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Tell your statistics to shut up


Case Western Reserve Law School Dean Larry Mitchell had an op ed in the Times this morning about why certain unnamed “sensationalist” critics of American legal education are being sensationalistic.

My response is here.

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  • Tnap01

    Good, I was seriously worried about you Paul. This article is pure Campos-bait.

    • anon

      Haha – me too.

  • Murc

    Jesus, Paul.

    You kicked the shit out of that guy.

  • The editorial omits discussion of how crucial your first job out of law school can be to the remainder of your career path. Some lawyers rise to the ranks of the top earners despite taking an unconventional path, but most who find themselves taking a non-law job, part-time work, paralegal-type work, self-employment and the like will find themselves permanently excluded from lawyer jobs with the NLJ 250.

  • mch

    OT, but maybe not entirely. Comparisons of med and law school debt always annoy me.
    On the one hand. In most cases, med school debt is so much greater than law school debt (if only because med training takes so much longer, and even its “paid” years are low-paying) that any comparison between them is meaningless.
    On the other, physicians will always get employment as physicians. They may not be able to — or choose to — become highly paid specialists, but they’ll do at least okay financially as a result of their medical training. Lawyers, at least as a result of their legal training? Hardly so certain. Even for talented graduates eager to work as, say, public defenders.
    Why the reflex to compare these two professions, law and medicine? Why not compare law and med students to, say, English grad students? To the dedicated craftsman? I’m not quite sure where I am going with this, but I think it has something to do with the notion of “profession.” Are we losing track of what that word should mean?

    • Vance Maverick

      You make good points, then lurch at the end toward vagueness. What do you mean, what “profession” should mean?

      I know of two senses (and I’m not consulting a dictionary): one class-based, one institutional. On the one hand, bankers and lawyers and doctors are “professionals”. On the other, law and medicine and civil engineering are professions in the sense that they have professional licensing bodies.

      I’m a software developer, which makes me marginally a “professional” in the class sense — comparable income, no dress code, no licensing. But I’m curious what sense you had in mind.

    • Dana

      Seems to me law and medicine are logically comparable because their job markets are comparable. With a law or medical degree you can become an academic, you can go work for a large private or public sector entity (law firm, prosecutor, hospital, etc.), you can hang out a shingle (country lawyer/doctor), or you can do something else that may or may not be in some way related to the degree you spent a great deal of time, money, and energy acquiring. The difference between the two job markets seems to be there is more demand for and less supply of physicians, so they’re better off.

      For someone with a doctorate in the humanities there’s really only one option for which you’ll get paid for you education, and that’s academia. Pretty much the only other option is some job in which you may utilize the skills you acquired in grad school but there will be many other people without a ph.d. who are just as well qualified for that work. There are no “country professors” or high-priced editing teams ready to get some wealthy client acquitted for using murderous syntax. I guess you could argue this is what a consulting firm does, but you don’t need a ph.d. to be a consultant.

      • mch

        I did lurch, because the topic seemed too large to venture into — and I may lurch here as well, because I have to tend to dinner.

        So, briefly. I was thinking of the notion of “professing to” something that lurks in “profession.” A notion of being committed to something/someones larger than any of the people doing the practicing. Law and medicine and Ph.D.’s and, yes, “the trades” all share in this. The licensing that law, medicine, the trades, and even e.g. English Ph.D.’s (degrees are backed, ultimately, by states’ having granted charters to colleges/universities and by accrediting agencies) attest in important ways to this notion of being responsible to something larger, and to other people. But, to be honest, I was thinking of something less governmental and more, well, almost religious (in some very general sense). Maybe the email I sent my recently graduated-from-law-school daughter (she has a job, she’s passed the the bar, but it’ll be a year before the paperwork she’s submitted makes her an “attorney”), after reading and responding to PC’s post, explains my thinking?


        I am so proud of you! Because you have accomplished so much already, with your great good heart and your fine mind.

        So do remember, always, as you labor at research and writing and juggling it all, that you serve the Truth and the Law as intermediaries to those whom you truly serve, those very real people whom Truth and Law serve with you, like that guy who was selling some weed to someone on the street and got nabbed by some cops who couldn’t possibly has seen what they claimed to have seen — or maybe they did see it, but that guy still deserves the fullest defense possible. Stuff like that. No short cuts! Ever! Truth and Law are your allies! But allies in service of a larger endeavor, people living as best they can, in their frailty and (mostly) good will, together.


        • Vance Maverick

          Thanks. I’m not sure the argument from etymology holds up (the trade sense and the religious sense may both have drawn from a base meaning “declare publicly”, rather than one from the other), but it’s still good to have a calling.

          • mch

            Would surely be worthwhile to pursue the actual history of “profess,” as you indicate. In any case, in the larger sense I am more concerned with, anyone can be a “professor,” licensed or otherwise overseen closely by, e.g., the government, or not. A software developer, for instance, can be a professional in this larger sense, too, of course. (I hope many are — I know at least a few who certainly are.) I worry that we’ve lost sight of this notion of “professional” even in the case of those we regularly call “professionals,” including (most relevant to this OP) lawyers.

  • Jacob Davies

    Putting down 200 grand of someone else’s money on a 50/50 shot at a $130k/year-kinda career path probably seems like a pretty good idea to a lot of people, hence the 2x overproduction of lawyers. (I can’t say I’d recommend it, but a lot of people make riskier career gambles for less.)

    If law schools considered themselves institutions devoted to the public good they’d keep tuition low and the 50% of graduates who don’t make it to the big time wouldn’t be burdened with debt.

    What seems to have happened instead is that law schools decided they could claw back a bunch of the moolah that the 50% who do make it end up bringing home. So, basically the same corrupt profit-maximizing bullshit that has ruined everything else. The idea that maybe not all private institutions should be devoted to fucking over everyone else as vigorously and ungenerously as possible seems to be out of fashion.

    • rea

      Putting down 200 grand of someone else’s money on a 50/50 shot at a $130k/year-kinda career path probably seems like a pretty good idea to a lot of people

      Except that it’s nothing at all like a 50/50 shot at a $130k/year career path.

      • NonyNony

        And given that education debt is not something you can wish away in bankruptcy, I’m also having difficulty in seeing how it’s “somebody else’s money” too.

        Basically law school looks like a really bad deal right now.

      • spencer

        Except that it’s nothing at all like a 50/50 shot at a $130k/year career path.

        Right, but do the people considering law school know that? Not should they know it, but do they? I can’t remember if it was here or at Paul’s law school scam blog, but I recently read a detailed story of a recruiter from the University of Maryland out-and-out lying to a roomful of prospects about the state of the profession.

        So yeah, it isn’t anything like a 50/50 shot at a $130k/yr career path, but when the schools are working so hard to obfuscate this truth, you can see how prospective students might still think that way.

  • Booger

    Fisked that sumbitch to within an inch of his life. Well done sir, well done.

  • JohnR

    Sensational comeback, even considering the potentially dubious median:average equivalency in the discussion of tuitions. The thing is, of course, that since a whole lot of us are convinced that we’ll beat the odds (how big is that Powerball jackpot again?), I don’t see a seismic shift in Law School enrollments any time soon. The smart ones may go into some other field, but then again they may not – the potential rewards for those who ‘have what it takes’ (good contacts, family connections or lots and lots of money already) are sufficient to entice the huddled masses yearning to be ridiculously wealthy to buy steerage tickets on the Titanic. It may be a gamble, but if the ship makes it into NYC, they’ll be rolling in money!

  • CaitieCat

    Award an amazing number of Irony Points to Salon for the ad served to me when I clicked “Continue Reading” at the bottom, which ad encouraged me to apply to law school, as federal money is plentiful and easy to get, in some variety of words.

    All the more amusing that they have no IP sorter, as I’m actually in Canada…

  • MikeJake

    Give em hell, Paul.

    Why is it that the worst NYT op-eds never have comments enabled? It’s like they know in advance that they’re printing bullshit.

  • nolo

    Notably, this guy is the dean of a private law school that competes directly with a state law school (and my alma mater) that charges considerably less to prepare students to enter our currently crappy local market, while providing little competitive edge to justify the premium.

    • anon

      And if you consider all of Ohio as the potential market, University of Cincinnati is ranked about the same as Case and I’d guess it has equal or better job placement (having a much smaller enrollment probably doesn’t hurt). Much lower tuition of course.

      • nolo

        Yup. There simply is no justification for Case’s tuition rates.

  • Dana

    Good piece, Paul. I just want to point out–small thing–that this Mitchell guy may have a point about people who get substantial financial aid. At $5k/year a law degree may well be worth it. If it’s free or nearly free, that’s a significantly different calculation than $125k or more in loans.

    • thusbloggedanderson

      Okay, but how many people win that particular lottery?

      • Dana

        Not many, I’d expect, but Mitchell brought up a specific example of someone in that situation, and Paul dismissed that person’s situation by citing a statistic about law grads generally. And I think having a law degree and no debt is significantly different than having a law degree and $150,000 in debt.

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