times in a decade.

Meanwhile, I checked the numbers again, and occupations such as “Dentists, General” and “Physicians and Surgeons, All Other” have ten-year replacement rates below 30 percent. “Paralegals and Legal Assistants” have a staggering ten-year replacement rate of 120 percent.

So yes, the projections don’t inspire me with confidence, but they’re the best, neutral evidence we have about the long-term viability of a law career. If they gave a contrary result (and other evidence backed it up), then I’d arrive at a different conclusion. But today is not that day, so I stand by my opinion that law schools cannot credibly represent good outcomes for their prospective and current students.

CLASS OF 2017 EMPLOYMENT REPORT: The Rankings

…And now, what you crave: law schools ranked by the percentage of their class of 2017 graduates in full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required jobs.

PERCENT GRADUATES EMPLOYED FULL-TIME/LONG-TERM IN BAR-PASSAGE-REQUIRED JOBS (EXCL. LAW-SCHOOL-FUNDED JOBS)
RANK LAW SCHOOL ’16 ’17 CHANGE
1. Duke 92.4% 93.8% 1.4%
2. Columbia 91.5% 92.8% 1.3%
3. Cornell 90.2% 92.1% 1.9%
4. Chicago 93.5% 92.1% -1.4%
5. Virginia 88.8% 91.6% 2.8%
6. Pennsylvania 89.1% 90.6% 1.5%
7. Michigan 91.1% 90.4% -0.7%
8. New York University 88.9% 88.6% -0.2%
9. California-Berkeley 84.2% 88.2% 4.0%
10. Harvard 88.0% 86.7% -1.2%
11. Vanderbilt 86.3% 86.2% -0.1%
12. Washington University 80.1% 85.8% 5.7%
13. Southern California 70.0% 85.6% 15.6%
14. Georgia 78.3% 84.0% 5.7%
15. Alabama 75.9% 83.2% 7.3%
16. Stanford 89.6% 82.7% -6.9%
17. Seton Hall 80.1% 82.6% 2.5%
18. Baylor 77.2% 82.3% 5.1%
19. Northwestern 81.5% 82.3% 0.7%
20. Tulsa 61.4% 81.4% 19.9%
21. Louisiana State 63.6% 81.3% 17.7%
22. Oklahoma 75.5% 80.8% 5.2%
23. Notre Dame 76.2% 80.7% 4.5%
24. Minnesota 74.4% 80.5% 6.1%
25. Cardozo, Yeshiva 74.6% 80.1% 5.6%
26. Washington and Lee 76.8% 79.8% 3.0%
27. Kentucky 70.7% 79.6% 8.9%
28. Boston College 80.6% 79.4% -1.2%
29. Temple 68.8% 79.3% 10.5%
30. Texas 79.8% 79.2% -0.6%
31. California-Los Angeles 75.6% 79.1% 3.4%
32. Illinois 78.9% 78.2% -0.7%
33. Iowa 71.0% 77.4% 6.4%
34. New Mexico 68.1% 77.4% 9.2%
35. New Hampshire 63.5% 77.0% 13.5%
36. Rutgers 73.1% 76.8% 3.8%
37. Georgetown 74.4% 76.8% 2.4%
38. Lincoln Memorial 76.5% 76.5% 0.0%
39. Ohio State 76.5% 76.4% -0.2%
40. Colorado 66.8% 76.2% 9.3%
41. Utah 59.5% 76.1% 16.6%
42. William and Mary 72.0% 76.0% 4.0%
43. Hofstra 73.2% 75.9% 2.7%
44. Florida 71.2% 75.9% 4.7%
45. Southern Methodist 75.2% 75.8% 0.6%
46. Cincinnati 71.2% 75.7% 4.6%
47. Belmont 71.0% 75.6% 4.6%
48. Boston University 71.0% 75.6% 4.5%
49. Missouri (Columbia) 67.5% 75.5% 8.0%
50. Villanova 69.2% 75.5% 6.3%
51. Nevada 72.4% 75.2% 2.8%
52. Wake Forest 73.4% 75.1% 1.8%
53. California-Irvine 71.2% 75.0% 3.8%
54. Yale 78.8% 75.0% -3.8%
55. Miami 64.4% 75.0% 10.6%
56. Pace 71.9% 74.7% 2.8%
57. West Virginia 62.6% 74.5% 11.9%
58. Montana 71.8% 74.4% 2.6%
59. Arizona State 68.9% 74.2% 5.3%
60. Wisconsin 71.4% 74.2% 2.9%
61. Missouri (Kansas City) 65.2% 74.1% 8.9%
62. Nebraska 65.3% 74.0% 8.8%
63. Tennessee 65.2% 73.0% 7.8%
64. St. Louis 66.2% 72.7% 6.5%
65. Florida International 70.6% 72.3% 1.7%
66. St. John’s 72.1% 72.0% -0.2%
67. Penn State (Penn State Law) 66.3% 71.9% 5.6%
68. Emory 70.1% 71.9% 1.8%
69. Brooklyn 66.9% 71.7% 4.8%
70. California-Davis 63.0% 71.3% 8.2%
71. Louisville 60.7% 71.2% 10.6%
72. Marquette 68.1% 71.2% 3.1%
73. Ohio Northern 48.6% 71.2% 22.5%
74. Drexel 75.5% 71.0% -4.5%
75. Albany 70.2% 70.9% 0.7%
76. North Carolina 67.7% 70.8% 3.1%
77. Florida State 72.0% 70.4% -1.5%
78. Denver 62.9% 70.2% 7.3%
79. Fordham 74.5% 70.2% -4.3%
80. George Washington 67.2% 69.8% 2.5%
81. Northeastern 57.2% 69.7% 12.5%
82. Memphis 67.0% 69.7% 2.7%
83. Mercer 60.6% 69.6% 9.0%
84. Georgia State 67.0% 69.6% 2.6%
85. Texas Tech 68.7% 69.5% 0.9%
86. City University 66.3% 69.1% 2.8%
87. Syracuse 60.2% 69.1% 8.9%
88. Washington 67.3% 68.9% 1.6%
89. Kansas 66.1% 68.6% 2.5%
90. Wyoming 74.6% 68.6% -6.1%
91. Creighton 57.5% 68.3% 10.8%
92. Loyola (CA) 62.1% 68.2% 6.1%
93. South Carolina 68.4% 68.1% -0.3%
94. Arkansas (Fayetteville) 64.5% 68.1% 3.6%
95. Touro 62.6% 68.0% 5.4%
96. Richmond 64.2% 67.8% 3.6%
97. Indiana (Bloomington) 69.6% 67.2% -2.4%
98. Penn State (Dickinson Law) 82.4% 67.2% -15.1%
99. Willamette 38.6% 67.0% 28.4%
100. Houston 67.5% 66.2% -1.3%
101. Washburn 68.0% 66.0% -2.0%
102. Oklahoma City 63.5% 65.6% 2.1%
103. Connecticut 71.5% 65.4% -6.2%
104. Arizona 68.5% 64.8% -3.7%
105. Texas A&M [Wesleyan] 59.5% 64.5% 5.0%
106. Tulane 63.3% 64.0% 0.7%
107. Liberty 55.2% 63.8% 8.6%
108. Stetson 56.5% 63.5% 7.0%
109. Duquesne 62.9% 63.5% 0.6%
110. Arkansas (Little Rock) 50.4% 63.3% 12.9%
111. Howard 47.8% 63.1% 15.3%
112. Pittsburgh 61.7% 63.0% 1.3%
113. Campbell 49.5% 62.9% 13.3%
114. Gonzaga 61.6% 62.6% 1.0%
115. Concordia 60.5% 62.5% 2.0%
116. North Dakota 51.3% 62.5% 11.2%
117. Samford 56.9% 62.3% 5.5%
118. Mississippi 57.0% 62.2% 5.2%
119. Loyola (IL) 57.4% 62.2% 4.7%
120. Drake 59.3% 62.1% 2.8%
121. Quinnipiac 44.7% 61.9% 17.2%
122. Oregon 51.2% 61.5% 10.4%
123. SUNY Buffalo 63.2% 61.2% -2.1%
124. George Mason 64.7% 60.5% -4.1%
125. Idaho 67.2% 60.4% -6.8%
126. Baltimore 51.6% 60.3% 8.6%
127. St. Mary’s 60.5% 60.2% -0.3%
128. Case Western Reserve 56.6% 60.1% 3.6%
129. Pepperdine 54.1% 60.1% 5.9%
130. Northern Illinois 59.1% 60.0% 0.9%
131. Brigham Young 64.6% 60.0% -4.6%
132. Chicago-Kent, IIT 56.2% 59.6% 3.4%
133. Texas Southern 52.3% 59.4% 7.1%
134. San Diego 46.8% 59.3% 12.5%
135. Michigan State 56.2% 59.3% 3.1%
136. Akron 46.8% 59.2% 12.4%
137. Widener (Commonwealth) 49.1% 59.0% 10.0%
138. Regent 64.8% 59.0% -5.8%
139. California-Hastings 51.3% 58.9% 7.6%
140. Hawaii 53.2% 58.3% 5.2%
141. South Dakota 70.7% 58.2% -12.5%
142. Seattle 52.2% 57.9% 5.7%
143. Maryland 59.2% 57.1% -2.0%
144. Nova Southeastern 49.0% 57.1% 8.1%
145. Loyola (LA) 46.8% 57.0% 10.3%
146. Wayne State 61.8% 57.0% -4.8%
147. Santa Clara 47.4% 56.6% 9.2%
148. John Marshall (Chicago) 51.7% 56.5% 4.8%
149. Lewis and Clark 53.1% 56.3% 3.2%
150. Vermont 50.9% 56.1% 5.2%
151. Maine 63.4% 55.4% -8.0%
152. Toledo 36.4% 55.3% 18.9%
153. Indiana (Indianapolis) 48.8% 55.2% 6.4%
154. Southern Illinois 57.3% 55.2% -2.1%
155. Massachusetts — Dartmouth 39.6% 55.1% 15.5%
156. Catholic 38.4% 55.0% 16.5%
157. DePaul 53.8% 54.8% 0.9%
158. Chapman 49.4% 54.7% 5.4%
159. St. Thomas (FL) 48.0% 54.7% 6.7%
160. Widener (Delaware) 47.4% 54.1% 6.7%
161. Roger Williams 51.2% 54.1% 2.9%
162. Capital 37.8% 53.8% 16.0%
163. California Western 46.6% 53.8% 7.2%
164. St. Thomas (MN) 55.7% 53.3% -2.4%
165. South Texas-Houston 52.9% 53.0% 0.2%
166. American 52.8% 53.0% 0.2%
167. Appalachian 35.7% 52.4% 16.7%
168. Mitchell|Hamline 57.6% 52.3% -5.3%
169. Cleveland State 52.1% 52.1% 0.0%
170. Mississippi College 59.3% 51.6% -7.6%
171. Northern Kentucky 48.3% 51.6% 3.3%
172. North Texas-Dallas N/A 51.5% N/A
173. New York Law School 53.3% 51.0% -2.3%
174. Dayton 49.4% 50.0% 0.6%
175. Faulkner 58.1% 49.4% -8.8%
176. San Francisco 32.9% 49.0% 16.2%
177. Pacific, McGeorge 40.3% 47.3% 7.0%
178. Suffolk 43.2% 46.7% 3.5%
179. Florida A&M 37.5% 46.6% 9.1%
180. Barry 33.6% 46.3% 12.7%
181. Southern University 45.5% 45.6% 0.1%
182. Charleston 53.2% 44.5% -8.6%
183. Western State 33.0% 43.8% 10.9%
184. Detroit Mercy 33.6% 43.7% 10.1%
185. Southwestern 38.9% 43.5% 4.6%
186. Western New England 42.7% 42.6% -0.1%
187. Florida Coastal 36.1% 40.8% 4.6%
188. Atlanta’s John Marshall 35.0% 40.7% 5.8%
189. Ave Maria 57.1% 39.5% -17.6%
190. Valparaiso 35.6% 38.4% 2.8%
191. New England 38.6% 38.2% -0.4%
192. Golden Gate 26.8% 37.9% 11.1%
193. Arizona Summit [Phoenix] 38.0% 34.4% -3.6%
194. Elon 33.7% 34.1% 0.4%
195. La Verne 13.7% 31.6% 17.9%
196. WMU Cooley 30.5% 30.7% 0.2%
197. North Carolina Central 35.0% 30.1% -4.9%
198. Whittier 29.7% 29.5% -0.2%
199. District of Columbia 34.0% 26.8% -7.3%
200. Thomas Jefferson 21.9% 23.6% 1.7%
201. Puerto Rico 22.5% 20.5% -2.0%
202. Inter American 9.9% 8.8% -1.1%
203. Pontifical Catholic 0.0% 0.7% 0.7%
204. Charlotte 23.5% N/A N/A
TOTAL (EXCL. P.R.) 62.5% 67.1% 4.6%
10TH PERCENTILE (EXCL. P.R.) 37.8% 45.6% 7.8%
25TH PERCENTILE (EXCL. P.R.) 51.2% 56.1% 4.9%
MEDIAN (EXCL. P.R.) 62.9% 66.1% 3.2%
75TH PERCENTILE (EXCL. P.R.) 71.2% 75.6% 4.4%
90TH PERCENTILE (EXCL. P.R.) 80.1% 82.6% 2.5%
MEAN (EXCL. P.R.) 60.7% 64.8% 4.1%

One school I omitted was Indiana Tech, which had graduating classes for the last two years but didn’t report any graduate employment outcomes for ’16 (much less ’17). The ’16 class had only 18 graduates, so it’s not a big loss, but to pound my fists again, the ABA should be maintaining data on all law schools on its required disclosures site and not just ones that have chosen not to shut down. It’s downright Orwellian.

**********

Because I hope to merge all my employment reports in the future, here’s a list of all of them.