Paul L. Caron

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lat, Diamond Debate The Law School Crisis

Washington Post op-ed:  Law School Is Way Too Expensive. And Only The Federal Government Can Fix That., by David Lat:

There’s no shortage of lawyers in this country. Only 57 percent of 2013 law school graduates obtained full-time legal jobs nine months after graduation. Yet the federal government subsidizes the production of even more lawyers by lending the cost of attendance to basically anyone who decides to enroll in law school, without regard for the quality of the school or the job prospects of its graduates. A student going to Harvard Law School, where 86.9 percent of 2013 grads had full-time legal jobs, has the same access to federal funds as a student going to Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where just 22.9 percent of 2013 grads work as lawyers.

This policy is hurting students. Federally subsidized loans have enabled law school tuition to spiral out of control. As noted by Professor Paul Campos, “[i]n real, inflation-adjusted terms, tuition at private American law schools has doubled over the past 20 years, tripled over the past 30, and quadrupled over the past 40,” and resident tuition at public law schools has climbed even faster. So long as the federal loans keep coming, tuition is unlikely to stop rising. In the words of Professor Brian Tamanaha author of  Failing Law Schools, “Federal loans are an irresistible (and life-sustaining) drug for revenue addicted law schools … law schools have been ramping up tuition and enrollment without restraint thanks to an obliging federal loan program.”

If the government were to stop lending for law school or even just impose per-student or per-school caps on loan amounts (perhaps combined with making it easier to discharge student loans in bankruptcy), law schools would have to dramatically lower tuition, in order to attract students. There would be no other way for most students to finance their education. (And many law schools are already struggling to fill their seats.) Private lenders might step into the breach – but carefully, because banks have a stronger interest than the government in actually getting repaid. Private lenders would focus on borrowers going to law schools with strong job placement records. And if banks are unwilling to lend to all law students, that’s further proof that the market produces too many lawyers.

Stephen F. Diamond (Santa Clara), Washington Post Feeds the Anti-Law School Myth Making Again:

Above the Law’s David Lat was let into the pages of the Washington Post today in an attempt to feed the beast of myth making about law school. This is becoming a bit of a habit at the Post which recently allowed one of its own columnists to mislead the public about law schools as I explained here. Perhaps it’s the influence of their new owner, Jeff Bezos, known to lean libertarian.

Lat implies there are too many lawyers (a favorite meme of the right, of course). Apparently he is ignorant of the laws of supply and demand. Law school applicants have declined significantly in the wake of the credit crisis, continuing a decades old pattern of cyclicality in the market for legal education. If there is an oversupply then the market has a way to deal with the problem. The availability of federal aid has not stopped the steep drop off in applications since the credit crisis anymore than it likely created the steep increase in the several years prior to the bubble’s burst. ...

When you combine the actual data about what JD holders do with their degrees and what they earn over a lifetime – particularly relative to the alternative of going through life with just a BA as one’s terminal degree – it is not a surprise that law school remains an attractive option to tens of thousands of college graduates.

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There is another possibility. Do the lesser qualified applicants see open ended federal loans for all their tuition and expenses as a sort of "entitlement program" in which it provides them with three of four subsidized years of relative ease and fun that prolongs their adolescence? I ask because no matter what we say about low employment rates on graduation and the amount of debt incurred during law school, I think it is likely that the federal government's "collection agency" system really is totally overloaded as to actually being able to recoup what law graduates owe. The fact that they can't discharge the debt in bankruptcy as a general matter in no way means they actually pay it. Perhaps this is a subtle equivalent to Texas' interest free non-repayable "loans" to law faculty? There is an initial pretense and then the system just doesn't work. If true, we should not be surprised that applicants who can't get any other decent paying employment after college in a system losing mid-level jobs select this option as a means of scamming the system for a few more years. How does the federal government seeking "blood from a stone" in the form of law school debt actually collect?

Posted by: David | Apr 9, 2015 4:02:44 PM

Headline issue: How is it a debate if they aren't, you know, talking to each other? David Lat wrote an article about law school issues in one of the nation's most-read newspapers; Steve Diamond wrote something on his blog.

Anyways, as good a place as any to plug for Matt Leichter's new employer, JD Premium Loan, LLC.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Apr 9, 2015 1:58:44 PM

Pristine logic, there Steve. A real swiss watch of an argument.

Posted by: Stan | Apr 9, 2015 12:53:56 PM

To call it a "debate" is not really fair. David Lat wrote an editorial in the Washington Post. Professor Diamond read it, and posted comments about a libertarian conspiracy on his web site.

It's not like this was point/counter point.

Posted by: Jojo | Apr 9, 2015 12:53:02 PM