December 20, 2019
“Law School Transparency” is misleading its customers about the cost of law school and overcharging for data that are available for free (Michael Simkovic)
Brian Leiter recently noted problems with Elizabeth Olson’s uncritical coverage of “Law School Transparency” (LST) in an article published in Bloomberg.
The most important substantive problems with Olson’s recent article about LST not already mentioned by Professor Leiter are that: (1) Olson doesn’t mention that LST’s business model is repackaging and selling to prospective law students data that are readily available from the ABA for free and are available in more reliable form from U.S. News for less than half the price; and (2) Olson doesn’t mention that LST’s analysis of ABA data is deeply flawed, biased against law school attendance, and at a minimum highly controversial.
The clearest example of problems with LST’s analysis is the expected amount of debt after graduation—a point where other data sources are readily available and LST’s claims can be checked.
Law School Transparency routinely suggests that law students will graduate law school with two to five times as much debt as suggested by more credible sources like the ABA, U.S. News, the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, and student lenders. The overwhelming majority of credible sources suggest that law graduates typically complete law school with around $90,000 to $150,000 in debt. U.S. News reports a range a from $51,000 to $213,000 across the law schools it covers. By contrast, LST’s most prominently displayed expected debt after graduation figure averages a much higher $260,000, and ranges from $130,000 to $390,000.
LST reports its overstated cost figure prominently as the “non-discounted cost” of law school or the "full debt-financed cost of attendance." For example, according to U.S. News, Rutgers graduates typically graduate with $56,000 in debt for those who have debt and 16% have no debt at graduation. But according to LST, Rutgers graduates face a “non-discounted cost” more than four times higher—$230,000—and a “full debt-financed cost of attendance” as much as five times higher—between $229,000 and $278,000. Even with median grant amounts and in-state tuition, LST estimates that Rutgers graduates will have $175,000 in debt at graduation—3.5 times as much as U.S. News’s data.
U.S. News reports that Stanford law graduates complete their degrees with around $132,000 in debt. A full 36 percent of Stanford students graduate with no debt. But according to LST, the “full debt-financed cost of attendance” and “non-discounted cost of attendance” at Stanford are both 3 times higher at $390,000.
Real data on the actual costs of law school are readily available for free from the ABA, which reports tuition and fees and typical scholarship amounts. U.S. News’s premium product, “Grad Compass” provides better (albeit imperfect) coverage of law schools than LST, also offers information on other graduate programs, and costs less than half as much as LST’s product.
How does LST arrive at debt estimates that are so much higher than the actual data? By making outlandish assumptions that are all biased in the direction of finding a higher debt amount / higher total cost of law school, including assuming:
- Law students never work during law school or in the summers between their years of law school, even though almost all law students do
- Students never live at home or with relatives during law school or find ways to reduce expected living costs below estimates provided by law schools, even though many students do;
- (NOTE: estimated expenses provided by educational institutions are used in conjunction with tuition and fees to set maximum borrowing limits for federal student loans, and may therefore be set toward the high end of the range of students needs to avoid forcing students and lower income families with limited access to credit to borrow from higher cost sources)
- Students never pay down any of their debt or even the interest on their debt while they are in school, even though many students do
- Students and their families never use resources other than federal student loans to finance their degrees even when lower costs of capital are available elsewhere, even though many students do
- Students (by default) are assumed to receive no scholarship money, even though at many law schools half or more students do
LST’s paid product, which costs $75, provides some additional services, but these are generally available for free elsewhere. Some of these services, such as a push-poll disguised as a personality-assessment, appear to be of such low quality that they may have negative value.
Additional services include:
- an LSAT guide.
LST offers an LSAT guide from a company that is relatively new and has limited market share. Free LSAT practice tests are available directly from LSAC, which creates, administers and scores the LSAT. Free exams are also available from several well-established LSAT test prep companies. LSAC sells an official guidebook for $8 and has a lot of free information on its website. Khan academy also offers free LSAT prep.
- A prediction of likelihood of admission
LST’s paid product also provide a prediction of the likelihood of admission to law school, conditional on getting certain test scores and grades. However, LSAT offers a similar service for free. The ABA data includes information on the range of test scores and GPA of admitted students at each law school in each year. It’s unclear from the website how or if LST’s product improves on these free resources.
- An unscientific personality assessment featuring questionable privacy protections, dubious claims, and push polling
LST also offers a third-party personality assessment to determine whether you are suited to be lawyer. However, attempting to navigate to the website of the company providing this service (a Nevada LLC) raises a warning from my web browser that the website is not secure and my data could be stolen. Perusing the terms of service does not provide reassurance about privacy protections.
The website is unclear about how, or whether, the personality assessment was scientifically validated. It appears to be based on comparing the responses to survey questions of a non-random, non-representative sample of lawyers and non-lawyers to the profiles of prospective law students who are years younger, without any longitudinal evaluation of subsequent outcomes. To the best of my knowledge this is not a scientifically accepted method for validating a psychometric instrument as a predictor of career satisfaction or success later in life. There’s a link to a white paper, but it’s a sloppy thrown together jumble based on blog posts, and it is not peer reviewed. In what appears to be a bit of push-polling against law school attendance the white paper claims that signs that you’d be a good lawyer include a lack of empathy, a lack of initiative, a lack of resiliency, a lack of sociability and a lack of creativity—basically being a lump of coal.
Actual peer reviewed studies have found that success as a lawyer is associated with more positive personality traits like contentment, self-confidence, openness, competence, maturity, good situational judgment, a wide range of cultural interests and relative freedom from irritability and hostility and dispositional optimism.
Peer reviewed research has also found that the overwhelming majority of law graduates do not regret their decision to attend law school. By contrast, LST’s website claims that “Nearly 50% of all lawyers wouldn't enter the profession if they had it to do over.” LST provides no source for this claim and no explanation of the methods used to reach it. (LSAC also offers a free fun quiz, but has no pretensions about scientific validity).
The ABF, NALP and other groups sponsored a study of career satisfaction, debt, and earnings called After the JD (which has 3 waves) and may offer more helpful information than anything LST provides.
Free or inexpensive information for prospective law students is available from well-established non-profits like LSAC, the AccessLex Institute, the American Bar Foundation, and NALP. Unlike “Law School Transparency”, these non-profits actually are transparent about their own sources and uses of funds.
October 16, 2019
The law schools at the University of Georgia and Georgia State are doing well. Kudos to them!
April 11, 2019
Mark Lemley (Stanford) kindly shared this quite amusing open letter:
Please Reject Me
An Open Letter to the Harvard Law Review
The Harvard Law Review has rejected my articles in the past. A lot. Indeed, they may have rejected me more than anyone else in the legal academy. I’m 0 for 140 or so at Harvard.
Several years ago, though, they stopped rejecting me. I’m not saying they accepted my papers. They haven’t, and probably they never will.
No, what I mean is that they just stopped responding at all. Oh, I get automated notices acknowledging that I’ve submitted a paper, vaguely hinting that they might read it. And I get acknowledgements when I expedite my article after getting an offer elsewhere. But it’s been at least seven years since I’ve gotten even an automated rejection, much less contact from a human being.
Every law professor knows the automated rejection form. There are the nice ones, assuring me that they really liked my paper and just “couldn’t come to consensus.” There is the everpresent “we have carefully considered your paper, but we get so many good submissions that we couldn’t take yours.” There is the more dispassionate “unfortunately we can’t publish your paper.” But from Harvard? Nothing.
And they’re not alone. In the last couple of years more top reviews have been ignoring papers altogether rather than giving us the bad news.
As an author, this sucks. Would I like you to accept my paper? Sure I would. But even more than that, I’d just like to know. Did you read it and decide it wasn’t good? Did you just not get to it in time? Did you take a look at the title, realize it’s about patent law, and read no further? [As far as I can tell the Harvard Law Review has never in its history published a patent law article. Certainly it hasn’t done so in the 31 years I’ve been in law]. Fine. I’m a big boy; I can take it. Just tell me, please.
Yes, I know you’re busy. But you’ve already got an automated system; it can’t be that much more work to generate an automated email telling me what I already suspected.
For starters, it would be the polite thing to do. [Think how you’d feel if authors didn’t withdraw their papers when they’d accepted offers elsewhere].
But you’re not just being rude to me. You’re being rude to every other law review editor in the country. We law professors have all submitted our papers to you, and we all harbor the secret hope that maybe this time you’ll publish our paper. And so we lobby for the longest possible expedite window and wait until the last possible moment to accept our offers, because we haven’t yet heard back from you, and maybe, just maybe, that’s because you’re furiously discussing whether to accept it before the deadline. You’re not. Of course you’re not. But hope springs eternal. Thus does your unwillingness to reject us gum up the works for everyone else, slowing acceptances and making it harder for reviews to find authors.
So please, Harvard Law Review, reject me. Save the ghosting for parties.
Mark A. Lemley
William H. Neukom Professor, Stanford Law School
Director, Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology
Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research
Affiliated Professor, Stanford Symbolic Systems Program
partner, Durie Tangri LLP
co-founder, Lex Machina Inc.
February 28, 2019
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.
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.
February 23, 2019
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.
January 24, 2019
January 07, 2019
...by creating a competitor hiring conference (the Blog Emperor reprints the self-serving announcement in its entirety, although at least Professor Weaver dropped some of his earlier false claims about its purpose). I'm not aware of any other academic field where there are competing hiring conferences. Their absence is easy to explain: it's costly enough--in time and money--to seek an academic job, without having to think about going to two different conferences. In other fields, the main professional organization runs a hiring conference, which simplifes things for job seekers. I will be advising all Chicago candidates to ignore Professor Weaver's vanity project, and I would urge all hiring schools, including those that are part of SEALS, to boycott this process. More importantly, I urge all the placement directors at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, Stanford, NYU, Virginia, Berkeley, Penn etc. to steer their candidates AWAY from this destructive undertaking. One hiring conference is enough.
(I asked Professor Weaver how many candidates actually participated in the SEALS workshop for prospective law teachers. The answer: 18.)
ADDENDUM: Professor Weaver is correct that AALS rips off both schools and candidates for participation in its process, so perhaps the AALS will seize this opportunity to reduce costs. And if the AALS does, then Professor Weaver will have accomplished something worthwhile.
ANOTHER: Brad Areheart (Tennessee), whom I had the privilege of working with when I taught at the University of Texas, writes: "As you may or may not know for the last several years I have run the Prospective Law Teachers Workshop at SEALS. It’s a pretty streamlined enterprise (mock job talks, mock interviews, and CV review sessions + a panel and networking with others on the market) but I think it’s a nice enough service for future law profs. We get dozens of applications each year and limit our workshop to just 12 people. We also usually have approximately 100 faculty who volunteer their time at SEALS to make this workshop run. I am writing you just to clarify that my workshop will continue to operate the same way that it has each year to this point. I have no involvement with the new hiring initiative." I'm sure Professor Areheart does an excellent job with this, and I commend him for his efforts in helping law teaching candidates.
December 16, 2018
The consulting firm McKinsey is a leading employer of graduates of elite law schools, business schools, medical schools, and other professional programs. The New York Times recently ran a piece attempting to link McKinsey to regimes that abuse human rights. McKinsey's response appears below.
Readers of this blog are probably familiar with how uneven in quality New York Times coverage can be in the higher education context. I would encourage readers not to jump to conclusions about McKinsey based on N.Y. Times coverage.
Note: I worked as consultant at McKinsey in New York approximately 10 years ago. I have published in the N.Y. Times within the last 3 years.
December 12, 2018
LSAC is rolling out several initiatives to make the LSAT more accessible, including a tablet-based version of the test that will increase the number and type of facilities that can serve as test administration centers, and will pave the way for more frequent test administration. LSAT takers will also be able to take the essay portion of the exam from home through "remote proctoring."
LSAC is also offering free online LSAT test preparation and practice questions.
A competing standardized test that is less universally accepted for law school admission, the GRE, is available at administration centers on an almost continuous basis.
Bar examiners might want to consider investing in technology to increase the frequency with which the bar is administered and reduce the amount of time it takes to grade.