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April 30, 2013

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Um.

"Many clerkships on both the state and federal level last one or two years. Many others, however, last longer. It is not at all unusual in Pennsylvania for state court clerkships to last for several years. On both the state and federal levels, some clerk positions are permanent or quasi-permanent. My impression is that permanent clerkships are more common on the state level than the federal level."

Is it really appropriate to talk about federal clerkships in the Widener context when -- from what I can tell -- the school has only one or two per year? (According to LST, the classes of 2010-2012 range between 0.3% and 0.8% federal clerkship placement.)

Ben Barros

I intended that to be a comment on the general state of clerkship duration. You are correct that Widener-Harrisburg graduates do not get a lot of federal clerkships - one or fewer a year. All but one of the clerkships in the count in my post are state court clerkships.

Who-horton

Do you have any information regarding whether those employment numbers are even accurate?

Are the subject to audit?

I am not familiar with this particular law school, but overstating employment stats a widespread and well documented problem at 3rd and 4th fire law schools?

Brian Tamanaha

Ben,

I think it's great that you are doing this type of follow-up. The lack of information after the standard reporting periods is a real problem. Besides what happens after nine months, we know almost nothing about 3 years out, 5 years out, etc.

You are right that the longer term numbers, while not great, look better than 9 months out, and that is good news. I have a few comments and questions.

In my post that you link to, I do in fact condition my observation on the nine month date, writing: "the percentage of the graduating class of 2011 that landed full time jobs as lawyers (at least one year duration) within nine months of graduation." I assumed that a reader would keep this in mind, making it unnecessary for me to repeat it again in the sentence you quoted.

I assume that the employment percentages you report are for full-time jobs; please clarify if that is not right.

The issue is not only whether law grads are getting jobs, but also whether these jobs pay enough to manage their debt. The average debt for the Widener class of 2012 was $123,000; to this we must add undergraduate debt and interest accrued. A substantial salary is required to manage debt levels this high. Do you have any information about salaries?

Brian Tamanaha

Ben,

I should clarify a couple of points. I don't expect you to know their salaries from a survey (although that would be ideal). In place of that, we can estimate salaries based upon firm size (NALP has solid data on this). Do you have information about the size of the firms graduates work in? With this information, we can get a better sense of whether the conventional wisdom is wrong.

The average debt figure I cited is from 2012, which US News publishes online. The classes you report are 2010 and 2011, which had lower average debt, although both classes probably exceeded $100,000. The point remains that debt levels this high require substantial salaries.

Ben Barros

Who-horton, if you re-read the post, I discuss the methodology. The numbers are accurate to the best of my ability. I would note that there is a lawsuit pending against Widener (though, of course, I cannot comment on the substance of it). If you read my bio, you will see that I am a former litigator. I am also not a complete idiot. If you take a look at FRCP 26, you will see that I have a good reason to make my data as accurate as possible.

Brian, thanks. My apologies for missing that reference to nine-months in your post; I will edit the post in the morning to indicate that my use of your post of an example wasn't fair. Yes, as far as I can tell, all of the jobs other than the two temp jobs are permanent. As far as salary data goes, no, I don't have any, though I hope to get that kind of data in the future. I haven't figured out a particularly good methodology for that yet. I note in the full document referenced above, and will mention in one of the later posts in the series, that I have serious reservations about focusing on first-year salary. Lawyer salaries tend to go up, and I think it important to look at a the larger context to get an accurate picture of graduates' ability to repay their debt. One of the things that I'd like to do with this project as it progresses is to track the the progress of lawyers' careers over time. My data for older classes is not as complete as for these two classes, but one thing that is easy to see is that most people 10 or 15 years out who are in private practice have the title "partner", where most who are out only a few years have the title "associate". You also see very few judicial clerks or assistant district attorneys in the older classes. The people who are still prosecutors are the District Attorney, First Assistant District Attorney, or have some other similar senior position. This said, I appreciate the larger points you are making about student debt, and I welcome further conversation on the topic.

Ben Barros

Brian, thanks for the follow-up. I will look at my data tomorrow and see what I can do as far as salary ranges for some of the job types.

Steven Freedman

Fascinating work. I think we're all frustrated by the lack of long term outcomes data. This is one small step towards gaining a better understanding of how law grads fare post graduation. That's not to diminish what must have been quite an undertaking on your part. I know our Career Services folks spend countless hours tracking down our alums for NALP and ABA reports, work that can only be more difficult as the time grows from graduation.

What would be helpful is if NALP or some other organization devoted more resources to efforts such as these.

One area that you touched upon was the issue of solo practitioners. Sure some students are committed to starting a solo practice or a practice with one or two law school buddies. But how many of these students are actually committed versus being prodded by their schools to say they are doing it? What constitutes being in a solo practice? Business cards and a rudimentary website? Or actually pounding the pavement for clients, putting yourself on attorney lists, and aggressively networking with working attorneys for small time work.

We certainly don't do it, and I don't have any evidence more than a strong suspicion that anyone else is doing it, but I suspect a small number of schools are pushing students to declare themselves practitioners to gild their stats. Just look for schools with suspiciously high numbers of students in the 2-10 category, that's where the smoke is.

What could be helpful would be to add a category of "self-employed" graduates. This would be a useful distinction that could help separate some of the wheat from the chaff.

Sorry for going on such a long tangent. I really admire the effort you put into your study and look forward to the subsequent posts.

Ben Barros

Steven, thanks. I agree that it would be great if NALP, the ABA, or someone else put together some comprehensive long-term employment data. As you suggest, just getting this set was a lot of work. It was easy, though, to get data for around 75% of any given class. Even 75% data would be useful to have in many contexts.

I also agree that solos are hard to get a good handle on. I'm not sure that any schools actually prod recent graduates to do this. I'm also not sure, one way or the other, that there is much going on in the 2-10 category. But I do like the self-employed idea. Even this, though, can be a little misleading. Some recent graduates might be partners in a firm, and fit in the self-employed category, if they join a firm with a member of their family. One thing I can say for sure is that the solo category is very diverse.

JHY

I think this is a good effort and echo some of the points above that salary data would be helpful as well.

One point of clarification on your methodology. How do you treat people who found but later lost jobs? Are you gathering data on employed people as of a particular date?

Ben Barros

JHY, thanks. If someone had a job but later lost it, I am treating them as unemployed. The study aims to be a snapshot of what people are doing at a particular time period. Because of how the study was put together, this time period is best stated as the last several months. I'd also note that where possible, we tried to rely on public data like the bar website I mention in the post. It is possible that someone might have lost a job, or moved to another one, and not given updated information to the bar.

Mike Madison

A footnote to your observation about lawyers doing real estate title searching and clearance: In Pennsylvania the amount of title work has gone way up in recent years because of the shale gas drilling business here. Not all of that work goes to new JDs, but a lot of it does.

Ben Barros

Mike, I agree. I'll mention this in my next post, but two areas come to mind when I think about relatively new sources of work for lawyers - shale gas and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Brian Tamanaha

A former student sent me an email commenting on this post. He raises a perspective we should keep in mind in this discussion, so I reprint his message below with permission (it helps to bear in mind that he landed an excellent job and is not unhappy about his law school experience):

"I just perused the Barros' post on Widener. While I applaud someone doing detailed leg work and compiling new data, his post highlights a problem I see with many of the law professors engaged in "push-back." No one takes into account the lives of the people behind the data.

The Widener class of 2011 had a 9 month employment JD required rate of 50%, and now two years later the number has increased to 75%. On one hand that is great. It is great to see people finally finding some jobs. But on the other hand, I can only imagine the miserable existence one goes through searching for any legal job for over two years. How do they pay for for rent? How do they pay for food? After seven years of education, do they move home for 12-24 months an rely on the goodwill of their parents? I know many people that stopped receiving financial support from their parents years ago.

I think it is easy to look at certain numbers and interpret them in a way that ignores the impact to the profession. Barros claims that Widener is getting "good" legal jobs. If at the end of the day, Widener ends up with good legal jobs, who is ending up with the bad ones? As you pointed out in the comments, the percentage means nothing without data on salary that tells us whether the debt is manageable.

As you also pointed out, the $124k debt number tells us less than meets the eye. That number does not include interest and undergraduate debt. It also does not include the interest that accumulates during loan deferment post graduation. The clock keeps ticking. So while 50% of Widener grads started paying down interest and principle within 9 months, another 25% had interest accumulate between months 9-24. Moreover, as I mentioned above, the job searchers have to pay for food, rent, and living expenses in the interim. I would be willing to bet a substantial chunk of those expenses are paid with credit cards.

This is toxic to the profession. Even if Barros is right - that the current job market is cyclical and not structural - "law" is still hurting in a way that is unlike any other downturn. The primary reason is debt. Even if the JD required outcomes is better than we thought a few years out (frankly, I was surprised by the numbers), the debt is climbing at an exponential rate."

Ben Barros

Brian, thanks for posting this. I have three quick reactions. First, I take into account the lives of the people behind the data in my every day life. I remain close to many of the people included in the study. I follow many of their lives through Facebook, and see many of them from time to time in various contexts. I agree that the fact that it is taking so long for them to get a job sucks. I wish the job market was better. Second, I agree that debt is a key issue. On that front, I will post some thoughts on salary shortly. Third, even if we conclude that the current state of the legal market is the result of macroeconomic factors, we should continue to think very hard about how to improve legal education, in terms of cost and in terms of value added.

Tyler

One of the biggest problems with understanding the crisis in legal employment is the absence of longitudinal data beyond nine months. - keep up the good work in terms of attempting to mine it. Tamanaha has rightly addressed this but any data has to take into account whether or not the "jobs" are adequate to service the staggering debt carried by many recent law grads. Indeed, for a grad with 100K+ in debt, the only jobs that are truly adequate are biglaw and those represent only about 10% of entry level openings. Another point is that there is not an automatic correlation between bar passage and increased job prospects - unlike other careers, remember that so much law hiring takes place while students are still enrolled - if you miss out on that lottery, passage of the bar does not serve as some kind of golden ticket (you can't say, "hey law firms that bypassed me at OCI, reconsider me now that I've passed the bar")

another consideration is that you should have avoided comparing career outcomes from undergrad to law school - a large number of people go to college for all sorts of reasons - a portion of which are only marginally related to career goals - by contrast, law is a professional school where the vast majority attend for one reason - to be a lawyer of some sort - whether it's biglaw M&A or a small-town public defender - you go to become a lawyer and employment outcomes should be a lot higher than "college"
by contrast, college outcomes are widely varied as the trust fund kid majoring in art history may "choose" to spend a few years backpacking around Thailand - at the other end of the college spectrum is the working class kid who majored in accounting and is prepping for the CPA exam ASAP - bottom line is that "college" and law school are apples and oranges

Finally, when looking at so-called "JD advantage" or "professional" jobs, you have to take into account the additional education and/or work experience these people had prior to law school. without this examination, your data will support those disingenuous deans who love to tell kids "you can do anything with a versatile law degree" - but this tends to be true only if you have additional experience and or education - the Deans like to claim versatility for the standard K-JD liberal artist and that is just not the case

look forward to more posts

Tyler

after I posted I read your full post on SSRN:

as for doc review, you note that such small percentage of Harrisburg grads are involved in that sector; since you worked in biglaw you should know that doc review traditionally is heavily concentrated in a few select metro markets: NYC, DC, Philadelphia - so there are likely few Harrisburg grads working as temporary attorneys in those areas - you also need to consider that doc review is still prevalent, but in recent years has been "in-sourced" to places such as Dayton, Wheeling, Richmond and Charlotte, where the agencies can pay rates as low as $20 per hour; now if one of these outfits such as Huron decides to put a doc review processing center in York or Lancaster, things maybe a little different in Central Pennsylvania

as for the BLS data, I still can't escape the nagging feeling that you put far too much stock in the prevalence of these "non-lawyer" jobs - aside from the need to take into account the additional education/experience of people in these jobs, you also need to look at reporting bias. The person with Hill experience before law school who got a great job as a Senate staffer is far more likely to report his job status than a K-JD who is working for relative peanuts in a call center

Ben Barros

Tyler, a couple of thoughts. I really don't think that Biglaw jobs are the only ones that allow people to service debt. You note that a lot of hiring is done during law school. That is true at some schools and in some contexts. Biglaw and some clerkships are often filled before graduation. Most other legal jobs are not filled so far in advance, in part because small employers cannot project hiring needs far in advance. Fair enough on the difference between college and law school, but I think the basic point holds - you can't look only to entry level jobs to measure the monetary value of any degree. Interesting point about education and work experience prior to law school. Off the top of my head, I can't think of too many graduates who are in JD advantage jobs that are tied to pre-law school education. The exception that comes to mind is the one person working as an accountant. Also, it is true that a lot of people with JDs do non-legal jobs - the deans are not being dishonest about that. The crux of the issue is how many people get these non-legal jobs, and how good they are. In your second post, interesting and fair point about where document review jobs are located. Re: the BLS data, I don't think I'm putting too much stock in non-lawyer jobs, in part because I'm just explaining what the data do and do not show. I also don't see how reporting bias comes in, because the BLS surveys are not filled out by the employees. Push back on any of this is welcome.

Brandon Reed

I think its great that you are challenging conventional thinking about what is being said in the legal industry and that you tried to collect data yourself. However, from a statistical stand point it is very unclear whether your sample is representative of the entire class of JD's that entered the workforce in 2010 and 2011. You can state opinions about those from your school but don't generalize it unless you can establish it is representative. It is possible to make it representative and I would suggest consulting with either a statistician or economist, either should be familiar enough with statistics to provide instruction on how to proceed.

As for challenging the conventional wisdom here are a few questions to be asked:
1)Does a legal education need to lead to a conventional job or can entrepreneurship be an acceptable route?
2)Why does the Bar Exam and the JD need to be bundled? Why not unbundle them? Meaning to be admitted to the Bar you need to have a JD and to Pass the Bar Exam, but you do not need a JD to take the Bar Exam.
3)Why not get have an LLB program in addition to the JD? Either route qualifies you to take the Bar Exam and be admitted into the Bar.
4)Do you need to be educated from an ABA accredited institution to be prepared to practice law? California Bar allows you to receive a legal education from a non-accredited institution and to take the Bar.
5)Can restricting supply solve an oversupply problem? (Restricting Supply ~ Stricter Achievement Standards for Law Schools, More Practice Experience Requirements for Licensing, Higher Cost Programs required for Law School like Clinical Offering Requirements, Anything it raises the cost of a legal education or increases the time required to obtain the license) No. This is an economics concept. Oversupply results from overpricing in the market and leads to non-consumption of available services. In this case perceived overpricing of legal services has lead to a gap in access to justice. To solve the oversupply problem lawyers should lower their prices and advertise their price reductions. They don't need to make their services free, just shave off their margins in order to take a greater share of the unmet legal need.

Anon

I am still somewhat unclear about how you collected your data. You state:

"We began with a list of the graduates from each class. We had some existing employment data, but we sought publicly-verifiable employment information for each person. The listings of lawyers admitted to practice maintained by state bar associations were especially helpful. As an example of how these sites work, you can go to the directory maintained by the Pennsylvania Bar Disciplinary Board and put in my name. You will be able to find basic information, including my current employer and phone number. At least two people independently searched for information for each graduate, and we followed up on any inconsistencies. If there was no publicly-available information for a particular graduate, we tried to contact that person individually."

Having looked up some random profiles on that link to the disciplinary commission, they don't state whether employment is permanent, or indeed any other characteristics about the employment. Did you in fact follow up with all graduates, or only those for whom "there was no publicly-available information?"

I will admit, I ramin somewhat skeptical of your results, partly because my "anecdotal impression" is in conflict with yours, although I admit I know nothing about Widener-Harrisburg in particular. Salary information would help, of course.

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