Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Leiter's Reflections on The Economic Value of a Law Degree

Brian Leiter (Chicago), Reflections on "The Economic Value of a Law Degree" and the Response to It:

Here's what I think we know and don't know after the first serious scholarly intervention in the debate about an economic value of a law degree:

  1. The vast majority of those who got a JD over the last two decades are better off, financially, than similar individuals who stopped with the BA.
  2. We don't know if other post-graduate degrees are more worthwhile, financially, than the JD; Simkovic & McIntyre did not attempt to address that systematically.
  3. We don't know if the economic pattern for JD-holders will hold for the future, though Simkovic & McIntyre adduce some evidence that it will.

And that, I think, is a fair summary of where we are. The critics of law schools, it turns out, simply do not understand the basic math behind valuation--net present value. They think law school is a bad value because they apparently don't know how to value anything that pays off over time.

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One thing to remember about this study is that it hopes to make legitimate arguments that law school deans were already making and would have continued to make anyway. The argument that law school is an investment that pays off across a long career (legal or otherwise) is one of their oldest selling points.

So I really don't see this study having any effect whatsoever on the number of law school applications next year. The law schools are going to continue to sell themselves with the most favorable claims not yet judged to be fraudulent. Students will continue to hear horror stories, not just from Tamanaha or Campos, but from actual unemployed graduates at JDU or Top Law Schools. Soon everybody will know somebody who knows somebody who failed to get a job out of law school. The strength of these respective forces is what will move application numbers.

Do the remember that two years ago, nobody was questioning the value of a law degree? Nobody. There were no stories in the media about this whatsoever, everybody just assumed that law school was where people went to become succesful professionals. Things have changed dramatically in a very short time. What will the situation be like in another 2 years?

Posted by: Fred Smith | Jul 30, 2013 6:45:18 PM