Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why should $50,000 per year law school tuition be enabled by taxpayer subsidies?

This is the real question that legal academic defenders of IBR, such as Philip Schrag and Lisa Lerman, need to answer.  It's no real answer to respond, as Schrag does to Brian Tamanaha's criticisms, that lots of goods and services in our economy are subsidized by public money in one way or another. So what?  I don't suppose Schrag (a self-described "conservative") would consider that observation an adequate defense for farm subsidies to Archer Daniels Midland, or tax breaks which encourage people to buy more giant SUVs than they otherwise would, or which enable building bridges to nowhere.  So why should IBR function as a massive taxpayer subsidy to law school budgets, which it certainly will if it begins to "solve" the problem of skyrocketing law school costs in the way Schrag envisions it will?

I have difficulty imagining what the answer to that question might be. Is legal education somehow a public good, i.e., something that will be under-supplied by an unsubsidized market? Under current conditions, which of course the availability of IBR has not even begun to affect (no one ever enrolled in law school prior to 2009 because of IBR) this seems like a remarkably implausible claim.  The United States has a massive oversupply of people with law degrees, if we define the correct supply as roughly equivalent to a number not much larger than the number of people who can make a living via the practice of law.

Now Schrag et, al. might reply that there is actually an under-supply of lawyers in America, given that a huge amount of the potential demand for legal services among middle class and poor people goes unmet.  But this is a demand-side problem: it has nothing at all to do with how many people have law degrees, and everything to do with the fact that the large majority of Americans don't have enough discretionary income to pay for more that the most occasional and basic legal services, if that.

And before you get to that, the cost of legal education has almost nothing to do with the ability of poor and middle class people to pay for legal services.  Whether a lawyer has a lot of educational debt, or a little, or none, has no relevance to what that lawyer can charge successfully for legal services.  There are hundreds of thousands of people with law degrees who have little or no educational debt, and as a group they don't charge any less for their legal services than more recent, heavily indebted graduates. Why would they? The last thing a client cares about is how much debt his or her potential lawyer is carrying, any more than a potential patron of a restaurant cares whether the establishment's owner is heavily leveraged when the customer considers the prices on the menu.

In other words, if you want to make legal services more affordable for people without money, give those people money for legal services.  Giving money to law schools makes being a law professor "more affordable" (otherwise we might not forgo those BigLaw partnership offers). It does nothing to lower the price of legal services.

A second defense of even greater subsidization for law school budgets is that it makes law school "accessible" to people who otherwise wouldn't go.  It's true that the combination of unlimited federal loan money and IBR leads people who otherwise wouldn't go to law school because of immediate economic constraints to go.  I think on net this is a bad thing for such people as a group, for reasons I'll lay out in another post.  Here I'll just note that people who defend IBR on this basis need to explain why it wouldn't be both far more efficient and just for law schools to stop raising tuition faster than inflation, as they collectively have literally every year for at least thirty years, if law schools are concerned about access to legal education.  It seems implausible to defend a program whose effect is make the cost of legal education far higher than it would otherwise be on the ground that the program actually makes legal education more accessible to people without money.

The only other defense I can think of for subsidizing law school budgets via IBR even more heavily than they're already subsidized via the availability of unlimited federal loans subject to no actuarial controls is that this improves the quality of legal services, because paying law professors three times more than English professors improves the quality of legal education (This of course is just another variation on the "pay us or we'll never leave Cravath" argument).

Now the problem with this argument is that it's not nearly enough to claim that, for example, a private law school education is better in 2012, when it costs $41,000 per year, than it was thirty years ago, when it cost $13,000 per year (in constant dollars).  It probably is better. For one thing, it would be hard to avoid improving the quality of a product after more than tripling its real price even if you were trying to avoid doing so.   The real question is: does whatever improvement in quality that's been achieved justify that price increase?  Are law graduates today so much better prepared to provide quality legal services that it makes sense to even more heavily subsidize a budget that charges students $123,000 rather than $39,000 for a law degree?

I personally think that to ask that question is almost to answer it.  Those who feel differently ought to make the effort to defend the proposition.


  1. I think what these people are trying to do is to discredit or weaken critics like Tamanaha by making a very limited argument. The limited argument is that, with IBR now in place, law school can no longer be charged with ruining student's lives with crushing debt. This is the part of the scam that really makes law schools and law professors bad and evil and people are quick to embrace IBR as a way to alleviate them of the guilt.

  2. It's not that a HLS 2016 JD is a better product than an HLS 1986 JD. It's that the gap between an HLS JD and, say, an SMU JD (#51 US News) or an FSU JD (#51) has exploded. It's not crazy to argue that an HLS-JD, which (AFAIK) IS still a golden ticket, is worth more than twice as much as an in-state FSU JD.

    But how does SMU Law justify charging 80% of what HLS charges? That is the core of the question.

    1. Hell, some of the lousy law schools charge more than Harvard.

      How do they justify it? They don't have to, because the students don't pay much attention to cost. (After all, they're just signing up for loans that can be forgiven in 25 years, right?) Their choice is not Harvard or Toilet; it's Toilet or nothing. And they're too dumb to opt for nothing.

      By the way, Harvard is no longer a golden ticket.

    2. Doesn't New York Law School charge more than Harvard?

    3. What type of careers in finance would be best suites to e filled by a lawyer or law school grad? Investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, securities law...? Also, what do you think of these career paths in such a crazy time, and how in demand do you predict these positions will be in 4 years?

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  3. Today's proposed solution is two attitude adjustments.

    1.) Students have come to see their university years as an extension of their parents' well-upholstered existence (which took decades to accumulate). So students expect nice dorms and gyms and student unions and lots of spending money.

    Students should adjust their attitude and think of university as a penurious time. They are starting their lives from scratch, so no rock climbing walls or new furniture.

    2.) Professors and administrators should realize that they are monks. Pay should top out at $10,000 a month. Profs should live a stable comfortable existence, but it should be threadbare. Wasn't the point of the cliched leather elbow patches that profs didn't have the money to buy new jackets? Academics need to stop comparing themselves to successful professionals and start comparing themselves to missionaries and priests.

    Neither will happen.

    1. lol. You really think most students wouldn't trade in cheaper tuition for stupid crap like gyms, student unions, new buildings, etc? How long has it been since you graduated? Most students who carry student loans ARE living a "penurius" existence you out-of-touch dolt. But hey, its easier to put some blame on the students for all the crap school admins are responsible for, eh?

    2. I can tell you this much. If Student Loans under IBR or PAYE are roughly the equivalent of monopoly money, you'd be a damn fool not to demand gyms, and rock walls, and student loan trips to Davos.

      The price is the same: 10 percent of your AGI for 20 years. Unemployed, no worry. What, you're worried about a tax hit 2 decades from now assuming Congress doesn't act to bail that policy out?

      And that is the problem with IBR and PAYE.

    3. So why have the rates just kept going up and up? Where does the money go? It rarely goes into outright extravagance, instead its frittered away here and there on a thousand unnecessary things which all add up. For example constantly refurbishing facilities to make them more "contemporary". Building facilities which appear useful but wind up being underutilized (like huge law libraries when most legal resources are now available online or on disk). It all adds up.

      There's such a blind reverence for education in America that few people ever seriously question these expenses. I mean we're investing in our *future* here, now's not the time for petty penny-pinching - right?

    4. A law professor costs several hundred thousand dollars per year. How many professors are there at your law school? How many students? Do some calculations.

  4. If you want to enable low income people to go to law school you could, you know, give them need based scholarships rather than holding them in debt peonage until they are middle aged and then writing off more than the scholarship would have cost.


  5. Comparing a Harvard JD of 30 years ago to a current Harvard JD is like comparing two brand new BMWs, only the one that cost three times more has nitrogen filled tires.

    Comparing an SMU JD of 30 years ago to a current SMU JD is like comparing two brand new BMWs, but the one that cost three times more has a gas tank only half the size of the cheaper one.

    1. Agree, except the two SMU degrees should be using a Honda Civic and not BMW as a model.

  6. There is another layer of intellectual dishonesty involved in Schrag's positions. Increasing the output of JDs does not make the legal profession more accessible to those from non-traditional legal backgrounds, i.e., women, minorities, the disabled, the older graduate - it makes it less accessible for reasons l am pretty sure he understands. When there is an excess of candidates for a limited number of positions, and hiring a candidate means risks and costs all organisations tend to be conservative - they look to hire people who look just like those who have been successful hires in the past.

    For a law firm to hire a lawyer, junior or senior. A new associate will run as a capital investment, taking pay, benefits, office space, IT, etc. somewhere of the order of their first year's pay even if you fired them at 6 months - that is to say that there would usually be a substantial deficit between what they were paid for the first year and what they cost, by the end of their second year assuming everything works out they are profitable.

    With a lateraling senior lawyer you would expect to spend about 3-6 months plus pay on the them before they pretty well come in the door (fees, office space, etc.) and to pay their salary from capital for 6 months after arrival. In house has its own expenses, but assume 3+ months pay on top of a headhunter fee of say 3-4 months pay. And you need to consider the cost in billable hours of the recruiting time - it costs to send people to OCI, it costs to interview 20 candidates (at least say 20x5 billable hours.)

    So when you hire an associate or lateral an associate or a partner you are taking a pretty big risk with a hefty amount of money. That is one of the reasons law firms like laterals, they are seen as lower risk and quicker return. The best way to lower risk when hiring out of law school is to go to T14 law schools, hire high up in the class and hire people who in every respect look like already successful lawyers. By the way, law schools do more or less the same, hiring HYS+B as much as possible - especially Georgetown since Schrag has been there, whose faculty is notoriously heavily Yale - indeed the GULC administration under Areen was known for the view that its own graduates were not good enough to be professors at GULC (and yes senior deans did say this.)

    Moreover, when there is a massive oversupply of lawyers, it makes it harder for people to stay in the profession. If a woman takes time out to have a baby, it will be very tough to get back. If someone moves from firm to in-house, it will be tough to get back into the firms. If someone moves from BigLaw to boutique, it will be hard to return to BigLaw. If someone is black, hispanic or disabled they won't fit the profile of a BigLaw partner or associate.

    Last, Schrag writes about legal ethics. What he ignores this the biggest threat to legal ethics, the desperation of lawyers and law firms for business. I have been a lawyer to my shock for over 20 years and I have slowly watched the ethics of the profession decline, well know reputable firms take on astonishingly dubious cases and behave disgracefully because the "needed the business." I have watch ethics decline in firms, in legal departments - and the driving factor has been the insecurity of the profession, the constant search for business, the inability to say no to a client because someone else would say "yes." This too is driven by the oversupply of lawyers.

    Indeed, the unethical behaviour of law schools is driven both by greed and by the oversupply of law school places.

    1. It's interesting that one of the supposedly good law schools doesn't turn out, in the opinion of its own deans, graduates worthy of teaching there.

      You're quite right that law firms insist on people who fit their mold, which means white, Western, male, young, urban, and rich. I don't see, though, how this is "[t]he best way to lower risk when hiring out of law school". Strikes me that ability beats arbitrary personal characteristics. But I seem to be incurably naïve.

    2. I think you need to be careful about "insist." I do not agree with racist or sexist hiring practices. However, when any organisation hires someone who is not "traditional" for a role they are taking a greater risk of that hire not working out than when they hire a more traditional hire, be it an Alaskan fishing boat hiring a "white, Western, male, young, urban, and [formerly] rich" kid or a law firm hiring someone from the Bario. When there is an excess of candidates and a high sunk hiring cost why take risks?

      This is what I mean - if there was too much work and not enough candidates there would not be enough who were "white, Western, male, young, urban, and rich" to fill every associate slot - but there are, to the great disadvantage of the candidates who are "non-traditional."

      Most of the best lawyers I know by the way are all somewhat or very "non-traditional" in some way. But a lot of traditional candidates can do the work.

    3. If I understand, you mean by "not working out" that the non-traditional person would not fit into the "traditional" environment (defined by race, gender, age, money, and so on), rather than that she would turn out to be a dud. In other words, environmental factors rather than personal characteristics damn her.

      That is precisely why there are laws against discrimination in employment. Indeed, if there were a shortage of candidates for whatever sort of work, even the stigmatized non-traditional ones would find jobs. But ordinarily there is no such shortage. So the non-traditional ones face unabashed discrimination dressed up in prudential considerations about risk.

      At my law school (one of the top-"ranked" few), white-shoe law firms hire rich kids from the bottom half of the class but won't even give my non-traditional bag of bones an interview. I don't see how that approach reduces risk.

    4. The good thing is that it's always about you 9:31...this thread and every other thread.

    5. I have been on the wrong end of being "non-traditional," not race perhaps - and I have several close friends who have been on the wrong end because of race.

      I entirely agree with laws against discrimination - it is abhorrent. But, just like laws against tax evasion, those laws can only go so far. How can you prove why someone was not hired? How can you show that "he/she is not a fit" means "he she is black/hispanic." I turned down a job at mega-firm once because every interviewer of 14 partners wore the same white Brooks Brothers button down shirt - clones - I don' wear Brooks Brother (the fit sucks and the suits are ugly) and I am odd for a white shoe firm.

      Whatever way you want to look at it the traditional candidate "checks the boxes," they are safer. My partners and I set up our own law-firm. Today we have a good reputation - and a growing one. But when we go looking for clients the competition is very BigLaw - and we joke about the IBM effect - ""nobody ever got fired for buying IBM."

      If you are a non-traditional candidate, the person who hires you, the person who recommends you, all of them are taking a risk. That rich kid you complain about, think of him (it won't be a her) as IBM. It is shitty and it sucks and it is made so much worse when there are so many nice-white-kids out there to run through before anyone has to take a chance.

      I am not defending it ... but it is a reality. Anyone who worked for me who applied the white male middle class, right accent, knows how to dress rule I would fire... But I understand the imperatives that drives this.

      By graduating too many JDs law schools are reducing the incentive to risk a non-traditional hire. That it the reality. It does not make it easier for people of color to get hires, or older candidates, or for the long term women, it makes it harder.

    6. And 9:31, for non-traditonal candidates there is an increased risk that they will be a dud! There is also an increased possibility that they will be a star. There is a lot lower possibility that they will be a very conventional boring lawyer. The trouble is, most of the time the people doing the hiring see conventional and boring as what they want....

    7. Indeed, the laws against discrimination are almost impossible to enforce. Rarely will an employer say "We are rejecting you because of your race/gender/age/disAbility/whatever".

      For two years I fought a discriminatory practice at my law school. When I finally won, I told the administration that I had been wrong and that the school should instead discriminate overtly, just like the wretched legal "profession", by refusing to admit anyone from the stigmatized group. And I didn't mean that entirely as sarcasm.

      By the way, I agree with you about Brooks Brothers. Those sack suits are godawful. At least they're appropriately named, as they fit like a burlap bag.

    8. Also, a couple of those rich kids hired from the bottom of the class were women. But indeed most were men.

    9. @10:40

      Without going into the topic too far, let me describe our ideal candidate:

      - technical undergraduate degree, favorite is physics, sub category applied or experimental.

      - multilingual

      - comfortable and adaptable to environments where they do not "fit in"

      - good writing skills

      - a good understanding of law+technology+business

      - comfortable being out of their expected comfort zone (e.g., out of their field technically, dealing with legal systems they were not trained in, conventional co-counsel who think they are not good enough, able to extract order from chaos)

      - genuinely interested in what is at issue (ELISA, semiconductor fabrication, social media, trade law, competition, etc.) and curious about all sorts of topics. (I would do what I do just because it is interesting to me.)

      Almost anyone who meets those criteria is non-traditional.

    10. I meet all of those criteria. If you were hiring, I'd send you a résumé.

      Most law firms seem not to care much about any of that, although they pay lip service to a couple of those criteria.


    11. "comfortable being out of their expected comfort zone"

      Isn't that an oxymoron?

    12. @Anonymous - As someone else who meets MacK's criteria (physics grad with business-level Mandarin etc.) I ended up taking way longer, going much further, and settling for much less that I had expected to do so based on my expectations back in 2007. There aren't many firms who actually require people like us, and HR staff at many firms actually view things like knowledge of foreign languages/technology as a draw-back - they either think it means you're eccentric or that you'll want to go and use your knowledge. There's nothing more annoying and frustrating than having some HR flunky essentially tell you that qualifications and skills that were very hard to come by are actually negative points as far as they are concerned.

    13. "comfortable being out of their expected comfort zone"

      Isn't that an oxymoron?


    14. FOARP:

      HR departments are generally staffed with morons who are always away on courses held in country house hotels out of cellular coverage when you need to contact them.

      And they think in clichés

    15. You're both right about HR departments.

      I'm glad that you finally found something, FOARP, even though the search proved long and disappointing.

      Classmates think that my knowledge of languages and technology should open many doors. But it seems to close far more doors than it opens.

  7. Why do $80,000+ (social security, expensive medical care to keep them alive a few years longer) BE HANDED OUT FOR FREE EVERY YEAR TO DISGUSTING OLD BABY BOOMERS LIKE YOU?!

    And don't give me that "I paid into it" bullshit. You paid for maybe 1/10 of that cost.

    Until you old boomers hang yourselves rather than being a parasite on society, I have no problem with youngsters getting to BORROW a little money for three years of school.

    1. You are an idiot.

    2. "getting" to borrow money? Are you f*cking retarded? This may be the dumbest comment on the internet.

    3. 7:34 The average monthly Social Security retirement benefit in 2012 is about $1230.

      Only the hospital portion of Medicare (Medicare is the health insurance program under Social Security) is free. People pay current premiums for the rest of Medicare - insurance coverage for doctors visits and the like and prescription drugs - just like signing up for private health insurance. The only people who get the hospital coverage without charge are those who paid into the system.

      An $80,000 bill in a year would be a lot, but it would mostly relate to hospital care for a catastrophic illness.

  8. It takes my breath away how blithely a professor of law advocates students taking on debt that they have no ability or intention to pay back. How is this any less ethical than someone racking up credit card and other debts with the intention of filing bankruptcy when the bill collectors reach critical mass?

    Somehow, the fact that IBR might not adversely impact your FICA score while bankruptcy will doesn't seem to be a meaningful ethical distinction. A substantial percentage of individuals who go Chapter 7 did so because of outrageous uninsured -- or uninsurable -- medical costs. Those folks are stigmatized with terrible credit scores and otherwise shamed but some irresponsible 22-year old who decides to roll the dice in the law school casino is, according to Schrag, making a morally acceptable and socially important choice.

    Of course, the critical difference is that one scenario results in Schrag's salary being paid and the other doesn't.

  9. LawProf, I think you’re over exaggerating the effect IBR is having on people’s decision to go to law school. Have you ever met someone that went to law school because they wanted to be an indentured servant for 25 years? Let me know when you meet that person.

    I’m not saying we should have IBR, but I do think it has little impact on someone's decision to go to law school.

    1. We cannot know how big a factor IBR will be for a few years - but there is no question that law schools are marketing IBR pretty hard.

    2. I doubt IBR has had much if any effect on anybody's decision to go to law school *yet.* (From my anecdotal observations the large majority of law students still don't even know what IBR is).

      But going forward this is going to change. As MacK says law schools are starting to market IBR to prospective students. Schrag's review of Tamanaha's book is basically an advertisement for attending his own vastly overpriced law school with dubious employment outcomes (less than half of GULC's 2011 class got a $60,000 or more job). In other words this is another example of the economic base generating an ideological superstructure which attempts to justify it.

    3. As I mentioned above, law students simply don't think much about cost. All that matters is that my special-snowflake ass has gotten into Cardozo or Catholic or Cooley. That makes me so much better than the hoi polloi. Of course I'll take out those loans! Where do I sign?

      Things will change, yes, because word is getting out about prospects upon graduation from a Cardozo, a Catholic, or a Cooley. Prospective students will begin to wonder in greater numbers whether a quarter of a million in non-dischargeable debt makes sense in light of almost certain unemployability or marginal employability in the legal profession. That's why IBR is being so heavily touted as a first rather than a last resort.

  10. I heard Brooklyn Law School Dean Phil Allard state that "education should be a right" at a recent alumni event. Apparently, implicit in that right is the right of Brooklyn Law School to use students as an intermediary for extracting 50,000$ per year from the Federal government.

    A Yale grad and Oxford Rhodes Scholar (Allard) discusses the plight of current and recent law school students from the fifth(?) greatest law school in NYC, quite absurd.

    It's like Tag Romney talking about how to survive a period of extended unemployment.

    1. Education should be a right?

      Well, now that health care is, surely some people will want education on the list too.

      Anyone who thinks post-secondary education should be a right should visit a typical German or Italian university. They're chronically underfunded and quality is often ghastly.

  11. IBR is a necessary solution for the actions of law schools - but it should be retroactive. In addition there should be a significant penalty for any law school whose students are obliged to take IBR - my own view is a one to one reduction per year in the number of students that can receive student loans. So if say GULC has 10 students from the class of 2012 on IBR - the number of students from the incoming class that can receive loans that are either federally backed or subject to non-dischargeability in bankruptcy should be reduced to the lower of Class of 2012 minus ten or the most recent incoming class minus ten.

    In other words every student on IBR is one less loan.

    1. Yes, but also make sure that the spaces cannot simply be filled by more rich kids for whom Daddy Warbucks is paying every penny (including the half-million-dollar condo and all the vacations to the Turks & Caicos Islands). Take those spaces away altogether.

    2. Take away the loans and the places go away. The rich kids would be there anyway, loan no-loan

    3. Those spaces are filled from lower-"ranked" law schools. The rich kids who would have gone to an Iowa end up instead at a Georgetown. That gives them "T14" cachet.

    4. But but but, law schools are committed to training students from low income backgrounds!!!!! Reducing loans wont deter law schools from admitting them!!!!!


    5. No but it will force them to pay for these kids - and will give them a better shot at a good job coming out. With luck (see above) what is a traditional candidate for a junior and partner level position will change to include people form these backgrounds.

    6. Few law schools will pay for students from these backgrounds, especially now that declining enrollment has left law schools scrambling to fill seats. When the money is drying up, the putative commitment to diversity won't be high on law schools' list of priorities.

    7. Few law schools pay for these kids now. There is almost no need based aid at any school outside of Harvard. Schools include loans as part of their financial aid we'd.

      It is all very disgusting.

  12. What is important to understand is that it is not legal ejookayshun but rather the students who are the product here. Bumblefuck Law Skule does not sell anything to the student; it sells the student herself. She's just an object that is needed in order to suck $150k or so out of the federal government. Seeing her as a customer is wrong.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. it's not really the tution that is being subsidized, it's the schools.. They get the money. but the answer to your question is they should NOT be.. That's the problem. IF the federal goverment was NOT involved the banks would NOT lend this money, it's too risky because the current 1 trillin would be owed to the banks and NOT to the federal goverment.. the Schools would have NO choice but to lower their tution many times over or have emtpy classroms.

    1. This. It's like all the bullshit about Greek bailouts. I've got news for all of you, the bailout has nothing to do with the poor Greeks and everything to do with German and French banks. It's a bank bailout in the sheep's clothing of a bailout for a poor country.

      IBR/PAYE are a law school bailout in the sheep's clothing of affordability for students.

  15. Oh No! No! No! No! No!

    A Harvard Law Graduate can go on to make a LOT OF MONEY! See here @:3:20

    But what do I know? I went to a Jim Dandy fourth tier law school.

  16. Congress should pass a law capping student loans for law school at $20,000 per year.

    1. Yes, this. And they should make private student loans dischargable in bankruptcy after 10 years.

      The amount of TTT roadkill would be amazing. And I hope the TTT faculty go into the practice so I can eat their lunch and ruin their lives. I really, really want to litigate against one of those pricks.

  17. There are 2 issues w/ Schrag's and 'et al.'s' analysis, and at least one borders on extreme intellectual dishonesty.

    First, to mention IBR as a way to pay for law school without mentioning that it results in extreme increases in interest and one's overall balance is extreme dishonesty. I am currently on IBR and have been (and probably will be my entire life) for the last 2 years. What I get in current discounts cost me an enormous increase overall in my loans - my loans have increased by about $20,000 simply because I am on IBR. To advertise IBR as a way for students to pay for law school w/out mentioning that there will be huge increases in the overall amount due - sometimes increasing the actual loan amount by tens of thousands of dollars - is dishonest, pure and simple. If I handled clients the way Schrag and others are using IBR to market paying for law school, I would be disbarred.

    Second, IBR does not preserve access to legal education for the lower and middle incomed populations. Not having to pay loans off is only one cost a new graduate faces. They still have to have a job, a roof over their head, and eat, and IBR does not pay for these. If the legal field still does not have enough jobs, then it will still be a bad investment for individuals to go to law school, even if they are on IBR. Saddling these individuals with debt and no jobs does not help bring access to justice to low income individuals.

    If access to justice is a concern (oh, let's stop pretending - gigantic increases in tuition kind of puts a rest to the idea that we even cared about that), there are much better ways to ensure that low and middle incomed individuals have better access to our judicial system. One would be lowering tuition, so that grads did not have to graduate with so much debt and have to see their debt rise exponentially when they are unable to pay it off and using IBR. A second solution would be to invest more in our organizations that serve such populations, so that much-needed jobs could be created there, and, instead of relying on IBR, recent grads could actually be working in the legal field and gaining experience.

  18. In 2011, British banks announced they would stop providing most loans to students pursuing law converstion courses.

    (Conversion courses are the 2 years of classroom training for people who didn't major in law as undergrads).

    Why? Because the banks said the market for lawyers was saturated and they worried about defaults.

    How on earth did America let Britain become more free market than us on this!


    1. The oddity is that those pursuing the law conversion courses are our preferred hires....especially with science and engineering undergraduate degrees. We are not keen on BLs

    2. BLs tend to lack depth and maturity. So do K–JDs.

    3. @MacK - As a CPE graduate, I wish more firms had your attitude.

      @Anonymous - CPE is 1 year, 2 years is for part-time students.

  19. Say what you like but, Obama said, elections have consequences. Income based repayment has strong bipartisan support. It was created by a republican, George Bush, and made more generous by a democrat, Obama. Neither Paul Ryan nor Romney wanted to dismantle IBR, only to bring it back to the very generous program it was under Bush. Obama is still a strong supporter of PAYE and he does NOT see it as a hardship exemption. In his convention speech he described it as a way people who want to give back can take jobs where they help others (rather than making tons of money) and still pay their loans.

    1. I don't think anyone is arguing that programs like IBR (actually the idea was first put forth under the Reagan admin) or PAYE are intrinsically bad.

      It's just that in the present context (unlimited loans given to subsidize the overproduction of undereducated lawyers by overpaid "progressive" faculty) the program will allow law schools to keep raising tuition by ludicrous levels and have the taxpayers eat the unpaid loans.

      A bad deal for students, taxpayers, and young workers. A good deal for law professors, administrators, and legal employers.

  20. LawProf, you are on fire, and it is awesome.

  21. If the goal is to provide more legal services to Americans who cannot afford them, it is more efficient for the Federal Government to give money directly to legal aid then to provide it to law schools. Of course, average Americans don't want to do that because they always hear a horror story about a client Legal Aid defends, rather than the horror of a bunch of greedy deans and Tenured Law Profs raising their compensation at a rate much higher then the rate of inflation, year after year.

  22. 10:37 am, you are probably correct that Obama's policy currently has bipartisan support, but it is also a financial disaster for the American taxpayer, and a license for colleges and universities to overcharge.

    1. The federal deficit is over $1 trillion dollars. Total law school tuition is only $3.6 billion. Even over ten years, that will be only $36 billion. So its really just a trival part of overall federal spending. If congress won't fix health care, which is financial disaster, and if states won't fix public employee pensions, I don't think there is any hope of fixing a trival problem like PAYE.

    2. PAYE applies to all higher ed, not just law schools. Total outstanding student loan debt is now over one trillion and rising by about 15% per year. Half of all loans aren't being paid back, either because they're in deferment, forbearance, delinquency, or default.

      Law schools are just the canary in the coal mine.

  23. Question: if we "must" finance law school tuition with discretionless government loans, why charge interest?

    Let's say we singled out one unfortunate 0L, and saddled him with a (hypothetical) interest rate that added, say, $10 trillion to his balance each year. After 10 or 25 years of IBR, when we discharge the "$100 trillion" that the student "owes," is society really $100 trillion poorer? No, it is not - because it was a made-up amount in the first place.

    1. I see that you've noticed a problem with the modern global financial hypereconomy.

      Basically, that a ton of the wealth out there is really phantom wealth that doesn't exist.

    2. I've brought up this interest rate condundrum on other forums before, and invariably get condescended to by some self appointed "econ expert" who lectures me that interest is necessary to pay for the administrative cost of the loan. I still have yet to get a real answer from any of these "experts" as to why the interest rates the government is charging for its loans vary so much from year to year...presumably "administrative costs" would remain pretty much the same.

    3. There's no real reason to charge interest other than the fact that loans customarily have interest.

      I note that the interest on short term federal debt is now at zero because that's where the Fed wants it.

      Case closed.

  24. Law Prof,

    I agreed with your last post, but this is extremely unconvincing.

    First off, you concentrate only on law school. But IBR is available to ALL grads, regardless of field. So the question is not whether legal education is a public good, it is whether higher education is a public good. Of course, one could change IBR so it is only available to some graduates and not others, but is there a principled reason to exclude law graduates? It surely isn't better for the American taxpayer to subsidize film majors than future lawyers.

    Second, IBR has been around since 2007. IBR can't be blamed for escalating tuition costs, particularly where relatively few graduates were even aware of the program until relatively recently. I also find it highly unlikely that law schools can continue to raise tuition (whether IBR exists or not) given the criticism law schools have received and public awareness concerning the paucity of law jobs.

    Third, Schrag points out in his article that virtually every modern industrialized country in the world (and many developing ones) subsidize education (including legal education). These subsidies are often directly provided to institutions but IBR at least has the virtue of being progressive - I.e. folks pay back their loans based on income.

    Lastly, isn't the point of this whole blog that law school scams students? If your concern now is that it primarily scams taxpayers, then there are any number of organizations that advocate for budget cuts in education and other areas. Whatever the case, I'm not sure that anger at law schools justifies eliminating a program that makes law school more affordable for the very people you are purporting to help.

    1. Wow - how many hoops did you jump through to justify that swill? Here let me help you - lets create a system that makes it POSSIBLE for students to pay back their loans and MATCHES the actual cost of educating them and not some never-ending spigot that law schools can draw from based on whatever they say they need. Or is that you're a lawprof that directly benefits from their scam?

      Also, you think it benefoits a poor student to be in debt for an amount they can never pay off or get our from under for 20 years? You're an idiot.

    2. Very insightful, 2:49. I particularly like the "here let me help you" followed by your very specific solution.

      Let's say IBR is killed tomorrow. Is that going to help current law students? How about law graduates with huge debt loads? What's your alternative - allow students to declare bankruptcy so that their credit is ruined for at least 10 years?

    3. Yes, fuck the lawprof masquerading as a student. You are evil. Go to hell.

    4. I think this guy has a point. The scam movement can't rely too heavily on the argument that law school is saddling students with soul crushing, life ruining debt. IBR effectively solves that problem. There is no point in pretending otherwise.

      But that doesn't mean law schools aren't scamming students. They continue to sell false hope for a career as a lawyer. Most law students will not have careers as lawyers. Until law schools start making that clear, they are scamming students.

    5. IBR doesn't make law school more affordable. IBR makes law school a 20 year weight on the young. It does nothing to reduce the actual debt taken out by a student for 20 years.

      To say it makes school more affordable means that it affects the price. iBR just spreads out the time until you get hit with a tax bomb for that price.

  25. Schrag points out in his article that virtually every modern industrialized country in the world (and many developing ones) subsidize education (including legal education).

    But those countries (for the most part) take account of the needs of their economies. If there are too many say art historians they tell the colleges they will not let the art history department grow.

    That is why I point out that the US student loan system is oxymoronic - it is a state finance system in which the state refuses because of the "free market" to say how many graduates in what disciplines it is willing to intervene to create. It is frankly crazy.

    In a state financed system there would be a lot fewer JDs.

    1. Similar to heath care, this country's education system combines the basest profiteering of capitalism and the worst inefficiencies of socialism. In the middle, the bleeting sheep 0L that hasn't figured out that he's on the menu. Sad.

    2. Exactly: the system is criminally wasteful and destructive. Limit admission to JD (and other) programs by the needs of the economy.

    3. Great points.

      How did we get to this situation?

    4. I think there is a profound belief that no social or economic problem currently exists that cannot be solved by the creation of more lawyers.

      Because only the profession of law contains grandeur and majesty.

      Or something like that.

  26. Unemployed NortheasternDecember 2, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Another law professor has joined our ranks, everybody! John Kramer wrote this law review article I stumbled across yesterday: "Will Legal Education Remain Affordable, By Whom, and How?" in the Duke Law Journal.

    Selected highlights from the article:
    "Law schools for the last twenty years have been testing the elasticity
    of demand for their product. As tuition has increased each year, outpacing
    even the rate of inflation, law schools have been pressing toward the
    point where significant numbers of college graduates may decide that it
    makes good economic sense to seek less expensive forms of graduate education
    or forgo additional credentials altogether."

    "Without the intervention of federal government in the 1970's, legal
    education as we know it today would not exist. Law schools, which
    serve the needs of clients who are predominantly corporations or wealthy
    individuals, are essentially socialized institutions."

    "Law students are, pound-for-pound, the most vigorous loan program
    users. They represent only slightly over 9% of all of the students
    enrolled part-time or full-time in graduate and professional education 57
    and less than 1% of all of the students involved in higher education,5
    but they consumed 3.3% of all [...] loans awarded in [...]"

    "The more
    substantial and legitimate objection to increased loan limits, whether
    those limits be raised to $[x dollars] or $[y dollars], stems from concern about
    jeopardizing students' capacity to manage debt. It is feared that a heavy
    debt burden may result in either unbearable pressure to seek out a job in
    one of the highest paying large law firms, failure to save, or outright
    This fear has some basis. Debt burdens are high and mounting.
    Some young and even middle-aged attorneys may well find their debt
    burdens impossible to handle. Debt burdens could-and the emphasis
    has to be on "could"-significantly affect career choices, family formation,
    and capital investment."

    "Can a beginning attorney earning $[x dollars] a year readily sustain that
    kind of debt? The answer is "no" if the repayment period is restricted to
    a ten-year term. Even if the first-year lawyer obtains one of the most
    lucrative job offers in New York or Washington, D.C., debt repayment
    within a ten-year period would prove difficult."

    "Again it must be borne in mind that half of the graduates will be earning less
    than $66,000."

    "Whether or not debt levels are manageable, repayment itself may
    substantially affect the lifestyles and choices of graduates, with adverse
    effects reflected, in turn, in the numbers and quality of future law school

    This article was written in 1987. NINETEEN HUNDRED AND F*CKING EIGHTY SEVEN. 1987.

    There's even an anticipatory dig at IBR: "Leading studies of debt manageability indicate that no borrower
    can afford to repay educational debt in excess of 15% of pretax
    income (some studies suggest that 6% might be high) or 8% of posttax income"

    The highly prescient last sentence of the article:

    "Law school will likely remain affordable in 2000 or 2003 in the sense
    that 118,000 selected individuals will be able to meet the bills when due
    with parental or federal checks, school credits, or banked earnings. Nevertheless,
    we have good reason to worry about the quality of legal education,
    the composition of the profession, and the lifestyles and goals of

  27. The problem with IBR is that now all universities are public universities.

  28. Just another article on the bubble:

  29. What is the cost of law school in 2015 at a private school? What is the cost of law school in 2015 at a public school?

    A: It was a trick question. They cost the same -- 10 percent for 20 years.

    What is the most competitive law job in 2015?
    A: Any paying government job. What? you thought I'd say Cravath?

    I don't have a financial calculator at my disposal right now, but I'd bet dollars to dimes that a $35,000 per year job as an citywide assistant welfare lawyer, junior level, is a better gig over a 10 year long period than a $70,000 private firm salary. Why? Well after 10 years the public lawyer is discharged, tax free. The private lawyer still must pay 10 percent for the next decade and then get a hell of a bill from the IRS at the end.

  30. As Matt Leichter pointed out recently, "If law school is worth the money, then why subsidize it?"

  31. Neville High School, Louisiana State University, and LSU Law School does n't charge much more... Personal injury lawyer

  32. If we had attorney jobs for grads, I would not have an issue with subsidizing the education. Unfortunately, many law grads end up in non-legal or even legal-related career paths for which the degree is not required. Thus, creating a personal tragedy for them ($ and time loss) and an outrageous and unnecessary social cost and a real money cost to our country.

  33. Is it me, or does this mean IBR is the best alternative for even the luckiest grads, for at least the first several years? I'm assuming a 2016 grad comes out with debt at $200,000 and gets a BigLaw job for, say, $180,000 (hard to imagine huge raises for starting salaries in the next couple years). My back of the envelope calculation puts the conventional payment at about $2,300 a month and the IBR payment as about $1,300 a month.

    Granted, if you make partner in seven years that changes things. Are those (i.e. people who make partner at biglaw) the only people who will actually repay their law school loans?

  34. Law Prof:

    You said

    "Now Schrag et, al. might reply that there is actually an under-supply of lawyers in America, given that a huge amount of the potential demand for legal services among middle class and poor people goes unmet. But this is a demand-side problem: it has nothing at all to do with how many people have law degrees, and everything to do with the fact that the large majority of Americans don't have enough discretionary income to pay for more that the most occasional and basic legal services, if that."

    You're wrong about this. If people argue--rightly, in my view--that the barriers to entering the legal profession drive up the cost of legal services because the supply of lawyers is artificially restricted, that's a classic "supply-side problem." That is to say, if we liberalized JD requirements and the bar exam, far more people could become attorneys, and the cost of legal services would go down.

    The better argument is to say that focusing solely on the quantity of JD's in the market is focusing on the wrong supply-side problem. You correctly point out that subsidizing legal education does little to make legal services more affordable. Why? It's because even those people who get cheap degrees and are willing to provide low-cost services still face onerous restrictions on how they provide those services: "ethics" rules (what Orwellian phraseology...) that prevent lawyers from sharing fees with nonlawyers. These rules prevent big institutions (H&R Block, Walmart?) from offering legal services in a high-volume, low-cost way.

    An example of a "demand-side" problem is the biglaw contraction in the last few years. M&A revenues haven't imploded because the cost of M&A legal services is too high. Rather, M&A revenue is down because the economy is depressed and companies simply aren't doing many mergers. When the recovery picks up, M&A work will rebound. THAT's a demand-side economic issue.

  35. Income Based Repayment and Paye As You Earn:

    Come, sheeplings, and come join the MAJORITY of law school students.

  36. For the small lawyer what drives up cases is the following. When you take a case, you have to charge a retainer fee, often sizable, because once you appear in court, Judges will typically not allow you to withdraw from cases if your client stops paying. They do this, because there is an epidemic of pro-se litigants with whom they hate to deal with. So Judges will try to keep a lawyer on the case, no matter how badly in arrears his client is. To protect yourself that means you have to charge more money up front.

  37. Many things flow from the realization that a law school education is not a public good. Once you place a law school education on the same plane as buying an expensive sports car, the question is why should the taxpayer support it AT ALL?

    For example, why should the government be guaranteeing student loans? If someone wants to buy a Ferrari, the government does not subsidize those car loans. Arguably, there might be a public purpose in supporting the auto industry -- just as much as supporting the higher education industry. Why should it subsidize law school loans?

    By the same token, why should the state be operating law schools? Why should the taxpayers of the State of Colorado, for example, be footing the bill to support the University of Colorado School of Law. Couldn't that valuable space in downtown Boulder be put to better public uses? Like a dog park?

    The analogy to sports cars is apt. The main thing that owning a $200,000 sports car gets you is prestige, in fact, probably far more prestige than a law school degree. And you could probably get just as much prestige with a Porche or a Corvette, for considerably less than the cost of a law school education. And if you can't afford the car, you can always sell it. Or dischage the car loan in bankruptcy.

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