Professor Campos is shocked, shocked….

Completely shocked that his attack on the American law school has something in common with the Cato Institute and the Koch Brothers after taking an all expenses paid trip to be feted at their Hayek Auditorium and present his views on, well, yes, the American law school, Professor Campos is shouting to the high heavens anywhere he can that this conclusion should be dismissed as “conspiracy” theory.

The Cato event was chaired by nationally known law school critic Walter Olson hired at Cato in 2010 to lead their effort at legal reforms, including the targeting of law schools. The announcement of the 2013 event, which was constructed around the Failing Law Schools book by Brian Tamanaha (also at the event), claimed that “creative efforts to reduce the cost of law school were stymied by an accreditation process that closely constrains the format of legal education.” It touted the Tamanaha book as “a devastating critique of what went wrong with the American law school and what can be done to fix it.” It concluded that “none of the key contributors to the problem — faculty self-interest, university administrators’ myopia, cartel-like accreditation—escape unscathed in his analysis.”

It was a love fest all around as the video here makes clear.

That such a rhetorical flourish follows so soon on the heels of Campos’ accusation that his opponents are akin to “holocaust deniers” suggests that Campos and his merry band of followers have reached new heights of anxiety as the economic news continues to improve and employment outcomes for lawyers and law students continue to improve. I am beginning to wonder if Campos has been channeling the late Joe McCarthy who grew ever more aggressive in his accusations as the country began to realize his true nature.

Unfortunately, Campos is not content to be accurate in his representation of at least this opponent’s views. He cut and pasted a comment of mine about the Cato Institute and then added material to it in brackets that suggested a viewpoint that I do not hold. He did this at the blog for law school deans. I sent them the following comments:

For the record, Professor Campos is just inventing the idea that I suggested there is a conspiracy. But there is a shared agenda at work.

The comment Professor Campos refers to included a link to a long blog post that I wrote at the outset of my entry into the Great Law School Debate. It explores in depth my concern about the impact of the critics’ attack on the law school and the rule of law.

You can read it here.

The essence of the concern is that Professors Tamanaha and Campos have helped feed the agenda of the Cato/Koch crowd aimed at “de-regulating” law school including gutting tenure and other protections of academic freedom. My more specific critique of Tamanaha’s views can be found here.

Of course those are the protections that enable Professor Campos to engage in the kinds of whacky extramural speech that he uses to cover up the very weak case he makes about the alleged role law schools played in triggering the greatest economic downturn since the 1930s. Ironically when Professor Campos’ colleague Ward Churchill engaged in similarly absurd extramural speech in the wake of 9/11 and lost his job as a tenured professor at Colorado, Professor Campos went on Fox News to throw him under the bus (see here).

In addition to inventing the word conspiracy, which I never used, Professor Campos places the names of Professors Merritt and Tamanaha into brackets at the start of the second paragraph of the comment he clipped from Prawfsblawg (the original full and accurate comment can be found here.)

But that changes what I actually wrote and is therefore inaccurate, at least with respect to Professor Merritt. I said that the critics were either collaborating in the Cato agenda (such as supporting the weakening of tenure) or were naïve about how that agenda works. I do not know Professor Merritt’s views on this issue and it is inappropriate for Professor Campos to have suggested otherwise.

“Where have all the lawyers gone?” for beginners

Professor Campos and his colleague Professor Scott Lemieux at their blog (once dismissed by liberal journo Glenn Greenwald as a “cesspool” – after mistakenly spending a few minutes today interacting there, I know now what he meant) profess not to understand the nature of supply and demand in the market for lawyers. Clearly that is true. Their confusion appears to be shared by several of the commenters on the blog as well their fellow opponents of American law schools, Ohio State’s Professor Merritt and Washington University’s Brian Tamanaha.

So here is a simpler version of the description of that market I provided here in a prior post.

We produce approximately 32,500 newly law school graduates each year who both want to practice law and who gain a license to do so by passing the bar. Of course there are more JDs who graduate each year from both ABA and non-ABA schools. But not all of them want to practice law and not all of them pass the bar. (I get that number by looking at an average of 40,000 graduates from ABA law schools and then subtracting a certain percentage who do not pass the bar and who do not want to practice law, but then adding back in some from the non-ABA schools. See the earlier post for details.)

Each year we add, according to the BLS, approximately 10,000 net new positions for employed lawyers. Currently there are approximately 600,000 people employed as lawyers. This does not include partners, solo practitioners, judges and a number of other JD-required positions.

Those who oppose the American law school claim there just aren’t enough jobs for those 32,500 new JDs. At first glance that appears to be true but keep in mind that the 10,000 is a net figure. Each year, however, employed lawyers get promoted to partner (where they make more money, of course), start a solo practice (very common here in Silicon Valley), retire, die or just plain quit.

We would require approximately 20,000 of these shifts out of the “employed lawyer” category to occur each year to absorb supply. That may seem like a lot and maybe it is. But from a base of, on average, about 500,000 employed lawyers going back some 20 years, it’s only about 4%. (I’m neither a labor economist nor a demographer so this last figure is subject to debate.)

There is likely a lot of variation in all these factors every year and in fact the credit crisis and dotcom/telecom crashes likely wrecked havoc on historical averages in variables like retirement ages for employed lawyers. And that likely is why we have had an overhang of supply in the last few years.

The assumptions I make here could be wrong but when asked about it (my positing a 4% exit rate is purely a working hypothesis, for example), the critics have not come up with significantly different numbers.

Lawyers have done well financially, too. While not outstripping GDP growth (as I originally and mistakenly suggested) they have outstripped inflation. Factor in higher paid partners and likely they have stayed comfortably ahead of inflation. This suggests lawyers have solid market power, able to defend and even increase their income in an intensely competitive marketplace.

This is the logic that underlies the significant positive net present value (a concept I tried, patiently but I think unsuccessfully, to explain to Professor Campos in an earlier post here) of the JD as explained by the research of Simkovic and McIntyre. And this suggests that lawyers remain in demand. Society may be willing to allow lawyers to beat inflation because demand actually outstrips supply. That is of little comfort to new JDs but it points to the eventual solution to the temporary mismatch in the market.

This will no doubt not end our great law school debate but I hope the confused folks over at Lawyers, Guns and Money can now see how the world of supply and demand actually works.

Where have all the lawyers gone?

In the renewed debate over the relative health of legal education that has taken place on blogs and elsewhere of late, Professors Tamanaha and Merritt, widely known as opponents of law school as it currently exists, claim there are missing lawyers somewhere. In a recent exchange on Prawfsblawg following the misleading New York Times story on 2010 law school graduates, Professor Merritt claims demand for new lawyers is flat and Professor Tamanaha asks me why every recent law school graduate doesn’t have a job immediately upon graduation.

These kinds of questions have been at the heart of the critics’ case as they have to insist that there is an unprecedented structural crisis in legal education that cannot resolve itself through ordinary market mechanisms. Thus, there have to be a lot of missing lawyer jobs in order to create a deep-set structural mismatch between the number of students graduating from law school and the number of jobs available. Most of the time the critics rely on the BLS’s notoriously unreliable projections of future legal jobs to conclude that there are just too many law students and not enough lawyer jobs. (Even BLS officials admit the limited usefulness of these projections.)

But a review of the actual historical data used to estimate job numbers and income going back to the late 90s available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals a very different pattern than the one law school opponents desire.

I reviewed this data in an earlier post but did not apply that data to the question of supply and demand raised now by Professors Tamanaha and Merritt. In addition, another year of data – up to May 2014 – is now available from the BLS.

First, the new added data through May 2014, confirms the trend stretching back to 1997. The number of people employed as lawyers and the income they earn are both up again. As of May 2014 there were 603,310 lawyers employed in the United States and on average (mean) they earned $133,470 per year. That’s an increase in jobs from 592,670 the previous year and an increase in income from $131,990.

In fact, income for lawyers has increased every year since 1997 (the earliest year for which data are readily available from the BLS) and the number of people employed as lawyers has increased every year since 1997 except in 2008, the high point of the credit crisis.*

(Median income increased by 54% in nominal terms. Medians however declined in two years in this period – 2000 and 2010.)

Now, what is the implication of the available BLS data for the question posed at the outset: where have all the lawyers gone? Or perhaps more importantly where have all the young JDs gone?

Well, it is not accurate to state as Professor Merritt does that demand for new lawyers “will remain flat.” In fact, demand for lawyers has increased every year since 1997, except in 2008 and as a result lawyers have been able to increase their incomes significantly faster than inflation or the rate of GDP growth. (Correction: nominal GDP has increased faster than nominal lawyer incomes.) Arguably, there are too few lawyers and that explains why they have been able to grab more income for the profession. In fact, that likely explains why right wing anti-law school anti-higher education outfits like the Koch Brothers funded Cato Institute have feted figures like Professor Tamanaha and his colleague in arms Professor Campos (in their Friedrich Hayek Auditorium no less). These pro-corporate think tanks are well aware of the cost impact of legal services for their constituents and would like to see that bill cut back significantly.

But the news for lawyers is that this effort has not been terribly successful. And, in fact, the news for law schools is that, more or less, law schools have managed the supply of lawyers quite successfully despite what opponents of law schools say. Of course, this is not to minimize the terrible short term mismatch that occurred in the wake of the bursting of the credit bubble.

How do I reach this conclusion?

Well, there were approximately 425,000 lawyers employed in 1997 and 600,000 in 2014. That means over 18 years we added, net, about 175,000 new lawyers. Every year – except 2008 – that annual number increased. That tells me society wanted to employ more lawyers and when we add in the fact that lawyer incomes increased each year in that period as well, from a low in 1997 of about 73,000 to a high in 2014 of 133,000 it tells me society was willing to pay lawyers more also.

That growth in the average (mean) annual wage paid to lawyers is significant, too, because it outstripped inflation and the growth in GDP. This suggests that lawyers have market power. No wonder Cato and the Koch Brothers are upset.

Now let’s go back to the number of employed lawyers. On average, the net number of additional lawyers employed each year from 1997 to 2014 is 9,722. Let’s just call it 10,000 per year. ABA law schools on average produced roughly 40,000 JDs every year. Let’s assume that 5000 of these students do not pass the bar (very conservative I think) and that another 5000 do pass the bar but do not want to be employed as a lawyer (again, likely very conservative). That leaves 30,000 newly minted licensed JDs each year who want to be employed as lawyers. Some will want to go solo, but such a small number that we can leave that aside for the moment (again a number that helps the critics but perhaps it offsets the rounding up to 10K).

Now we saw above that, net, the market for employed lawyers absorbs about 10,000 new lawyers each year. So we have to get rid of 20,000 of the existing pool of employed lawyers every year. How hard is that? Well, people’s lives change, people retire, and, sadly, people die. If we guesstimate that on average over the last two decades we have had 500,000 lawyers employed each year, that means we need for about 4% of them to leave the profession – one way or another each year on average – to make room for the newly minted JDs. That does not seem an absurdly high number.

Of course, non-ABA law schools add some more to the supply. There are roughly 10,000 students enrolled in these schools but of course the graduate rates and the bar passage rates are very low so perhaps the non-ABA schools add another 2,500 licensed JDs who want to be employed. That would require bumping up the leave rate a bit but not by very much.

In other words, over a long time frame – nearly two decades – law schools have managed to generate a supply of new lawyers that roughly matches social demand. In fact, one could argue that we don’t produce enough lawyers because society is actually willing to pay employed lawyers substantially more than they once earned. Rather than complaining you would think Koch and Cato would celebrate the graduation rates of new JDs.

Now this answers Professor Merritt’s claim that demand is flat but what about Professor Tamanaha’s concern that recent law school graduates are not all finding full time long term jobs as JDs?

Well, of course, nothing in the BLS data tells how long each lawyer is employed and we have to allow for at least 20% to fail the bar or choose to do something other than become employed as a lawyer. But nonetheless it is clear that for a limited period of time starting soon after the bursting of the credit bubble in 2008 that supply appears to have outstripped demand.

That conclusion – as unfortunate as it is for the newly minted JDs who could not immediately find work – is not terribly informative about the job that law schools perform. Given the variables involved – law school pass rates, bar pass rates, decisions of thousands of students to work as lawyers or pursue alternatives, retirement rates, death rates – it is easy to imagine a situation where in any given year or for a period of several years, supply and demand do not match.

Indeed, there was likely a kind of perfect storm after both the dotcom/telecom crash and the credit crisis of 2008. College graduates with BAs likely could not find work so applied in much larger numbers to law school, already employed lawyers likely put off plans to retire as uncertainty about their financial futures increased, employers of lawyers (law firms, government, corporations) delayed hiring plans.

But this is the expected, if problematic and unfortunate, impact of a financial downturn. It says very little about the performance of law schools and as I explained in my review of Professor Tamanaha’s book Failing Law Schools he fails to make the case that there was opportunistic or manipulative enrollment management underway in law schools. In fact, when law school applicants hit 100,000 in 2004 1L admitted applicants actually declined from the prior year.

While there are many changes that law schools can and should and in fact are making in the way they deliver legal education, it is a mistake to be overly concerned – some might even say fanatically obsessed – with the daily lives of law professors and deans. Actually, the biggest concern we should have is that the current economic recovery – which in my region of the country has pushed the mean salary of lawyers to more than $200,000 per year – falters. That could delay what is already a painfully slow economic upturn and would make all but impossible the expensive and complex restructuring that so many of the law school critics advocate.

*Now, these numbers are “employed” lawyers so they do not include solo practitioners or partners who qualify as employers. But the first number is relatively small, approximately 4% on average of all practicing lawyers over that time period. And the second number is likely to skew income higher not lower, so excluding that number does not help the critics case that much. Arguably solos do less well financially (though we don’t know for sure based on the BLS data) so perhaps they cancel each other out.

When news no longer fits, make it up – myth making about law school in The New York Times

The picture The New York Times paints today about recent law school graduates sure sounds bad. Struggling 2010 Columbia JD who hoped to become a law firm partner appears to be barely surviving in life. But wait, he makes “more than $100 an hour.” The Times’ Elizabeth Olson, without any evidence, concludes that is “far less” than what he would be making as a lawyer.

But that $100 an hour would translates into $200,000 p.a. if the former law student worked full time at it (although it is not stated how many hours he actually works) and is in fact far more than most if not all fifth year associates at law firms make. In fact, the highest average salary in any one region for ALL lawyers in the country is only 195K! And it is far less in New York.

And while that Columbia student may not be doing what he had hoped to when he entered law school that is true of many graduates and always has been. Very very few graduates of law schools end up as partners at major law firms. One friend of mine who did make it was one of 35 law students hired as first years at a leading NY law firm. He was one of only 8 left by the time his partner year came up seven years later and he was the only one of those 8 to make partner. And that was a result of the glory years of the late 80s. In fact, 40% of all licensed lawyers do not practice law at all.

Finally, The Times ignores the alternative – what if their profiled Columbia graduate had left his undergraduate school without going to law school? Would he be better off or worse? The peer reviewed and published data we have by Simkovic and McIntyre says clearly that he would be worse off.

Instead of turning to readily available and widely known peer reviewed and published data, The Times strangely relies on information from a single state (Ohio) collected by a law professor widely known to be a harsh opponent of law schools who specializes in evidence and criminal law. Professor Merritt’s “study” has in fact not yet been “published” as The Times stated, much less peer reviewed (in fact, her peers have critiqued the article in detail as here), but has only been self-posted on the open source Social Science Research Network. (One of those posts at SSRN suggests the article will soon appear in the Michigan State Law Journal, which is not a peer reviewed journal. Interestingly Michigan State is one of the kinds of lower ranked law schools that critics like Merritt think should shut down because of the poor outcomes for their graduates.)

This is the second time in recent days that The Times has published a seriously flawed piece on higher education. One has to wonder what has happened at our so-called “paper of record.”

The elephant in the room spooks Colorado Law’s Paul Campos

Atteberry-elephantRoom721Consider for a moment, if you have the fortitude, the dismal plight of anti-law school gadfly Paul Campos, who somehow still collects a very comfortable salary from the oh-so-tolerant taxpayers and law students of Colorado despite his oft stated personal belief that he is engaged in scamming them.

Having imploded in spectacular fashion – as detailed by Brian Leiter here and by me here – on the pages of The New York Times he is now frightened that even his diehard followers in the anti-law school blogosphere will abandon him.

After all, among those who pounced on Campos for his disastrously wrong-headed critique of higher education were liberal sites Slate (“one of the worst explanations”), Crooked Timber and Demos (“terrible explanation”), not to mention Nathan Brostrom, the CFO of the University of California and Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute. In fact, it is safe to say this column generated more attention to the limited capability and insight of Professor Campos than anything he has written to date. Unfortunately for him his misguided effort all but guarantees that he never again plays any credible role in the major debates about this important and complex institution.

His fix? Ignore the elephant in the room and, instead, distract or coddle his dwindling band of followers by drudging up two year old exchanges about alleged problems with the employment data compiled by law schools more than four years ago. This despite the fact that both logic and the law made it quite obvious that that data did not cause the ups and downs in law school enrollment any more than the data collected by scientists about the weather impacts climate change.*

Oh, and while Campos was at it he threw in a few ad hominem attacks along the way.

This all may be emotionally satisfying to Campos and his gang but it won’t have much impact on the fact that he has demonstrated once again his inability to understand the basic economic principles that govern higher education and the wider labor market.

There is a final unfortunate aspect to the most recent comments of Campos that he shares with at least one other prominent leader of the anti-law school blogging world. Namely, his persistence in attacking his opponents by attacking the schools at which they teach. Campos’ comrade in arms, Deborah Merritt of Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, recently attempted the same gambit when she clearly realized her feeble efforts to undermine the solid, peer reviewed and published research of Michael Simkovic (Seton Hall) and Frank McIntyre (Rutgers) had failed. Merritt’s own “research” in this area has not survived this kind of assessment but that has nothing to do with where she teaches (even though it’s not Harvard.)

Behind this base and crude tactic appears to be an assumption that if you teach at a lower ranked law school (where employment outcomes are often weaker than those at higher ranked schools) it says something disabling about your research. The implications of this kind of argument for the integrity of academia as a whole should be readily apparent. Of course they may not be to the kind of follower that Campos and Merritt aim to recruit and so they continue this approach. In my own field, I wonder what would have happened to some of our most important theoretical insights if, for example, the world had derided the research of Michael Jensen on agency theory because when he published his landmark article while at the University of Rochester (with William Meckling also at Rochester), long before he ended up at Harvard.

In any case, I was pleased to see Ted Seto, of Loyola Marymount School of Law, call out Merritt stating he thinks “it regrettable that Prof. Merritt feels compelled to go after Simkovic’s law school. This kind of ad hominem attack has no place in respectable academic scholarship.”

It is, of course, too much to ask that Campos change his stripes but perhaps a few more of those so new to his gambit that they are tempted to adopt his views on law school will instead look for objective and reliable sources of information in the future. Those sources, including the important work of Simkovic and McIntyre, make clear that for most law students earning a JD makes more financial sense than going through life with the BA as their terminal degree. In fact, this is true even taking into account the cycles of the labor market as the most recent research straightforwardly demonstrates.

*Of course, in theory, behavioral biases of potential law school applicants might impact decisions about whether to apply to law school. “Short termism,” for example, or bounded rationality, can prejudice decision making even though the objective data on outcomes in terms of lifetime earnings have not changed. The critics of law school like this possibility since they like to invoke it to demonstrate that their minor impact on the debate about law school data changed the dynamic of the legal education market place. I have not seen any serious data to back this up, however.

Washington Post feeds the anti-law school myth making again

Above the Law’s David Lat was let into the pages of the Washington Post today in an attempt to feed the beast of myth making about law school. This is becoming a bit of a habit at the Post which recently allowed one of its own columnists to mislead the public about law schools as I explained here. Perhaps it’s the influence of their new owner, Jeff Bezos, known to lean libertarian.

Lat implies there are too many lawyers (a favorite meme of the right, of course). Apparently he is ignorant of the laws of supply and demand. Law school applicants have declined significantly in the wake of the credit crisis, continuing a decades old pattern of cyclicality in the market for legal education. If there is an oversupply then the market has a way to deal with the problem. The availability of federal aid has not stopped the steep drop off in applications since the credit crisis anymore than it likely created the steep increase in the several years prior to the bubble’s burst.

He also implies that the fact that “only 57%” of recent law school graduates obtained full time legal jobs is indicative of the oversupply problem when, in fact, that outcome is broadly consistent with the proportion of licensed lawyers actually working as lawyers over the past two decades (according to data from the BLS and ABA). Only about 60% of licensed lawyers work as lawyers. I explored this issue in greater detail here.

While the manner in which law students fund their education can be a problem, the long term value of a JD remains positive for most law school graduates as recent peer reviewed research by Professors Simkovic and McIntyre concludes even when the current cost of law school is taken into account.

When you combine the actual data about what JD holders do with their degrees and what they earn over a lifetime – particularly relative to the alternative of going through life with just a BA as one’s terminal degree – it is not a surprise that law school remains an attractive option to tens of thousands of college graduates.

UPDATED – The Paul Campos higher education column fiasco – what was The New York Times thinking?

Professor Paul Campos thinks of himself as a kind of liberal (despite taking up the anti-lawyer rhetoric of the reactionary right wing Cato Institute – at an event held in the Hayek Auditorium no less – and serving as an “expert” for the Federalist Society). After all, he is a leading blogger at a website that touts a traditional far left line at almost every point, with endlessly boring posts about, for example, a labor history that has long been forgotten in post-industrial America. (And I say this as someone who has been a strong supporter of organized labor for many years.)

And since Campos has generated a small but dedicated following among disgruntled former law students with his vituperative but often wrong headed attacks on law schools (including the one he teaches at), it probably occurred to the liberal editors at The New York Times to task Campos with the responsibility of analyzing what ails all of higher education.

Big mistake.

Campos wanted, it seems, to argue that recent conflicts between state governments and University officials are misguided because the real problem is not a decline in state funding of education but an increase in the salaries paid to “administrators.”

It is, of course, true that there has been a significant increase in non-teaching professionals hired by colleges and universities over the last few decades. It is also the case that often (though not always if one includes community colleges, for example) the salaries paid those professionals have increased significantly and at rates higher than the increases awarded to teaching and research faculty and non-professional staff.

But it is not at all clear that these trends are linked to a decline in the quality of education provided by colleges and universities (an issue Campos ignores). And it is, in fact, quite clear that when one moves beyond the absolute numbers that Campos oddly relies on to more meaningful per student expenditures the picture changes. As Sandy Baum of the Urban Institute pointed out in response to the Campos column:

After adjusting for inflation, state appropriations per student were 18 percent lower in 2013-14 than they were thirty years earlier, and 29 percent lower than their peak in 1988-89. Over the past decade, state funding per student declined by 14 percent.

In contrast, institutional expenditures per student rose by a total of 6 percent at public doctoral universities over this ten-year period, and by 3 percent at public master’s universities. Community colleges spend 7 percent less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars than they did a decade ago. So there has not been a rapid rise in spending on public college campuses that could be the primary driver of tuition increases.

It is not rising expenditures, but declining state revenues that account for most of the pressure on state institutions to raise tuition.

In other words, it is far too simplistic to conclude that the battle ongoing between liberal Democrat Janet Napolitano, the President of the University of California, and liberal Democrat Jerry Brown, the Governor of California, is simply about Napolitano trying to defend the turf of her administrative team.

The furor over the article soon spread beyond the comments section of the Times, as Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago noted on his blog, to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education and Slate. Now the criticism has spread to blogs like Crooked Timber, a home for liberal academics that one would normally assume would be supportive of criticisms of “administrative bloat” in higher education.

At every turn the Campos piece was criticized for being badly written, incoherent, and not fact checked. It is a bit of a mystery, then, why the Times would sacrifice very valuable real estate on such a critical issue of public concern for an individual who has no serious background in the field. As Professor Leiter noted, Campos has trouble with long division. Those of us who have tried to disentangle Campos’ often convoluted and thoughtless comments on the law school world already know about his limitations particularly when he tries to handle data. A bit of diligence by the Times might have saved them the embarrassment this piece has caused and perhaps a responsible contribution to this important and complex issue could have been made.

UPDATE: The Washington Post has joined the list of critics of the Campos piece while the digital media site Talking New Media says the Times is “taking it on the chin” for the piece.

UPDATE 2: Even academics who profess to like Campos found the piece “misleading.” Other commentators have been less, well, friendly. The AAUP’s Academe blog weighed in as well saying it would be generous to say Campos gets the story “half-right.”I did, after a diligent search, find a single solid fan of the Campos post here at a blog called International Liberty run by Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at – you may have guessed it – the Cato Institute. Mitchell is proud that the UK Guardian calls him “a high priest of light tax, small state libertarianism.”

UPDATE 3: Campos may not be able to retain his liberal credential after this assessment of his column by the think tank Demos. They called the op-ed “terrible,” “unbelievably misleading,” “badly wrong,” “irresponsible” (for ignoring per student expenses), and, finally, “outside” of “evidence-based reality.” No wonder they ask the same question I did and that, as of yet, has gone unanswered: how did this piece get by the Times’ fact checkers?

UPDATE 4: The Times has run several letters, mostly critical of Campos, here. This hardly makes up for their mistake but perhaps the Public Editor will take a closer look at what led to this debacle, as I suggested to her yesterday.

Compelling new paper on Kant demonstrates relevance of legal scholarship

imagesOnce again a leading legal scholar, this time Orin Kerr of George Washington University, has demonstrated the relevance and power of legal scholarship.

Responding to a dramatic challenge to academia from none other than Chief Justice Roberts, Professor Kerr tackled a longstanding open question in legal history: what, exactly, was the contribution of the philosopher Immanuel Kant to the law of evidence in 18th century Bulgaria?

Relying on original research into the question including contact with the Library of Congress, Professor Kerr concludes that in all likelihood Kant’s influence in Bulgaria was non-existent.

The posting of this paper on SSRN (here) is significant in and of itself. Ordinarily research with what is called a “non-result” is quickly buried in the back yard of academia, never to be heard of again. Recently, however, there have been calls for non-result research to receive greater attention. This may explain why the widely followed Legal Theory blog managed by Professor Larry Solum gave the paper the attention it did earlier this week.

Chinese state cracks down on Berkeley labor education effort

A major blow to the idea that there can be engagement with the Chinese state unions as described in the Wall Street Journal.

Another account here:

Chinese state cracks down, but workers keep fighting | REDFLAG.

Sadly, some in the law school world operate under the same illusions as some in our democratic labor movement. See my exchange with NYU professor Rick Hills here and here.

New research by Simkovic and McIntyre delivers another blow to law school critics’ case

Exhaustive analysis by law professor Michael Simkovic and finance professor Frank McIntyre demonstrated conclusively that earning a JD provides a lifetime earnings premium relative to going through life with just a BA degree. That paper, The Economic Value of a Law Degree (but known widely as “The Million Dollar Degree” paper because that is the present value of the premium earned (pre-tax and pre-tuition) at the mean for JD holders), was recently published in a leading peer reviewed journal.

The results of that research undermined the credibility of the attack on law schools by a range of figures inside and outside the academy. That attack rested largely on anecdotal information, weak assessments of the small amounts of data that was examined as well as outright bluster, so the appearance of rigorous empirical research was jarring to the critics. Some tried a range of unfair personal attacks on the authors or floundered around in a futile attempt to undermine their methodology. These attacks reflected badly on the collegial culture that is so essential to the academic enterprise.

Now Simkovic and McIntyre have extended their earlier work posting a new research paper to SSRN that reaffirms their earlier conclusions from a new angle. While still a working paper, the authors conclude that efforts to time one’s decision to go to law school relative to the ups and downs of the economy are not worthwhile. The idea that someone who wants to earn a JD should consider delaying that effort because of a downturn in the economy is only likely to reduce the lifetime premium one can accrue by earning a JD.

Here is the abstract from the new paper, entitled “Timing Law School”:

“We investigate whether economic conditions at labor market entry have persistent effects on law graduate earnings. We find that unemployment levels at graduation continue to affect law earnings premiums within 4 years after graduation. For law graduates entering the labor market in strong economies, early outcomes are particularly good. However, the effect quickly fades as law graduates gain experience and the impact on lifetime earnings is relatively small. Outcomes data available prior to matriculation do not predict unemployment or starting salaries at graduation. Earnings premiums are not predicted by either cohort size or projected job openings. Even an effective “timing” strategy would likely be outweighed by the opportunity cost of a two-year delay in law school completion.”

Relying on Census Bureau data, the authors track the earnings of new JD holders (80% of a larger group of professional degree holders other than those in medical fields) and find that even those unfortunate enough to graduate into the worst financial crisis in American history have out-earned their college colleagues who decided to stop their education with a BA. Here is a table demonstrating those results (the vertical black line demarcates 2008):

New S M paper

As the wider macroeconomy improves, the market for JDs is also improving as discussed here, here and here. Combined with the longterm and in depth research of these authors, this development does not augur well for the few remaining critics of law school.

Much of the effort by the critics to persuade students not to go to law school revolves around a peculiar obsession with the short term. Perhaps that is understandable for people in their 20s and it may go a long way to explaining the volatility of the rate of applications to law school. Those applications cycle up and down even though the actual number and incomes of employed lawyers has increased steadily for many years. In light of this new research, however, it borders on professional irresponsibility for experienced legal academics and lawyers to feed into the short term meme.

I asked co-author Michael Simkovic to summarize the key takeaways of the new paper. He responded with the following list:

1) If the decision is between going to law school and entering the labor market with a bachelor’s degree, most people will be much, much better off financially over the course of a lifetime with a law degree, whether they graduate into a good or bad economy

2) The luck of timing (graduating into a good or bad economy) matters for the first few years, but in the long run, doesn’t make much of a difference

3) Short term indicators like employment or earnings 9 months after graduation from NALP or the ABA are not very useful. These short term fluctuations don’t predict what you can expect 3 or 4 years in the future when you graduate. Better to focus on long term historical averages rather than recent short term fluctuations (i.e., read The Economic Value of a Law Degree).

4) You can’t “time” the market by waiting for the “right” time to go to law school, so don’t try. The best time to go to law school doesn’t depend on entering class sizes and it doesn’t depend on what’s currently going on in the economy.
(there might be an exception if law school is particularly inexpensive at a particular point in time because of more scholarship money, and the quality isn’t any lower, but that’s a cost issue, not a value issue).

5) The best time to go to law school is the earliest point possible after which you make the decision that you’d eventually like to go. By waiting, you’re spending more of your limited working life working for lower wages, and you aren’t changing your chances of graduating into a more favorable economy.

6) There’s no evidence that young law graduates in recent years are doing worse, relative to bachelor’s degree holders, than would be expected based on the historical data and the recent economic downturn. In other words, there is no evidence that structural change has reduced the value of a law degree; if anything, it seems to be increasing over time as the earnings of highly educated workers keep increasing in real terms over the long run.

7) You probably won’t become a partner in a big law firm and that’s okay. You’ll probably still earn a lot more over the course of a lifetime than you would without a law degree.

8) You probably won’t get a job at big law firm; most people don’t now and most people haven’t in the past. That’s okay. You’ll probably still earn a lot more over the course of a lifetime than you would without a law degree.

9) You don’t need to practice law to benefit financially from a law degree; around 40 percent of law graduates do not practice law, and they still generally earn substantially more than they would have with just a bachelor’s degree

10) If you’re deciding between law school and another type of graduate school, stay tuned; we hope to have better information on this question soon; What little information is available suggests that a law degree probably compares reasonably well to most alternatives other than a medical degree in terms of the boost to earnings and the cost.

Among the most telling of these points is that a very substantial number of JD earners do not practice as lawyers and even among those that do very very few end up as partners of major law firms. Yet, much of the attack on law school has centered on nine month employment rates in JD required jobs. That kind of focus is misguided and has been for many years. What might be more useful would be a debate about aligning what we really know to be the case about JD earnings and the cost of going to law school. There may be a mismatch in assets and liabilities – in other words, debt repayments should be structured to allow young JD holders time to get established in the work force. IBR and other payment plans may have this effect but this area could likely bear closer scrutiny. Insulting law schools and law professors will not move the needle very much.