February 09, 2016

Law School Bloggers' Latest Unscientific Fad: BLS Job Openings Projections (Michael Simkovic)

The latest unscientific fad among law school watchers is comparing job openings projections for lawyers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics* with the number of students expected to graduate from law school.  Frank McIntyre and I tested this method of predicting earnings premiums--the financial benefits of a law degree--using all of the available historical projections from the BLS going back decades.  This method of prediction does not perform any better than random chance.**   Labor economists--including those working at the BLS--have explicitly stated that BLS projections should not be used to try to value particular courses of study.  Instead, higher education should be valued based on earnings premiums.

Bloggers who report changes in BLS projections and compare projected job openings to the number of students entering law school might as well advise prospective law students to make important life decisions by flipping a coin.

Many law graduates won't practice law.  Many engineering graduates won't become engineers.  Many students in every field end up working jobs that are not directly related to what they studied.  They still typically benefit financially from their degrees by using them in other occupations where additional education boosts earnings and likelihood of employment.

And if one's goal really is to practice law even if practicing law is not more lucrative than other opportunities opened by a law degree, then studying law may not be a guarantee, but it still dramatically improves the odds.

 

 *  BLS job opening projections--which are essentially worthless as predictors for higher education--should not be confused with BLS occupational employment statistics, which provide useful data about earnings and employment in many occupations, including for lawyers.  

** There isn’t even strong evidence that changes in the ratio between BLS projected lawyer job openings and law class size predict changes in the percent of law graduates who will practice law, although the estimates are too noisy to be definitive. Historically, the ratio of BLS projected openings to law graduates (or first year enrollments 3 years prior) has systematically under-predicted by a wide margin the proportion of law graduates practicing law shortly after graduation, although it is clear that a large minority of law graduates do not practice law. 

 

BLS projected openings vs. NALP

(For more on the limitations of initial outcome data, see here, here, here, and here).


February 9, 2016 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Legal Profession, Ludicrous Hyperbole Watch, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Science, Student Advice, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

February 03, 2016

The over-used signaling hypothesis (Michael Simkovic)

Noah Smith at Bloomberg has a great discussion.  My take is available here.

Hat tip Frank Pasquale.


February 3, 2016 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Of Academic Interest, Science, Weblogs | Permalink

February 02, 2016

Smaller or Larger Law Class Sizes Don’t Predict Changes in Financial Benefits of Law School (Michael Simkovic)

One of the most surprising and controversial findings from Timing Law School was that changes in law school graduating class size do not predict changes in the boost to earnings from a law degree.* Many law professors, administrators, and critics believe that shrinking the supply of law graduates must surely improve their outcomes, because if supply goes down, then price—that is, earnings of law graduates—should go up.

In a new version of Timing Law School, Frank McIntyre and I explore our counterintuitive results more thoroughly. (The new analysis and discussion appear primarily in Part III.C. “Interpreting zero correlation for cohort size and earnings premium” on page 18-22 of the Feb. 1, 2016 draft and in Table 10 on the final page).

Our results of no relationship between class size and earnings premiums were robust to many alternative definitions of cohort size that incorporated changes in the number of law graduates over several years. This raises questions about whether our findings are merely predictive, or should be given a causal interpretation.

We considered several interpretations that could reconcile our results with a supply and demand model and with the data. The most plausible interpretation seemed to be that when law class sizes change, law graduates switch between practicing law and other employment opportunities that are equally financially rewarding. While changes in the number of law graduates might have an impact on the market for entry-level lawyers, such changes are much less likely to have a discernible impact on the much larger market for highly educated labor.

Although law graduates who practice law on average earn more than those who do not, at the margin, those who switch between practicing law and other options seem to have law and non-law opportunities that are similarly lucrative. We found that the proportion of recent law graduates who practice law does decline as class size increases, but earnings premiums remain stable. This is consistent with the broader literature on underemployment, and supports the view of law school as a flexible degree that provides benefits that extend to many occupations. (See here and here).

A related explanation is that relatively recent law school graduates may be reasonably good substitutes for each other for several years, blunting the impact of changes in class size on earnings.

Interpretations that depend on law students and law schools perfectly adjusting class size in anticipation of demand for law graduates or future unemployment seem implausible given the unrealistic degree of foresight this would require. Offsetting changes in the quality of students entering law school—an explanation we proposed in an earlier version of the paper—seems able to explain at most a very small supply effect. Although credentials of entering classes appear to decline with class sizes, these changes in credentials are relatively small even amid dramatic changes in class size, and probably do not predict very large changes in earnings. Imprecision in our estimates is another possibility, although for graduates with more than a few years of experience, our estimates are fairly precise.

Even if there are effects of law class size on law earnings premiums, they are probably not very large and not very long lasting.

 * The finding is consistent with mixed results for cohort size in other econometric studies of cohort effects, but nevertheless was contrary to many readers’ intuitions.

Continue reading


February 2, 2016 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Science, Student Advice | Permalink

December 14, 2015

Promotional Feature: Makeover for Statutory Supplements is Long Overdue (Michael Simkovic)

In the era of Google Maps, instant language translation, and digital music libraries, law students still spend countless hours flipping pages to find the right subclause or definition in a statute. This process can and should be automated.

Computerized calculations have liberated STEM students from tedious, repetitive tasks so that they can focus on the more intellectually simulating and creative aspects of math, science and engineering. Word processing software has freed us all from applying whiteout and waiting for it to dry and from manually retyping manuscripts to correct a few errors. This has enabled us to focus on our ideas and not the mechanics of fixing them permanently on paper.

Law is an inherently conservative field, focused on precedent, tradition, and risk avoidance. But when the case for change is compelling, we are prepared to try new tools.

I’ve been thinking about the problems of statutory interpretation for years and how automation could streamline the process. I’m very excited to announce a new electronic statutory supplement, LawEdge. (Full disclosure: I helped develop it).

LawEdge aims to do for statutory interpretation what the calculator did for mathematics.

The U.S. Code includes thousands of defined terms.   A reader must understand what each of the defined terms means to understand the meaning of each provision containing those defined terms.

Unfortunately, defined terms are not always clearly labeled.  Even when defined terms are labeled as defined terms, understanding one provision may require flipping back and forth to several other locations in the code.  This process can be slow and cumbersome with paper statutes.  Even electronic statutes often will not take users to the precise location in the code where a definition appears, but will instead take readers to a the section containing the definition, forcing readers to search for the definition.

LawEdge makes working with defined terms simple and easy. Defined terms are clearly labeled. Clicking on a defined term generates a popup window showing its meaning.  Definitions are also hyperlinked to their meaning.

Definitions are context-specific and do not apply to all sections of the code. For example, the definition of “property” in Section 317(a) of the Internal Revenue Code does not apply to Section 351 of the same title. LawEdge recognizes context and links definitions appropriately.

LawEdge is easy to navigate. For example, suppose that you wish to read § 21(b)(2)(B). With a paper statutory supplement, you could flip to section 21, then look for subsection (b), then read down to paragraph (2) and finally find subparagraph (B). The entire process might take 30 seconds, and along the way you might accidentally look at the wrong provision. With LawEdge, this process is nearly instantaneous and error free. You would simply type s21b2b in the search bar. This feature works all the way down to the subclause level.

Browsing a statute is also easier and more intuitive. Structural components are color coded to be more recognizable.

The underlying technology is algorithmic, which means it is easy to update and support as the U.S. Code changes.

Ebooks are available for Bankruptcy and Tax  for those who would like to try this new technology. I used BankruptcyEdge  successfully in my class this fall.

LawEdge has all of the benefits of paper—notes, highlights, bookmarks, offline access—and many advantages only available electronically. It can be used on exams with the latest version of ExamSoft, which offers on option to only block internet access but not the hard drive.  

If you’re interested in trying it for your class, please feel free to contact me for an evaluation copy.


December 14, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Student Advice | Permalink

Media Law Scholars Discuss The New York Times and Defamation Law (Michael Simkovic)

A recent New York Times editorial attacking law school as “a scam” was widely criticized because of its exaggerations and factual inaccuracies (here and here). The dean of Florida Coastal, which The New York Times specifically targeted for opprobrium, wrote  “the Times is saying something demonstrably false and which had not been properly fact checked. . . . [T]he Times could have had [accurate information] if it had simply asked. . . the Times . . . misled its readership by failing to properly fact check.”

Felix Salmon, contemplating recent journalistic controversies, argues that fundamental problems with journalistic methods lead errors to go undetected and unchallenged. According to Salmon, the risk is particularly high when errors originate with a powerful newspaper like The New York Times.   Glenn Greenwald similarly notes the alarming pervasiveness of factual errors by respected media organizations, and how consumers rarely spot these errors  unless they personally have intimate knowledge of the subject of the article—for example because they are the subject. A large survey found that news sources rarely correct errors because they believe that journalists ignore serious mistakes. Sources also fear that if they push for a correction, the media will retaliate.

To better understand the press’s incentives to carefully research their stories, I asked leading media law scholars to discuss whether The New York Times law school editorial raised any legal issues. According to both my Seton Hall colleague Thomas Healy and Howard Wasserman of Florida International, The New York Times has little reason to fear liability, even if it negligently supplies information that is poorly researched, misleading, or harmful.

Howard M. Wasserman, Professor of Law, FIU College of Law

Facts, Damn Facts, and Statistics (full analysis):

Neither Florida Coastal School of Law nor its owner, InfiLaw, has threatened to sue The Times for defamation over its October 24 op-ed. Any such lawsuit would be futile in the face of stringent First Amendment protections against defamation liability. . . . 

Continue reading


December 14, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Of Academic Interest, Weblogs | Permalink

December 10, 2015

The M&A Boom (Michael Simkovic)

White & CaseBloomberg, and MarketWatch discuss the booming market for mergers and acquisitions.


December 10, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession | Permalink

December 02, 2015

Developer of Law School Admission Test (LSAT) Disputes Advocacy Group's Bar Exam Claims (Michael Simkovic)

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC)--the non-profit organization which develops and administers the Law School Admission Test (LSAT)--recently issued a press release disputing claims by the advocacy group "Law School Transparency" about the relationship between LSAT scores and bar passage rates.  "Law School Transparency," headed by Kyle McEntee, prominently cited the LSAC National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study (1998) as a key source for "Law School Transparency's" claims that many law schools are admitting students who are unlikely to pass the bar exam based largely on their LSAT scores.  McEntee's group's claims of bar passage risk were widely disseminated by the national press.

However, according to LSAC, the Longitudinal Bar Passage Study does not provide much support for "Law School Transparency's" claims.  Moreover, "Law School Transparency's" focus on first time bar passage rates is potentially misleading:

"The LSAC [National Longitudinal Bar Passage] study did state that 'from the perspective of entry to the profession, the eventual pass rate is a far more important outcome than first-time pass rate.' This statement is as true today as it was 25 years ago. As noted by LST, the LSAC study participants who scored below the (then) average LSAT score had an eventual bar passage rate of over 90 percent.

Kyle McEntee and David Frakt responded to some of LSAC's critiques--partly on substance by pointing out disclaimers in the full version of "Law School Transparency's" claims, partly by smearing the technical experts at LSAC as shills for law school--but notably did not explain why "Law School Transparency" chose to focus on first time bar passage rates rather than seemingly more important--and much higher--eventual bar passage rates. 

Eventual bar passage rates were the focus of the National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study.  The LSAC study's executive summary highlights eventual bar passage rates and detailed data is presented on page 32 and 33.  Even among graduates of the lowest "cluster" of law schools, around 80 percent eventually passed the bar exam.

According to LSAC:

"The LSAC National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study was undertaken primarily in response to rumors and anecdotal reports suggesting that bar passage rates were so low among examinees of color that potential applicants were questioning the wisdom of investing the time and resources necessary to obtain a legal education."

"Law School Transparency" has revived similar concerns, but without a specific focus on racial minorities.*

There may be legitimate concerns about long term eventual bar passage rates for some law students.  However, "Law School Transparency's" back-of-the-envelope effort, focused on short term outcomes, does not provide much insight into long-term questions.  The most rigorous study of this issue to date--the LSAC National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study--concluded that "A demographic profile that could distinguish first-time passing examinees from eventual-passing or never-passing examinees did not emerge from these data. . . . Although students of color entered law school with academic credentials, as measured by UGPA and LSAT scores, that were significantly lower than those of white students, their eventual bar passage rates justified admission practices that look beyond those measures."

Unfortunately, some newspapers reported "Law School Transparency's" bar passage risk claims in ways that suggested the claims were blessed by LSAC, or even originated from LSAC.  For example, one prominent newspaper's editorial board wrote that "In 2013, the median LSAT score of students admitted to [one law school] was in the bottom quarter of all test-takers nationwide. According to the test’s administrators, students with scores this low are unlikely to ever pass the bar exam."
 
Journalists should not have uncritically reported (or exaggerated) "Law School Transparency's" claims without consulting experts at LSAC, and certainly should not have attributed those claims to LSAC.
 
 
* Many law schools that serve students with low LSAT scores have racially diverse classes. Thus, denying admission to students with low LSAT scores could  affect racial minorities as well as other students.


December 2, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Science, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

November 24, 2015

Thankful for the Financial Times (Michael Simkovic)

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for the Financial Times.  

While some leading business and financial newspapers have adulterated their coverage to appeal to a mass audience or reduce costs, the Financial Times continues to produce high quality, fact-based reporting about serious business, financial, and economic issues.  The FT's target audience continues to be legal and financial professionals who are prepared to pay a premium for reliable information.  The FT includes a minimum of hyperbole and fluff.  It also offers a more global perspective than most U.S. papers, while still providing strong coverage of important U.S. issues.  

For the last 5 years, I've routinely recommended the FT to students in my business law classes, who are generally more familiar with U.S. papers.  The FT is available on Lexis (with a few days delay), but is well worth the cost of a subscription.  

If you're not a regular reader of the FT, but have been following U.S. newspapers' higher education coverage, you can get a sense of the differences between the FT and U.S. newspapers' approach across subject areas by reading this article about fees at public UK universities exceeding those at U.S. universities.  The article is entirely focused on costs and benefits of education and how those costs and benefits are distributed between students, government, and employers.  There are no unrepresentative anecdotes, no histrionics, only summaries of data.  When advocacy groups are cited, their interests are noted.  This is what journalism can and should be.

Pearson recently sold the FT to Nikkei.  Hopefully the new owners maintain the FT's high quality. 


November 24, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Student Advice, Weblogs | Permalink

November 12, 2015

New America Foundation versus College (Michael Simkovic)

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Frank Pasquale reviews "The End of College" by Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation:

"Tax-cutting, budget-slashing politicos are always eager to hear that education could be much, much cheaper. . . . “disrupting education” mobilizes investors and excites startups. Kevin Carey’s The End of College is the latest book to seize the imagination of disrupters. It touts massive changes for post-secondary education. . . .

 

[Carey] believes things need to change drastically in higher ed, and that they will change. But bridging the gap between “is” and “ought” is a formidable task — one Carey tries to solve by muckraking indictments of universities on the one hand and encomia to tech firms on the other. . . .  In The End of College, Silicon Valley thought leaders are as pragmatic, nimble, and public-spirited as university administrators are doctrinaire, ossified, and avaricious. . . . They’ve devised methods of teaching and evaluating students that solve (or will soon solve — Carey vacillates here) all the old problems of distance education.

 

Online learning at the University of Everywhere could eventually improve outcomes — or degenerate into an uncanny hybrid of Black Mirror and Minority Report. Big data surveillance will track the work students do, ostensibly in order to customize learning. . . . Want to prove you aren’t faking exams? Just let cameras record your every move and keystroke — perhaps your eye movements and facial expressions, too. . . . Certainly we can trust Silicon Valley to respect our privacy and do nothing untoward with the data! . . . 

 

Silicon Valley has even lured universities into giving away lectures for free. The colleges think they’re establishing good karma with the public, but disrupters hope for a more chaotic endgame: students deciding to watch free courses, then proving their credentials to certifiers who give out “badges” to signify competence in a skill set. . . . It could be a very profitable business. As students pay less for actual instruction by experts, they have more money to spend on badges. . . . 

 

Carey implies that faculty opposition to MOOCs is simply a matter of self-interest. His concerns about greed, so prominent when he discusses universities, fade away when he rhapsodizes about ed tech’s “disruptive innovators.” . . . One of Carey’s heroes . . . had a no-bid contract to MOOCify San Jose State University math instruction, only to see the partnership pause after “no more than 51 percent of Udacity students passed any of the three courses” (while “74 percent or more of the students in traditional classes passed”). . . .

 

Traditional college education endures — and even those who dismiss it rarely, if ever, try to dissuade their own children from attending a university. If colleges were really so terrible at preparing the workforce, the college earnings premium would have disappeared long ago. . . . [E]mployers are unlikely to subscribe to Carey’s [alternatives to college].

 

So why bother reading Carey? Because, like Donald Trump blustering his way to the top of the Republican field by popping off shocking sentences, Carey’s rhetoric has political heft. To the extent it gains traction among education policy staffers (and the student loan companies that love to hire them), it changes the debate. The End of College is a master class in translating an elite project of privatization and austerity into bite-sized populist insults, even as it sings the praises of powerful corporations.

 

Carey claims he wants dramatically better educational opportunities for all. But that goal will require more public support . . .  Many millionaires and billionaires want to see their taxes go down . . . Before touting D.C. researchers’ “findings” and “big idea books,” the media and indeed all of us should look closely at exactly what interests are funding the think tanks behind them."


November 12, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Of Academic Interest, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

November 03, 2015

Failed the Bar Exam? Try Again (Michael Simkovic)

Noah Feldman recently argued that law schools are not helping students with low standardized test scores by denying those students the opportunity to attend law school simply because those students might find it challenging to pass the bar exam.*  According to Feldman, denying people an opportunity to try to improve their situation in life is “paternalism that verges on infantilization.” Moreover, “A standardized test score, taken alone, shouldn't determine your future.”

Feldman’s perspective is bolstered by an important feature of bar exams:  People who fail an exam can study harder and then retake it.

Standardized test scores might predict the likelihood of passing the bar exam on a single try.  But a more important question is arguably whether an applicant can eventually pass a bar exam.  Delays in bar passage can have short-term financial costs, entail logistical challenges and stress, and in rare instances where employers require recent hires to practice law without supervision, even result in the loss of a job.  But most law graduates won’t lose their jobs for retaking the bar exam, and an individual who passes after multiple attempts will have the same license for the rest of his life as one who passes on the first try.** 

Many law schools maintain exclusive admissions, not necessarily for the benefit of the students to whom they deny admission, but rather for the benefit of prospective employers and clients—in other words, to maintain a brand that suggests certain qualities above and beyond the ability to pass a bar exam.  Different law schools have different brands. 

The probability of eventually passing the bar exam is a function of how many times an applicant is willing to try.***  A bar exam taker with only a 50 percent chance of passing on any one try has an 88 percent chance of passing the bar exam if he is willing to retake the bar exam up to two times, and a 94 percent chance of passing if he is willing to retake it up to 3 times.

Probability of Eventually Passing the Bar Exam as a Function of Number of Tries

         
 

Probability of Passing on Each Try

 

90%

70%

50%

30%

Number of Tries

Cumulative Probability of Passing

1

90%

70%

50%

30%

2

99%

91%

75%

51%

3

100%

97%

88%

66%

4

100%

99%

94%

76%

5

100%

100%

97%

83%


These model-driven calculations seem to map well to the real world.  For example, Florida Coastal—which admits many students with very low LSAT scores—reports that although its first time bar passage rate is much lower, 93 percent of its graduates eventually pass the bar exam. 

How motivated is a particular law school applicant?  This is something an applicant is likely to know better than a law school admissions officer.  For those with grit and determination, failure is often temporary.  And anecdotally, law graduates have failed bar exams and gone on to have successful careers.

It would be strange if newspapers claimed that those who fail a road test on the first try are doomed to never obtain a drivers license, will never be able to hold down a job, and should never have enrolled in high school in the first place.  But in the world of legal education, members of the press too often make comparably misinformed claims about law students and the bar exam. 

Continue reading


November 3, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Weblogs | Permalink