Puerto Rico

Speaking of Bar Passage Requirements…

I used a good part of my latest Am Law Daily article criticizing the ABA’s bar passage requirements in its accreditation standards, so I would disserve readers by not bringing up the recently proposed standard that would overhaul and standardize the bar passage requirement. (By “standardize” I’m pointing out that the current bar passage requirement (PDF) is just an interpretation deep in the general requirement that law schools prepare people for the bar.) Here’s what the proposed standard says (PDF):

Standard 315. BAR PASSAGE

(a) No later than the end of the second calendar year following their graduation, 80% of the graduates who took a bar examination must have passed a bar examination.

(b) A fully approved law school must demonstrate compliance with this Standard in three of the most recently completed five calendar years.

In some ways this is an improvement over the current interpretation. Now, law schools have to track down graduates from as many as five years into the past to find out if they passed the bar, which, as some deans reported to the ABA Journal, is a difficult, tedious task.

The key difference, though, is that the proposed standard requires 80 percent of graduates who take a bar exam to pass it. This means that law schools that admit applicants who have little hope of ever passing a bar exam might instead discourage them from trying to take one at all. Then again, this might be an awkward conversation, especially if it’s accompanied by a cash payment. “Hi graduate. You put a lot of effort into becoming a lawyer, but if you stop to think about it, maybe the bar exam would be a little too hard for you. Here’s $2,000 to consider an ‘alternative’ career for using your JD. You get cash; we get to keep enrolling students who can’t pass the bar. Deal?”

However, the proposed standard does away with the 15-percent-first-time-passage-rate-within-the-state’s-mean-rate requirement, which allows the schools in Puerto Rico to almost certainly maintain their accreditation.

Here’s an apples-to-oranges comparison from the Official Guide:

Puerto Rican Law Schools' First-Time Bar Passage Rates

First-time bar passage isn’t the same as two-calendar-year bar passage, but my guess is that under the proposed standard Pontifical Catholic would lose its accreditation, maybe Inter American too.

In the Dog Days of Global Warming Summer, the ABA Speaks

ABA President Names Task Force on the Future of Legal Education,” ABA Now

Debra Cassens Weiss, “No Fudging: Revising Standards Bars Law Schools from Publishing Misleading Consumer Info,” ABA Journal

On reading government white papers, one of my graduate school professors said, “It’s not what they’re thinking, it’s what they want you to think they’re thinking.” This characterizes what happens in August when the ABA House of Delegates holds its annual meeting, but the ABA announced two things: (1) concurring with the Section of Legal Education on its revised transparency standards, with sanctions, and (2) a new task force on the future of legal education.

The new standards are what they are. I’ve looked through the data and am surprised that so few people didn’t return the surveys at all (<5%, but the real story is the Puerto Rican law schools that either haven’t reported to the ABA or put little effort in doing so). As I showed last week, there are some statistical tools one can use to determine if people who work at law firms tend to actually be licensed attorneys and not paralegals or janitors. The latter would probably pay well, but now I’m just being cynical. And “Business & Industry” is as worthless a category as it ever was.

As for the task force, its got its work cut out for it. We’ve seen the Massachusetts State Bar Association bend over backwards to avoid suggesting that any of the state’s law schools close, consolidate, or reduce their enrollment to meet the state’s needs. In the end, though, there’s still an unwillingness to cut losses, by which I mean talking straight to underemployed recent (and not-so-recent) graduates and conceding that their law degrees are pretty much worthless. They’re unlikely to work in professional white-collar jobs absent serious policy reform, and they can put their loans on Income-Based Repayment so they can just go away.

If I recall, I don’t think I believed the ABA could put together any transparency requirements, so that’s good for them. However, I doubt the task force will recommend state bar authorities simply require undergraduate legal education for licensing rather than the current graduate-level one, reforming or abolishing the Direct Loan Program, revising the bankruptcy code, and some kind of contrition regarding the consequences of its needlessly lax accreditation standards.

For example, over the weekend, the Oregonian jumped onto the law school-trashing bandwagon and it even got a quote from New England School of Law dean John O’Brien, whose mentality reflects the ABA’s:

“It’s not the ABA’s job to police the number of law schools,” O’Brien said. “Law schools are like other businesses. Ultimately, that’s what they are. If there are people who feel there is a void that needs to be filled around the country, the process is to apply for ABA approval. If you meet those standards, you get approved.”

Even though the ABA could tighten bar passage requirements to ensure that law schools weren’t frivolously enrolling students on government loans, they don’t have to because they’re businesses in the “unregulated” market. For instance, why the ABA re-provisionally accredited the University of La Verne when barely half of its graduates passed the California bar last year (less than half if you exclude graduates who took other states’ bars instead) is colossal regulatory failure. The aforementioned Puerto Rico law schools appear to be failure factories, not that they send data to the ABA.

Point is, if the task force is serious, it’s going to have to start by justifying the La Vernes of the system and why it keeps accrediting them. If they’re “businesses” then why should they profit on debt?

Why Are There No Puerto Rican Scamblogs?

[UPDATE: You can read the Am Law Daily version of this article here.]

Probably because students are still too busy protesting an $800 fee hike from earlier this year (Tamar Lewin, “In Puerto Rico, Protests End Short Peace at University,” in The New York Times). The university chose to compensate a $200 million budget cut with the new fee rather than a tuition hike, which led the students to take over buildings, frequently with professors’ support.

As at many public universities elsewhere in the United States, students here worry that the new fiscal realities will restrict who can attend.

This is definitely not a problem with Puerto Rico’s law schools, which are over-enrolled relative to the island’s market. When gathering and analyzing data on legal education, Puerto Rico is second only to D.C. in distorting my averages and standard deviations. So outside the mainstream is the Commonwealth that none of its three ABA law schools send their data to U.S. News. I’ve seen them, and I can tell you their tuition is much lower than elsewhere, probably due to their refusal to play the rankings game as well as the island’s low purchasing power parity per capita GDP relative to the rest of the U.S.

Here’s one datum that surprised me. Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics connects us to the number of employed attorneys by state in 2008, and the ABA gives us the numbers of attorneys “active and resident” in American jurisdictions for 2008 and 2009, I can give you a statistic I dub, “idle attorneys,” which is the proportion of “active and resident” attorneys not “employed” as lawyers. Idle attorneys could very well be gainfully employed, but the high percentages and variance between the states suggest that their legal educations weren’t that useful unless they are the few who sit on the bench or are working for the government in some other capacity, e.g. as legislators. I’ve also calculated the number of idle attorneys per 100,000 residents.


# STATE (# ABA Schools) Idle Attys Idle/100k ←#
1 Puerto Rico (3) 66.44% 209 5
2 Oregon (3) 56.10% 168 8
3 Massachusetts (7)* 49.18% 319 3
4 Missouri (4) 49.03% 186 6
5 Connecticut (3) 47.72% 259 4
6 Ohio (9) 45.80% 146 11
7 Kentucky (3) 45.18% 125 17
8 Alaska (0) 44.23% 153 9
9 New York (15) 42.78% 331 2
10 Tennessee (3)* 42.63% 104 25
11 Michigan (5) 40.77% 131 14
12 Alabama (3)* 40.22% 114 22
13 Arkansas (2) 39.82% 79 34
14 Texas (9) 39.22% 119 19
15 Wyoming (1) 38.84% 112 24
16 Pennsylvania (8) 38.35% 141 12
17 Illinois (9) 37.84% 180 7
18 Iowa (2) 37.63% 87 32
19 Louisiana (4) 36.52% 139 13
20 West Virginia (1) 36.34% 92 30
21 California (20)* 36.05% 146 10
22 Oklahoma (3) 34.45% 117 21
23 Montana (1) 34.25% 101 26
24 Kansas (2) 33.67% 95 29
25 Nebraska (2) 33.55% 96 28
26 Washington (3) 33.38% 113 23
27 Rhode Island (1) 33.17% 128 15
28 New Mexico (1) 32.60% 86 33
29 Maryland (2) 31.89% 118 20
30 Minnesota (4) 30.32% 127 16
31 New Hampshire (1) 28.98% 73 35
32 Indiana (4) 28.19% 60 39
33 Wisconsin (2) 28.09% 72 36
34 Hawaii (1) 28.02% 90 31
35 New Jersey (3) 27.25% 124 18
36 South Carolina (2) 25.90% 52 40
37 Colorado (2) 25.43% 97 27
38 North Carolina (7) 24.55% 50 41
39 Georgia (5) 23.24% 65 37
40 Maine (1) 22.09% 60 38
41 Mississippi (2) 21.76% 50 42
42 Nevada (1) 20.72% 48 43
43 Idaho (1) 18.62% 41 44
44 Florida (11) 11.63% 38 45
45 District of Columbia (6) 9.16% 725 1
46 North Dakota (1) 7.81% 16 48
47 Arizona (3) 7.14% 14 49
48 Virginia (8) 6.62% 18 47
49 Vermont (1) 5.18% 18 46
50 Utah (2) -13.92% -32 50
51 Delaware (1) -14.81% -43 51
N/A South Dakota (1) N/A N/A N/A
USA Average (199) 34.60% 130

66.44% of Puerto Rico’s attorneys were active and resident but not working as lawyers in 2008, and it comes in fifth in number of idle attorneys per capita after D.C., New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, a clear misfit.

Now I’ll do something I’ve been avoiding: diving into LSAC employment data. Because I find the composition of these data so suspect, I’m going to limit myself to the percentages of non-responses to post-graduate employment surveys. If you look in the source pdfs, enrollments at Puerto Rico’s three law schools are distributed fairly evenly, so it’s not like Pontifical Catholic has only 12 graduates per year while the University of Puerto Rico has 500. Also, I had to exclude Puerto Rico’s fourth law school, Eugenio María de Hostos School of Law (founded 1995), for want of data.

First of all, Inter-American’s employment numbers are extremely suspect. The reason its line plateaus as it does is that all its employment numbers (# employed in law firms, # employed in “business and industry,” etc.) published in the Official ABA Guide for 2008 are identical to those from 2007, and the same goes for with 2005 and 2004. I’m surprised the editors of ABA-LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools wouldn’t notice that or alert its readers. I wonder if more is going on here…

Second: Look at the University of Puerto Rico. Even in its best year, only 46.7% of its 2007 grads bothered to return their employment surveys. And the Times says the protesting students are worried that enrollments will be restricted.

Third, I included the University of Hawaii in the graph because I think it makes a good comparison. It’s actually quite interesting.

Puerto Rico Hawaii
Law Schools (total)/10 million Residents (2010) 10.736 (4) 7.351 (1)
ABA Law Students/10,000 Residents (2009) 5.863 2.641
Percent Idle Attorneys (2008) 66.44% 28.02%
Idle Lawyers/100,000 Residents (2008) 209 90
Annual Grads/Job Opening (2008-2018) 5.54 1.47
Annual Projected Surplus Graduates/100,000 Residents (2008-2018) 11 2
Projected Job Growth (~2018) 4.07% -0.67%

Obviously, Hawaii still has a surplus of graduates relative to its own economy, and there’s no deficit elsewhere in the country, so the comparison doesn’t let the Five-O off the hook. That said, if Hawaii is over-enrolled, then Puerto Rico’s law schools are a disaster and badly need to be pared down, even if we can expect 4.07% job growth there.

So: What the buh?

The answer may lie in a fairly good analysis of Puerto Rico, a 2006 Economist article with a title that hints at the Gilligan, “Trouble on Welfare Island,” which closes with the following:

[B]ecause of the small private sector, too few well-educated Puerto Ricans are gaining useful skills and experience in the marketplace.

As he walked through Aguadilla’s town hall recently, [Mayor] Carlos Méndez boasted about each employee’s university or graduate-school credentials as he introduced them. The trouble, he says, is that “All they want to do is find security only. They have no ambition…Everybody wants to work for the government.”

Puerto Rico thrives on federal government transfer payments via Social Security and other programs, and because people can more easily claim disability there than elsewhere, they don’t work. The result is a moribund private sector and with it an unemployable—and occasionally overeducated—labor force. These circumstances differ from the mainland U.S. where educated Americans can’t as easily claim disability benefits and not work, and unlike the Puerto Rican government, holder of 30% of the island’s jobs, the U.S. government is trying to cut jobs when it should be expanding to utilize idle workers.

I don’t know whether students attending Puerto Rico’s law schools are debt peons like their American peers. I can say that if there’s any place not worth going to law school, it’s Puerto Rico. I just hope the students aren’t demanding cheap, over-enrolled higher education that will only hurt the poor more than help them.