Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A disaster of technology

26 years ago this week, the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds into its launch, leading to the death a couple of minutes later of its crew, which included a civilian, elementary school teacher Christa McAuliffe.  The disaster was replayed endlessly on television, becoming for my generation something akin to what the assassination of President Kennedy was to the previous one, i.e., everyone can remember where they were when they heard the news etc.  (I was in the office of the magazine where I worked, reading the acceptance letter I had opened thirty seconds earlier from the law school I would attend that fall, when a co-worker so rudely interrupted my reverie).

The event was investigated by a government commission, which, in the manner of such things, did its best to whitewash a series of administrative miscalculations which led to the accident.   Unfortunately for those administrators, one of the commission's members was the famous physicist Richard Feynman, who threatened to resign if he was not allowed to add an appendix to the official report.  This appendix makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in risk assessment and management, and in particular their relation to the politics of bureaucratic decision making.

The Challenger broke apart in flight because one of the o-rings which sealed the joints in the solid rocket boosters failed.  This failure was quite predictable, not merely in retrospect, but indeed in prospect, as the engineers who designed the boosters were aware.  Several of them had made concerted efforts to get NASA administrators to address the issue, but had been ignored.  The engineers estimated that the odds of a catastrophic launch failure were about 1 in 100, while NASA administrators insisted that the odds were more on the order of 1 in 100,000.  Feynman:

What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask 'What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?'
 NASA officials argue that the [risk of failure] is much lower. They point out that since the Shuttle is a manned vehicle . . . "the probability of mission success is necessarily very close to 1.0." It is not very clear what this phrase means. Does it mean it is close to 1 or that it ought to be close to 1?
In other words, the historical reasoning  process of the people running NASA went something like this:  Early unmanned rocket launches had very high failure rates.  With the maturing of the technology the failure rate declined quite a bit.  Once it declined enough, the risks were considered tolerable for manned flight ("tolerable" in the context of the cold war space race that is).  It was still understood to be ultra-hazardous, hence astronauts had to be extraordinarily brave people.

But after a few dozen successful manned launches over the course of a couple of decades, the administrators managed to talk themselves into the belief that space flight was "safe," in much the same sense that commercial air travel is safe.  This belief was absurd, but they had to maintain it if they were going to engage in publicity stunts, crucial to continued program funding, such as putting an elementary school teacher in space.  So they essentially reasoned backwards: it would be irresponsible to do what they were doing unless the odds of disaster were very low; they were doing this; they were responsible people; therefore it followed that "the probability of mission success is necessarily very close to 1.0."

Feynman's conclusion is particularly interesting, given the subject matter of this blog.  He argues that, given practical limitations, the overall risk of failure for Shuttle flights was going to have to be roughly on the order of one per cent (in fact it ended up being 1.48% over the history of the program).

Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believed it to be true, demonstrating an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working engineers.
 In any event this has had very unfortunate consequences, the most serious of which is to encourage ordinary citizens to fly in such a dangerous machine, as if it had attained the safety of an ordinary airliner. The astronauts, like test pilots, should know their risks, and we honor them for their courage. Who can doubt that McAuliffe was equally a person of great courage, who was closer to an awareness of the true risk than NASA management would have us believe?
Feynman, in other words, is making an argument for transparency.  Space flight is ultra-hazardous, which means that, to make undertaking it morally acceptable, those who do so should know the risks, rather than being misled by administrators who on one psychological level know they are lying to their audience, while on another level they maintain a sincere belief in their own rhetoric (Feynman's argument is psychologically sophisticated, acknowledging as it does that human beings are perfectly capable of maintaining contradictory beliefs simultaneously).

Of course in a sense analogizing risk management in the context of space flight to risk management in the context of trying to become a lawyer is, it might be said, a somewhat strained analogy.  Astronauts are perhaps the ultimate examples of risk-seekers, while traditionally law students have been classic risk-avoiders (I'll go to law school instead of trying to write the Great American Novel etc.).    The biggest irony of our own particular technological disaster is that law school -- the purportedly "safe" bail-out option for many a liberal arts major -- has been transformed gradually over the last couple of decades into, in economic and social terms, an ultra-hazardous activity.

Meanwhile, law school administrators, when surveying their bloated kingdoms, continue to cite overall "employment" rates as evidence for the proposition that the probability of career success is "necessarily" very close to 1.0. In this context, Feynman's rhetorical question -- does this mean it is close to 1.0 or that it ought to be close to 1.0? -- is becoming increasingly easy to answer.


  1. "Feynman, in other words, is making an argument for transparency."

    And the media gave him a form transparency by showing that video of the exploding shuttle nonstop! If only the press gave such coverage to all the people who graduate law school indebted, unemployed and/or depressed.

  2. This is interesting:

    "The biggest irony of our own particular technological disaster is that law school -- the purportedly "safe" bail-out option for many a liberal arts major -- has been transformed gradually over the last couple of decades into, in economic and social terms, an ultra-hazardous activity."

    Could you argue that those who are truly risk adverse (and also aware of the risk) would actually tend to avoid law school these days?

  3. If only a law school could explode in midair, killing only its dean and career development office staff.

  4. What about those who own and operate test prep centers telling potential law students that they can use their "versatile" law degree, in order to get into the following five job sectors: journalism, real estate, nonprofit management, entrepreneurship, and the arts?!?!


    “After graduating from law school, you may think that practicing law is your only career option. However, some of today's law school grads, by choice or temporarily by necessity given the recovering legal market, are securing incredibly diverse careers outside of the law. The unique paths taken by these graduates reinforce the versatility of a law degree, which brings with it a plethora of marketable skills.

    Should you attend law school and decide at some point in your career that you want to do more than simply practice law, you may enjoy numerous opportunities across a wide variety of industries.”

  5. Actually, the person I referred to above does not own and operate test prep centers, but he is president of a test prep company known as Stratus Prep.

  6. We have lots if transparency now, and will continue to have more. The media focus on law schools has been intense and widely spread. College students talk about this on the Internet to an extent that students just a few years ago could not have. The problems in the legal profession are far from hidden.

  7. http://chronicle.com/blogs/headcount/claremont-mckenna-official-resigns-after-falsely-reporting-sat-scores/29556

  8. LawProf, do you have any stats about the popularity of this blog? Surely your readership has been steadily growing?

    Also, I took your advice and donated to Law Sch. Trans. Project, but I doubt that I am the only one. Any idea if they received an uptick in donations after you asked people to donate?

  9. "We have lots if transparency now, and will continue to have more. "

    No we do not. We have fringe blogs without any data giving vague warnings. Schools have solid (but completely fraudulent) NUMBERS.

    It's no contest in terms of credibility.

  10. Should you attend law school and decide at some point in your career that you want to do more than simply practice law, you may enjoy numerous opportunities across a wide variety of industries.”

    I don't know if this is ironic or apropos but after ~8 yrs tutoring for the LSAT I went to law school for exactly this reason. I'd been told (and been told to tell my students) this line over and over for years. When work started to get boring, I figured, "Fuck it, I need some sort of degree and the JD is so versatile, lemme go do that."

    Lo and behold when I finally start school and start talking to actual law students and new lawyers, turns out that it's every bit as much bullshit as the content being taught in the classrooms.

  11. It's called puffery my boy. Stop being a cad and buck up with your draw strings. Pip pip cheerio and all that rot. Toodle-doo.

  12. Interesting; before reading it, I thought this post was going to concern the role of technology in decreasing the need for certain traditional legal tasks. Instead, it's about risk and awareness of risk. I'll grant that the Legal Education Machine is pitiless and avaricious and either delusional or dishonest, but for some (many?) students, that machine may still offer the best possible bad deal.

    It's easy to say that no 26-year-old should be draped with $120k in debt and no job prospects, but the available alternatives may be worse. Law students aspire to intellectually-challenging, white-collar, indoor work with easy access to a computer and a telephone -- they want to get paid to talk, or to write, or to think. There aren't so many jobs available that promise such circumstances; throughout human history, very few such jobs have existed. Viewed in the long run, even an overly-expensive degree lacking in immediate practical utility may leave some debt-ridden law grads marginally better off than an un-degreed individual with the same desires and aptitudes.

    Many law grads would have been better off doing something other than going to law school, but that's not true for all, even for some of those unemployed and deeply in debt.

  13. So tired of this repetitive bullshit. I give up on this crap....you aren't going to do anything about the real problem are you? Just another clueless academic co-opting (poorly) an issue, 20 years too late, and hanging his hat on the wrong theory.

    But I get it now, you're writing a book. Can't wait not to read it.

  14. Many law grads would have been better off doing something other than going to law school, but that's not true for all, even for some of those unemployed and deeply in debt.

    Out of curiousity, have you ever personally had to live with crushing debt? Had to dodge calls from creditors? Explain shame-faced to your friends and family why collections agencies are calling *them* asking where you are? Had to park your car several blocks from the house and hope the repo man is lazy?

    Huge and unserviceable or only-maringally-serviceable debt is a life crushing fact. In a credit economy, carrying that kind of debt is absolutely debilitating. Until you live it, you have no idea.

    If I had it all to do over again I sure as fuck wouldn't make a disastrous $100k foray into grad school at the age of 20. I'd've been perfectly happy shelving books at Borders, "wasting" my undergrad philosophy degree.

  15. Eisenhower's fairwell address seems fitting.

    "Balance between the cost and hoped for advantages –balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration."

  16. "I give up on this crap"

    Probably the 20th time you've said you would go away and not come back. Please keep your promise.

  17. "you aren't going to do anything about the real problem are you?"

    I like how this asshole feels entitled to have LawProf do something for him, and repeatedly attacks LawProf for not doing so, while he does absolutely nothing himself. It certainly doesn't help the law school scam movement that your members are such ridiculous scoundrels!

  18. There is enough transparency for students to be able to decide whether it makes sense for them to go to law school. The overall problems in the profession have been broadcast on every medium. The problems with the numbers are out there,too. There are schools that report well. Anyone relying on stats should know what questions to ask. It is not just fringe blogs who have been talking about this. There is more information now than ever before. People will search out all kinds of things about the lives of celebrities and their favorite bands. If they are thinking of entering a profession, they should be aware of the conversations that are taking place in that profession-on this blog, in the MSM, and other places. I googled law school and employment and the first item that came up was a story about law schools cooking employment stats. The next several items were all on that theme. That would not likely have been true five years ago.

  19. That's true b)t the schools are busy with their own pr campaign and they still have the weapon of hard and precise numbers. numbers are very credible. A few vague articles here and there, mainly on fringe blogs, have no chance against the detailed and semingly rigorous (but fraudulent) numbers published by the schools.

  20. @7:13

    Thank you again for your donation. As for the status of our donations, we've received a few hundred dollars since our plea (and Paul's subsequent link and plea). However, based on our webstats, it looks like they were mostly from WSJ readers.

  21. @8:27 The articles are not vague, and the blogs are not all fringe. Anyone who is serious about going to law school today is now in the position to know what questions to ask any school they may want to attend. If they do not get satisfactory answers, they should not go.

  22. there's certainty enough warning to her you to ask questions of the school, as that um person did.

    but blogs and an article every three months isn't transparency, especially when most schools tell you to go f yourself when you ask them to publish honest numbers.

  23. It's easy to say that no 26-year-old should be draped with $120k in debt and no job prospects, but the available alternatives may be worse.

    This is completely wrong. There are TONS of opportunities for young (and older) people these days. You can write an ebook and give it away or sell it without a traditional publisher, and keep most of the reveunue (I can provide examples). You can start a website or web-based business and reach out to a particularly wide range of potential customers. You can join a startup community of entrepreneurs, either as a founder or as "hired help" as it were. All of these things are very low cost financially, you just need to want to learn and work at things. You can even pursue something you actually give a shit about and maybe make it work. Compare that to $100K+ debts and looking for nonexistent jobs.

    The idea of having a white collar job with an desk and phone equaling success is almost laughable. There's so much more these days for creative people.

  24. We will not agree on this. Statistics can alway mislead--even so-called good presentations. People considering law school should be proactive and dogged in gathering information. Talk to 2Ls at the school and see if they or their friends have summer employment. Look at employers' profiles to see how many graduates of the law school work there. Law schools should produce honest stats, but I still would not rely just on that.

  25. I'd be interested in knowing what sort of career paths are possible for people who start off as Starbucks baristas or Target sales clerks.

    Back when this blog was first started, I commented about my friend who started his career as a pizza delivery boy and now makes about as much as a first year biglaw associate working for Target.  His job has something to do with produce, he manages how and when Target stores buy produce.  I don't know much more than that, I just know that he's making a lot more than I am and his job is "white collar" by all accounts, although obviously not high-prestige (but who needs that?).

    He was a pizza delivery driver, and got promoted to assistant manager and then manager of his store.  Then he applied for a job as a Target manager and unlike BL1Y, he had a record of management experience, so Target hired him.  He then continued to apply to bigger and better jobs within Target and they continued to give him a chance and promote him.  His only education credential is a BA in political science from a state university.

    Maybe my friend is the exception, and not the rule, but I'd be interested to know.  People talk as if the shitty jobs law grads are now being forced to take are both low paying and dead-end, but are they?

    If it is true that there is opportunity out there for people who start their careers with shit jobs, then I think people need to stop saying that there are no alternatives for young people other than law school.  There are alternatives, they just aren't high-status and high-prestige.  And they don't come in the form of a pre-packaged career path.  They come in the form of a small crappy job that hopefully will lead to something better, even if you don't know in advance what form that something better will take. 

  26. One of the things I have learned over 20 odd years of legal practice is that a lot of people "cook the books" without consciously lying - hell it is something they used to teach in securities law courses. By that I mean that when data is potentially tricky to gather all the biases about statistical and data gathering come into play, driven by wishful thinking, particularly

    *confirmation bias,
    *belief perseverance (when beliefs persist even after objective evidence shows them to be wrong)
    *the irrational primacy effect (the first and easiest evidence encountered skews the interpretation of all subsequent evidence),
    * observer expectancy effect (the observer skewing the data gathering so that is supports what they want to find (slight of hand relies heavily on this) and
    *illusory superiority (we must be better than our peers in other law-schools.)

    Law schools should teach about these biases (Lynn Stout did, albeit not the full list) to explain why for example in accounting and (until recently) in securities law, or antitrust (before the Supremes went mad on the "rule of reason") we have black line strict criteria ... because some policemen don't think they are framing someone, they are just improving the evidence to get the guilty, CFO's don't think they are cooking the books, they are just "smoothing temporary discrepancies" and so on.

    Law school administrators are lying to themselves through these biases. They want to believe that the law school is doing a great job teaching kids - that they DO deserve their inflated paychecks, or even their jobs, ditto many law professors. They need to believe it too - because the hard reality is that there are too many qualified lawyers right now (though to be blunt, I would not trust 50-80% of the profession to wash my windows) and the profession not only cannot absorb 40-50,000 a year - it could do with a few years with zero entrants so that it could absorb those already graduated who still want to be lawyers.

    A real look at the numbers would lead to the conclusion that law schools will have to face several things over the next decade:

    (i) At least 50% and probably 75% of schools will have to close - since higher ranked schools typically have much larger class sizes, a 75% reduction is schools would maybe equate to a reduction of capacity by 1/2 at most.

    (ii) Schools like Georgetown with 5 1L sections (4 day, one evening) will probably have to cut 2 of the day sections and add one evening - ditto a bunch of others.

    (iii) Tuition will either have to fall in 2011 dollars - or stay flat for some 20 years or so against inflation. So tuition hikes like Stanford Laws 5.75% increase (as compared to Standford's overall 3.5%), or the long list of schools who in 2010-11 had real increases (more than inflation) such a Georgetown (1%), GW (2.2%), Cornell (3.18%), Duke (1.64%) etc. are going to have to get used to real falls in revenue.

    When that happens there will be blood on the floor - especially if the courses and hence faculty profiles are going to have to be revised to be more practice orientated. Because if that happens the law schools will have to hire more good and experienced practitioners as law professors (i.e., people with 15-25 years SUCCESSFUL experience under their belts) - and that won't come cheap ... and if tuition cannot rise, the budget will have to be found in administrative salaries and that of existing faculty.

    This is a precipice that law school administrators don't want to look over, because the only sensible thing to do is to act now ... and that is going to hurt. So they avoid knowing, they engage in observer biases and avoid objective ways of gathering the data - and they are going to be just as screwed as the graduating classes in a year or two.

  27. Regarding the present state of transparency: Yes, there have been multiple articles in reputable publications on legal education and cooking the books. Many of these articles are available online. There are plenty of websites and blogs, such at this one, dedicated to documenting the issue. Anyone can find this information via a simple web search.

    At best, these many sources of information contradictory to what the law schools continue to publish as fact act only as a counterpoint to what many law school continue to publish as fact. An aspiring 0L looking at the employment information provided by the school and contra evidence on a computer screen should notice the glaring discrepancies. Or, so we hope. An inquisitive 0L should think to ask more questions of the school. Hopefully. Maybe.

    The problem is that I seriously doubt accurate information will be provided, even when it is requested. The school I graduated from in May is unquestionably gaming the system. I know of one classmate who took a short term contract position (which has since ended) who is considered "employed." I just accepted, last week, a "graduate felloship" which now makes me likewise "employed." How can a 0L looking at matriculating into my alma mater possibly be aware of this reality?

  28. 3L at a t14 school. Soon after reading this post I received an email from my school asking current students to talk to prospective students. From the school's perspective, "candid" responses are enthusiastic and positive:

    "These panels are very informal opportunities for students who have come to visit UVA Law in person to ask questions and get information about student life and the law school in general. The idea is that they can ask questions and get candid responses from students, as there are no administrators who sit in on the panel. To participate requires no training, just a willingness to help out, enthusiasm for UVA, and an overall positive demeanor."

  29. we seriously blew it


  30. 9:54: Thanks for passing that along. Hopefully some of those prospective students will have noticed that two years ago UVA hired 11% of its own graduating class (no word yet on what the figure was last year).

  31. @9:22 - Great analysis. Admins will continue to kick the can down the road as long as possible, hoping that they can retire before the butcher gets his due.

  32. http://chronicle.com/blogs/headcount/claremont-mckenna-official-resigns-after-falsely-reporting-sat-scores/29556

    The president of Claremont McKenna while all this was going on was (and, for the moment, still is) the highly-ambitious Pamela Gann. Her previous job was as Dean of Duke Law School for ten years or so. There is, of course, no evidence that she had any inkling that her vice-president at Claremont had been cooking the books for six years, or that anything of the sort ever went on during her reign at Duke Law. Illinois is the only law school that has ever inflated its students' test scores.

  33. As for UVA, we will have to see what happens this year and the next. We were (are) in the middle of a serious recession/depression when those graduates were on the market. The country is not out of the woods yet. There is no question that the profession is transforming, but it does not make sense to suggest that employment stats in a depression are representative. We don't have to exaggerate or mislead in order to make the case that people should think seriously before they go to law school.

  34. 9:21: My cousin started off at a big chain toy store when he was 16. He worked his way up to assistant manager. Then he got an assistant manager position at big box department store, worked his way up to manager, and now works in a managerial position at a distribution center. He never attended a day of education after High School until his employer paid for him to go to the local state college. I don't know what is salary is but I know he's doing pretty damn well for himself- a middle class life from a lower-middle class background. Obviously not everyone who starts out working retail will get a managerial position- but at least you don't have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and waste years of your life to see if you can.

    I remember when I was in high school my mother told me I should go work at Target instead of college. I thought she was crazy. I thought she was even crazier when I got into a T6 law school. Now when I have over 100K in debt and still no job prospects, she might not have been so crazy after all.

  35. Yeah, @10:45

    But isn't it funny how employment stats take a severe beating during a recession, but tuition doesn't? In fact, not only does tuition not take a beating, it grows and grows.

    We were all told not to expect jobs during the recession and to adjust salary expectations considerably downward because "it was a recession." So we all did.

    But what's interesting is that tuition didn't reflect that "it was a recession." Tuition continued to grow.

    Interesting how that works, isn't it?

    As for employment stats in a depression not being representative, that's not your call to make. They are what they are, and no one should try to say they are temporary or not, because unless you have a magic crystal ball, you don't know either. Prospective students deserve to know the truth and decide for themselves whether the statistics are indicative of an overall trend or simply the result of a recession. And accurately reporting the statistics isn't exaggerating or misleading. It's stating the facts, without any interpretation (including your own) slanting them.

  36. 9:22 here

    The UVa e-mail is very interesting - panels to get law students to attend a T-14 school, packed with panelists who have "a willingness to help out, enthusiasm for UVA, and an overall positive demeanor."

    What this means is that UVa - a school that by the way does a pretty good placement job compared to say Georgetown, even though UVa is disadvantaged by its Charlottesville location is having problems with the "yield" from its offer base.

    Yield is a significant pending issue. UVa's median LSAT is 170, its median GPA is 3.86 - all at very selective colleges. Effectively 17 means that you are in the upper 2.6% - when I took the LSAT in 1989 it was scored differently, but I also took the GRE and scored in the 2% LSAT and 1% GRE bands. What this means is that T14 law school candidates are typically in the upper 5% to upper 1% of college graduates.

    In effect this means that at the T14 most of the 1Ls they would like to recruit are, even in this depressed economy, highly employable. Indeed, all things being equal they could expect to be in the upper 1-5% of the US income distribution even if they did not go to law school - in fact they might have a better chance of being there if they avoided law school altogether. The best T14 candidates are increasingly aware of the reality of legal employment - that a T14 JD does not guarantee a gilded career anymore, that the work is tough, the hours long and the tuition jaw-dropping.

    So you get the yield issue - how many of the LSAT 170 GPA 3.8+ kids want to go to law school at all - or are now thinking only HYS? How many UVa offers will be turned down. Sales panels like the one described in this e-mail lead me to think that a lot of T14 schools are already running into the yield issue.


  37. 11:25 again.

    By the way, 10:45:

    If you're right and the horrible employment prospects are only temporary then everyone can always return to law school. The law schools will always be there. (No, everyone, I don't think there's a chance in hell that 75% of the schools will close down. Sorry, that's just wishful thinking on your parts.)

    But if you're wrong, 10:45, and the poor employment prospects are more than just being the result of the current economic crisis, you're not on the hook for $125,000 for your error in thinking. (Actually it's $600-$700,000 for the error, when interest and penalties after being unable to pay are added.)
    It's the prospective students who will pay the extremely high price for your guess that such trends were only indicative of a recent recession. If law schools want to make tuition so damn high that people are now even questioning if it's a reasonable vs. ridiculous investment, don't blame others for exaggerating the facts or misleading as a reason for the lack of demand. If law schools had reasonable tuition, this wouldn't have been an issue. It's when someone is considering investing $100,000 and can't possibly attend law school w/out taking out massive student loans that employment prospects become so damn important.

  38. Who, but you, said anything about a magical crystal ball? All I said was that anyone considering the school should not look at one year's worth of data, particularly when anyone with half a brain would know that graduates would have greater problems getting a job in a depression. Look at a range of years. That will provide greater transparency and a more meaningful look. It is misleading to fixate on data from one year-- as it would be misleading to focus on one year of particularly great news.

  39. Hasn't it been the case now for YEARS that there have been two graduates for every one available legal job? This is not just a new problem. LawProf has documented it repeatedly on this blog. This is not just a result of the current recession.

  40. http://balkin.blogspot.com/2011/10/poor-employment-market-for-law-grads.html

  41. @11:25: I turned down a t14 for a good job, and I had multiple job offers.

  42. I too thought from the post title that it would be about the impact of technology on employment prospects. I'm not disappointed to find that it isn't, but wonder if LP might venture to put a post together on the topic.

    Anecdote is not the singular of data, obviously, but I think my laptop is probably more powerful and useful to me today than I was to the partners as a new AmLaw100 associate 21 years ago. Not just because of Lexis and Google, but ecf, high level word processing, communications capabilities that would allow me to conduct business virtually (or outsource research or doc review tasks if I wanted), and maybe a zillion more things I haven't thought of.

    (Yes, Lexis existed when I started -- but the only printer was in the library, it printed scrolls, the search capabilities were more limited, and the partners didn't know how to use it. No, as you all know, I can download cases to my laptop sitting in the passenger seat while my wife drives through the deserts of eastern Washington).

    The central questions still pertain: how can I get the other side to admit the facts I understand to be true; how can I get the witnesses to say what I want them to say; how can I get the judge to agree with my vision of the controlling law; and how can I get the client to pay for it all. But I need an awful lot less help with all this than my predecessors did, and, so far as I can see, the curve is not getting shallower.


  43. It's not a new problem, but I was talking specifically about UVA. Some top schools are already seeing that the prospects of their graduates are better than they were in in the past two years. Will it go back to the boom times when firms went on a hiring binge and hired too many people? No. Everyone knew they were hiring too many people, and that could not last. But many people from top schools will get jobs. And if people who can get into the schools want to try their hand, they should.

  44. Lawprof @ 11:45:

    I think the problems re employment go back even further than that graph, up to 15 years in some areas of the country. It seems as though lawyer overpopulation has always been an issue since the mid-1990s. The shitty economy has exposed this problem that has persisted for years. When you include data showing that the top schools are hurting as much as the lower schools as well as big firm layoffs, people really start to take notice.

  45. Something here looks familiar... :-P

    "Law schools sell law degrees, if law degrees aren't generally worth having that would make law schools bad, if you help them sell their law degrees that would make you bad, but you don't think you're a bad person, you generally like yourself, so it must be that a law degree is worth having."

  46. 11:36

    I do think that we could see a 75% fall in capacity - and weirdly the ABA accreditation standards could be a driving factor. If you look objectively at the problem the value of a JD for new graduates is falling, but it is not falling uniformly - JDs from second, third and fourth tier schools are falling more precipitously. Moreover, while T14 JD values are falling, they are falling in smaller numbers - while lower ranked schools seem to be falling largely together. Given that the poor prospects for law graduates from lower ranked schools is now broadly known in public prices for JDs will start to align with value - and thus in tier two, three and four, there will tuition falls (especially if there is any tightening in student loan rules.)

    However, ABA accreditation standards are a constraint on cost cutting in lower ranked law schools - and it is very hard to get tenured faculty anywhere to take a pay cut. The result is that the economics of law schools in the third and fourth tiers and a chunk of the the second tier are going to look really bad, probably relatively quickly. Under typical tenure rules there is only one way to lay off a tenured professor - shutter the department. That is quite likely what a lot of colleges will chose to do.

    As I have also pointed out - because T14 schools like Harvard, Georgetown, etc. have very large class sizes with 4+ 1L sections, they are bigger than most of the lower ranked schools - so that cutting the bottom 75% would eliminate a lot less than 75% of 1L places.

    As Professor Campos points out, there are jobs for less than 50% of new JDs - but even for those graduates only about 1/2 are seeing jobs paying more than they likely would have already been earning without spending 3 years in law school. Also, to be honest, no good law partner really wants to hire new JDs, especially at big paychecks - they would be willing to pay say $160,000 for a really talented kid with 3-4 years of practice, but want to pay $40-60k for a new grad and raise the pay in big lumps in years 2-5, a salary that actually reflects the employees value.

    A last comment ... does anyone remember the greedyassociates - I remember that bulletin board when I was 10 years into the profession - and I saw it, and the hubris the assholes who posted there as the first sign of the looming disaster.


  47. As Homer Simpson once said, "That can't be true, honey. If it were I'd be terrified!"

  48. Because I have been accused of writing long post, I will keep this short.

    I do risk management for a living. Awareness is the bare minimum you need. Its not, however, the prize of risk management. The goals of risk management are transferring risk (State pays for education), mitigating risk (making education avoidable), or avoiding risk (reducing the number of people whoa attend), and, if all else fails, crisis management (forgiving existing debt).

    Risk awareness- which relies rational actors- does not produce risk management by itself.


    Bruh Rabbit

  49. mitigating risk (making education avoidable) should say mitigating risk (making education affordable). If peo cannot avoid the risk, you to minimize its damage by reduce its impact.

    Bruh Rabbit

  50. damn more typos.

    If people cannot or will not avoid risk, you want to minimize damage by reducing the impact of the risk.

  51. Something that gets lost in the whole scam discussion that we law grads, or grad students of any kind is that we are a small subset of the population, considering that only 27% of people even have Bachelor's degrees. I would say that the vast majority of us are at least marginally better off than someone without a degree. I'm speaking from experience, I'm the first in my family to graduate any sort of college. I guess my point is that even if we have lots of debt, our kids will be better off because their parent's were more educated.

  52. No, your kids will not be better off:


    If you look at the long term economic indicators in the U.S. the above theory is happening as we speak.

    Capital does not have borders. Therefore, you children will not be well off. No more than the children of educated people in other countries are per se better off because of education.

    Bruh Rabbit

  53. By the way, I am first generation too. My family was dirt, dirt poor (as in "no in house plumbing" poor). I had no idea going into this what I was getting into when I started. For our children, the best thing that can happen is for education to be cheap.

  54. On the Challenger disaster, there is an excellent book by Columbia formerly Boston College Sociology Professor Diane Vaughn. The book was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. Vaughn's book published in the mid 90's is an insightful analysis of the organizational culture at NASA. One fascinating part of the book is Vaughn's concept of normalization of deviance. Normalization of deviance means that slight errors or anomalies are rationalized away. This happened at NASA with the problems with the o-rings.
    Normalization of deviance is also happening in the law school debate.

  55. Brad304: I agree, it's an interesting parallel and metaphor. For example the employment stats from five years ago (when everything was "good") can be analogized to post-mission inspections that found what should have been highly alarming degradation in critical components, but which were rationalized away instead of interpreted as signs of bigger problems to come.

  56. I misspelled her name. It is Diane Vaughan.

  57. I am in the second generation of my family that earned a college degree. That prior generation of winners (/snark) also obtained graduate degrees. I believed in the dream. It appears at times the waves crested with them, leaving that high water mark out of my reach. We'll see how it goes for my children's generation. As a side note, I don't think you can go back more than four generations on either side of my family for native born. They were all immigrants.

  58. Hi Prof. Campos:

    My TV news segment with my personal story etc. keeps getting bumped.

    Safe to say for now that nothing will appear this week.

    Will keep everyone posted.

    Law School Scam Hey? Whooo Hooo! Whooo Hoooo!

    Good times. Gooood times!

  59. Just made a donation to http://www.lawschooltransparency.com/

    Keep up the great work Prof Campos.

  60. keep us posted JDPG

  61. @11:25 this was long ago in the thread, but I offered no prediction about what is going to happen with employment. All I said was that using one year to determine whether it made sense to go to UVA made no sense. I distinctly said we are not out of the woods yet economically. And we cannot forget that there are, in fact, some people who want to go to law school for good reasons. Those people should weigh their options carefully.

  62. @7:13,

    11:25 here. I don't think anyone is using one year of info upon which to base a decision. They are looking at overall trends, where expectations of legal employment have declined for several years:


    As for those who want to go to law school for good reasons (I was one of them, wanted to do public interest law and serve low-income populations), just because the reason is wholesome, doesn't mean that he or she will have any better luck in the employment arena that those who are disappointed in not getting the big bucks. Lack of jobs affects everyone equally, regardless of one's motivation to attend law school. Given that those who want to go to law school for 'good reasons, (which tends to be defined as non-monetary reasons) still have to eat, drink, and pay law school tuition just like those who attend law school for monetary reasons, they are equally hurt by the lack of jobs.

    By the way, as someone who attended law school for a non-monetary reason, my motivation for attending law school didn't do anything to help me escape what most recent grads face. The only difference between me and the unemployed BigLaw associate is our motivation for attending law school: the situation we all face - impossibly high tuition that forces one to take out debt with no job prospects - is the same, regardless of whether one attends law school to serve the poor or hit the big bucks in BigLaw. Given that, I don't see how one's motivation and reason for attending law school changes the analysis.

  63. @11:25 I was responding to a comment about a year in which UVA had 11% of its graduates in school-sponsored fellowships after nine months (with no information about what happened to those people after the end of the fellowships). My only point, which got transformed by other comments, was that pointing to one tough year is as misleading as pointing to one good year.

    Of course everyone is affected in a recession/depression,regardless of their reasons for wanting to take up a profession.But I do think the person who wants to go law school for a good reason (which for me has nothing to do with whether they want to do public interest work or not), and has the chance to go to UVA, is in a different position than the person who wants to go and has the chance to go to a much lower ranked school. What school you go to matters and, I think, does change the way I view reasons and motivations. It changes how much energy I think should be expended second- guessing the decision (as we are doing here) to go law school.

  64. Campos, this is a great post. It's like you were born to write this blog. I hope one day you have the opportunity to testify on this subject in front of Congress. I also hope that the congresspeople are sentient and awake during your testimony.

  65. @1:46,

    I would be interested in knowing how you define 'good reason.' Would you mind defining it for me?

    And how does the reason one goes to law school affect one's ability to pay off law school tuition? Given that I know people from all backgrounds, first tier, fourth tier, public interest law and BigLaw who are not getting jobs and cannot afford the tuition because it has grown exponentially, I fail to understand how the reason affects one's ability to pay off loans when there are few jobs in all sectors of the law.

    To me, when tuition is so high that it is a given that people will have to borrow to attend law school and the ability to pay back that borrowed money is put into question, the only factor to consider in attending law school is one's financial circumstances. Bluntly put, can one pony up for the massive tuition and living costs for years on end or have family members/the school/any other source willing to do so, so that one is not dependent upon getting a job upon graduation to pay one's expenses? Unless the answer is a resounding yes, given the current market, law school is an extremely risky proposition and that statement is not based on data from one school (UVA) for one year - it's based on the reality that tuition is extremely expensive and overpriced at every law school and there are few jobs.

    If that is what you were referring to w/ regards to 'good reason,' then we're on the same page. If you were referring, however, to the rank of the school one gets accepted to as a 'good reason,' I strongly disagree. There are no guarantees in life and a good school name is no longer an indicator of a guarantee of employment. In my world, I watched the friend who graduated from U of M struggle w/ unemployment while two friends who graduated from Cooley ended up w/ jobs exactly one day after passing the bar. Given that no school guarantees its graduates employment, the best indicator isn't the name of the school - it's honest and clear statistics and woe to the individual who ignores them.

  66. This is from my law school (ranked between 60 and 60 on US news rankings) - a crappy place to be with professors (like most other law schools) having no clue on what real business needs today.

    I cannot believe that these people have NO shame... pay up now so that you don't have to pay for next 2 years....

    "From: "XX@XX.edu - School of Law - 2012 Student List"
    Subject: Kickoff of Third-Year Giving Program
    Date: Tue, January 31, 2012 2:47 pm
    To: XX@XX.edu


    On Wednesday, February 1st the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs will
    officially kickoff the Third-Year Giving Program. What is the Third-Year Giving
    Program you ask? It is an opportunity for students to leave their mark at Pitt Law
    before they graduate.

    We are asking all third-year students to consider making a pledge of $20.12 (a
    three-year pledge of $60.36) or more to a designation of their choose. Therefore,
    students have an opportunity to support their student organizations, Moot Court,
    LRAP, etc. after their days at XX Law are long gone. If you make a pledge to the
    Third-Year Giving Campaign, the Development and Alumni Office will not send you a
    pledge reminder until the spring of 2013! That's right, you don't have to make a
    payment until NEXT spring. It is not about the amount of money the Class of 2012
    raises, but the total number of students who participate. Please consider joining
    your fellow classmates and make your pledge TODAY!
    XX Law Class of 2012
    The Third-Year Giving Program
    The program will officially kickoff on Wednesday, February 1st - the 100 Days till
    Stop down to the Student Lounge and talk with one of your Third-Year Giving
    Committee members about why and how to make a pledge!
    The committee will have a table from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. on February 1st and 2nd in the
    Student Lounge
    Make your pledge ($20.12 during the next three years) to any Law School designation
    of your choice. Now is your time to make a difference.
    There are a few easy ways that you can make your pledge. First, visit our
    Third-Year Giving website for more information, to view a list of the committee
    members and to fill-out an online pledge form. Two, visit the second floor
    receptionist's desk to get a pledge card. Also at the receptionist's desk will be a
    "drop-off box".
    Feel free to drop-off your pledge card at any time.
    Three, ask a committee member - they will always carry extra pledge cards J! Or finally, call (XX) or email (XX@XX.edu) the Office of Development and Alumni
    Affairs and ask how you can get involved.

    *Incentives and Prizes for Third-Year Giving participants will be announced soon.
    Get excited and continue to check your email! Please add XX@XX.edu to your Junk Mail Filter's Approved Senders List.
    Instructions can be found here.

  67. 12:27 - Pitt Law = XX right -

    Gotta get better at redacting or you'll get sanctioned - that is the sort of protective order shit they don't teach at Pitt huh!

  68. " you'll get sanctioned "

    Sanctioned? For what? For posting an honest, true message sent out by Pitt themselves? The only ones who should be sanctioned are Pitt.

  69. 3:11

    12:27 here - I was being ironic. Since this was a broadcast e-mail, without the header and metadata Pitt will never work out who posted it.

    But since the poster did decide to "redact it" they might want to show the ability to do a competent job ... but then I remember Covington getting into trouble for a redaction that was undoable......

  70. Anon. 3.11 and Anon. 4.00 am:

    I am the student who put out the email. While the purpose was to redact email ids, I wanted some one to read, reflect and see which law school this was. To my pleasant surprise, both of you did notice the single 'Pitt' reference left in the email. Also, since this was a public email to all 3L students, with no confidentiality attached, I am not sure of what Pitt will loose by it coming or not coming in the web sphere.

    And yes, while I want the email lines to be in public domain, I deleted the header and footer because of the reason noted by one of you. Deleting this was better than redacting.

    Finally, while Pitt could put in efforts on working out who did it, I would hope that the they spend more efforts on the CSO's office for getting decent jobs and also bringing in better professors (who have a touch with reality). For God's sake, we attend multiple lectures on video - since one famous professor is out of the country OR at times another adjunct prof sends his Firm chap for a lecture and the chap has no clue or interest in completing the reading discussion for the day. In case any one is still not aware, we do pay a substantial $$ amount for every hour of the law school and are required to physically attend classes to complete the ABA Rules of 80% classroom presence - which interestingly do not apply on professors!

  71. There is so much about Feynman that is relevant to legal academics, particularly his intense hatred of unenlightened fakery and pompous rehtoric masquerading as legitimate knowledge. I highly recommend his book, "Curious Character" to any first year law student needing perspective in the middle of their indoctrination.


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