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 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

February 01, 2016

Rostron & Levit's submitting to law review guide is updated once again!

The current version is here.  They write:

Dear Colleagues,
 
We  just updated our charts about law journal submissions, expedites, and rankings from different sources for the Spring 2016 submission season covering the 204 main journals of each law school. 
 
A couple of the highlight from this round of revisions are:
 
First, again the chart includes as much information as possible about what law reviews are not accepting submissions right now and what dates they say they'll resume accepting submissions.  Most of this is not specific dates, because the journals tend to post only imprecise statements about how the journal is not currently accepting submissions but will start doing so at some point in spring.
 
Second, there continues to be a greater movement toward the number of journals using and preferring Scholastica instead of ExpressO or accepting emails submissions: 29 (compared to 22 six months ago) journals prefer or strongly prefer Scholastica, 11 more list it as one of the alternative acceptable avenues of submission, and 18 (compared to 10 six months ago) now list
Scholastica as the exclusive method of submission.  
 
Third, several law reviews have changed their names: McGeorge Law Review is now Pacific Law Review, Thomas M. Cooley Law Review is now WMU-Cooley Law Review,  and William Mitchell Law Review is now Mitchell Hamline Law Review.
 
The first chart contains information about each journal’s preferences about methods for submitting articles (e.g., e-mail, ExpressO, Scholastica, or regular mail), as well as special formatting requirements and how to request an expedited review.  The second chart contains rankings information from U.S. News and World Report as well as data from Washington & Lee’s law review website.
 
 
We’d welcome you to forward the link to anyone whom you think might find it useful.   We appreciate any feedback you might have.
 
Happy writing!
 
 


February 1, 2016 in Of Academic Interest, Professional 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

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 16, 2015

Against student-edited law reviews, once again

Lawyer/philosopher Ken Levy (Louisiana State) comments.

My impression is that many of the student-edited law reviews are now seeking faculty input into acceptance decisions, though not generally at the initial screening stage.  What are the impressions of others?  (I do not submit very often to student-edited law reviews, so my sample size is small.)


November 16, 2015 in Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink | Comments (2)

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

October 28, 2015

N.Y. Times is Mistaken: Law Student Loans are Safe and Profitable for the Government (Michael Simkovic)

This weekend, The New York Times Editorial Board  published a sensationalist lead editorial, “The Law School Debt Crisis,”  claiming that law student borrowing is harmful to taxpayers.  The New York Times is mistaken.

The Times cited Florida Coastal School of Law, a for-profit institution, as its prime example of law schools “vacuuming up hordes of young people, charging them outrageously high tuition and, after many of the students fail to become lawyers, sticking taxpayers with the tab for their loan defaults.”  Florida Coastal seems like an easy target—even a Federal Court which dismissed a fraud suit against Florida Coastal described it as having “some of the lowest admissions standards of accredited or provisionally accredited law schools in the nation.” The Times has repeatedly criticized for-profit colleges, which it deems “predatory” based on their unusually high student loan default rates. (See opinion, upshot, news and news again). 

If the Editorial Board's accusations were true—if the “majority of law schools” really were running “a scam” in which they load down their students with “crushing amounts of debt” which “they can’t repay”—Florida Coastal and other law schools should have among the highest default rates of any institutions of higher education in the country.

They don’t and they aren’t.

Slide2

For the cohort entering repayment in 2012—the most recent year of data available*—the national 3-year cohort default rate on federal student loans was 11.8 percent.  The comparable figure for Florida Coastal was only 1.1 percent—more than 10 times lower.

This isn’t a one-time fluke.  In 2010 and 2011, Flordida Coastal's 3-year Default rates  were 1.6 and 5.2 percent, respectively, compared to much higher national rates of 13.7 and 14.7 percent.

Other measures tracked by the Department of Education, like repayment rates, also show law school borrowers performing as well or better than most.

We see the same pattern across law schools and going back decades for which data is available.**  Even low ranked law schools with allegedly “outrageously high” tuition generally have much lower student loan default rates than either the national average, or the average for institutions that grant bachelor’s or advanced degrees. 

Slide1

Law students not only have higher debts than most student loan borrowers; as professional students, they also pay higher interest rates on government loans than undergraduates.  

Law students rarely default because the financial benefits they receive from attending law school are usually far greater than the costs.*** Law school typically boosts annual earnings by around $30,000 (median) to $60,000 per year (mean) compared to a bachelor’s degree.****  Even at the 25th percentile, toward the low end of the distribution, the annual boost to earnings is around $20,000 per year—more than enough to repay typical law school loans over the course of a career.

Taxpayers also benefit.  For every extra dollar a law graduate earns, the federal government receives an extra 30 to 40 cents in payroll and income taxes.  The federal government charges far more in taxes than most law schools charge in tuition.

But the government isn’t paying for most law graduates’ education.  In fact, loans to law students are among the most profitable in the federal government’s student loan portfolio, thanks to high interest rates and low default rates.  Many law graduates are such good credit risks, and are overcharged so much by the government, that private lenders have offered to refinance law graduate loans for substantially lower interest rates. 

There are cases in which particular individuals have unusually bad outcomes and struggle to repay their loans.  Thankfully, these situations are relatively rare among law graduates. 

Incomes for law graduates may seem low when they first graduate, but typically climb rapidly over the next several decades.  Education loans exist precisely so that borrowed money can be repaid later in life, when employment is more stable and incomes are usually higher. 

Slide1

 

The New York Times is right that many law school graduates—around 40 percent—do not practice law. But law graduates do not have to practice law or earn spectacular salaries to benefit financially from their degrees and repay their loans over their careers.  They need only earn roughly $10,000 per year more than they would have earned without a law degree. The overwhelming majority of law graduates, including those not practicing law, receive substantially larger boosts to their earnings.

Thanks to income based repayment programs with debt forgiveness and progressive taxation, the overwhelming majority of successful law school graduates can offset the risks of investment in education for those rare unfortunate individuals who do not benefit as much from their educations.

It would be a mistake to let the small tail of defaults wag the much larger dog of public benefits.

Scaling back access to federal student loans to law students will not benefit taxpayers.  To the contrary, the loss of revenue would mean larger deficits for the government, and eventually higher taxes for the rest of us. 

Continue reading


October 28, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Rankings, Science, Weblogs | Permalink

October 21, 2015

How Long After "Meat Market" Before Candidates Hear from Schools?

MOVING TO FRONT FROM LAST YEAR (SINCE TIMELY AGAIN--AND MORE COMMENTS WELCOME--ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 2007)

A rookie job seeker writes:

A question about the law teaching market, which I suspect will be of interest to a number of candidates who read your Law School Reports blog:  When can we expect to hear from hiring committees we spoke with at AALS?  Do the better schools tend to wait longer to make their calls?  And do schools tend to notify candidates that they *won't* be inviting them for a job talk, or do you only hear from them if they're interested?

If you think this is a worthwhile topic, perhaps you could open a post for comments so that hiring committee members could say what their procedure is.

My impression is that schools will contact the candidates they are most interested in within the first two weeks after the AALS hiring convention, and, more often than not, within the first week.  Schools will often have some candidates "on hold" beyond this period of time:  e.g., because they are reading more work by the candidate, or collecting references, or waiting to see how they fare with their top choices.  So it is quite possible to get call-backs beyond the two-week window.  Schools tend to be much slower in notifying candidates they are no longer in contention (you might not hear for a month or more). 

Schools higher in the "food chain" in general do move at a somewhat more, shall we say, "leisurely" pace, and schools lower in the "food chain" are more likely to have tiers of candidates they remain interested in, on the theory that they are likely to lose their first-round choices.

Those, to repeat, are my impressions, based on a decent amount of anecdotal evidence.  But I invite others to post their impressions and/or information about their school's practices.  No anonymous postings.  Post only once, comments are moderated and may take awhile to appear.


October 21, 2015 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers, Professional Advice | Permalink | Comments (16)

September 01, 2015

Student loan borrowers with the highest debt levels have the lowest default rates (Michael Simkovic)