Thursday, November 17, 2011

More signs of progress

(1)  U.S News & World Report is going to do an extensive story, which will be published as part of its annual March rankings issue, primarily regarding the factors prospective law students should consider before deciding to go to law school. I did a long interview with the story's author yesterday, in which I tried to explain the various reasons why, in my view, a large number of the people currently considering law school should do something else instead, as well as what factors people who do end up going to law school should take into account when choosing which school to attend.

The major points I emphasized were that, leaving aside conspicuous consumers of higher education, nobody should go to law school with any intention other than to practice law, and that this intention needs to be based on some sort of genuine knowledge regarding what practicing law entails; that 0Ls need to understand what non-dischargeable debt is; that they need to do serious research regarding the actual employment situation of recent law grads; and that they need to do all this before actually applying to any schools and ideally before taking the LSAT, so that they can get some sense of under what conditions it might make sense for them to go to school X, Y, or Z before they know how likely it is that they'll be able to get into one or more of those schools.

I also gave my views on how much weight students should give to scholarship money versus prestige (a lot), how much attention they should pay to claims schools make regarding the extent to which they actually prepare its students to practice law (none), and under what circumstances it makes sense for a student to pay full tuition to go to a middling or low-ranked school (very few). 

Afterwards the reporter sent me this request:

For any recent graduates or current students who might be interested in speaking to me, I’d really love the perspective from folks on why they chose law school (Colorado or elsewhere), how their expectations have or haven’t been met in the process, what their career aspirations are (or were), and any advice they might be willing to share about the law school process.  Again, my target audience is more prospective but some current law students.  I’d love to be as specific as possible in talking with a student about his or her experience, but only to the extent that he or she feels comfortable. 
If you would like to speak to the reporter, send me an email via this site and I'll put you in contact with him.  Obviously USNWR has at present a great deal of power in regard to how prospective law students will view the decision whether or not to go to law school, and I think it's a positive sign that the publication intends to do an in-depth story, accompanying its rankings (that placement will guarantee that almost every prospective law student will see it), which figures to be something other than an advertisement for law schools. 

(2) Via Paul Caron comes the interesting news that USC has decided to suspend indefinitely the launch of its tax LLM program, which was originally slated to start in the fall of 2010, "because of declining job prospects for tax LL.M. graduates in the Los Angeles area. USC Dean Robert Rasmussen reports that the school will continue to monitor the employment situation and will begin the program when it is confident that the career prospects of its tax LL.M. graduates would match those of its J.D. graduates."

I don't know anything about the institutional politics that drove this decision, but I do know that, especially for high-ranked schools such as USC, LLM programs have proven to be extremely tempting moneymakers. (Even a small LLM program will generate several hundred thousand dollars of extra tuition revenue per year, at very little marginal cost to the school).

The decision certainly suggests that the faculty members who designed it developed serious reservations about the program over the course of the last two years, perhaps because the applicant pool was weaker than they anticipated, and/or simply because they decided, as per the dean's statement, that USC shouldn't offer this additional degree, given the state of the employment market. Given that tax LLMs from top schools are often cited as smart investments, relative to LLMs in general, or even when compared to the typical JD degree, this is an interesting development, and may be evidence (again, I know nothing about the specifics of this particular decision) that some law faculty are pushing back against the administrative hunger for ever-more tuition revenue, irrespective of the state of the job market.


  1. If they do this the right way prospective law students will have
    information to make the right decision for them.

  2. Did you discuss their role in driving up tuition costs? I'm genuinely curious to hear what they would think about eliminating some of the categories that drive costs while still maintaining the categories that students really care about (selectivity). They could do this relatively simple move, still keep their rankings, and undercut the arguments of the administrators that they are pressured to keep tuition high because of the big bad USNWR.

  3. Dear God, don't get an LLM. I got one from Harvard and it was a total waste. They took my $60k (for one year) and the degree hasn't help me at the least. I'm unemployed with no prospects. Between my wife and I we have $500k in student loans. I'm trying to raise 3 kids on my wife's income. The whole higher education enterprise is a moral crime.

  4. What law school did you go to before?

  5. (a) That is awesome about US news. I hope it isn't a puff piece.

    (b) Between my wife and I we have $500k in student loans.

    The individual debt-load will have a material impact on the consumer driven economy. Economic forecasting models do not fully incorporate the debt-load of consumers.

  6. So continuing on my post from yesterday - Professor Lessig of Harvard (not Stanford) was kind enough to answer my queries;

    "so yes, I agree, it probably was a mistake for you to go to law school, and no, I don't know anything about any coverups about employment statistics by second tier law schools, and no, I don't think salaries are the product of a conspiracy (unless you think markets are a conspiracy), and no, again, I'm not going to make it my cause to take on this non-conspiracy. why? because even if you were right, there are still more important issues to fix first. seriously."

    My answer:

    "so yes, I agree, it probably was a mistake for you to go to law school"

    Because I complain that you profit off of non-dischargeable govt backed financing of penniless students? I think the "mistake" lies someplace else...but very amusing response. And predictable.

    "I don't know anything about any coverups about employment statistics by second tier law schools"

    First tier too. Google it, I'm not doing your job for you. A Harvard law professor should be expected to know whats going on in his own industry. Unless he doesn't want to see it.

    "I don't think salaries are the product of a conspiracy"

    Who said that? I expected more from a Harvard law professor.
    (unless you think markets are a conspiracy)
    Govt backed non-dischargeable financing is is market driven?? Please tell me more...

    "I'm not going to make it my cause to take on this n̶o̶n̶-̶c̶o̶n̶s̶p̶i̶r̶a̶c̶y̶ non-market driven debt that benefits myself at the cost of young students."

    FTFY. Color me surprised.

    "because even if you were right, there are still more important issues to fix first. seriously."

    If I was holding myself up as some sort of bastion of liberty and freedom and equality, or whatever, the first thing I'd do is make sure my hands were clean and the people I benefit off of directly aren't taken advantage of. Its called hypocrisy.
    And yes, you can do both. Its not tough to speak up at your little faculty meetings where you decide how to split up the booty.

    Whole thing here:

    Kindly let this clueless academic know a little bit about what he's clearly trying to avoid by adding to the comments.

  7. Progress? US News is a joke. Its rankings are based on whatever lying figures the law schools put out. For example, last year US News said that Hofstra had a better student faculty ratio than St. Johns. However St. Johns had about 150 students fewer than Hofstra and St Johns has a slightly larger faculty. This lie by Hofstra affected the overall ranking and the chances of us at St. Johns to get jobs.

  8. at 8:29 AM: I don't think so. There is the top six and everybody else. Outside the top six law schools, it largely does not matter if a school is ranked 25th or 75th, 150th, etc....

    If you are confused about the top six schools and you think US News rankings are a lie (which they are), ask a non-lawyer about the top six schools. I can almost guarantee that the answer they give is more important that any US News ranking. Remember, the other schools ranked by US News outside the top six are only ranked by the magazine to do one thing....sell magazines.

  9. @LawProf: What email should I use to contact you? I'd like to talk to this reporter (I'm a 1L, am realizing that I don't want to be a lawyer, and may not be in school as early as January).

  10. Go to View My Complete Profile and click on the email link there.

  11. I'm a 3L who'd be happy to talk to this reporter. Feel free to give him this address:

    BryLV426 (at) yahoo

  12. I think the attack on Lessig in the reddit thread is counter productive.  I suppose it might be reaching an audience who could benefit from hearing it, but the tone and the use of all capital letters makes the author look like a nut.
    Not only that, but I really do think Harvard professors get a pass on this.  If anybody is selling something worth buying, its them.  If any school is not fudging their numbers, its Harvard.  I would not say the same thing for the Stanford Dean actively campaigning against the scamblogs, but Lessig doesn't seem to be doing that.

  13. Not an attack. All faculty not addressing the largest issue involving law schools are complicit. He benefits from government guaranteed non-dischargeable debt while calling himself a libertarian. And why should he profit off of students in a false market? Just cuz?

    All these profs need to be harangued and made to feel uncomfortable everywhere they go until things change. They fully deserve it and otherwise it will be ignored. But hey, you keep hoping things just change.

    Im slowly starting to agree with steroid boy....

  14. "...will begin the program when it is confident that the career prospects of its tax LL.M. graduates would match those of its J.D. graduates."

    So what's keeping them from starting the program?

  15. 8:29 what planet do you live on? It may not matter to you where a laws school is ranked, but it sure matters to the law schools. US News rankings are what drives the whole thing. Deans will cheat and lie to go from 67 to 64.

  16. very honorable move by USC that nyu can learn from. NYU's abuse of the llm program is Cooley-esque in its opportunism. They let 500 (yes 500) llm students in each year all of whom end up no better off than when they completed their jd.

  17. 9:55:

    Deans will cheat to move up three spots because they live in an academic bubble-world...but employer's don't really care. Do you really think that St. John's moving up or down in relation to Hofstra really matters in the eyes of Skaden, Latham, or even small firms and/or solos?!?!?!? only matters to Deans who run these shit holes.

    Ever notice how, when looking at the US News' lies, the job stats, tuition cost, and LSAT scores are comparable amongst various groups of law schools? In other words ten schools will have similar stats, then another ten (slightly lower but comparable), then another ten. The schools give prospective law students (mouth breathing loan signers) the false impression that a few spots on the ranking system matter. They don't. I remember my law school moved from the fourth tier to the first tier in a few years. Did the big firms come running before or after the move?!?!?! No....why? school was still outside the top six. However....that did not stop them from jacking up tuition and advertising the shit out of the upward mobility of the school.

    This shit matters only to Deans so they can justify higher tuition costs. What REALLY matters to employers are those schools in the tops six. The big firms higher from there. Who gives a shit about some school in the third tier fudging LSAT scores or some other crap. Everyone knows it goes on but it does not matter to employers. Better to do mediocre work at Yale than graduate tops in your class at good old TJ. Just ask Alaburda.

    Open your eyes, the game is rigged.

    PS: I didn't even know Hofstra had a law school until my second year!!!!!

  18. 10:13: The reason deans care is because of the prestige obsessed students. Students are driven to go to the highest ranked schools for many reasons, including better job prospects, more accomplished and intelligent classmates, or even more attaboys from family, friends, and acquaintances. Deans know that higher ranked = higher LSAT/GPA profile of the entering class = higher rankings.

  19. 10:28 AM

    Agreed. I am AGREEING with you. It is the employers that don't care (again, outside the top six). The Deans give the impression to prospective students and the students care because they don't know any better. Why???? You guessed it: so the students are more willing to pay for it.

    Let me finish it for you:

    "Deans know that higher ranked = higher LSAT/GPA profile of the entering class = higher rankings."=justification in charging higher tuition.

  20. It does matter that lower ranked schools like Hofstra are fudging the figures because law students are using those figures to choose what law school to go to. They are spending money and wasting time that could be used productively on lies. Student faculty ratio is important because it indicates class size.

  21. We focus on school cheating with their employment stats, and to some degree about their misrep of incoming class LSAT scores.

    What about student faculty ratios? Those numbers are about as misleading as employment stats. My school has 1:10, but in realty 4/5 of my 2L classes have 70+ people.

  22. Fudging the figures to move up a few spots??? Don't think so. This act just gives the impression of prestige. The TRUE problem is the fudging of employment stats by the schools, not the fudging of other numbers to move up the rankings. When a low ranked shithole is hovering at 80-90% employment, they are attempting to justify their tuition based upon a set of lies. This is the fundamental problem. Nobody gives a shit about rankings, LSATS, library size, etc. In the end, it is job placement rates as they compare to tuition cost. The rankings (again outside the top six) are just window dressing to give the consumer the impression that rankings matter. This is why people outside the top six are struggling to get jobs. I have even read that it is hard(er) to get jobs within the top six....just not that hard.

    Think I am wrong? How do you think the cost of the shittiest ranked schools are roughly comparable with the best schools regardless of whether it is ranked 25th or 155th? Phony job placement rates justify the increases-coupled with phony salary information. Easy credit seals the deal.

  23. I haven't been keeping up with this blog lately, but read it a lot for the first 6-8 weeks. Am so glad to see not only that LawProf has kept this going, but that it is getting a wider audience via interviews, etc. Bravo, and thank you, LawProf. I post the item below realizing it's not directly related to law school issues, but b/c student debt in general seems to be getting a lot more attention in the media recently.

    So, if anyone wants to participate in this live chat:

    The New Yorker
    Why has student debt gotten so out of control? Join James Surowiecki for a live chat today at 3PM ET, or leave a question for him here:

    Ask the Author: Ask the Author Live: James Surowiecki on the Cost of College
    This week in the magazine, James Surowiecki writes about college tuition, student-loan debt, and unemployment. On Thursday, November 17th, at 3 P.M. E.T., Surowiecki will answer readers’ questions in a live chat.

  24. Reading Surowiecki's live discussion. What an incredible load of crapola. Just the same shallow pap form an academic who spews the same BS. He doesn't even have a grasp of the main issues. So disappointing.

  25. The employment figures may be the most important, but the rest of the figures are important, too. Its all part of the scam.

  26. Educational Conspiraacy

    Long but VERY interesting and relevant

  27. Was driving in my car and heard my law school advertising on the radio:

    The ad said that there are 135 "practice ready" lawyers from the school ready to work. Had to pull over to stop from laughing. Never heard them on the radio before. I guess they must be having trouble getting idiots in the door.

  28. "very honorable move by USC that nyu can learn from. NYU's abuse of the llm program is Cooley-esque in its opportunism. They let 500 (yes 500) llm students in each year all of whom end up no better off than when they completed their jd."

    I'm going to offer a mild defense of NYU's LLM programs. Many of these students are foreign and are paying for the privilege of taking the bar exam. Some will get foreign associate jobs in the US through family and work connections, others will have enhanced marketability with US law license. Most, however, will just go back home without tens of thousands of dollars.

    I was able to benefit tremendously from my NYU LLM, but am definitely an exception. NYU opened doors sealed shut by my Tier 1 JD, such as jobs posted exclusively on their web site. I did feel like a second class student from the administration and faculty, but the LLM paid off for me. I would not recommend it as a safe bet, but with hard work & luck an NYU LLM can greatly enhance the employment prosects unimpressive JD.

  29. I was barely with you until the line about the good jobs on nyu's job board. That's a load of crap as bl1y can verify. post the good jobs you claim exist on there.

    NYU's 500 student LLM program rivals only Cooley in opportunism.

  30. All I can say is that the job I got was posted at NYU and a few others. I would not even know it existed if I did not have access. Maybe not worth the LLM tuition, but worth more than my Tier 1 JD.

    Is there an abundance of available law jobs posted at NYU or any school for that matter? Of course not. But some firms post selectively to minimize the deluge of applications. This I can attest to.

  31. 4:05 The documentary is good until they start blaming the students. And they never suggest price controls- they just assume if the government gets out of the market tuition will go down.

  32. 7:32 how would you know where else the job was posted?

  33. Because the firm that hired me told me and I didn't see the posting on all the public boards I scoured.

    I supposed I was lied to and missed it on lawcrossing, etc. But why is it so hard to believe that there is a single success story attributed to the NYU LLM program?

    I believe the scamblogs but am turned off by the steadfast refusal to acknowledge that some people can still make a decent living going to law school.

    Yes the odds are stacked, school teaches nothing of value to practice, tuition is a joke, etc. I'm not saying my story justifies the program (the Cooley athlete analogy). But in my case, it worked out.

    Lawprof has moved on and so will I. I wanted to give some credit to NYU is because it did much more for me than my tier 1 JD.

  34. No one disagreed that you were a success story out of NYU's LLM program. The quibble was with your statement that there are (excluding the rare exception), good jobs on NYU's job board.

  35. I'm pretty sure the USNWR article will come off in support of law schools and the status quo, they always have, they will probably use those way too high NALP figures that are begrudgingly lowered in every new article in which that organization is quoted week after week.


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