Last Gen-X American Movie Review: Han Solo Writes the Google Memo

Watching The Last Jedi in the theater a few weeks back, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen The Empire Strikes Back, which Last Jedi resembles, in a very long time. I last recall watching it at a friend’s house in the summer of 2000, but we talked about women through the whole thing and may have even switched it off before the end. That means it may’ve been twenty years since I last paid attention to it, which would’ve been the special edition in the theater. So we’re looking at about half a lifetime.

Which is odd because Empire is widely regarded as the best of the Star Wars movies. Really, how could I have seen every single prequel and sequel since and not revisit Empire? Yes, it’s a heavier film and not self-contained, but I’d rather not die knowing that I’d seen Jar-Jar more recently in the last two decades than, say, the carbon-freezing chamber. So, I put that particular affair in order.

So does Empire live up to its reputation after a jaded adult viewing?

Rather than answer with a 5,000-word essay, here are bulleted observations.

  • Empire begins with the following loose ends from Star Wars: (1) Darth Vader is alive and evil, (2) the Empire is still around, (3) Luke hasn’t been trained as a Jedi, (4) Leia is a single female character in a movie full of boys, and (5) we don’t know that Han has paid his debts to Jabba the Hutt, but it’s implied that he was able to.
  • The opening crawl says Luke is the leader of the rebellion. He’s not; the crawl lies.
  • Luke finishes scanning for lifeforms from his tauntaun and then is attacked by a lifeform.
  • For the theologians out there: Are Force ghosts one with the Force, or are they partly themselves and partly the Force? In other words, are Force ghosts homoousios or homoiousios to the Force? If they’re the same as the Force, then the Force on its own starts the plot in Empire, which is pretty cool.
  • Han has formally joined the rebellion, which is out of character. It would be more believable if he were just making cargo runs for it.
  • Han wants to pay off his debts, which is a fine motivation for his character, but it doesn’t make much sense. If the rebels can’t deter bounty hunters from capturing or killing Han, then they can’t be very threatening to the Empire.
  • What’s Leia’s job? She isn’t in charge of the rebellion because Han gives his notice to General Rieekan, not her. (Or is Han really that misogynistic?)
  • Leia’s only role in Empire is to be Han’s love interest. She only affects the plot at the end when her unearned Force powers give her a vision of Luke dangling from a Cloud City antenna. Aside from that, if she weren’t in the movie, most of Empire would have turned out the way it did (except Lando may not’ve bothered sticking his neck out for just Chewbacca and C-3PO). I don’t think movies need to pass the Bechdel test to have good female characters, but Leia is a central character and plays less of a role in Empire than any other Star Wars film.
  • Moreover, the overall Star Wars narrative is about the rebellion defeating the Empire, and the rebellion is Leia’s setting, so under-developing her is a big mistake.
  • Very little of Han’s and Leia’s arguing is romantic witty banter. At one point Han manipulatively ropes Luke in to his attacks on Leia, “I must’ve hit her close to the mark to get her all riled up, huh, kid?” High five, bro! She should’ve sent him to the front lines to face the AT-AT walkers. #MeToo
  • If Leia had been developed as the alliance’s leader, then Empire could’ve gone with the more plausible odd-couple romance. “What’s this piece of junk doing in my hanger, Solo?” she yells. Works much better and stays true to Star Wars‘ tendency towards sexually tilted dialogue.
  • Leia is my favorite character in Empire. She’s more Han-like than Biff Tannen Han. She gets some of the best character beats and sarcastic lines in the movie. “Would it help if I got out and pushed?” she asks Han when he can’t start the Millennium Falcon‘s engine. When its hyperdrive stalls, Han panics, but Leia just rolls her eyes—which is all she can do—asking, “Still no lightspeed?” When Vader puts Han into carbon freeze, she never turns away. My favorite beat happens before Han is frozen. The camera looks at Vader but then it cuts for a second to Leia, who glares at him with a look on her face saying, “I will fuck you up for this.”
  • What is Leia princess of? Alderaan’s new asteroid belt? She saw it blown up in front of her face and it never comes up again. Maybe she feels guilty? What a wasted opportunity to explore the character.
  • It’s too bad Leia forgets that planetary bases are easy targets for the Empire/First Order. Would’ve forced Disney to get creative with Force Awakens and Last Jedi. Even in Return of the Jedi the rebels operate from a mobile fleet. Dumbasses.
  • Giving the three protagonists privileges to do as they please and abandon the rebellion at their convenience works when you’re a kid but doesn’t make much logical sense, hence Empire‘s backgrounding of Leia.
  • Otherwise, Empire‘s beginning is solid. Lots of attention to detail as to how the rebel base works and the rebels’ contingency for evacuating it.
  • Han teaches us that nothing proves you’re an alpha ape by bullying a protocol droid.
  • C-3PO, for his part, is also inconsistent, suffering disrespect when he’s helpful and trivializing the other characters’ suffering when he’s not.
  • Han makes several decisions to advance the plot, of the rabbit-out-of-a-hat variety. They work for his character, but somewhat stunt the B plot.
  • Luke makes three decisions: (1) “borrowing” the Alliance’s X-wing to go to Dagobah, (2) abandoning his training to rescue his friends (Empire‘s fulcrum), and (3) choosing to fight Vader when he could try to escape.
  • Luke’s vision of his friends’ suffering on Cloud City is remarkable because it means the Force plays an active role in the narrative. We can rightly ask what the Force’s agenda is. (It also helpfully gives Luke the coordinates to Bespin.)
  • Vader’s seclusion pod is my favorite representation of Empire‘s theme of pockets of safety in a hostile universe. Unfortunately, this theme doesn’t really reflect the characters’ inner challenges.
  • Vader’s executions are fun, especially Admiral Ozzel’s, but in no way do they correspond to the victims’ merits:
    • Vader kills Admiral Ozzel for his exculpatory incompetence: Ozzel disobeys Vader by bringing the fleet in too close to the rebel base, even though the rebels are already alerted by the probe droid. More rebels would’ve escaped if Ozzel had followed orders.
    • Captain Needa is killed for his inculpatory competence: He wasn’t responsible for “losing” the Millennium Falcon.
    • Vader spares Admiral Piet for his inculpatory incompetence: Piet was supposed to disable the Millennium Falcon‘s hyperdrive and didn’t do a sufficient job.
  • How much time elapses in Empire? It feels like no more than a few days, which can explain why Luke gets steamrolled by Vader. However, there could be a big time gap between the Millennium Falcon heading to Bespin and Luke having his vision of its fate, but it’s not specified and impliedly contradicted when Lando says, “They [the Empire] arrived here just before you did.”
  • When Han lands the Millennium Falcon to the back of the star destroyer, I yelped, “Wait, that actually works??”
  • I love the (original) matte-painting backgrounds for Cloud City. They are way retro.
  • Timing error: Luke leaves Dagobah after the Millennium Falcon arrives at Bespin. It looks like it takes minutes for him to get there. On top of that, the narrative cuts to him approaching Cloud City twice. It messes up the pacing.
  • Why is Lando developed—and better than Leia? He could’ve just turned the protagonists over to the Vader right after they landed on Cloud City. He doesn’t help his case by rubbing his “deal” with the Empire in the protagonists’ faces right before handing them to Vader. He could’ve been shot by a stormtrooper and it wouldn’t’ve made a difference.
  • Boba Fett is only named in the credits, and just whom does he work for? If the Empire hired him, why does he get to take Han to Jabba the Hutt for a second reward? Why would the Empire bother handing Han over? Why does he shoot at Luke when Luke arrives? Not his monkeys. Whatever.
  • Cloud City’s dizzying interior is so cool. The agoraphobia really amplifies the tension.
  • Darth Vader’s plan for capturing Luke is not fully formed at the beginning of Empire but becomes more coherent over time. It might be lazy, and it’s common for adventure stories written from the protagonists’ perspectives to idiot-plot (or super-mastermind-plot) the villains. I think Vader’s incoherent plan in Empire works because it’s ambiguous, but it’s close.
  • I could write an essay on the consequences of making the Emperor a Jedi.
  • Vader has nothing to tempt Luke with to turn him to the dark side, which is a pretty glaring problem in Empire‘s A plot. If I were Vader, I’d scheme to put Luke in a situation where he has to tap the dark side to escape or die. Instead, it’s “Join me or die,” so Luke chooses to die. The end.
  • Why does Vader offer to rule the galaxy with Luke after he tries to freeze him and mutilates him? He’s not persuasive. It’s almost like Empire is looking for an excuse for Vader to not kill Luke.
  • Luke survives his plunge into the chasm, which is a neat death-rebirth trope, but it beggars belief.
  • Why does the Millennium Falcon fly toward the super star destroyer before R2D2 fixes its hyperdrive? The visual effect is awesome, but it sure looks like the movie doesn’t think we’ll buy Force telepathy at a distance but won’t object to Lando’s stupid piloting.
  • Amazing that Vader doesn’t give up on capturing Luke by the time the Millennium Falcon rescues him. Way more trouble than he’s worth.
  • Once they’re safe, why does anyone still trust Lando, let alone allow him to take over for Han?
  • Finally, it’s so sad that Leia ends the movie grinning over the phone with Chewbacca and not holstering blasters.
  • Empire is the only non-prequel to date in which the characters don’t infiltrate an Imperial base or impersonate Imperial soldiers.
  • I don’t think stormtroopers have any lines in Empire.

So, the verdict:

The Empire Strikes Back starts strong; its first act on Hoth is a tight, coherent tactical battle between Vader and Reeikan. But after Luke has his Force vision on Dagobah, the movie’s plot holes, timing errors, character problems, and multiple deus ex machina mechanics multiply to drag it down considerably. To be sure, Empire‘s third act is superbly executed and is visually stunning compared to Star Wars, and the Millennium Falcon‘s escape is probably my favorite scene in any Star Wars movie, notwithstanding the bizarre flaws noted above.

However, I’m not one to take fan consensus as truth. Empire badly needs a reason to tempt Luke to the dark side, and its failure to develop Leia is just malpractice. Maybe an intelligent reviewer can make the contrary case and explain to me what my plain, non-allegorical approach misses, but the emotional impact of Empire‘s plot reveals aren’t sufficient to carry it. For these reasons I now believe the original Star Wars is the better movie of the two.


Can AccessLex Institute Add Decimals to 100%?

I apologize for being last to the potluck for AccessLex Institute’s study, “Examining Value, Measuring Engagement,” which surveys law-school graduates to investigate their long-term outcomes. Please enjoy my store-bought pasta salad that I’ll abandon with my hosts.

I always take seriously any sincere exploration of the long-term value of law degrees. (Okay, the same goes for insincere ones, just for different reasons.) But how seriously one should take “Examining Value” depends on what one thinks of opinion surveys. For answering value-of-a-law-degree questions I see them as an inferior form of data. Valid, but not the best approach. Opinion data are essentially aggregates of respondents’ moods, making them subjective, contradictory, and volatile.

For example, “Examining Value” sometimes divides its respondents between pre-recession and post-recession graduates, and as expected, post-recession graduates report longer job searches and dimmer opinions on the value of their law degrees. Graduates with more law-school debt tend to believe they would not go to law school if they were Groundhog Daying their lives.

Law-school graduates do stray from my expectations in a few places. One is their willingness to recommend law degrees to people like them, e.g. 53 percent of post-recession graduates. Given how much people without law degrees discourage others from going to law school, the finding is surprising up to the point that one considers the enormous power of selection bias and choice-supportive bias. I’m also surprised that so few J.D.s believe their law degrees were not worth the cost (only 4 percent (of all law grads)), an empirical question that can be tested against graduates’ actual circumstances. However—and this is an important shortcoming of “Examining Value”—the study frequently declines to post percentages of its survey results by graduation year, dropping only side comments like, “Students who graduated during or after the Great Recession are less likely than earlier graduates to strongly agree that their degree was worth the cost, even when controlling for student debt.”

Thanks for the detailed insight, AccessLex Institute.

But the shortcomings only start there. One question AccessLex Institute didn’t bother asking was, “How much money do you make?” For all the study’s focus on student-loan debt, you’d think that it would take graduates’ incomes into account as well. Then, of course, there’s its uninterest in defining what a “good job” is. Sure it took 26 percent of post-recession grads more than a year to find one, but we still don’t know what they are or if they have anything to do with the skills and knowledge they obtained in law school that they couldn’t’ve gotten from reading a book.

Finally, the title to this post promised you some strange arithmetic, and here it is. Figure 14 asks the relevant respondents to choose one of a number of reasons they no longer practice law:

Rounding errors and omitting a few percentage points of unknown responses are okay, but one-quarter of non-practicing grads didn’t list a reason. That’s pretty significant, and it would be interesting to see how that corresponds with their debts and incomes, which, again, AccessLex Institute didn’t ask for. These non-practitioners in Figure 14 account for 37 percent of J.D. participants, an alarmingly high proportion that calls the survey’s primary findings into question. How can respondents say their law degrees have value if so many of them aren’t using them at work?

The best answer, further down, is “analytical skills,” but naturally the survey didn’t ask any respondents, much less experts, if they could obtain those by alternative means.

“Examining Value” can be found via the ABA Journal‘s article on it.

If the purpose of AccessLex Institute’s study was to find the current perceived value of a law degree, it’s done a mediocre job. Perceptions don’t say a lot that we don’t know, and even so they’re often contradictory and prey to cognitive biases. It’s only when researchers try to dig into the causes of those contradictions that these types of studies provide genuine insights.

It’s 2018. Where’s My ‘Hyperinflationary Great Depression’?

[The following post first appeared on this site on January 1, 2012. What it said then still applies today, mutatis mutandis. Thanks for reading the blog and have a prosperous 2018!]

Behold, the curse of a long memory. Last January [2011], Google Alerts sent me an e-mail informing me that the National Inflation Association (“Preparing Americans for Hyperinflation”) issued a press release predicting that the higher ed bubble was “set to burst beginning in mid-2011. This bursting bubble will have effects that are even more far-reaching than the bursting of the Real Estate bubble in 2006.” The NIA press release then digressed into legal education (I’m guessing they’d just read David Segal’s first NYT piece a few days earlier), how evil lawyers are, how they produce nothing for society, and how 60 percent of the Senate and 37 percent of the House are lawyers who rig the economy to make jobs for lawyers. It editorializes:

“While everybody went to school to become a lawyer [really?], nobody went to school to become a farmer because Americans didn’t see any money in farming. With prices of nearly all agricultural commodities soaring through the roof in 2010 and with NIA expecting this trend to continue throughout 2011, the few new farmers out there are going to become rich while lawyers are standing at street corners with cups begging for money.”

The NIA would’ve been more helpful if it explained how lawyers could be a drain on society yet remain vulnerable to market forces. Also, one would think unemployed lawyers would try to find non-lawyer jobs instead of begging, but I think it’s important to note that agricultural prices weren’t “soaring through the roof” in 2010. They were growing, yes, but although the NIA was right that they continued to do so in 2011, (a) it’s stalled recently, and (b) they’re no worse than they were in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Oh well. The NIA sternly concluded:

“We must work hard to educate America to the truth if our country is going to have the wherewithal to survive the upcoming bursting college bubble and Hyperinflationary Great Depression.”


I can’t say I’m quite as disappointed as the NIA undoubtedly is that we’re not seeing much inflation these days, and in mid-2011 I didn’t see many colleges cutting their tuition, laying off faculty, closing programs, or trying to retrench themselves. I also remain unconvinced that $1 trillion in student debt can be worse than $8 trillion in mortgage debt. True, student debt is not dischargeable (unlike mortgage deficiencies) absent a showing of an undue hardship, and it’s hampering the recovery and ruining lives, but it’s not worse in quantity than the housing bubble. As for the NIA’s paranoid ranting about lawyers, all economic evidence I’ve seen indicates that legal services have all but stagnated for much of the last two decades. Apparently, those 60 percent of lawyer-senators aren’t very good at creating work for themselves. I suppose the NIA should express appreciation.

Anyway, if anything, inflation would be a boon to underwater homeowners and student debtors because it erodes the real value of their debts, which grew significantly in the 2000s. Here’s household debt to GDP:

Importantly, I’m no macroeconomist but I’ve never heard of a “hyperinflationary depression.” The terms contradict each other. Depressions occur when people take on excessive debt and begin paying it down simultaneously instead of spending money on other things. This is deflationary because new credit isn’t being created, even by the government. By contrast, hyperinflation has only occurred in unusual circumstances, like when a government owes debts to foreigners in a different currency. Weimar Germany, for example, owed gold-dominated war reparations to the Allied powers, and to purchase the gold, it printed money, causing hyperinflation. Zimbabwe isn’t a good comparison either because it’s a small, HIV-ridden landlocked state with an undiversified, oligopolistic agrarian economy while the U.S. is a wealthy, continent-spanning super-state.

As for inflation fears generally, maybe it’s the fact that I have no memory of high inflation, but why isn’t there a “National Personal Income Association” (NPIA) that regularly celebrates increases in Americans’ per capita personal income?

“Per capita personal income has quadrupled since 1980! Prices didn’t even triple! Hooray! We’re rich! Fiat currency forever and ever! ‘You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!'”

I’m sure the NPIA wouldn’t’ve been too thrilled with 2008-09, but personal income is increasing again. The problem has just been that over the decades those gains haven’t been distributed equally. This isn’t a problem of inflation but one of wages and taxation.

Intuition tells me the NIA won’t spend early 2012 carefully discussing why the higher ed bubble didn’t burst in mid-2011 as it predicted, nor will it take the time to explain why Americans—many of whom are net debtors—should be concerned about inflation. Instead it will prophecy even more hyperinflation later. But here’s hoping the National Inflation Association won’t provide me entertainment come January 1, 2013. Such is the curse of a long memory.


How to Falsify the Bennett Hypothesis

The Bennett hypothesis asserts that colleges and universities absorb increases in federal student aid and pass them back onto students as higher tuition charges. Put differently, the hypothesis states that the quantity of higher education is inelastic (insensitive) to its price, so higher-education institutions collect subsidies to students as rents instead of expanding enrollments. Importantly, the hypothesis does not in itself explain why colleges and universities absorb federal student aid (contrary to what its namesake might have believed); it merely offers the mechanism. I regularly cite the hypothesis as a guide to understanding the relationship between the federal-student-loan program and law school costs and debt.

As stated, the Bennett hypothesis is easy to falsify: Find examples where increases in federal student aid did not correspond to higher tuition charges, or show that those subsequent higher charges were due not to the government’s intervention but other factors. Time sequence, correlation, and non-spuriousness. There is a contentious literature on this topic.

Via TaxProf, I see that a research paper, “An Empirical Examination of the Bennett Hypothesis in Law School Prices” (“Empirical Examination”), attempts to test the Bennett hypothesis on private law-school tuition costs. The paper’s author, Robert Kelchen of Seton Hall University (not the law school), argues that he finds no empirical evidence of the Bennett hypothesis’ effects. I believe “Empirical Examination” arrives at unsound conclusions because it mischaracterizes the Bennett hypothesis, and it insufficiently addresses the dynamic history of legal-education financing since 2005.

(I note that “Empirical Examination” is published via AccessLex, which is related to Access Group, the erstwhile private student-lending organization that financed many law students’ legal educations before the advent of Grad PLUS loans.)

Mischaracterizing the Bennett Hypothesis

“Empirical Examination” poses two research questions that mischaracterize the Bennett hypothesis:

(1) Did tuition/fees or living expenses for law school students increase at a faster rate following the creation of the Grad PLUS program in 2006 and the expansion of income-driven repayment in 2007?

(2) Did the student debt burden of law school graduates increase at a faster rate following the creation of the Grad PLUS program in 2006 and the expansion of income-driven repayment in 2007?

These questions appear to assume that the Bennett hypothesis is disproven by discovering a lower rate of increase in law-school costs and student borrowing, as though law-school cost growth can go on indefinitely. This is unscientific. “Empirical Examination” cites no formulation of the Bennett hypothesis discussing growth rates in costs and borrowing, I know of none, and I don’t think any would be correct.

Rather, the way to test the hypothesis empirically is to take away Grad PLUS loans from students at some law schools and not others. If costs and borrowing stay the same at the Grad PLUS-less law schools, then that tends to discredit the hypothesis. In fact, “Empirical Examination” cites a study that conducted a similar test of for-profit colleges and found “some support” for the Bennett hypothesis. For law schools, the closest test case is Charlotte Law School, which lost its access to federal loans earlier this year. There is no Charlotte Law School anymore, and while this may or may not be related to federal loans, it is congruent with the Bennett Hypothesis.

The History of Law-School Lending Is Consistent With the Bennett Hypothesis

“Empirical Examination” understands correctly that around 2004, law students could borrow money from the federal government and private lenders. However, thanks to a rapid series of changes, law students could borrow all of their cost of attendance plus living expenses from the government without any private lenders (whose loans became mostly nondischargeable).

A theoretical examination of Grad PLUS loans with regard to the Bennett hypothesis would compare these changes to a hypothetical baseline without them. For example, one could try to find similar situations today in which a lender would offer an unsecured consumer loan of around $100,000 at 7 percent interest for three years. I lack the finance background to perform such an estimate, but intuition suggests the answer is not good for skeptics of the Bennett hypothesis.

To illustrate, in 2005, Seton Hall University School of Law charged $32,620 for full tuition to full-time students, and law students could borrow only up to $18,500 in federal loans, leaving them to generate the extra $14,120 (43 percent of the cost). Last year, Seton Hall charged $52,022 to full-time students. Under the pre-Grad PLUS loan system, law students would need to cover $33,522 (64 percent of the cost). I doubt private lenders would be so willing to cover more than $100,000 in unsecured loans after three years of legal education, especially given law students’ repayment prospects.

Other Weaknesses in ‘Empirical Evidence’

There are other problems with how “Empirical Examination” explores the Bennett hypothesis and legal education. For one, its focus on the increase in the rate of charging and lending ignores the fact that demand in legal education has plummeted. Last year, Seton Hall received only 1,387 full-time applications, about half as many as in 2007 (2,638). The Bennett hypothesis addresses the supply-side of education, assuming demand is constant, but when demand falls on its own, then you have law schools teetering financially. As a result, assuming demand for legal education had been constant for the last decade, it’s possible that the rate of increase in cost and debt would have continued at their pre-Grad PLUS loan pace nonetheless.

“Empirical Evidence” also discusses how many law schools funnel their revenue to parent universities. This phenomenon, certainly greatly diminished today, is also consistent with the Bennett hypothesis. If law schools were not absorbing tuition as rents, then these transfers would be unsustainable—again, assuming demand is constant. Similar arguments can be made for zero-sum tuition discounting and the dysfunctions in the law-student transfer market.


To conclude, “Empirical Examination” does not challenge the Bennett hypothesis as it applies to law schools. It mischaracterizes the hypothesis as predicting an increased growth rate in costs and borrowing, which implicitly assumes that growth in those measures is natural when they should reach a limit at some point. “Empirical Examination” does not address facts in the history of legal-education finance tending to show the Bennett hypothesis is correct.


Class of 2016 NALP Data

Happy post-Labor Day. Now back to work, Peasants!

Or, read on.

A few weeks ago, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) published the national summary report for its Employment Report and Salary Survey (ERSS) (pdf). As with the last two years, I comb the data for more information that the NALP may not have commented on. Much of the NALP report focuses on year-over-year changes to percentages of employed graduates that aren’t very illuminating, especially when the resulting percentages of employed graduates are barely budging. Here’s what they look like.

I’m aware that we now have three consecutive years of data showing graduate employment outcomes ten months after graduation rather than nine, but I really don’t think that makes much of a difference.

It appears that the percentage of graduates not working fell a whopping 0.8 percent. Whoa.

Here’s also the number of graduates employed by status.

We’re seeing a pretty steep fall in total graduates, but the number and proportion of them not working is still higher than the peak employment year of 2007. A lot of this is elevated bar failure rates, but even so the JD-advantage category is still elevated. The NALP says 40 percent of grads in these jobs are seeking other work, which tells me these positions aren’t worth much. In fact, much of their growth (not shown) is visible in business-and-industry positions, further suggesting the definition of JD-advantage is overbroad. They also strongly correlate negatively with bar-passage-required jobs and positively with grads not working.

Here’s the contribution to the percent change in law grads by employment status since 2007 and going back to 2001. We can see that despite falling total grads, a greater proportion of them are either not working or in JD-advantage positions (which are probably not legal jobs themselves).

Meanwhile, with bar-passage-required jobs contributing -15.7 percent to the -14.6 percent change in law-grad outcomes, here’s how private-practice positions have fared (-9.2 percent to all 2007 grads).

The class of 2016 is the first one to be wholly below the 2007 line, meaning that even tiny firms aren’t hiring grads like they did in the peak year. Supply of law grads does not create demand for legal services, strongly indicating that grads in past years who found these jobs only worked in them transiently until they left the legal labor market.

The NALP’s selected findings (pdf) discuss “tightness” in the job market now or at least compared to the pre-recession market. The large fall in bar-passage-required jobs and private-practice jobs argues otherwise. A tighter market would see more grads working in bigger firms and smaller firms raising wages, something the NALP’s own data don’t depict.


Prior reporting on this topic:


As Charlotte Closes, a Plea for Data Integrity

The ABA Journal heralds the closure of Charlotte Law School. I have no editorial beyond, well, it was an honestly dishonest student loan funnel, struggling since January, and Betsy DeVos couldn’t save it. If we’re unlucky, it’ll bounce back.

As a tie-back to last week’s post on the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar’s decision to simplify law-school employment data, which it’s walked back, I write to express worries about how the ABA manages data for closed or merged law schools.

As of now, users of the Standard 509 Reports page can merrily explore information on bygone law schools such as Hamline, but anyone interested in the adventures of post-merger schools such as Rutgers-Camden will find no separate information on it. It has no 509 reports, it doesn’t appear in the spreadsheets for past years, and in some years the “Rutgers” (merged) entry contains no information at all.

This poses a problem for researchers because the 509 reports reflect law schools as they exist today and not how they existed in the past. I guess it would take more effort to maintain information on old law schools, but doing so anachronistically raises the question of why the ABA bothers keeping reports for past years up.

I try to download a set of the 509 information reports annually as a backup (yes, it’s tedious) and because it’s partly how this blog found its footing. I don’t do so for the employment summary reports (because, yes, it’s tedious). I would prefer not to change my habits.

Thus, I ask that the ABA maintain it’s information reports on law schools consistently for the sake of researchers. Indiana Tech, Charlotte, Whittier, and the schools that have merged may not rise again, but I’m sure someone might want to know more about their existences, even for trivial information like application deadlines.


Will Law-School Employment Outcomes Be Politicized Under Trump?

Today’s headline spoofs a February 2, 2017, Atlantic article by Gene Sperling about what might happen when the U.S. government’s statistical agencies produce data that His Emolumence doesn’t like. It may still be a legitimate fear, but before anyone could neuter GDP aggregates, another statistical agency has unexpectedly taken the lead in the race to deprecate data: the American Bar Association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. As you’ve likely read elsewhere—I strongly recommend Jerry Organ’s post on TaxProf Blog—the council has chosen to greatly reduce the data it requires law schools to report and present in their respective employment-outcomes tables and spreadsheets.

I won’t recapitulate Organ’s arguments, but I will try to highlight how the changes would affect specific topics I’ve reported on and opinions I’ve developed.

One, in his memo to the council (pdf), University of Virginia School of Law professor Paul Mahoney discusses my data mishap in my post, Class of 2016 Employment Report (Corrected), as evidence of “confusion” caused by the employment data. Unsurprisingly, neither Mahoney nor anyone at the council asked me for a response, so I must start there.

The issue was the ABA’s earlier decision to separately account for school-funded positions in the above-the-line employment “statuses” (“Employed-bar-passage required,” “employed-professional position,” etc.), which collectively add up to the total number of graduates. I had forgotten the ABA made this change, so I subtracted the school-funded positions from the number of bar-passage-required jobs. I don’t relish drawing attention to my mistakes, especially when my rebuttal makes me look sloppier than the accusation: I wasn’t “confused”; I plumb forgot the ABA changed the employment table. I work with these data once a year, so I slipped into the old habit. (In fact, just last week I added a note to myself to avoid that mistake again next year.) That’s an illogical reason to revert to the previous practice. Subtracting out funded jobs is a tedious process, and I don’t want to start doing that again. For these reasons, eliminating the employment status category for school-funded positions is a bad idea.

On to other aspects of the changes.

Two, eliminating the total number of graduates from the reports makes them more difficult to use. I regularly derive the percentages of graduate employment outcomes by various categories, and now calculating the total number of graduates at a given school or at all of the schools will be a chore. Another benefit of including the number of graduates in the reports is that it gives data users an opportunity to double-check the ABA’s and law schools’ numbers—an especially important process because I do not believe the ABA does so itself. If the number of graduates in the employment status section do not add up to the total, then I know there’s a problem. It’s something I’ve tracked behind the scenes, but it’s still useful. Now, everyone will need to do more math to arrive at what should be a foundational number.

Three, the new “Employed-Other” category is absurd. A law graduate working in a professional, non-law job like at a hedge fund is not the same as flipping burgers. If anything, the ABA should put more effort into fairly defining “Employed-JD advantage” and less into consolidating categories that make law schools look bad.

Four, the new “Unemployed or status unknown” category is also absurd. Again, it’s consolidating categories that may make law schools look bad rather than carefully specifying which ones make them look good. Moreover, I detest disjunctive definitions, e.g., “Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid,” as though they’re a unified program. Disjunctive definitions encourage composition fallacies and false dilemmas, something lawyers should avoid.

Five, I have used the broad “employment type” categories (e.g., “solo,” “2-10 lawyers,” etc.) to draw conclusions about how graduates’ jobs change from year to year. For example, in the post, “Change in Graduate Outcomes Driven by Small Jobs,” which analyzes the class of 2015, discussed how most of the decline in graduates that year was felt in 2-10-lawyer jobs. I also noted how jobs were distributed among law schools in, “Law Grad Jobs Unequal Like Income in Corrupt Countries.” The new changes hamper these detailed analyses—and in a way that masks underperforming law schools. Thus, the new 10-100-lawyer-practice category is overbroad.

Six, I recognize that some school-funded positions are more durable than others as Mahoney argues and even that applicants might prefer to attend schools that reemploy their own grads as an insurance policy against unemployment. Part of the problem is that “long-term” means at least one year, which includes positions lasting only one year, but until that term is replaced by a concept that cannot be manipulated by law schools, there’s every reason to see long-term school-funded jobs as dubious attempts at padding employment outcomes. Prospective applicants actually want to know their opportunities for indefinite employment, not one- or two-year gigs, before applying. (And yes, for this reason, I somewhat discount the value of clerkships too.) Moreover, separating law-school-funded positions based on income ($40,000) is simply arbitrary. Fixed dollar amounts eventually need to be updated according to inflation, they do not necessarily reflect the cost of living for a particular location, and they do not speak to the value of legal education. The median bachelor’s-degree holder in the 25-34 age bracket earned $46,099 in 2015.

Of Organ’s other criticisms, longitudinal data and consistency with NALP data stand out. I won’t repeat them.

It’s amazing that the council is so easily swayed by the proposal of one law-school professor without much deliberation. It’s an entire level worse than if the council had secretly produced the changes on its own because then at least there may have been some give and take in the process. Now it just looks as though the council is uninterested in its responsibilities and merely beholden to individual professors’ whims. I thought the ABA wanted to improve its image as a more transparent, responsive organization, but by rubber-stamping a  professor’s (and only a professor’s) wish list, it further tarnishes its credibility.

As for my opinions on the employment questionnaire—which the council would scrutinize as I’m not a law prof—although there may be reasons to simplify the employment survey, I would very much prefer to let it rest for several years. The fact that it’s adjusted so frequently indicates lack of seriousness about its purpose.

I recommend joining Organ’s petition in his post.