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February 25, 2013


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I think the focus on the for-proft/not-for-profit distinction is ultimately a distraction.

Both do the same thing: give credentials of dubious value in exchange for enormous wealth transfers on the backs of students and taxpayers.

Unemployed Northeastern

Yes, yes, there have been articles about the vet school crisis and the BA/BS crisis and the MBA crisis and the dearth of academic jobs for science PhD's and the absolute disaster of humanities grad students (check out "The PhD Now Comes With Food Stamps" over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, located at . That being said, law schools are, along with the for-profit sector, the vanguard of the student lending bubble. Let us not forget that before the days of unlimited GradPLUS loans, law students were very often taking out north of $100,000 in private student loans (which are not covered by IBR/PAYE/PSLF) to cover the difference between the Stafford lending cap and the cost of attendance of their legal education. Given that, inter alia, only 1 in 2 student loans are in active repayment, student loans are the most delinquent consumer debt in America, only 42% of college grads landed college-level jobs, on average, from 2003 through 2011, and that the vast majority of colleges and universities are ONLY kept afloat via student loan dollars, one would think they would be planning for a bleak future. Law schools will bear the collapse of the student lending bubble just about worse than any other educational actor, but one sees precious little planning for that event. Hand-wringing and crocodile tears about their graduates; sure - contingencies in the operating budget? Never.

One might also point out that in most other of the hard-hit sectors of higher ed - particularly in liberal arts grad programs - administrators are geniunely tripping over themselves to reform the curriculum, to lower the debt burden, to sound the alarm. Aside from a few outliers and paraiahs (Tamanaha, Campos, Merritt, Cloud & Shepherd, etc), the legal academy either ignores the issues or plays it off as a temporary, cyclical setback.


"That being said, law schools are, along with the for-profit sector, the vanguard of the student lending bubble."

I know that it is dangerous to engage Campos's devotees with data, but the CBO's figures indicate that:

i) Gradplus loans are the safest loans to issue and ii) the government is projected to profit on them until at least 2023.

There is also the small issue that institutions like ITT tech and alike that do have truly shocking default rates have far more students than law schools do. ITT Tech currently has 80,000 students enrolled.

Unemployed Northeastern

"the government is projected to profit on them until at least 2023."

I don't recall saying that GradPLUS were dangerous loans to MAKE (for the government). The feds manage to collect $1.22 on each and every $1.00 in defaulted student loans, after all. All of their loans are safe bets for them. But that doesn't mean that student loans are safe loans to TAKE (for the students). Anyways, how seriously should we take an official default rate that is measured for two years post graduation when those same loans are given three years' worth of forbearance/deferral periods, not to mention IBR/PAYE/PSLF, and private student loans (more than 10% of the total) aren't counted at all? The official default rate should be 0%, because it is designed to push each cohort out of the measured window before defaulting them. The Chronicle of Higher Education estimated back in 2009 or 2010 that the *real* default rate for all college students since 1995 is at least 20%.

Speaking of data, surely you've seen the ABA report that only 55% of 2011 grads managed to find full-time, long-term, JD-required jobs at any salary within nine months of graduation, and that the average student loan debt for private law school grads tops $125,000, independent of UG debt, bar expenses, and accumulated interest? THAT is what makes law school the vanguard of the student lending bubble. Much as the unfortunate young veterinarian will experience circa 2035, tens of thousands of underemployed & fully employed/underpaid attorneys will be handed a tax bill for unfathomable sums of student loans forgiven via IBR/PAYE. Unless IBR/PAYE is terminated, which it probably will be, since it costs an extraordinary amount of money ($190 billion through just 2020, according to Barclays), and Republicans were already hinting at killing it during the primary season last year.


It Takes A B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk; it takes an A.B.A-approved law degree to find a job in document review (if you're so lucky; otherwise, it's retail). I guess the early twentieth-first century is all about weak regulation and suffering the consequences of sh*tting in the nest. The boomers lack self-discipline (but certainly not greed). Too much brown acid and free sex back in the day. Anyhow, Tom Brokaw won't be fawning over you all as the greatest generation. Not that you care. It's time for some actual regulation. The A.B.A. has failed.


I don't know anybody who seriously thinks the solution to the law school debt and unemployment problem is curriculum change. Law professors seem interested in discussing it, possibly as a way to avoid facing less pleasant solutions, like few students paying less money.

Previously Anon

The problem in all cases is the same--two many graduates. A humanities B.A. is no longer the ticket to a comfortable corporate job that it once was, because there are simply too many of them being produced now. Same goes double for humanities graduate degrees--there are even less jobs to accommodate those. Same goes with law students--there are simply too many J.D.s being produced for the market to accommodate them. J.D.s aren't in a unique boat, by any means, and undergraduate colleges and humanities programs are probably due for some reform as well, but the fact that other fields are also producing too many graduates is really no argument for continuing to produce too many law graduates.

In addition, a J.D. is a degree that has been sought after mostly because of the employment options it could offer after graduation, in a way that humanities graduate degrees have not, by and large. A J.D. also currently cuts off other employment options in a way that a humanities B.A., for example, does not--no one expects a History major to bolt for a History job a short time into a new job, and no one sees a History major starting a lower-level corporate or government job as a failure. On the other hand, everyone expects a J.D. to bolt the second a law job opens up (remember, other fields are not necessarily as aware of the law job crisis as the legal profession is), and everyone assumes a J.D. applying for a lower-level corporate or government job is settling for what they can get at the moment, and isn't really interested in the job at hand. And, of course, they're right--no one goes to law school expecting to settle for that kind of job, and very few J.D. graduates are actually interested in that kind of employment. And with 3+ years of additional, typically high-value debt, the J.D. graduate can ill afford to hold the position long-term anyway. So, law schools can be more damaging to their graduates than other programs.

All of the talk about "altering the curriculum," and all of the waffling about "what could the problem really be?" is simply rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, AS SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE HAVE POINTED OUT BEFORE. It's like talking to a brick wall--the solution is obvious: less law schools, less law students. But, of course that doesn't ensure employment for law professors and law school administrators, so we have to endure more drivel about curriculum changes and the like.


Many years ago I read an analysis by an economist who suggested rather simply the the model of colleges and Universities as nonprofit institutions was incorrect - that they should better be seen as for profit institutions whose shareholders were in effect the tenured faculty - increasingly he seems to have a point.

However, another model might be commonage and the famous "tragedy of the commons" in which one sees the students as the commonage and the tenured academics as the holders of grazing rights.

concerned lawyer

Red Herring #1: Law school curriculum is a problem.
Red Herring #2: For-profit education is a problem.
Red Herring #3: "things are tough all over, at least debt-wise, in higher education"

There are serious problems with law school education, namely (1) twice as many graduates as jobs, and (2) outrageously high tuition. Yes, veterinary school has a similar problem. And yes, it may be true that undergraduate education is coming to have the same problems as law school (particularly the tuition), but it is far behind law school in this regard. When we focus on problems outside of the very obvious and looming law school troubles, I cannot help but think that it is in the hope to ignore the very big, very white elephant in the room.


Note, I'm not actually opposed to certain types of curriculum changes. I could see law school being shortened to a two-year program, for example, if more classes were focused on practice rather than theory. Attorneys seem to learn most of what they need to know to practice law on the job, and two years should be enough to teach how to read a case, "think like a lawyer," and the basics of legal writing/research, when coupled with substantial amounts of experiential learning, clinics, etc. Shortening law school that way would certainly reduce the debt load. So would requiring law professors to teach more, since less professors would be needed, and similar changes. All of that could reduce the cost of law school.

However, I don't think those changes are fixes for the fundamental problem--two many lawyers, not enough jobs.


It all comes down to the economy. The financial elites have gotten enough control over the political process that they can suck up more and more of the wealth. This has proven to be worse than zero-sum - it's clearly negative-sum. The end result is at best stagnant earnings for the rest of us, and frequently declining earnings.

What's happened more recently, as a combination of increased economic destruction and increased inequality is that the rising tide of sh*t has been hitting higher and higher. People who thought that they were immune, because they were middle class are now getting hammered on a large scale.

I'm wondering how much of this is a strong positive feedback cycle - increasing inequality cuts economic growth, leading to more inequality and lower growth, and more frequent and larger crises. This hammers a larger chunk of the population, and sets up a still larger proportion as the 'next in line'.

John Thompson

Maybe the difference between law schools and other types of professional schools is one more of scope than of kind, but let's consider the scope.

There are 28 veterinary medicine programs in the United States, collectively graduating about 2,500 new veterinarians a year. On average, resident tuition is about $15,000, and non-resident tuition is slightly less than twice that. By comparison, there are more than 220 law schools in the United States, graduating 42,000 to 45,000 students for each of the last five years. Public law school tuition is roughly the same as that of veterinary medicine programs, with private institutions dragging the average a few thousand dollars higher than that. Assuming the rate of underemployment or unemployment is about the same for veterinarians, then we have 1,200 veterinarians working as unpaid interns or making mocha lattes next to about 20,000 law graduates this past year. (Meanwhile, nobody's attempting to open new veterinary medicine programs to serve a market that doesn't exist.)

As for differences of kind, it also needs to be said that law schools were unique in using their seemingly granular look at employment outcomes as a means of attracting prospective students, and the ethical code of disclosure which should have bound bar-admitted members of law faculties and administrations to make the important caveats in employment outcome reporting clear to prospective students before Segal wrote his articles.

So yes, law schools remain quantitatively and qualitatively worse offenders than veterinary schools.


Re: John Thompson's statement:(Meanwhile, nobody's attempting to open new veterinary medicine programs to serve a market that doesn't exist.)

But I think existing individual vet schools are more blameworthy than existing individual law schools. Individual law schools, for the most part, are cutting enrollment at this point in history, while vet schools are raising enrollment. But as you rightly point out, new law schools are opening up to add to the glut. Is that the fault of existing law schools? Can you blame a law school in Indiana which cuts enrollment by 20 students if Indiana Tech opens up down the road and enrolls another 100? Each individual vet school has a ten times greater impact on the overall glut in the market when it increases or descreases enrollment than an individual law school, simply because there are fewer schools.

John Thompson


Law schools reducing enrollment is not about self-denial. It's about maintenance of GPA and LSAT medians in their incoming classes, and in turn maintenance of their position in the U.S. News rankings which they conflate with their appeal to the prospective student market. The welfare of their graduates is at best a secondary benefit.

If veterinary medicine programs doubled their enrollment while keeping the price and the absolute number of graduates employed in the field constant, then they would still only produce about 3,800 people as screwed as the 20,000 law graduates who were unable to obtain full-time, bar-required employment in 2011. Accordingly, I have to disagree that veterinary medicine programs are equally or more blameworthy than law schools, from the perspective of absolute numbers of students misled and financially harmed.


Is a "haggler's eye" something like an evil eye? Every time I have heard word "haggler," it has carried the negative connotation of "vulgar tightwad."

Of course, perhaps there is something vulgar in quibbling about mere money--the odd hundred grand for three years' tuition, not counting living expenses and accuring interest on borrowed funds--when what is on offer is as priceless as the cultural and moral enrichment to be had at, uh, Tulsa Law School, where students can also immerse themselves in the depth of Tamara Piety's caring.

Tamara Piety

Uh Dybbuk. Segal writes a column for the New York Times called "The Haggler" a sort of Ann Landers of consumer complaints. People write in their particular problems with some company or another and he resolves them (or tries to).

Previously Anon

Typical--a page full of comments making essentially the same point, and the only law faculty response is a technical correction of an apparent misconception regarding the source of the headline. Sure makes you feel good that your debt paid their salaries, doesn't it?

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