Monday, May 4, 2015

A Tale of Two Studies and the Easy Six-Figure LSAT Tutor

Slate's Jordan Weissmann is back with an article summarizing the recent research efforts in the legal academy to quantify how much ass a Juris Doctor degree kicks booty.  He begins with a discussion of Deborah Merrit's Ohio study (I don't know what's called, so I'm going to name it after a Neil Young song about justifiable homicide), which purported to show that the 2010 era graduates aren't doing as well as the 2000 era graduates.  Encouragingly, Weissmann appears to buy the Simkovic & Co. narrative that Ohio isn't American enough:
Among other issues, Ohio has a lot of low-ranked law schools, and many of its most talented grads don't stay in-state; they head to centers of the legal industry, like nearby Chicago, instead.
If Professor Merrit really wanted to do a solid analysis, she would have chosen a more populous state with a destination legal market that isn't so unfairly burdened with low-ranked schools.  Obviously, if she had run this analysis on New York, California, Illinois, Florida, or D.C., the results would have been significantly more favorable to the legal academy, and way, way more relevant to the nationwide pool of law graduates.  As well all know, those states' legal economics are doing much better for younger graduates than f'ing Ohio.

The best thing about Weissmann's piece is not that it's superficial 'net rubbish, but that it reinforces the profitability of the law degree:
[E]ven relatively low-paid J.D.'s earn enough compared with mere bachelor's holders to make law school a financially worthwhile investment....One reason is that, even law grads who work in other fields, such as business or public policy, tend to get a nice salary bump compared with people who ended their educations after college.
Wang is currently working as an LSAT tutor, which is more or less a nightmare scenario for most students. On the other hand, he's making "over $100 an hour," meaning he could easily be making six figures. By Simkovic and McIntyre's metrics, his law degree looks like a solid choice, given that relatively few mere B.A. holders under 30 earn that much.
The first take-home point here is that he accepts the mathematical validity of Simkovic & McIntyre's work.  This is a major website and a person who has written on legal education previously.  He surely knows better.  But still, when you dazzle people with mathematical models and such, you can sell ice water to a polar bear.

I can't overstate how awesome it is that people still put stock in Economic Value of a Law Degree.  It's bogus research that has been shredded to pieces for its number of flaws (bias, methodology, lack of refuting alternative causation hypotheses, etc.), and Weissmann still cites it for the proposition that non-lawyers get a "salary bump" for having a JD! 

The second take-home point is that there's a writer in America who believes an LSAT tutor is actually making the full-time equivalent of his stated hourly wage, or that it's "easy" for an LSAT tutor to get so much work (in a declining LSAT environment) to make that much.  And then it's almost like he uses that conclusion for circumstantial proof of Simkovic & McIntyre's claims that non-lawyer JDs do okay financially - it's the emotional side we have to be concerned about.  Your money can't save you from the depression that you'll never settle a speeding ticket.

Note the core approach here:  The mainstream journalist points out potential sample/methodological issues with Professor Merritt's research, but when he discusses the pitfalls of Simkovic & McIntyre's research, he writes as though the sample selection and methodology were fine and it's the extrapolation of the results that's the issue, despite rather glaring issues in Simkovic & McIntyre's sampling and methodological approach, not to mention the causation problem that's present when looking at a premium like this.

Were I a feminist scholar, I would point out that taking the white males' research conclusions at face value without relaying any of the skepticism and blatant issues therein, while repeating white male criticisms of the methodological approach of the female scholar, is a blatant example of academic sexism.

But I'm not, so fuck her and her stupid look at real-life linkedin profiles.

I'm off to spend some of my million-dollar JD premium on a professional-grade ice cream machine.  I'm going to see if I can make a flavor that tastes like the bitter crocodile tears of $200k LSAT tutors.


  1. The simple-minded assume that $100 per hour means $200k per year full time. Of course, as you said, Wang almost certainly doesn't get 2000 paid hours a year, though he may well have to work 2000 or more hours a year for an income that may be quite modes, if not downright low.

    Moreover, he could have done that sort of work without ever attending law school, and certainly without graduating. I was doing it when I was still in law school. There's no sign that my law degree would get me more teaching work; if anything, it might deter clients by raising the suspicion that I'm a washed-up lawyer who might not be much good as an instructor either.

    Wang's hourly rate is inflated by the law-school scam. If that line of business dries up because of a continued decline in registration for the LSAT, he may be forced to find something else—something that won't pay $100 an hour.

    And of course one cannot conclude that graduates "tend to get a nice salary bump" by looking at a single plainly unrepresentative person who doesn't get a salary anyway (he is self-employed and thus has to pay self-employment taxes and business expenses).

    But why let facts and logic stand in the way of shilling for the law-school scam?

  2. Keep it up Old Guy, it's just a matter of time with 20k plus extra lawyers being produced every year that the scam grows large enough that we can get a bailout like the big banks got in 2008. I would gladly return my JD to my toilet for a refund.