Friday, October 14, 2011

Are law students rational?

A law professor writes:

There's one concrete thing I've noticed you haven't mentioned on your blog yet. At least half of all students who graduate from law school are ending up in jobs that do not require or prefer a JD. What purpose does legal education serve for that student?

 a. It is a $180,000 millstone.
 b. It has taught that student to think like a lawyer.

Even assuming that (b) is actually quite valuable independent of the ability to practice law, this defense of legal education has one teeny tiny little flaw: Students don't learn to "think like a lawyer" in their third year of law school. They basically don't learn anything at all. So let me recast that. What purpose does the third year of legal education serve for a student who will never work as a lawyer?

a. It is a $60,000 millstone.
b. Uh.

It occurs to me that current law students are hardly powerless. They are just taken for granted. We assume that they'll mostly return for 2L and 3L because mostly they have. If half of the 3Ls who felt hopeless about their future walked away from their final semester, 95% of the law schools in this country would be on their knees this January.

So...my question is this: Why don't they make like rational economic actors and get out?
On a related note, commenter Avor opines:

Forgive me for beating a decayed horse, but I still don't think anyone has really given a satisfactory answer to this question:
What difference will it make if the focus is on the reporting and not the easy money for loans? Law schools are NEVER going to be unable to fill 250 1L seats each year because there are more than enough folks who think they're going to be the exception to whatever negative numbers are out there.

Is it just that then everyone will feel better because they can then truly point the finger at the students/graduates and say "you have no excuse--you should have known better..."?

It's still going to be the same number of un/under-employed JDs. It's still going to be the same amount of loans/debt that needs to be forgiven at some point (death or discharge...whichever). The law schools are still going to get the same amount of tuition, which is going to continue to increase along with everything else, and education in particular.

Take a look at any of the school statistics on their ABA sheets. No matter how good the advice is to drop out after 1L or 2L, almost nobody is doing it.

The numbers still seem like a red herring to me. That's not to say there isn't merit in the claim that the schools should not be putting out bogus numbers, it's just to say that it won't change the outcome.
The optimistic take on this issue is that we have here is a classic information problem, and that if potential law students, or even as in the professor's example current ones, understood their actual situation the problem would be in large part solved by market correction: applications to law school would plummet, and various schools would have to shrink, cut tuition, or simply close. Let's call this the Rational Actor model.

The pessimistic take is that for a variety of reasons people are not actually rational maximizers of their own utility to nearly the extent classical economic theory claims, and that, as I believe David Ricardo or Karl Marx first pointed out, there's a sucker born every minute. Call this the Lottery Ticket model.

An acquaintance of mine, a professor at a top business school, thinks state-run lotteries are just wonderful because they function as a tax that people pay voluntarily.  (In the typical state lottery half the revenues from ticket purchases are distributed in winnings while the other half are kept by the state).  Now if one considers a lottery ticket an investment buying tickets would appear to make no sense, as the expected long-term return on investment is negative 50%.   Of course all human behavior can be modeled in "rational" economic terms if one simply makes enough assumptions, and the obvious assumption to make here is that playing the lottery is not investment but rather consumption: people get positive utility from the mere act of gambling, without regard to whether gambling is otherwise negative sum to them, so voila, conceptual problem solved.

But this is hardly the only way to solve the apparent conundrum. We could for instance assume that people engage in magical thinking ("I am a lucky person," or "I'm due to win" or "My horoscope says today is a good day to gamble" etc.).  Or we could assume that it's rational for a person in a sufficiently desperate situation to engage in behavior that creates a sense of hope that this situation can be changed in a significant way.  This assumes that hope for the future is valuable enough to purchase at even what appears to be an otherwise unacceptably high price, given the person's present circumstances.

I suggest that all these models help explain why law schools continue to have no problem filling their classes, even as the price of law school skyrockets and the ROI from a law degree plummets.  (In what follows I'm ignoring those students for which law school continues to be, from an ex ante perspective, a rational choice in conventional terms. Clearly there are still many such students, although the percentage of current and prospective law students who belong to this category is, it's safe to say, vastly exaggerated by legal academia as we engage in various forms of self-justification).

(1) Part of the problem is simply informational in the most straightforward sense: prospective students, and to a lesser extent current students, don't realize how bad the job market is, how miserable so many practicing lawyers are, and how much all this is actually going to cost them, both financially and psychically.  This is why transparency matters, although it's very far from a cure-all.

(2) Some law students really are engaged in consumption rather than investment.  These are people who are killing time while acquiring a social status marker, or people who genuinely enjoy the process of legal education itself, without necessarily expecting that the money they're expending will result in a positive return on investment (Obviously such people are either rich or reckless or both).

(3) A lot of law students, and especially prospective law students, engage in magical thinking.  For irrational  reasons they believe the odds don't apply to them: They "believe" in themselves to the point where they dismiss the assumption that having typical qualifications for a student at Law School X means that the most likely outcome for them is that for a typical student at Law School X.  Here, I suspect the self-esteem movement among parents and educators has done a certain amount of intellectual and emotional damage, as has the classic American Horatio Alger/Protestant Work Ethic message that the normal predictions that can be made on the basis of your life circumstances won't end up applying to you if you just work harder than everyone else. (A commenter reminds me that irrational attitudes toward sunk costs play a significant role as well: that one has invested a lot of money in a bad investment isn't supposed to be a reason to keep throwing good money after bad, but few people are wholly immune to this type of thinking).

(4)  Finally, we shouldn't overlook that for a certain number of students law school is both a bad option in the abstract, and the best option that is actually available to them.  For these students, law school is at present the lesser of various evils, in that it at least creates a kind of hope for the future, even if that hope is for something as uninspiring as, realistically, a moderately well-paying job that they won't hate as much as some other things they could end up doing.

In the end, the extent to which the Rational Actor and Lottery Ticket models are more accurate descriptions of the market for law students depends on how many people actually fall into these various categories.  In addition to simply being the right thing to do, increased transparency will allow us to learn much more about that issue than we know at present.

76 comments:

  1. Along the same lines, I think it's important to note that all 0Ls are not one way or the other. There's a continuum between the wholly rational 0L and the wholly irrational 0L. The wholly rational 0L probably doesn't need our help (i.e., there's already sufficient info out there for him/her to make a wise decision), while the wholly irrational 0L is beyond anyone's help. But in between, there are a lot of 0Ls who, under current circumstances, are not weighing their options properly, but who would make a proper weighing if pushed a little harder to realize what a bad outcome can actually consist of and how likely it is to happen to them.

    The transparency project doesn't have to reach all 0Ls, or even most 0Ls, to have an impact. I'd bet that even if, say, a third of current 0Ls change their minds based on full transparency, that will itself have a big effect on their less rational brethren and on law schools.

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  2. Related reporting, on the scam of for-profit colleges and how Goldman Sachs is intimately involved:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/14/goldman-sachs-for-profit-college_n_997409.html

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  3. Economics assumes a rational actor when no such actor exists. We are all primates, and don't maximize our utility any better than a chimp in a territorial dispute over a woman.

    What used to protect the weak from the strong was a social contract, and an understanding that the community would shun predatory behavior. Now, predatory behavior is the brass ring (see e.g., goldman sachs jukeing greece's stats to get them into the Euro, and reaping billions in bonuses).

    We are a civilization on the verge of collapse. What law school does to its students is a symptom.

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  4. I wonder if that professor actually has the courage to tell his 3L students "Listen you aren't getting jobs. Just don't do next semester"
    I personally think the sunk costs + plus magical lottery theory come together best:
    In my graduating class of 2011 the kids who had jobs lined up after graduation didn't just happen to go through class rank - if 50 of us had jobs the unemployment line didn't start at the kid who was 51 out of 250. Rather the people who found work were random: more law review kids than not had found work (but not all) but also kid who was 128 out of 250 found work and so did 176 and so on. They got lucky and wherever they had been working happened to need one new lawyer so they were hired. That could serve as fuel to think rationally "Well, I did better than that guy, and he found a job, so if I keep going I should find a job too"
    It isn't strong logic but when you've already sunk $95 for five semesters this helps you think you haven't wasted your time.

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  5. This reminds me of the old quip "I helped make the top half of the class possible." What if the bottom half of an entire class of 3Ls took a deferral, in the hopes of riding out a terrible market? How much damage would they do to bottom line of the school, and the top half of their class, (who would be graded on a curve, and ranked by comparison to their fellow graduates)? This is admittedly unrealistic, but nonetheless,a fun hypothetical to contemplate.

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  6. 7:12 said it about as succinctly as possible. Our society is eating itself. If one who majors in Poli Sci doesn't go to law school, what exactly does he do? What is this "job" w/o a JD that will help him pay off udnergrad debt and where is it magically appearing? People, irrational or not, are rolling the dice with law school precisely because there are no other options. Technology and other nations have "taken" "our" jobs. There is no job that exists that puts someone into the black unless it's in finance (or medicine, maybe, after 10 years of *post university* education). Should we all just become greedy, souless bankers? Let's think of all societies in the last 2500 years that survived without teachers, police, janitors, intellectuals, small business owners . . . hmmm . . . they don't exist. Law school is soul and pocket crushing, yes, but what else is one to do???

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  7. You may have talked about this in an earlier post, Law Prof, but why did you go to law school and why did you decide to become a professor? Of the categories of prospective students you mentioned above, in which one did you belong? How do the views you express about law school and prospective students color the way you view your own students?

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  8. Law school is soul and pocket crushing, yes, but what else is one to do???

    Become a legal secretary or paralegal? (I'm only half kidding.)

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  9. I am a rational actor. When I decided to go to law school I knew things were not all that good (1/3 of graduates did not get jobs). This was 2008. I graduated 2 years later. I was able to get into T1 school. The school reported that top 1/3 of their class made above 75K and over 70% had secured a job upon graduation.

    I decided to go largely because I knew that I will make into top 1/3. I figured that if I get out with 75K salary and 135K in student loans I should be able to pay them back in 5-6 years. I calculated all of this out. I got free undergrad so I figured this was the time to invest and by the time I hit 30 I will be debt free, with a good degree, and a career ahead of me.

    Now as a 2L I cry myself to sleep because it is very unlikely any part of my plan will work. I did make into top 1/3 but 3L's that are in the same position are not getting jobs and a lot of kids from class of 2011 are living with their parents.

    I am a rational actor however I made my rational decision on flawed numbers and will have to pay for this for the next 25 years.

    The only rational option left for me is the military. I wanted to go to military when I was 18 but my parents would not let me, now they even encourage me.

    I would rather risk my life in Afghanistan for a chance to pay off my loans in 10 years then live in misery for 25. It is unlikely I will even be a lawyer for the military because JAG Corp has become so competitive. After 10 years I will be debt free and hopefully with some savings but it is unlikely I will ever be a lawyer.

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  10. If you were a rational actor, you would have dropped out as soon as the projected roi became negative.

    It is first semester 2L. . . you can still drop out, and save half the debt. Do you think your life will be better with twice the debt and a law degree; or with less debt, and no law degree?

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  11. "Rational economic actor" is a meaningless term because we haven't yet defined what "rational" means. Is a fireman who risks his life to save people in a burning building rational? Opportunistic economists would say no but others would say yes.

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  12. If that fireman is a paid NYC fireman, then yes, rational on all counts.

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  13. That completely went over your head. It's not rational to an opportunistic economist, because he could get paid while doing his job in a way that causes far less risk to his life.

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  14. Law Prof, 7:28 again--Before we go off into a debate about the phrase "rational actor" and who is and who is not one, any thoughts on the questions posed to you?

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  15. "Law school is soul and pocket crushing, yes, but what else is one to do???"

    Nothing. The kids who go to law school do so because they are afraid of the world. They are afraid of going out there and being part of the economy and society, so they go to law school in the hopes that law school will give them some sort of magic ticket into a job.

    Well the schoos lied, to get your money. And they chose you because you're precisely the type of victim who won't do anything about it. Your only option now is to blame yourself and get over it. Or don't. Frankly it doesn't matter how any of you feel, because you're too cowardly to matter.

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  16. Apparently the DOJ has the ability to go against some types of scam schools:

    "Under Nelson's new leadership, enrollment and profits at EDMC skyrocketed further. The number of online recruits in particular grew at an astronomical rate, increasing fivefold between 2006 and 2009, after deregulation allowed the company's classrooms to become completely virtual. By late 2009 the company tapped Wall Street again, with an initial public offering that netted more than $330 million.

    But a recent complaint from the U.S. Justice Department detailed a business bent on recruiting students at all costs, a description supported by the accounts of the employees interviewed by the Huffington Post. Hidden behind the upbeat earnings calls and bullish quarterly reports was a cutthroat sales culture that rewarded employees who regularly bent the truth and took advantage of underprivileged and unsuspecting consumers, employees said."

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/14/goldman-sachs-for-profit-college_n_997409.html

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  17. 8:32: trolling much?

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  18. 8:32, um, THAT'S THE POINT OF THE LAW DEGREE - not a "magic ticket" to a job, but a higher degree for a so-called "profession" that requires said degree for the "magic ticket" in practicing the job. I can't believe I'm responding to this, but again, what is one to do? We are lead to believe that a law school education will "secure" us economically more than, say, a GED, and that we will contribute to society. It's straight up bull shit to think that people go to law school are "afraid of . . . being part of the economy and society;" they go there *precisely* to do that. Except that it doesn't work like that BECAUSE WE ARE LIED TO, from like the age of 4 on. John Adams - lawyer; Abraham Lincoln - lawyer; Ghandi - lawyer; Franz Kafka - lawyer; St. Thomas Moore - lawyer; Brian Moynihan - lawyer. We have been told forever that the study of law IS BEING PART OF THE ECONOMY AND SOCIETY, in a variety of ways. And the fact that modern legal education, due to the costs vis-a-vis jobs, is not cost effective is the point. No crying. No whining. But your bullshit position is why this country is fucked-up, debt-ridden, and top-heavy to the point of near economic collapse. So go piss off.

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  19. Abraham Lincoln, John Adams et. al. had something that you people lack - courage. Had a law school ripped them off there would be hell to pay. You people are a bunch of losers who couldn't even look a man in the eye.

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  20. @9:44 a.m.: It's more entertaining when you talk about your bench press.

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  21. 9:28: That's absolutely right. The deans and professors only talk about "market forces" after the fact, when they know they benefit from huge societal pressure to pursue higher education no matter the cost or ROI. It's not a market- not even a choice. If you get into law school, you go, because what idiot would turn down law school? The same pressure that led the government to federally guarantee all student loans- and then not even try to cap or regulate tuition!

    They act like a bunch of used car salesmen. "We sold you a great car just like we promised- we just never said you could drive it. You should have done your research to see if it could take you places." If this is the state of higher education then something needs to change.

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  22. I am a huge fan of the blog and think it's addressing a really critical part of law school that has been flying under the radar for some time.

    I was struck in my 1L year by the differences between law school of the past and law school today. As depicted in the movie "1L," when the past generation of lawyers attended law school, at least 1/3 of each class flunked out (anecdotally, this seems to be true up through the 70s at least). In my class (2010 at a T-30 school), precisely zero students flunked out. Had more flunked out, they wouldn't have wasted two years paying absurdly high tuition (even at a state school) with almost no prospect of a job. Honestly, I know it would be hard to see people flunk out, but thinning out the class each year would help reduce the overproduction of JDs relative to the legal marketplace (of course, that will never happen, because law schools rely on tuition from those students who otherwise would have flunked out).

    If 0Ls faced the prospect of a 33% chance of flunking out, it seems to me that they would be much more likely to realistically weigh the costs and benefits of their legal education. It would also spare many students from paying for two additional years of education when they have relatively low prospects of post-graduation employment. Of course, many 0Ls will say "that won't happen to me," but at least if they're wrong, they only have $40k worth of debt instead of $120k.

    Who knows? Maybe I would have flunked out (my school doesn't rank students), but that would have at least put me on a different career path with a much lighter debt load (for what it's worth, I'm one of the lucky ones to have found a job at a non-profit--no JD required, but it definitely helped me get an interview).

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  23. Another problem is that many college educated youth today are just flat out financially illiterate. If you never held a real job and/or have never spent anytime out in the real world, you have no basis to quantify the hardship of debt payments. "Rational economic players" need real life experience to really appreciate the real cost/benefits of major life purchases.

    For example, OP mentioned that if he could only land a 70K a year job he would be able to pay off 135K in 5-6 years. I am telling you, this ain't going to happen. Many naivetes see that 70 is only half of 135, so how bad can it be? Well, when you run into 8% income taxes, federal/state/local income taxes, and given the fact that many legal positions no longer subsidize health insurance or provide 401K contributions, this becomes much more difficult than it seems. Ultimately, this is a moot point, though. As Professor Henderson's bimodal distribution research has shown, most 70K a year legal positions do not exist.

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  24. @7:55.

    Drop out now. Save yourself > 50% of your projected debt (bar exam costs and living expenses are expensive).

    I think I can speak with some authority here. I dropped out from a T2 with a full scholarship after 1st semester 2L year (Fall 2010 semester). I didn't have any planned lined up, but I could see the writing on the wall.

    I know many of my friends/ classmates wished they could do what I did. I think the factors at play here were:

    1. Sunk cost fallacy. It is a major, major, major hurdle to overcome, especially for someone in their young 20s. They just can't ignore how much time they've invested or debt they have.

    2. I think this one is a combination of 3 and 4. Students believe in themselves "things will work out" and "What the fuck else am I going to do." So there is some irrational belief that things will work out, and there really is no other option. I dropped out with no other option, it was scary as shit, and I am very fortunate to have found a job with benefits. Very fortunate.

    3. Familial / Societal pressure. The term "drop-out" still has stigma attached to it. I wear it as a badge, but to a lot of people drop-outs are viewed negatively. When I told my family and family friends I was going to drop out there was STRONG push back against it (although my parents were supportive of doing what felt right to me). For other people there just isn't that support. There is major pressure from family (one friend's parents told her she couldn't drop out even though they weren't supporting her).

    4. Professors/mentors are super out of touch and they give terrible advice. I personally went to the Former dean and several other professors and candidly told them why I was dropping out. They gave terrible uninformed advice, and I shamefully admit it duped me into coming back for another semester. It's sometimes quite hard to ignore an appeal to authority

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  25. AJ, how can the bottom 1/3 flunk out if there are no rankings???? That's part of the law school machine: no rankings, inflated grades, keep everyone happy. It's like a good ol' Clockwork Orange brainwashing. 9:44, I don't know what you're getting at. Personally, I have a law job, I am happy, I have no debt. Are you arguing that we should be angrier??? Drop out and storm Sallie Mae offices in drones? Or get jobs (that don't exist)? And I would love to see what would have happened if a law school "ripped off" Abraham Lincoln or Ghandi and what kind of "hell to pay" they would make the law school felt. I don't even know what that means.

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  26. "If 0Ls faced the prospect of a 33% chance of flunking out, it seems to me that they would be much more likely to realistically weigh the costs and benefits of their legal education."

    COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY AND PROVABLY WRONG. See Cooley Law School's attrition model.

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  27. 9:44 is a troll. He posts the same stuff on every thread. Ignore him.

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  28. Troll?

    Again, I ask, how many of the people commenting on this blog have put a simple phone call, or email, or letter into their professors asking them to sign the law school transparency petition?

    None of you.

    You know why? Because you're cowards who are scared to confront people in real life. That's why you don't matter.

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  29. @10:54

    I have. Our actions don't make you less of a troll.

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  30. @ 10:34 - that's precisely my point. No one from my school could flunk out, and I think that's part of the problem. Obviously, to allow 1/3 of students to flunk, schools that don't rank would have to start doing so.

    @10:44 - I address this concern in the same paragraph as you quoted. "Of course, many 0Ls will say 'that won't happen to me,' but at least if they're wrong, they only have $40k worth of debt instead of $120k." The large number of students who flunk out of Cooley are typically only on the hook for 1 years' worth of debt, not 3, correct? Thus, even if a 0L makes an "irrational" choice, he/she won't be penalized as badly for it.

    It seems to me that returning to a model where students are allowed to flunk out is better both for students--fewer will incur costs for 3 years with no job prospects--and the legal marketplace--not as many JDs for the same number of jobs. It may be brutal for those who flunk, but not as brutal as accumulating 3 years' worth of debt with no hope of a legal job and no way to pay it off.

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  31. Although this post is well written and makes sense, I hate the focus on students. Law students are easy marks. No question about it. Talking about cognitive dissonance is a waste of time and whitewashes the real issues.

    This fight for transparency, while logical in theory, is a complete waste of time in reality. One has to look no further than the ABA's action on September 23 to be less transparent despite senatorial and mainstream pressure. The way I see it, there are three options for reform that would make a real difference:

    1) Ban ALL law schools from publishing employment statistics for a 3 year period. This way students can investigate whether or not a law school is a good decision for them by talking to attorneys, researching independent data, and various other forms of due diligence. There is zero social and economic utility to permit schools to publish data so long as it's misleading. It serves the cartel's interests only. This is a bad thing for everyone outside of academia, education finance, and legal recruiters.

    2) Limit a school's intake of federal student loans to 80%, 70%, or lower. Again, this would lower tuition or permit more appropriate market incentives to work. A bright line rule is crucial. Tying receipt of funds to cohort default rates and the like is a joke because of the level of regulatory capture in the DOE and the insanity of the way defaults are calculated.

    3) Allow law schools to continue operating as usual, but have the DOJ and FBI use their muscle and subpoena power to investigate likely education fraud and RICO violations at various schools. Without the threat of punishment for criminal behavior, criminals don't change.

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  32. On the "thinking like a lawyer" bit... I graduated from undergrad with an extremely good analytical philosophy/deductive logic background.

    When I hear people talk about how law school sharpened their thinking, I have to wonder if they never took intro to philosophy (analytical, not that continental nonsense) or formal logic. You can get just as good of a 'thinking like a lawyer' education in 2-4 undergraduate classes.

    The skill if way overpriced, and if you're already trained in analytical thinking, what the hell is law school supposed to be giving you?

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  33. On the topic of rational actors, Dan Ariely (Economics Professor at Duke) has written some really good books, one of the books is "Predictably Irrational" which points out that rational actors is an ideology more than a realistic depiction of human behavior.

    LawProf makes a good point in examining information asymmetry. I was shocked years later in looking at Bureau of Labor Statistics since the late 1980's showing that the growth in the legal field has been about 1.2 percent a year.

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  34. "It seems to me that returning to a model where students are allowed to flunk out is better both for students--fewer will incur costs for 3 years with no job prospects--and the legal marketplace--not as many JDs for the same number of jobs. It may be brutal for those who flunk, but not as brutal as accumulating 3 years' worth of debt with no hope of a legal job and no way to pay it off."

    COOLEY IS THIS MODEL AND THEY ARE THE MOST EGREGIOUS EXAMPLE OF WHAT IS WRONG WITH LAW SCHOOL.

    Your proposal could not be any more wrong.

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  35. The term "rational actor" is nonsensical. People define the term rational subjectively and so the term means nothing more than "person who would act in the way that I think is appropriate" which is completely unhelpful.

    Again, I point out the example of the firefighter who risks his life needlessly to save someone else's life. An opportunist economist would say this is completely irrational, while others would disagree.

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  36. I thought this was a great example of law school chutzpah. I got an e-mail from my law school (The Catholic Univ of America Columbus School of Law). The law school was asking me to contribute to the Combined Federal Campaign (federal charity drive).

    Then, in the same week, the law school sent me a magnet with the law school's CFC Number so that I could give more money to my law school.

    Law schools are shameless.

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  37. @ 11:32 - please explain to me why Cooley's system is worse than a school that lets students stay an extra two years, paying full tuition and accumulating 3 times the debt, when the school administration knows that the person's job prospects are basically nil. Is the student not better off with only 1/3 the debt and essentially the same (that is, virtually zero) job prospects? I'm very curious why you think this is a worse model.

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  38. We can now add Tom Coburn to the list of Senators looking into law schools. Maybe one day we'll progress past the letter writing phase:

    http://coburn.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/rightnow?ContentRecord_id=c0eafc48-3f90-4e20-8edc-94c6f4bc0532&ContentType_id=b4672ca4-3752-49c3-bffc-fd099b51c966&Group_id=00380921-999d-40f6-a8e3-470468762340&MonthDisplay=10&YearDisplay=2011

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  39. In what follows I'm ignoring those students for which law school continues to be, from an ex ante perspective, a rational choice in conventional terms.

    I've been making the mistake of speaking bluntly and honestly with people about how irrational a choice law school is, even suggesting to my classmates that for many of us, the most rational choice is to drop out.

    People get really, really angry with you.

    I've said more than once that the only people who should go to law school are those that can get into HYS, are rich and can pay easily with no debt, or those who can get 100% scholarships.

    That comment has gotten me vilified as a racist, an elitist, and an out-of-touch asshole on several occasions.

    Seems to me I was just expressing what LawProf said -- there's a small number of people for whom it is a rational choice -- those for whom the projected benefit actually outweighs the cost.

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  40. "@ 11:32 - please explain to me why Cooley's system is worse than a school that lets students stay an extra two years, paying full tuition and accumulating 3 times the debt, when the school administration knows that the person's job prospects are basically nil. Is the student not better off with only 1/3 the debt and essentially the same (that is, virtually zero) job prospects? I'm very curious why you think this is a worse model."

    Stopped reading at "explain to me why Cooley's system is worse"

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  41. 11:19 and 12:35 (amongst others) I don't think there are pragmatic, *actual* things to be done *or* arguing that law school is a waste of time. And to troll, it's one thing to "confront" (what, with like a baseball bat? Chicken-little angry voice?) administrators with a petition about transparency, it's another thing to have that matter . . .

    The problem is thousands of years of social construct and reinforcement that law is a "profession," it is "noble" and that you can "change the world" and get "rich/wealthy/well-off/middle-class" while doing it. Yes, the schools have lied about employment. Yes, the cost of legal education is obscene (you know what else is obscene, CEO salaries, carpet bombing and landmines, and the hunger rate amongst children in America). But more than that, law schools and legal education is entrenched in a society that values laws and government as a noble pursuit. We as Americans don't have religion or ethnicity to fall back on as an identity; our identity, our social fabric, is build around government and laws. Ergo, to obtain "expertise" in that field is to become a quasi-sacred shaman in the eyes of the "layman" (ignore the fact that lawyers are shit on; Americans love to be hypocritical when it suits them). That's so lists and demands, while in the abstract make a ton of sense, and seem right, may not be the right thing to do. The right thing to do is probably wait, and let market forces work, while explaining the situation to anyone who will listen . . .

    ReplyDelete
  42. "I don't think there are pragmatic, *actual* things to be done"

    Calling and writing your former professors, even if you have to do so repeatedly, to get them to sign the law school petition is not a "pragmatic" option, because that would require you to leave your nerd cocoon and actually say or do something in real life. The only "pragmatic" option in your frightened mind is writing comments on the internet because they allow you to exist without confrontation, something that would probably send you into panic.

    ReplyDelete
  43. I follow this blog regularly. While I commend the efforts of those who propose changes, I personally do not think enough thought has been put into identifying the underlying core problem in legal education. The different issues raised (debt, transparency, and employment)are important, I am not convinced that they are the underlying issue. The more I have personally examined them, the more I believe they are attributes of a deeper systematic problem. Resolving them in my opinion will not change the underlying problem causing the issues people have with Law School Education. They are important, but personally I think there are deeper issues that if resolved,would naturally correct the three aforementioned problems. Einstein once said that if he had 1 hr. to solve a problem that the fate of the world depended on, he would spend 55 minutes examining the problem, and 5 minutes solving it. I believe that a similar notion needs to be applied to this issue. It's too multi-faceted of a problem to be resolved by solving the debt, transparency,and employment issues alone.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Is BL1Y here? Look at what happened at our favorite McDonalds.

    http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/10/14/shock-video-savage-attack-at-manhattan-mcdonalds/

    ReplyDelete
  45. So 3:34, why don't you kick off the discussion. What do you think the systemic issues are?

    ReplyDelete
  46. @3:34 p.m.:

    I'm confident that law professors, deep and careful thinkers that they are, will examine and solve the "underlying problem" if given reason to do so.

    As an incidental effect, transparency reform should give them that reason to do so.

    ReplyDelete
  47. 6:38 Personally, I am not sure. Transparency arguments are just offending an audience that has no incentive to change. It breeds self-satisfaction for those experiencing the pain, but I harbour a guess that even if things were much more transparent, American Culture as 9:28 suggests,would still encourage people to sign up.

    I think the bigger question to be asking,is what is preventing people who have their license from "hanging a shingle". While I understand their is costs involved, with today's home technology, those can be surprisingly minimal. I think there is a bigger issue with the curriculum that prevents most people from taking the plunge. I do not know whether: 1) it the lack of business knowledge of how to run a firm, 2) whether it is a lack of confidence, 3)whether it is a fear that was instilled in Law School of we don't know what we don't know, 4) the current systems systematic destruction of people's Emotional Intelligence, 5) a curriculum that is built on antiquated theories of intelligence, leadership, problem solving, and cognitive psychology, 6) the lack of research on concrete repeatable techniques that enable students to work efficiently, 7) the lack of imagination in law schools for assisting student to perform jobs that a law degree would be beneficial, but is not required, or 8) the professions sytematic deterence of discouraging frank discussion that enable people admitting shortcomings without reprucssion.

    Law schools, regardless of the tier, are filled with motivated students who are bright. Yes, there maybe a difference in caliber of student between a T14 student and 4th tier student, but the differences I do not believe are as drastic as some commentators would like to believe.

    I have only suggested a few of the facets, but there are more. I think that the better question to ask is what value does law school provide and what is its purpose. Rather than start with the Transparency issue, ask this question instead. Whether the schools want to admit it or not, students sign up for Law School to become lawyers, not for jobs or salaries. They maybe secondary factors, but the motivating factor is that at some point in the process the student made the decision to become a lawyer. How schools answer and address the value/purpose question I believe is essential to discovering the core issue.

    In some states, like NY and Vermont, a person can become a lawyer with only attending a year or less of lawschool and compelting an apprentice program. This is not well advertised, but I do know people who have pursued this route. The question I think Law Schools need to asking themselves, is what value are they providing their students in the last two years that make their cost justified over and above the apprentice programs? I think what gets people upset with their Law investment, is the actual or perceived lack of value and purpose in the education. Does law school teach enough skills in the two years to make the 120K investment a better option for professional development than the free apprentice programs,stigma and limitations aside.

    I cannot say for sure...but what do I know.

    I have put forth above a couple of the potential deeper issues and facets to the problem that I believe are causing the resentment. I do not mean to take away from the transparency initiative, but I do not think that is the most effective way to bring about change. You are dealing with a population that gets paid not to be empathetic and skeptical. To resolve the issue, I think we need to examine more aspects of the problem.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Uh-oh. Nigerian scammers have discovered this blog. Time to start requiring a google login or heavily policing the comments, LawProf.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Is there any reason not to ban roid rage guy?

    ReplyDelete
  50. There is no reason. Ban him Lawprof.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Rather than ban those who tell you uncomfortable truths, why don't you consider the possibility of accepting the fact that your problems are mainly due to your own character flaws, and that you are a meek and ineffective person who was seemingly put on this earth to be victimized, and law schools just happened to get to you before the other predators.

    You people are too scared to confront your Deans and former law professors with a simple phone call asking them to do something as basic as sign a petition! It's not law schools fault that you were made this way. Blame that on nature or nurture that occured before you went to law school.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Just out of curiosity, how would one go about banning a poster anyway? Blogger doesn't seem to have an IP blocking system as far as I can tell.

    ReplyDelete
  53. You could do it by banning anonymous commenters, forcing everyone to get a login and banning logins you don't like. A completely unprincipled act, but it can be done.

    ReplyDelete
  54. settings tab, comments tab, then the entries "who can comment" and/or "comment moderation"

    ReplyDelete
  55. I'd only add that it would be utterly absurd to ban the commenter calling for face to face confrontation, and protests, during a period where the nation - indeed the world - has taken up such a cause. OWS is on the front page of every news site. There's a story about how in Italy they had to bring out the water cannons to stop protests that got violent. Imagine if a law school Dean had to face this scene the next time he walked to his car, a hefty $14,000 biweekly direct deposit paystuf in his hand.
    http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/15/world/occupy-goes-global/index.html?hpt=hp_t1
    How long do you think it would take for him to release the job placement surveys so that we could audit them? They would be released that afternoon.

    With all due respect, the petition failed miserably, as I predicted it would. No one signed it. No one even acknowledged it. They completely ignored it, because that is what you can do to people who don't matter. The problem isn't people like me. It's people whose fear limits their action to actions that are so meek and frightened that they can be ignored.

    ReplyDelete
  56. 7:55: The reason nobody "hangs a shingle" is because with 200K in student loan debt you need to find clients like right after you begin practicing. Law school doesn't teach you to do this since law professors cannot, as they haven't represented clients in decades and their only practice experience was probably an associate in a large law firm where they did monkey work.

    And the people who could be your clients are middle-aged and older or lower-middle class individuals who will want to deal face-to-face with a lawyer in an office and will not trust one without an office. Then, there are tens of thousands of lawyers with actual experience competing for those same clients. Open up the Yellow Pages and look at the lawyer section- there are hundreds of advertisements.

    It is just not financially viable to start a practice with no experience, no clients, and 200K in student loan debt in a saturated field.

    ReplyDelete
  57. A lot of people do hang a shingle right out of law school, and many make enough to barely scrape by (going on IBR, of course). All you need is a business license so it's easy to do. They don't make much money though.

    ReplyDelete
  58. @7:55 p.m.:

    If I understand you correctly, the systemic issue to which you refer is that law school is entirely useless after the first year (when it is only mostly useless). Aside from most state bars requiring a prospective bar admission candidate to graduate from law school, most law students would not continue going. This is not a secret, nor has it been one for a long time - but law schools keep doing what they're doing, because it's profitable and no one's making them change their offerings.

    "I think there is a bigger issue with the curriculum that prevents most people from taking the plunge (into sole practice)."

    All of the things you listed are probably true to some degree, but this is the biggest one: law school does not teach you how to do anything remotely like sole practice. You can spend a week on Erie because your professor loves to talk about it, and less than ten minutes on service of process despite the subject's practical importance. I knew all about the Rule on Perpetuities, but had no idea how to conduct a title search in a county land records room. Instead of learning about things for which someone might actually pay an attorney, you spend your hours dwelling on what your professor finds interesting, and if you're lucky he'll explain it to you in small words.

    It's not even enough of a preparation for the bar exam for 90%+ of the students out there to trust their fate to their outlines, even if they took all the subjects being tested on that bar.

    Transparency reform forces a law school with mediocre or terrible employment outcomes to assess what they're doing, because they won't be able to charge the same rates as schools that actually manage to place their students in real law jobs. Harvard and American may teach all the same content to their students, but if American's students are placing in law firms much less frequently and at much lower salaries, then American will probably have to offer instruction better suited to its graduates or lower its prices.

    ReplyDelete
  59. "you spend your hours dwelling on what your professor finds interesting,"

    Let me correct that for you.

    You spend your hours learning things that could not possibly lead to accusations that the professor didn't understand the material, because no one will ever test your knowledge of these topics.

    If a professor teaches you how to do a title search, but turns out to be wrong (because he/she is an idiot, that's why they don't practice) then via a recording of that lecture + discovery of the error, you could humiliate the professor.

    Why would a professor want to put themselves in such a spot? They're better off teaching the rule of perpetuities.

    ReplyDelete
  60. John:

    You raise interesting points. My take (which coincides with some of your points):

    1. What lawyers don't want to admit, and what most practitioners know, is that most activities engaged in by lawyers could easily be learned by almost anyone. What I am really saying is that a person does not need to know the law to be a lawyer. They just need to know how to do grunt-work and learn the nuts and bolts of the law (how to file, where to file, etc..). The rest of the law is window dressing. If I need to know the law, I just look it up. Maybe, MAYBE law school teaches a person to issue spot....but anyone with half a brain will just research the law in order to find those issues. Rutter group is not that hard to use even if you don't know squat about the law. Law schools don't even teach how to file suits.

    2. Law school is nothing more than an invitation to be told that you are stupid for three years by a bunch of blowhards who are overpaid. BarBri covers it all.

    3. If you accept what I have posited, then it could be argued that law school, in order to exist, could exist as a trade school. Nothing more. But no....couldn't have that. The ABA, law professors, etc....wouldn't want their pretentious arrogant little world to be exposed. Some lawyers may feel the same way....however, lawyers may feel different if they could become lawyers without the huge debt.

    4. I have thought about opening my own practice and doing DUI law, or wills and trusts, or PI. I don't because 1) I want better for myself. I did not spend all this time educating myself to be an ambulance chaser or represent people who were arrested for DD. W/T work is brainless. The software does all the thinking. How could I in good conscience charge someone who could easily get the software themselves and write their own will? In turn, they could take it to an attorney who could look it over for a fraction of the cost. 2) All markets are flooded. Look at the phonebook. Too many lawyers chasing too few cases. 3) Bonus: collecting from clients who owe money is hard. Most clients are assholes anyway.

    This profession is doomed.

    ReplyDelete
  61. @12:00 p.m.:

    "What lawyers don't want to admit, and what most practitioners know, is that most activities engaged in by lawyers could easily be learned by almost anyone."

    Sure, in the same way that somebody who spends a few dozen hours with a scalpel, a needle holder, sutures and room-temperature chicken breasts could perform most activities engaged in by surgeons. No one thing that a lawyer does is all that hard for your average college graduate, but synthesizing all of it for practice is probably beyond them. (Or me.)

    Hell, I'm a soon-to-be-sworn-in law graduate and I clerked for a personal injury firm for two years, but I still wouldn't trust myself to get it right if I were injured in an accident. The general public is paying for somebody who thinks about this stuff all day. I'm not saying that it's the work of a genius, but it's an exaggeration to say that LegalZoom and YouTube have erased the difference between representation by an experienced attorney and appearing pro se.

    I don't think law school taught me to read appellate cases and write memorandums of law as efficiently as it could have, but it's not like I learned absolutely nothing in three years. What I learned was a lot less than I should have learned, given the money invested - with that I could agree.

    ReplyDelete
  62. I agree John, let's not get carried away. You still need a lot of knowledge to pass the bar exam.

    ReplyDelete
  63. "What lawyers don't want to admit, and what most practitioners know, is that most activities engaged in by lawyers could easily be learned by almost anyone."

    Actually this is an important point and one of the reasons that lawyers can't find jobs. Today, you have places like legalzoom or the internet that allow your average person to solve most of their legal problems on their own. Sometimes they'll get stuck but even then they don't want to pay anyone, but rather they will call you to weasel free advice out of you.

    You can't compare this to medicine at all, John, because medicine provides knowledge AND DRUGS/EQUIPMENT. Lawyers provide only knowledge.

    ReplyDelete
  64. I am 7:55. John I do not agree with what you are saying that Law School should only be one year, and that the second two years are unneeded. I actually believe that a three year program is needed. What I am questioning, is not the length, but whether the curriculum serves its adequate, or whether elements of it needs to be redesigned to adjust to new market demands.

    The law field is changing, structurally in a fashion this recession that I do not think the legal academy is ready to admit. Two changes that I feel are here to stay is outsourcing, and a decrease amount of employer provided training.
    Out sourcing, is nothing new. However, it has cut down on the number of legal positions available and lawyer tract positions. For the first time, US lawyers are competing with international workforce for these positions. As a result, the salaries are being driven down for these tasks. This is new to law, but not other fields.

    The second trend, is that law firms, not like companies in other fields, do not want to pay to train new employees. The new expectation, and this is not just in the legal field, is that the employer expects you to have all the training needed to perform the job, before you are hired.

    Many attorney's do not want to invest in the necessary training, to have you leave and start your own firm in the same community. This is similar in corporate positions throughout the country today.

    Law Schools had designed their curriculum, with the expectation that the practing bar, would provide the training to its graduates to "fill the gap" If the practicing bar is not willing to, or cannot afford to, as we are seeing today with decreased hiring in government positions, big firm positions, etc., Law Schools have to adjust their curriculum. At the end of their day, it is their duty to train students to be lawyers, not the practicing bar. That is what students are paying them for the education.

    The argument that occassionally appears that Law school is a liberal arts education is wrong and misguided. Most students (if not all) signed up for law school to become lawyers, not receive a liberal arts education.

    I guess the question I posed with apprenticeship programs is what value is Law school providing. If I had done an apprentice ship program, I would have had four years experience and have only a 1/3rd of the debt. Instead, I have 6 digits worth of debt, and by market forces, expected to volunteer forty hours a week, put my loans in deferment, and work odd jobs at night and on weekends to receive training that when I signed up for law school as 0L I expected I would get. It is this disconnect that is frustrating.

    While some may blame the economy, I do not believe this trend is going to change in law, or other professional domains, in the near futre. Outsourcing, as we all know, is likely here to stay.

    I accept new rules of employment, and move on. NO one anticipated this, and no of calculated it. Blaming students and law schools is misguided. What needs to be happening is a frank conversation on how Law Schools can better train their students (ie adjust the curriculum) to meet the economy that their students face.

    ReplyDelete
  65. at 5:12:

    So...what I hear you saying is that moving forward we should fix the problem, but looking back, don't bother? I guess those people that came before are up shit creek without a paddle for the rest of their lives?

    I will accept some culpability for my mistake (going to law school) but not all of it. I was lied to and so were my colleagues. At 50K a year tuition, the law schools owe it to their students and those entering the profession to train them well, be the first to know about changes in the profession, and to be honest to their students and alumni about job placement rates. We all know this is a crock don't we. Schools only care about $$$$. Profits matter, it does not matter how many lives are destroyed, or burdened. I have spoken to my law school numerous times about these problems and all I have received are trivial answers and phony condolences.

    Your conclusions are valid but naive. Change will only come from outside the system and will have to be forceful. When you see jackasses like Aaron Taylor stating that law school is still a good investment, there is a huge problem. The old way needs to be brought down and a new one needs to be put in its place.

    ReplyDelete
  66. @5:12 p.m.:

    Whether a three-year program is or isn't truly necessary, I believe that all discussions of what law school should do better are moot until law schools have some reason to change. Attempting to impose new curricula or pricing structures from outside won't work, unless there's some groundswell of support from Congress or the state legislatures that has emerged without anybody else knowing.

    Change will come when it's known how far from equal American law schools' employment outcomes are. Until then, we will continue to have 90%+ employment and $85,000+ median starting salaries and 100% of incoming law students lied to.

    ReplyDelete
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