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April 17, 2015


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Derek Tokaz


I wasn't criticizing the controls. I was criticizing the way the discussion is framed. You cannot say how much of the earnings premium comes from the JD opening more doors, and how much comes from the JD holder working significantly harder after going through that door (not to mention the work the student had to put in to get the door open, as the JD by itself does very little in this regard).

Perhaps this anecdote form Itzhak Pearlman (about Jascha Heifetz) will illustrate the point better: "He played a concert, and a lady came backstage and she said to him, 'Mr. Heifetz, your violin sounded so good tonight.' And he picked up the violin, and he said 'Funny, I don't hear anything.'"


Fine, DT, let's assume it's all the hard work of the masochistic JD holder. So what? Try digging ditches in a society that does not allow you to dig ditches without a license (i.e. a JD). The closest you can come to your preferred world is the California option to avoid law school and sit for the bar - if it's all about hard work why do so few people choose that option?

Observer poses a more interesting question. Since the number of working lawyers and lawyers incomes have increased steadily for many years (with a slight decline after 2008 that quickly corrected) why do law school applicants/applications/LSATs show such volatility?

That question is not posed or answered by S&M. But you are certainly right that it cannot have much to do with LST or ranting and raving of Campos and Tamanaha. Here are some possibilities:

(1) Students respond myopically to starting salaries and employment and overreact to the short term
(2) Students respond to positive or negative press coverage, independent of economic reality
(3) It’s a fashion thing; if there’s a lawyer show that’s good, maybe being a lawyer seems cool
(4) There are other graduate degrees out there that might be as good or better than a law degree

All but the last suggest some kind of behavioral bias independent of the long range impact.

Derek Tokaz


I'm not sure where you're getting this idea about my 'preferred world' from. But, that's also beside the point.

As for the "So what?" question, I can answer that by adding a fifth thing to your list of possible reasons why fewer students are applying to law school:

(5) Students don't find the cost/benefit ratio appealing.

The cost is more than the price of the degree. The cost is also in stress, depression, and the other ills many in the legal industry suffer. And the benefits they're concerned with aren't just salary premiums. They also care about things like prestige, and satisfaction, and doing something that feels meaningful to them.


I don't think S&M speak to the psychological issues but they do make clear that the financial cost is outweighed by the financial gains for most JD holders. No one has been able to present anything other than anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Their latest paper brings the data forward through 2013.

I do wonder however what the psychological impact of going through life with just a BA would be if one knew one had given up on a far more lucrative alternative.



Focus on that last part of your analysis of what is important: "doing something that feels meaningful to them."

Do these sterile and irrelevant debates about "value" do ANYTING to inspire ANYONE?

If the point of S&M is to prove that getting a JD will earn you, on average, more over 40 years than dropping out of high school will, why, why, oh why, is anyone paying attention or arguing about it?

If we actually look at what S&M actually said about the issue you all seem to be really debating - whether the "value" of law school is worth the investment - then, PLEASE, read this sentence, because this was S&M's actual conclusion:

"For most law school graduates, the benefits of a law degree exceed its cost by a large margin."

That is the best they could do. Read and think about that sentence. If you put all your chips on the argument that the "value" of a law degree is measured solely in those terms, then the support one finds in S&M is thin, very thin.

Hence, the unpersuasive nature of the S&M slogans and the likely reason that those who use them lash out in hysterical personal attacks on anyone who questions the "value" this "labor economics."

The relevance of any of this to any meaningful issue concerning the improvement of legal education and the reform of legal academia is nil. This entire line of "knowledge generation" is almost absolutely without value because:

First, no one credibly claimed or claims that investing 200,000 or more dollars, three years of hard study and a significant amount of intellectual capital won't provide any earning premium, on average, over a lifetime (that entire line of debate is whipping a straw man, over and over), and

Second, most who have debated the "value" of a law degree, even when measured according to the formula that S&M use, would not be particularly surprised, impressed or persuaded that this conclusion has any real significance to the debate:

"For most law school graduates, the benefits of a law degree exceed its cost by a large margin."

Derek Tokaz


If you want to prove the economic value of the law degree -- and just the degree, in isolation from the work of the JD holder -- then do this: Put your degree under your mattress for 30 years, and see what you can sell it for after it appreciates. Of if not that, put it in the savings account of your bank, and tell me how much interest it generates. If that's not a possibility, then try sending it out into the work place, and see what sort of pay check it brings home -- perhaps quite substantial since it doesn't require an expensive health care package. Or if none of those things work, you could try renting it to a law firm, surely they are in great need of more law degrees.

Of course, you could find this entire approach absurd, in which case I'd have to ask how it makes sense to talk about the economic value of a law degree without including a discussion of the work performed by the JD holder.



I suspect that Anon wouldn't agree with this, but you are sort of both agreeing whether you know it or not.

You are both arguing that the value of a law degree is measured in money earned. DT, you seem to be saying that JDs are better earners than BAs, because of their effort and not because of their credentials. Anon seems to be saying that a JD earns more money than a BA because legal work is better compensated.

Honestly, folks, you seem to be saying the same thing.

Michael Risch

Derek -

1. I take your point that lawyers may earn more and be unhappy doing it (more hours, unfulfilled, whatever). I don't think S&M argue otherwise, and I don't think they would argue that is what they are measuring. They are measuring wage differentials, not utility differences.

2. You are right that the work of the JD matters. This is worth exploring, and they do so some in the discussion of wage premium, but maybe not as much as could be done. But I think you are significantly underestimating the credentialing value of the JD. Even if we treated it as a simple taxicab medallion, where one paid for the right to practice, you might still compare the wages of taxicab drivers to other hired drivers to other careers, despite the fact that taxicab hours and hustle surely has a role in those wages.

So, when thinking through these issues, I raise two points:
A. With a large sample like this, we can be pretty sure that effects of random hustle differences are minimized in the population as a whole. We must then consider whether there are any non-random variations, which is M-k's argument (and I address above).

B. Where there are alternative methods of obtaining the credential and alternative followups from the credential, we should look at those. For example, to test the hypothesis that law school is a bum deal, but there is still a premium from the work of a lawyer, we can use the natural experiment of California. Do people use the hard work but no law school route? Do they use the unaccredited law school route? Did that change in 2008? I don't know the answers, but the results might tell us something about the value of the credentialing process even if you are completely cynical about the education. Similarly, you might consider JD grads who don't take the bar v. JD grads who do. If the premium is the same, you would tend to put more weight on the JD than the work of the lawyer. I don't know how that would come out - but that's how we might test your thoughts.

Derek Tokaz


To address your first point, what they are looking at in their paper is not just the wage differentials, but instead speak of the JD in terms of return on investment. But, ROI necessarily requires you to look at how the output compares to the input. And naturally S&M do look at some of the inputs, such as tuition and hours worked. My point is that they have left out a significant type of input.



The standard in science if you think there is a problem with the results is to re-run the data and see if you can find a flaw or using the data come up with a better theory and test it. Clearly, you don't know how to do that, nor do your putative leaders on law school faculties - Campos, Tamanaha or DJM - so you guess, wildly, and engage in various other tactics in order to silence opposition to your views. We will have to wait and see if Burk can do any better but I doubt it.

Derek Tokaz


To get to you second point, it'd be rather hard to say I've underestimated the credential value of the JD when I haven't really estimated it at all. Though, I've suggested that the sweat equity is probably more important.

I don't see the value in trying to figure out just what the credential is worth though, because the credential never gets to exist on its own. (By comparison, one of my undergrad roommates is a middle school teacher now. He gets a straight up wage premium for improving his credentials; teaches the same classes in the same school to the same students, but earns more money. That's a credential with a pure economic value. Doesn't exist with law degrees.)

Where is the need to unbundle the credential from the rest of the package? Prospective students certainly don't have the option to treat the credential this way.

The only reason I can imagine for this urge to unbundle is that the rest of the bundle spoils the deal. I remember when I was starting law school, wages were routinely bundled with the soft factors, like doing important work, having the respect of your peers, and being a leader in your community. And this was at a time when wages were skyrocketing, the profession was still marketed on its nobility.

I don't think it's got that same appeal any more. Either the facts about the soft factors (real or perceived) have changed, or the millennials have a different schedule of values from Gen X. I suspect a bit of both.



Having read your comments here, I'm wondering whether others at LST share your perspective. You appear to not only want to ensure accurate information (which I absolutely agree with) but also believe that the profession is largely a miserable experience (which I disagree with), which illustrates an undertone of hostility toward the profession in general.

The reason I ask is because this mindset can impact how LST explains the data it collects. For example, you have a section labelled "limits of the LST score report" where the limits that LST identifies omits disclaimers that would make the picture rosier than you portray. You don't tell readers that people may work 30 hours a week by choice (because they are starting a family, for example), but rather just label them underemployed (and hence not included in your employment score); you don't inform readers that some people proactively choose to obtain jobs where a JD is not required (even though the existence of such people is conceded in LST's assumptions about people's reasons for wanting to go to law school); you do not state that some don't have a job because they actually planned to pursue an additional degree; and you do not explain that some folks went to law school with the intention of opening up their own shop (some do, particularly those practicing in small towns or more rural areas). I'm not saying that everyone in these categories are there by choice. But a percentage are.

So what I'm wondering is whether it's possible that your understandable frustration with some law school data practices in the past has led you and others at LST to fail to provide prospective students with full disclosure of the limits in your methodology? After all, LST concedes that "understanding the shortcomings of the Score Reports is critical to using them to make informed decisions about law school."



Let me be clear - I enjoy the practice of law enormously. In the last couple of weeks it has allowed me to work on issues as widely varied as the legal standards applicable to arbitration awards under Article 44 of the Japanese Arbitration Act, standards issues under EU competition law and US antitrust, issues surround the selection of different stainless steel alloys in large plants, semiconductor clocking, near field communication, insurance and patent litigation, typo squatting, game copyright law, etc. My practice is I admit, somewhat unusual, but still.

However, it has long been apparent to me at least that there are problems with legal education. I first observed it in my first year summer where I worked in the DC office of a very large law firm, mostly on IP. One day I met an older partner JJ who asked me to do some legal research and a memo. To be clear I was already pretty busy (even as a summer associate) because the two busiest IP lawyers in the office had grabbed me when they saw my resumé (very STEM.) I completed the assignment for JJ, delivered it - and got a call to his office where I was subjected to a spittle flecked screaming tirade of abuse. Stunned I went back to my office. Shortly after I was called to the office of one of the two lawyers I was principally working for - and thought I was seriously in trouble. Instead I was told that it was an unwritten rule that no associates (or summer associates) took assignments from JJ or were required to. JJ was, inter alia, a major league alcoholic whose rages usually occurred in the afternoon - this was by the way in 1990 or thereabouts. However, over the years you learn about the "screamers" and encounter a huge number of quite miserable people practicing law - they find it boring, tedious and simply hate it - some I would suggest dash off to reach law instead, and then immerse themselves in "law and [insert real interest]" here teaching.

What I have observed over a few years legal practice is that a tremendous number of lawyers, including many in BigLaw, were attracted to the law for the wrong reasons. One reason was the perception that law is very well paid - something that TV dramas have pushed as much as law school marketing. Another is a quite false perception of what lawyers in fact do when they work. By the way, many of the miserable ******* I ever encountered as a lawyer went to Harvard and Yale - it appears that when admitted to the 2-5 top law schools many people go because it is perceived that "you'd be crazy not to," and thus they go because they have the grades and LSAT score to go, but not because law is what they want to do.

But is there an earnings premium for law graduates as opposed to other graduate degrees? S&M claim to have shown that there was one at least pre-2008. If some applicants, indeed many applicants to law school, are going because they want to improve their earning potential, then it does matter that the earning gain exists. My anecdotal experience is that most of the people I went to law school with would have been high earners and very successful even without the JD - and I suspect that pre-2008 that applied to most law school classes, since they had generally high GPA's, high LSAT scores and had been to selective schools as undergraduates. Many also came from quite middle class backgrounds.

When I read your explanation of what is wrong with the LST score report, I wince and wonder - are you an academic - do you have real world legal experience?

"Many people work 30 hours a week by choice (because they are starting a family, for example." In 2014 the average debt law school debt was $84,000 public $122,158 private, not including undergraduate debt. I find it extraordinarily unlikely that a junior lawyer, carrying a large debt burden would voluntarily limit their hours to 30 per week. Indeed, as a newly qualified lawyer my hours were typically around 60 or so. What you are suggesting is that people go to law school to pursue what is a part-time-job.

"You don't inform readers that some people proactively choose to obtain jobs where a JD is not required." Frankly, someone going to law school to obtain a job where a JD is not required would seem rarer than unicorns. Why would you do that? Who are these "some people"?

"Some don't have a job because they actually planned to pursue an additional degree" why, because the JD worked out so well. Again who are these "some" and are they common, or a very tiny group,

"Some folks went to law school with the intention of opening up their own shop (some do, particularly those practicing in small towns or more rural areas.)" How many people plan to set up their own shop fresh out of law school, with no experience?

To take your final shot "I'm not saying that everyone in these categories are there by choice. But a percentage are." What is that percentage - is it 50%, 10%, 1%, 0.01% - so small as to be meaningless? I think I'd go with very very small and meaningless. Your attack on LST and David Tokaz and suggestion of bad faith on LST's part would seem to me to be singularly misplaced. They are putting fair data in front of people who are considering going to law school to become lawyers - the data provided is what someone should have if that is what they want to do (even if they eventually plan to hang their own shingle.) That LST has to exist is a condemnation of what law schools have done to secure students and tuition.

Derek Tokaz


I can't speak to what others at LST think. As for whether the legal profession is "largely" miserable, we might quibble about the proper qualifier, but it certainly is significantly miserable, and more miserable than most. Lawyers are more than 3 times as likely to suffer from depression (the rate has been estimated as high as 25% of lawyers), they're more likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder, they're twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and they're twice as likely to commit suicide.

As for the role of people seeking part time work, or JDA positions, or who just want to take their JD and go be a hermit on a South American beach, I think M--k is more or less on point with his response.

You might ask what evidence there is that these numbers are small. The best evidence of course would be for schools to survey their entering classes about career goals, but I don't know of any that do that, so we have to go with circumstantial evidence and a bit of common sense. If we look at schools where we know students are most likely to have their pick of jobs, we see extremely low numbers in the categories you're concerned about. Among the USN top 10 schools, there were a total of 3,329 grads in 2013. They had a combined 3 grads in long term, part time positions. They had a total of 143 grads in long term, full time JDA or Other Professional positions, though Harvard provided 45 of those. There were a total of 4 solo practitioners.

When people have a choice, they don't seem to be hanging up their own shingles right out the gate, or starting work in a part-time position.


Michael: "Similarly, you might consider JD grads who don't take the bar v. JD grads who do."

Again, this would lead to enormous selection bias.

Deborah Merritt

I have worked with LST for years, and I find them exceedingly thoughtful about how they present data to readers. In fact, when I read their first white paper (written as students, before LST existed) I thought, "here are some students who have done a better job than anyone in academia at exploring our employment numbers and proposing ways to improve reporting."

As for liking law practice, I suggest you check LST's latest project, a series of podcasts called "I Am the Law." I won't give a link or I'll end up in the spam filter, but you can find them by googling lstradio. These are incredibly engaging interviews with lawyers doing things other than BigLaw. The podcasts will help prospective students understand what it's like to practice different types of law--and why those lawyers like their work.

The podcasts are also useful for people already in law school. In fact, I've suggested that my colleagues assign ones linked to their doctrinal courses to give students more context for the field they are learning.

So that is what LST has done--and is doing--to present the profession in honest and upbeat ways.


Data based on circumstantial evidence and "common sense" does sound like a limitation. Probably worth mentioning.


"But is there an earnings premium for law graduates as opposed to other graduate degrees? S&M claim to have shown that there was one at least pre-2008."

Not as I read their paper. That might have been a worthwhile endeavor.

Rather, they "proved" that a JD will provide a premium OVER AN UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE: a sort of "proof" that the sun rises in the East that no one should have paid any attention to at all.

The second, more relevant (to the endless debates here in the FL) proof provided by S&M concerned the "value" of the JD. In this regard, I have quoted their conclusion more than once above. Their conclusion was so modest and inconsequential, with such an incredibly low bar of "value" (measured, by the way, solely by earnings) that again, no one really should have paid as much attention as some have.

The reason being, IMHO, that some have only skimmed the abstract and have been desperately searching for a means to combat the drubbing they feel they took from the "scammers." A "nerdy" (complimentary use here) approach appeals to this group, as that approach comports with their identity and reference group ideal. Enter S&M.

Twist their modest and self evident claims and a slogan is born! A banner, a b...y shirt to waive over the defeated scammers!


Anon - and is there really a gain at all given the qualifications of pre-2008 law students had they not gone to graduate school at all.

Your sneer is very revealing - you have not bothered to eat my posts or other posts innate thread before posting. Impressive that!


Read my posts - iPad spelling correct strikes again!

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