August 27, 2015
I recently posted about the need for law schools to fund the AALS so that it can become a resource for journalists and encourage more accurate and balanced press coverage. I noted how unrepresentative and disconnected from reality the press coverage has been, and that individual law professors and deans who have pointed this out have faced ad hominem attacks and other abuse, which has had a chilling effect on speech.
The online gossip blog Above the Law has been kind enough to illustrate my point by responding with a series of misrepresentations and ad hominem attacks. They’ve misrepresented my calls for provision of honest and accurate information as an invitation to lying and propaganda (and included a Pinocchio cartoon in cased anyone missed their headline) and somehow managed to dredge up completely irrelevant and salacious allegations against a former Dean, who I mentioned in my post only because of the attacks he and his law school faced immediately after his 2012 New York Times editorial.
I believe that law schools should provide accurate information to the public in an efficient way. There is nothing unethical about this view and no reason to keep it secret, which is why I have openly posted these views on a blog that anyone and everyone in the world can read.
ATL has done a terrible job in terms of accuracy and balance in their reporting—repeatedly misrepresenting (here and here) my and Frank McIntyre’s peer-reviewed research on The Economic Value of a Law Degree —and the way in which they’ve depicted well intentioned efforts to correct the record is yet another example of biased reporting, anti-law school vitriol, and of the need for active efforts to correct the record and provide greater balance.
August 25, 2015
ADDENDUM: A critique of William Bradford's article by Prof. Jeremy Rabkin (George Mason):
When an article proposes to arrest law professors and bomb law schools and nearby TV studios, it’s not engaging in “controversy,” but slipping into an alternate universe. It’s not “discomforting.” It is bonkers. The journal could not reasonably have expected readers to “respond” – unless to ask, “Are you out of your minds?”
Paul Campos, who has admitted in writing that, as an academic, he is a "fraud," takes to the pages of CHE to question the scholarly integrity of an actual scholar, mostly through innuendo and repetition of points made already by Steven Lubet (Northwestern). Campos writes:
How did a book consisting of so many [sic] unsourced, contradictory, and improbable events get published by a prestigious academic press and praised to the skies by prominent scholars and intellectuals?
Quoting this line to me in an e-mail, a colleague elsewhere offered an answer: "Well, Paul, the same way you got tenure! Academia is weaker than people think." To be clear, the criticisms of the Goffman book are underwhelming (contrast this investigation, which largely supports Goffman), while the evidence, including his own words, that Campos is a malevolent fraud is overwhelming.
Looking on the bright side, I suppose it's a sign that the "law school crisis" is over that Campos has found a new bandwagon to join in his relentless quest to remain in the media spotlight.
August 24, 2015
Earlier this month, I charted the overwhelmingly negative press coverage of law schools and the legal profession over the last 5 years and discussed the disconnect between the news slant and economic reality. To the extent that news coverage dissuaded individuals from attending law school for financial reasons, or caused them to delay attending law school, newspapers will on average have cost each prospective law students tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The total economic harm across all prospective law students could easily be in the low billions of dollars.*
What can we learn from this?
August 20, 2015
Sarah Lawsky (UC Irvine) has the numbers. In the past, I would estimate that 50% of those in the FAR were non-starters wasting their time and their money. That percentage has probably gone down with the amount of information easily accessible via the Internet. But does the drop in total applicants represent the casual/tourist candidates not bothering or does it represent credible, but well-informed candidates deciding to wait in light of the weak market? I'm not sure. Here's another data point: there are roughly 200 candidates in the FAR with JDs or LLMs from Yale, Chicago, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, Michigan, Columbia, NYU, and Virginia, to take schools that send sizable numbers into law teaching on a regular basis. Add in graduates of Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, UCLA, Northwestern, Penn, Southern California, and Texas, and the total rises to about 270. Not all these candidates are going to turn out to be serious--I'd guess 15-25% of these folks threw their hat in the ring without much consultation or preparation. If, in fact, there is more hiring this year (my impression so far is that the number of schools hiring is up slightly), then it could turn out to be a good year to be on the teaching market given the overall decline in candidates--but it's too soon to say for sure.
August 10, 2015
Bloomberg reports on former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton's policy proposal for higher education. The proposal combines federal matching grants to encourage state investment in public education with increased oversight and cost control measures. The federal grants would be funded by increases in income tax revenue, through limits on itemized deductions for upper middle class taxpayers. In other words, the proposal is to tax the educated middle class to pay for education, while increasing federal government oversight and control.
Details are sparse, but it appears that increased federal funding would be available exclusively to public institutions. If enacted in its current form, this policy could provide public universities with a large advantage over their private non-profit and for-profit competitors.
Clinton's proposal incorporates some elements of an earlier proposal by Senator Sanders for more extensive public funding for higher education. Sanders' plan would provide more funding for higher education than Clinton's proposal, and fund it through a financial transactions tax. Sanders' funding mechanism would likely be more progressive than Clinton's, but would also be more dependent on a single sector (financial services).
Jake Brooks at Georgetown comments on the Department of Education's proposed regulations for Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE). Brooks focuses on the cap on monthly payments, notch-and-cliff rules around the repayment period, and definitions surrounding interest rates, focusing mainly on technical problems with several of the proposed rules.
Gregory Crespi at SMU comments as well, arguing that spousal income inclusion rules and the long repayment period (25 years) will discourage many professional students from enrolling. Crespi thinks the Department of Education's enrollment estimates are too high by a factor of 3. If Crespi is correct, then estimates of the cost of the program to taxpayers, and of the benefits to professionals, may be greatly exaggerated.
Frank A. Pasquale at Maryland also comments, arguing that the marriage penalty (previously identified by Phil Schrag) should be softened, the repayment period should be shortened, and estimates of the costs of the program should also include its potential benefits to taxpayers in terms of increasing the educational level, and therefore the income, of the workforce, which would increase tax revenue and reduce costs of various social programs. In other words, the Department of Education should use cost-benefit analysis rather than just cost analysis.
In a recent column, the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof confessed, “One of our worst traits in journalism is that when we have a narrative in our minds, we often plug in anecdotes that confirm it.” The quote is timely, given recent controversy surrounding New York Times’ coverage.
Newspapers tend to emphasize anecdotes over data. This gives journalists, editors, and their sources tremendous freedom to frame a story. A few individuals can serve as ostensible examples of a broader phenomenon. But if those examples are unrepresentative or taken out of context, the news story can be misleading by omission and emphasis. If you get your information from the newspaper, you might worry more about stabbings and shootings than diet and exercise, but you are roughly 38 times more likely to die from heart disease than from violent crime.
Similar qualitative problems—sensationalism, reliance on extreme and unrepresentative anecdotes, lack of context, and omission of relevant data and peer reviewed research—characterized press coverage of law schools and the legal profession. (See New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; New York Times again)
Newspapers conflated a generally weak labor market—in which law graduates continued to have substantial earnings and employment advantages over similar bachelor's degree holders (see The Economic Value of a Law Degree; Timing Law School; Compared to What? (here and here); Recent Entry Level Outcomes and Growth in Lawyer Employment and Earnings)—with a law-specific problem. They criticized law schools—and only law schools—for practices that are widespread in higher education and in government. (see competitive scholarships; school-funded jobs, measuring employment / unemployment) And they uncritically reported research, no matter how flawed, that fit the anti-law school narrative. (see Failing Law Schools' problems with data and citations; a free education as a hypothetical alternative to student loans; and other inapposite comparisons (here, here and here)).
Newspapers' sensationalist law school coverage may have helped their circulation—negative coverage attracts eyeballs—but it mislead students in harmful ways. Recent research suggests that each year of delaying law school—for example, to wait until unemployment declines—is counterproductive. Even taking into account the potential benefits of graduating into a better economy, these delaying strategies typically cost the prospective law student more than $30,000 per year because of the high opportunity cost of lower earnings with a bachelor's degree instead of a law degree. The longer the delay, the higher the cost.
So which newspapers and journalists provided the most negative coverage? And how has the news slant evolved over time? For an explanation of methodology, see the footnote at the bottom.*
The most negative newspapers were the Wall Street journal, the Chicago Tribune, and the New York Times, in that order. The Wall Street Journal was exceptionally negative—more than 7 times as negative as the average newspaper. A few newspapers, such as the Orange County Register, were net positive.
2011 to 2013 were exceptionally negative years, with dramatic reductions in negativity in 2014.
Did negative press coverage cause a decline in law school applications, independent of the events being covered? Differences in press coverage can move financial markets, according to research exploiting variation in local coverage of identical national events and local trading patterns, so perhaps press coverage can also affect other markets. (The leaders of Law School Transparency apparently believe that negative press coverage can reduce law school applications. One of them explained his efforts to pitch negative news stories in specific parts of the country where he thought law school enrollments were too high.) (PDF here)**
The New York Times and WSJ both went negative early, but the Wall Street Journal remained more negative for a much longer period of time. Most of the uncredited (no byline) stories in the NY Times and WSJ about law school were negative.
The WSJ had an unusually deep bench of anti-law school journalists. By contrast, most newspapers had a few very negative journalists and otherwise a fairly even mix of slightly negative and slightly positive journalists. The most anti-law school journalist was Ameet Sachdev of the Chicago Tribune, whose coverage was about twice as negative as either David Segal of the New York Times or Jennifer Smith of the Wall Street Journal.
Geographically, the hardest hit areas were New York, Illinois (Chicago), and Washington D.C. (This is counting the New York Times and Wall Street Journal as New York papers). Ohio was the only state that saw net positive coverage.
The pattern of coverage does not seem to have much relationship to the strength of the local legal employment market, but rather seems to turn more heavily on idiosyncratic editorial policies at particular newspapers that happen to be headquartered in certain states.
* I asked my research assistant (a third year law student) to gather articles about legal education and the legal profession from the top 25 U.S. newspapers by circulation for which data was available from Proquest back to at least 2010. My RA then rated each article as "positive", "negative" or "neutral" depending on whether the article would have made him more or less likely to attend law school if he had read it while deciding. For each newspaper or journalist, the number of positive articles was subtracted from the number of negative articles to arrive at a net-negative count, and newspapers were ranked on this metric. There are some obvious limitations of this approach--it doesn't measure how positive or negative each article is, it assumes that one positive article can balance out one negative article (negative articles probably have a bigger impact than positive ones), it relies on the opinion of a single third year law student. It also lacks context—perhaps newspaper coverage about all topics is generally negative. Perhaps newspaper coverage of all higher education was negative during this period. Nevertheless, this approach may provide some useful insights. All editions of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times tracked by Proquest are combined, but identical articles published in different editions are counted only once. The WSJ blog is included as part of the WSJ.
** Contrary to popular belief, there is little evidence that larger law school graduating class sizes predict worse outcomes for law school graduates, nor is there evidence that smaller graduating class sizes predict better outcomes. See (Timing Law School and a summary). In a recent robustness check considering many alternative definitions of cohort size (but not yet reported in the draft paper), McIntyre and Simkovic continued to find no evidence that smaller graduating cohorts predict higher earnings premiums for recent graduates.