Search the Lounge


« Festschrift In Honor Of Bill Turnier | Main | Call for Papers »

April 17, 2015


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.



I hope that you will explain the reason that anyone would find it the least bit "illuminating" that those with graduate degrees may earn more, on average, than those with undergraduate degrees.

Did anyone ever say otherwise?

Please also let everyone know that the "million dollar premium" claim is NOT what S&M actually found.

Finally, and, as long as you reference the stock market, one remembers all the brokers saying that there has never been a decade when investers in the stock market didn't earn X% on their money. But, as the NASDAQ has recently shown, getting back to even took a long, long time, and that pattern, historically, is not unique at all. Relevant here?


When law school's restructure themselves to be smaller, cheaper and more selective, then you all can finally be done with this godforesaken debate and begin talking about the actual law again.



"Smaller" probably means reducing the number of law schools.

Otherwise, the "more selective" piece will not happen, at least not for the foreseeable future.


"a significant majority of them earn appreciably more over their careers than the BAs do."

That is not what they found. They found a significant majority of them EARNED (past tense) appreciably more over their careers than the BAs of similar quartiles do. So, in the past, the top 25% of JD holder earners out earned the top 25% of BA holders. The Bottom 25% of JD holders out-earned the bottom 25% of BA holders. etc.

What remain unanswered are the money questions. given the price of financing law, much of that gap disappears, but far from all of it. second, should you really be comparing the bottom 25 percent of JDs to the bottom BAs. Is it a better comparison to say that the bottom JDers are themselves likely top BAers (or at least they were until recently)? Third, what about now? did the market change after the mid-2000s in a permanent and no good way?

That is a fair reading of S&M, and I actually like the rigorous examination of data. When SIPP 2014 comes out, I look forward to seeing another article entitled, "The Negative $400,000 Law Degree."


Bernie writes:

"Predictably, extremists on both sides of this longstanding debate have popped up to demonize or deify Prof. Simkovic and his work, vilifying or vaunting his motives and methods in sweeping and categorical terms. I have only one request of all of you—please stop. Stop the toxic name-calling. Stop erecting effigies of your adversaries’ graves so you can dance on them. The subject is much too important to be obscured in petty rivalries. You’re not enlightening anyone, and it’s way too early to claim a victory lap, let alone drag your enemy in circles at the back of your chariot for the next nine days."

I guess some people just aren't cut out for the rough and tumble world of academia....


When are S&M going to put out a study that looks at the quality and reputation of the law school attended, and its associated effect on earnings?

One of the odder parts of S&M's analysis is that their studies look at the JD as an undifferentiated credential, regardless of school attended - surely the quality and reputation of the law school has **some** impact on expected future earnings.



As one who has appreciated your efforts to look at this broader subject dispassionately unlike some of your colleagues here, I look forward to reading your analysis of Simkovic's work.

Former Editor

I'm also looking forward to Prof. Berk's analysis and could not agree more with the paragraph Anon quoted.


Another deep dive into S&M "rigorous methodology" will include an analysis of how they chose the cohorts to for comparison and other assumptions baked into their conclusions.

As anyone familiar with the effect of small changes in sampling and assumptions can have on conclusions, and that old book we all once read about "how to ... with statistics" knows, the tweaks they made in the sampling and assumptions were ALL performed to get to the result that would please the advocates of the "nothing is wrong in legal academia" school of law school advocates.

(These advocates seem to have three defining characteristics: They hate Paul Campos, they idolize S&M, and they oppose any discussion of law school reform, believing, apparently, that it is perfect at the top and what happens below that level isn't worthy of consideration.)

I have yet to read a SINGLE analysis of the S&M reports that actually and accurately quotes their rather modest conclusions, leaving aside actually getting into their methodology. The most we read is wild exaggerations on both sides of the debate by persons who appear to have read at most the abstracts (if that much).)

If one actually reads their work, it will be quite obvious how little they actually "proved," how modest were their conclusions, and how much relevance and value these "proofs" in reality provide to anyone interested in the need for law school reform.


It's pretty simple. Law school reform simply requires schools to be more selective, to lower their tuition, and to hire faculty who appreciate and understand the practice of law.


WD, this isn't going to happen because:

1. Selectivity -- schools need to keep enrollment up and decreasing selectivity is the only way to do that (at least for schools outside of the very top)
2. Lower tuition -- schools need to bring in more dollars and students are willing to pay
3. Faculty -- current professors will insist on hiring new professors with the same profile as their own

New Yorker

The point made by anon at 5:53 pm is well-taken. In their actual articles (as opposed to blog posts), Simkovic and McIntyre have done some fairly careful work that yields some pretty limited (though not unimportant) conclusions: for example, that the effects of the recession have been amplified in the volatility of entry-level law firm hiring and that, at least at this point, there's little evidence of long-term structural changes in legal employment as a major contributor to reduction in law firm jobs. In themselves, those conclusions don't establish that any law school education is a good investment, even without differentiating among various schools and taking into consideration debt burden. Simkovic and McIntyre do find that, on average, individuals with JDs earn more than those with BAs. But they acknowledge that they can't rule out spurious causation. It's possible that having a JD significantly increases income. But it's also possible that the personality traits (e.g.) that lead a person to obtain a JD are ones that would lead the same individual to earn significantly more over a lifetime without a JD. Simkovic and McIntyre have no way of testing which of those possibilities is more likely. In fact, they're pretty forthright about admitting that.


Agree with New Yorker. A lot of the heat in the debate over the work has been about questions that the S+M studies don't really purport to answer and can't answer. For example, whether someone should put off law school for a year to gain some perceived advantage from "timing" a better economy doesn't answer the question of whether that person should put off law school for a year to, say, retake the LSAT and get a larger scholarship or admission into schools with better job prospects.

I think Deborah Jones-Merritt had a good point- the issue is really whether other people in legal education could or should use their conclusions as part of a the same "go to law school right now buy buy buy!" sales pitch we've seen so much of over the last few years.


I also agree. The flip side is also relevant, i.e., individuals with poor post-law school employment outcomes may also have had poor post-college employment outcomes in the absence of law school. Also, to the extent someone makes the argument that outcomes must be optimal since they were made rationally and with full information, let's not forget that law school employment numbers were being massaged to give a rosier picture than actually the case. Things are different now but during the time period at issue in the study.

Derek Tokaz

One of the fundamental problems with S&M's approach is that they've framed it as "The Economic Value of a Law Degree." It's talked about almost as if it were a passive investment. But of course that's absurd.

The economic value comes from the work lawyers are doing. They put in longer hours (4.3 hours a week, according to S&M), and those hours will generally be more demanding and stressful. Treating the earnings premium as purely the result of the degree misses a lot of the picture.

Deborah Merritt

Bernie, I think it's important to note that some of this flare-up has not been about Mike and Frank's recent paper but about Mike's more provocative comment that "The moral critique against law schools comes down to this: The law schools used the same standard method of reporting data as the U.S. Government," and his follow-up statements in defense of that argument.

I think many of us in legal education realized that we were marketing more sharply than we should have been before 2010, and that some changes were appropriate. In any event, the issue was settled years ago. So I was surprised that Mike provoked this argument, and I'm glad to see a discussion about his recent paper instead. I had posted a comment as soon as the paper was released, but haven't seen much further discussion. I hope to contribute some comments here if I have time.

Get a life

Amazing that Tokarz still does not understand the Simkovic McIntyre paper. Of course JD holders work hard but so do BA holders! It's a relative premium nor an absolute number.

Bernie Burk

Hello Everyone,

Thanks for the substantive comments, which confirm that this is a subject of ongoing interest. Some of the comments anticipate issues I intend to address in future posts.

Deborah Jones Merritt--thanks for your observation. I was not calling out your contributions to the recent discussion for any particular criticism regarding tone or substance (as I observed, we were all a little more acid at one point or another than in retrospect might have been ideal, but I don't want you to think I consider you part of the problem here), and I agree that the disagreement about what employment numbers are presented and how is, while important in its own right, a sideshow to the questions I'm addressing here. More to come.


Derek Tokaz

Get a Life,

I think you've misunderstood the criticism. Sure, BA holders do also work hard. But, lawyers tend to work longer and worse hours. Attributing the earnings premium to the degree alone ignores other very important factors without which they wouldn't be earning more money.

Michael Risch

Derek -

While I understand the concern that you might want a study to estimate the role of each factor, that's admittedly not what this study does. But even so, I'm not finding your particular criticism persuasive.

Sure, JD holders work more hours. Maybe THAT'S why they earn more. But if that's all it takes to have an earnings premium, then why don't we see bachelors candidates working more? There are a few reasons I can think of:

1. BA holders are just more lazy, so the types of characteristics that lead JD holders to get the JD in the first place are ALSO the types of characteristics that cause them to work harder, and both are related to earnings premiums -- and we can't disambiguate.

2. JD holders work more hours, and more hours explains all of the earnings differences.

3. BA holders would LIKE to work more, but the marginal value of the extra 4.3 hours is just not worth the extra effort. In contrast, over time JD holders earn more by the hour and get to keep a higher portion of each hour, thus giving them more incentive to work.

4. Others?

I can't tell if you are arguing 1 or 2. If it is 2, I'm not convinced. As Get a Life notes, if this is the sole difference, then we would see BA holders simply working more and the premium go away.

Indeed, this kind of strikes 1 as well. If more hours were the sole difference, then why don't highly motivated people who can earn more simply just do so elsewhere? It turns out they do, when they can: see my post and the comments after on declining numbers of patent attorneys.

Thus, while it may be true that JDs work longer hours, it is pretty plausible that those hours are worked because they lead to higher income, and the JD is a required hurdle that allows those additional earnings. I think the same is true for professional football players they may work more hours during the season and less during the offseason (I really don't know), but the reason they earn more than me is because they jumped through the hurdle of being professional football players; if I worked the same hours as them I would surely not earn as much.

I'm not wedded to this viewpoint, though. I'd be happy to hear a theory about why BA earners voluntarily work fewer hours and earn less money on average when they could earn more by simply working 4 more hours a week. I also think there is another way to look at this - by comparing earnings for those with JD and bar passage to those with JD and no bar passage and see what it looks like.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Bloggers Emereti


  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad