Noam Scheiber of the New York Times went out to Hoosier land and decided he understood the entire market for legal education. This effort resulted in a lengthy profile of a handful of recent graduates of Valparaiso School of Law in northern Indiana. Sure enough Scheiber learned that becoming a lawyer is an expensive and challenging process. That’s what passes for news at the Times these days.
Apparently Scheiber was not interested in an accurate picture of the costs and benefits of law school. Instead of, for example, examining the standardized data on employment and income exhaustively collected every year by the Bureau of Labor Statistics he consulted with scambloggers who have a variety of vested interests in attacking law schools even when they have been the beneficiary of those same institutions.
While Scheiber maintains that legal employment has not rebounded from the credit crisis period in fact the BLS data show that legal employment and incomes have comfortably recovered from the decline that set in after the crisis. In fact, nationally incomes and jobs for lawyers have increased steadily for at least two decades. I summarized the national data here and here.
The BLS data for Indiana are also clear about the fact that employment and incomes have both rebounded. Lawyers employed in Indiana hit a post-crisis low in 2010 of 6,440. That number has now rebounded to 7,280, just above where it was at the peak of the mortgage bubble nearly a decade ago. And meanwhile average incomes have grown significantly, too, to $110,000 per year from a low of about $93,000 as the crisis unfolded.
Scheiber’s piece is disturbing for another reason: his uncritical acceptance of the narrative of the scambloggers who have less than zero understanding of the higher education environment. He ignores the peer reviewed and widely lauded data collected and analyzed by legal scholar Michael Simkovic and finance scholar Frank McIntyre who have shown unequivocally that a JD leads to a significant lifetime earnings premium over just a BA, even when taking into account the short term downturn of 2007-2008.
Finally, again relying on the scambloggers’ rants he suggests that law schools are failing because they all follow the “Harvard Yale Stanford” model, whatever that is. Presumably it refers to the fact that law professors can earn tenure. But in fact many law schools do not follow the HYS model. This is particularly true in California where, for example, a wide variety of law schools are allowed to train students for legal practice. California represents a very large share of the national market in law and legal education yet Scheiber ignores it. That’s because it does not fit his narrative suggesting law school is too costly. But even where different models are used that are far less costly, and do not have the structures in place one finds at HYS, the ups and downs of the wider macro-economy still impact law schools and law students. No wonder Scheiber pretends California does not exist.
So much all the news that’s fit to print.
[Our old friend Prof. Campos attempts to rescue Noam at his blog and I reply here.]