Sunday, June 21, 2015

Task Force!: The Sequel

Remember when the ABA decided that it would address to problems afflicting the future of legal education?  Remember when it pooled together the best and brightest thinkers who happen to be lawyers with enough prestige to get past the velvet ropes?  Remember when it solved the problems afflicting legal education and being a lawyer returned to the halcyon days of To Kill a Mockingbird meets Even the Losers Will Be Well-Paid Public Defenders?

Well, the Force! is back.

Like many a sequel, the ABA's Task Force! on Financing Legal Education didn't generate the buzz of the first, but it's still a big-budget box office smash that leaves readers assured that the ABA is truly looking out for the common man lawyer and can offer a wealth of wisdom and solutions.  For example (SPOILER ALERT), it writes:
Finally, the report has considered the importance of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program as a means of encouraging and supporting students who elect to work in the public interest sector after graduation. The Task Force urges all actors– especially bar associations and educators – to continue to this program, as well. This is an important access to justice issue.
The Task Force! doesn't have just one enemy, see?  They may be off halfheartedly fighting villains in the jungles of student finance, advocating that sophisticated consumers need more financial counseling, but that doesn't mean they've forgotten the real villain, that horned, bile-blooded devil Socialinjustice.

 I don't want to spoil all of the conclusions, but I would like to make two observations.

First, it takes a very rare breed of Force! that can scrupulously edit and pack two or three blog posts' worth of material into a mere forty-two (42) page document with colorful bar graphs.

Second is that the report shows the practical impact of invaluable legal scholarship.
Despite the cost, the best available evidence suggests a significant lifetime income premium for those with a law degree compared to those with a bachelor’s degree.[50] This holds for those who graduate in a down job market and for those whose earnings place them at the 25th percentiles of the income distribution. Debt, however, can diminish the degree of premium for all law school graduates and so remains a factor to contend with. Still, even with the focus on debt by many commentators, the question is ultimately one of long-term value – and that value is significant.
They cite, of course, to Simkovic & McIntyre's "Economic Value..."  Indeed, the next time I'm litigating a million dollar case and need expert support for some set of ridiculous notions, I'll have a statistician take a shit on a cocktail napkin.  "But judge," I'll argue, being all lawyerly, "I don't care that it lacks many basic prerequisites for a reliable survey-based statistical analysis to support the conclusions presented, my shit-stained cocktail napkin is the best evidence available!"

Thank you, Task Force! for providing meta-commentary on the value of legal scholarship in a report on legal education costs and financing that totally sidesteps unjustified tenured faculty salaries relative to productivity as a cost drier (see p. 35).

Finally, the LSTC must make special note of Phillip Schrag of Georgetown, who writes a concurring opinion in Appendix D.  Among the highlights:
  • "Without federal loans, students would have to borrow commercially to attend law schools, or their families would have to support them."
  • "It is less clear that opportunities for lawyers in small firms or in solo practice have diminished substantially..."
  • "Also, the baby boom generation is nearing retirement age, and it is possible that in a few years,there will be more jobs, even in urban markets, than lawyers available to fill them."
  • "Not enough attention is being paid to whether the increasing cost of legal education will have adverse effects on public service."
  • "There is, of course, no direct correspondence between the wealth or income of a client and the complexity of the problems that the client faces."
The 5th one is my favorite.  The fact that it's blatantly false is moderately interesting in its own right, but the fact that Schrag adds "of course" as if it's a self-evident truth adds a welcome wink of scrumptious irony to the slick prose.

The most important attack combo is that with one hand Schrag throws a frag grenade at the "too many lawyers" argument without much in the way of fact-based evidence while in the other hand he waves forward the Non-JD Limited License Legal Services Corps.  It's a beautiful synergy of arguments that provides a non-solution to the extraneous problem of his concern, and one that may, in fact, harm solo and small firm attorneys...which, of course, we may have a shortage of.  


  1. Don't law professors qualify for PSLF (or at least the ones who work for non-profits)? How's that equate to any access to fucking justice? Maybe they should volunteer to forego PSLF so that there will be more for the dolphin-savers.

  2. It sounds like there was little discussion about what law schools could do to make the cost of law school reasonably affordable. Instead, the ABA task force just wants the tax payer to keep funding the ever-and-unjustifiably-increasing tuition bills of their un and under-employed graduates. Lordy, these law professors are immoral.

    1. They did address that, to a point. They basically said the data wasn't there to make hard conclusions about school expenditures, and encourage the ABA to require additional disclosure/reporting.

      They also do attribute heavy increases to scholarship expenditures:

      "An immediate driver for tuition increases is the inflation-adjusted increase in law school expenditures per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. Three areas of expenditure stand out and together they account for one-half of the total per FTE: instructional salaries, administrative salaries, and grants/scholarships. All increased, but the greatest percentage increase came in grants/scholarships to use in discounting tuition. Between AY2004-05 and AY2012-13 the average increase for public law school grants/scholarships expenditures was 99%, while for private law schools the average increase was 44%."

    2. "Between AY2004-05 and AY2012-13 the average increase for public law school grants/scholarships expenditures was 99%, while for private law schools the average increase was 44%."

      Ok, we have a 99% increase in scholarships between 04/05 and 12/13. What was the increase in tuition? I'm sure it was greater than 99%.

  3. It is less clear that opportunities for lawyers in small firms or in solo practice have diminished substantially..."

    ... except for the fact that solo practice lawyers' incomes have fallen by 30% since 1988 according to the IRS:

    ... but, that's "less clear." Alright, then.

    1. You know, I bet Schrag never bothered to ask any solo or small practice attorneys. Law school profs don't like to talk to practicing attorneys as it makes them feel deservedly inadequate.

  4. What a great "profession," the opportunities are ripe for the picking, I tell you.

  5. The ABA is a sleeper cell with the real purpose of ruining the legal profession under the guise of helping and setting low standards.