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July 24, 2013


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This is an extremely interesting debate and I hope it continues.

It doesn't seem to me like Simkovic has any response to Tamanaha's point that economists are rarely correct in their predictions about the future (they'd be a lot richer if they were) There is a certain immeasurable complexity to all of this that Simkovic must acknowledge.


I think that's probably right - but I think both sides can be accused of the same thing. It is hard to read Simkovic's blogging without hearing "Tamanaha is a big meanie." The whole thing strikes me as far more personal than empirical inquiry ought to be.

casual observer

I appreciate the debate over this study as it really encompasses all of the ongoing discussion about the profession in data form.

1. Has the profession changed structurally? Critics of S&M argue that there are no post-2008 entrants in the study (and some 250,000 graduates have entered post-2008).
2. Has the income structure changed structurally? Critics argue that you can't synthesize income and project out b/c of structural changes to the profession.
3. What about debt and costs to obtain the degree -- actual tuition, interest cost on tuition, forgone income, and otherwise?
4. Does law school actually add value to students, or would these students have been over-earners had they not gone to school? Is it fair to compare median law students to median college students for purposes of earning?

Really fascinating. And no easy answers now, even with the study. When SIPP next comes out, we'll begin to have 1 & 2 answered, but likely not until then.


I'd imagine that if you studied the period prior to the collapse of any industry, you'd find that things were pretty decent for the 16 years immediately prior. Things were great until they weren't.

The argument that Campos and Tamanaha are making is that the legal industry has reached such a point. Obviously, that is also just a prediction and they could't prove it. Only time will prove it. But I think Simkovic and everybody else needs to accept that this is a real possibility and that they can't prove otherwise. Reports from the ground are all pointing in that direction, with fewer jobs and lower salaries at most levels of the legal hierarchy, higher debt than ever before, and technological advancements replacing human labor for certain legal work.

One thing I will say that bode well for the future is that I think a certain aspect of the JD stigma will disappear. For the last several years, JDs applying for non-legal jobs have had the burden of having to explain why they were not lawyers (and why that didn't mean they were failures). Non-legal employers simply don't understand why a JD would apply for such a job. As more and more JDs flood the marked for non-legal jobs, this will become common and a JD will seem like any other graduate humanities degree, just another advanced degree obtained for education's sake, and not because it leads to any specific employment.


"As more and more JDs flood the marked for non-legal jobs, this will become common and a JD will seem like any other graduate humanities degree, just another advanced degree obtained for education's sake, and not because it leads to any specific employment. "

OTOH, in a down job market, employers are quick to disqualify people. The *relative* stigma of a JD compared to other advanced degrees could shrink while the *absolute* disadvantage to those not having either could grow.

And, of course, the basic fact that when you buy a JD you're buying a house, in financial terms. If employers were to consider the JD a neutral factor when applying for non-JD positions, the JD is still ~$2K/month in the hole.


The problem is that they have produced an actual study that will take some time to digest, refute, or support. The debate about law schools has largely taken place on blogs -- with contested data, partial data, passionate belief, and anecdote. So far, Simkovic seems to be doing pretty well pointing out the problems with the quick draw criticisms. The impulse has been to strike quickly lest any turf be lost in the war being waged on the blogosphere. There is time for a thorough and considered critique which, I am sure, will come.


I am surprised more people aren't talking about what likely motivated Simkovic to write this article. Seton Hall has had well-publicized difficulties and has put all its non-tenured faculty on notice that their contracts may not be renewed. While Seton Hall's announcement was likely after Simkovic started the paper, Seton Hall's difficulties likely pre-dated the start of the paper. I could be wrong, but it doesn't look like Simkovic has tenure. He graduated law school in 2007 and has only been a professor for three years.

He is smart. He now has name recognition at most of the schools where he would consider making a lateral move. He teamed with a labor economist to produce an article most law professors could not even fully understand, much less effectively attack. And he is on the side of the argument that most law school deans and faculty members favor. I would be very surprised if Simkovic isn't one of the few successful law professor laterals next year. Brilliant idea.


There is an enormous hole in the S&M article that Diamond, Leiter, Filler and others keep dodging any explanation of an Simkovic and McIntyre have evaded answering. That hole is that the control group of BA-only students that S&M use is matched, cohort for cohort with the same group of JD holders. So the bottom 25% of BA-only holders is compared with the bottom 25% of JD holders.

But even bottom ranked law schools until 2008 (and certainly in the period that the students that S&M based their study on) were not admitting bottom ranked BA-only college graduates. In fact to take both Seton Hall and Santa Clara (where the odious Diamond is allowed to teach), at least a B+ GPA and 158-160 LSAT score is even today required of most candidates (and these are 60-99 law schools.) That puts their current students in the upper 15-25% of college graduates (And I suppose Drexel is similar - Dan? Dan?)

Thus to compare the B+ students who attended even the lower ranked law schools with the C- students that scraped out of college and were not eligible to go to law school in the 1996-2008 period, who did not even apply with JD holders even from mills like .... is simply not honest. Most JDs were in at least the upper half of their college class.

And I dare any professor here to say that their law school recruited form the bottom 25% of college graduates in 1996-2008 - or even now. If you will not admit that your students are C- level students at admission, you have no business accepting the validity of the S&M study.

Dan Filler ... that question goes to you in particular - how bad is Drexel's current intake - its 1996-2008 intake? were they the bottom 25% ??? Dan? Dan?


I hope Simkovic gets another job if he wants it. He's written a sophisticated paper that's gotten a lot of attention and has survived intense attack. That's how this business is supposed to work. Write something good and interesting and people take notice and reward you for it.


Prof. Simkovic is very likely to be a successful lateral, but that's because his work in bankruptcy is well-regarded by leading experts in the field, including at Chicago. His piece on the labor economics of outcomes for JDs is also a serious piece of work, blowhards like MacK notwithstanding. The response to his piece have been mostly juvenile, though there are some real critical questions that could be raised.


Brian, what are the critical issues that stand out to you?

Matthew Bruckner

I've read Mike Simkovic's work and I find it impressive. Even if JA is correct and Mike correctly guessed that Seton Hall's problems would result in potential layoffs for their entire untenured faculty, I don't think that changes that Mike co-wrote a paper that is provoking some interesting discussions. Although one might suspect that he would have looked to lateral last year instead of writing this paper, if JA is correct, Mike has both impressive chops as a scholar AND as a clairvoyant.

If anyone is hiring, I'm sure he'll get close consideration.


Dan: "I can't help feeling that the pre-commitments of the law school critics are so powerful that this study has thrown them for a loop.  I wonder whether Campos and Tamanaha would have more equanimity about the  methodology if they didn't have such a horse in this race."

The critics are invested, but the defenders are what? Objective?


CHS: "support. The debate about law schools has largely taken place on blogs -- with contested data, partial data, passionate belief, and anecdote"

Actually, the critics have been using data. Go read Campos' writings, and you'll find lots of data.

As for this study, it's not peer-reviewed, and much of the methodology is contested.


@Barry-- I have read Campos. As the quote you reproduced makes clear, I did not say that NO data had been presented. I was observing that this is a different type of presentation, one that will require a different type of response. Brian Tamanaha, who has been in a near daily back and forth with the authors of this study-- well, with one of them-- has acknowledged this, even though he strongly disagrees with the study's findings.

As for peer review, BT has said over on Balkinization that he was asked to review "S&M's draft for publication,and,despite [his] reservations,[he]gave it a positive recommendation because [he] thought it raised a useful new perspective on the issue of economic return on a law degree." There may have been another reviewer. This type of review does not happen with blog posts. That was my only point.


"The problem is that they have produced an actual study that will take some time to digest, refute, or support. The debate about law schools has largely taken place on blogs -- with contested data, partial data, passionate belief, and anecdote."

I like to think of the blogosphere as being able to discuss the "so what?" of the study. Even assuming the authors' conclusions are valid, what does this mean for law schools going forward? The authors don't purport to answer that question, but that's where the discussion will inevitably go.


Of course. People discuss all manner of things on the blogosphere, and some of those discussions are actually useful. My point holds, however. Even its strong detractors acknowledge that this is an offering of a different sort, one that may require something more than the usual "tain't" to the opponent's "tis".


Yes, the methodology will require extensive discussion and debate. But from a policy perspective it is not particularly illuminating. Law school deans and profs have long argued that there is a large earnings premium over the course of a 40 year career and you can't judge the value of the degree based on 9-month employment data. But that still doesn't change the math underlying the flight of applicants, which is that the amount and distribution of student debt required to finance the current structure of legal education is completely out of whack with the short-term salary prospects.

In other words, even if a school offers a $1.1 million premium, that doesn't mean a lot of applicants are going to pay $1 million upfront to go there.

John Thompson

In a post at Concurring Opinions, Simkovic says the following about nonrespondent law graduates in SIPP's data:

"Census explains in greater detail how SIPP handles issues related to response bias, non-response bias, and weighting here. SIPP oversamples in poor neighborhoods, imputes when necessary, and adjust the sample weights to approach a nationally representative sample. [...] It is about a good a survey as one is likely to find conducted by people who care a great deal about nonresponse and accurate estimates."

It may be as good a survey as one is likely to find (*and* conducted by people who care a great deal), but my issue is that it is not good enough to answer any of the questions it will undoubtedly be used to answer by law school administrators marketing to prospective law students. I see this study being used in the same way that the "median starting salary" and "employment rate" statistics were used before their methodological problems (e.g., unrepresentative samples, exclusion of unfavorable outcomes) were exposed in mainstream media coverage about four or five years ago. Later, when another cohort graduates and finds that its prospects aren't nearly what they had been told to expect, law schools will pick out all the ways that reasonable consumers of legal education should not have been fooled by so transparent a lie as JDs adding an average of $1M to one's income as a BA.


The study does not adequately deal with selection bias as the authors clearly admit in the paper itself. the estimates should not be taken seriously.

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