CLASS OF 2017 EMPLOYMENT REPORT: Take That, JD-Advantage Jobs!

So I was all set to write up the class of 2017 employment report two weekends ago, but I went out of town twice, so that distracted me from my very important blogging duties. To make up for that I’m redoing my annual employment report by foregrounding the actual important information and editorials and then following up with the employed-bar-passage-required full-time, long-term ranking of shame.

To begin with, here’s the table of graduate underemployment. (Everything on this post excludes the three Puerto Rico law schools.)

STATUS (EXCL. P.R.) 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Unemployed – Not Seeking 1,245 1,014 939 795 553 494 469 441
Unemployed – Seeking 2,686 4,016 4,770 5,060 4,103 3,744 3,142 2,614
Status Unknown 1,458 1,453 1,073 979 841 766 557 437
Total Grads 43,526 43,735 45,757 46,112 43,195 39,423 36,619 34,392
Unemployed – Not Seeking 2.9% 2.3% 2.1% 1.7% 1.3% 1.3% 1.3% 1.3%
Unemployed – Seeking 6.2% 9.2% 10.4% 11.0% 9.5% 9.5% 8.6% 7.6%
Status Unknown 3.3% 3.3% 2.3% 2.1% 1.9% 1.9% 1.5% 1.3%
Total Percent 12.4% 14.8% 14.8% 14.8% 12.7% 12.7% 11.4% 10.2%

For ’17, the underemployment rate (“Total Percent” in the table) fell by yet another percentage point, almost all of which appeared in the Unemployed – Seeking category. This is good news. 10.2 percent is still a terrible rate, to say nothing of the 7.6 percent seeking work, but progress is progress.

On the reverse side, 67.1 percent of graduates found full-time long-term work in bar-passage-required jobs. Last year, that figure was 62.5 percent, so this is quite the jump. In three years, the percentage has risen by 10 points, which is quite notable, except that the absolute number of students finding these jobs has been roughly the same each year. Reducing students at unheralded law schools reduces poor outcomes.

So what differed this year? Let’s take a look at the analytic tables that compare this year to last year.

EMPLOYMENT STATUS NO. OF GRADS GRADS PCT. OF TOTAL PCT. CHANGE IN GRADS DISTRIBUTION OF CHANGE IN GRADS GINI COEFFICIENT
2016 2017 2016 2017 2017 2017 2016 2017
Employed – Bar Passage Required 23,833 23,939 65.1% 69.6% 0.4% -4.8% 0.34 0.34
Employed – JD Advantage 5,162 4,021 14.1% 11.7% -22.1% 51.2% 0.36 0.38
Employed – Professional Position 1,390 1,091 3.8% 3.2% -21.5% 13.4% 0.54 0.54
Employed – Non-Professional Position 435 401 1.2% 1.2% -7.8% 1.5% 0.54 0.55
Employed – Law School 757 605 2.1% 1.8% -20.1% 6.8% 0.80 0.79
Employed – Undeterminable 21 23 0.1% 0.1% 9.5% -0.1% 0.95 0.92
Employed – Pursuing Graduate Degree 600 535 1.6% 1.6% -10.8% 2.9% 0.50 0.52
Unemployed – Start Date Deferred 253 285 0.7% 0.8% 12.6% -1.4% 0.64 0.59
Unemployed – Not Seeking 469 441 1.3% 1.3% -6.0% 1.3% 0.57 0.52
Unemployed – Seeking 3,142 2,614 8.6% 7.6% -16.8% 23.7% 0.46 0.43
Employment Status Unknown 557 437 1.5% 1.3% -21.5% 5.4% 0.67 0.66
Total Graduates 36,619 34,392 100.0% 100.0% -6.1% 100.0% 0.29 0.29
EMPLOYMENT TYPE NO. OF GRADS GRADS PCT. OF TOTAL PCT. CHANGE IN GRADS DISTRIBUTION OF CHANGE IN GRADS GINI COEFFICIENT
2016 2017 2016 2017 2017 2017 2016 2017
Solo 508 439 1.4% 1.3% -13.6% 3.1% 0.61 0.58
2-10 6,269 5,773 17.1% 16.8% -7.9% 22.3% 0.35 0.33
11-25 1,739 1,695 4.7% 4.9% -2.5% 2.0% 0.41 0.42
26-50 942 998 2.6% 2.9% 5.9% -2.5% 0.43 0.45
51-100 797 800 2.2% 2.3% 0.4% -0.1% 0.48 0.48
101-250 958 977 2.6% 2.8% 2.0% -0.9% 0.51 0.51
251-500 1,008 1,003 2.8% 2.9% -0.5% 0.2% 0.68 0.64
501-PLUS 4,243 4,611 11.6% 13.4% 8.7% -16.5% 0.78 0.77
Unknown 228 96 0.6% 0.3% -57.9% 5.9% 0.91 0.85
Business Industry 4,930 4,142 13.5% 12.0% -16.0% 35.4% 0.36 0.36
Government 4,402 4,133 12.0% 12.0% -6.1% 12.1% 0.32 0.32
Public Interest 1,638 1,617 4.5% 4.7% -1.3% 0.9% 0.47 0.48
Federal Clerkship 1,197 1,170 3.3% 3.4% -2.3% 1.2% 0.72 0.69
State/Local Clerkship 2,091 2,050 5.7% 6.0% -2.0% 1.8% 0.58 0.58
Other Clerkship 20 24 0.1% 0.1% 20.0% -0.2% 0.93 0.93
Education 583 483 1.6% 1.4% -17.2% 4.5% 0.49 0.48
Unknown Employer Type 45 67 0.1% 0.2% 48.9% -1.0% 0.94 0.91
Total Employed by Type 31,598 30,078 86.3% 87.5% -4.8% 68.3% 0.30 0.31

For ’17, there were 2,227 fewer graduates than in 2016, a decline of 6.1 percent. Three employment statuses accounted for nearly 90 percent of the difference between the two classes: Employed JD Advantage (51.2%) (!), Unemployed – Seeking (23.7%), and Employed – Professional Position (13.4%). This pretty much tells you what you need to know about this year’s employment report.

Changes among the employment types accounted for 68.3 percent of the 2,227 graduates. The four largest drivers were business-and-industry jobs (35.4%), 2-10-lawyer practices (22.3%), government jobs (12.1%), education positions (4.5%), and solo practices (3.1%). Notably, jobs at 501-plus-lawyer firms grew by 368 people, so it pushed back against the graduate decline (-16.5%). Biglaw’s gains are consistent with last year’s trends, as is the decline in small-law jobs.

I won’t discuss the Gini coefficients as I did last year. The most desirable jobs are still distributed worse than wealth in a kleptocracy.

Editorial: This year’s employment report showcased many of the similar trends from last year: Good outcomes substituting for worse ones. It differs in that JD advantage jobs took a big hit while bar-passage-required jobs grew slightly. What’s interesting here is that overall, law-firm jobs fell nonetheless. Somewhere in the employment type outcomes are compositional changes where grads found law jobs and not JD advantage jobs. I sure hope none of that is accounting shenanigans by law schools.

Finally, I’m happy that the ABA has not implemented its decision to change how it collects and displays employment data. Readers will note that I did not repeat the mistakes regarding law-school-funded jobs that I made last year, and yes, I recognize that perhaps I don’t find much use for short-term or part-time job categories. Nevertheless, the purposes of careful data collection are usefulness, detail, transparency, and consistency—not what’s convenient for law-school employees.

That’s all for now.

Similar editions of this post from prior years can be found here:

W&S Lawyer Employment Inches Up in 2017, Incomes Inch Down

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) usually completes its updates of its many measures of occupational employment for the previous year by April. Data for 2017 are now available, allowing a comprehensive summary of lawyer employment for that year. For detailed discussion of what the BLS datasets are and how they address lawyer employment, I recommend the lawyer overproduction page [updated!].

For context, according to the Current Population Survey (CPS), the number of people who reported working as lawyers in 2017 grew trivially to 1,137,000, up just 4,000 people. The CPS also estimated 781,000 people working as lawyers on a wage or salary basis, a 4.8 percent rise from the previous year (+36,000 lawyers). By contrast, the more accurate Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program found that the number of wage-and-salary lawyers grew by 1.4 percent last year to 628,370 (+8,840 jobs). The number of employee lawyers in the legal sector also grew by 1.4 percent to 388,670 (+5,940).

Employee lawyers’ incomes fell slightly in 2017. The OES estimated a -1.2 percent median hourly wage decline, although the CPS registered a striking 6.0 percent median weekly wage increase. Going by the OES, the last peak for lawyers’ earnings was 2009 (~$125,000 annually); incomes are about 7.8 percent lower (-$9,800) in real dollars since then. Here is an annualized dispersion.

These lawyer employment and income measures are not strong bellwethers for the value of legal education because they include many established lawyers and don’t measure recent graduate outcomes particularly well, especially those of graduates who do not promptly start careers in law. Readers seeking insight into that topic are instead advised to look at my criteria for predicting improvements in law graduate outcomes and the lawyer production page for a clear discussion of the BLS’s Employment Projections program.

**********

Prior editions of this post:

Record 17 Law Schools Didn’t Report Graduate Debt to U.S. News (’17)

Each year U.S. News & World Report lists law schools by the average indebtedness of their graduates. Importantly, the figures exclude accrued interest, which can be quite considerable. However, these numbers are probably the best estimate of the cost of attendance at a particular law school presented in a comparable form. The ABA does not publicize graduate debt in the 509 information reports, making U.S. News an unfortunately necessary source.

Here’s the debt table. A recurring problem in U.S. News’ debt data is law schools that misreport their graduating students’ annual debt as opposed to their cumulative debt, which is what the magazine asks for. Thus, I include last year’s numbers for illustration and encourage ridicule of law schools that cannot follow basic directions, but I welcome corrections.

# SCHOOL 2015 DEBT 2016 DEBT PCT. CHANGE
1. Thomas Jefferson $182,411 $198,962 9.1%
2. Arizona Summit [Phoenix] $190,842 $190,842 0.0%
3. San Francisco $167,671 $180,799 7.8%
4. New York University $167,646 $170,955 2.0%
5. American $164,194 $169,107 3.0%
6. Georgetown $166,027 $162,739 -2.0%
7. Harvard $153,172 $162,672 6.2%
8. Golden Gate $161,809 $158,857 -1.8%
9. Columbia $159,769 $158,348 -0.9%
10. Pepperdine $154,475 $157,527 2.0%
11. George Washington $145,240 $156,167 7.5%
12. New York Law School $157,568 $154,629 -1.9%
13. John Marshall (Chicago) $158,888 $153,520 -3.4%
14. Nova Southeastern $147,879 $151,505 2.5%
15. Santa Clara $149,940 $150,627 0.5%
16. Catholic $133,917 $149,158 11.4%
17. Cornell $158,128 $148,955 -5.8%
18. Seattle $139,745 $148,896 6.5%
19. Pennsylvania $156,725 $148,879 -5.0%
20. Marquette $142,601 $148,253 4.0%
21. California-Hastings $137,157 $146,150 6.6%
22. Loyola (CA) $146,494 $145,915 -0.4%
23. Pacific, McGeorge $144,431 $144,797 0.3%
24. Fordham $116,326 $144,168 23.9%
25. California Western $147,302 $143,592 -2.5%
26. Charleston $137,345 $143,105 4.2%
27. California-Berkeley $145,260 $143,049 -1.5%
28. Virginia $155,177 $142,906 -7.9%
29. Chapman $144,409 $141,533 -2.0%
30. Widener (Commonwealth) $129,016 $141,141 9.4%
31. Vermont $52,682 $138,991 163.8%
32. Denver $150,055 $138,513 -7.7%
33. Florida Coastal $158,878 $138,204 -13.0%
34. Loyola (IL) $88,588 $137,342 55.0%
35. Miami $149,580 $137,101 -8.3%
36. Northwestern $154,923 $136,532 -11.9%
37. Elon $153,347 $135,740 -11.5%
38. Chicago $134,148 $134,853 0.5%
39. Mercer $135,300 $134,317 -0.7%
40. Lewis and Clark $139,624 $132,419 -5.2%
41. Duke $137,829 $132,002 -4.2%
42. Hofstra $142,261 $131,957 -7.2%
43. Stanford $137,625 $131,745 -4.3%
44. Southern Methodist $126,172 $131,711 4.4%
45. Detroit Mercy $152,000 $131,421 -13.5%
46. Stetson $128,703 $131,200 1.9%
47. Seton Hall $125,300 $131,182 4.7%
48. Valparaiso $136,765 $128,221 -6.2%
49. Emory $120,804 $127,541 5.6%
50. Tulane $139,508 $127,113 -8.9%
51. Belmont $40,677 $126,272 210.4%
52. Drake $112,893 $125,438 11.1%
53. Michigan $146,309 $125,199 -14.4%
54. Western New England $121,367 $125,143 3.1%
55. Willamette $148,429 $124,350 -16.2%
56. South Texas-Houston $38,717 $123,715 219.5%
57. Oklahoma City $102,024 $123,256 20.8%
58. Notre Dame $123,924 $123,210 -0.6%
59. Texas A&M [Wesleyan] $115,405 $122,562 6.2%
60. DePaul $126,446 $122,290 -3.3%
61. Southern California $140,745 $122,192 -13.2%
62. Mississippi College $119,000 $121,000 1.7%
63. California-Los Angeles $118,291 $120,980 2.3%
64. Atlanta’s John Marshall $147,694 $120,744 -18.2%
65. Widener (Delaware) $135,151 $119,648 -11.5%
66. Suffolk $135,272 $118,725 -12.2%
67. Creighton $130,145 $118,552 -8.9%
68. Brooklyn $117,581 $118,519 0.8%
69. Vanderbilt $127,434 $117,992 -7.4%
70. Loyola (LA) $39,138 $117,746 200.8%
71. Maryland $113,927 $116,837 2.6%
72. St. Mary’s $118,583 $116,635 -1.6%
73. Capital $35,079 $116,612 232.4%
74. Roger Williams $126,334 $115,869 -8.3%
75. Dayton $108,724 $114,363 5.2%
76. Cardozo, Yeshiva $118,764 $114,085 -3.9%
77. Boston College $108,873 $112,868 3.7%
78. Samford $127,611 $112,662 -11.7%
79. California-Irvine $100,408 $112,429 12.0%
80. St. Louis $117,335 $112,142 -4.4%
81. Baltimore $108,328 $111,861 3.3%
82. Yale $121,815 $111,494 -8.5%
83. Regent $124,221 $111,268 -10.4%
84. St. John’s $117,572 $110,373 -6.1%
85. Albany $107,185 $110,225 2.8%
86. Boston University $104,755 $110,082 5.1%
87. Pace $124,317 $108,380 -12.8%
88. Washington $120,554 $107,975 -10.4%
89. Chicago-Kent, IIT $107,688 $107,540 -0.1%
90. Massachusetts — Dartmouth $98,730 $107,227 8.6%
91. George Mason $118,056 $106,642 -9.7%
92. Florida International $93,838 $106,596 13.6%
93. North Carolina $95,365 $106,514 11.7%
94. Gonzaga $109,692 $104,892 -4.4%
95. Colorado $100,499 $104,338 3.8%
96. California-Davis $103,811 $104,034 0.2%
97. Duquesne $108,414 $103,633 -4.4%
98. William and Mary $90,028 $103,318 14.8%
99. San Diego $127,693 $102,296 -19.9%
100. Syracuse $117,127 $101,983 -12.9%
101. Quinnipiac $101,371 $101,581 0.2%
102. Richmond $104,624 $101,296 -3.2%
103. Texas $103,417 $100,312 -3.0%
104. South Carolina $89,388 $99,862 11.7%
105. Washington and Lee $105,426 $98,512 -6.6%
106. Minnesota $106,436 $97,910 -8.0%
107. Missouri (Kansas City) $93,678 $97,419 4.0%
108. Pittsburgh $103,990 $97,239 -6.5%
109. Indiana (Indianapolis) $105,065 $96,941 -7.7%
110. Southern Illinois $87,634 $96,722 10.4%
111. Faulkner $18,434 $96,582 423.9%
112. Campbell $131,894 $96,215 -27.1%
113. New Hampshire $95,650 $95,312 -0.4%
114. SUNY Buffalo $90,546 $95,149 5.1%
115. Michigan State $91,014 $94,540 3.9%
116. Ohio Northern $104,284 $94,119 -9.7%
117. Indiana (Bloomington) $99,895 $93,978 -5.9%
118. Penn State (Penn State Law) $117,692 $93,406 -20.6%
119. Washington University $93,768 $93,141 -0.7%
120. Houston $97,246 $92,899 -4.5%
121. Northeastern $111,410 $92,051 -17.4%
122. Drexel $96,402 $91,744 -4.8%
123. Baylor $144,732 $91,679 -36.7%
124. Ohio State $88,301 $90,638 2.6%
125. Maine $89,513 $90,636 1.3%
126. Concordia N/A $90,607 N/A
127. Western State $119,382 $90,302 -24.4%
128. Southern University $89,552 $90,211 0.7%
129. Mitchell|Hamline $100,603 $89,469 -11.1%
130. Idaho $86,022 $89,018 3.5%
131. Florida $82,480 $88,409 7.2%
132. Northern Illinois $86,899 $88,081 1.4%
133. Villanova $99,736 $87,786 -12.0%
134. Arizona State $97,780 $87,612 -10.4%
135. Illinois $99,782 $87,559 -12.2%
136. Louisville $99,581 $86,110 -13.5%
137. Louisiana State $83,919 $85,703 2.1%
138. Arizona $84,601 $85,519 1.1%
139. Cleveland State $29,051 $84,764 191.8%
140. Case Western Reserve $102,370 $84,436 -17.5%
141. Nevada $97,361 $84,386 -13.3%
142. Hawaii $82,510 $84,295 2.2%
143. Oklahoma $83,433 $84,057 0.7%
144. Lincoln Memorial $89,779 $83,526 -7.0%
145. Kentucky $59,163 $82,905 40.1%
146. Wyoming $90,231 $82,749 -8.3%
147. West Virginia $82,683 $82,542 -0.2%
148. Texas Tech $80,087 $82,355 2.8%
149. Georgia $82,199 $82,191 0.0%
150. Penn State (Dickinson Law) $109,828 $81,718 -25.6%
151. Toledo $85,649 $81,626 -4.7%
152. Oregon $17,834 $81,211 355.4%
153. Utah $91,982 $79,813 -13.2%
154. Memphis $76,997 $79,363 3.1%
155. New Mexico $75,277 $79,199 5.2%
156. Washburn $81,528 $78,287 -4.0%
157. Wayne State $81,738 $77,993 -4.6%
158. St. Thomas (MN) $100,805 $77,875 -22.7%
159. Wake Forest $105,090 $77,712 -26.1%
160. Liberty $73,857 $77,077 4.4%
161. City University $78,523 $76,302 -2.8%
162. Florida State $88,732 $75,899 -14.5%
163. Connecticut $72,042 $75,383 4.6%
164. Alabama $75,577 $75,373 -0.3%
165. Tulsa $76,988 $73,987 -3.9%
166. Temple $86,937 $73,589 -15.4%
167. Iowa $74,128 $73,230 -1.2%
168. Kansas $88,809 $72,617 -18.2%
169. Arkansas (Little Rock) $65,931 $71,969 9.2%
170. Montana $75,470 $71,604 -5.1%
171. Akron $82,854 $70,670 -14.7%
172. Arkansas (Fayetteville) $67,758 $68,924 1.7%
173. Wisconsin $77,555 $68,050 -12.3%
174. Cincinnati $75,512 $67,028 -11.2%
175. Missouri (Columbia) $80,138 $66,944 -16.5%
176. North Dakota $66,917 $65,993 -1.4%
177. Tennessee $80,445 $65,107 -19.1%
178. Mississippi $67,539 $64,644 -4.3%
179. North Carolina Central $60,479 $63,300 4.7%
180. Florida A&M $20,500 $61,500 200.0%
181. South Dakota $56,609 $58,177 2.8%
182. Nebraska $62,888 $57,992 -7.8%
183. Georgia State $64,384 $56,710 -11.9%
184. Brigham Young $58,133 $53,237 -8.4%
185. Rutgers $56,173 $38,376 -31.7%
186. Whittier $179,056 N/A N/A
187. Charlotte $167,002 N/A N/A
188. Ave Maria $152,476 N/A N/A
189. Barry $151,479 N/A N/A
190. District of Columbia $105,330 N/A N/A
191. Northern Kentucky $74,190 N/A N/A
192. Howard $50,920 N/A N/A
10TH PERCENTILE $66,917 $73,230 -14.5%
25TH PERCENTILE $86,022 $84,764 -8.9%
MEDIAN $106,436 $106,514 -1.6%
75TH PERCENTILE $136,765 $131,200 3.9%
90TH PERCENTILE $153,347 $148,879 11.7%
MEAN $108,957 $108,333 9.1%

(U.S. News’ debt rankings can be found here.)

And per this post’s title, here’s the List of Shame: Law schools that chose not to submit their graduates’ debt information to U.S. News, along with their last-reported figures and the year in which they reported them. Thanks to the gainful employment rule, I was able to track down median graduate debt at three for-profits. As I am merciful, I exclude the three Puerto Rico law schools from this count. This year, I extend that mercy to Whittier, which in 2017-18 chose to cease accepting law students.

  • Arizona Summit [Phoenix] – $190,842 [2016, median, for-profit]
  • Touro – $154,855 (2013)
  • Ave Maria – $152,476 (2015)
  • Barry – $151,479 (2015)
  • Southwestern – $147,976 (2011)
  • Thomas (FL) – $140,808 (2013)
  • Florida Coastal – $138,204 [2016, median, for-profit]
  • New England – $132,246 (2012)
  • WMU Cooley – $122,395 (2011)
  • Atlanta’s John Marshall – $120,744 [2016, median, for-profit]
  • Appalachian – $114,740 (2011)
  • La Verne – $112,628 (2011)
  • District of Columbia – $105,330 (2015)
  • Texas Southern – $99,992 (2011)
  • Northern Kentucky – $74,190 (2015)
  • Howard – $50,920 (2015)
  • North Texas-Dallas – NEVER

These 16 law schools account for 2,605 graduates out of 34,478, or 8 percent of the total.

Compared to the graduating class from two years earlier, weighted-average private law-school graduate debt fell from $134,186 to $130,536 (-3%). For public law schools, debt fell from $94,602 to $91,218 (-4%). The weights are the percent of graduates who took out debt per U.S. News multiplied by the number of graduates according to the 509 information reports. The reason I compare ’17 to ’15 is that last year, U.S. News allowed law schools to report absurdly high percents of graduates with debt.

The unweighted averages, which alas are what’s commonly reported, fell as well over the two-year period. At private law schools, it went down from $128,694 to $123,785 (-4%). That’s $88,051 from $92,144 (-4%) at public law schools. Thus, these declines can be attributed to graduates borrowing less and not the percentages of graduates borrowing at each school. This is good news. However, there might also be an unseen composition effect of fewer people matriculating to high-debt schools. (By unseen, I mean, I’m not going to check.)

So the good news is that the class of ’17 looks more like the classes of ’12 or ’13 than more recent classes. The bad news is just how much law grads’ debt positions deteriorated after the Great Recession.

Finally, the observations:

  • A bunch of law schools bounced back from misreporting their graduate data last year, accounting for some big swings: Faulkner (423.9%), Oregon (355.4%), Capital (232.4%), South Texas-Houston (219.5%), Belmont (210.4%), Loyola (LA) (200.8%), Florida A&M (200.0%), Cleveland State (191.8%), Vermont (163.8%).
  • Other swings: Loyola (IL) (55.0%), Kentucky (40.1%), Fordham (23.9%), Oklahoma City (20.8%).
  • And finally the big raspberries: Baylor (-36.7%), Rutgers (-31.7%), Campbell (-27.1%), Wake Forest (-26.1%), Penn State (Dickinson Law) (-25.6%), Western State (-24.4%), St. Thomas (MN) (-22.7%), and Penn State (Penn State Law) (-20.6%).

Conclusion: It’s discouraging more law schools chose not to report their debt outcomes than before, but at least they didn’t grossly misreport them like last year. And yes, U.S. News should know better than to publish absurd numbers without actually looking at them. Finally, kudos to Concordia for jumping on the wagon with its first year reporting.

Entries on this topic from prior years:

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: February 2018 Edition

The February 2018 LSAT administration marks the sixth in a row that has seen an increase in the number of test takers. This time, 24,335 people (+13.7 percent) took the exam, according to the LSAC. Here’s a chart of LSAT administrations going back to the late 1990s.

The four-period moving sum of LSATs, equivalent to the year-over-year change in the 2017-18 LSAT year, rose to 129,183 (+2.3 percent). The last time it was this high was June 2012 (128,336).

Although the effect of the 13.7 percent bump in February LSATs is muted by the overall low number of test takers, it’s still a large effect in itself. Every administration in the 2017-18 cycle has seen at least 10 percent growth over the previous year, which hasn’t happened since the 2009 calendar year or the 2001-02 LSAT year.

After the December LSAT, I discussed an earlier prediction that the Trump bump would diminish over this year. I think it’s still too soon to tell, and we may have another 10 percent jump in June. However, the Trump stuff is a one-time event and can’t really mark a sustained change in the future of the legal profession or the overall economy. The fundamentals haven’t changed.

For historical note, last year I remarked that there was no evidence of a Trump surge, but I did discuss how more people were sitting for the LSAT despite fewer people applying. I suggested that test takers were behaving more strategically than before. Consequently, it will be interesting to see where the higher number of applicants ultimately apply, particularly because law schools are still closing.

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.

LSAT Tea-Leaf Reading: December 2017 Edition

The number of December LSAT takers rose to 40,096 (+27.9 percent) from 31,340 last year. It is the sixth administration in a row to show positive test-taker growth. Here is what it looks like in perspective.

This is quite the acceleration, one of the fastest ever.

The four-period moving sum, which is identical to the calendar-year total, rose to 126,248 (+7.5 percent). Comparable administrations are September/October 2009 (+6.5 percent), September/October 2001 (+7.9 percent, the record), and December 1988 (+7.0 percent). The last time the four-period moving sum was this high was June 2012 (128,336).

Two months ago I (idly) predicted this surge would diminish over the next year. That doesn’t appear to be where the trend is heading. Disturbingly, two of the aforementioned comparison administrations, fall 2009 and fall 2001, were recession periods, which indicates the kind of moment LSATs are in. I’ll repeat the same points for as long as this phenomenon continues: There is no reason to believe the legal profession will have more jobs compared to the rate of LSAT growth. Most of these potential applicants—let’s call them Sessions’ 0Ls—are badly misguided.

Since we’re on the topic of LSAC data, as of week 3, 2018, the number of applicants for this fall stands at 29,287. Week 3 was roughly the halfway mark for last year, so we may have about 61,000 applicants by August. This final applicant count has been falling in recent weeks, which I think is typical.

More tea leaves to read after February.