February 26, 2013
Applications to law school
These are sensible points, and they do extend beyond "the top X." Many state law schools are still reasonably priced, and have had, over the long haul, good professional outcomes for their graduates. Many regional law schools, private and public, have strong market niches and, due to the competition for students, are discounting sticker price substantially. Prospective students should, indeed, "get advice relevant to their situation," and that advice will mostly not be found on blogs or chat rooms, alas.
I would encourage you to write a blogpost aimed at some misinformation that media stories about the law school value proposition are purveying to the most qualified potential law school applicants. The perverse thing is that the largest percentage application decline has been among the strongest applicants (by GPA/LSAT). For students of at least the top X law schools (and I've done no science to identify the "X", but I suspect it's at least "10") employment opportunities remain strong, and given recent law firm hiring patterns, advancement opportunities for this generation of law firm associates should be very positive. The question for those students should be, as always, do you want to be a lawyer, and, second, do you value the education that LS can offer for other things you might want to do.
I appreciate that a general message of caution for law school applicants is wise, but I think people should also get advice relevant to their situation.
February 25, 2013
NLJ 250 Hiring Report for 2012It's here, with not many surprises (though UC Irvine is in the top 20--this was their first class of graduates, who were recruited with full rides). Bear in mind that this only counts graduates who take jobs at the 250 largest law firms, and thus excludes those graduates who go into clerkships, PhD programs, government service, or elite litigation boutiques.
February 15, 2013
National Jurist Now Back-Pedalling on its Thomas Cooleyesque Law School Rankings
Since it's obvious--and should have been obvious prior to anyone pointing it out--that using Rate My Professors as part of a ranking of academic institutions is preposterous on its face, National Jurist is now doing a partial mea culpa, though so far, it hardly goes far enough. Mr. Crittenden, the editor, actually had the audacity to do a video interview 48 hours ago in which he defended the use of Rate My Professors, stating, falsely, that studies had found it to be a valid measure. There are no studies that validate the use of Rate My Professors the way NJ has used it. None. Zero.
A study at the University of Maine, involving more than 400 ratings by undergraduates, found that their scores on Rate My Professors generally matched internal Maine evaluations in two categories: overall course evaluation and easiness/difficulty of the course. But NJ used the results for the teaching quality categories, not these other categories. The Maine study found no correlation with teaching quality, and they also found that the correlations that did exist in the other categories broke down outside the highest rated courses.
Since law students barely use Rate My Professors, and since in some cases identified, the Rate My Professors score was based on non-law faculty and just a a few dozen responses (not 400!), it's clear that the data has no validity. None. It's worse than garbage.
Mr. Crittenden even told an assistant dean here that if they dropped the fraudulent Rate My Professors data, Chicago would have gone from something like 50 to the top 5. Since the data they used for Chicago included less than two dozen evaluations for actual law faculty, and twice as many evaluations for non-law faculty (including the lowest scores), this is a remarkable admission. But this is almost surely just the tip of the iceberg! As I noted earlier this week, Rate My Professors is driving all the variance among schools with very similar employment and other results. (I learn from Mr. Crittenden's partial mea culpa that Princeton Review gives a very different portrait, but I know nothing about the methods by which PR compiles its data.)
Although National Jurist is now actually reviewing the "accuracy" of the Rate My Professors data, the question is why didn't they do that before publishing the ranking? NJ says "we believe that the voice of students is essential." But that's not in dispute. The point is that Rate My Professors is not "the voice of students," and a magazine with any integrity, as opposed to an interest in generating hype, never would have utilized such an absurd source. (I'm not even sure what it means to check the accuracy of Rate My Professors data: anyone with Internet access on the planet earth can fill out a Rate My Professors survey, how could that be meaningful?)
As I indicated in an earllier post, I spoke with Mr. Crittenden just a few weeks ago about what would be required to do a sensible alternative to U.S. News. He never let on that he and his staff had already concocted this nonsense ranking, and that he was going to use my quotes in an article accompanying this ranking, whose existence he had not disclosed to me. Mr. Crittenden is clearly not an honest man or journalist. He can only redeem his reputation by repudiating this whole fiasco.
NJ was always a bit of a joke, a magazine so unneeded that it is given away free in piles at every law school in the country (most copies end up in the trash). But now they've done something perniciously stupid, which doesn't help students, and groundlessly defames dozens of law faculties. I hope it marks the end of a pointless magazine.
ADDENDUM: Professor Scott Bauries (Kentucky) writes:
I am enjoying your skewering of the obviously ridiculous effort of the National Jurist to create a new ranking system. One further flaw with the use of Rate My Professors occurs to me that, to my knowledge, has not yet been reported (perhaps because it is obvious). Other than by logging the IP address of the rater’s computer, Rate My Professors does not appear to ask its users for any personally identifying information or proof that a rater ever took a class from the professor rated. This means that literally anyone who knows a professor’s name and institution can “rate” that professor.
Therefore, if a school were of a mind to game this set of rankings, then it would be as easy as (1) pulling up the site; (2) searching for the school’s own professors; and (3) giving each one as many fraudulently high ratings, from as many unique IP addresses, as possible. The site does ask for the course number and textbook, but these would be easy to communicate to false raters. From the perspective of the unethical school, this sort of fraud would be perfect because it would be completely undetectable by outside observers (at least without a discovery request). Given all of the efforts (both yours and those of the Law School Transparency folks and others) to eliminate opportunities to game the US News system, this flaw in the National Journal’s system should be particularly troubling.
January 31, 2013
NY Times covers decline in law school applications
Probably no need to flag a front-page Times story on this subject, but for the sake of completeness I note it. There's not really anything new for those who are regular readers of this blog. One irony, I expect, of a high-profile story like this is that it may actually push the number of applicants up a bit, since at least some prospective students will conclude, probably correctly, that they will get into a better law school, and at a better price, this year than they would have in the past and perhaps also the future. But we will see how the rest of this admissions cycle plays out.
UPDATE: This item makes the correct point, one somewhat obscured in stories like the one linked, above, namely that the "crisis" in the legal marketplace and law schools is not evenly distributed, as it were.
January 28, 2013
Diamond on Tamanaha
January 19, 2013
Rodriguez & Estreicher NY Times Op-ed in support of two-year law degreeMost readers will have seen this, but just in case. What do readers think? Signed comments only: full name and valid e-mail address required.
December 28, 2012
The case against law schools
Several readers called my attention to the fact that Paul Campos has finally offered a "shorter Paul Campos," i.e., an 'executive summary' of what he's apparrently been blogging about to the tune of hundreds of posts and hundreds of thousands of words for the past 15 months, during which time other law professors might have chosen to do some actual work. It provides a useful occasion to sort the wheat from the chaff, or the substance from the utter nonsense, emanating from Campos and others in cyberspace. So here we go with Campos's "executive summary":
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. -- Upton Sinclair --
This is why your law school charges what it charges. This is why your professors believe sincerely in the “value proposition” of what they have to offer. This is why nothing ever changes, until it does.
The famous Upton Sinclair quote has many applications, but it doesn't explain the things that Campos suggests it does. Law schools charge what they charge because the market can bear it. Now that the market can not bear it, law schools are effectively cutting tuition by offering discounts and more financial aid. I assume some professors believe that they are providing value because they are, through their teaching and scholarly work. Some professors, like Campos, obviously aren't, and perhaps they are motivated by a kind of self-interested self-deception to believe otherwise. The last sentence--"This is why nothing ever changes, until it does"--is a non-sequitur on the preceding points.
If something cannot go on forever, it will stop. -- Herbert Stein --
When the price of something increases and its value decreases, at some point people will not pay for that thing any longer.
That's true, which is why, as just noted, law schools are now effectively cutting tuition, and why, as we have noted before, many law schools will contract and some may even close.
Debts that can’t be repaid won’t be. -- Michael Hudson --
That someone lends you money does not mean there is a reasonable probability that you will be able to repay that money. It only means that someone is making money from loaning you money.
This is almost right: the key fact is that the loans for higher education are backed by the federal government. Under those conditions, the observation holds.
Your odds of finishing in the top ten percent of your class are ten percent.
Working harder than everybody else is not a plan if everybody else has the same plan.
This would only be true if class rank were assigned randomly. In fact, your odds of finishing in the top ten percent of the class may be much higher or much lower depending on your academic peer group at the school you attend. Someone who gets into Yale, but decides to go to Colorado is going to finish in the top ten percent of the class if they do the work. It is fair to say that having the same plan as everyone else is not a good plan if those against whom you are competing have a similar skill set coming in.
There is no such thing as international law.
Or environmental law. Or human rights law. Or sports law. Basic rule: If some form of legal practice sounds interesting to non-lawyers, it does not exist.
This is obviously silly, since, in fact, lawyers work in all these areas. Perhaps what is meant is that one should not go to a law school simply because it advertises a specialty in one of those areas, and without regard for its overall reputation, and that is probably correct, but then that's what he should have said.
The only reason to go to law school is to be a lawyer.
A law degree is not versatile. Non-legal employers don’t like to hire lawyers, because for among other reasons they believe, correctly, that law school has not prepared people to do something other than practice law. (It hasn't done that either but whatever).
Certainly the best reason to go to law school is to become a lawyer, but it's not the only reason. What the facts are about the versatility of a law degree is a worthy question, but Campos has no information on this score. I've known JDs both here and at Texas who went into consulting firms by choice, not by necessity, and where the JD was an essential credential, though they weren't doing primarily legal work. What we need to know is whether this is common or uncommon.
Three years is a long time when you’re 22.
This means that if you can’t get a real job as a lawyer then law school costs far too much even if it’s “free.”
Hard to argue with that, but the key factor is whether or not the law school in question delivers good employment outcomes for its graduates. Some do, and some do not.
People who aren’t lawyers don’t know much about being lawyers.
This group includes your professors.
True to form, Campos returns to projecting his own failings on to his colleagues. Reading Campos, you would not know that many law professors actually practice law (at Texas, close to half the faculty was engaged in some kind of legal practice for some portion of the year, the percentage is smaller here, but that's because of the institutional culture, not competence), and that even those who do not practice typically know an enormous amount about the practice of law because of their work with continuing legal education and their ties to their former students. To be sure, Campos, who earned tenure with such gems as "That Obscure Object of Desire: Hermeneutics and the Autonomous Legal Text," probably hasn't a clue what lawyers do.
Spent money is gone.
It’s never too soon to fold a busted hand.
Useless advice, unless one has a clear notion of what counts as "a busted hand." It's one thing to drop out after a semester, but someone who has gone through two years of law school probably ought to get a degree for his or her efforts. But no generic form of advice on this score can be meaningful.
Having no good options does not make law school a good option.
But isn’t it pretty to think so?
I suppose this is just a variation of "Don't go to law school unless you want to be a lawyer."
It's hard to believe that all of Campos's blog blather amounts to so little, but it's his executive summary.
Two or three times over the last year I've gotten an e-mail from a reader of Campos who thinks that the poster boy for post-tenure review is actually doing something worthwhile. This is representative (I omit the sender's name):
I read your criticisms of Prof. Campos. Do you really think law school is still worth it, especially at any school lower than Top-25?
I suggest you read the following:
There are real people and lives at stake.
Thank you for reading.
I replied as follows, which will make a suitable conclusion to this post:
Dear Mr. [name omitted],
Before you write to someone, you really should read what they have written so you understand their position, rather than imputing a fictional one to them. Try this to start:
I’m glad Paul Campos--who is a notorious charlatan and self-promoter who cares not one whit about you or anyone else--shifted gears from where he started in August 2011, when he ranted about lazy professors [like him] and lousy scholars [like him]; now he actually posts some useful information about the job market, but that was partly because I (and others) called him out on his nonsense at the start. The real question is, if he actually cared, why it took him so long to post the kind of information that I, Bill Henderson, and, of course, Brian Tamanaha had been writing about for years. And too bad he still posts a great deal of misinformation and careless analyses.
In answer to your question, a cut-off like the one you suggest would be absurd, though it’s indicative of the misinformation Campos circulates that readers come away with such an impression. There are “top 25” schools it would be imprudent to pay full fare for, and there are law schools outside the top 25—say, regional flagships in most states—which are worth the full in-state rate in terms of professional outcomes.
As to the anecdote about the unemployed lawyer: there are millions of such stories, and not just in law. We live in a dysfunctional economic system, that disposes people like trash. That’s not a story about law schools or law as a profession, but it is typical of Campos that he presents it as one, but he’s too stupid to do otherwise.
UPDATE (12/31): A colleague from a law school in New York writes:
You’ve been saying it in different ways for years, but for me it didn’t fully penetrate until today: Law school pathology is a symptom of what’s wrong with the U.S. economy, not some up-from-nowhere tuition-grabbing scheme that malefactors foist on innocents. These days, feeling so horrified by the Beltway fiscal-cliff noise that so recklessly ignores unemployment, I think Campos is no better than our swine in Congress. He’s a courtier-jester who flatters neoliberal ideology and, by extension, the rich. If he’s not—if he really believes there’s a nefarious plot afoot—then the only honorable course for him would be to stop cashing his cushy paycheck from this evil enterprise. Also renounce tenure for himself.
November 30, 2012
Schrag on Tamanaha
MOVING TO FRONT FROM NOV. 28--SEE UPDATE
Philip Schrag (Georgetown) has written an interesting, substantive criticism of Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools, focusing, in particular, on what he argues is Tamanaha's misunderstanding of current debt repayment programs and their effects on credit-worthiness.
UPDATE: Tamanaha has a useful response to Schrag here, conceding some points about the changes in loan repayment since his book and raising some additional concerns. The conversation continues in the comments, with a sur-reply from Schrag and then a further response from Tamanaha.
Case Western Dean Mitchell: "Law school is worth the money"In The New York Times. He makes a number of quite fair points, though omits mention of the projected BLS gap in the number of new lawyer positions relative to the number of newly minted lawyers. A fairer thing to say would be that many law schools are worth the money, but not all are, and some are probably worth less than they are currently collecting, given realistic appraisals of employment outcomes. Absent real regulation by the ABA (or the government), only the market will sort this out, and to that end, prospective students need to be well-informed.
November 13, 2012
A change in federal student loan repayment plans
A colleague at Georgetown sends along this explanation of a new Obama Administration policy:
[T]he government issued the final regulations for the new Pay As You Earn student loan repayment plan, an initiative of the Obama administration. 77 Fed. Reg. 66088....Although the regs are quite complex, the bottom line is this:
Graduates currently in school or who graduated last May who DO NOT do public service work need not repay more than about 7% of their income toward their federal (that is, federally guaranteed or federally-issued) student loans, for 20 years. After 20 years, all remaining principal and interest is forgiven. (Our students who had undergraduate federal student loans before October, 2007 have to pay about 10% for 25 years, but most current law students did not have such loans).
Graduates who perform 120 months of public service (at least 30 hours a week for any federal, state, or local government, or any 501(c)(3) organization) get forgiveness after 10 years instead of 20 years. (And Georgetown’s LRAP reimburses their 7%, if they earn less than $75,000, with a gradual phaseout of the Georgetown LRAP subsidy for those with incomes between $75,000 and about $130,000).
This is an entitlement program, created by regulations under authority granted by Congress in 1993, 2007, and 2010 and not exercised until now; no appropriations are necessary.