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May 07, 2013

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Ben Barros

MacK, I disagree with your characterization of what law schools did. I unfortunately don't think it is a good idea for me to engage in that discussion due to the pending litigation. I would say, however, that if you understand FRCP 26, you will see why I have a good incentive to get my facts right.

Interesting question about the BLS data, which is actually the point of this particular thread. I'll have to think about it further. I think it reinforces my core point - we have to be careful before we make any broad pronouncements about BLS data. As you suggest, there may be counting issues.

Theodore Seto

Barros' analysis of the BLS projection is the best I've seen to date. Another way of asking the question is: How many lawyers will be hired over the next 10 years through HR departments? Answer: Not as many as law schools will graduate. Should this disturb us? Not necessarily.

Ben Barros

Embarrassed, I've been careful to state what I've assumed and what I haven't. I've also provided arguments for my positions. It would be great for you to actually engage in them, and to provide actual evidence or arguments about why you disagree with them.

The weakness of your comments is well illustrated by your point 5, which is on the actual subject of this particular post. You accuse me of making an assumption "That the BLS predictions will prove to be quite pessimistic." Here is what I actually said: "The significant point here is that projections will typically differ from reality, often in major ways. Maybe lawyer jobs in 2020 will be significantly higher than the projected 801,800. Maybe they will be significantly lower. We won’t know for sure until we get there. The projections are useful in some ways, but they do not tell us with certainty about what the future will hold." Can you tell the difference?

MacK

Trackpad issues -

I meant to say "you also need to be concerned about exhibiting confirmation bias or being perceived as trivialising the consequences of the employment situation you describe." I think some early posted called you on what looked like trivialisation.

MacK

Ben - I do actually have a daily working knowledge of Rule 26.

I do think that you need to ask yourself a question - if (a) you "disagree with [my] characterization of what law schools did" but (b) "don't think it is a good idea ... to engage in that discussion due to the pending litigation" why are you starting a thread where the issue is so central to the debate? What possible point can there be in going into an elephant house where you cannot discuss the room full of elephants, or the smell of the manure on the floor?

Frankly, if such an big issue is "off limits" and if you have the interests to protect that your invocation of Rule 26 implies, you should not have started this thread - I would not have let you if you were my client.

Ben Barros

MacK, I don't think that follows. I will say that the project that I reported on in my first post started before the lawsuit was filed. I am reporting on research on the current state of the legal job market. My post, my thread, I'll talk about what I want on it. You can talk about whatever you want; here, if it relates to the subject of the post; elsewhere if it doesn't.

Stan

For those that are unaware, this is the lawsuit that Ben is referring to:

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/judge_allows_suit_claiming_widener_law_school_posted_misleading_job_stats_c/

Embarrassed to be a law professor

Ben,

I wasn't taking your last post at face value because your conclusion that "projections... do not tell us with certainty about what the future will hold" is so silly. Your series of post is clearly intended to suggest that law school won't be an absolutely horrible bet for a large number of prospective law students, especially at those schools (like yours) that send far less than 50% of their students to long-term, full-time JD-required jobs within 9 months of graduation. That view is only accurate if you run the table on the five issues I highlighted.

Ben Barros

Embarrassed, I want my posts to be taken at face value. I think you are reading into them things that are not there. And to call the statement about projections silly, is, well, silly. Long term projections are always wrong, one way or the other. You also point to nine month data when I explain why it is a mistake to do so in my first post.

BoredJD

You've made a very well-reasoned and supported case for your position. Truthfully it's much better than anything put out by the pro-law school crowd to date. But ultimately, there are still many important questions left unanswered, especially relating to debt, salaries, and the type of entry-level jobs. And there are several other uncertainties that weigh against going to law school. Maybe the entry-level job market for BAs will improve much faster than the JD job market? When faced with declining applicants, law schools may engage in abrupt and significant tuition hikes, like Hastings did last year. I'm sure Hastings 1Ls didn't plan on a 15% tuition increase, but it happened anyway.

This gets back to what MacK is saying about credibility. I don't question your credibility or your math. But law schools have demonstrated an astonishing degree of callousness and ambivalence over the past few years. As a result, whenever there is an uncertainty it is likely to be resolved against going to law school. And even if you show that the job market is not so bad, there's still the other side of the coin- the debt.

I'd like to hear your position on whether, even if what you say is true, you think the law schools should be doing anything at all to bring down costs for students.

Ben Barros

BoredJD, thanks. I'll say more about cost in the future. But I'll say this for now. I worry a lot about cost. I don't know what the "right" cost is, and I need to think about that issue more. I'm not even sure that that is precisely the right question. I do, however, have two strongly held views on cost. First, we need to be concerned about graduating student debt. Second, law schools, and other institutes of higher education more generally, need to stop increasing tuition at above the rate of inflation. (I know that real tuition can differ from sticker tuition, but sticker tuition still matters). Even if someone could prove with certainty that law school was _not_ too expensive right now, it would get too expensive at some point if the trend line does not change. This is true for higher education more generally. My kids are 11 and 9, and I shudder to think of what undergraduate tuition will cost in 10 years.

I'd also say that law schools are complex institutions, and it can be hard to cut costs quickly. (And yes, I know that it is easy to pick out some targets here and there). I think that the current crisis will likely lead to tuition increases in the short-term, as schools struggle to balance their budgets. But schools are shrinking and re-trenching, which will put them in a good position to lower costs in the future if that is a priority for them. I hope it will be.

I don't expect that to be a completely satisfactory answer, but it is what I have for now.

MacK

When I say there is a counting issue with the BLS data on the number of people employed in roles that require bar passage, e.g., lawyers, judges, etc. what I am alluding to is that depending on how the BLS adds the numbers up at various points there is a difference in the number employed - I am not saying their data is unreliable. Actually their count is pretty spot-on.

Also, an issue that a law professor missed in looking at BLS data is that occupation is measured by the last reported employment for an individual. If someone is unemployed, their last job is what is used to categorise them. Thus a JD who worked as a Barista, even if he/she passes the bar will not be counted as an unemployed lawyer - even if Starbucks fires him/her - but as an unemployed barista. Similarly, a JD who passes the bar will not be counted as a lawyer if they accept any other sort of job - burger flipping to real estate. Indeed, if I understand the classification, an never employed after graduation JD holder who passes the bar still does not count as an unemployed lawyer. You have to be employed as a lawyer first to be an unemployed lawyer.

This detail was missed not so long ago by another law professor trying to say that very few JDs were unemployed - that the bad job market was not real.

MacK

Ben:

There is another problem that one needs to be concerned about with law students. What is the income-delta associated with their JD and is it even positive in many cases. By that I mean does this person have a higher income with a JD than they would have enjoyed without it and three years of work seniority and experience (even before you take the opportunity cost of 3 years of law school into account.) Are they better off?

A second reasonable question is whether the United States (or even Pennsylvania) is better off with this person studying law. After all, law schools are enjoying a large public subsidy in the form of student loan guarantees and IBR. Would US GDP - or the net public welfare have been better off if the person at law school X had simply sought a job and stayed at it for 3 years more. I suspect that on some level this question is closely linked to the income-delta question.

You say that many of your students are bright and intelligent - where do you think they would have ended up if they had not gone to law school - would they have been better off?

Ben Barros

MacK, I see how that would be relevant information. I personally have no clue how to get at it - especially the second question. One thing I've been frustrated about is the lack of good information on the legal economy gathered by people who actually specialize in this kind of study. The After the JD project has potential, but I think the American Bar Foundation and others could do a lot more on this front.

GreatNeckLawyer

Professor Barros,
I applaud your efforts and more importantly willingness to enter the lion's den. I especially appreciate your acknowledgment of the tuition problem at both law schools and higher education in general.

I think the problem stems from the rent-seeking behavior of all higher education institutions, enabled by the Department of Educations under both political parties. Until recently, nobody mentioned cost containment. One would think that if the Department of Education is going to backstop education loans, then someone would stop for a second and say we don't want the taxpayers of this country to be burdened with overwhelming debts because 1) it hurts other overall economic activity ($1 trillion outstanding now- largest form of non housing debt) and 2) we don't want taxpayers on the hook. This might be a way to attack the cost issue, as you mentioned that you would subsequently address.

There finally seems to be some push-back in terms of vocal responses and application/enrollment declines at many higher institutions- law schools included. One can see this from the ratings downgrades by S&P, Moodys and Fitch.

MacK

Ben -

Over the years I have seen a lot of studies that:

A. Correlated education level (high school, college, maybe GPA - and IQ (there are correlations to LSAT) to income;

B. GDP to average educational attainment.

I think it is feasible.

Steven

I don't think what I've done is empty name calling. You don't get to be a law professor and argue in defense of law school without assuming some moral responsibility for the plight of your graduates. You chose to mount a defense of the status quo, so you should be prepared to defend the morality of that choice. According to your own data, many of them are suffering.

Ben Barros

Steven, from my first post: "I am also not arguing in defense of the status quo in legal education – as I’ve explained in prior posts (here, here, here, and here), I worry about many facets of legal education, not least the student debt problems caused by ever-increasing tuition." I care a lot about my current and former students. I've said so. See, e.g., my response to a thoughtful comment from one of Professor Tamanaha's former students in thread on the first post.

By basic problem with your comments is that you seem to have formed an opinion of what I am saying without actually reading the posts.

Rob Rosen

Ben - Thanks for your work. Did you get insight into how BLS deals with retirement issues? 218K doesn't sound like too much of a mismatch with law school graduation rates if we add to it 100K+ retirees over the decade. Independently of the BLS, it is worth noting that part of the structural adjustment in large law firms is an age one (juniors are being retired/fired) and the structural change that you document regarding title companies is their hiring junior attorneys to do work that seniors once did as a money-making sideline.

Jeff Matthews

Ben, re: your 10:04 pm post, I think the gist of your position is that, "It could be bad, but we just don't know." I wouldn't wage a $200,000 bet on a prospectus like that. "We don't know is pretty weak."

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