Paul L. Caron

Friday, August 3, 2012

Campos: The Crisis of the American Law School

Paul Campos (Colorado), The Crisis of the American Law School, 45 U. Mich. J.L. Reform ___ (2012):

The economist Herbert Stein once remarked that if something cannot go on forever, it will stop. Over the past four decades the cost of legal education in America has seemed to belie this aphorism: it has gone up relentlessly. Private law school tuition increased by a factor of four in real, inflation-adjusted terms between 1971 and 2011, while resident tuition at public law schools has nearly quadrupled in real terms over just the past two decades. Meanwhile for more than 30 years now the percentage of the American economy devoted to legal services has been shrinking. In 1978 the legal sector accounted for 2.01% of the nation’s GDP: by 2009 that figure had shrunk to 1.37% -- a 32% decrease. These two trends are not mutually sustainable. If the cost of becoming a lawyer continues to rise while the economic advantage conferred by a law degree continues to fall then eventually both the market for new lawyers and for admission to law school will crash. In the early years of the 21st century, this abstract theoretical observation has begun to be confirmed by concrete events. The ongoing contraction in the employment market for new lawyers has combined with the continuing increase in the cost of legal education to produce what has begun to be recognized as a genuine crisis for both law schools and the legal profession.

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@ Barbara Seville

Just because an employer doesn't have the resources--or the need--to recruit on campus doesn't mean the jobs aren't available if the student is willing to take the initiative, do an internship at the company, and ask for a full time job.

While I was in law school and within 5 years of graduation, I had job offers from federal government agencies, several law firms, consulting firms, investment banks, one hedge fund, and offers of teaching positions from several law schools.

When I graduated college with a liberal arts degree, the best job I could get was working as a paralegal for $30K per year, and it was hard to get that job.

The most attractive employers don't need to show up on campus to look for recruits. You have to get out there and find the good jobs.

If you don't have a law degree, you're not even in the game.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 8, 2012 10:25:29 AM

If you think the much higher earnings of JDs than non JDs with similar undergraduate degrees is just correlation, and not causation, then you must believe that the people who are admitted to law school and attend would have made just as much money without going to law school.

In other words, the best and the brightest (except for doctors) choose law school.

Which means you need to answer the following question:

Why are people who are clearly so much smarter and more capable than their classmates choosing to waste 3 years of their lives and $200,000 worth of their money on a degree that won't help them?

Could it be that they know something about the value of a law degree that you don't?

Posted by: Anon | Aug 8, 2012 10:06:33 AM

Morse Code for J

You are Incorrect. The CEO of Goldman Sachs is a lawyer (JD).

So is the CEO of Bank of America, the CEO of Metlife, and the Chairman of Citigroup.

Brian T. Moynihan of Bank of America Corp. (No. 13 on the Fortune 500 list)
Charles E. Haldeman Jr. of Freddie Mac (No. 25),
Steven A. Kandarian of MetLife (No. 34)

Lawyers account for less than 1% of the population, but they are over represented at the top, and they earn for more than people who look extremely similar, except for the law degree.

It's the closes thing to a causal relationship observational data will ever give you.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 8, 2012 9:54:18 AM

If law degrees are so versatile, why is it that law firms are pretty much the only entities that come to law schools to interview students for job openings?

Posted by: Barbara Seville | Aug 5, 2012 8:57:12 AM

Correlation not causation

Posted by: Steve | Aug 4, 2012 12:16:38 PM

Correlation, not causation. None of the world's ten richest men are lawyers. Most of them only hold a bachelor's degree or the equivalent. None of the top bank CEOs or oil CEOs are lawyers, and those that hold advanced degrees typically have an MBA from one of three institutions.

With few exceptions, you don't need a JD to pursue a business career or a political career (e.g., chief counsel or attorney general). When Bob McDonnell became the Virginia attorney general, he did so after winning seven terms in the State House of Delegates. I doubt that his JD from what is now Regent University had as much to do with his success as running successful election campaigns and serving time in a variety of positions in the state legislature, to include assistant majority leader. If he hadn't done any of that, he also wouldn't have incurred a ruinous debt to get his JD from Regent as a student today would.

The dean at Duquesne will tell you at every opportunity that Duquesne graduates can go on to positions such as CEO of the Pittsburgh Steelers. That he fails to mention that his graduate basically had that position locked up at birth is merely typical of the hand-waving that goes on about our Most Versatile of Degrees.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Aug 4, 2012 11:39:26 AM

Go down the list of Forbes 100 CEOs and count the JDs.

Go down the list of state governors and count the JDs.

Go down the list of members of congress and count the JDs.

Go on LinkedIn and search for graduates of law school who aren't working as lawyers, and see what they are doing now.

Look at the data on JD incomes (not lawyer incomes, all those with JDs) and notice that they are about twice as high as incomes for those with only a bachelors in a liberal arts or humanities field.

It is a valid observation if you know where to look.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 4, 2012 7:06:36 AM

Lawyers (or people with law degrees) are successful in business and politics, so "legal services" doesn't even begin to measure the labor market demand for people with law degrees.

If it were true that lawyers were successful in business or politics because of their JDs (rather than "regardless of" or "despite"), this could be a valid observation. Vanessa Selbst attended Yale Law and won over a million dollars at the World Series of Poker in 2008, but I don't think that one had enough to do with the other for most people to include this possibility when calculating potential ROI.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Aug 4, 2012 6:12:10 AM

Or perhaps

1. The total economy has grown, so even if legal services have not grown as a share of the economy, they have grown enough overall to sustain lawyers and law schools.

2. Lawyers (or people with law degrees) are successful in business and politics, so "legal services" doesn't even begin to measure the labor market demand for people with law degrees.

3. The definitions used by the census bureau have changed since 1971, so the data aren't directly comparable over time.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 3, 2012 3:09:01 PM