Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Journey of a thousand miles

Right now this is only an ABA committee recommendation, but if adopted it would be a big step forward:


The current proposal would also require a law school to post the bar passage rates and employment outcomes of its graduates by job status and employment type, including the number of graduates working in jobs requiring a law degree and the number of those who are not; and the number of unemployed graduates who are and who are not seeking work. The employment data, which will be contained in a chart to be referenced in the standards, is largely identical to the recommendations of the Questionnaire Committee, which the council will consider in early December.

Both proposals would also require law schools to disclose how many graduates are working in full-time or part-time jobs, whether those jobs are short-term or long-term and how many of them are funded by the school from which the job-holder graduated.

But the Standards Review Committee's current proposal, unlike the Questionnaire Committee's recommendation, would require law schools to disclose school-specific salary information about their graduates. It would also require that any information a school publishes about graduates' salaries clearly identify the number of salaries and the percentage of graduating students included. The Questionnaire Committee is proposing to rely on the National Association for Law Placement to provide statewide salary data.

Under the Standards Review Committee's current proposal, schools would also be required to disclose information about conditional or merit scholarships, including the number of students admitted under such scholarships in the previous three years and the number of students whose scholarships were subsequently reduced or eliminated . . .

Finally, the committee is tentatively proposing that all information reported, posted or published by a law school be fair, accurate and not misleading, and that schools must use "due diligence" in obtaining and verifying such information.

A cynic might note that there's nothing like the prospect of hearings before the U.S. Senate ($$) to get an otherwise indifferent bureaucracy to suddenly spring into action.  Be that as it may, this represents a sign of real progress, and welcome evidence that the public pressure being put on law schools is having an effect.

It's of course true that this is just a first step toward achieving law school transparency, and that genuine transparency is itself merely a first step on a road that will require much more fundamental and difficult reforms, but first steps are usually the hardest to take.

Speaking of which, what's with the case of Kramer v. Kramer?

Newish Stanford dean Larry Kramer in 2007:

Kramer says the lawyers he meets are deeply concerned about these issues yet “feel unable to stop it, powerless to resist the stifling market forces that drive their decisions.” As for students, he says they “say they want a better work/life balance, yet invariably choose the firm that ranks highest in The American Lawyer’s list of the top 100 law firms.” Kramer adds: “Having spent their lives learning to collect gold stars, they apparently find it impossible to stop—something we (that is, law schools) make easy by forcing most of them to graduate with a mountain of debt.”

“No one can be blamed when everyone is to blame,” he concludes. “I have no answer to this. Not yet at least.” Kramer says Stanford has a role to play in improving things to “secure the future of our profession, preserving the qualities that attracted so many of us to the study of law in the first place.”
 Veteran Stanford dean Larry Kramer yesterday:

“The economy is in the tank, things are down,” Larry Kramer, dean of Stanford Law School, told Jones. “Nobody was thinking about ‘transparency’ five years ago, because the job market was so rich there was no reason to quibble over statistics.”
I'm a fan of Kramer the legal scholar, but disheartened by the effects that seven years of doing his current job seem to have had on him.  Four years ago he acknowledged there were big problems in legal education even when "everybody" (meaning of course all or nearly all Stanford law grads who wanted one) was getting an entry level job at a big firm. 

Now he's selling what is apparently becoming the standard line among law deans about how the present crisis is mostly cyclical, and the only reason people suddenly care about law schools misrepresenting job stats is because now law grads aren't getting jobs.  As Brian Tamanaha pointed out at length recently, this business about a "rich" job market five years ago was malarkey even then, if one lifted one's gaze to take in the vast expanse of legal education made up of schools outside the top end of the top tier.

On a fairly consistent basis, almost one third of law graduates in the past decade have not obtained jobs as lawyers, and the above chart suggests that this is disproportionately the case at the lower ranked law schools.

There is every reason to believe that graduates of lower ranked law schools, if they had the chance, would gladly take lawyer jobs in the same 90 percent range as occurs at elite schools. The results show, obviously, that their degrees do not put them in a strong position to land jobs as lawyers. And this will not change even if the legal market undergoes a miraculous recovery.
(BTW Tamanaha is well aware that he's using a generous definition of what constitutes a real legal job, and that the NALP data is far from reliable. His point is that even if you give law schools every possible benefit of the doubt the employment numbers have been bad and getting worse, especially relative to the rapidly growing law student debt load, for a long time now).

All this raises the more basic point that questions such as "is going to law school a good idea?" are hopelessly broad.  Going to law school may well still be a good idea for a lot of Stanford law school students (although the 2007 version of Larry Kramer linked above appeared to possess some healthy skepticism about the state of the profession even in its elite stratosphere), but as I've mentioned before, Stanford Law School and the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law are both "law schools" in the same sense that France and Sierra Leone are both sovereign nations.  It's precisely people such as Kramer -- the deans of the handful of elite law schools -- who would be in the best position to make this point, tactfully but forcefully, if they were to start advocating for genuine reform, as opposed to continuing to defend the status quo in legal education.

Finally, a word to current law students.  In a couple of years, it's likely that half or more of you aren't going to have real legal jobs, and many of those of you who will won't be able to pay your educational debts with the jobs you do get. Plus it's also likely that you'll hate your life, as it will be dominated by doing huge amounts of what will feel like meaningless work for, if you're extremely lucky, high pay, (although quite possibly not for long; see this comment) and if you're not, no more money than you would have been making if you hadn't gone to law school in the first place.

At that point, if the present momentum toward reform can be maintained, the gap between the employment and salary statistics advertised by your law school when you enrolled and the statistics revealed by the new disclosure standards will become evident.  You will of course be strongly encouraged to internalize the massive institutional breakdown that will have put you in your present position, and transform it into a personal catastrophe, for which you alone are responsible.  That transformation of the fundamental structural failure of a social institution into tens of thousands of annual stories about "individual responsibility" is, more than anything else, what keeps this thing going.  Don't do it.

32 comments:

  1. "That transformation of the fundamental structural failure of a social institution into tens of thousands of annual stories about 'individual responsibility' is, more than anything else, what keeps this thing going. Don't do it."

    This is very close to what I say, or think, every time I hear someone spouting the latest GOP/FOX News talking points.

    Good post. It would sure be nice to see how big a gap there's been between reality and the reported numbers in recent years.

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  2. I dont understand the last paragraph. Don't do what? Tell the story that it is our fault we went to law school?

    This is not a snarky comment - I really dont understand what the last paragraph is asking us not to do.

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  3. That's a really odd turn for Dean Kramer. I guess five years of $500k salaries does that to a man. Did he buy a house next to George Lucas yet?

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  4. Don't do this:

    internalize the massive institutional breakdown that will have put you in your present position, and transform it into a personal catastrophe, for which you alone are responsible.

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  5. LawProf or someone else, can you investigate the Jeckyll & Hyde nature of the ABA?

    How can an institution that, just a few months ago, decided to increase the degree of fraud (by no longer distinguishing between full and part time jobs, or legal and non-legal jobs, when collecting employment data) suddenly be moving so starkly to decrease - perhaps even eliminate - the fraud?

    I have a few thoughts:

    1. Maybe the new effort is a phony initiative designed to placate the call for hearings, and that will fall by the wayside as soon as the hearing talk passes.

    2. Maybe the committee creating the new initiative - unlike the committee that make the change a few months ago - is not dominated by low ranked law school deans.

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  6. At Terry Malloy:

    So in other words, don't feel bad/guilty about what happened?

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  7. Don't feel 100% responsible. I feel mostly responsible for the cataclysmic decision to go to law school. However, the law school scammed me and people of my caste. I thought I was making a safe investment, based on the information provided me by people I thought I could trust. I was wrong, and they scammed me. I feel bad and guilty every day. In despair, I mourn the diminished life of debt slavery that lies ahead. My family was better off as subsistence farmers. At least then you live and die at the mercy of God. Now, I work three days a week for the steak that some tenured villain bought with my misery.

    On the other hand:
    John Galt went to Choate, and can't understand why these people don't just get jobs with their fathers firm, like he did. Or maybe take some time off to write. Whatever.

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  8. Dear Terry Malloy (this is a movie character if anyone doesn't know), you're really really . . . really, bad at dramatic writing. After reading that hackneyed crap I almost want to leave the law school scam movement. Instead, I will rationally conclude that every movement has its odd balls and stay, but please don't post or state garbage like that ever again, except in a manuscript you submit to publishing companies who will throw it into the waste basket. Thanks.

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  9. A cynic could say that academics and the ABA concentrate on transparency (that will change things but not all that much - the poor economy and blogs are already doing the job) instead of the real reform of tuition and non-discharcheable loans.

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  10. Well, ThirdMan, funny that you say that because Nov. 17 is the deadline to send a comment to the ABA on a new rule they put into place on student loans.
    http://insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com/2011/11/abas-proposed-new-standard-for.html

    Now is your chance to make your voice heard on the student loan issue.

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  11. Great post. These criminals will be brought to justice. I can't wait for someone to go crazy and for the humbling reflection that follows. The morality of these criminals is anesthetized by the profit and comforts brought by the the loan monies and ever-increasing wages with annual merit increases.

    Most in the law school hierarchy are the lazy and inert academic equivalent to union workers. Just like that business model is dying out because of entrenched stagnation, so, too, will the rot at these law schools start to decay.

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  12. How dare you compare a union worker at a GM assembly plant (whose $70/hour salary including benefits maybe too high as you state) to a legal academic! At least the former has to bust his ass for that non-market salary.

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  13. Hey even Brian Leiter agrees with us on the job placement issue.

    http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2011/11/us-senators-who-issue-press-releases-like.html

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  14. "Finally, a word to current law students. In a couple of years, it's likely that half or more of you aren't going to have real legal jobs, and many of those of you who will won't be able to pay your educational debts with the jobs you do get. Plus it's also likely that you'll hate your life, as it will be dominated by doing huge amounts of what feels like meaningless work for, if you're extremely lucky, high pay, and if you're not, no more money than you would have been making if you hadn't gone to law school in the first place."

    Thank you for posting this. Any current student is making a terrible mistake to remain in law school. As a 20 year veteran, I wish to add that all of your statements were true 20 years ago as well. Moreover, should anyone "[be] extremely lucky, high pay," that one must realize that the "high pay" is unlikely to last for very many years. Big law firms are pyramid schemes such that each successive year, fewer associates remain (through no fault of their own). Should anyone "[be] extremely lucky, high pay," that one must realize that even if he or she successfully navigates the pyramid of a big law firm, once he or she arrives as a "partner," he or she may only maintain that job so long as he or she bills enough hours and attracts enough clients. Through no fault of his or her own, that may end at any time. In short, the real story of what it really is like to work as a lawyer and what you really earn as a lawyer clarifies even further that law school is a terrible idea and a terrible investment even for that tiny minority who are "extremely lucky" and receive "high pay" in a first job. The story currently being told (and thankfully it is finally being told) ends with the dismal prospects of getting a first "legal job." The whole story extends even much further in time unfortunately and tells a more tragic tale of how law ruins lives.

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  15. Thanks for the input 8:56.

    Sorry that my admittedly hyperbolic text offends your tastes.

    To state more succinctly:

    I, a real person hiding behind a pseudonym, am the victim of my own illusions, and the law school fraud. This will greatly impact my entire life, and negatively impacts my emotional state. I hope that the perpetrators of this fraud are brought to justice.

    Will you be my friend again?

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  16. Saw a link on CNN today for "5 Grad Degrees Still Worth the Debt" and congratulations, lawyers, you made the top 5! http://kiplinger.com/slideshow/grad-school-payoff-2011/6.html#top

    The article is apparently from June of 2011, but CNN is still linking to it on their main page.

    You'll all love the debt/salary info.

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  17. Kramer seems to be unhinged. No one was complaining about Bernie Madoff either until the scheme crashed. Or, to be more precise, little people were raising concerns but no one in power paid attention--until the elites started losing money. Sound like a familiar pattern?

    Kramer's claim that transparency concerns are a "quibble over statistics," suggests that either (a) he doesn't know the facts and should be embarrassed to make such uneducated statements in public, or (b) he is engaging in deliberately fraudulent statements to cover up what is happening at law schools (maybe even including his own). Either is really shocking from a leading educator.

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  18. Huh? Leiter says he's been remarking for a decade on the fact that job placement data were fiction? http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2011/11/us-senators-who-issue-press-releases-like.html. I guess his friend Kramer didn't get those memos.

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  19. What's with the Kramer hate?

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  20. Kramer is a well-paid fraud, who is only out to defend his institution.

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  21. Stanford is a fraud?

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  22. @1:09PM Stupid, rhetorical questions don't play as well as your willful blindness. Pick one because your ham-fisted attempts at both are rather obvious.

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  23. Law students, recent graduates, and finally some professors seem to be discovering that the underpants-gnome theory of legal employment isn't all that sensible.

    Step 1 - Go to law school, pass the bar.
    Step 2 - ??????
    Step 3 - Profit and be happy!

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  24. @ 1:19, that makes no sense.

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  25. I agree Kramer's comments are really bizarre. Quibbling over statistics? Imagine if a defendant said something like that in response to an SEC lawsuit about fraudulent income statements!

    But what makes his statement most disturbing is that he's the f'ing Dean of Stanford Law School, and five years ago he sung a completely different tune. Why the change?

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  26. 1:19, thank you for introducing me to underpants-gnomes! For those of you who were equally clueless, see http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=underpants%20gnomes. I may need to buy one of those mugs.

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  27. @ 9:10 AM - funny that you say that because I did send a comment to the ABA and that is so connected to my criticism of the concentration on transparency over tuition and loans. I'm so glad you made a directly related addition to my comment about what those in charge, and not me, should be focusing on.

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  28. What was your comment thirdman? I didn't follow your post.

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  29. I think information about the loan burdens of classes that have graduated would also be useful. Hiding this information is much more damaging to applicants trying to make up their minds...than messing with LSAT scores of incoming classes. If a school had to say, "Half of the class of 2012 is employed in the legal world, and their average salary as lawyers is $51,000 and their average debt load is $140,000" then the chickens would come home to roost in a good way. (Plus: "The other half of the class of 2012 is unemployed or unemployed in law, and their average salary is $20,000 and their debt load is $140,000.")

    Because what happened in the recent past is that law schools would imply online that their grads were getting jobs and making an average $80,000 upon graduation. This was totally false but people in their early 20s are famously unwise and headstrong & impulsive. (I say this as the father of one of them.)

    So young men and women enrolled in those schools using totally misleading information about the benefit-risk ratio. The facts are that most law-school grads--maybe 80 per cent in some schools--have no chance of making enough money to pay off those debts. They certainly didn't enroll in those schools expecting that outcome.
    Deans and professors of law have dealt with this cataclysm and their role in it by sheer denial. They have run the trains to the financial extermination centers quite effectively.

    Some of those deans ought to be sued for fraud and ruined financially, just as a start. "First, sue all the law school deans."

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  30. 10:21, Please read LawProf's last post (the one right before this) and please write the ABA at the link he provides.

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  31. Dear 11:08--I did what you suggested. Thanks for the idea.

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  32. When was the last time the employment data was updated?

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