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Thursday, February 13, 2014

More Reviews of Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools

FailingTwo reviews of Brian Tamanaha (Washington U.), Failing Law Schools (University of Chicago Press, 2012)):

David Burk (Ph.D. Candidate, University of Chicago Department of Economic), Book Review, 63 J. Legal Educ. 349 (2013):

Failing Law Schools is not the right title for Professor Brian Tamanaha’s book. A better one might be, The Sad Fate of Poor Performers at Low-Ranked Law Schools. It is not as catchy, but gives a better idea of what the book is about. Better still would be to excise the sections about how law school is a bad deal, and call the remaining portion Why Law School is So Expensive and What to Do About It, because the book does a fine job of answering those questions

Michael Simkovic (Seton Hall Law School) & Frank McIntyre (Rutgers Business School), Populist Outrage, Reckless Empirics: A Review of Failing Law Schools, 108 Nw. U. L. Rev. Online 176 (2014):

The authors of The Economic Value of a Law Degree ... focus[] on problems with empirical claims in Failing Law Schools regarding outcomes for law graduates and also regarding law faculty compensation. The review also discusses Professor Tamanaha's proposals for reform of legal education in light of economic theory and the empirical economics literature, and finds reasons to doubt that Tamanaha's proposed reforms will have the effects he predicts.

Other reviews of Failing Law Schools:

Book Club, Legal Education, Scholarship | Permalink


Let’s not whitewash Tamanaha after the fact.

Tamanaha didn’t focus on the plight of the bottom of the class at the bottom law schools.

He made the outrageous claim that everyone except for the very top of the class at non-elite schools and the graduates of a small handful of elite law schools were making a bad decision by going to law school.

Failing Law Schools pg. 140-143

“At lower-ranked schools only the top 5 percent have a chance” of finding a big-law job that will enable them to pay down their debts.

Failing Law Schools at 180

(Arguing for a hard per-school federal student loan cap to pressure large law schools, such as Harvard and Columbia, to shrink).

Failing Law Schools pg. 217 (praising Schlunk, “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Lawyers”)

And he’s been thoroughly discredited by real research, like After the JD and Simkovic & McIntyre.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 13, 2014 8:45:51 AM

I've heard from several of Tamanaha's students at Wash U. that he tells them they are making a financial mistake by going to law school.

Apparently even Wash U isn't good enough for him.

One can only imagine what his dean and colleagues must think. But at least he's consistent and doesn't make an exception for his home institution.

Posted by: Anon2 | Feb 13, 2014 9:23:21 AM


Of course, people are still talking about Failing Law Schools, and aside from law school deans selling to naïve 0L's, no one is talking about S&M. To wit, Brian Tamanaha (and William Henderson) are both ranked as more influential than Young Master S in the most recent National Jurist "25 Most Influential People in Legal Education," even though S&M is six months old and Failing Law Schools is 18 months old. See Perhaps that is because the evidence is fairly clear that law school has been disastrous for post-2008 law school graduates, a point that S&M conveniently forget to analyze. And I'm sorry, but between a neophyte law professor with one entire year of practice under his belt saying there is no structural change in the legal profession, and the numerous BigLaw partners, GC's, the ABA, BLS, and everyone else who says there is structural change underfoot, well, I'm going with the crowd. But maybe that's just because law school has not led me to hundreds of thousands of dollars of salary premiums, but to long-term unemployment.


One of America's tens of thousands of un/underemployed attorneys

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 13, 2014 10:39:58 AM

Oh, and with respect to your contention that "At lower-ranked schools only the top 5 percent have a chance” of finding a big-law job that will enable them to pay down their debts," the number of students at each law school who find BigLaw jobs is a matter of public record. Since you are refuting Tamanaha's statement, the onus is on you to point to a low-ranked law school where more than 5% of the class landed BigLaw jobs. I know that my middle-of-the-pack alma mater dropped from 20% Biglaw to about 2.5% BigLaw since the recession.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 13, 2014 10:42:35 AM

Not to spam this thread, but to address anon2's point, here are the most recent stats for Washington University:

- nondiscounted cost: $254,710
- number of 2012 grads in full-time, long-term, bar-license required jobs at any salary within nine months of graduation: 206 out of 300 graduates
- number of BigLaw jobs (>100 attorneys): 69 of 300 - keep in mind some of those will probably be at the sweatshop ID firms and the like that pay 1/2 of BigLaw wages for the same required billables.

So it would certainly appear that for a plurality of the school's graduates, it has not been a financial boon. Now to any pie-in-the-sky optimists who argue that the 1/3 of the class who didn't get the proverbial *real lawyer* jobs are all working at Bain or Goldman Sachs or the United Nations, well, prove it. And no, the ability to go on IBR and maybe PAYE if you can't find a job that can make a full and timely student loan payment most emphatically does NOT make law school a worthwhile investment. Keep in mind that the standard student loan repayment, after taxes, on $254k (plus undergrad debt) is going to be approaching, if not exceeding (depending on the size of the undergrad debt), $3000/month.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 13, 2014 11:16:46 AM

"I've heard from several of Tamanaha's students at Wash U. that he tells them they are making a financial mistake by going to law school.

Apparently even Wash U isn't good enough for him.

One can only imagine what his dean and colleagues must think. But at least he's consistent and doesn't make an exception for his home institution."

"Failing Law Schools" was a game changer. I'm sure his colleagues and administration are furious at him.

He committed no sin except telling the truth: that for most law students, the high debt they are incurring is not worth it.

For years his colleagues, administrators, and those throughout the country were able to downplay the complaints of law graduates (that were mainly confined tot he internet) and reap the rewards of billions in unscrutinized, high interest, nondischargable student loans.

Tamanaha is advocating for the students; he believes in legal education, but doesn't want it to be financially crippling for so many, and for so many to go to law school and not end up as lawyers.

Tamanaha, Campos, and others who spoke out against their own financial interests in support of law students paid a terrible personal price, as colleagues like you and the other anon who attack them.

Posted by: No, breh, part 2 | Feb 13, 2014 3:37:49 PM

Tamanaha and Campos are masters of self-promotion.

They’ve realized that as long as they say something controversial, the press will shower them with attention. It helps if they strike the pose of a martyr. And it’s pretty much pure upside for them.

There’s nothing their deans or colleagues can do to them, even if they wanted to. T&C have tenure. They have the same jobs at the same law schools they had before they started throwing bombs. They’ll spend the rest of their careers in those jobs if they want to.

The difference is, before they were unknown. Now they’re famous. And they’ve made a few extra bucks on the side from book sales and speaking fees.

Serious researchers know T&C’s work doesn’t meet even a minimum standard of quality, but how many journalists can tell the difference between good research and bunk?

They're playing the same game as Chau and Rubenfeld--get your goat.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 13, 2014 5:37:56 PM

Failing Law Schools also failed to give proper acknowledgment to the abundance of prestigious non-legal opportunities available to JD holders. For instance, John Mara, graduate of Fordham Law School, went onto become co-owner of the New York Giants. Without attending law school, there is no chance he would have been able to attain such a position.

Posted by: Cent Rieker | Feb 13, 2014 6:43:56 PM

“Serious researchers know T&C’s work doesn’t meet even a minimum standard of quality, but how many journalists can tell the difference between good research and bunk?”

Sorry, I didn’t know legal research had minimum standards of quality. I thought it was non-peer reviewed pseudo-social science pablum edited by law students, in desperate need of its own Sokal Affair. My mistake. Anyways, the shortcomings of S&M’s paper are well known: the incorrect comparisons (25th percentile of law school grads to 25th percentile of college grads), data omissions ranging from the convenient exclusion of two severe legal hiring recessions (early 1990’s, and the 2008 - ??? conundrum) to the lowballing of current student loan debt levels and their implications on household wealth (student loan payments equate to money not spent on savings or home equity) to the improper, incomplete calculation of those student loans in the headline-grabbing Million Dollar Degree!!!. There’s also the completely evasive, prevaricating nonresponse to the last several years’ changes in the legal marketplace, from the downsizing of BigLaw to LPO’s to predictive software to the pushback against the traditional boundaries of UPL, that is by far the weakest section of S&M’s paper, probably because M isn’t a lawyer and S is only nominally a lawyer, one who probably got more of his 1st year work product at Davis Polk written off than successfully billed – at least from Davis Polk’s clients that haven’t barred 1st year associate work product altogether. And let’s not forget about some of their absurd addendums: there is no bimodal salary distribution among law school grads (in complete contradiction of 20+ years of granular data collected by the ABA and NALP), there is no salary difference between high- and low-ranked law schools (flies in the face of 130 years of the Cravath System of Hiring). One does wonder how many low-ranked law school grads Mr. S. worked alongside at McKinsey and Davis Polk…

“They're playing the same game as Chau and Rubenfeld--get your goat”

Is this a reference as to how Simkovic has no particular social science or economics training beyond some undergrad coursework, whereas two of his most vocal critics – Matt Leichter and Steven J. Harper – both have MA’s in the social sciences, with Professor Harper’s being a MA in economics from Northwestern? I don’t really see how bringing Chua [you could at least spell her name correctly] and Rubenfeld helps your case – they are as qualified to conduct sociology research as Simkovic is to conduct labor economics research. And where is the granular data from the S&M study, anyhow? It is highly unusual – outside of the legal academy, anyways – to not make all of the study data available, so as to ensure that the authors have not committed a Reinhardt & Rogoff-style error or two. And those guys actually had economics training!

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 13, 2014 8:21:17 PM

Unemployed Northeastern occasionally makes stellar points on this forum and others. But even Tamanaha has conceded that his economic argument is amateurish. Does anyone actually believe the correct way to peg an investment's value is its performance in year one? And S&M have explained numerous times that there is no available data for post-2008 graduates.

Posted by: Anons | Feb 13, 2014 9:22:24 PM


True, Tamanaha is no economist, as he freely admits. But we can extrapolate on the plight of post-2008 grads from a variety of sources and studies.

1. After six months on the job market, you are all but dead. That’s the conclusion of every study of long-term unemployment since the Great Recession. I am here to tell you that JDs are no elixir for this particular societal malady. In fact, a dissertation by an Economics PhD candidate at, why, my own Northeastern, determined that more-qualified candidates who have been unemployed for six months or more are several magnitudes less likely to garner an interview than less-qualified candidates who are new to Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” I mean the modern job search. Which is why, quite frankly, moving the 9 month employment outcomes to 10 months will make not a lick of difference, beyond pushing bad employment outcomes past when 0L’s deposits are due, of course. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.

2. We know the long-term effects of college graduates into a recession: their earnings never recover. This is the conclusion of at least two peer-reviewed studies I have read, one by Lisa Kahn of Yale and the other by Philip Oreopoulos of the University of Toronto. And they were studying the far less severe recessions of the 1980’s and 1990’s! Depending on the cohort, those earlier hapless college grads are still earning 10% to 20% less than their peers who didn’t graduate into those recessions.

3. Go to the S&M study, look at Figure 1, Page 6: “Lawyers’ earnings are high, even at the low end of the distribution.” Great news, right? Wait a minute – that graph shows that from 2000 through 2011, real wages have been FLAT OR DECLINING for attorneys at the 10th, 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles! Does anyone want to cross-check that against the growth of law school tuition in real dollars over the same time period? Of course not; the results would be horrible. Law school becomes a worse and worse financial proposition every year. And of course, entry-level lawyering wages have been falling off a cliff since the recession. Heck, TaxProf has highlighted once such article since this article was put up in the last day!

4. “Does anyone actually believe the correct way to peg an investment's value is its performance in year one?” Yes, it is imperfect. But riddle me this: is there any other profession in the United States where one’s career is so determined by that first job? One does not just jump from traffic court or doc review to the boardroom, DOJ, academia, or BigLaw. There are a few legal jobs that open all the doors, and a lot that close all of them - but prospects like John Grisham's "The Firm" are a lot harder to come by than those that more unfortunately resemble Franz Kafka's parable "Before the Law." Let’s not kid ourselves about that. Let’s also not kid ourselves about when student loans come due – it is not five or ten years down the line, but six months after graduation. If you like, I can dig up some job postings from the last few years’ worth of Mass Lawyers Weekly wherein the employer wants a lawyer with 8-10 years’ experience and still requires a Top 20 law degree (read: 8 of 9 MA law schools are disqualified).

5. With regards to student loans: there was an economics report out of an organization called Demos last fall that estimated that for a college-educated couple that each has the (2010) average student debt-load of $25,000. Over their working lives, they come out $200,000 in household wealth POORER than their peers without those student loans, because all those student loan payments on principal and interest represent lost home equity, savings that aren’t being accumulated, and investments that aren’t being made. That loss is a 4x multiple of the actual debt principal. Let’s be generous and assume that the student loan debt to lost household wealth relationship is merely linear with respect to the former variable. The average law school grad comes out with something like $150,000 in student loans. That would indicate that s/he will experience $600,000 in lost household wealth over that working lifetime. Gosh darnit! The one million dollar degree, less taxes, less that household wealth, is worth essentially nothing. Too bad.

6. Prove to me that IBR, PAYE, and PSLF can’t and won’t be repealed over the coming decades. You can’t, of course. So don’t tell everyone, “Don’t worry about how much it costs because you can go on IBR/PAYE/PSLF.” And I’ve already been going on too long to bring up the numerous issues with IBR/PAYE, included but not limited to: tax bomb at the end, accumulating interest, and private loan noneligibility. Heck, I read an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education today describing how a few Republicans in Congress want the DOE to switch away from happy unicorns accounting to fair value accounting for their student loans. If that happens, I guarantee those tens of billions in profit (negative subsidies) every is complaining about will be revealed as some billions in losses, and if/when that happens, we all know those programs’ days are numbered. They are extraordinarily expensive - $190 billion from 2012 through 2020, according to Barclays – and only lower the average college graduate’s student loan payment by like $40/month.

Basically, law schools have lost half their applicants in half a decade, with no signs of that decrease abating anytime soon. Your grads are seething and vocal, and everyone hates your product (lawyers). If you want my advice, here it is: if you are all so confident that all law school grads come out so far ahead of the game, put your money where your mouth is and guarantee your students’ loans. I’m sure you can get the DOE to go along with it. If you are right, it won’t cost a dime, it will generate enormous goodwill and positive press, and will flood you with applicants. If I am right, though, you better start reading your Dante and Milton. I won’t hold my breath.
Anyways, thanks for saying I occasionally make “stellar points.” If only I had attended more prestigious schools, I could have been somebody – a lawyer with a job, or a policy wonk in DC, or something. I could have been a contender! No, wait – S&M say I’ve been a high wage earner ever since I graduated from last school in the year 2xxx. I must be writing this from my oceanfront bungalow, then, and not from my parents’ basement. How does that song from The Lego Movie go? “Everything is Awesome, Everything is Awesome!”

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 13, 2014 11:49:31 PM