My original plan was to wait until all the posts had posted before responding to comments. But since the series won’t be completed for another week or so, I thought now might be a good time to pause and respond to some of the commenters to the first two posts (plus my intro post).
I’ll respond to Prof. Tamanaha first because, of all the law school critics out there, I think he provides the most reasoned, most thoughtful critiques. I have his book on my shelf and actually agree with about 60% of what he says. Maybe a later post will examine the 40% of his arguments I don’t agree with. I also admire the fact that he is willing to post using his name, instead of resorting to the somewhat weak practice of posting under a pseudonym. Or worse yet, posting as “anon” - I mean couldn’t you take thirty seconds to come up with a snappy username?
Prof. Tamanaha suggested that my entire thesis is a “contradiction” as “your prediction will bear out only if most people thinking about law school do not take your advice.” He even concedes my central point, that “the job outlook for graduates stands to improve precisely because fewer students are enrolling in law school these days.” Where I think he is in error is in overestimating my ability to get people to take my advice. While I appreciate his support for my powers of persuasion, my guess is that most of the 100,000 or so of the potential applicant pool will not only ignore my message, they will never see the message. Instead, students will continue to be subject to the seemingly unlimited number of misinformed media articles on this topic.
Early on anon and Jojo engaged in some close textual analysis to accuse me of setting up a straw man argument. Specifically, they took my statement, “[a]s an admissions dean, I think it's fair to say I'm in favor of legal education” to mean that I was accusing people who disagree with me as being against legal education. Read alone, I can see their point. But I’d say most people chose to read that sentence together with the sentence immediately preceding, which spoke in terms of employment outcomes for students. I think the other 99% of readers understood exactly what I was trying to say, that I’m likely to be on the pro law school side of the current series of debates and discussions. But for anon’s and Jojo’s sake, let me state that I do not think that if you disagree with me that you are necessarily against legal education.
Within the same comment accusing me of a fallacious “straw man” argument, Jojo commits her own fallacy, namely the misuse of anecdotal evidence to advance an argument. She cites to a single craigslist posting from a Harvard graduate. While not providing her own conclusion from the evidence, she dares us to do so. Fine, here’s my conclusion - there is a posting on San Francisco Craigslist from a self-proclaimed Harvard grad with a self-proclaimed nine years experience seeking contract work. I also conclude that the Craigslist poster is covered with anti-semitic face tatoos and he or she was disbarred for stealing candy from a baby. Ball's in your court JoJo.
Responding to my post titled “Intro” , which ends with the sentence “[i]n the next few posts I will review the supply of law school graduates, the employment demand for the graduates, and what the market will look like in 2017-2018,” Ellen complains that I provide no factual support for my conclusions. Unusual for me, I’m at a loss of words to respond.
Former Editor, Observer and several others raise the question of the cost of attendance for law school. To paraphrase, it doesn’t matter what the employment picture looks like in 2017, few law students will earn enough to service the debt loads they’re taking on. They raise a fair point. I’ll say a few things. First, these posts are focused on the employment picture, I’m likely to address the cost-benefit side of the equation at a later date, but for now my goal is to share data on the coming changes to the employment market. Meaning, I’d like to reserve this discussion for a later date. Second, I think the Simkovic report and other analyses suggest that the average debt level may actually be appropriate as compared to the expected increased lifetime earnings of the average attorney. This report has already been debated over and over, so I don’t want to re-litigate the issue. Honestly, I don’t know for sure that Simkovic definitively proves that law school works as a financial investment, but it does make a strong case. Finally, I love how the critics say that borrowing $200,000 or $250,000 to attend law school is a terrible decision. My response - then don’t borrow that much money. Not only are there a number of good law schools with reasonable tuition rates (Rock Chalk Jayhawk!), there is a ton of scholarship money being granted. You do not have to borrow that much to attend a decent law school. So don’t.
Back to one of my faves, Jojo suggests I plead guilty to “materially misleading” law students in 2008 and 2009. I don’t think anyone at that time understood how deep a downturn the economy was going to take and how much longer it would take to recover than during prior recessions. So when I advised students I thought the legal employment market would recover by 2011-2012, I made those statements in good faith. So, not guilty to that charge.
From the category of criticism for the sake of being critical, anon dinged me because I characterized my estimate that applications would decrease 5% next year as a “fair guess”. Anon suggested that using the term “fair guess” was not fair, as it would somehow cause people to confuse estimates from facts. Or confuse guesses from estimates. Or something like that. Anyway, I provided a pretty solid explanation of how I came up with that estimate/fair guess/prediction/prognostication/crystal ball gaze, so that’s just silly. (Nevertheless, because it didn’t change anything, I changed the text accordingly.)
Which brings up others like San Francisco Lawyer who chastise me for having the temerity to make estimates for the law graduate job market in 2017 and 2018. How dare I attempt to do such a thing? I dunno, I think it’s a pretty acceptable part of American culture and discourse to use data and other evidence to make predictions about the future. It’s up to you, the reader, to determine if the evidence I present supports my predictions. Stay tuned.
p.s. Due to popular demand, I promise not to cut off the comments this time. Last week was very busy and following the comments was taking a toll on my ability to stay focused on my day job. But I can see that people are eager to have this discussion, so feel free to comment to your heart’s delight.