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February 28, 2019

How to compare the GRE and the LSAT?

With more than three dozen law schools now accepting the GRE for admissions purposes, this question is no doubt on the agenda at many schools across the nation.   Nearly four times as many students take the GRE each year as take the LSAT.   Are these two pools of students comparable in terms of academic achievements and intellectual ability?   I would guess the GRE group is, on average, stronger.  Remember the pool of GRE-takers includes those aspiring to PhDs in philosophy, economics, physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, linguistics, and mathematics.  The GRE includes both verbal and quantitative sections; one suspects that the average LSAT-taker is not going to do as well on the latter as the average student aspiring for a PhD in any STEM field.  From what little I know, I would guess the GRE verbal section is the better predictor of law school performance than the quantitative section, and that a 98th percentile GRE verbal score is better than a 98th percentile LSAT score.

But I may be completely wrong!

As it happens, the Educational Testing Service has offered a conversion tool here.   The tool seems to confirm that ETS views the GRE as a bit harder than the LSAT (and it clearly gives more weight to the verbal score than the quantitative, although that matters too).   I'd be glad to hear from readers with more knowledge about these questions; please e-mail me, and I'll do a follow-up post in a week or two depending on what I learn.

Posted by Brian Leiter on February 28, 2019 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Student Advice | Permalink

February 26, 2019

The latest plan to make federal student loans less appealing: cut repayment period from 25 years to 10, draft employers as debt collectors (Michael Simkovic)

Private student lenders have been trying for at least a decade to stifle competition from public student lending programs.  Their advocates have come up with a myriad of reasons to raise the price of federal loan programs, reduce their availability, and make terms less generous, even though these public loan programs are profitable for the federal government and provide massive positive externalities to the economy. 

The latest salvo in this decades long struggle comes from Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn).   

Senator Alexander proposes to force federal student loan borrowers to repay their loans in 10 years instead of the 25 years that are currently permitted under extended and graduated repayment plans.  Senator Alexander refers to this as "simplification." 

People typically finish their educations in their 20s.  Highly educated people live longer than their less educated peers, are healthier, and usually keep working until their late 60s or early 70s.

Professional degree holder's earnings do not peak until their 50s. It makes little sense to excessively burden them with loan payments in their early years when earnings are typically lower and many other expenses may be higher.

The benefits of education, in the form of higher wages per hour and increased work hours, are typically spread over decades. Financing degrees so that the positive cash flows match the negative cash flows (i.e., loan repayments are made over the course of a career to correspond to earnings premiums) enables students to invest in higher quality degrees with a higher total payoff over the long run, but that might take longer to produce high earnings.  Consider the case of medical students who will work low paid residencies, internships and fellowships prior to securing highly paid work, or law students who will work clerkships prior to pursuing more lucrative work.

In the name of "accountability", Alexander would deny institutions access to federal student loans if their students take too long to repay their loans.  This risks encouraging short termism and underinvestment in education, selective admission of wealthy students with less need to borrow, and could pressure institutions to steer some students toward private loans.  

The federal government should be expanding funding for education until the marginal benefit--including not only student loan repayments, but higher wages, higher employment rates, higher tax revenues, and more innovation and economic growth--drops to equal marginal cost.  We are far from that point, and searching for ways to reduce public funding for education is likely to be counter-productive.

Alexander would also garnish borrowers wages automatically, making their employers responsible for deducting student loan payments from their paychecks.  

Usually garnishment is only used for debtors in default after other collection efforts fail.

I teach bankruptcy and creditors rights.  Employers do not like dealing with wage garnishment, so much so that federal and state laws are needed to prevent employers from summarily terminating employees whose wages have been garnished (there are exceptions permitting termination if the number of garnishments reaches a certain threshold, sometimes only two).

There's a serious risk that Alexander's wage garnishment proposal would burden employers enough that they would be more reluctant to hire workers with federal student loans than comparably well-educated and well qualified workers who are debt free or have private loans.

Alexander's proposal is supported by a conservative think tank, Third Way, which has close ties to private lenders.  (Like New America, Third Way describes itself as center left, but those familiar with its policy advocacy and funding sources maintain that it is in fact conservative).

Senator Alexander has previously worked to advance the interests of private student lenders over those of students, opposing a bill that would have enabled borrowers to refinance private student loans by borrowing from less expensive public lending programs.

Posted by Michael Simkovic on February 26, 2019 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Of Academic Interest, Student Advice | Permalink

February 25, 2019

More on USNews.com's proposed scholarly impact rankings

It appears concerns about which faculty would count for impact purpose have been heard:  as the Blog Emperor notes USNews.com will still ask schools to list all tenure-stream faculty, but will also ask for their primary role to be identified (e.g., "doctrinal" or "clinical" or "legal research and writing").   USNews.com has not yet decided what to do with this information, but I have some advice:  study the scholarly impact only of the academic or "doctrinal" faculty.  If other categories are included this will have the effect of leading schools to exclude them from the tenure track, given that, typically, they are not expected to produce scholarship as much as the doctrinal faculty.

Posted by Brian Leiter on February 25, 2019 in Rankings | Permalink

February 23, 2019

A fascinating history of conservative activism on college campuses (Michael Simkovic)

A fascinating, albeit intemperate and sensationalist, perspective on the history of conservative activism on college campuses is available here.  

The essay discusses strategies such as top-down national campaigns funded by wealthy donors, programming crafted by national organizations staffed by well compensated and experienced political operatives with ties to the Republican party, and executed on particular campuses by (sometimes less than fully autonomous) local campus chapters with substantial assistance from national organizations.  Many of the campaigns featured subtle exploitation of racial anxieties, appeals to anger, and intentional efforts to upset political opponents so that their reactions can be recorded and used for propaganda purposes.

As previously reported, and confirmed by numerous press stories and leaked documents (see e.g., here and here) many of these strategies continue to be used on campus by many of the same or similar conservative organizations today.  

Unfortunately, the essay counter-productively uses militant language to encourage students to "combat" these "threats."  Physical violence is both morally wrong and strategically ineffective: it only affirms conservative activists' narrative of victimization. Indeed, a conservative activist group recently scored a major public relations victory after a campus recruiter from a national organization tabling at Berkeley was struck in the face by a passerby who may have been offended by the organization's racially charged slogans about "hate crime hoaxes."  This particular conservative group has been accused by rival conservatives of allegedly condoning racism and sexual assault, and criticized for maintaining a McCarthyist Professor Watchlist.

The brief incident--which the conservative group anticipated well enough to capture from multiple well-framed camera angles--went viral. (From the video, it appears that the conservative recruiter and the man who struck him were struggling over an article of clothing and the passerby warned the recruiter to stop touching him prior to striking him).

A conservative cameraman recording students in the area who were not involved in the incident and who asked not be be recorded responded, "You're in a public place, dipshit, get the fuck out of here." (Note--this warning has apparently been edited out of the version of the video that is currently available online).

For the record, whether an outdoor location on campus is a public place or not is a factual question. If people in the area have a reasonable expectation of privacy, then the cameramen violated the California Penal Code by recording people without their consent and could face criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit, along with their assailant.

A far more effective approach than verbal or physical sparring would be to teach students techniques to avoid getting angry even in tense situations, and to treat all members of campus communities with compassion, empathy, respect and understanding regardless of their political views--even if hateful.  Universities could also do their part by requiring student groups and their national affiliates to make comprehensive disclosures of all of their sources of funding (including the natural persons who fund entities) prior to allowing them to recruit, host or advertise events on campus.

Wealthy people funding McCarthyist professor watchlists, paying to send hateful provocateurs on speaking tours around the country, and disturbing the peace on college campuses should have the courage to identify their own names with their political projects.

UPDATE 3/2/2019: The New York Times has reported that neither the recruiter for the conservative organization nor the alleged perpetrator are students or employees of the University of California. 

In spite of the minimal connection to the University--which responded professionally, condemned the attack, and worked with the police to arrest a suspect--President Trump and other conservative activists have expressed intent to use the incident as a pretext to threaten universities with cuts to federal funding unless universities do more to promote conservative views on campus.

There's evidence that more serious (at times deadly) hate crimes against racial, ethnic and religious minorities on campus have increased since President Trump took office.

Posted by Michael Simkovic on February 23, 2019 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Student Advice, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

February 22, 2019

Michelle Wilde Anderson (Stanford) and David Pozen (Columbia) win ALI Early Career Scholars Medal (Michael Simkovic)

A great honor.  The announcement appears below:

The American Law Institute Announces

Early Career Scholars Medal Winners


The American Law Institute announced today that it will award its Early Career Scholars Medal to Professors Michelle Wilde Anderson of Stanford Law School and David Pozen of Columbia Law School. The award recognizes outstanding law professors whose work is relevant to public policy and has the potential to influence improvements in the law. The medalists are selected every other year and presented the award at the Institute’s Annual Meeting.


“I am pleased that we chose to award the Early Career Scholars Medal to these extraordinary professors,” said Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar of the Supreme Court of California, who serves as the chair of ALI’s Early Career Medal Selection Committee. “Michelle and David have crafted remarkable pieces of legal scholarship as timely as they are learned, and as creative and thought-provoking as they are nuanced and precise. By underscoring the importance not only of intelligence but practicality, their work embodies the ideals of The American Law Institute. Michelle’s scholarship on regions facing economic dislocation and concentrated poverty has the potential to improve conditions in these communities, and David’s work on government accountability, transparency, and secrecy has proven widely influential at a time when these topics are especially salient.”


Professor Anderson is a Professor of Law and Robert E. Paradise Faculty Fellow for Excellence in Teaching and Research at Stanford Law School. She is a scholar of state and local government law, and regional governance. Her work combines legal analysis, empirical research, and a deep understanding of institutions and communities to shed light on phenomena such as geographically-concentrated poverty and municipal fiscal distress. Her recent publications explore, among other topics, restructuring (such as bankruptcy, disincorporation, and receiverships) in cities and counties facing chronic poverty related to deindustrialization. As Professor Andersen shows, these issues affect not only Rust Belt capitals such as Detroit, but also post-industrial cities in California, rural counties in the West and South, and small towns across the country. She is currently completing a book about what we need most from local governments in America’s high-poverty, post-industrial areas.


Prior to joining Stanford Law School in 2014, Professor Anderson was an assistant professor of law at the University of California Berkeley Law School. She has been a research fellow at the European Commission’s Urban Policy Unit in Brussels and an environmental law fellow at Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger. She clerked for Judge Guido Calabresi on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Judge Marilyn Hall Patel on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Professor Anderson is the Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Housing Law Project and a Member of the Board of Directors of the East Bay Community Law Project in Oakland, California.


Professor Pozen is a Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. He teaches and writes about constitutional law and information law, among other topics. His scholarship on the political economy and sociology of government transparency has been featured in dozens of media stories and multiple international conferences and described as “changing the way we think about a subject that had grown stale.” Much of his constitutional scholarship identifies situations in which public law practices are not working as desired—situations of “bad faith,” “self-help,” “uncivil obedience,” “constitutional hardball,” methodological “impurification”—and tries to help legal actors understand them better and respond in more candid and constructive ways. He is currently working on an empirical analysis of constitutional polarization, a critique of information fiduciaries, and a historical study on the rise of the nonprofit sector and its implications for constitutional law.


For the 2017-2018 academic year, Professor Pozen was the inaugural visiting scholar at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. From 2010 to 2012, he served as special advisor to Harold Hongju Koh at the Department of State. Previously, he was a law clerk for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court and for Judge Merrick B. Garland on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and a special assistant to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee.


In addition to Justice Cuéllar, the members of the Early Career Scholars Medal Committee are ALI President David F. Levi of Duke University School of Law; ALI President Emeritus and Chair of the Council Roberta Cooper Ramo of Modrall Sperling; Katharine T. Bartlett of Duke University School of Law; Curtis A. Bradley of Duke University School of Law; Rochelle C. Dreyfuss of New York University School of Law; Christine M. Durham of Utah Supreme Court (retired); Allison Eid of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit; Paul Engelmayer of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York; Howell E. Jackson of Harvard Law School; Miguel Márquez of the County of Santa Clara; Eric A. Posner of University of Chicago Law School; Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts; Randall T. Shepard of Indiana Court of Appeals; and Stuart H. Singer of Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

Posted by Michael Simkovic on February 22, 2019 in Faculty News, Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic | Permalink

February 21, 2019

France punishes tax evasion 100 times more harshly than the U.S. (Michael Simkovic)

A French court recently ordered Swiss Bank UBS to pay a penalty of 4.5 billion Euros (equal to about $5.1 billion U.S. Dollars) for allegedly facilitating tax evasion.  The U.S. fined UBS only $780 million for similar charges in 2009 (the equivalent of $890 million in today's dollars).

To put this into context, France's GDP is about 13.4 percent of U.S. GDP, and France has proportionately fewer ultra-high net worth individuals (only 6.5 percent as many billionaires, who on average are less wealthy than billionaires in the U.S.).  Thus, scaled by number of billionaires, France fined UBS more than 100 times as much as the U.S. fined UBS for facilitating tax evasion (scaled by GDP, nearly 50 times as much). 

The U.S. fined Credit Suisse around $2.5 billion in 2014, which makes France's UBS penalty still proportionately around 33 times harsher than the recent U.S.-Credit Suisse settlement.

France, Italy, Spain, the UK, Sweden,Greece, Ireland, Bulgaria, Israel, Jordan and the Netherlands are facing popular protests over regressive tax policies that protestors say excessively favor the rich over the middle and working class.  Protests in France were set off by repeal of wealth taxes and other regressive tax policies, social spending cuts, and loosening labor protections.  

UPDATE 2/25: This article was corrected to reflect that fact that the U.S. fined UBS $780 million in 2009, not $78 million as was reported in the Financial Times story linked above.  Additional context about a Credit Suisse settlement was provided.  Thanks to Pierre-Hugues Verdier (UVA) for pointing out the error.


Posted by Michael Simkovic on February 21, 2019 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Jurisprudence, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

February 20, 2019

Should law schools be penalized for admitting students from wealthy families who are not motivated to work? (Michael Simkovic)

Scott F. Norberg argues for a law school accreditation standard tied to student employment outcomes.  The proposal is interesting, and may have some advantages over a standard tied to bar passage rates, for example because it does not give state bars--who can make the bar exam more or less challenging and have incentives to strengthen barriers to entry--excessive control over access to legal education. However, there are several potential concerns. 

Employment is systematically higher among certain demographic groups across education levels for reasons that have little to do with value added by law school.  An employment-outcomes based standard could encourage law schools to focus on admitting groups with higher expected employment. 

For example, men tend to have higher labor force participation rates and employment rates than women.  Although highly educated men and women are more likely to be employed than their less educated same-sex peers, even among professional degree holders there is a sex gap, with young women (age 25-35) nearly twice as likely as young men of the same age and education level to not be in the workforce and to not be seeking employment, according to the American Community Survey.  Data from the 2001-2017 ACS appears below for professionals age 25-35 broken down by sex.  "Unemployed" means not working and seeking employment; "not in labor force" means not working and not currently seeking employment.  Note that employment here means any employment, not just employment in a full time job or in a job that is closely related to one's degree.


Cells contain:
-Column percent
-Weighted N
empstat 1: Employed 90.6
2: Unemployed 2.8
3: Not in labor force 6.6
Color coding: <-2.0 <-1.0 <0.0 >0.0 >1.0 >2.0 Z
N in each cell: Smaller than expected Larger than expected


Highly educated young women who are not seeking work are typically prosperous.  They have average family incomes in excess of six figures--and indeed substantially higher than their employed or unemployed and seeking female peers--according to ACS.  Dollar figures here from 2001-2017 have not been adjusted for inflation and would be higher if adjusted.


chart illustrating table


High family incomes of well-educated women who are not seeking work persist when we include women older than age 35.


chart illustrating table


Young men with professional degrees who are not working and not seeking work tend to have even higher family incomes than women who are not working and not seeking work.


chart illustrating table


Increased wealth reduces propensity to work  (see also here). Law schools probably should not be penalized for admitting students from wealthy families who are not highly motivated to practice law or pursue other employment.  It is probably better for society if people who control a great deal of resources are well-educated rather than ignorant. 

There may also be predictable variations in employment by race, college major, age, and other characteristics which apply across education levels.  It is reasonable to ask law schools to improve incomes for members of different demographic groups compared to a lower level of education for members of those same demographic groups. It is not reasonable to expect law schools to raise everyone to the same level, regardless of their starting position.

Employment rates for recent college and law graduates could also vary in a recession or boom.  In a bad enough and persistent enough recession, law schools which improve college graduates prospects for employment, especially those with humanities degrees, might fall below any fixed threshold. Norberg somewhat mitigates that concern by proposing a multi-year standard, but does not eliminate it.

It may be preferable to benchmark the standard to some broader index of employment rates outside of law, such as the civilian employment population ratio for those in their mid 20s, and to use standard census definitions of employment.

Posted by Michael Simkovic on February 20, 2019 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Weblogs | Permalink

February 19, 2019

Billionaire taxes and innovation (Michael Simkovic)

Some of my thoughts on the ultra-high net worth wealth tax debate, and its implications for innovation and economic growth, are available here.  For thoughts on the adminstrability and constitutionality of ultra high net worth taxes, see here.

Posted by Michael Simkovic on February 19, 2019 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

An evocative portrait of Soia Mentschikoff...

...at the University of Chicago Alumni Magazine.

Posted by Brian Leiter on February 19, 2019 in Faculty News | Permalink

February 15, 2019

USNews.com plans to include ALL tenure-stream faculty in its impact and productivity study...

...regardless of whether or not scholarly writing is part of their duties.   Following up on yesterday, a colleague elsewhere writes: "I saw your post on US News’s new impact rankings. I wrote to Bob Morse earlier this week to ask for clarification about whether to include clinical, LRW, and library faculty if they are tenure/tenure-track but do not have full (or any) scholarship requirements. He wrote back to say that they are all included: US News is using the bright line of tenure/tenure-track regardless of tenure classification or scholarly requirements."

Posted by Brian Leiter on February 15, 2019 in Rankings | Permalink