Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Halfway home

 "Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards."

             -- Max Weber, Politics as Vocation --

For understandable reasons, the law school reform movement has traditionally been dominated by pessimism.  Many critics have assumed that, as long as the federal government maintains its policy of lending the full cost of attendance (not just the full price of tuition) to anyone any ABA law school chooses to admit, no matter what that school chooses to charge, law schools would be able to more or less continue to conduct business as usual, as long as they were willing to continue to slash admissions standards enough to keep enough warm bodies coming through their doors.

That seemed like a reasonable assumption, but it's apparently turning out to be mistaken.

It's fair to say that admissions standards have now been cut as much as they can be cut, practically speaking.  80% of all applicants were admitted to at least one school to which they applied during the 2013-14 cycle.  That number can't go much if at all higher, because a significant minority of applicants will only apply to schools that maintain various levels of real selectivity, and some of those people won't get into any of those schools.

In addition, perhaps 5% of the applicant pool in any year consists of people who have such serious behavioral red flags in their files that no school, even though most desperate, will admit them, if only because of potential liability concerns.

When it comes to law school admissions, we may not be at the metaphorical equivalent of -459.67F  quite yet, but we're very close.  Which means that any further declines in applicants are going to be matched by something close to an equivalent decline in matriculants.

Speaking of which, we're nearly three quarters of the way through the 2014-2015 admissions cycle, and applications are down yet another 7%.  This means we can estimate this fall's entering class will be roughly around 35,300 1Ls, down from 52,500 just five years ago.  Somewhere between 85% to 90% of those people will end up graduating, depending on various assumptions (Given the radical slashing of admissions standards at so many schools, it seems reasonable to assume drop out/flunk out rates may rise. OTOH every lost student hurts the already bleeding bottom line, so it's hard to say whether this will drive the historical non-completion rate below the 11%-12% it's been at in recent years).

Even on the high end, that means no more than 32,000 or so graduates will come out of the class of 2018, of which (being optimistic again) perhaps 90% will eventually pass a bar exam.  So that's around 28,500 or so new prospective lawyers going into a system that can probably absorb -- this has to be no more than an educated guess -- perhaps 20,000 per year.  If you're so inclined you can also add a couple thousand more or less legit "JD advantage" jobs to that total, and suddenly things look very different than the pre-reform status quo, in which schools dropped 45,000 new graduates onto the market every year (Last year's graduating class will be the last for a very, very long time that will be that large).

Now of course the massive contraction in law school graduates is only half the battle. For one thing, it needs to go further -- at least another 10% or 20% from where it will be three years from now, given current applicant levels. For another, and just if not more critically, law school tuition is still far, far too high -- absurdly so, despite increasing discounts off sticker by increasingly desperate schools.

Given likely career outcomes for the vast majority of law graduates who won't get prestige-driven legal jobs (BIGLAW and BIGFED), law school tuition at non-elite schools should be no more than $10,000 to $15,000 per year.  So there's a long way to go.

But there's also lot to celebrate.  The biggest of all the scam factories, Thomas Cooley, fired nearly 60% of its faculty last August. Thomas Jefferson had to give its shiny new building to its creditors, and limps along on life support. Hamline is effectively ceasing to exist, after a face-saving (for its parent university) "merger" with William Mitchell, that will leave the combined institutions with the same number of law students Mitchell had last year.  And after a hurricane of bad publicity, the Infilaw scamsters are on the run.

I continue to write regularly on these issues at Lawyers, Guns and Money, as do others in various venues.  In the last couple of years I've also written a number of things regarding the law school reform movement for academic journals. For example last month I published an article on the effects of stigmatization on lawyers and law graduates -- something that the commenters on this blog taught me a great deal about, and which might interest at least a few of them. (Anyone who doesn't have access to the article via Lexis etc. and who wants to read it can email me at, and I'll send you a copy).

Wherever and whoever you are in this movement, keep up the fight. We're winning.


  1. "So that's around 28,500 or so new prospective lawyers going into a system that can probably absorb -- this has to be no more than an educated guess -- perhaps 20,000 per year."

    Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics metrics, I question this.

    From the Q2 of 2007 through the Q4 of 2009, the Legal Services Sector lost 70,000 jobs. From Q4 2009 - Q4 2014, the Legal Services Sector added back only 10,000.

    Even if one assumes every one of those 10,000 was an attorney job, that is still 10,000 over 6.5 years, or 1,538 per year on average starting in 2010.

    If the Legal Services Sector is really absorbing 20,000 per year those new graduates must be replacing licensed attorneys leaving the profession since the Sector did not add 20,000 or anything close to it per year...But, where's the evidence of such an exodus of lawyers from the profession?

    Personally, I think even the 50% employment-as-lawyers unaudited, self-reports from law schools are pure fraud; made-up, fabricated.

    CONSIDER: Law schools claim they placed something like 20,000 per year, 2007-2014, into *JD-bar-passage-required* jobs. That is, they claim they placed approximately 130,000 graduates into lawyer jobs during a period of time in which the Sector was net -60,000 jobs. FRAUD. ALERT.

    The 50% absorption rate for new graduates is a number so soft it would make the anal emissions of a Giardia sufferer look firm.

    Dr. Michael Burry said it best when he said you will know the end stage of a credit bubble by the acceleration of fraud.

    1. Good point, but one explanation for high first year placement is that the legal profession has become quite age pyramidal in the face of extreme lawyer oversupply. Just because people are placed as first years, does not mean they can have a career as a lawyer. On average, only half of the first years will be working as lawyers for a 40 year career, and that statistic includes temps and solos.

      You also have the bi modal first year salary distribution and a huge number of temporary jobs without benefits for experienced lawyers. These are products of extreme lawyer oversupply.

      A top law degree may offer opportunities for the young. For older lawyers, less so, because of extreme lawyer oversupply.

      I hate to think about how many lawyers actually have employer paid health insurance. Because of the proliferation of temps, many of the lawyer jobs don't have benefits. Sort of like working at Walmart and having your hours chopped to part time so they don't have to pay overtime or benefits. However, for lawyers, companies can just hire temps and dispose of them after a few months without providing benefits.

      Based on the available data, the long term employment outcomes for lawyers are very much worse than the first year outcomes.

    2. I'd say it's even worse if you look at the number of GOOD jobs, jobs that not only pay a strong wage justifying 3 years of graduate education and the accompanying cost, but also the licensing requirements of not only passing the bar but continued CLE and registration fees as well as administrative requirements (reporting each cycle, leaving addresses for home and business, C&F which doesn't exist anywhere else) AND also provide a quality of life experience that makes people happy to have their job.

      How many good CAREER jobs that people have their health and a work-life balance are there in law? I do wonder if it even reaches 1500 a year of that type of position. Even most Big Law positions won't fit those requirements.

      If people knew the reality of legal practice, even absent the awful career prospects, how many people would willingly subject themselves to a career as a lawyer? I know I personally wouldn't.

      For all the stress and job dissatisfaction law creates, it's amazing that anyone would want to do it for the awful salaries in place. I'm not sure there is ANY salary I would take, any reasonable one at any rate, to practice as a lawyer.

    3. Most professionals work hard. It goes with the territory.

      In law, you really need to prepare for long periods of unemployment. It happens to most people.

      Unless you are in and can stay long term in one of relatively few long term positions with institutional work, making a living as a lawyer long term is likely to be an uphill battle.

      You cannot get work on demand. There are no extra shifts available and no way to get clients just because you need the work.

      The entry level system produces a huge oversupply of highly trained lawyers with strong legal experience.

    4. "Most professionals work hard. It goes with the territory.

      In law, you really need to prepare for long periods of unemployment. It happens to most people. "

      Most professions don't require $100-$250K + debt to enter.


    5. @ 6:50 PM

      OP here. What law school employment numbers in the aggregate are, are way beyond believable. We're talking about an industry that has been caught lying many, many times, and they're lying now.

      A 10% employment rate doesn't sound so good, neither does 50%, but they all still put 85-90% in their glossy brochures...and then post their Standard 509s on their websites.

      It's a load of poo poo that they placed such astronomical numbers of graduates in an industry that's been FLAT for the better part of a decade. It's a lie. It's fraud.

      For me, this "crisis" doesn't end when law schools close, or when the obscene, unjust debt induced by fraud is discharged, it ends when the persons responsible for huge, systemic fraud start being held personally responsible. Maybe they need to get dragged from their homes Bolshevik-style. Whatever it takes. They owe society and they owe their victims.

  2. It is so rewarding to see that we have collectively saved thousands of young people from financial hell. The law school pigs never expected the well to run dry.

  3. Thanks for posting the update. You should post more on this blog with links to your articles on Lawyers, Guns, and Money that are relevant to the readers of ITLSS.


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