Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Merritt on The $1 Million Value of a Law Degree

One MillionFollowing up on my prior posts (links below):  Deborah Jones Merritt (Ohio State), Financial Returns to Legal Education:

I’ve outlined here both my praise for Simkovic and McIntyre’s article and my first two criticisms. The article adds to a much needed literature on the economics of legal education and the legal profession; it also highlights a particularly rich dataset for other scholars to explore. On the other hand, the article claims too much by referring to long-term trends and historic norms; this article examines labor market returns for law school graduates during a relatively short (and perhaps distinctive) recent period of sixteen years. The article also dismisses too quickly the impact of structural shifts. That is not really Simkovic and McIntyre’s focus, as they concede. Their data, however, do not provide the type of long-term record that would refute the possibility of structural shifts.

My next post related to this article will pick up where I left off, with winners and losers. My policy concerns with legal education and the legal profession focus primarily on the distribution of earnings, rather than on the profession’s potential to remain profitable overall. Why did law school tuition climb aggressively from 1996 through 2011, if the earnings premium was stable during that period? Why, in other words, do law schools reap a greater share of the premium today than they did in earlier decades?

Which students, meanwhile, don’t attend law school at all, forgoing any share in law school’s possible premium? For those who do attend, how is that premium distributed? Are those patterns shifting? I’ll explore these questions of winners and losers, including what we can learn about the issues from Simkovic and McIntyre, in a future post.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:


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