Astronomy or Astrology: A reply to Steven Harper at American Lawyer

270px-Venice_ast_smI posted this letter today in response to the recent article at American Lawyer by Steven Harper criticizing both the Simkovic and McIntyre paper and me:

Mr. Harper,

There are a number of problems with your response to the work of Professors Simkovic and McIntyre and I am sure the authors will reply as they see fit.

However, I should point out that your understanding of the implication of the valuation process is incorrect. A careful reading of my posts on this matter should help clarify the problems. In a nutshell, when faced with only two choices, it makes sense to choose the one with relatively higher positive net present value. The magnitude of the difference is irrelevant.

The challenge for an individual law student is to determine where they are likely to fall along the distribution. I don’t think the Simkovic/McIntyre paper was intended to be a calculator for prospective law students and so criticizing them for that issue is unfair. However, the paper does provide concrete evidence that such a distribution actually exists and that for most points on the distribution the present value of the earnings premium associated with a JD is positive. 

This is the difference between engaging in “astrology” and “astronomy” and it should and I think has shifted the debate away from amateur stargazers. 

I do also want to correct your characterization of my work on this issue as “resisting” necessary change. I can only conclude that you have not been able to take the time to read my numerous suggestions for reform of legal education and in particular my Lawyers for America proposal to help relieve the debt that unemployed JDs now face.

It has been disappointing to me that so few, if any, of the leading so-called “critics” of law school have been willing to support efforts to deal with the current plight of thousands of highly trained and motivated young people. 

I think it also fair to say that among my law school colleagues I am considered an aggressive advocate for change, including, for example, an endorsement of the experimental use of MOOC in law schools. 

You can find these and other suggestions on the same website that you linked to in your article,


Stephen F. Diamond, Associate Professor of Law, Santa Clara University School of Law

Mr. Harper is, of course, as is noted at the end of the article a part of the campaign to convince the world that legal education is “deteriorating.” It is interesting to note that Mr. Harper is the author of a moving memoir of his father’s experience as a rank and file Teamster who clashed, at significant personal expense, with Jimmy Hoffa. Despite what was clearly a traumatic experience with a powerful labor union, Mr. Harper professes to be the supporter of what he calls in the book a “progressive” labor movement. It is remarkable then that he seems intent on undermining one of the most important progressive institutions in American history, the American law school. I explained the law school’s importance to a democratic society in my essay on Brian Tamanaha and his book Failing Law Schools here.

Indeed, Simkovic and McIntyre have responded to the allegations of Harper as well as AmLaw Daily contributor Matt Leichter here.