Saturday, December 1, 2012


I'm a law scholar, and I'm ashamed--ashamed of analyses like the one Lawrence Mitchell published this week in the New York Times. When will legal scholars learn that it is embarrassing to misrepresent facts about our own industry?

LawProf and so many others have already described the wild misstatements in Mitchell's op-ed. He quotes a government estimate that lawyer jobs will grow "about as fast as the average for all occupations," without mentioning the source's next sentence: "Competition for jobs should continue to be strong because more students are graduating from law school each year than there are jobs available." Mitchell similarly ignores the bimodal distribution of JD salaries; the rapid increase of part-time and temporary work; the growth of nonpartnership tracks in law firms; the role of technology in eliminating legal jobs; the impact of outsourcing on those jobs; and increased competition from foreign lawyers.

These are critical trends that serious scholars are addressing. They won't disappear when the economy improves or the Boomers retire. Nor can today's grads take much comfort from the fact that the average wage for salaried lawyers who graduated over the last 50 years is currently $130,490. Ten percent of those same lawyers are earning $54,120 or less--which throws some cold water on the suggestion that everyone will make a lot of money if they just stay in the workforce long enough.

Scholars let the data speak, they don't twist the numbers for their own purposes. Scholars look for patterns and trends, they probe for causes and explanations. Our profession has a long history of stratification; Heinz and Laumann's pathbreaking study of Chicago Lawyers demonstrated that fact thirty years ago. Their 2005 update, Urban Lawyers, concluded that "social stratification of the bar [had] increased," and "[t]he gulf between the wealthiest lawyers and the less fortunate [had] widened considerably" since the original study. Pp. 315, 317. In a profession this stratified, it is folly to speak of average outcomes or to chastise students for being "shortsighted" when they decide to avoid the gamble.

It is equally foolish to neglect the dramatic changes that technology, unbundling of legal services, and global competition are having on our profession. These trends are affecting almost every workplace; it would be odd if they didn't affect job prospects for law school graduates. Scholars approach new developments with open-minded inquiry; they don't reflexively assert the status quo.

Law schools and the legal profession are facing a crisis. The crisis didn't stem from journalists, "sensationalist law professors," or bloggers. The crisis comes from tectonic market shifts--and from a dogged refusal by many law faculty to acknowledge those changes.

I started writing about the legal economy because I saw deep problems for both our graduates and our schools. I want to understand those problems and fix them. As I explore those issues, I'm frustrated by academics who rhapsodize about the "leadership and creative problem solving" we teach in law school, without giving any indication that they have studied the cognitive science literature on how one actually teaches those skills. I'm even more frustrated by a scholar who announces that "[m]ore opportunity will open to women and minorities," without discussing candidly the losses those groups are actually suffering.

As a scholar, I want thoughtful answers to questions about the legal job market; I won't settle for defensive vehemence. As an institutional realist, I insist on answers; today's students won't invest three years and more than $100,000 in response to vague promises that law school will "give them the skills to find rich and rewarding lives in business, politics, government, finance, the nonprofit sector, the arts, education and more." And as a person, I especially want those answers: I care about the people who trust us with their futures.

Update: Thoughtful responses to Mitchell continue to appear across the internet. I want to add this one, because it is written by a law dean in a forum that 0Ls and current students visit. Kudos to Nancy Rapoport for speaking on this.


  1. This is what most 0L / LSAT applicants see.

  2. I so agree w/DJM:

    1. Could you please speak frankly to the state of affairs at the law school of the U of Nevada? Students there spend around $150k for a decidedly poor chance at a decent outcome in the legal profession.

    2. @ 10:43 - I am not Rapoport, but UNLV does significantly better than average (about 20% better than Mitchell's CW) and does so at much less than CW's COA (like, 100K less than Larry's joint).

      That's not to say it's among the best, though - say about #35 in terms of employment using LST's "employment score" as the index.

    3. And, actually, anyone who wants to ask our deans or directors at Boyd Law about placement need only make an appointment with one of them (including me). Personally, I prefer face-to-face contact to anonymous comments.

  3. Mitchell is a reprehensible and contemptible snake-oil tout. He should be fired—at least.

  4. I think it was Mary McCarthy who said of Lillian Hellman: "Every word she ever wrote was a lie, including 'and' and 'the'." Pretty much sums up the Mitchell op ed.


    1. Hellman sued over that McCarthyite statement. (She died before the suit was over.)

  5. DJM - If you're concerned that scholars shouldn't be misleading, how about ignoring IBR and PAYE in your analysis of the risk/benefits in law school? Did you note Tamanahan just conceded that the revised Obama plans provide substantial financial protections to folks going to law school?

    "Schrag makes a convincing case. The recently implemented version of IBR is far more generous than the formula in place when I wrote the book."

    And for those about to slam me on this - don't direct your comments to me. Direct them to Tamanaha who just conceded half the debate.

    1. I've already written about IBR, including the proposed (now almost available) PAYE program. See, for example, my October 6 post. But don't worry, I'll be happy to write plenty more.

      Meanwhile, you seem to suffer from Mitchell syndrome--quoting one sentence from Tamanaha and ignoring the rest of his thoughtful post. I'd be careful about that. This isn't a "debate" to be won or lost by quoting a sentence out of context. These are real lives and futures we're talking about.

    2. I'm not one of those that believe IBR dooms a user for a failed financial user. I'm on it and it's saving my ass. And I understand all the credit implications. I've already bought a new car and had a mortgage (subsequently sold the house) while on IBR. However, I will say that to use IBR as an excuse for the current market abuses law schools are engaging in is disgusting. You shouldn't socialize the costs so that law professors and administrators can continue to be compensated at a level at least 2 to 3 times their value (and sometimes 8 to 10). And those losses also shouldn't be paid for by the taxpayer to continue such niceties that the law school atmosphere provides when there are so many more obvious needs that public dollars should be used towards. The defense of the status quo by any serious person is pathetic.

    3. *future instead of the second "user". My mistake.

    4. How much do you owe ? How much was your house?

      I don't see how anyone could be allowed to take on another couple of hundred grand of debt while they are on IBR.

  6. And here's the cite to Tamanaha

  7. 11th!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. @11:14 am - complete and utter readcomp fail. Go back and reread BT's article. Look up any big words you have trouble with.

  9. Millions of people will read Mitchell's piece in the Times. The audience here is thousands and you're preaching to the converted. If you want to counter Mitchell, you need to write an op ed or a letter to the editor of the Times. Coming from a law professor, such a letter or op ed would have real credibility. The other thing that would be helpful would be letters to the editor of the Times from recent grads of Case Western.

  10. It is simply not true today that a law degree gives one access to careers in other areas. We have a very competitive job market where non-legal employers with skilled job openings generally will not hire lawyers. Law school deans who say that the law degree from their school is an entrée to good non-legal jobs are stretching the truth in a highly misleading way.
    For every human resources or compliance job opening, there are many lawyer applicants in addition to the fully qualified applicants who are either recent college grads or have the exact experience the employer is seeking. I have tried to move to these areas with a law degree and relevant experience. It does not work. If the employer is seeking a JD or an MBA or a CPA and so forth (an accounting firm might work this way), there is a chance, but a job like this is infrequent and pays at the level of a recent college grad. If the employer wants someone with compliance or human resources experience, or a paralegal for that matter, a lawyer is wasting his or her time applying. If the lawyer keeps it up and submits hundreds of applications, as I have for compliance and human resources jobs, the result will be no interviews.
    The only time a legal job is useful for doing something that is not a legal job is in starting one's own business. For any business unrelated to law, the legal skills will be a sideline, and will not confer the necessary skills to make the business succeed. Problem is that most people do not go to law school to start a business. They are in law school because they do not have the inborn acumen in the business sector to start a business.
    The law degree will be useful if you are going into politics. Most lawyers are not going to go into politics.
    For most lawyers who cannot get legal jobs, the law degree is a very expensive mistake and a life-robbing dead end that has a high probability of resulting in unemployment. People need to consider unemployment in terms of a 40 year career. The likelihood of a law graduate being unemployed at some point in his or her 40 year career, and for a long time, is very high – more likely than not. The other fictional jobs that someone with a law degree can get are not going to take up the slack.

  11. Tamanaha conceded that the changes in the IBR and PAYE formulas after he wrote his book must be accounted for and that Schrag does account for them.

    Tamanaha continued to argue that foisting an ever increasing cost on tax payers and on law students (with an assumption that they will suffer debt loads for decades even though they can't get real legal jobs) is crazy. Tamanaha also points out that there is no reason to do all that unless our over riding goal is to maintain an overpaid and cushy life for tenured professors. Schrag is Exhibit A.

    To recap: Schrag is right on a narrow technical issue and is dead wrong on the big issues.

  12. Just wanted to point out the timing of the Op-Ed:
    The week before the December LSAT was given.
    I don't think that was a coincidence.
    He was trying to reassure and encourage 0LS taking the exam. The number of LSAT takers has been dropping drastically. You can't apply without an LSAT. So get the 0LS before the test so they go ahead with the exam.

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