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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Solomon: How Much Taxpayer Money Should be Spent to Support Legal Education and Scholarship?

Following up on yesterday's post, Who Pays Law Professor Salaries?Jason Solomon (William & Mary), How Much Taxpayer Money for Legal Education and Scholarship?:

We law professors like to think of ourselves as public intellectuals, opining on various issues, and others sometimes treat us that way. So here's a question of federal budget priorities: how much money should taxpayers be spending on legal education and scholarship?

Right now, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars -- more likely billions -- is funding legal education and scholarship. You can think of it as coming from today's taxpayers directly to law schools, or think of it the way our budget rules do: that the government is making money today from loans, through interest payments and fees, but tomorrow's taxpayers will be on the hook 20-25 years out when the debt is forgiven through IBR.  If taxpayer money for education was devoted to future lawyers serving unmet legal needs, it might be justified. But most of it isn't. And the massive imbalance between the supply of new law graduates and the demand for them -- projected to continue until at least 2020 -- makes the expenditures difficult to justify on education grounds...

Legal education has considerable room for improvement, but legal scholarship gets a bad rap. More and deeper knowledge about our legal system is a "public good" worth supporting. (More in a future post) The question, of course, is how much is worth supporting, given competing budget priorities and a growing deficit.

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Comments

First of all, taxpayers are *Making* money on the student loan program, even after you account for the fact that there may be some defaults and some students opting for IBR. This is the way lending programs are supposed to work--interest and fees more than offset loan losses yielding what we in the world of finance call a "profit".

The fact that some of the fees and interest occur at a different time periods from some of the losses is easy to account for through something we call "discounted cash flow" but which the law professors who believe the badly researched, badly reasoned bunk about a "crisis" in legal education can perhaps best understand as a kind of black magic performed by people who understand math.

And student loans for those attending law schools--low risk, high cost loans--are among the biggest money makers.

So I don't know how professor Solomon comes to the conclusion that the government is "paying" for research at law schools. Is Bank of America or Wells Fargo "paying" for his house because it provides his mortgage?

Second, there's no imbalance between the supply of law graduates and the demand for them. The demand for law graduates is much larger than the number of legal jobs available. Many people go to law school intending to enter business, government, or the non-profit world rather than practice law. There have always been more law graduates than law jobs, just as there have always been more math graduates than math jobs. Degrees are versatile and valuable outside of the profession of law.

And third, no self-respecting graduate of Harvard / Yale / Stanford / Columbia / Chicago law school is going to accept a "professorship" that amounts to little more than teaching high school--
low pay, low prestige, no opportunity to do anything original or creative.

If you make teaching law like teaching high school, you'll get the same kind of people teaching law as teach high school, and the degree will be worth about as much.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 26, 2012 6:42:16 AM

We law professors like to think of ourselves as public intellectuals....

Really? I stopped reading right there. The rest has to be hogwash.

A problem with so many people in academia is that they consider themselves enlightened and superior; that the world would be better if people only listened to them. I know better, can't stand such arrogance, and typically find serious problems with their views.

Posted by: Woody | Sep 26, 2012 9:18:14 AM

Anon,

1) It's been explained before why this is wrong. Regardless, should taxpayers really support a money-making loan system that essentially amounts to indentured servitude?

2) Prove it. Law schools can't, for some reason, despite the serious crisis they're facing.

3) It's probably true that "no self-respecting graduate of Harvard / Yale / Stanford / Columbia / Chicago law school is going to accept a "professorship" that amounts to little more than teaching high school--." But law schools should be teaching classes that are relevant to the actual, current practice of law (bill collection, office management, project management, ediscovery) and these classes should be taught by those who actually know these areas, not "philosophers." Hiring professors with YHSCCN degrees does not create jobs for a school's grads.

Posted by: Anonymous | Sep 26, 2012 8:08:57 PM

"But law schools should be teaching classes that are relevant to the actual, current practice of law (bill collection, office management, project management, ediscovery"

The class on "bill collection" is called "Professional Responsibility" (i.e., get a retainer, put it in a segregated account) or if things get tough, "Debtor Creditor Law" or "Bankruptcy." The class on discovery is called "Civil Procedure."

Law schools should be teaching relevant classes--like Civil Procedure, Contracts, Tax, Commercial Law, Intellectual Property, Legal Research and Writing, etc.

They're training *Lawyers*, not administrative assistants. And since law grads earn quite a bit more than MBA grads, law schools seem to have made pretty good choices.

You ask me to "prove it." Look at the data from the department of labor, census bureau, and department of education. It speaks for itself loud and clear.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 27, 2012 11:18:20 PM

Professional Responsibility usually only touches on the ethics of bill collection, not the business of legal practice. And only a handful of law schools teach e-discovery even though it's swallowing the litigation process.

Actually *lawyers* do earn more than MBA grads, but unfortunately only about half of all law grads actually become lawyers. And the data you vaguely reference covers lawyers, not law grads.

Posted by: Anonymous | Oct 1, 2012 10:57:09 PM