Friday, August 26, 2016

Arizona Summit: America's Youngest Historically Black College

You may remember from the last post that Arizona Summit was looking for a dance partner (or partners, the tramp).  We should've known that she'd go black, and likely won't care if she comes back.

Arizona Summit, located in - yes - Arizona - is partnering with Bethune-Cookman.  In Florida.  Thank God lemmings often don't get geography, or else this might be a stupid idea.  It's a shame more schools don't take advantage of the absurd trans-continental pipeline arrangement that makes absolutely no sense outside of shamelessly well-crafted exploitation.
Arizona Summit Law School (Summit) and Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) will work together to address the lack of diversity in the legal profession.  The partnership will focus initially on increasing the number of HBCU graduates who attend and successfully complete the law school process and are prepared for admission to the practice of law.  To launch the partnership, Summit and B-CU will invest an unprecedented $12.5M in full scholarships and provide living assistance for qualified students from B-CU and other HBCUs.  Summit will accept its first class of students this fall from B-CU.
"Accept"?  More like roll out a red carpet and put a mint on the pillow.

If there's one institution that can understand the lack of diversity in the legal profession, it's Arizona Summit.  Just a few short years ago, Summit's founders looked the state of Arizona and saw only two reasonably priced, well-respected public law schools affiliated with major universities that were completely adequate for filling the state's need for attorneys.

Summit was having none of that rationally based, white privilege shit.  It understood that Arizona needed a standalone private school at toilet level to ensure there was an excess of lawyers.  Everyone who wants to plunk six figures on a law degree should get one with a bagel and a can of coke at some luncheon.  It's exactly like how HBCUs established themselves to serve an excluded minority population years ago, by which I mean it totally is not.

Now, Summit wants to make the southwestern legal landscape a little bit darker - bring da ruckus just like Summit did, if you will.  And who could blame them?  Mexican-American assimilation is working wonders with the good folk of Arizona.  It's a multicultural wundergarten, and no doubt ready to lead the revolution of diversifying the legal profession.

Lord knows there aren't any HBCU-friendly law schools back east.  It's not like there's already six HBCUs with law schools or anything like that; I don't see one named after Thurgood Marshall yet, do you?

Sure, people may scoff and wonder how a for-profit scam factory in Phoenix can credibly claim any sort of mission in line with HCBUs in a time when qualified minority applicants can get into a decent law school five seconds before classes start, instead thinking it's some sort of cheap ploy to get applicants impervious to criticism because of their diversity.  Such people are cynically racist assholes.

Once, Martin Luther King, Jr., famously observed that he, like Moses, had been to the mountaintop and seen the Promised Land.  In these times, it's hard not to read "mountaintop" as "Summit," and foresee a bountiful land of multicultural justice while the heartless law school critics perish under their faulty ideology the way the persecutors of Egypt and Dixie fell.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Personals Ad: Getting Arizona Summit Laid


Doesn't Arizona sound like a good name for a quirky, slightly unhinged pixie chick, the type who bangs you and makes lemonade afterwards while whistling the theme from Star Trek, but then suddenly redacts all the female names from your book collection to dissuade you from getting any forbidden ideas?  By extension, does Arizona Summit not sound like yet another could-be sex worker name gracing box covers or introducing herself in a seedy bar?

Now that Arizona Summit is seeking a university life partner, she might need a little assistance.  We here at the LSTC have put together the following personal ad:
Feisty HPV-ridden 11-year-old legally-aged institution of scam higher learning seeks attractive accredited, older university system for LT sugar daddy companionship. Must be unaffiliated and love children as I have hundreds who are un- and underemployed making the world better. Love diversity, but must have cash cash cash. Work as overpriced prostitute prestigious arm of national financial company. Hobbies include pegging clients with a baseball bat education and social justice.
...or something along those lines.

Oh, and also Summit is going to suddenly require all of its students to pass a mock bar exam to even graduate from law school, which is just the sort of innovation that legal education critics have been asking for.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Totally Unfair Domino-Style Backlash Against North Texas Dallas College of Law

The ABA has come under unfair scrutiny recently.  For example, last month Barry Currier and his friends were subject to the ignominy of a[n indirectly elected!] government bureaucratic regulatory team asking them non-softball questions.  Da fuq?  I thought this was America.

Unfortunately, the ABA does not exist in a vacuum.  While these allegations are baseless, the ABA has a need to appease the simple-minded peons out there who might stupidly expect a six-figure investment in legal education to actually break even (or better, as the data clearly show!).

Thus, in an obvious domino reaction to these infantile wankers, the ABA committee on accreditation has recommended rejecting accreditation for the North Texas Dallas College of Law:
 According to the Dallas Morning News, the ABA committee cited a large number of students with low LSAT scores at the school, and was concerned that students were being admitted who would be unable to pass the bar exam. The article also notes that last fall, one-fifth of the school’s first-year class was placed on academic probation. Additionally, the school admitted 17 students who were dismissed from other law schools, mostly for bad grades.

But it is just this type of student that led Furgeson to become the founding dean of UNT Dallas Law. A 2014 Huffington Post article said, “Furgeson and his admissions staff are relying less on GPA and LSAT scores … in favor of recommendations and life experience.”
As someone who wholly believes in the school of hard knocks over what some "exam" or "first year grades" or "lack of malpractice claims" shows, I stand firmly behind Furgeson.

So what if the school picks up rejects and kids who may not traditionally be able to practice law in any conventional sense?  If the kids want to go there, and the government - an elected government - makes an informed choice to pump $56 million into the school to meet the demand for JDs, no trade organization subcommittee should throw a spanner in the churn 'n' burn because some effete turds want to enforce some "rational regulations."

$56 million.  I think I trust the wise State of Texas, thanks.  It's time for the ABA to [again] do the same and reverse this stupid "recommendation" that disadvantages those in the Dallas area who are desperate to have a low-cost, lifetime-altering law school that they attend instead of going out of state to meet the need for JDs in Texas.

UPDATE:  Despite print journalism's spot in the nursing home room closest to the morgue shuttle, the Dallas Morning News has taken up the flag of defending Texas' 10th ABA-accredited law school with two articles lashing back against elitist bureaucracy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Shameful Bloomberg Publishes Scamblogger Message

Unquestionably, Bloomberg is a respected media organization. Thus, while I was disheartened to read the title of this piece, I was re-heartened by the symphonic content of the 3rd and 2nd to last paragraphs and figured the above was a misnomer:
Also, everyone who enrolls in law school is a consenting adult. Why should the ABA prevent people from taking a risk that they understand and accept? It’s true that the very same low-income and minority applicants who tend to score lower on the LSAT will also be most hurt if they are hit by high debt and poor job prospects.

There’s something uncomfortably paternalistic about saying that the elites of the ABA accreditation committee need to swoop in and save these applicants from themselves. 
Bingo, Ringo.  If there's one thing a butt-rapist likes to hear, it's the phrase "consenting adult." When law students get barebacked by a two-headed pine-cone, it's because they voluntarily chose such activities. What, you want a bunch of metaphorical anal gangbang virgins representing your real estate conglomerate?

Once full disclosure is made of the risks and rewards, which every law school in America does in a quaint theory completely unmoored from the gravity of Planet Realism, it's absolutely paternalistic to set LSAT cut-offs and bar passage rates. Heck, it's paternalistic to even have a bar exam. The free market is fully capable of determining good lawyer from bad.

But then we have the devastating conclusion.
As long as the bar exam remains a significant barrier to practicing law, one of the obligations for schools that admit students with low LSAT scores is to prepare a large majority of them to pass the exam. Any school that fails to do so is not serving these students, but preying upon them. The American Bar Association would be right to revoke its accreditation.
Far from the paternalism concerns of the previous paragraphs, the writer now is seeking to hold law schools (non-fiduciary, non-principal third parties) responsible for the individual failures of their customers. Essentially, people of this mindset would completely ignore the actual quality level of instruction in favor of evaluating a multi-million dollar institution based on how a few students do on an inherently biased test.

Could you imagine if hotels were rated this way?  The actual quality of accommodations would become irrelevant and hotel chains would gain or lose their licenses based solely on how well-rested the guests were on some third-party test conducted right after check-out.  Some two-star shithole in Ohio could outsource handjobs and score higher than Hilton.

It would be bedlam, and it's bedlam in the law school world as well. If a consumer wants to purchase five-star law school services from a prestigious long-standing institution like Mitchell-Hamline or the Houston College of Law with well-earned government funding, said consumer should be allowed to do so. The government has no business interposing itself and proclaiming that the consumer wouldn't benefit enough from the five-star services to do some unrelated career that the student may not even want.

A love of education should naturally mean a love of the crony free market in education.  For Bloomberg of all companies to even publish tripe repudiating this ideal and obstructing the standard higher education model in America is shameful.

Note that at the end of the article, Bloomberg the organization disclaims that the article represents the views of the company. One should hope so!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Black Juris Doctors Matter

The Wall Street Journal has a piece about the inane "war" over "tougher" bar passage "standards" for law schools that will inevitably jeopardize the existence of certain minority-heavy schools which like to provide opportunity to minorities who score in the 140s of the LSAT and are only projected to pass the bar every now and then.

First of all, there has never been a better time to be an African-American carrying a 155 LSAT.  Never.  For all the criticisms law schools get, a black man with a 155 LSAT is a diamond compared to the ejaculate-encrusted quartz of a 155 LSAT white male.  Is that not racial progress?  Do we not deserve a trophy and a letter from Jesse Jackson?

Second, and more importantly, the entire civil rights era was about opportunity and equality.  For the state apparatus to come in and arbitrarily set a "standard" for bar passage that just happens to be above a level that makes exploiting a new lode of African-American applicants practicable, the state apparatus is denying those individuals the same opportunity and equality afforded to white students who score marginally better on the LSAT.

Of course, it's really the law schools that would be prejudicial in this scenario, basically concluding ex ante that a black student with a 145 LSAT would not pass the bar in three years' time based on prior data that evaluates students along racial lines. So, uh, WOW, LOOK AT THAT BUTTERFLY OVER THERE!

As should be obvious by now, setting a bar passage standard at any level is inherently racist.  You could set it at 170 and it would be racist.  You could set it at 120 and it would be racist.  You could require applicants to successfully color a turtle cartoon and it would be racist.  Why?  Because no matter where you set the applicant entry level, law schools have a social prerogative to subtract ten, grab as many minorities as possible, and claim they're doing society a great favor by making academically marginal candidates (in the relative sense) take on $150-200k in debt so they can get their trophies and letters from Jesse Jackson.

And why?  Because it's all about opportunity and equality, you see.  If white folk are allowed to in-debt themselves so hard they need a proctologist to extract the master promissory note, then black people should be free to do so in equal or greater numbers.

So what if the whole ordeal resembles shackling minorities with the manacles of unpayable debts and intangibly indentured servitude?  That just sounds to me like a poetic coming-full-circle, does it not?

Bottom line here is that if you are in favor of establishing bar passage minimums (or LSAT minimums, the de facto result), you are a racist and you are opposed to a fantasy of low-scoring minority prospects proving themselves and diversifying the lily-white profession.

Go burn a cross or something.  I'll scam on, and collect my trophy and letter from Jesse Jackson.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

More Federal Funding for Law Schools - Vermont Edition

The federal policy of the United States to support institutions of legal study and the professors who sacrifice large law firm salaries could not be more clear.

Yet it is not enough that the federal government provides easily repaid, risk-free lending to tens of thousands of law schools.  Law schools need more.

Enter Vermont Law School, an innovator in legal education and now an innovator in law school financial operations.
Vermont Law School is hoping to borrow $15 million from the federal government to help restructure its debts and take advantage of lower interest rates.
The school is seeking the loan from the USDA’s Rural Development Community Facilities Direct Loan Program, which develops “essential community facilities” in rural areas.
In order to qualify for a loan, the school must demonstrate that it “provides an essential service to the local community for the orderly development of the community in a primarily rural area, and does not include private, commercial or business undertakings,” according to guidelines on the program website.
Uh, judicial notice?

We know for a fact that the South Royalton metropolitan area - shit, the State of Vermont - needs lawyers, and you can't grow lawyers without a generous rainfall of cash and favorable government financing.  Lord knows that the scarcity of law schools in places like New York or Massachusetts will not fill the void.  "Essential community facility," indeed.

Sure, the U.S. Government could simply give practice loans to encourage lawyers to meet any rural need for lawyers, but why be direct when you can flood the market and create capitalist competition.

Furthermore, we know that law schools are more important to rural economies than lawyers.  A single law school can employ dozens and bring in 500 semester-long tourists at worst.  They're as good as military bases and way more useful in peacetime.

Frankly, I don't know why more rural areas don't open up sham higher educational institutions.  Almost overnight, even the shittiest of colleges can become centers of economic pseudo-growth in small town America, with all the protectionist trimmings that go with it from the state and federal governments.

Sure, we could find more productive uses of federal lending.  For example, for $15 million, you could just give everyone in Vermont $24 that they could then use to buy twelve (12) Powerball tickets, yielding the state an additional 7.5 million Powerball tickets and increasing the odds that one of its residents would win hundreds of millions of dollars.

It probably has the same level of economic insight as funding a butt-fucking 4th-tier law school, but we know that suckering the federal government into injecting cash for lawyers is a winning plan.

You suckers are just jealous you haven't figured out to work the system this well.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Genius Hits the Road: Concluding Observations and the Great Lie (Part IX)

This concludes our month-long review of Simkovic & McIntyre's Economic Value. This blog series added some new things I did not see previously observed and rehashed some deserved "criticisms" of the work by those who fail to appreciate its true greatness.

For this last entry, I want to praise Simkovic & McIntyre for their greatest feat of all:  perpetuating the great lie.

As I sit here, drafting this entry, I note that my present lawyer salary is about two times greater than my pre-law school salary according to my last full year's tax return before enrolling in an institution of third-tier excellence.  On purely economic terms, presuming I make this salary the rest of my natural life, law school was a positive economic investment.

And yet, my professional career has never felt this dead, and I would kill a roomful of adorably fawning puppies to go back to age 24 and try it all again.

I don't hate practicing law.  I love writing, researching, thinking through problems, and working with about two-thirds of the people I come in contact with.  But I would say a good once a week I stare aimlessly at my computer screen and wonder what the fuck I did in a previous life.  Every now and then the phone's harsh ring invokes a momentary nightmare like a Pavlovian reaction.  Occasionally I feel like having a drink in the late afternoon only to immediately feel guilt because the bar associations are on a rampage of sniffing out alcoholism like McGruff the Rabid Crime Dog.

I look at people my age who have less intellect and less impressive credentials who seem to be doing fine and more liberated from industry-wide black holes.  Why did I take this road and not that one?  It's difficult to know whether the grass is truly greener, but I know that grass is less burdened with debt and that I can work harder and smarter than average at tending it.  Survey says I'm not the only one.

Simkovic & McIntyre's work systematically debunks any such thoughts.  The great lie is that nuanced people and professions can be reduced to monotonous averages and that law school is either a wise investment or it is not in purely economic terms.  As a lowly liberal artist, I was destined to make penurious wages.  Law school was my salvation, other educational alternatives or putting sweat equity into a business be damned.  My alternative realities are little more than economic and social pornography.  In a way, it's a fatalistic view that removes the input of any decision save whether to go to law school or not.  White, black, dumb, smart, ugly, beautiful.  Just digits on an enrollment sheet.

Of course, Simkovic & McIntyre found a market already primed to believe in its hokey premium model.  When looking at schools and law school as a whole, did we not compare our present salaries to the advertised ones and titter at the thought of an easy tripling?  Law schools have been milking the premium angle, at least on an implied basis, to cash-starved 23-year-olds for decades.  Simkovic & McIntyre merely found a way, post-recession, post-fixed-stats, to capitalize on that mode of thought with a regression analysis of gobbledygook horseshit.

In reality, very little of life's finer aspects come from a strictly economic evaluation of fungible people.  A similar great lie, not explicitly discussed in Simkovic & McIntyre's work, is that many of us went into the law, at least in part, because we saw a rational, meritocratic profession that traded in truth and justice and rewarded intellect and hard work.  The crushing blow of law, perhaps, comes from a mismatch between the perceived ex ante value of such traits and the actual (negative) value of such traits ex post.

Perhaps, then, Simkovic & McIntyre's work is a greater work of propaganda than even the best shills have given it credit.  Not only do they play on the idea that legal careers can be evaluated (poorly) using (kindergarten-level) econometrics, they implicitly ignore all of the other items beyond money that make a career worthwhile and satisfying.

In tricking us all into arguing over financial prosperity or non-dischargable ruin based on a law degree premium, Simkovic & McIntyre have convinced us to ignore all of the other reasons being a lawyer creates unhappy careers at a rate faster than almost any other profession.  Sure, Economic Value is unscientific hogwash on its face, but what isn't written at all is that law may be toxic for reasons other than cold hard cash (tempered with modest debt) and, for certain completely normal personality types, law school is unsafe at any price.

The law, in many ways, is about understanding nuance where others see similarity.  In looking at multiple generations of diverse law school attendees with varying intellectual abilities and backgrounds, Simkovic & McIntyre's approach sees not nuance, but a big bucket of ageless interchangable lawyers unconcerned with justice or delaying starting a family.  From a certain angle, not only is the work rubbish and hostile to the virtues of the scientific method, its assumptions are insulting to several core belief systems underpinning American law while still telling people using fancy numbers 'n' such to go to law school.

That anyone cited this ludicrous monstrosity of light teaching loads beyond patting Simkovic & McIntyre on the metaphorical forehead and telling them to try again is a sign of certain mastery.  That they got the entire full-time staff of the Law School Truth Center to devote a nine-part series to their work?

That's genius.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Restless Genius: Repeat Repeat Repeat (Part VIII)

We're almost done.  Unlike Simkovic & McIntyre...

It's a cliche that academics, even brilliant ones, repeat themselves and merely do variations on a certain idea or theme.  Simkovic & McIntyre are no different.  Since publishing Economic Value, the dynamic duo has put out a joint review of Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools, an article called Timing Law School, a Simkovic-only screed on valuing higher education called A Value Added Perspective on Higher Education, and most recently (March 2016) a piece called Value of a Law Degree by College Major.

In their review of Tamanaha's work, they somehow make it to page six before discussing their own research, although the first few pages are not without merit (such as the brilliant straw-man that "Tamanaha hopes the government will prevent students from borrowing against their future earnings to pay for the cost of a legal education", the foot-note defense of regulatory capture, or that Tamahana's suggestion of legal residency programs ipso facto mean the taxpayer would fund them because medical school residences receive payments from Medicare).

The real brilliance is that discussion of their own work criticizes Tamahama  for the exact same things Economic Value does.  On page 11, for example, we have a criticism of mismatching terminal bachelor's holders with law degree holders followed by a criticism of "inconsistent definitions" from "different sources" with "different sampling and reporting biases."  As you'll recall from our previous entries, Economic Value is unclear about what a "law degree" is, uses a bogus control group, and smashes together two unrelated governmental surveys to whoop ding ca-ching million dollar degree... for some group of people who entered practice a while ago.

Timing Law School is the follow-up album to Economic Value where Simkovic & McIntyre regurgitate their data, run some simulations, and conclude that the timing of when one goes to law school is unlikely to make law school a poor investment, only determining, maybe, how good of an investment law school is.  Of course, once one concedes that there is variance in whatever law school earnings premium exists on a year-over-year basis and that large law firm employment is dynamic, one would also have to concede that the cumulative lifetime variance could be either negative or so extremely disproportional that it makes sense for some students (particularly at the high end) to hold on law school (or go immediately before a recession hits).  A lawyer who graduated into the early 1970s recession has about as much relevance to present law graduates as '73 Chevelle sales have to next year's Chevy models.

But again, Simkovic & McIntyre stick to their guns like tried and true academic polemicists. 

Simkovic's solo effort Value-Added is an essay that only drops Economic Value in a footnote but still manages to complement its legacy nicely by serving as an apologia for non-elite educational institutions.  For example, Simkovic opens with a weak analogy contrasting schools to hospitals ("If hospitals were evaluated based purely on outcomes...") which, one supposes, compares the dying infirm to third-tier law applicants.  The remainder of the essay proceeds by pretending to anticipate and knock down common sense arguments with brisk aplomb.  Underemployment?  Those folks just need degrees to correct for their disadvantages.  Shit schools?  Economic necessity.  Market and regulatory failures?  "Implausible."

Not implausible is that Simkovic & McIntyre will keep going, and indeed this past March put out Value of a Law Degree by College Major, a short article where they supplement the Economic Value data-set with information from the American Community Survey to gain some sort of post-2008 information, even though ACS does not identify who has a law degree (they even admit it's harder to tell who has a law degree than in SIPP, which we already noted was imperfect).  It essentially repeats the college major conclusions from Economic Value, claiming that a law degree is a great option, even for STEM majors (in their terminal form, at least) and that a law degree "erases the disproportionately lower expected earnings from a liberal arts degree."

Again, Simkovic & McIntyre generally don't address alternative graduate degrees (that's for "future research") and don't seem to address the idea that law school (or other graduate options) may be a reason that many students who could excel in STEM choose liberal arts instead, i.e., that the college major decision is itself polluted by post-graduate options and not strictly a sorting of ability.

It's all bullshit with a glossy sheen of academese.  If it looks like a duck, shoot it, baste it, and feast away.

At the end of the day, all good propagandists are bullshit artists who know that repeating something over and over again is the best way to get a message across, and with a big enough megaphone, truth or falsity become largely irrelevant.  This law governs everything from toothpaste sales to world leadership.  We have a major party presidential candidate who has bullshat his way to a Republican nomination.

The more Simkovic & McIntyre repeat their nonsense, the longer their track record becomes.  Flaws in their original research are swept under the rug.  Media outlets only read the conclusions, anyway.  Enough bullshit conclusions stacked on top of each other and you've got a textbook of complete bullshit masquerading as the truth.

Genius is not a one-hit wonder.  Genius never stops producing and never stops touring.  For Simkovic & McIntyre, I would bet the ingenious output is by no means concluded.  They won't stop until you're as convinced of their genius as I am.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Genius Because Paper met Wall: Sheepskin Effects and Economic Value (Part VII)

We continue our travel down the open road of economic happiness by evaluating Simkovic & McIntyre's Economic Value research in multi-part depth.  Like making love to a woman who's clinically insane and on crack, we keep going back.  Not sure why, but we do.  And it keeps getting better and better and better...

In Part VI, we took a deeper look at the overall mathematical model of Economic Value, discussed some of the basic concepts, and praised Simkovic & McIntyre's genius is presenting a human capital theory that departed from the Mincer formula and its adaptations for reasons that remain brilliantly opaque.

In this part, we're going to ask why they ignored an alternative explanatory theory from labor economics.

Economic Value is premised on a human capital theory, i.e., that investments in human capital (through education) increase earnings and that the primary variable is the time spent on investment.  Simkovic & McIntyre propose, essentially that the investment in human capital of going to law school benefits the student whether they work as a lawyer or not.

An alternative, however, is a specific signalling theory, referred to in the literature as a sheepkin effect, whereby it's the degree that causes a rise in the market value of the labor rather than the actual time investment in education.  Matt Leichter basically covers this argument as well as it can be, so I'll let him take over:
Without explanation, the authors reject signaling theory, an alternative that appears in an article by David Card cited in footnote 4 (PDF) of “Economic Value.” Card’s article displays a chart, though outdated, showing that professional school graduates make significantly more money than the trend predicts. Card identifies this phenomenon as the “sheepskin effect,” which means the additional earnings degree-holders obtain over what they would have earned with just an additional year of schooling.[i] Given that most states require a law degree to practice law, the sheepskin effect, which doubles here as a “licensed professional effect,” is probably very pronounced. The utility of the 58,000th minute of law school that the ABA mandates is very high indeed.
Because I think its incredibly important and is an another insurmountable nail in the non-genius evaluation of Economic Value coffin, I'll lazily copy the chart with Leichter's notation here:
Card Chart
It's not like Card is the only person who points the "sheepskin effect" out, either.  It has been widely studied.  But like true geniuses, Simkovic & McIntyre totally side-step its application.

At this point, we have to ask ourselves exactly what Simkovic & McIntyre are arguing.  Are they even arguing a traditional human capital theory, or are they arguing the JD is a signal to employers that this person is worth more?  As Leichter more or less points out, they've effectively taken both sides and provide no clarity about their precise thesis.  He circles back to the control group problem discussed in Part III:
At this point, we should declare “Economic Value” a mistrial. The authors overeagerly tested the data without thinking through the theory discussed in their own citations. A “premium” cannot be measured until someone compares the earnings of law school graduates to the earnings of those who’ve completed all or nearly all the required law school coursework but didn’t graduate. If the earnings of both groups are the same, then the authors have a basis for claiming that law school increases people’s earnings based on the human capital theory.
In any event, Simkovic & McIntyre know the research is out there suggesting that credentials - and not years of education - may be causing any observable shift in earnings.  They don't even make an attempt to address this theory, which would mean that we might be able to essentially give out law degrees to gifted BA holders with the same effect.

But fuck it, it's genius.  Simkovic & McIntyre don't need a clear population definition.  They don't need an adequate sample.  They don't need an adequate control group.  They don't need a recent sample - it's 2008 somewhere, right?  They don't need to situate their literature in the existing theoretical landscape or address alternative theories to explain the observed phenomena.  They don't need to address any of Leichter's eleven points.

Fuck science.  Go to law school.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Genius Off the Deep End: Math and Formulas and Such (Part VI)

We continue our exploration of Economic Value.  This one dives more deeply into shallow mathematics - or is it takes a shallow look at deep mathematics?  Who the hell knows?  This week I'm savoring the million dollar premium in a low-cost rental in hick country drinking glorified furniture polish, so I'm not inclined to care.

Most academic writers try to work from existing streams of thought in a particular area.  Such a task - particularly in an area like economics - often takes the work outside the realm of comprehensibility for the general reading public.  Simkovic & McIntyre steer clear of firmly placing their work within existing literature on human capital theory, but at the same time keep the work appropriately out of reach of the most unsophisticated readers, walking a tightrope that is the hallmark of geniuses like Beethoven or Stephen King.

For example, despite being written for what is mostly a non-scientific audience (let's not kid ourselves, right?), Economic Value gives rather short shrift to explaining its methods in approachable terms.  So let's start by looking at the basic statistical approach on a more introductory level.  One example of a term that goes under-explained is "Ordinary Least Squares" ("OLS")  The wikipedia entry gives a fair, if dense, explanation. It's a standard method of regression analysis in research.

In layman's terms, the goal of regression analysis generally is that where you have what's called a dependent variable (in this particular case earnings), you take all of the independent variable observations you have (in our case, whether there's a "law degree" and a bunch of other factors that apply to a person), and you try to find a line, represented by a mathematical formula, that best "fits" the data provided to explain the relationship between all those other variables (education, experience, skills, race, gender, etc.) and earnings.  The ultimate design is that you find some formula where you can plug in the numbers for independent variables, even if not seen in data, and generate a predicted output.

In their data modelling, Simkovic & McIntyre use what's called an independent "dummy variable" in the formula for whether the person has a law degree or not.  What this means is that when the person has only a bachelor's degree, the dummy variable is set to 0 and the dependent variable (earnings) can be derived from all the other explanatory variables (like years of experience or some variable to represent raw ability).  When the person has a "law degree," their dummy variable is set to 1.

The coefficient that goes with the dummy variable is thus what they ultimately use to determine their earnings premium, although the precise translation from this coefficient to actual numbers isn't crystal clear to the lay reader.

Another phrase often used, and not thoroughly explained, is "log earnings."  "Log" stands for "logarithm," which can be explained here for those of you who quit before that particular math class.  Basically hit the log button on your calculator and then type an amount of annual earnings. Simkovic & McIntyre use log earnings instead of simple dollar-value earnings because there is a tradition in quantitative labor economics to use log earnings as a dependent variable (one can read the Card article cited in Economic Value for an explanation).

However, one brilliant thing that using "log earnings" instead of raw earnings is that it allows for large spans to be concealed in what otherwise appear to be short distances.  For example, Figure 5 in Economic Value is ostensibly used to show that "[r]ecent premiums for young law graduates are within historical norms." 

Yet, note that as we pointed out in Part 3, the 2008-2013 grouping has an incredibly small number of observations.  Look at the differences in log earnings represented in Figure 5, and pay particular attention to the confidence intervals.  Simkovic & McIntyre try to demonstrate that there's not much variance with an "average premium" of 0.56 across the observations.  But the confidence intervals range from <0.2 in 2004-2007 and ~1.0 for 2000-2003.  Moreover, because logarithms are inversely exponential, very small changes in log earnings actually mean large shifts when it comes to real numbers that people actually have to buy things with in real life.  For example, the difference represented in Figure 5 between the 2000-2003 premium and the 2004-2007 premium is 0.29.  Well, log 100000 - log 50000 = 0.3 or so.  That's a lot of variance to claim anything is "within historical norms" or steady across a small number of observations.

But still, using log earnings and a linear regression is fairly well accepted in the economic literature.  There isn't too much controversial (or ingenious) in the basic idea. 

A better question, though, is what genius path led Simkovic & McIntyre to reject what appears to be an existing common approach in the literature to human capital theories?  I ask this question not to criticize, but to comprehend.

For several decades, labor economists have used Mincer's Human Capital Earnings Function to evaluate the relationship between education, earnings, and experience.  Card - again, cited by Simkovic & McIntyre - discusses this literature at length.

The basic Mincer Formula (which has been expanded in other literature) is this:

Log(earnings) = log(baseline earnings) + a(years of schooling) + b(work experience) + c(work experience)^2

As fatally flawed as their SIPP data is, Simkovic & McIntyre had everything they needed to calculate the added earnings of three JD years using this formula or some custom derivation from it appropriately modified to the "law degree" market.

For example, one of the most common problems identified with the Mincer equation is that log earnings may not have a linear relationship with years of education (which is what results in the Mincer formula for people who have no experience).  In other words, certain years of training may "pay off" more than others in terms of developing human capital.  This possibility will be discussed more in Part 7.

Several scholars (including at least one, Card, cited by Simkovic & McIntyre) have found a convex relationship between earnings and education.  As Lemieux (2003) suggests upon reviewing Mincer (1997), log earnings may only be linear in a stable environment where labor demand meets the incoming labor supply, pointing out that log earnings was convex where the demand for skilled labor outpaced the existing supply.  Lemieux suggests adding an additional polynomial to the base model, and other researchers have played around with numerous formulations.  There are people doing integral calculus with this shit in the 2000s.

So what formula do Simkovic and McIntyre use?

Log(earnings) = a(dummy for law degree) + monomial control variables and constants

What's missing?  Well, in short, they've seemingly done away with experience being a variable in their basic model despite it being a crucial variable in decades of labor economics' studying of the relationship between education and earnings.  Whereas the Mincer formula would not only factor experience as a key variable in the evaluation of log earnings but factor it exponentially, Simkovic & McIntyre seem to take a more circuitous route to addressing the role of experience in lawyer earnings.  They've also (by the lack of any polynomials) assumed log earnings and education have a fundamentally linear relationship when such fact remains an open question.

On one hand, the scant mention and departure from Mincer and his progeny is odd - almost like ignoring strongly persuasive authority from multiple federal appeals courts, but again we must understand what Simkovic & McIntyre are doing:  simplifying the mystical and clarifying the sloppily obfuscated.  So what if they started from scratch with a lousy dataset and ignored what might be the most important variable in explaining earnings in the labor economics literature?

That they took a deeper mathematical approach than prior studies alone should win them praise; that they managed to sidestep certain issues with a deft use of numbers should win them super-tenure.

Again, corrections are welcome.  As a lawyer, and not an economist, statistician, or professor of law, my station is inferior and I would welcome a greater understanding of Simkovic & McIntyre's keen analysis.