ITLSS started publishing three years ago today. The blog featured roughly daily posts (500 in all) for nearly 19 months, through February of 2013. During that time it received about three million page views, and it generated nearly 50,000 comments. On the eve of another academic year, this post looks back on the project from the perspective of what's changed and what hasn't in the law school world since the summer of 2011.
The central theme of the blog -- that there's a genuine crisis in legal academia, because law schools are turning out far too many graduates and far too high of a cost -- has gone from a fringe position in the academy, to a widely accepted view within it, and something like the conventional wisdom outside it.
Law school applications and enrollment have both plunged. The 2014 cycle featured about 55,000 applicants, down from 88,000 in 2010. Despite moderate to severe cuts in admissions standards at almost all law schools other than Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, the 2014 first year class will include somewhere between 37,000 and 38,000 students, down from 52,500 in 2010.
After decades of non-stop growth, average effective tuition (sticker tuition minus discounts) has at least flattened out and possibly even declined slightly over the last two to three years. This is a product of the combination of schools continuing to raise their sticker rates at faster than inflation, but offering deeper discounts to a larger percentage of their admits. The net effect of this has been to keep average tuition from rising in real terms, although of course this pattern exacerbates the reverse Robin Hood structure of contemporary legal education, in which students with lower entrance numbers (and, crucially, lower SES backgrounds) subsidize the attendance of their better-credentialed, richer, and better-connected classmates.
What hasn't changed:
The legal hiring market remains weak. Only a bit more than half of all ABA law school graduates are getting real legal jobs (full-time, long-term, bar admission required), and this percentage drops to less than half at many schools. Only around 15% of graduates get jobs that pay salaries which make taking on $150,000 in educational debt (around the average for the 85% of graduates who borrow, once we include accrued interest and undergraduate debt) appear to be a good investment, at least from a short-term perspective.
The long-term economic prospects of current law graduates remain very unclear, for many reasons. What's clear is that the high salaries paid to the "lucky" minority who initially get jobs with big law firms can be somewhat illusory (a 2013 Stanford law grad told me yesterday that several of his classmates who started in big law a year ago have already left, whether voluntarily or not), and that extrapolating the lifetime earnings of people who graduated from law school in 1974 or 1984 or even 1999 to people who graduated in 2014 is a form of methodological question-begging, if it's presented as doing anything more than presenting one piece of mildly suggestive but problematic evidence in regard to the answer to the question of what is going to happen to current law graduates in the long run.
The fundamental economic structure of legal education -- in which most of the operating revenue for most law schools comes from federal educational loans subject to essentially no actuarial controls -- remains in place. Transparency in regard to employment outcomes -- which pretty much didn't exist three years ago -- has been in large part achieved, and it has accomplished quite a bit by itself, as evidenced by the plunge in application and enrollment numbers. But while the situation is better, it's still the case that far too many people are paying far too much to go to law school. (My back of the envelope calculation is that national first year classes ought to be around 25,000 matrics, and that effective tuition ought to be around $10,000 per year, if we want legal education to be a good investment for a large majority of prospective law students going forward).
Looking back with the benefit of both three years' additional perspective, and the changes that have taken place over that time, I wish this blog had spent more time connecting the crisis in legal education to the crisis which is slowly but surely enveloping higher education in America in general. That latter crisis is a product of deep economic and cultural changes, which have left an entire generation of young Americans over-educated and under-employed (I explore the ways in which legal education is something of a proverbial canary in a coal mine for these much broader trends in a forthcoming article in the September issue of the Atlantic.)
But hindsight is notoriously more accurate than foresight. This blog played its part in helping some people -- not least its primary author -- understand the troubled world of contemporary legal education. The thing now is to change it.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Looking back at ITLSS
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"I explore the ways in which legal education is something of a proverbial canary in a coal mine for these much broader trends in a forthcoming article in the September issue of the Atlantic."ReplyDelete
I've said this for many years, law school is really the canary in the coal mine. Nowhere in academia will we find students paying more for less. The Federal government's treatment of student loans, once a laudable approach for providing education to all, has now been perverted into a system where students are nothing more than conduits through which Federally guaranteed money flows into the coffers of academia. This system has to change; the sooner the better for all of us.
I look forward to your article! And thank you so very much for continuing to fight the good fight.
Thank you for your efforts, Professor. You are one of the few actually willing to discuss the truth, instead of hiding behind curtains, pushing buttons and throwing switches.ReplyDelete
stupid, your supposed to write FIRSTReplyDelete
Are you going to comment on the role your incitement of hatred against Dan Markel on this blog may have played in his death, as several news sources are reporting?ReplyDelete
Interesting comment. Of course Brian Leiter known to have had differences with Markel, to have an obsessive personality prone to stalking those who offend him and a definite tendency to escalate issues to the bizarre - he is also known for his use of proxies to attack his supposed enemies, as well as the use of false identities and misdirection to try to conceal his activities (aduren?). So in short an obsessive vindictive and organised person, who though prone to calling other people crazy has had his mental health questioned. And he is busy hinting,Delete
I wonder how those news sources got wind of a vaguely ominous statement buried in a two and half year old comment thread on an inactive blog? Could some obsessive law professor with a personal vendetta be a despicable enough person to exploit Markel's death to score points in an internet feud, by digging up that comment, and frantically trying to make a story out of it, even though there are several dozen more plausible theories regarding the crime?ReplyDelete
He dismissed the possibility of the blog comments having anything to do with it: http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2014/07/more-on-the-murder-of-dan-markel.htmlDelete
Of course Leiter is the tipster. He plastered it all over his own childish blog too.Delete
That "man" is a puppetmaster of the highest order. Leong's embarrassing failure and dybbuk's unnecessary suffering? Leiter-driven. All his puppet characters that populate the comments sections of blogs he frequents.
All he does all day is fuck around on the internet playing with his imaginary friends.
(cross-commenting from LGM):ReplyDelete
Short of congressional action on the student loan side (and, as UNE points out in the LGM comments, maybe not even that) or aggressive action by the ABA and state courts (don’t hold your breath), I’m not sure what reasonable avenues are available to “change it.”
To get the kind of reform that Prof. Campos thinks is needed, and he may well be right about, will therefore require the willing participation of institutional stakeholders with adverse interests (e.g., faculty and staff of law schools that are over-enrolling and overcharging). Understandably, those stakeholders are going to be resistant to changes that would leave them unemployed (and in the case of long term faculty doing more theoretical work, potentially unemployable).
The 10-13k reduction in student matriculation suggested would account for the entire student populations of all but the top 130 or so law schools (assuming schools get seats filled like pouring water into a glass lined according to rank, rather than distributing lower enrollments around across the lower tiers as is actually the case). A concurrent reduction in tuition would put all of the schools that remain—those who do not have huge endowments to fall back on—operating at, at best, 50% budgets even if enrollments at those schools stay at current levels.
The reality of Prof. Campos’ suggested outcome is that many schools would have to close. Many of those who remain would have to dramatically cut faculty and staff to accommodate the lower tuition revenue. Why, then, would the stakeholders at those institutions take steps so obviously against against their interest unless forced to?
So, since “the thing now is to change it,” does anyone have ideas about what can be done to try to get those stakeholders on board? Assume that we can’t just shove these reforms down their throats by fiat.
I have some ideas to change it. I don't know if they will work or not, but something may be forthcoming if I can find the time and the energy. The field has been plowed and fertilized, and the time is right for change.Delete
I look forward to hearing them. If you want to discuss them in a less public forum, you can e-mail me at this name at hushmail.comDelete
I'm having a meeting with someone tonight that may either encourage me or discourage me. I'll send you an e-mail later this weekend. Are you Former Law Review Editor of the faculty lounge?Delete
Thank you for helping to expose this filthy, vile indu$try. For too long, the law school swine were able to publish false and misleading employment figures - and churn out far too many graduates for the available number of job openings.ReplyDelete
From 1981 to 2010 - a span of 30 years - ABA-accredited dimploma mills collectively issued 1,161,863 law degrees. During that time frame, tuition skyrocketed to outrageous levels.
In the end, the vast majority of "law professors" do not give a damn about their students. In their eyes, these young men and women are necessary cannon fodder. After all, it beats actual work.
Thanks again for your role. You and Tamanaha brought some real cache to the scamblog movement. Before you guys, the apologist cockroaches merely chirped "You guys are just a bunch losers. Get over it and move on, pal." You and David Segal of the NYT helped shut these bastards up on that front.
8:51, when did anyone suggest Campos was inciting hatred? A comment was posted on this blog 30 months ago, which Campos refused to delete. Is there some other example of hatred you can find?ReplyDelete
"Inciting hatred" = suggesting reforms that might cut grotesquely bloated faculty salaries and increase absurdly low work loads.ReplyDelete
8:51 is obviously Leiter, up to his usual internet stalking. As the next comment points out, he's probably the person who tried to make a news story out of connecting Prof. Markel's murder to a two year old comment on this blog. What a wretched excuse for a human being he is.
Professor, you need to start posting here on a regular basis between the months of April - August.ReplyDelete
9:42, I agree. Leiter linked to the story by the Miami Herald about a day after it went up (he called it "unusually informative" because it contained one sentence of the years-old comment) and then claimed that Campos "certainly did his best to incite hatred and calumny against many academics, including Dan Markel." That's some serious scumbag reporting there, Leiter.ReplyDelete
Leiter is - well - obsessive, a few short of a six pack, a stalker and prone to getting into huge highly personal disagreements with members of the online community commenting on philosophy and law schools. Why would he point people to this blog when this might point, well?Delete
He tried to play it both ways, pointing to the story speculating on whether the comments were a clue as to the identity of the killer (he was probably the source for the story in the first place), and then treating the story as improbable, even though the blog had supposedly incited a climate of hiate against Markel of all people (who a search of the blog reveals was mentioned in one post).ReplyDelete
Leiter is pure scum. He's exactly the kind of person who makes it plausible to imagine that some desperate scam victim would turn to violence against the worst offenders in the law school world.
"Leiter is pure scum."Delete
And transparent as glass, too. Who does he think he is fooling? It must be a slow news day over at U of C.
Absolutely disgraceful comment by "Anonymous" Leiter.ReplyDelete
What happened to the several Stanford law grads who left big law?ReplyDelete
"Leiter is - well - obsessive, a few short of a six pack, a stalker and prone to getting into huge highly personal disagreements with members of the online community commenting on philosophy and law schools. Why would he point people to this blog when this might point, well?"ReplyDelete
Leiter is also prone to hilariously over the top fits of pure projection. Examples: he rants about internet "miscreants" while cyber-stalking people and using sock puppets, he accuses others of doing anything for publicity, when he's the biggest publicity whore in academia etc.
So if he's pointing the finger at somebody for a murder, well . . .
The obsession with this Leiter fellow here is strange. The ABA Journal just ran an article about the murder and the blog comments in question, some of which did appear on this blog. And Leiter himself called the allegations a "stretch" two weeks ago.ReplyDelete
The very fact that he even addressed something he considers a "stretch" shows his motivation. Write about it, then say "nothing to see here', after pointing a huge fat finger at where he wants us to look.Delete
Poor, poor Brian Leiter. He's now furiously trying to backtrack after doing his best to whip up a fake angle on the Markel murder by pointing to this blog. Oh he thought he was being very clever by calling the comments -- which he tried to bring to the attention of the authorities! -- a "stretch."ReplyDelete
We all know you're reading this Brian, so take your hand off your dick for a second and try to avoid making things any worse for yourself. Murder investigations aren't anything to trifle with, unlike the usual academic bullshit you've built your "career" around.
Iowa wants to get rid of the bar exam to help its two law schools snare more students. State Supreme Court is considering "Diploma Privilege" on its administrative docket in a few weeks.ReplyDelete
Where is Leiter "furiously trying to backtrack"?ReplyDelete
C'mon Brian, this is pathetic even by your standards, which is saying something. Stop pretending that anybody but you is interested in defending you "anonymously" on this blog, of all places. What a coward.ReplyDelete
4:51, are you talking to me, 4:31 or another Anonymous? I am not Brian Leiter. I am genuinely interested in seeing where he is backtracking.ReplyDelete
See comment at 1:30PMDelete
I looked at Leiter's post discussing the article on the hostile comments, and that is where he talks about a possible link as a "stretch". That "stretch" comment is not "furiously backtracking". Doesn't really matter, though. I just thought maybe he had said something new elsewhere.Delete
It is interesting that the NY Times ran an article last weekend suggesting that the same oversupply of graduates from U.S. schools is starting in the medical profession as happened in the legal profession. New DO schools are proliferating like ant colonies. DO and MD residencies are going to be combined by 2020. How many doctors are going to be shut out of residencies? How many MD graduates of US schools are going to need to enter scramble?ReplyDelete
There is a total lack of control of the number of professional schools opened and places funded by federal loans vs. the number of spots open for the graduates of these schools.
Federal government issue.
Absence of long-term outcome information on law degrees - another federal government issue.
Problem is that our young people are being ruined by the attitude that this system fosters professional opportunities.
As to the debt spiral, law school is definitely the canary in the higher ed mine. But law school seems to me uniquely scammy in other important respects.ReplyDelete
Is there any other professional degree that is actively despised, not just disregarded, by white collar employers outside the field? Is there any other kind of professional school where practice experience in the profession is a disadvantage in selecting teachers? Is there any other academic discipline-- professional, scientific, or liberal-artsy-- where faculty are not expect to have their scholarship peer-reviewed? Is there any other kind of professional school where core doctrine is taught via the Socratic method of cold-calling students and badgering them with irrelevant or deceptive questions?
I believe that ITLSS will be honored even many years and decades into the future for raising these questions, and salvaging some dignity from the wreckage.
As someone pointed out elsewhere (at TTR?), law seems to be the only field of work with an industry devoted to helping people get out of it. I think that speaks volumes.Delete
To this day, dybbuk, I am still floored by the questions you raise. Some ten-years-plus ago when I went to law school, these issues didn't even cross my mind in any sort of serious manner or even began to ring warning bells. I just naturally believed that law shared important academic analogies and touch-points with other respected academic disciplines.Delete
The fact that not only was I wrong, but dead wrong, still shocks me to this day. Law Schools hide behind the veil of academic rigor and research, but in reality their non-law peer-departments are more scholarly at their core and have more direct impact on the world than law schools could every hope to approach. I say this as both a former STEMer (with actual work experience) and a pseudo-liberal-artist.
the real question is "when will the ABA allow (and the law schools implement) all the following: drop the LSAT, 100% online courses, affordable tuition?"ReplyDelete
A hearty thank-you to all the work that you have done on this issue. This isn't an issue that just affects law grads. It is an issue that affects our entire legal system, because raising the cost of a legal education and limiting access to practice law only to those who have the economic means to enter the profession affects those who has access to our justice system. I heartily believe that in just a few short years, we are going to see the impact that raising the costs to enter the profession has had on access to our legal system for all.
I have long thought that it is time to do something beyond simply highlighting the issue. The next logical step is to require accountability and transparency in student lending. If the average American was aware of what their student loan dollars were going to (ie: law students were taking out $150,000 to work as a barrista and are unable to pay the debt back and the government is on the hook for it), they would be outraged and would want the whole process changed, if not stopped.
I have been thinking for quite some time that the next step is to solicit signatures for a petition presented to Congress requiring that student loans for law school only be allowed to be used at institutions that can show certain employment rates in comparison to tuition costs. I believe the next step to be taken must be legislative. However, I anticipate that there will be quite a fight from schools who have benefited enormously from the no-strings attached guarantee of government loan money.
I have given this quite a bit of thought, but wanted to test the waters as to interest and commitment, because this won't work as a one-man show, especially after the schools come out swinging.
But the cause is worth it, and the accessibility and fairness of our entire legal system depends on it. If anyone is up for pursuing the issue more, please respond to this message.
Have you considered trying to get this, or something similar, going through the White House's online petition? I'm not sure how broad the agency discretion is in the federal loan statutes, but I'd bet that the President has some flexibility in that regard.ReplyDelete
One thing that has not improved since 2011 is the number of paying clients coming in the door. When I hear people talk about the recession as if it's something in the past, I groan inside.ReplyDelete
The recession continues for the middle class. The upper class is doing just fine with the Stock market continuing to zoom ahead.ReplyDelete
What would happen if the Feds made a rule that only allowed a max of say 7 thousand dollars a year for loans for law school? Do you all think it would collapse the system? I have wondered if this would be a solution.ReplyDelete
I think it would. A real lender actually cares about getting repaid. A real lender won't loan $100k to a typical 19-year-old without getting some valuable security.Delete
Even though applications have dropped, there are still too many. It is unfortunate that this terrible scam persists despite all the information.ReplyDelete
Especially because the people being roped in now are the poor and ignorant -- the people least likely to have access to good advice, least likely to succeed in practice, and least likely to have any kind of support system when they're overwhelmed by debt and are lucky to find a job that even requires a BA, let alone a JD.Delete