Friday, January 6, 2012

Hot topics

The annual Association of American Law Schools conference is in full swing in Washington DC today. The conference is a classic academic boondoggle, at which something in the neighborhood of a thousand law professors, in the words of Paul Horwitz, "gather together to sit in hotel lobbies, checking their Iphones and surreptitiously glancing at other people's conference badges.  They also occasionally, and mostly accidentally, attend panels."  (This is no doubt meant somewhat satirically, but it happens to also be a fairly precise description of the actual event. Academic conferences in general are prone to the sorts of petty corruption satirized so amusingly in David Lodge's novel Small World. The AALS annual meeting is especially prone to this sort of thing in that it really isn't an academic conference at all, but rather a "faculty development fund" fueled schmoozefest).

There was some discussion over at PrawfsBlawg of the potential unseemliness of hordes of law professors wining and dining at various receptions and gala luncheons, given the perilous economic condition of so many recent law graduates (I should emphasize that it's becoming increasingly clear that "recent" in this context has turned out to mean the last ten, fifteen, or even twenty years, rather than since 2008, as so many legal academics continue to imagine). Update: Apparently Dan Markel doesn't want to talk about this.  My own view is that symbolism counts, and that the unfortunate symbolism inherent in holding a four-day bacchanal of this type under present conditions is exacerbated by the AALS's reluctance to allow any formal discussion of a question which AALS Executive Director Susan Westerberg Prager seems to consider a marginal topic, i.e., (polite version) is American legal education currently based on a sustainable long-term business model that provides a reasonable return on investment to law graduates, or (less polite version) has law school become a rip-off?

Apparently this topic is so marginal that  there's little need to address it at any of the dozens of panels being held at AALS over the next few days:

Few sessions at the law school conference reflect this concern. In descriptions that run for pages, none mention student debt or employment outcomes. Only a very few address the changes in legal education, focusing instead on changes in the profession and long-term challenges for law schools (such as those related to alumni giving).

“It really makes you wonder how serious they are, how introspective they’re actually being,” said Kyle McEntee, the executive director of Law School Transparency, a new nonprofit group that urges law schools to release better figures on job placement and other student outcomes.

Those sessions that do focus on changing law schools seem to be “tinkering,” McEntee said. “The one critical question is how can we reduce the cost of educating lawyers.”
One one think. Nevertheless Prager had the chutzpah (when choosing legal administrators, measuring their capacity for chutzpah is as crucial as measuring a college cornerback's 40-yard dash time at the NFL draft combine) to claim that the whole "does what we're doing actually make any sense?" thing came up at the last minute, and nobody was ready to talk about it in a cogent way.

One reason for the disparity is that conferences are planned far in advance, with some sessions proposed almost a year before the faculty and administrators convene, said Susan Westerberg Prager, the association’s executive director. Many sessions also reflect faculty members’ interests in specific areas of law, such as tax or international law, rather than questions facing law schools as a whole.

Although the association does add sessions on “hot topics,” including sessions this year on Libya and the Occupy Wall Street protests, those are determined by which proposals are submitted, and there was not a strong proposal for a session on the legal education crisis, Prager said.
Here's the proposal Jim Milles spent a few weeks organizing back in October:
Beyond Transparency: The Crisis of Confidence in Legal Education

Law schools have long kept a comfortable distance from the concerns of the practicing bar. Earlier calls for reform such as the MacCrate Report (1992), the Carnegie Foundation’s Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Practice of Law (2007), and Stuckey et al, Best Practices for Legal Education (2007), have led to a greater emphasis on more practical training, at least in law school admissions brochures if not always in the curriculum. Increasing competition for rankings has also changed the dynamics of reputation with respect to academic study and practical training at some law schools. Fundamentally, however, most schools have seen little change in the curriculum and overall approach to delivery of instruction since the last century.
 Despite this, students have continued to flock to law schools, and more law schools have sought and received accreditation. Recently, however, a series of high-profile news reports, blogs, lawsuits by recent graduates, ABA disciplinary actions against law schools, and calls from Congress for stricter regulation have brought increased public attention to fundamental questions about the delivery of legal education in the U.S. What was once dismissed as the unfounded complaints of a minority of embittered law students is approaching a full-blown scandal. Issues such as the ABA’s capture by the law schools it is meant to accredit and regulate, the skyrocketing cost of a legal education in the face of what some argue is a long-term restructuring in the legal market and a permanent downturn in employment, and law schools’ failure to disclose meaningful and accurate information regarding employment prospects, are converging into a widespread sense of disillusionment and dissatisfaction with legal education.
While the perspectives and methods of the panelists vary, each has been a voice for reform within legal education. Some call for a strengthened regulatory hand; others call for deregulation of the legal profession or for voluntary collective action by law schools. All share a concern for the improvement of legal education and the profession. This panel will be an opportunity for a candid and highly interactive assessment of the situation and directions forward.

Confirmed list of panel members:
Professor Paul F. Campos (University of Colorado Law School) –
Professor Kim Diana Connolly (University at Buffalo Law School) –
Professor Jeffery L. Harrison (University of Florida Levin College of Law) –
Professor William D. Henderson (Indiana University, Maurer School of Law) –
Associate Professor Lucille Jewel (Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School) –
Professor Larry E. Ribstein (University of Illinois College of Law) –*
Professor Brian Tamanaha (Washington University School of Law) –
I'm given to understand this wasn't the only such proposal put forward.  In expressing his disappointment that no such proposal was approved, Paul Horwitz hastens to add that he isn't accusing the AALS of hidden motives or bad faith.  And I admit that it's possible Prager simply didn't think this was an important enough topic and/or an informed enough group of speakers to warrant a panel (in evaluating bureaucratic decision making, it's often difficult to distinguish actual corruption from sheer incompetence).  In the end, it doesn't really matter.

Yesterday, a guest blogger on Horwitz's blog tried to get a reaction out of him by titling a post "Paul Campos is Right," apparently on the theory that such an outrageous observation was guaranteed to elicit a response.  I realize the style of this blog gets under Horwitz's skin, but in the end I wonder if we really disagree on what, contra Prager, seems to be the question of the moment. That question could be phrased, Does it make sense for the average law student to incur the amount of debt the average law student must now incur ($100,000, at 7%-8% interest, non-dischargeable in bankruptcy; actually this is a conservative estimate, as current 1Ls will probably average more on the order of $125,000 in law school debt by the time they graduate), given the average law graduate's job prospects?

I'm genuinely curious how many of the people who will be milling around the buffet table with G&Ts in their hands this weekend would still say "yes, it does." I'm even more curious as to why they would. It would have been nice to discuss this in a formal quasi-academic setting today.
*RIP: I didn't know Ribstein personally, but I knew from his writing that he was one of the few legal academics currently engaged in a really serious way with the issues this blog is about. Indeed, the last thing he ever published, as far as I know, was a critique of the AALS's rejection of this panel.


  1. Quoting from the article, Ms. Westerberg Prager said the reason why Jim Milles conference was rejected was that it was "not strong."

    "Although the association does add sessions on “hot topics,” including sessions this year on Libya and the Occupy Wall Street protests, those are determined by which proposals are submitted, and there was not a strong proposal for a session on the legal education crisis, Prager said."


    Did she articulate to Mr. Milles why his proposal was "not strong?"

  2. "Does it make sense for the average law student to incur the amount of debt the average law student must now incur ($100,000, at 7%-8% interest, non-dischargeable in bankruptcy), given the average law graduate's job prospects?"

    Try more like a quarter of a million dollars at 7-8%, which is absurd given the fact that most students coming out of a tier 2 school are going to be earning closer to $30,000-50,000 per year, if they are lucky.

    Let the ostriches keep sticking their heads in the sand. With this kind of debt piling up on the government IBR rolls, it won't be long before the regulator shows up.

  3. How do you get $250,000 in borrowing costs?

  4. go to a poor CATHOLIC law school.
    study hard, run up bills, pass the bar.
    pull the Lord's Prayer clause, when the
    law school's collection agency tries to
    put you into debtor's prison. It may work.

  5. If any angry and indebted law students reading this blog are in D.C., and you feel like confronting some law professors in person and ruining their "happy hour" . . .

  6. "How do you get $250,000 in borrowing costs?"

    It's easy. You multiply the full-time, living on your own column by three. You also need to take into account the little asterick, which states that health insurance is not included but could be. Add in accrued interest and BAM!

  7. Yeah I guess it's true. 50k tuition + 20k living expenses = 70k = 210k over three years, add in interest and you'll get $225k or so. Close enough.

  8. 4 unemployed graduates pumped out of that sewer will add 1 million to the deficit. What a colossal waste of taxpayer resources!

  9. They literally will, because now the federal government is the one writing the checks. In the old days a bank wrote it and the feds guaranteed it, but now that money is coming right out of the deficit.

  10. The solution for graduates already raped by the scam is simple. Do not pay back your student loans. I dont even know the status of mine. Sallie Mae has no idea where I live or my updated contact info. Problem solved. I have my own law practice and I get paid strictly in cash. I do not file income tax returns.

    I am sure that Im not alone.

    You see, this "debt" is merely imaginary. Just a number in Sallie Mae's database somewhere. I wont let that ruin my life. Instead I stick my middle finger out at these instuitions.

  11. I like the cut of your jib 9:14.

  12. DO NOT TAKE 9:14's advice if you can go on deferments or IBR. They only require you to fill out a form. Takes 20 minutes.

  13. It's obvious that lawyers are widely despised in the United States. I suspect they got their odious reputation the old-fashioned way: They earned it. But, even if they didn't earn it, how can the debt-saddled law graduates win the support of the public for the sake of debt forgiveness when that public thinks the pauperized law graduates simply wanted to join a profession which the laymen think robs them every day?

  14. Debt forgiveness ain't happening, ever. Don't even waste your time asking for it. Maybe there can be prospective loan reform, but people who borrowed in the past ain't getting a free ride.

  15. According to the BLS, every professional and technical services category saw an increase in jobs in December EXCEPT LEGAL SERVICES. The legal services sector lost 1,800 jobs last month. We have just started a jobs recovery and the legal sector is losing jobs.

  16. I think something about the nature of the debt should be made clear.

    You can't reduce your interest rate by consolidating. This was possible up until about 5 years ago and folks may have memories of significantly reducing their overall debt burden this way. Not possible anymore. After the .25% reduction for enrolling in auto-debit, it's about 7.5%, fixed, forever.

  17. I'm wondering where Paul comes up with his cost for 3 years in law school. It has to be on average between 30,000-40,000 dollars per year, if you include living expenses. Maybe close to 50,000 on the high side. Do the math! I know my kid has close to $180,000 but that includes some undergrad and masters costs as well.

  18. 9:59: What do you mean by the cost of law school? The annual cash outlay for tuition and living expenses? That's going to be $55K to $70K a year at private schools this year, depending on tuition and cost of living. If you get resident tuition at a public school it could be more on the order of $30K-$40K (or not: the top public law schools now cost as much as the typical private or more).

    If you include opportunity cost the numbers go way up.

  19. 10:06 I agree with you! But Paul was quoting average debt of 100,000 and on the high side $125,000. I think it must be higher than that as you specify..

  20. Jesus 9:55 that's horrible. Do you have a link?

  21. 7.5% on 180K is 13K a year.

  22. 13K to keep from adding to principal (outside the de facto default of IBR). Math is a bitch.

  23. Folks, just don't pay the loans. Simple. Don't pay the loans like you wouldn't pay a credit card bill.

    It DOES happen you know. Sometimes, just SOMETIMES people are unable to pay their credit card bills. AKA unsecured debt. What do you think a student loan is? Do you think Sallie Mae is gonna come repo my worthless JD? Of course not.

    So I have decided NOT to pay my loans. I won't pay a dime. I am probably in default right now and Sallie Mae is beside herself trying to just LOCATE ME. She won't be able to because she's a dumb bitch.

    Meanwhile, I'm at my law office as we speak, about to score a client who will pay me 3k in COLD HARD CASH.

    Welcome to the underground economy. You forced me to do this law school scammers, and shitty government.

    Don't be surprised when I flick you off and play outside of the realm of the law.

    Welcome to the world of the law school scam.

    You wanna scam me? I'll scam you.

  24. AthiestATLLawyer,

    Your advice is nto really that revolutionary because today you can do it, perfectly legally, by simply filling out an IBR form and attacking your tax return.

    I haven't paid shit of my huge loan balance. I just swipe my EBT, I mean fill out my IBR.

  25. "According to the BLS, every professional and technical services category saw an increase in jobs in December EXCEPT LEGAL SERVICES. The legal services sector lost 1,800 jobs last month. We have just started a jobs recovery and the legal sector is losing jobs."

    As I understand, the December job gains were mostly in courier/shipping/messenger services.

  26. I swipe my EBT too.

    Living large on $100 a month in food stamps.


  28. AAL, How do you get foodstamps? It would help me financially to get $100 per month but I'm not sure if it's worth the hassle.

  29. BL1Y and other loan reform folks, If you want to go viral with your message YOU NEED TO DO A "SWIPE MY EBT" parody video called "FILL OUT MY IBR." That's a great opportunity to promote your website bro. Don't pass it up.

  30. It's very easy frankly. Each state has their own procedures. In Georgia you can fill out your application online and a social worker will call you and ask you a few questions.

    My questions were something like this, "'re a lawyer with your own law office?"

    "Uh huh...I make about $1100 a month after expenses"

    "Your EBT (food stamp card) will be mailed to you within 7 days."

    So now I have a cute little food stamp debit card that is refilled with 100 big balling dollars every month. I go to wal-mart and buy apples and stuff. This country is so AWESOME!

  31. They lyrics to that song would be so hilarious.

    I would start with some background, like top student in highschool, outstanding grades in college, good LSAT (even a 160 is in the top 20%) . . .

    law school . . .

    Unemployed, no money, "swiping that IBR"


    Come on people get on this. If you really want to get the message out you need to use comedy.

  32. Given the huge traffic I've gotten from simply calling William "Stupid Dick" Robinson a stupid dick, I'm just going to stick with calling that stupid dick a stupid dick.

    A video would be superfluous.

  33. When a federally guaranteed loan needed to be guaranteed, it was guaranteed by the federal government. Eliminating the role of private lenders as middlemen has been estimated to save money.
    Never mind, I am just being difficult. The fact that the federal government spends a lot of money on this is the main reason to care about this issue.

  34. The Federal government should not be in the business of lending money for schools, houses, or anything else. That's the purpose of banks. The only thing the Feds accomplish by their reckless spending is creating bubbles that harm the very people these Federal idiots were supposedly trying to help.

  35. Kind of off topic there. Have you tried the Ron Paul blog?

  36. 2:51 - it was the commercial banks with shoddy oversight of loans and the investment banks who drove the market up through CDOs and other investment vehicles that created the housing bubble. Fannie and Freddie, as badly as they were managed, were followers in the subprime market and not leaders. The % of their holdings of subprime loans were low as was their actual % of the entire market. It was right wing policies that created the mess but nice try.

    That being said the nature of student loans (non-dischargeability with an incredibly high ceiling on tuition) is the real culprit in all of this (all of higher ed, not just law schools).

  37. Another unemployed loser wanting to act like he's George Soros and Warren Buffet. Please shut the hell up and play high finance on your own time.

  38. "'s becoming increasingly clear that "recent" in this context has turned out to mean the last ten, fifteen, or even twenty years, rather than since 2008, as so many legal academics continue to imagine)."

    In the recession of the early '90s -- which continued to affect the legal job market well into the middle part of the decade -- there were a significant number of grads struggling to find legal employment. (IINM, some of the employment statistics on the legal market that have come out over the past few years have been accompanied by statements like "these numbers are the worst we've seen since 1995".) The only real question is whether you want to say, "Those people were victims of the early '90s recession; they aren't really part of the same trend as all of the people with the same problem from the late '90s on."

  39. @3:38, Ron Paul Boy here. You're a bit off the mark as I just cleared a million late last year (it's the hardest they say) according to Quicken, but I am exceptionally sympathetic to victims of the scam. Not everyone who comments on here is on IBR. Some of us have a sense of empathy, the current system is an outrage and the government subsidy of education will perpetuate that outrage until it doesn't.

  40. Oh yeah sure you did.

  41. Law prof, what's your take on the "JD preferred" argument? I'm one of those unfortunate souls that graduated and can't pass the bar. Not sure if it's a subconscious desire to fail or what, but I tried 3 times and no dice. That was enough. I work a stable 50k government job, and I can't decide if the JD has helped or hurt me in getting this job. BTW I was promoted to 50k, I graduated in 2006 and started in 2007 at 33k.

    For the sake of argument, what if Matasar is right? What if my law degree is likely to pay off over my 40-50 year career? Am I just being short sighted and "entitled?"

  42. The assumption that the AALS conference is not giving information on the crisis described in this blog is inaccurate. I've attended the conference for the last two days. This issues raised in this blog have been discussed in a number of different panels.
    I've heard speakers on multiple occasions state that the current model of funding legal education is unsustainable. The information on debt, job prospects, placement numbers fudging, and the other related questions are on the table. My colleagues and I may be thick, but we're not delusional.

    The willingness to discuss these issues is a contrast to the meeting last year. I thought the absence of any consideration in January 2011 of questions of tuition, or debt, or the effects of the recession, was shocking.

    It may be less than zero comfort that it has taken this long for members of the professorate to start thinking about how to become a part of the solution rather than the problem, but at least the thinking is starting.

    I've appreciated the work you have done, Professor Campos, and I'm sorry we didn't get to hear from you.

  43. thanks for the update 627

  44. 6:27,

    Were any suggestions made? If so, what were they?

    Do you sense that the professoriate is fearful of losing their jobs? Of law schools closing?

    If law professor jobs are cut, what is the procedure? Do younger profs automatically get cut first?

  45. IBR is the only thing saving law school deans from something like this

  46. @3:38 - i see words but no content.

  47. 6:27: That's good to hear. This is one of many signs that we may be approaching a tipping point.

    6:17: I'm not sure what argument of Matasar's you're referring to. The "JD preferred" category is quite problematic, both because of its inherent vagueness (as illustrated by your own uncertainty as to whether it really applies to your situation), and because there's a methodological flip side, which is the unmarked category of "JD not preferred," i.e., jobs that people could have gotten if they didn't have a JD.

  48. A simple but painful proposal for law schools - that accreditation standards be modified to require and average practice experience for law school professors of 10 years, with a target that this be achieved no later than 2020. I can see the scrambling start now - "how do we add 7-8 years experience in 7-8 years - either we need to hire a lot of profs with 20 years experience, or lose a lot with just 2-3 - oh, does that mean me...."

    Moreover, push USNWR to include average years of practice experience as a factor in their law school rankings (the college/postgrad rankings are not going to go away, they are USNWR sole source of revenue.) The best way would be to get competing rankings to include the same data.

  49. Take a look at the faculty directory at Cooley. They have a very high number of members with extensive practice experience . The model you want exists there.

  50. Further to my posting about requiring practice experience to be a law professor. I went to Georgetown and I am now, after struggling in the 90s, a reasonably successful international lawyer – earning somewhere around $300-500k a year, maybe more – I have to ask my accountant. I needed loans to go to law school, but for reasons that are complicated to explain (not need related) I did not qualify – so I worked my way through, clerking for firms and using summer associate pay ($1200 per week!) to cover my tuition and living expenses. Later I realized that I really caught a break when the loans were denied … but at the time, when my classmates were all driving new leased cars, going out to eat a lot, etc. I felt burned. I did notice the ease with which law students just borrowed money when the tuition was ‘jacked’ by 15% and 10% my second two years. I also noticed that when the invoice was leaked from administration for the flowers that Dean Judy Areen bought to decorate the place for a conference of law school deans – and the bill was about $14,000 – or then one year’s tuition, that I was more outraged than my classmates – but then I was working 80 hour weeks.

    In any event – a few things that struck me then. I had worked for 2 years before law school - and those of us who did lacked respect for the “straight throughs,” that is to say, those of our classmates who started law school immediately after college. As a lawyer – a partner and general counsel – I have continued to find that straight throughs tend to be poorer practitioners that people who has some seasoning and some work experience before going to law school – and that comes from working with a lot of lawyers – and managing a lot. Indeed, in countries where law is often an undergraduate course – say the UK and Ireland, we prefer to hire people who did not do a BL and go straight to training, but rather people with degrees in other subjects – science, engineering, econ.

    It was also noticeable that the most respected professors among students for their teaching, scholarship and general decency at Georgetown were people like Richard Allen Gordon (now dead) who spent over a decade as a JAG, Ken Feinberg (who was a disaster torts lawyers, managed the compensation for the 911 victims, etc.), Mike Gottesman who spent 27 years in a law firm, while the least respected were Peter the Prick (PE), Areen, who had essentially no legal practice experience and spend what little time they had before joining the academy in “policy” positions. Similarly, students battled to get into many of the adjuncts classes – because they were good – but did their best to dodge the Yalies on faculty.

    Law Schools needs a brutal shakeup. First, law schools benefit from the “accredited law school” requirement for bar passage – that is why students attend, so they need to stop being precious about being trade schools – they would fight “tooth and nail” any state dropping the three year law school requirement – fine – the quid-pro-quo is that they are professional schools, where respected professionals train professionals – which is why law professors should have 10 years plus of practice experience. Second, law is a profession – a vocation – not just a way to make money. I am sick to my teeth of dealing with cynical counsel bringing baseless nuisance cases, even if it helps me earn my income … and part of the guilt for that lies with the law schools desire to make money and not serve the profession. Law schools need to stop admitting people who are not suitable to be lawyers – and a key step is to require that all students have spent at least 2 years at work before going to law school.

  51. There are hordes of unhappy, semi-employed etc. lawyers with 20 years of experience who would kill to get a full time professor position. I know one who is trying to get into a true 4TT and they won't let him.

    In short, your solution would solve nothing.

  52. "Law schools need to stop admitting people who are not suitable to be lawyers – and a key step is to require that all students have spent at least 2 years at work before going to law school."

    This also wouldn't solve anything, unless the 2 years of work was done in legal work.

  53. It would help, certainly. Nothing will "solve" every problem, cover every contingency, give firm assurances of anything. Nothing in the world works that way.

  54. I for one don't want some law-weary failed attorney being my professor. I'd rather have someone who never tried to be a lawyer, than to have someone who tried and failed.

  55. To which my answer is:

    1. I never suggested that the sole criterion be 10 years of legal practice, but rather that legal practice experience should be the sine-qua-non of being a legal educator - where as right now it seems that real practice experience has become the "cum qua non" for the festival of intellectual masturbation that is the modern law faculty.

    2. I would regard it as highly desirable that a person applying to law school have worked in a law firm (a lot a paralegals I know changed their mind about law school while doing so) - but making it mandatory would mean that mostly lawyers' kids would get the relevant internship/paralegal job and hence access to the profession, while those without a family connection would be ruled out.

    Ten years plus would tend to show some commitment to the profession - most "failed" lawyers are gone by 3-6.

  56. Why do non-legal employers actively despise a law degree?

    It is conjectural, but I think the main reason is because the JD represents a bundle of elite expectations, but not actual legal skills. Professor Peter Bayer of UNLV said that "We are not producing plumbers and bookkeepers, we are producing the leaders of our Society whose primary ability is the strength of their intellects."

    Who wants to hire somebody with no skills, who thinks he or she ought to be a leader of society based on the strength of his or her intellect? I mean, that attitude screams asshole.

    Law school needs to adopt an apprenticeship/clinical model. After the first year's doctrine and writing courses, law school should basically consist of a structured series of clinics and externships, supervised by local practitioners, firms, and agencies, to teach students to try a case, write an appeal, and represent clients in several practice areas of the student's choice.

    Such students would actually graduate with the ability to practice law. Also, however, the JD would regain its luster even among non-legal employers. The JD would signify: this person is a trained lawyer. The JD would not signify, as it does now: this person can't do anything practical, but still thinks he or she should be rewarded.

  57. This is nice post which I was awaiting for such a long time. I have gained some useful information from this site. Thanks for sharing this information.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.