Friday, July 31, 2015
One of the key claims of critics of legal education in general, and of ABA-approved law schools in particular, is that accreditation requirements drive up the costs of legal education without improving quality. If only we could deregulate law schools and unleash the creative power of free market competition and the awesome technological potential of online learning, legal education would become cheaper without any loss of quality. Or so the story goes.
Fortunately, deregulated law schools exist alongside regulated law schools, so we can get a sense of what deregulation might look like. And while unaccredited California law schools are less expensive than their accredited counterparts, their completion rates and bar passage rates are much lower than those for even the lowest ranked ABA approved law schools, as revealed by a recent Los Angeles Times investigation.
This is likely due at least in part to the incoming academic credentials and life circumstances of the students who enroll in unaccredited schools, and not simply due to differences in quality of education. But there is no law preventing unaccredited law schools from competing with accredited law schools for the best students who want to stay in California, a large and prosperous state where many lawyers will spend their entire careers. If accreditation is really an inefficient waste of time and resources, the unaccredited schools should have substantial advantages in the competition for students, and those students should have advantages in the competition for jobs.
At first glance, deregulation hardly looks like the panacea its advocates have made it out to be. ABA accreditation also looks pretty plausibly like standard consumer protection--a paternalistic attempt to eliminate low quality, low cost, and high-risk options--rather than a self-serving scheme to inflate prices.
There are usually tradeoffs between cost and quality. It's not surprising that as goes the world, so goes legal education.
The Wall Street Journal’s recent story about law-school funded jobs is a good example of the slant that has pervaded its law school coverage for the last several years. The general outline of the WSJ story is as follows: job outcomes for law school graduates have become so terrible that law schools are creating fake jobs for their graduates, not to help students succeed, but to game the U.S. News rankings. The implication of the story is that law school is not only a bad idea for economic reasons, but that law schools are fundamentally corrupt and dishonest.
The problem is that the WSJ has taken information out of context and presented it in a way that is misleading. Like a Rorschach test, the story reveals more about the Wall Street Journal than it reveals about the subject of the story.
Here are some problems with the WSJ's coverage:
1. The data visualizations are misleading
There is a standard and widely accepted way to present percentage data. The minimum possible value is 0 percent. The maximum possible value is 100 percent. Therefore, a figure showing percentages should almost always be scaled from zero to 100 percent. The Wall Street Journal violates this rule of data visualization in ways that are revealing.
The WSJ scaled the figure at the left, showing law school employment, from 60 percent to 95 percent. This makes law school employment look lower than it really is, and exaggerates the decline in employment.
The middle chart, showing law-school funded employment is scaled from 0 to 6 percent. This makes law-school funded jobs look like a huge proportion of employment rather than a tiny one (4 to 5 percent). Contrary to the thrust of the WSJ’s story, there does not seem to be much of a relationship between overall employment outcomes and the proportion of school-funded jobs.
(The third chart, showing the proportion of school-funded jobs that are full time, long-term legal jobs increasing over time, is not commented on in the text of the story).
2. There is no discussion of what percentage of graduates of other programs are working positions funded by their institutions and little discussion of whether such jobs might be helpful
School-funded jobs are not unique to law schools. Whereas press coverage of law schools hiring their own graduates has been overwhelmingly negative, coverage of colleges hiring their own graduates has generally been positive or the issue simply hasn’t been covered. People might have doubts about educational institutions that never hire their own graduates for open positions, just as we might doubt a manufacturer or retailer that did not use any of its own products.
Are law schools more likely than other educational programs to hire their own graduates? Are law-school funded jobs better or worse than these other school-funded jobs? Are law-school funded jobs more or less likely to lead to good outcomes over the long term?
None of these important contextual issues are raised by the WSJ.
Even Above the Law provided a more balanced discussion of the possible upsides and downsides of school-funded jobs.
A similar issue arose with press coverage of competitive merit scholarships. Law schools were condemned harshly for policies that are also widely used by colleges and state governments, whereas colleges generally received more balanced coverage. This was the case even though law students were actually more likely to keep their competitive scholarships than were many undergraduates.
3. There is no discussion of how overall law school employment compares to employment for recent college graduates or graduates of other programs.
When it comes to apples-to-apples comparisons of law school graduates to similar bachelor’s degree holders with similar levels of work experience at the same point in time, law school graduates are more likely to be employed, more likely to be employed full time, and no less likely to be employed in a job that is related to what they studied. They are also likely to be earning substantially more money than their less educated counterparts. For the overwhelming majority of law school graduates, the lifetime boost to earnings more than makes up for the cost of law school.
The problem is not law school employment outcomes. The problem is that the labor market in general is challenging for everyone, especially the young and inexperienced. Law graduates generally do better than similar college graduates, who in turn generally do better than similar high school graduates.
Law schools are not the employment story. The employment story is the debate about aggregate demand and fiscal stimulus, and how best to provide more workers with the benefits conferred by higher education.
4. There is no discussion of how law school employment reporting compares to employment reporting for other educational institutions or standard definitions of “employment” used by the government
Under standard definitions of employment used by the U.S. government and just about everyone else, employment counts as employment whether it is school-funded or not, whether it is long term or full time or not, whether it is highly paid or not.
The use of non-standard definitions by law schools makes law school difficult to compare to alternatives. This does not reflect higher or lower ethical standards—it simply reflects data collection and reporting practices that are not well thought out. It can bias the presentation of the data in a way that makes law school look worse relative to alternatives when in fact law school employment outcomes under standardized measurements are usually better than many likely alternatives.
The standard definition of employment is not the only interesting measure of outcomes, so law schools may also want to consider other measures. But any measure they use needs to be standardized and comparable across educational programs rather than used exclusively by law schools.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
How should marriage affect legal determinations of ability to pay, and therefore obligation to pay? These are questions that tax scholars have long debated. Similar issues are now being debated in higher education circles because of the growth of income-based student loan repayment plans.
In the context of Federal Income Taxation, marriage can either be a financial boon for the taxpayer or a financial burden, depending on the relative incomes of the two spouses and other complexities. Policy makers generally wish to avoid penalizing marriage, but also wish to avoid being unduly harsh toward those who are single. The current system reflects a messy compromise.
In the context of income contingent repayment of student loans, married debtors may be harshly penalized if Department of Education proposed regulations remain unchanged. This is bad policy and a misreading of Congressional intent according to Professor Philip Schrag of Georgetown, a notable expert on income based repayment plans. Schrag argues that the proposed regulations and definitions of Income adopted by the Department of Education for the REPAYE program should be revised to more closely parallel the Income Taxation approach. Schrag's comment on the DOE regulations is available here.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
It's educational malpractice to recommend that incoming law students read Llewellyn's "The Bramble Bush"...
...as, alas, Michael Krauss (George Mason) does in The Washington Post no less. Llewellyn's book is delightful and rich with interesting material, but I guarantee it makes no sense to someone who hasn't already read a lot of cases and studied some basic common-law subjects, like torts and contracts. (I offer the basic Jurisprudence course here as a 1L elective in the Spring Quarter, and to those students it makes a lot of sense precisely because they've already seen so many examples of what Llewellyn is talking about.) The one book I recommend to students who ask what to read before starting law school is Ward Farnsworth's The Legal Analyst (though the "Jurisprudence" part of the book isn't really about jurisprudence). This is accessible to a novice, and provides a beginning law student with a variety of useful analytical tools. (Farnsworth, now Dean at Texas, is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and the book actually covers much of the material covered in "Elements of the Law," a required fall quarter class for all 1Ls here--indeed, one of my colleagues who teaches "Elements" uses Farnsworth's book in the class.)
Friday, July 24, 2015
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
...has been updated again. They write:
We just updated our charts about law journal submissions, expedites, and rankings from different sources for the Fall 2015 submission season covering the 204 main journals of each law school.
A couple of the highlight from this round of revisions are:
First, the chart now includes as much information as possible about what law reviews are not accepting submissions right now and what dates they say they'll resume accepting submissions. Most of this is not specific dates, because the journals tend to post only imprecise statements about how the journal is not currently accepting submissions but will start doing so at some point in spring.
Second, there continues to be a gradual increase in the number of journals using and preferring Scholastica instead of ExpressO or accepting emails submissions: 22 journals prefer or strongly prefer Scholastica, 14 more list it as one of the alternative acceptable avenues of submission, and 10 now list Scholastica as the exclusive method of submission.
The first chart contains information about each journal’s preferences about methods for submitting articles (e.g., e-mail, ExpressO, Scholastica, or regular mail), as well as special formatting requirements and how to request an expedited review. The second chart contains rankings information from U.S. News and World Report as well as data from Washington & Lee’s law review website.
The Washington & Lee data, I should note, is mostly silly (among other things, it does not control for publication volume by the journals). Law review prominence and visibility tracks law school reputation, full stop. For some specialty journals, the W&L data is somewhat useful, but that's about it.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
MOVING TO FRONT: YALE LIST IS NOW, I THINK, COMPLETE--PLEASE NOTIFY ME OF ANY REMAINING ERRORS
As I've done in the past, I'm posting a list of the visiting professors (who hold university appointments elsewhere) at the top six law schools, the schools that are "top six" by almost all measures of faculty quality--which are also the schools that also typically have the most visiting professors on a regular basis. While many visiting stints are made with an eye to possible permanent appointment, not all are; some are so-called "podium" visits, which aim to fill an immediate teaching need at the school. By my calculation, for example, maybe 5% of the visits last year resulted in (or are in process of resulting in) offers of permanent employment--perhaps a slightly higher percentage of the non-podium visits resulted in such offers. Often visitors from local schools in the area are invited for podium visit purposes--though some "locals" may also be "look-see" visitors, i.e., under consideration for appointment. NYU also has a fair number of "enrichment" and "global" visitors, well-known senior folks who are keen to spend some time in New York, but who aren't necessarily interested in, or being considered for, lateral moves. (Columbia gets some of these folks too.) From the outside, of course, it's very hard to tell all these apart, so here, without further comment, are the visiting professors for 2015-16; please e-mail me about omissions or corrections (though I'm hopeful this is the final version).
Please note that not every visit, below, is for the entire academic year; indeed, my guess is at least half are not, meaning students can expect many of these faculty to *also* be teaching at their home institution. In the case of HLS, many of the visitors come in the Winter Term, i.e., just the month of January.
Please also note that this is supposed to be a list of visiting faculty who have gone through some kind of appointments process at the school at which they are visiting, whether a process for look-see visitors, "enrichment" visitors, or podium visitors. These are supposed to be faculty who are teaching at the host school and who are being paid by the host school to teach.
Columbia Law School
Aharon Barak (Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya)
Noa Ben-Asher (Pace University)
Hanoch Dagan (Tel Aviv University)
David Enoch (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
James Forman (Yale University)
David Gliksberg (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
Sudhir Krishnaswamy (National Law School of India)
Jennifer Laurin (University of Texas, Austin)
Dennis Patterson (European University Institute; Rutgers University, Camden; University of Swansea)
Scott Shapiro (Yale University)
Dan Simon (University of Southern California)
Julie Suk (Cardozo Law School/Yeshiva University)
Mila Versteeg (University of Virginia)
Rose Cuison Villazor (University of California, Davis)
Monday, July 20, 2015
Friday, July 17, 2015
Thursday, July 16, 2015
A new empirical article by Tom Ginsburg and Thomas J. Miles finds evidence of possible complementarity between scholarly output and quality of teaching at the University of Chicago.
From the conclusion:
The recent debate on the mission of American law schools has hinged on the assumption that a trade-off exists between teaching and research, and this article’s analysis, although limited in various ways, casts some doubt on that assumption.
Tom Ginsburg & Thomas J. Miles, The Teaching/ Research Trade-Off in Law: Data From the Right Tail, 39 Evaluation Rev. 46 (2015).
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Two Colorado law professors (actual scholars, not the notorious clown!) have undertaken an interesting longitudinal study of law school success, looking at data, though, from just two schools: Colorado and Case Western. It is informative about schools with similar profiles, but I wonder whether the results hold if one looks at much stronger or much weaker schools?
(Thanks to Dean Rowan for the pointer.)
Friday, July 10, 2015
According to LSAC, June 2015 LSAT takers were up 6.6% from June 2014, the first time we've seen an increase since June 2010, and the biggest increase since June 2009. I wouldn't suppose that this means we will see a significant increase in applicants, but it certainly seems likely we've hit a plateau.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Monday, July 6, 2015
I'll post a link to a news release when one is available. Perhaps now that Illinois has appointed a distinguished Dean from the outside, those U.S. News evaluators who have been punishing Illinois in the reputational surveys will consider giving the school a more generous score?
UPDATE: The Illinois announcement.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
These are appointments that will take effect in 2016; I will move the list to the front at various intervals as new additions come in. Last year's list is here.
*Steve Vladeck (federal courts, national security law, constitutional law) from American University to the University of Texas, Austin.
*Melissa Wasserman (patents, intellectual property, administrative law, torts, innovation law and policy) from the University of Illinois to the University of Texas, Austin.