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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chemerinsky: You Get What You Pay for in Legal Education

UC-Irvine LogoNational Law Journal op-ed:  You Get What You Pay for in Legal Education, by Erwin Chemerinsky (Dean, UC-Irvine):

Professor Brian Tamanaha, in his provocative new book, Failing Law Schools, argues for a new approach to legal education that involves law schools that are dramatically less expensive. In fact, he singles out for criticism me and the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI) for creating an "elite" law school rather than one charging students less than $20,000 a year. Although everyone wants legal education to be less expensive, he proposes a model that is economically impossible without dramatically decreasing the quality of legal education.

Tamanaha makes many important points. He is right that the cost of legal education has gone up tremendously and requires most students to go substantially in debt to pay for it. ... His solution is to advocate much lower-cost law schools. But is it possible? Tuition at the University of California law schools is approximately $45,000 for in-state students and $55,000 for out-of-state students. This is comparable to the tuition at other elite public and private law schools. For public law schools, it reflects the dramatic decrease in state subsidies over recent years.

Tamanaha says that to create low-cost law schools there should be a very substantial decrease in faculty salaries and an increase in faculty teaching loads. But would this work, and what would it mean for legal education?

Tamanaha is correct that law professors are paid significantly more than university faculty in disciplines like English, philosophy and history. Imagine that a law school tried to pay at that level, say roughly half of current faculty salaries at top law schools. Who would come and teach at a school where they got paid half what other law schools would pay them, and who would stay there when other opportunities arose?

But even doing so wouldn't allow for the decrease in tuition that Tamanaha wants. At my law school, about 70% of the budget is faculty and staff salaries and benefits. Realistically, little could be gained by cutting staff salaries [but see UC-Hastings]. ...

About half of our budget is faculty salaries and benefits, but even slicing these in half wouldn't save nearly enough for a tuition decrease like the one Tamanaha argues for. ... Cutting a law faculty in half would require relying far more on relatively low-cost adjunct faculty. Tamanaha's assumption is that relying on practitioners rather than professors to teach more classes won't compromise the quality of the education students receive. Here I think he is just wrong. There are certainly some spectacular adjunct professors at every law school, and they play a vital role. But as I see each year when I read the student evaluations at my school, overall the evaluations for the full-time faculty are substantially better than they are for the adjuncts. It is easy to understand why. Teaching is a skill, and most people get better the more they do it. Moreover, full-time faculty generally have more time to prepare than adjunct professors who usually have busy practices. ...

Tamanaha says that UCI Law School "squandered" its opportunity, and that where we "went wrong was in setting out to create an elite law school." My goal, and that of my university, has been to create a top 20 law school from the outset. Recently, a study of faculty scholarly impact ranked UCI Law's faculty seventh in the country (behind Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Stanford, New York University and Columbia). Our students are of the caliber of top 20 law schools by traditional measures of LSAT and grade-point averages. Our applications were up 105% this year. ...

If we had followed Tamanaha's advice, we would not have faculty remotely of this quality and then never could have attracted students of this caliber. We surely would have been a fourth-tier law school. It is ironic that he would be advocating that because so much of his book is about demonstrating the serious problems such schools face.

I do not deny that legal education faces difficult challenges and Tamanaha identifies many. But nor do I believe the picture is nearly as bleak as he believes it is, and I am convinced that his solution is neither possible nor desirable.

Update:

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2012/07/chemerinsky-you-get.html

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Comments

If you compare salary and unemployment rates for JDs with salary and unemployment for undergraduates with degrees in liberal arts fields (and no JD)--especially those in lawyer-like fiends that focus on reading and writing (journalism, publishing, etc.)--it's pretty clear that professors who teach undergraduate liberal arts classes are *overpaid* relative to law school professors.

Professors who actually have skills that might be useful outside a university--economists, engineers, chemists, law profs--need to be paid a competitive salary, or they'll take those skills elsewhere.

This may not be obvious to Brian Tamanaha, since he publishes in the not-so worldly field of jurisprudence, and his exhaustive studies of "pluralism", "positivism", "socio-legal theory" and rule of law in Micronesia may not have honed his business skills to a razor sharp edge. (Then again, he has done a fine job promoting his book).

His colleagues, however, who teach Patents, Corporate Law, Taxation, M&A, Healthcare law, Food & Drug law, FCC law, Energy law, Environmental Law, Civil Procedure and Mass Torts, Bankruptcy, Contracts, Commercial Law, Financial Institutions, Securities Regulation, Labor & Employment Law, and pretty much any other business law field that will actually help students get a job are in a different position.

They can leave the university and make more money the very next day. Most of them have degrees from top 5 schools. Many of them have significant practice experience. Several of them already have thriving consultancies on the side.

And that's a good thing. Because they're connected to the real world enough to teach something that will help their students get high-paying jobs.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 24, 2012 6:41:26 AM

It is obvious that "Anon," above, did not real "Failing Law Schools" and that Prof. Chemerinsky totally missed the point of the criticism leveled at him. First, Anon, as Tamanaha explains at length and buttresses with fact after fact after fact in his book, the vast majority of doctrinal law professors are not to be counted among "[p]rofessors who actually have skills that might be useful outside a university." The great majority of doctrinal law profs have a range of practical legal skills from zero to very little that are actually marketable outside the academy. Doctrinal law profs, especially at the elite schools, typically graduated from Yale or Harvard, clerked for a federal appellate judge, and may have "practiced" for at most two years in a BigLaw firm. And the latter credential--inadequaate as it is to provide any real grounding or even perspective on legal practice--is gradually being replaced by other, additional academic credentials, in particular a Ph.D. in a social science field. At Yale, Harvard, and other law schools in the T14, a significant number of "law" professors have Ph.D.s but no law degree. They have no value outside of the academy.

As for Dean Chemerinsky, Tamanaha's criticism is simple. UC-Irvine's stated goal was to create a law school for the future--one that would produce lawyers for all classes of people and that could be attended by all classes of students. All Dean Chemerinsky succeeded in doing was replicating the Yale-Harvard-Columbia model on the West Coast. With a $50k+ annual tuition for the fourth entering class, a law faculty poached from elite schools with offers of exorbitant salaries, and a business model undifferentiated from Cooley, there is nothing new at UC-Irvine. Its fourth class will be characterized by a top tier of students whose tuition is subsidized by the bottom half of the class. Its graduates will be debt-ridden. Those who find jobs will be bound to serve in BigLaw to service their debt, or seek remission of debt through ever-scarcer tuition forgiveness programs. Nothing new here--except a bunch of additional law grads in already saturated market.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jul 24, 2012 8:56:16 AM

In fact, he singles out for criticism me and the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI) for creating an "elite" law school rather than one charging students less than $20,000 a year. Although everyone wants legal education to be less expensive, he proposes a model that is economically impossible without dramatically decreasing the quality of legal education.
Not to state the obvious here, but law school used to cost a lot less than it does now. (IIRC, my alma mater has increased its tuition by about 70% in the last eight years.)

Is Chemerinsky really arguing that the quality of legal education has dramatically increased in the last decade, and that we cannot go back to turn-of-the millennium pricing without unleashing hoards of horrible lawyers upon an unsuspecting public?

Posted by: Roxeanne de Luca | Jul 24, 2012 9:31:49 AM

The folks who are considering becoming law profs--i.e., those with a degree from Harvard or Yale, a federal clerkship, a few years of big firm experience--are choosing between a law prof job and a private law job that will pay them between $250K (if they don't make partner and become counsel or go in house) and $3 million per year (if they make partner at a big firm) and a law prof job that will pay them a small fraction of that.

Law firms value these people immensely--many will pay clerkship bonuses, which are particularly large for Supreme Court clerks.

Brian Tamanaha may think he's surrounded by a bunch of useless idiots with no value outside of a law school, but law firm partners and corporate clients who actually run successful businesses clearly disagree.

Many law professors also work as expert witnesses, generally billing out at hourly rates that are comparable to law firm partners. Again, what actually goes on in the labor market shows that law professors are extremely valuable.

Except for the small handful of Tamanahas and Compos's who teach things like Jurisprudence and Punishment Theory that no client would ever pay for.

Why should legal education to be available cheaply and freely to everyone? High quality organic food is not available cheaply and freely to everyone. High quality healthcare is not available to everyone. Luxurious, spacious apartments in attractive cities are not available to everyone. Fine broadway plays and ballets are not available to everyone. Public transportation and luxury cars are not available to everyone.

We live in a world of scarcity. Only the rich and the upper middle class can afford quality. It is true in education, healthcare, housing, entertainment, clothing, and just about everything else. The rich live longer, and they live better.

If you want to live in world where everyone has an equal opportunity to become e a lawyer, move to Sweden where the government fully funds education for all comers regardless of class. Or vote for 60%+ tax rates here in the U.S. so we turn into Sweden.

If you want to live in capitalist society in which scarce, quality goods services go to the rich, taxes are low, and the rewards for success are huge--and are passed from one generation to the next--don't expect higher education to be allocated any differently from Healthcare, Housing, or any other good or service.

Americans have the economic system they voted for. They should either live with it, or change it, but don't expect higher education to play by a different set of rules from everyone else in the country.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 24, 2012 2:14:35 PM

Yes, law school used to cost a lot less than it does now. And profits per partner at big law firms used to be a lot lower than they are now. And CEOs and Financiers used to make a lot less money.

The premium for educated, talented workers has increased. Law firm partners, CEOs, and financiers can all make more than they could 20 years ago.

And so can the law professors and business school professors who train them.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 24, 2012 3:04:04 PM

Anon,

Your position was expressed by Ted Seto a year ago. (Come to think of it, many of the critical views you have expressed about my book in the past few weeks sound a lot like Seto's, although he had the courage to put his name on it, and he avoided personal insults.) I quoted Seto's assertion in the book and made several points in response. You can look it up if you think it is necessary to read and understand a position before you attack it.

Publius gives the main answers above, but I will add another.

It may be true that many law professors could earn $250,000 as lawyers--I'm skeptical, though, that is almost double the median lawyer salary according to BLS--but what you fail to consider is that law professors have a far better quality of life than do most lawyers. Many people happily leave corporate law work to become law professors, taking large pay cuts, precisely for this reason.

I doubt that many law professors would flee to practice if our pay was, say, 30% lower. And for the folks who do leave, there are hundreds of highly qualified candidates for teaching jobs each year who would jump at the chance to take their place. The main flaw in Seto's (and your) argument is that, despite your obvious business sense, it fails to take account of the high demand for law professor positions. Most of this demand will remain even at lower compensation for the simple reason that law practice is tough work.

You have argued in past comments that there is no crisis (my poor math skills leave me confused about this). Let me offer just three numbers from 2011 law graduates to show otherwise: only 55% obtained long term full time jobs as lawyers; $125,000--the average law school debt of private law school graduates; $60,000--the median salary. Put those together, and you have a crisis.

Finally, unlike you, I do not believe that America should be a society in which "scarce quality goods and services go to the rich"--when what we are talking about is the legal profession. You may find this unproblematic, but in my view it would be bad for the legal profession and for American society if the next generation of elite legal positions is dominated by offspring of the wealthy. I base this view on my understanding of jurisprudence, although I recognize that you think this has no value.

My book is consistent with your above stated advice--I wrote the book in an effort to "change" the situation.

Posted by: Brian Tamanaha | Jul 24, 2012 3:49:13 PM

Brian,

Thanks for responding. Your analysis of the data is incorrect, or at least incredibly misleading.

1. Let's start with your employment figures.

I assume your 55% figure comes from this ABA data, correct?
http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/home.aspx

In 2011--which was a terrible year for lawyers, and not at all representative of the last 5 or 10 years--55 percent of J.D.s had jobs that were:

1. Full Time
2. Permanent
3. Required a J.D.

That is a lot of qualifiers. Let's see what's excluded by all of those qualifiers, shall we?

Federal law clerks do not have permanent jobs. So they are not counted in the 55 percent, even though in one or two years, when they leave their clerkships and enter private practice at a big firm, they will get clerkship bonuses and seniority for their time spent as clerks, and will go on to have fabulous careers.

Lawyers working at the upper echelons of business--bankers, financiers, private equity, management consultants, corporate executives, entrepreneurs--do not have jobs requiring a J.D. So they are out, even though many of them will make as much or more money than their classmates who work in law.

Anyone working a temporary legal job which is a stepping stone to something better is out.

Anyone working any white collar job that doesn't require a J.D. is out, even if the J.D. boosts their income by more than enough to pay for itself.

Anyone working as a law professor is presumably out, since a J.D. is not required--there are PhDs with no JDs working as law professors.

Anyone who is not seeking work is out. They may not be seeking work because they are independently wealthy or are starting a family while their spouse supports them.

Anyone who is continuing their education, for example, getting a PhD (Law Prof?), an MBA (Financier?), a Masters of Engineering (future Patent Lawyer?), an MD (Healthcare executive?).

If you actually dig through the data you'll see that only 9% were unemployed, and only 2% were working in non-professional jobs--the legendary lawyer-waiter or lawyer-bartender.

The employment rates for law graduates compare very favorably to the employment figures for people who just graduated from college with no J.D. in 2011, especially the sorts of people who typically go on to law school -- i.e., liberal arts majors.

In 2011, only 36% of liberal arts / humanities majors received a job offer at graduation. Now granted, a few more may have gotten jobs by 9 months after graduation (for an apples to apples comparison), but the data rather strongly suggests that law graduates do far better than almost all undergraduates.

Even in the very top major--Computer Science--only 56% of graduates received a job offer at graduation. Not necessarily a job in their field (Computer Science) -- any job whatsoever.

So the comparable figure is not the 55% of *full time*, *legal*, *permanent* jobs, but rather the 85%+ figure of law grads with any job.

Data from other years--measured at 1 year after gradation, so closer to the 9 month figure used for law grads--also shows that law grads do better than undergrads.


2. Lets move on to your salary figures

Your median starting salary figure for lawyers comes from NALP, correct?
http://www.nalp.org/salarydistrib/

Well, we know that many lawyers will do a clerkship or start out at a lower paying job and work their way up, since the median salary for lawyers is $115K per year according to BLS data--and that excludes law firm partners, who are not "employees."

But lets compare apples to apples of starting salaries, shall we?

The median liberal arts / humanities graduate in 2011 received a starting salary of $34K per year. English majors were only offered $30K per year. History / Poli Sci, $31K per year. Sociology, $28K per year.

The only group to even come close to a JD starting salary was Engineers, at $59K per year. But very few Engineers go to law school, and those who do can become patent lawyers and make more than the average lawyer.

3. Now lets talk about debt.

How much of that $125K in debt is from law school, and how much is carried over from college?

Let's be generous and assume the full $125K is from law school. Do you know what the annual repayment amount is on $125K in debt at 7% interest stretched over 30 years under the extended repayment option for federal loans?

I'll give you a hint. It's a lot less than $30,000. In fact, it's less than half of $30,000.

Our liberal arts major has boosted his or her median starting salary by $30K just by going to law school (the boost to mean salary is even higher). And the wage differential between lawyers and other liberal arts majors will get even bigger over time.

That $125K in debt will be easily paid for over the next 30 years in higher income and reduced risk of unemployment. Not to mention all of the ways legal training helps people avoid costly life mistakes.

So what have you accomplished, Brian?

You've pulled a few misleading numbers out of context. You didn't bother to "benchmark" (business jargon for comparing things) or include a "control group" (science jargon for comparing things).

You've concocted an alarmist narrative. You've attacked the competence and ethics of your colleagues. And you've probably misled some college graduates, who will decide based on faulty information you supplied to not go to law school.

This is not a harmless decision. Liberal arts and humanities graduates who forgo law school will reduce their own long term earnings, increase their risk of becoming unemployed, and generally diminish their prospects in life because of the central role money plays in everything in the United States.

Congratulations. I hope you are very proud of yourself.

As for law prof's potential to earn $250,000 per year--

We know that Harvard and Yale graduates are not at the median of the profession. They are presumably close to the top 1% of the profession. A salary of $250K per year for a middle aged graduate of Harvard or Yale is not a magnificent accomplishment. Grind it out for 5 years at a wall street firm and exit to a financial services company or smaller firm, and it's mission accomplished.

Becoming a law professor is competitive. And that means law prof's aren't at the median in ability level, even for Harvard or Yale. They are close to the top of the top.

Could other people do the job for less? Yes.
Could they do the job as well? Probably not.

If you don't think you get what you pay for in Education, you're welcome to try sending your kids to public school in a poor neighborhood in East Saint Louis:
http://www.greatschools.org/illinois/east-st.-louis/1871-East-St.-Louis-Senior-High-School/

As for promoting a more equal society, which is the most important? Which is the best place to start?

1. Everyone has access to high quality healthcare
2. Everyone has clean air and a safe environment
3. Everyone has healthy, nutritious food
4. Everyone has safe affordable housing
5. Everyone has a means of transportation so they can get to work
6. Everyone has a high quality K-12 education
7. Everyone has equal access to an associates degree
8. Everyone has equal access to a bachelor's degree
9. Everyone can become a lawyer

Do you know what proportion of children who grow up in poverty get a bachelor's degree, let alone graduate from high school?

And you think the best way to address poverty is to drive down the cost of law school for people--primarily from upper middle class and rich backgrounds--who have already graduated college?

And if you succeed, what makes you think law graduates won't just graduate with less debt and go to work at big corporate law firms anyway, as many students offered merit-scholarships do now?

Thanks to IBR, no one is prevented from working in public service because of debt.

Law grads who chose to work in the private sector choose it because they want a better lifestyle for themselves and their children. You won't change that desire for a better life by slashing tuition.

But if you disagree, raise some money and start your own law school with whatever faculty and staff you can scrape together who are willing to work for next to nothing, and whatever students you can find who have no interest in ever getting a high paying job. I assume Paul Campos will be eager to help.

At this stage in life, you should have some savings. Do you believe in what you write enough to put your own money and career on the line?

Posted by: Anon | Jul 24, 2012 5:58:28 PM

Yes, law practice is tough work. It is also work that many people do not want to do. That is why many folks become professors, not because they eschew hard work. They also become professors because they enjoy what professors do.

Posted by: BH | Jul 24, 2012 7:12:10 PM

Anon keeps looking at averages and medians, but the problem here is the people who have below-average results. There are plenty of law school grads who graduate with 125K in total debt at 7% and who are NOT making 30K more than the typical liberal arts BA. What about them?

Posted by: Anon2 | Jul 25, 2012 3:39:32 AM

You get what you pay for..... unemployment?

Posted by: save_the_rustbelt | Jul 25, 2012 4:07:00 AM

@July 24/8:58 p.m.:

First, NALP does count judicial clerkships as full-time, JD-required employment (see page 2 of http://www.nalp.org/uploads/Classof2011SelectedFindings.pdf, wherein Jim Leipold, NALP's executive director, defines temporary employment in NALP's view as that lasting less than one year). Outside of a few schools' graduates, it's safe to say that almost none of the class of 2011 is working at the "upper echelons of business" or as a law professor.

Second, of those whose employment status is known, 12.1% of them are unemployed per NALP's data (http://www.nalp.org/0712research). 3% are continuing their studies, which is close to the ten-year average. Sole practitioners make up 6% of the class of 2011, as compared to an average of 3%-3.5% between 1997 and 2007. Lawyers working for firms of 2-10 (example: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/boston_law_firm_got_32_applicants_for_attorney_job_paying_10000_a_year_part/) make up 44% of the portion of the class of 2011 with law firm jobs. The line between unemployment and working for oneself, or in a eat-what-you-kill arrangement with other attorneys sharing office space, may be closer than you believe.

Third, it bears endless repeating that there is a difference between lawyers and mere law graduates who have passed a bar. The BLS tracks a number of lawyers that is far less than the number of people who have graduated from law schools in the past generation, and certainly less than the number who graduated and passed a bar exam at some point. The average salary of $115,000 may well apply to those working as attorneys, but unless about half of these law graduates have escaped like John Galt's followers to a secret desert location to make an average of $115,000, these figures may be seriously misleading.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Jul 25, 2012 5:24:45 AM

I won't comment on the primary substance of this post, but I am absolutely frustrated by at least one assumption from the comments: law professors aren't marketable. I would love to see some data on this. In my personal (albeit anecdotal) experience, the facts are quite the opposite. And, that is true of nearly every law professor I know---regardless of whether those people have "practical legal experience."

Posted by: Wayfarer | Jul 25, 2012 6:38:32 AM

Anon2 asks about the people who are below median.

Consider not just people's starting salaries, but also what they will eventually make later in their careers. A graduate degree is a lifetime investment, and it shouldn't be evaluated based solely on starting salary.

The 10th percentile of lawyers make 55K per year. These are the folks near the very bottom of the profession.

the 10th percentile of historians--people with skills very similar to lawyers, but no JD--make $27,000 per year.

http://askapeer.com/pages/compare-jobs

The figures are similar for reporters, english profs, editors, writers and authors, etc.

So for people close to the bottom of ability level, a law degree still boosts income by more than enough to pay for itself.

And of course, with IBR, a law degree only needs to boost income by 10% to be a good investment for the student.

For someone near the bottom, we're talking about a $2K to $8K boost in income as the break even point.

The JD delivers that, and more.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 26, 2012 7:16:07 AM

@July 26/10:16 a.m.:

Consider not just people's starting salaries, but also what they will eventually make later in their careers. A graduate degree is a lifetime investment, and it shouldn't be evaluated based solely on starting salary.

You're right. It should be evaluated based on a few more facts: (a) "starting salaries" pertain only to those hired by someone else out of law school for a salary; (b) that group is smaller than the total number of law graduates in any given year, because of those who are unemployed or work as sole practitioners/in quasi-firm relationships that are economically identical to sole practice; (c) legal employers are just as wary of those who couldn't find non-self-employed work out of law school as other employers are wary of prospective employees who are currently unemployed. If you don't find work as a lawyer right away, your law graduate is less and less likely ever to practice law.

The 10th percentile of lawyers make 55K per year. These are the folks near the very bottom of the profession.

Again - if you got a job in the law, then maybe this figure is within hooting distance of the truth. But what about those who don't and never will? BLS estimates about 571,000 people employed as lawyers, nationwide. In 2006, law schools graduated about 42,000 students, and six years later, they hit a historic peak of 44,000. Assuming an average of 42,000 a year over the last ten years, that would mean that only a third of the lawyers now practicing had graduated from law school before 2002 if all of these graduates were finding jobs in the law. If that were true, then the scamblogs would be populated by people in their forties squeezed out by all these damn kids.

The BLS Occupational Employment Survey also doesn't illuminate which percentage of the population is working in a job for which they are technically overqualified - lawyers working as grade-school teachers, bartenders, accountants, insurance representatives, etc.

The JD delivers that, and more.

Please walk me through how spending $100,000+ at 7.5% interest on law school is a good investment even if you're only making $2,000-$8,000 than you would have in an entry-level position that your BA or BS qualified you to have.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Jul 26, 2012 1:07:19 PM

A few quick points:

1) The storm of criticism that has lead to more transparency is a good thing for legal education. I personally think that Brian overstates to make a point, but the resultant conversation is timely.

2) What do you consider a quality outcome for a law school graduate? 55% have landed long term JD required jobs. How do you feel about the 2% in long term part time? What about the 8% long term full time JD advantage category? So long as there is full disclosure and access the data, each prospective student can decide for themselves.

4) The work that lawyers do makes an impact on people’s lives and on the functioning of our society. We need bright and committed people in the profession. If someone decides against law school strictly on the math of tuition and projected starting salary, maybe they should go into something else anyhow.

Posted by: law grad | Jul 26, 2012 2:53:21 PM

Morse Code,

Under IBR ("Income Based Repayment"), a borrower under federal student loan programs pays at most a certain percent of his or her income as debt service. That percent is typically around 10% of income.

If the borrower works in the public sector (government or nonprofit), the remaining balance of their loans is forgiven after 10 years, tax free. If the borrower works in the private sector, the remaining balance is forgiven after 20 or 25 years, but the debt forgiveness may be taxable income (the rules are a bit complicated).

So the break-even point on graduate school for those with a lower income is lower than the break even point for those with a high income.

If someone would have only been making $27K per year as a historian, and they are able to make $55K per year as a public defender, they have boosted their income by almost $30K per year, and they may only have to pay $5.5K per year on their debt for 10 years, even if they borrowed $125K at 7% or 7.5%.

So they'll be making more every year than they would have with a B.S., saving more every year, and at the end of 10 years of public service they walk away debt free.

Then, they can either stay in public service, or go into the private sector and make a lot more money than they would have with only a Bachelors.

IBR means the downside is capped for the borrower, but the upside is not capped. It's an option which dramatically reduces the risk and increases the value of an investment in higher education.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 27, 2012 5:30:57 AM

And Morse Code,

If the boost to income was only $5K, say from $20K to $25K, then the person would only have to pay $2.5K per year in debt service for a $5K income boost. They would still be better off, even after taxes.

Keep in mind, anyone who has relatively low earnings as a lawyer probably would have had even lower earnings in almost anything else they could have done.

There are a very few high paying jobs that depend on looks, charm, or athletic ability, but most "good" jobs involve reading, writing, analyzing, paying attention to detail, and producing documents.

If someone can't perform those tasks well in law, they probably can't do those tasks well anywhere, and without the law degree, they may simply be completely unemployable.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 27, 2012 5:41:24 AM

Morse code,

The data Brian Tamanaha is relying on for his 55% employment figure is most likely the ABA data, not the NALP data. They are different data sources.


The 12.1% figure you cite for unemployment data is not correct. NALP lists 12.1% as "not working." That does not mean people are unemployed and seeking work. People may be "not working" because they have chosen not to work, either to raise a family, because they have money and don't need to work.

The "not working" category may also include people who simply didn't respond to the survey, but who may be working.

The ABA data shows 9% unemployed and seeking work.

But whether the figure is 9% or 12%, it is a world away from the 45% figure Tamanaha tried to imply (claiming only 55% employed), and it is a quite good performance relative to a young person with only a a bachelor's degree.

Where in the NALP data do they explain how they count judicial clerkships? I don't see it in the link you sent.

Judicial clerkships are full time, but they are not permanent positions--they end after one or two years.

You're right that there's a difference between lawyers and people with JDs.

The BLS data tracks lawyers. There are other data sources that track people with JDs, and also people with only bachelors in liberal arts fields.

The JDs make more money, they are more likely to participate in the workforce, and the difference is more than enough to pay for law school.


Posted by: Anon | Jul 28, 2012 12:23:02 PM