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April 20, 2015


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Thanks Bernie, very interesting post.

As you say, it's important to remember that we're dealing with real, honest to god human beings here. Applicants don't want to know employment, debt, and salary info in a vacuum, but because they want to try and predict their lifestyle in 3.5 years, in five years, in ten years.

For the person concerned primarily with short-term outcomes (i.e. someone who really wants to live like a rich yuppie during their 20's), the lifetime earnings premium is useful only to the extent that it indicates better short term outcomes and is not contradicted by more precise information (starting salaries from that school and that person's likely debt) that gives a better picture of that person's short-term financial future than the lifetime earnings premium.

Just for illustrative purposes, a lot of people would attend law school if they knew it would give them a $2 million lifetime earnings premium. But a lot fewer of those people would attend if they knew that before that earnings premium kicked in they would earn the poverty line for 10 years after graduation. A law school that is not upfront about that second fact, is, in my mind, behaving less than honestly even if it is behaving "in the best interests" of its students in a paternalistic fashion by shielding them from information that could cause them to make poor overall decisions.

And the backlash from students when they find out about the "10 years at the poverty line" part of the deal is going to be intense and is not going to be mollified by reassurances that they'll still get the $2 million down the line.


Remember, folks, S&M never said that a law degree provided a 1M premium!


Anon, viz your comment -

"Remember, folks, S&M never said a law degree provided a 1M premium"

Was it the Pouca Mac Fheidhlimidh that wrote the sentence in their abstract:

"We estimate the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree as approximately $1,000,000."??

Supplementary - you are the same ann that has been accusing so many of not reading the S&M study - ironic that!


Is the "value" the same as the "premium" over the UG degree?

Over other graduate degrees?


Anon at 7:12 which anon are you - because we have already established that if you are anon at 5:53 you accuse people of not reading things you have not in fact read, while not actually reading the comments you are commenting on...

Who knows, it is S&M's abstract - ask them. It seems to speak for itself in establishing that you mads a point that the very first page of the article shows to be wrong, and to demonstrate that you seem not to have actually read the article you accuse so many of not reading. Irony is something you seem to not comprehend, or hypocrisy either....


This is the relevant passage:

"After controlling for observable differences, we find that a law degree is associated with an increase of approximately 84 percent in expected mean monthly earnings (a 73 percent increase in expected median monthly earnings), a 65 percent increase in mean hourly wages (a 60 percent increase in median hourly wages), and reduced risk of unemployment
or underemployment. Earnings differences between men and
women are due primarily to differences in number of hours worked. The law degree earnings premium is cyclical; values in recent years are within historical norms. Applying reasonable discount rates results in a mean lifetime value at the start of law school of about $1 million before taxes and $700,000 net of taxes. Median pretax lifetime values are approximately $650,000 (after taxes, $450,000) for men and $850,000 (after taxes, $600,000) for women. For most law school graduates, the benefits of a law degree exceed its cost by a large margin."

Again, IHMO, no one has credibly argued that after investing 200K or more, three years of time and significant intellectual capital one would not reasonably expect an increase in lifetime earnings.

Again, IMHO, the observations noted above do not boil down to "A law degree is worth 1M" and were simply not unique enough or surprising enough or significant enough in context to merit the debate this study has fostered.


Are you arguing that the sentence in S&M's abstract was not approved, drafted and posted by S&M? Seriously? Because if that is your defense of your comment that S&M never said the law degree provided a 1M premium .... gosh, I bow down at your brilliance, literacy and integrity. You sir should be a law professor (just don't try practicing law with that mind)!


Law professor or litigator, one would be a fool to respond to your comments on the "merits," brackets! I still admire your ability to argue endlessly! Well done!

For the record, the passage quoted above is not from the abstract.


And yet you do not answer - did S&M write the abstract. Indeed, did they write the sentence you quoted "mean lifetime value of about $1 million before taxes."

Here is the thing - you said they never claimed a 1M premium - that was an asinine argument to make in light of what they said.

Now you say "law professor or litigator." No one who can make an argument so desperately foolish and ill considered as the one you just made has any business being either a litigator or someone that trains lawyers. If you cannot see how thoroughly idiotic it was to make the argument you just did, you should not be teaching.


You're right, brackets. Every word.

Now, have one more try at it and then be assured you will have the last word on this.

(Personal request: work the words "idiot" "asinine" and "hypocrisy," a bit of sarcasm, and a couple of below the belt attacks all into one sentence! And, whatever you comment on, please don't actually read the passage quoted above and comment on my comment about what the authors actually concluded! Fun!)

Deborah Merritt

McIntyre and Simkovic originally titled their paper "The Million Dollar Law Degree," and disseminated it under that name. They later changed the paper's title, perhaps in response to points like the ones raised in this debate: the million dollars represented the pre-tax, pre-tuition mean lifetime value. (It's also worth noting that the mean was higher than the median.) As such, the title somewhat oversold their findings; their new title is much better.

But given the manner in which they titled the paper, drafted the abstract, and initially presented their findings, they clearly did claim that a law degree was "worth" $1 million. That claim has stuck in public memory, which makes discussion of the findings and method harder.

terry malloy

anon and his ilk are why 165+ LSATs no longer go to law school.

The firsthand experience of their older peers, widely available on the internet, has washed away any patina the law once had.

The defenders, including anon, are pitched in quixotic battles with the facts (e.g., denying that S&M claimed 1mm law degree value, calling the bar exam a 'scam').

the iceman cometh.



I am in AGREEMENT that S&M oversold their paper. I am in AGREEMENT with Deborah Merritt.

My point is that too many of the defenders of the status quo still tout the paper as claiming that "S&M proved that a law degree is worth a million dollars" ... as a selling point to lure in the unwary.

My only point has been (obviously misunderstood) that, even on its own terms, the paper didn't so claim (though, as Deborah has pointed out, the authors got a lot of attention billing the findings as such). It is my view that there is no excuse to continue to oversell that paper, and those who use the paper to support arguments based on a misreading of the actual findings should admit that S&M never actually found that a "that a law degree provided a 1M premium" or that "a law degree is worth a million dollars" or any of the other slogans thrown around in these debates.

As I commented in the first of these threads, repeatedly, my belief is that the entire debate about the "worth" of a JD, if expressed solely in financial terms, is an unwarranted commodification of the law degree, a sort of meaningless exercise in arguments about whether the big investment in graduate school will have ANY return, and, in sum, distracts attention from the pressing issues that should be on the minds of those seeking to reform legal education.


Addendum: If the objection to my comments is that S&M claimed that a law degree is always worth more than one pays for it (in dollars and cents) over a 40 year hypothetical period, and that, for many, this isn't true, then I would simply respond that this characterization of the findings is, again, an exaggeration.

S&M actually allowed for the fact that many persons may not meet the mean, the median, or anything close to it. As Deborah notes, just look at the median after tax (compared with the investment, over a forty year period)! S&M allowed for reputation differences among law schools, markets, etc. (though not sufficiently, obviously).

Again, IMHO, too many folks aren't reading these papers carefully. That isn't to defend S&M, though I do have the impression that S may be biased in this debate toward the "go to law school now!" side of the shouting matches.

The flaws and faults in the S&M papers are obvious and significant: there is no need for anyone to misread or misuse them!


As a side note, where exactly is McIntyre in this and why is Simkovic taking the lead? He is a trained legal scholar, not an economist, and amateur economics is frequently bad economics.


My beef with the S&M paper is not with the data or even with the conclusions (though there is ample reason to believe changes are structural in the legal field and past performance will not equate to future benefit).

Rather, I don't like how the paper is trotted out to excuse the astronomical price of law school and to forgive horrible employment data for recent grads. "I know it's expensive, but S&M." "I know the stats look bad, but in the long run ... S&M."

It's serving as a crutch and an excuse for schools not to reform. That is something that I find troubling.

Derek Tokaz

Trying to get back on the topic of who should count in employment stats...

"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."

The criticism of Simkovic comes down to this: Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

There is no platonic form of employment we are trying to discover the nature of, nor does the U.S. Government have a monopoly on definitions and categorizations. What counts as employment is whatever the intended audience (presumably prospective students) thinks should count.

confused by your post

Back to our topic, the OP's linked March item from Dean LeDuc on the Cooley blog is a good example of employment information that is not helpful to folks deciding whether they should attend Cooley or law school in general:

"The unemployment rate among lawyers is now 1.2%, far below the national unemployment rate of 5.5% and likewise the lowest lawyer unemployment rate since before 2008. And the unemployment rate for lawyers in the fourth quarter of 2014 was 0.6%."

and later

"The time of the law school critics has passed. Now is the time for those whose dream is to become a lawyer to disregard the blog-fog and look at the clear employment picture that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has painted. That dream’s future is now."

Does Dean LeDuc provide information that is "most" pertinent to potential students in the passage above? Would it have been more accurate to provide information from Cooley's own required employment disclosures instead or as well? Was there a reason that Dean LeDuc chose to quote the employment statistics he did rather than the fact that in 2014 Cooley placed only 261 of its 871 graduates in full time long term law jobs?

I believe that the short term employment statistics most important to a potential "consumer" of legal education are now available on each law school. More information on the employment and debt from each school would be better. Regardless, things are moving in the right direction when it comes to employment information.

Related to this is whether each school's employment statistics are actually accurate. The ABA's employment info verification procedure (ABA does not call them audits for good reason) in their current form are too toothless to overcome the tremendous pressure schools face to present good employment results. At Level 1, randomly checking less than 5% of schools' by looking at graduate employment files, presuming the "files to be accurate, complete and not misleading in the absence of credible evidence to the contrary" (i.e. no rudimentary verification attempts) with little consequence for getting caught won't deter the reporting of fudged employment stats by schools in financial distress.


confused by your post:

LeDuc's statement was even more deceptive when you understand how the occupational unemployment rate is arrived at. Occupational unemployment is based on the unemployed person's last job. Thus as the joke goes, a barista with a JD and bar passage who loses his job would still be a barista (or whatever category BLS puts coffee people into) not an unemployed barrister/lawyer. Worse, it only counts those who were employed as lawyers by reporting entities - not the formerly self employed (by the way law firm partners are often self employed as a technical matter (I am.)

The result is that Cooley's graduates who never get hired as lawyers would not be counted as "unemployed lawyers." People who take any job other than lawyer are not thereafter counted as an unemployed lawyer (at least until they get a job as a lawyer.)


Posted by: twbb:

"As a side note, where exactly is McIntyre in this and why is Simkovic taking the lead? He is a trained legal scholar, not an economist, and amateur economics is frequently bad economics."

McIntyre is not a law professor, and might have an academic reputation at stake[1]. He might be trying to disassociate himself from this.

[1] Given the number of law professors and deans who have repeatedly utter ridiculous statements defending law schools, on this blog and others, it's quite clear that legal academic reputations are different from regular academic reputation.

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