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June 20, 2014


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Precisely correct. I've cited that adage, here in these comments, on numerous occasions.

Since Sinclair's time, however, the capacity to "spin" in all aspects of our culture has reached proportions that can be truly characterized as a "crisis."

Those of us who have been around for a "while" have seen the "bs" level in our society grow and grow and grow. This is especially acute in legal academia. There is no shame.

For example, there have been no (or precious few) apologies when representations have been proved wrong or perhaps fraudulent; instead, many, if not most, law profs have simply retorted by spitting like honey badgers, fuming about "scam bloggers" and "law school haters" instead of taking responsibility and pledging to do better.

Employment numbers are now goosed by law school hiring with impunity. And, these numbers are basically rendered false by, as you say, counting as "JD Advantaged" positions that neither require nor, in many instances, even prefer JDs. This goes on under the nose of the body committed to "regulating" these matters. It is the sort of conduct that has made Wall Street such a success, despite its all too obvious failure.

One wonders, therefore, how the tide can be turned in one little pocket of our overall culture (legal academia) while the culture of crap goes on unabated every where else?

Law profs, especially the new crop, seem to have an almost infinite reservoir of self-regard. This seems unshakable.

Realistically: how can this change?

John Thompson


"a number chillingly reminiscent of the 56%-57% of the ***last two*** law-school graduating classes who managed to find a full-time, long-term job requiring a law license within 9-10 months of graduation, though when you exclude school-funded and self-employed positions as well as a few other confounders and irrelevancies, that number is closer to 53%"

To strengthen your point overall, I would add that it hasn't been just the last two graduating classes. It's been the last five, and if early indications (i.e., offers at graduation) track previous results, it will be six.

James Milles

Interesting turnaround. t's a long, long time since I was in grad school (Master's in English, UT-Austin), but in those days, the message was quite clear that anyone who had a graduate degree in English and took a job anywhere besides teaching (say, marketing writing or journalism) was a failure.

Just saying...

Many employers would likely see poor decision-making skills in someone who spent a lot of time and money getting a PhD in an area X when they are looking for a job in area Y.

Matt Bodie

Bernie: I understand the cynicism -- we've certainly earned it -- but there are genuinely non-law-practicing jobs in which one still uses one's legal education. The crossover between law and human resources is a growing and largely underexplored development in our academy, but many law grads are taking HR jobs. They can do those jobs more effectively because they understand the law. And I'm not just talking entry-level compliance -- experienced attorneys are now becoming VPs of HR at big companies. So while I agree that the "JD advantage" category is ripe for abuse, it is not a null set, even with much more rigorous reporting standards.

Jeff Harrison

Excellent and no better example than law schools spending gobs of money to attract students so they (the schools) can stay in business. Particularly in public law schools, the idea that the schools were means to an end and not ends, is dismissed entirely.

Nathan A

"What we need instead is a broadened understanding of career paths.”

I think this is the part that cracks me up the most. He isn't completely wrong. But literature departments have shown zero desire to provide their students with the training or resources necessary to secure employment in any "broadened" "career paths."

Jeff Harrison

I'd give Nathan a "like" if I could. Law schools are in fact not talking about broadened "career paths" either. In fact, they seem to be bent on narrowing them.


Nathan and Jeff:

YOu seem to be completely oblivious to the point of the post, thus demonstrating the validity of its central thesis.

Doug Richmond

Matt: I agree that lawyers may be able to put their legal educations to use in meaningful jobs other than practicing law, but typically (and unfortunately) not at junior levels. The argument or claim that "experienced attorneys are now becoming VPs of HR at big companies" overlooks the fact that those are experienced attorneys and thus offers no defense at all of "JD Advantage" jobs for today's graduates.

Jeremy Telman

The delusion has not spread to graduate programs. It's been there a long time. In 2000, the American Historical Association published a letter I wrote in response to an article that was a lot like Russell Berman's recent report for the MLA. It seems like very little has changed in that part of the academy, and I have not changed my views:

As a European history PhD who repeatedly struck out on the academic job market and has, at the age of 36, begun a new career, I read with interest John C. Burnham's essay. While I agree with much of Burnham's analysis, I do not think that the ills of the profession will be significantly reduced if PhDs seek employment as "postacademic historians"—hired as public historians or as private historians having "tenure" at AT&T.
First, while I agree with Burnham that the skills one acquires in a PhD program are useful in professional settings outside of the academy, traditional PhD programs are not well-equipped to train students efficiently in these skills. A program that focuses more intensively on professional training would better prepare aspiring historians to do the kinds of work that Burnham describes. Rather than encouraging more students to spend years writing dissertations that very few people will read, the historical profession could better achieve Burnham's goals by bolstering MA programs. This means that the professors who teach in these programs have to recognize, as Burnham does, that they are not exclusively training young people who will devote their lives to teaching and research in the academy. These programs must include, as faculty members who are central to the programs' missions, professional historians who work as museum curators, local historians, archivists, and the like. The focus of the program should be professional training that will prepare students for a broad spectrum of jobs related to history.
The second problem with Burnham's proposed solution is that it fails to recognize that many people pursue PhDs because they are interested in academic positions and have no interest in in-house positions at AT&T. These aspiring PhDs often have intellectual ambitions that they believe, rightly or wrongly, could not be achieved outside of the academy. Such people are unlikely to derive satisfaction from being "the only person in [the] office who knows how to look things up."
Burnham suggests that we cannot know whether the current decline in permanent, full-time teaching positions will continue. I hope that he is right and that universities will begin to create numerous new tenure-track lines in history departments. Until there is clear evidence of such a trend, however, it is irresponsible for universities to accept more students into PhD programs than they can expect to place in the types of jobs that those students seek. Getting a PhD is a costly endeavor, not only because graduate students are consigned to poverty and indebtedness while they pursue their degrees, but also because the PhD delays entry into the work force by seven years. Students who want to pursue the kinds of careers that Burnham describes should be able to prepare for those careers in high-quality professional programs that culminate in a masters degree. PhD programs are better suited for students who are exclusively interested in teaching in the academy. However, because teaching positions are difficult to obtain, PhD programs in history should be small—both in quantity and class size.


Bernie is absolutely right on this. Law faculty have been silent and , in some cases complicit, in the fraud that is employment outcome reporting. Jd advantage is a worthless category for anything other than a fig leaf. Are there any entry level jobs where a jd is a benefit but not a requirement? Of course, but there aren't many of them. Reporting and rankings should cover non-solo, jd required, non-school funded, paid work as an attorney. Period.

I concede that this will not tell the full story of all employment. But so what? GDP doesn't tell the full story of economic output but it is a very useful number. Ft lt job percentages allow comparisons between schools and allow comparisons year to year.

Why use full time, long term no solo no school as the metric if it is imperfect? Because you cannot be trusted. I am appalled to read 0L come-ons like the unemployment rate among lawyers is less than 5 percent or 95 percent of our law graduates are employed within 6 months of graduation and the median salary of those graduates who work in large firms is 150,000.

Is there anyone here who doesn't view such sales pitches as slimy and misleading? Why do you allow your institutions to get away with it? Have you no shame?


Jojo, Some of us have brought the issues you describe to our administration multiple times and very little has changed. What would you suggest we do? I guess we could quit in protest, but I am positive that would not change things. The line of people willing to fill our positions is long. For me, I try to be honest with prospective students, teach students to the best of my ability, and connect students to my contacts in practice.


Matt, many, many recent JDs try to break into human resources with little success, _especially_ in entry-level compliance jobs. Some postings actually state they will not hire JDs and hiring personnel are pretty explicit when asked why they don't like hiring JDs. For administrative positions a legal background is a negative; any attempt to apply legal knowledge to their job will be a waste of time and money. If a new JD finds what he or she thinks is a flaw in an employee contract that thousands of employees have already signed, then that new JD is almost always going to be plain wrong. Furthermore a company faces potentially greater liability if the low-level employee says something wrong and is a lawyer versus a non-lawyer.

Rob T.

"Upton Sinclair’s well-worn observation that 'it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it'."

Are you Paul Campos, by any chance, or are you merely channeling him with that run-into-the-ground quotation?

John Steele

Nice post, Bernie.

Michael C. Duff

60% for language/literature grads sounds way high. In any event, the phenomenon is manifest in virtually every profession and graduate program. Yet we are reminded repeatedly of the astronomically high unemployment rate for new undergraduates. This seems to resolve to -- don't get a law degree; don't get a business degree; don't get an engineering degree; don't get an accounting degree; don't bother graduating from college. What does that leave? The magical/mystical start-up? Is it any wonder why students keep signing up in graduate & professional programs? The alternative seems to be to abandon hope. In that milieu a 60% chance for a low paying job (by historical law job standards) beats the alternative.

Just saying...

JayA: I think ALL profs who object to the dishonest practices used by law schools to juice their employment numbers to attract new students should quit. Certainly, the number of profs who feel this way should be overwhelming, don't you think? That would shake up legal education -- mass resignations by faculty across the rankings spectrum.

Doubt it is going to happen. Most law profs know they are unemployable elsewhere and certainly not at their current salaries.

Alternatively, their could become more involved in the ABA accreditation process and not leave it the present crowd who is interested in maintaining the status quo to keep the poorly ranked law schools in business.

Profs who feel this way should go public like Tamanaha and Campos, too.

dan rodriguez

I have some thoughts on this post over at Prawfsblawg.

Jeff Harrison

Great logic. "just saying." If those of us who disagree with current practices of law schools quit, that would certainly clear things up. I can assure you on each faculty there are people not playing ball but who may not be as visible as others.

On a different point, the dishonestly claim as a causal factor is getting a bit thin. Any one currently believing the glossy brochures of law schools fighting to maintain the jobs of law professors has been under a rock now for about five years. I understand the bitterness of pre 2011 grads but, at this point, it's a bit more like sour grapes.

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