Saturday, June 18, 2016

New York Times Chronicles Human Cost of Law School Bubble Deflation

Like many New York Times feature pieces, this one by Noam Scheiber runs a few thousand words and buries all of the good stuff in the middle.

The article focuses on Valparaiso, which is easily one of the top five law schools in Indiana.  Completely ignoring the crucial research done by scholars such as Simkovic & McIntyre, the article purports to claim that Valparaiso graduates are saddled with inescapable debt in a saturated and shrinking profession that sells false hope and superficial ideals in exchange for one's soul.  As-if law schools should somehow be blamed for running an ideal capitalist enterprise.

The Valpo students profiled do little to actually support the article's implied thesis about fourth-tier law graduates being trapped in a Kafkaesque hell where the pursuit of justice leads one to be ensnared in greater injustice.

First up, we have two engaged students, both seemingly non-traditional, who are in a position to start their own law firms while raising a child.  The Times, in its bias towards large, soulless corporations, sees this sort of entrepreneurship as a sign of systemic jobs failure.  Yet, Valpo should be proud that its students are contributing to solving the shortage of legal needs among ordinary folk instead of being second tier graduates sucked up by more "prestigious" jobs.  This is why not all law schools are Harvard or Yale.

Second, we have a Mexican restaurant round-table.  Yet another apparent non-trad student (two children and ten years out of undergrad) played the famous anticipated regret card ("“I would have been sitting at some desk, in somebody’s office, with some type of job, wondering, ‘Should I have gone?’” she said.") and is angling for an easy-breezey JD-advantage job.
The starting salary is likely to be in the mid-to-high five figures, but she hopes such a job could lead to a more senior position.
Mid-to-high five figures in Indiana?  Instead of complaining, this woman should set up an annual recurring payment to Valpo's alumni fund.  Gary's median income is 32k for a family.  This sort of ungratefulness makes lawyers look like greedy shits.

Finally, we have a Valpo graduate who has struggled to pass the bar examination but still thankfully understands the importance of a law degree in her life, as well as the fine distinction between the law school's fault and the fault of the general economic principle of exploiting the exploitable.
After graduation, she took a bar prep class and threw herself into studying full time, undeterred by her “massive” debt load. When she found out she failed, she took a job in the clothing department of Meijer while she prepared to take the test again this past February. But not long before I showed up, she found out that she had failed that test, too.
...“I wouldn’t trade my law degree for anything,” she added. “I would trade the debt.”
With such skill of recognizing distinctions of merit, she obviously has been studying well.

Despite the article's attempt to paint students as some sort of true American victims barely crawling through an obstacle course of debt and destruction, the real human cost can be readily seen in the middle of the article.
To the faculty at Valparaiso and the roughly 20 percent of the 200 or so American Bar Association-accredited law schools that have cut back aggressively in recent years, these moves can feel shockingly harsh.

“Maybe I was na├»ve, but I didn’t think it would be as stark,” said Rosalie Levinson, a longtime constitutional law professor at Valparaiso who recently headed a committee on restructuring the school. “The number of tenured faculty that would be leaving — not gradually but immediately — just personally, that was difficult.”

Law students are there for three years.  They take their degrees, move on, make money.  Tenured professors are stuck there.  It is their life, much as a monk or nun chooses low-profit servitude to higher powers.  They come to rely upon that meager, sub-partner level six figure check for teaching three courses a year and writing an article about the Canary Islands.  These people counted upon a constant influx of fresh meat to make the butcher's shop glisten with that patina of fresh blood.

But the selfishness of prospective students has made the spring of new blood run dry.  I know I have said it many times before on this site, but the law professor having his cannibalistic gravy train rudely interrupted by the global financial crisis and its effect on American lawyers is the most tragic story of the last decade in legal education.  Many of these professors are over or approaching sixty and have been banking on the six figure checks to continue as long as possible.  Surely, the only fair move - and the best for our nation's economy - is to keep the money flowing one way or another, particularly if the by-product is that borderline students can acquire a Harvard-level education.

Sadly, the Times is persuaded by the seductive lure of jaded youth and apparently exploitation, without even appreciating the capitalist brilliance and that, just maybe, the world is a better place with indebted lawyers and Boomer professors who get their fair share.

 Addendum:  Simkovic strikes back, citing his own "peer reviewed" research. And again.  You can't tame amazing.


  1. It's funny to see how "law professors" and deans think of themselves as "public servants." Yes, making $180K for 4-6 hours of "work" each week in the safe confines of academia - while charging idiots $45K in annual tuition - just oozes "public service." Used car salesmen have more integrity - and they work harder than the academic scum.

    1. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingJune 19, 2016 at 8:13 PM

      They compare themselves to an equity partner at Jenner or Kirkland. The real comparison should be to an average small firm or Solo attorneys which is over 50% of the profession. Compared to a Solo like me or my buddies, these law professors and deans have hit the lotto. They have Cadillac health care, pensions, paid vacations and a flood of other benefits which I can only dream of. When they start earning 40K, they can say they are doing a public service.

  2. None of the law professor listservs or blogs I watch (except Paul Caron) have even mentioned this front page New York Times article, which had 850 comments last time I looked. This issue is taboo, even among the lowly, oppressed legal writing faculty. No one wants to make their Valpo colleagues feel uncomfortable. Much more interest in the wonderful "Global Legal Skills" conference in Verona, Italy, last month, and the fun things to do at the Legal Writing Institute conference in Portland, Oregon next month.

  3. How can Simkovic sleep?

  4. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingJune 19, 2016 at 5:34 PM

    In the Mid-West and Chicago in particular, schools like Valpo, Marshall, NIU made sense for the first generation of immigrant children who attended City Colleges. They got jobs as State's Attorneys, Public Defenders and governments that served and were financially supported by the working middle classes employed at Harvester, Inland Steel, Western Electric, Caterpillar, Sears, Montgomery Wards, Arthur Anderson, US Steel and hundreds of other companies. The market has completely been up ended. Today, government jobs go to the well-connected or top 10 percent. Small struggling firms don't hire and are competing with desperate schlepper solos like me for a smaller pie of work.

  5. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingJune 19, 2016 at 8:17 PM

    Every newbie they graduate into this over saturated market, hurts the veteran attorneys and recent graduates who are unemployed or underemployed. When we have the temerity to blog, complain and tell it like it is, they call us whiners and ungrateful.

    1. And don't forget what when you dare blog and complain about it, then the law pigs accuse of you trying to cut down on future competition by talking people out of law school.

      But as I've said before, elsewhere, perhaps we should try to get the law school lemmings to go gunning for the law professors' jobs instead of hoping and praying for the Biglaw jobs which they're not going to get. Maybe put the piggish professors on the defensive that way. (And I'm sure that the greedy deans would just LOVE an excuse and opportunity to throw out their own overpaid professors and replace them with starving, desperate "lawyers.")

    2. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingJune 20, 2016 at 7:29 PM

      When Deans speak of competition in the legal profession, they have not seen the inside of a courthouse or are friends with many attorneys. My so called "competition" are my buddies I bullshit with and go to lunch with and attend their weddings. They are my colleagues who have student loans, families, financial obligations like I do. We really don't compete...we cooperate.... The problem is that the pie is getting smaller and smaller and there is only so much "cooperation" (work) to go around.