Paul L. Caron

Monday, July 29, 2013

Simkovic Responds to American Lawyer Op-Eds

American Lawyer LogoFollowing up on my posts on two recent op-eds in The American Lawyer by Steven J. Harper (Former Partner, Kirkland & Ellis; Adjunct Professor, Northwestern) and Matt LeichterMichael Simkovic (Seton Hall), Repetitive (and Avoidable) Mistakes:

At the American Lawyer, Matt Leichter repeats many misrepresentations of our research that originally appeared in the tabloid Above the Law, even after Above the Law posted corrections and after we refuted many of these misrepresentations.  He also refers to anonymous comments attacking our research from people who did not read it. ...

Steve Harper makes many of the same mistakes, and throws in a few disparaging remarks to boot. ...

We've already responded to many of these same misrepresentations of our research from Above the Law, Brian Tamanaha, and Paul Campos. Simple fact-checking, either by reading the article or by checking our blog posts, could have prevented these errors.

Hopefully the editors at the American Lawyer will promptly post corrections and have a serious discussion with Mr. Leichter and Mr. Harper about the differences between critiquing research on the merits and misrepresenting the contents of that research--and impugning the integrity of its authors--in a nationally distributed publication.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:


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Theodore Seto,

I think the biggest problem with the study is that Simkovic/McIntyre study is that they try to bypass direct information on the risk/reward of attending law school (3 year employment stats) in favor of aggreggate information about law grads in general. It would be like if you were contemplating investing in a company, and instead of looking at their actual revenue numbers for the past 3 years, you looked at how similar companies in the industry performed. Now, to give Simkovic/McIntyre some credit, the optimal situation is to look at both pieces of information, but at the end of the day, the direct revenue figures are far more important.

For example, here are the 2011 employments stats for your school:

I can determine that 220 out of 403 graduates from this class fall into one of the following categories:

Unemployed Seeking
Unemployed Deferred Start
Short Term/Part Time
Short Term/Full Time
Long Term/ Part Time
Business & Industry

It has now been TWO YEARS since this class graduated. Are you willing to state in front of your peers right now that you have know for a FACT that 40 members of this 220 cohort has obtained full time, long term employment as an attorney at a law firm or government agency? That means the individual is on the letterhead and/or the website as an associate.

Care to take the challenge?

Posted by: JM | Jul 30, 2013 5:35:54 AM


You misunderstand why Simkovic, Tamanaha, and I worry about the extent to which Simkovic/McIntyre is correct. (I include Tamanaha as sharing common concerns because I believe he does; if I am in error, I apologize.)

I spend time on the economics of legal education so as to be able to give my Dean and faculty the best possible advice about how to plan for the long run. If Simkovic's analysis is unrealistically rosy, it is of no use to me. We need to know now whether to replace retiring faculty, whether to invest in physical plant, whether to lay off staff. Obviously, different schools are subject to different constraints in this regard. But it is just as unhealthy for a school to act on advice that is too optimistic as to act on advice that is too pessimistic.

I know both Simkovic and Tamanaha. Both are genuinely interested in finding the truth of the matter. In my view, the Simkovic/McIntyre paper is of extraordinarily high quality -- far better than anything else out there. I do not view their conclusions as necessarily inconsistent with what Tamanaha has been saying and regret that Tamanaha has felt impelled to respond as he has. For the past 30 years, the law school business model has assumed annual tuition increases at a compound annual rate in excess of 5%. Regardless of whether the Simkovic/McIntyre conclusions are correct, this rate of increase seems unsustainable.

There is plenty of room for imaginative thinking about how to restructure legal education to train good lawyers and sound legal decisionmakers more effectively at a reasonable cost. Although I do not agree with everything he has written, Tamanaha has made significant contributions to this conversation. The Simkovic/McIntyre analysis is a significant contribution as well.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Jul 29, 2013 4:36:44 PM

I have a regular adult discussion with a bottle of whiskey and .5 milligrams of clonazepam as I look at all the years I'll be paying for the debt financed 2004-2007 salary of you blowhards.

Posted by: terry malloy | Jul 29, 2013 3:22:41 PM

I'm glad you wrote a post (I assume you mean a comment) that you thought was well-received (by who, other pseudonymous posters on blogs?). That doesn't change the fact that your initial post on this thread was moronic. You now introduce a non-sequitur (claims about Stephen Diamond, one of which I know to be false) and repeat the same stupid mistake about Seton Hall. The downturn in applicants is a result of unfavorable publicity about the bad market for new lawyers, and exacerbated by fraudulent misrepresentations. Seton Hall cut its class size in order to maintain student credentials. None of this has anything to do with the Simkovic paper, though perhaps now that Tamanaha has acknowledged that his book Failing Law Schools was predicated on a mistake in the wake of the Simkovic & McIntyre paper, applications will rebound.

(Regarding your false claims about Stephen Diamond: he did not attack MacK's father, he expressed admiration for him, and disappointment that his son would be such a blowhard. Faculty Lounge deletes a lot of comments now, including MacK's.)

Most of the concerns in the letter from the "Coalition of Concerned Colleagues" are independent of the points established by the Simkovic & McIntyre paper. There are many reasons why the ABA should deregulate aspects of legal education, including bringing down its cost.

Posted by: Brian | Jul 29, 2013 1:14:40 PM


I actually wrote a lengthy post regarding the appropriateness of the synthetic work-life earnings model for an industry that is undeniably undergoing structural change. It was very well received on sites ranging the political spectrum from Volokh Conspiracy to The Atlantic. Speaking of the need for adult comments, though, I do recall that Steve Diamond, the most fervent devotee of this misguided paper, a) had many comments deleted from the Faculty Lounge for going after another poster's deceased father, and b) was outed for spouting nonsense under the pseudonym btraven at Inside Higher Education and Above the Law. Both of these assertions are readily verifiable by visiting those websites.

And yeah, Seton Hall's actions speak louder than Simkovic's words. The precipitous drop in law student applications - particularly from the 170 LSAT and above scorers, speaks louder than this paper. The drop in attorney incomes as recorded by BLS and NALP speak louder than this study.

Realistically, though, change is going to come from outside the profession. If I had to place my bets, one of two things will happen.

1. GradPLUS loans will be revoked. Simpson and Bowles are already at work on this, with the gambit that the money saved will go into undergrad Pell Grants. The Gates and Lumina Foundations - the two biggest players in higher education policy - also desire such an outcome. This would leave law students borrowing $150,000 or more in private student loans, which of course are not eligible for IBR, PAYE, or PSLF. That is, of course, assuming private lenders will want to extend $150k for someone to attend Suffolk or Whittier or Santa Clara, and 2) that 0L's will want to stare down a >$2000/month student loan payment six months after graduation.

2. Some or all of the Income-Based Repayment Programs will be revoked. Representative Petri (R) of Wisconsin is trying to repeal PSLF as we speak, citing moral hazard and unfairness to private sector workers. And I do recall the notion of gutting IBR coming up during the Republican primaries last year. This would have much the same effect as 1), that is, requiring an economic premium for the law degree six months after graduation.

Point is, we know the ABA won't do anything, because of regulatory capture. Maybe this paper will get a few more gullible law students, maybe it won't (take a look at the non-legal blog coverage of this paper; it is resoundingly critical). But law school economics are broken, and at some point, the DOE and/or Congress is going to pull out one of the two aforementioned crutches that allow law schools to operate. All the blather in the meantime, including our own, is as inconsequential as ranking philosophy programs. I must say, though, I am flattered that you think the writings of unemployed lawyers like myself - know-nothings on the Internet - is more influential than the marketing prowess of the multi-billion dollar law school cartel. That's high praise.

Anyways, if you believe that past performance is a guarantee of future returns, well, I've got some awesome CDO's and railroad bonds to sell you. And Dutch tulips. And McMansions in Stockton. And stock options for, Wang Digital, Kodak, etc.

P.S. Professor Caron was a signatory to the letter that the Coalition of Concerned Colleagues sent to the American Bar Association Task Force on Legal Education a few months back. Along with Richard Posner, whose grasp of economics I take much more seriously than Simkovic's. And Campos, Tamanaha, Henderson, Merrit, Lawrence Friedman, and many, many others.

Posted by: Unemployed_Northeastern | Jul 29, 2013 12:49:01 PM

The last three comments qualify as moronic, "Unemployed Northeastern's" especially. The relative practice experience of Simkovic vs. Harper is wholly irrelevant to the labor economics of a JD vs. a BA, or Mr. Harper;s understanding of the latter (he clearly doesn't understand it). Seton Hall's decision to cut enrollment is obviously wholly unrelated to the correct of the Simkovic & McIntyre analysis: they cut enrollment due to a drop in applications (brought on, in part, by fraudulent misrepresentations of epic proportions by various know-nothings in cyberspace) in order to maintain student credentials, which contribute to Seton Hall's relatively strong USNWR rank.

Prof. Caron's moderation policy is really quite lax that he lets nonsense like the preceding comments through; I would encourage him to exercise a firmer hand so that adult discussion might be had.

Posted by: Brian | Jul 29, 2013 10:53:01 AM

One must admire Simkovic's gumption. This boy of the law, barely half a decade out from graduation and with an entire year of legal practice under his belt, is telling a thirty year veteran of Kirkland and Ellis (and professor at Northwestern) how the profession works. No, wait, he isn't refuting any of what Professor Harper wrote; he's merely complaining to the editors of the website hosting Professor Harper's words. This is the funniest, saddest thing I've read in weeks. I'd also say that it is pretty telling that all of Simkovic's responses have been over at a comment-free site run by a law professor, so as to hide himself from any further dissent. How bold...

Can I get Realpolitik for a minute? The bottom line is that Simkovic's very employer does not believe his study. Seton Hall Law School has reduced their class size by between 35% and 40% over the last few years, no doubt at the expense of millions of dollars of lost revenue. And they have announced that they may have to lay off their untenured faculty members next year, including Messr. Simkovic himself. Seton Hall has not reversed these policies in light of this trifling little paper based entirely around the notion of stability in the profession over the next few decades, even as it crumbles at our feet. It would follow that they would increase enrollment and gain more happy alumni if these lifetime earnings premiums held any water for the current generation of lawyers. What more needs be said? In the paper, reality does not interfere with hypothetical economic modeling. In reality, Seton Hall does not hypothetical economic modeling interfere with its operations. Res ipsa loquitur.

Posted by: Unemployed_Northeastern | Jul 29, 2013 8:27:12 AM

Simkovic and Pasquale doth protest too much.

Posted by: Jake | Jul 29, 2013 7:36:10 AM

To Simkovic's credit, his study really does address a number of the criticisms that have been lobbed his way. He would likely have gained more trust from the outset if he placed a large disclaimer on his title page that stated: "IN NO WAY DO I ADVOCATE ATTENDING SETON HALL LAW SCHOOL IF IT WILL RESULT IN MORE THAN $50,000 IN TOTAL EDUCATIONAL DEBT."

Posted by: JM | Jul 29, 2013 5:53:38 AM