Professor Tamanaha's post today expresses deep skepticism about the predictive value of the article "The Economic Value of a Law Degree."
Unfortunately, his caution about extrapolation is mainly reserved for
academic work he disagrees with. For Tamanaha, the prophets of lawyers'
doom are far more credible than this empirical study. I don't think
that's fair, for several reasons I'll give below. ...
As far as I know, most of the "ReInventLaw"/Disruptive Innovation
crowd does not share Tamanaha's views of the future of lawyers in the
job market. ...
- However, I also try hard in my scholarship and popular writing to resist technological innovation that undermines the rule of law or otherwise disserves vulnerable populations. ... Before jumping on the "massive technological change is making
lawyers obsolete" bandwagon, Tamanaha may want to think critically about
the interests it is serving. ...
- Labor economist Mark Price has observed that it's always in
employers' interest to characterize applicants as unqualified--it's just
one more excuse not to pay. ... The narrative of constant, disruptive technological change fuels this
attitude. I would also hazard a guess that at least some of the "law is
being disrupted" crowd have consultancies that profit, like McKinsey,
from devising plans to cut the pay of average workers and further
enrich those at the top (or the multinational corporation client).
- This is not to say that "all is well in BigLaw"--nothing could be further from the truth. ...
- All my points above are part of a broader challenge to Tamanaha:
consider larger economic dynamics, not just the legal market. Mike
Konczal at the Roosevelt Institute has often noted that, if we were
really experiencing widespread structural unemployment, there would be much greater disparity in employment rates between occupations. But that's not developing:
instead, "underemployment has risen due to a lack of aggregate demand,
not a mismatch between workers’ skills and available jobs."...
What we're seeing here is less a law problem, than a capitalism problem. Too much wealth is concentrated at the top, and has stopped flowing through the economy generally. The answer here is to beef up programs like income-based repayment, funded by more progressive taxes on the lucky and successful in today's winner-take-all economy. That was part of the funding mechanism for the Affordable Care Act, and should apply in education as it has in health care.
For someone who thinks and writes only about law schools, every problem
for law graduates may seem like a pathology of legal academics. Take a
broader view, and a more accurate picture emerges.
BT Claim 2: Using more years of data would reduce the
BT Quote: There is no doubt that including 1992 to 1995 in their study would measurabley reduce the 'earnings premium.'"
Using more years of historical data is as likely to increase the
earnings premium as to reduce it
We have doubts
about the effect of more data, even if Professor Tamanaha does not.
Without seeing data
that would enable us to calculate earnings premiums, we can’t know for sure if
introducing more years of comparable data would increase our estimates of the
earnings premium or reduce it.
The issue is not
simply the state of the legal market or entry level legal hiring—we must also
consider how our control group of bachelor’s degree holders (who appear to be
similar to the law degree holders but for the law degree) were doing. To measure the value of a law degree, we must
measure earnings premiums, not absolute earnings levels. ...
There is nothing
magical about 1992. If good quality data
were available, why not go back to the 1980s or beyond? Stephen Diamond and
others make this point. ...Our sample from
1996 to 2011 includes both good times and bad for law graduates and for the
overall economy, and in every part of the cycle, law graduates appear to earn
substantially more than similar individuals with only bachelor’s degrees.
This might be as
good a place as any to affirm that we certainly did not pick 1996 for any
nefarious purpose. Having worked with
the SIPP before and being aware of the change in design, we chose 1996 purely
because of the benefits we described here. Once again, should Professor Tamanaha or any other group
wish to use the publicly available SIPP data to extend the series farther back,
we'll be interested to see the results.