June 24, 2016

Why The New York Times Should Correct Remaining Factual Errors in Its Law School Coverage

Last week I wrote an open letter to New York Times reporter Noam Scheiber discussing problems with his law school coverage and his reliance on low quality sources such as internet blogs and "experts" who lack relevant expertise rather than peer reviewed labor economics research.  By email, Scheiber insisted that there was nothing wrong with his coverage, but he'd be happy to hear of any specific factual problems I could identify.  

I identified 6 clear factual errors and multiple misleading statements.  I also reinterviewed his lead source, John Acosta and found important discrepancies between how Scheiber depicted Acosta as someone who was suckered into un-repayable debt, while Acosta describes his own situation as hopeful and law school as a worthwhile and carefully researched investment.  New York Times Dealbook reporter and U.C. Berkeley Professor Steven Davidoff Solomon weighed in, citing my research and supporting my points.

Scheiber posted a response to his facebook page, after running it by his editors at the New York Times.  The New York Times agreed to correct the most minor of the six errors I identified. They also "tweaked" two sentences so that the language was less definitive.

Scheiber's response includes some good points (many students from Valparaiso might be below the 25th percentile of law school graduates) as well as strained interpretations of the language of his original article: "fewer" did not actually mean "fewer"'; "Harvardesque" did not actually mean "similar to Harvard."  Scheiber describes my presentation of data that contradicts his factual claims as "strange", "bizarre", "odd", "overly-literal" and (on Twitter) "gripes."   Interestingly, Scheiber thinks that "most law school graduates who pass the bar are going to have at least a few hundred thousand dollars in assets like 401k and home equity by the time they work for 20 years."  This level of savings would make them far more financially secure than the vast majority of the U.S. population.

My response to Scheiber is below.  I explain why The New York Times has an obligation to its readers to correct the remaining uncorrected factual errors in Scheiber's story.

Scheiber embedded his response in my explanation of the 6 clear factual errors in his story, and I in turn embedded my response within his response.  To ease readability, I have color coded Scheiber's response in orange, and my new response in blue.  Scheiber's response is indented once, and my new response is indented twice.  The least indented black text at the beginning of each thread is from the list of 6 clear factual errors, and can be skipped (scroll down until you see orange or blue text) by those who have followed the discussion thus far.

UPDATE: June 25, 2016:  Yesterday, The New York Times posted an additional minor correction to its discussion of taxation of debt forgiveness, stating that debt forgiveness would "probably" be treated as taxable income.  This is an improvement over the original, but could still mislead or confuse readers.  It also leaves many of the most important errors uncorrected.  

Scheiber  tells me that the "tweaks" to the language which he communicated to me in his facebook post from Tuesday 6/21 actually happened on Friday evening 6/17.   This would make them coincide with the timing of my open letter, but before my more detailed explanation of 6 clear factual errors. Scheiber tells me that these "tweaks" were not made in response to my letter, although he has not specified when on Friday evening the changes were made. They appear to have been made after I sent him the letter. 

 

Continue reading


June 24, 2016 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Science, Weblogs | Permalink

June 10, 2016

Tabloid Gawker Media Files Bankruptcy, Seeks to Prevent Privacy Plaintiff from Collecting $130 Million Judgment (Michael Simkovic)

Gawker Media, an internet tabloid, filed bankruptcy today in the Southern District of New York after losing a $130 million privacy lawsuit to former professional wrestler Terry Bollea (better known as ‘Hulk Hogan’). According to the WSJ, the Court overseeing the Bollea case refused to stay collection against Gawker pending Gawker’s appeal unless Gawker posted a $50 million bond.

Filing bankruptcy could provide Gawker with a less expensive way to delay paying the judgment, to continue operations, and to finance its appeal. Gawker almost immediately asked the Bankruptcy court to halt privacy and defamation litigation against not only Gawker corporate affiliates, but also against individual defendants, including Gawker’s founder Nick Denton and other key employees.  Bankruptcy courts routinely stay (or pause) civil litigation against entities that have filed bankruptcy (debtors), but extending the protections of the automatic stay to non-debtor co-defendants is more controversial.

Denton and other individual defendants have not yet filed personal bankruptcy, but may do so if the Court does not extend the automatic stay.  

Gawker is seeking to sell itself quickly to a friendly buyer through a 363 sale. The buyer would take the assets of Gawker free and clear of liability. The proceeds of the sale would be used to first repay the expenses of Gawker’s bankruptcy process and to repay its secured creditors. The bankruptcy trustee could use the proceeds to continue to appeal the Bollea judgement and challenge the viability of other claims. Any remaining funds would be paid to unsecured creditors. (If all unsecured creditors were paid in full, the remainder would go to equity holders). 

Depending on the sales price, Bollea might collect substantially less than the $130 million judgment. Research suggests that speedy 363 sales often bring in low prices. This may sometimes be because of collusion between buyers and managers. Managers can exercise a great deal of control over the sales process, and often wish to ensure that the company lands in friendly hands.

According to Business Insider, Nick Denton valued Gawker at $250 million as recently as 2014. Gawker’s revenues appear to have increased by about 7 percent in 2015.  

In its bankruptcy filing Gawker listed $50 million to $100 million in assets and $100 million to $500 million in liabilities. (The going concern value of the company could be substantially higher than book value of its assets). Bollea’s $130 million claim is by far the largest unsecured claim, with the next highest claim at just over $100,000.


June 10, 2016 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Weblogs | Permalink

June 09, 2016

Journalism researcher: To correct misinformation, essential to monitor and respond immediately (Michael Simkovic)

Scholars Strategy Network's No Jargon: 13: The Misinformation Age
https://overcast.fm/+Feqoo83GI

Professor Brian Southwell explains why people tend to believe false information and discusses strategies for correcting the public perception of misinformation. Southwell is a professor of Mass Communication at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


June 9, 2016 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Science, Weblogs | Permalink

May 17, 2016

Elsevier acquires SSRN

News release.  I hope this works out (being a big SSRN user myself). Elsevier, alas, has a terrible reputation in various academic communities.

UPDATE:  For some concerns, see this post.  I'm opening this for comments from readers, in law or other fields.


May 17, 2016 in Law in Cyberspace, Of Academic Interest | Permalink | Comments (6)

April 22, 2016

Book encouraging law students to be happy is latest target for scambloggers (Michael Simkovic)

Professor Paula Franzese of Seton Hall law school is something of a patron saint of law students. Widely known for her upbeat energy, kindness, and tendency to break into song for the sake of helping students remember a particularly challenging point of law, Paula has literally helped hundreds of thousands of lawyers pass the bar exam through her video taped Property lectures for BarBri.

Paula is such a gifted teacher that she won teacher of the year almost ever year until Seton Hall implemented a rule to give others a chance: no professor can win teacher of the year more than two years in a row. Since the rule was implemented, Paula wins every other year. She’s also incredibly generous, leading seminars and workshops to help her colleagues improve their teaching.

Paula recently wrote a book encouraging law students to have a productive, upbeat happy, and grateful outlook on life (A short & happy guide to being a law school student).

Paula’s well-intentioned book has rather bizarrely been attacked by scambloggers as “dehumanizing”, “vain”, “untrustworthy” and “insidious.” The scambloggers are not happy people, and reacted as if burned by Paula’s sunshine. They worry that Paula’s thesis implies that “their failure must be due to their unwillingness to think happy and thankful thoughts.”  

Happiness and success tend to go together. Some people assume that success leads to happiness. But an increasing number of psychological studies suggest that happiness causes success. (here  and here) Happiness often precedes and predicts success, and happiness appears to be strongly influenced by genetic factors.

Leaving aside the question of how much people can change their baseline level of happiness, being happier—or at least outwardly appearing to be happier—probably does contribute to success, and being unhappy probably is a professional and personal liability.

People like working with happy people. They don’t like working with people who are unhappy or unpleasant. This does not mean that people who are unhappy are to blame for their unhappiness, any more than people who are born with disabilities are to blame for being deaf or blind.

But it does raise serious questions about whether studies of law graduates’ levels of happiness are measuring causation or selection. We would not assume that differences between the height of law graduates and the rest of the population were caused by law school attendance, and we probably should not assume that law school affects happiness very much either.

 


April 22, 2016 in Faculty News, Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Science, Student Advice, Weblogs | Permalink

April 20, 2016

Partially on-line JD proposed by Syracuse

April 15, 2016

Maryland's Citron on cyber-harassment...

...in The Guardian.  I still think the crucial move is to repeal Section 230 of the CDA, since it's that provision, more than anything else, that facilitates the vast heaps of garbage that is the internet.


April 15, 2016 in Law in Cyberspace, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

March 24, 2016

Jury Rejects Fraud Claim by 9 to 3 in Alaburda v. Thomas Jefferson School of Law (Michael Simkovic)

Details were reported in the San Diego Union Tribune, by CBS news,  by the Times of San Diego, by Fox 5 and by the Seattle Times

CBS News reported as follows:

"Alaburda filed her lawsuit in 2011, seeking $125,000 in damages on claims of false advertising and misrepresentations by TJSL and an order preventing it from misleading students. Jurors awarded her nothing. . . . 

 

Michael Sullivan, the attorney for the law school, said the jury verdict showed that TJSL does its best to provide accurate information on its graduates . . . Sullivan told the jury that Alaburda, 37, did not suffer any damages and that she went to TJSL because it was the only law school where she got accepted.
   
Once there, the plaintiff was awarded a $20,000 scholarship to help with tuition, making her total debt $32,000 after three years, Sullivan said. Alaburda decided not to work during her first two years of law school and within two months of graduating, had two job offers in the legal field, the attorney said.
   
Sullivan said the process of gathering employment data for graduates is "difficult'' and a "challenge'' for the school, but said there was "not a pattern of mistakes'' by TJSL. . . .

 

Eventually, Alaburda got a $60,000 job offer from a San Bernardino law firm and took a $70,000-a-year job with a legal publisher . . ."


March 24, 2016 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Weblogs | Permalink

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

December 31, 2015

"Heroes of the Internet, 2015"

The list includes University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks for her important work on "revenge porn."


December 31, 2015 in Faculty News, Law in Cyberspace | Permalink