Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rubin: Are Law Schools Failing?

FailingEdward Rubin (Vanderbilt), The Future and Legal Education: Are Law Schools Failing and, If So, How?, 39 Law & Soc. Inquiry 499 (2014):

In Failing Law Schools (2010), Brian Tamanaha recommends that law schools respond to the current economic crisis in the legal profession by reducing support for faculty research and developing two-year degree programs. But these ideas respond only to a short-term problem that will probably be solved by the closure of marginal institutions. The real challenge lies in the powerful long-term trends that animate social change, particularly the shift to a knowledge-based economy and the demand for social justice through expanded public services. These trends demand that law schools transform their educational programs to reflect the regulatory, transactional, and interdisciplinary nature of modern legal practice.

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I wonder if meh has seen the most recent NALP report on law firm hiring:

"the prevalence of $160,000 salaries at these firms as a whole is far below what it was just five years ago, accounting for just over one-quarter of the salaries reported by firms of this size. In 2014, first-year associate salaries of $160,000 accounted for 27% of the salaries reported by firms of that size. By contrast, in 2009 nearly two-thirds of first-year salaries were reported as $160,000."

And of course law school tuition continues to outpace the rest of higher education, so even for those who grasp the brass ring, law school becomes a worse prospect with each passing year.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Oct 9, 2014 12:30:12 PM

meh ,

From a law school survival standpoint, the S&M study is worthless. The only way that prospective enroll is when they stubbornly ignore the issue of debt. Engaging in the issue in any fashion is self-defeating for the law schools, even when they are arguing for net positive value. They cannot allow reality to set in beforehand. They need to continue to encourage blind idealism and impulsive decision making in order to get more bodies in the door.

However, addressing the substance of your argument, I confess, I have not read the S&M study and I do not intend to. I also don’t feel like it is necessary. We can all see the direct fact of graduates 9 months out on Law School Transparency. For a typical school, like, say, Temple, most students will be in $150k+ debt, and have a job that pays around $50k, or, just as likely, no real job at all. We can all speculate that these people’s careers will turn a major corner, but from anecdotal experience, that is not the case. Even if they do, it will not be for another frustrating 10-15 years. It is a large, important segment of your life on earth to be spent in a state of despair and anxiety over debt and career prospects. The word continues to get out about this, which is why year after year we see declines in applicants, despite a very stable job market for the last 3 years at least.

Posted by: JM | Oct 9, 2014 9:09:11 AM


We don't. Both S&M and After JD do not account for the most recent graduating cohorts. How much that undermines their validity is, as UNE points out, something that has already been argued to death on this board.

Posted by: Former Editor | Oct 9, 2014 8:08:22 AM

What are the figures for law school loan repayment? It seems to me the employment figures took a hit in 2008 forward. How do we know the 2006 forward grads have repaid their loans at this point in time?

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 9, 2014 7:40:47 AM

I have no interest in rehashing the critically-flawed S&M study for the millionth time on this board, and the refresh rate on TaxProf is too rapid to delve into in-depth matters anyhow. But with regard to

"Most students can and do repay their loans in full with interest, and have a lot more left over than they would have had if they had never gone to law school."

well, the little birdies tell me that law students are pretty much the most overrepresented groups in IBR and PAYE - you know, the soft-default, protracted Chapter 13 Bankruptcy payment plans for people with financial hardships. And of course, law schools are front in center in the push to get GradPLUS, PSLF, and PAYE repealed by the New America Foundation and others. So much for your supposition, but if you are confident in it, by all means have your nearest law school start guaranteeing their students' loans. If everyone is successful as you say, it won't cost the school a cent, but will make a nice bulwark against their collapsing applicant numbers.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Oct 9, 2014 7:35:45 AM


We know from Simkovic & McIntyre's study that Tamanaha got at least one thing very badly wrong--the financial benefits of legal education outweigh the costs for the overwhelming majority of graduates by a wide margin. Most students can and do repay their loans in full with interest, and have a lot more left over than they would have had if they had never gone to law school.

I suggest reading S&M's review of Tamanaha in Northwestern, the S&M study (“The Economic Value of a Law Degree”), and the Tamanaha / S&M blog post exchange on Leiter Reports and Balkanization and then see if you still consider Tamanaha an authority on finance or economics.

The open question is whether law schools can do better. That might mean reducing costs if costs can be reduced without any reduction in the value of legal education. But it might mean that law schools should charge more. If law school cost $20,000 more and produced $40,000 more in value, that would be a win for everyone.

There’s no link between the cost of law school and graduates proclivity for public interest jobs. Take a look at “After the JD.” Debt levels predict nothing about who will start in the public sector and who will work in the private sector.
When a big law firm pays $250K per year for a mid-level associate and a public interest job pays half or a quarter as much, most students given the option are still going to take the law firm job even if they got a full scholarship and law school was completely free.

“The student loans made me do it is a lame excuse.” The best thing law schools could do to encourage people to go into public interest would be to charge everyone more and use some of the money to subsidize public interest salaries.
To bring public interest comp up to anywhere near private sector, they'd need to charge a lot more and really up the subsidy.

The worst thing law schools could do would be to cut tuition and cut public interest subsidies.

Posted by: meh | Oct 9, 2014 7:04:02 AM

Rubin's assertion that legal aid is a growth sector for legal services is him just making stuff up and if he thought it through it is quite a stupid line of thought. As commentators have mentioned above the pay would be to low to pay off student's law school loans, and rely on the federal and state government deciding to enact a legal entitlement program, which is not going to happen.

Posted by: J | Oct 9, 2014 4:34:32 AM

The idea that social justice will demand greater attorney access also underpins the need to reduce law school tuition. Raise your hand if you think the government is going to pay an hourly rate to these "free attorneys" close to enough to cover $200k in debt. as for the technological shift, I think the BIg Law attorneys will tell you they have that covered with their current staff.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 8, 2014 7:49:58 AM

If I understand Rubin correctly, he believes that two future trends will profoundly reshape U.S. legal education: (1) The future will be technologically different from today, and lawyers will be needed create the new legal arrangements for that different future based on an understanding of new technologies, and (2) Our future society will realize that social justice demands that everyone get free lawyers paid for by the state for their legal problems, which will create a dramatically expanded need for lawyers. As for (1), it's not clear to me why law school training would need to change in any substantial way for that. As for (2), the evidence supporting that prediction seems very thin. Or so it seems to me; I'm curious if others who have read the article have a different reaction.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 8, 2014 6:36:34 AM

It's nice to see people fighting back

Posted by: mike livingston | Oct 8, 2014 4:19:19 AM

Daniel and SS,

It’s funny how people get so worked up about college football. Maybe that is a phenomenon you could explain to me. Anyway, I will respond to some of your various points below:

First, I should have been clear about the “other talent” comment. I really meant other passion/ other talent. I did not mean that they could not get any other job in America. In reality, they’d probably take the $150,000 rather than get pulled in another professional direction, such as investment banker, doctor or astronaut so there isn’t much need to worry about a dearth of good college coaches.

Second, I don’t object to students or the public treating football programs as bigger than the school and more important than academics. I object to the school and the State doing this. By paying a coach 10x more than a prof, the school itself sends this message. That’s how they come to think they can get away with abetting the molestation of children and other awful crimes that I’m sure just have not come to light.

Third, I don’t care how much coaches get paid in gross comp. I care about how much money they take from students and taxpayers. They can have all the endorsement deals and speaking engagements they want.

Fourth, I CERTAINLY do not want college professors to get paid like college coaches. I want college coaches to get paid like professors. And know, I don’t agree anything college coaches do is more difficult than what at least some professors do, such as core scientific advances, medical advances, etc.

Posted by: JM | Oct 7, 2014 5:43:11 PM

Tamanaha’s suggestions address the real pressing issue in legal education: cost. That will not be solved by the closure of a few marginal institutions. In fact, it is a problem that is just creeping into the top 14 level, as we see tuition levels creep to amounts that cannot even be supported by $160,000/yr jobs.

Needless to say, costs will continue to be a major threat to marginally elite schools like Vanderbilt, where only about a third of each graduating class gets the type of job that can arguably support such extremely high levels of debt.

So Rubin might want to consider implementing those Tamanaha suggestions after all.

Posted by: JM | Oct 7, 2014 12:34:04 PM