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Law school denialism


david irving

Updated below

Denialism, by which I mean the denial or unwarranted minimization of a disturbing reality, usually comes in several forms.

For example, Holocaust denialism covers a spectrum of arguments, ranging from:

(1) The whole idea of a “Holocaust” is a hoax from beginning to end.

(2) While it’s true Jews were targeted for imprisonment in labor camps, and many died there because of harsh conditions, the existence of death camps at which millions of Jews were systematically murdered in gas chambers is a Zionist myth.

(3) While several million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, including millions in the gas chambers at the various death camps, a lot of other people died in World War II, plus what about Stalin and the kulaks, and this doesn’t make the occupation of Palestine legitimate, so shut up already.

Moving on to racism in America:

(1) The blacks were better off as slaves.

(2) While slavery was bad, Jim Crow remains a reasonable social system, all things judiciously considered.

(3) The 1964 Civil Rights Act ended racism in America, so shut up already.

What about climate change?

(1) The climate isn’t changing.

(2) The climate is changing, but sunspots.

(3)The climate is changing because of human activity, but all proposed interventions will do more harm than good, especially to my position in energy funds, so shut up already.

We’re now having our own little bout of denialism in the law school world. It should be unnecessary to say that lying to a lot of college graduates and leaving them worse off economically and psychologically than they would have been if you hadn’t lied to them isn’t as bad as genocide or slavery or wrecking the world’s environment. On the other hand, “it’s not as bad as the Holocaust” isn’t what one would call a spirited defense of a social practice, plus we must all cultivate our own gardens etc.

Anyway, the denialism busting out among defenders of the law school status quo is a bit unusual, in that most species of denialism tend to manifest themselves as a series of rearguard actions, politically speaking. That is, the dominant form of denialism at any one time tends to move from the strongest forms to weaker ones, as the strongest forms become increasingly untenable.

By contrast, in the law school world, denialism has gone in the other direction. Thus when the law school reform movement first started to get cultural traction a few years ago, the reaction of the denialists was to deplore the use of obviously fake employment stats, but to minimize the extent to which schools were engaging in such practices, while at the same time emphasizing that “the ABA” was already cracking down on the handful of schools that had strayed from the path of righteousness.

Now that applications have cratered, the denialists have decided that the whole so-called law school crisis was just a big hoax from beginning to end. Bernie Burk (Burk himself is not in the denialist camp), describes the current party line:

[Michael Simkovic’s] recent posts have taken the strong and categorical view that law schools, NALP and the ABA ought to report law-graduate employment the same way the U.S. government reports on employment generally, and that any other view is ignorant or misinformed. Board of Labor Statistics and Census data (among others) report people as “employed” if they have any kind of work at all, including work that is part-time, short-term, or (in the case of law-school graduates) entirely unrelated to their legal education; and as “unemployed” only those who are actively looking for work. The widely articulated criticism “that law schools behaved unethically or even committed fraud . . . by presenting their employment statistics in a misleading way,” says Simkovic, “comes down to this: The law schools used the same standard method of reporting data as the U.S. Government.”

A correspondent writes:

Does Simkovic actually exist, or is this is all just a big troll job by Brian Leiter or Steve Diamond? I really can’t believe we’re here 5 years later still debating whether “99% EMPLOYMENT AT GRADUATION” is logically or morally justifiable. I thought we’ve moved on to the “transparency will cure all ills” phase of things.

Simkovic’s position is not merely that there was nothing wrong with law schools touting their graduates as “employed,” without further explanation, even when that employment included a large number of people doing things like working part-time stocking shelves at Lowe’s: he actually takes the position that it’s preferable for law schools to use the generic BLS definition of “employment,” rather than confusing potential law school applicants with more specific information, such as how many of a law school’s graduates are getting jobs as lawyers, as opposed to baristas etc. Any disagreement on this point, he claims, is “based on an incorrect belief that law school only benefits the subset of graduates who practice law . . . .”

I mean really, what is there to say about this kind of thing? In the end it should be allowed to speak for itself.

Update: Much pearl clutching and couch fainting at The Faculty Lounge. The important question isn’t how many lives law schools have wrecked with their deceptive practices, but whether somebody wrote something about legal academics that was unfair and hurt several peoples’ feelings.

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  • Derelict

    He’s just doing what good lawyers do: You parse the meaning to justify the results you desire.

    To my mind, the most remarkable aspect of all of this is the complete disregard for the long-term damage it does to the schools and the profession. The inability and/or unwillingness to understand that preserving the status quo at any cost will destroy the very thing they’re trying to save is astonishing.

    • yet_another_lawyer

      The very thing they’re trying to save is “their own paycheck.” Long-term damage is largely irrelevant, if it occurs after retirement.

      • Barry_D

        Yes, and as has been pointed out by many, their alternatives are sh*t. Law schools are generally not hiring, and there is still a flood of bright young Ph.d.’s and in-practice people for each open position.

        Law firms want either fresh young meat right out of good programs, or laterals who are being hired strictly because they have a large book of business.

        A typical professor with maybe 1-2 years of practice 10-20 years ago is not in demand.

  • rea

    All of our graduates here at Hamburger University’s Law School get jobs . . . in fast food.

    • aaronl

      That’s the thing, isn’t it — that law degrees are useful for gaining employment in very few professions that don’t involve the practice of law or something very closely related to legal practice. In some contexts a law degree will provide an advantage when combined with another qualification (e.g., an MBA), but on its own a JD tends to confuse prospective employers — “Why do they want this job? How long would they stay? Why aren’t they off somewhere getting rich? What in the world does a law degree have to do with the position I’m trying to fill?”

      To include non-legal fields in employment statistics for law school graduates is misleading not only in that it conveys a false sense of how many graduates find legal employment, if you scratch past that surface it suggests that a law degree has a flexibility that does not exist, and opens doors to alternative careers that are in fact for the most part only available based on other qualifications or which can only be described as woeful underemployment for somebody with a graduate degree (let alone an expensive graduate degree).

      For the vast majority of students, it only makes sense to pursue a law degree if your intent is to work as a lawyer. If those students want jobs that do not require a job degree, their time and money is much better spent pursuing the credentials necessary to enter that alternate profession. If the do want jobs that require a law degree, they should get an honest picture of their chances.

      • Barry_D

        “In some contexts a law degree will provide an advantage when combined with another qualification (e.g., an MBA)…”

        Why? An MBA can always *hire* a lawyer, who is current in the areas needed. In other words, an expert, not just somebody with a JD. And $200K will hire a lot of billable hours.

        • dupednontraditional

          Arronl, you are 110% correct. The myth of the “JD-Advantage” job is as pernicious a lie as the S&M “employment means what the BLS says it means” lie.

          Long-term, MAYBE it provides an advantage. Maybe. I’m ten years employed out of law school, and I can guarantee I am not earning that “million dollar premium” as my 20+ years of loans are factored in. Law schools should not be allowed to coat-tail that particular form of “success”. Short-term, there is no advantage, full stop, and current cost of a JD makes the endeavor even more prohibitive, if that’s possible.

          As my handle implies, people of all stripes need to be told the truth, not handed the hide-the-ball equivocations of interested parties whose salaries are dependent upon dupes. Perhaps most ScamDeans and LawProfs would prefer something more akin to a Wall Street job, where that sort of thinking is not only encouraged but handsomely rewarded.

      • DAS

        FWIW, my wife used to work in a job (she was an investigator for a municipal authority) where to qualify to work for the job you pretty much had to be a lawyer or an ex-cop and the department was a mix of lawyers and ex-cops. The problem is that when a new department head came around and decided that the department needed a different mix of lawyers vs. ex-cops (more ex-cops), well, there went my wife’s job.

        So I guess it isn’t just that a JD with a non-lawyering job might leave the non-lawyering job once a good lawyering job is available (which would concern the employer offering the non-lawyering position) but also that the employer might go ahead an hire a lawyer for a non-lawyering position and then later decide that s/he doesn’t actually need a lawyer.

    • Manju

      Well, they refused to admit Felix Frankfurter.

  • Lee Rudolph

    the schools and the profession […] the very thing[s] they’re trying to save

    Ah, but you’re using a misleading notion of genidentity! Like a river in its Heraclitan flux, “the schools and the profession” are never the same thing twice. All they have to (try to) save is their own present positions of privilege.

    Or, as Heraclitus might have put it, ΦΥΙΓΜ.

    • Thom

      Is that “shut up, already,” in Greek?

      • postmodulator

        I think, phonetically, that’s “Fuck you, I’ve got mine,” roughly. But I’m making an educated guess based on as much knowledge of the Greek alphabet as you get from knowing how to read Cyrillic and studying math.

  • Nobdy

    Thus post is weakened by unnecessary comparisons to holocaust and slavery.

    Regardless, Simkovic’s position is insane. Does he think that people are satisfied with their outcomes if they pay $200,000 for an education and end up slinging coffee? Should a hospital get credit for saving the lives of patients who come in for a sprained ankle?

    Also how does Simkovic make excuses for the salary reports? Does the BLS also report that part time barrister average $160,000 a year? Law schools did.

    • Barry_D

      “Regardless, Simkovic’s position is insane. Does he think that people are satisfied with their outcomes if they pay $200,000 for an education and end up slinging coffee? Should a hospital get credit for saving the lives of patients who come in for a sprained ankle? ”

      Denialism involves a lot of ‘walking slowly backwards’ as well as the counterattacks were are presently seeing. We see the first when they admit that not *all* of their grads are pulling down the big lawyer bucks, but then claim that the remaining grads are satisfied with their nice ‘JD Advantage’ lives.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    This is a good framework for denialism – today I saw the deniers of the Armenian genocide (*cough!* Turkish government! *cough!*) are now pressing hard on point 3 all over various websites, having been recently shamed out of points 1 and 2. some astroturf organization called “Fact Check Armenia” (oh yes) is behind it. Way to stand up to Big Apricot, guys.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      Three, however, is not in any form denialism either with regard to the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, or any other crime. It might be bad faith deflection, but it isn’t denial. It also is in some cases an actual legitimate academic attempt to put things into a larger historical context. See for instance Snyder’s Bloodlands.

      On the issue of the Armenian Genocide, the most recent tact by Turkish historians seems to be to admit the brutality of the acts, but to claim they were necessary for security purposes. Much like how Amir Weiner at Stanford for instance justifies the deportation of the Crimean Tatars. This isn’t denialism, but rather justification.

  • rodger that

    Well, due to the relentless efforts of an unidentified wiki editor, the official record is looking increasingly denialist. Read the comments too.


  • BoredJD

    I asked this question at Prawfs and am not likely to get a response so I will ask it here:

    Law students/lawyers/law professors: What kind of research did you do before you went to law school? What sources of info did you seek out? Did you calculate your expected debt totals/repayment schedule (and were you off and by how much)?

    I ask because I’m just utterly confused at where these professors seem to be finding these homo economicus young people. The average law school applicant at my UG couldn’t tell you what a BLS even was, never mind attempt to distinguish between that definition of employed or the colloquial definition or whatever. IME the average applicant doesn’t even know how to properly calculate their debt payments at the end of law school- they don’t even think to take into account concepts like origination fees, accrued interest, tuition increases, etc.

    Or am I missing something?

    • Andrew

      In the early 2000s I looked at the employment rate (which was like 96 or 98%) and median salary for the law school, and calculated I could live comfortably significantly below that median salary so it was worth the risk.

    • NewishLawyer

      I applied to law school in 2007. This was my thinking.

      1. Theatre is obviously not working out. And I read the writing on the wall for academia. I knew adjunct hell was a thing as early as 2005.

      2. The only non-theatre jobs I got up to that point were not things that ever lead to opportunities or alternative careers. They weren’t necessarily bad jobs but just perhaps they were just too interesting. Running an election at a non-profit is interesting but no one ever told me how to spin it into other experience/opportunities and employers didn’t seem to know what to make of it.

      3. My dad is a lawyer. My brother is a lawyer. My granddad was a lawyer. I am a lot like my dad. Everyone used to ask “Are you going to be a lawyer like your dad?” My mom seems to think my brother and I were destined to be lawyers and nothing else.
      So did a lot of other people.

      4. I guess I should go to law school. Oops the economy collapsed during my first semester including the closure of many top firms.

      • Keaaukane

        Don’t be too hard on yourself. The economic collapse probably wasn’t your fault.

        • NewishLawyer

          Oh I am not being too hard on myself (usually). I just hate the feeling of potentially being fucked. I’ve been lucky in many ways, not lucky in others.

    • Srsly Dad Y

      In the mid-90s, going to a T10 still seemed like selling out. Whether Srsly Mom and I could pay my debt never crossed our minds. I spent no summers in Biglaw and never felt financial pressure to work there after graduation. As it happened, I spent exactly 18 months in Biglaw, which was long enough to aggressively pay off my loans because I didn’t live like I belonged there.

    • Paul Campos

      I enrolled at Michigan in 1986, in part because at $4,500 resident tuition was a bit more than third of tuition at the fancy private schools. (And Michigan was the most expensive public law school in the country at the time). That however was the sum total of my financial calculations. I didn’t know what different sorts of lawyer jobs paid, or how many Michigan grads got what kind of jobs, or even what the interest rate was on my loans.

      Of course all that stuff was much harder to find out back in the dark ages, but the point is you could be young and stupid and end up with $15,000 of debt instead of $200,000 (Michigan’s resident tuition is now over $50,000 per year).

    • Denverite

      I applied in the late 90s. I had relatives who had just graduated law school in the few years before that, so I knew more or less what the firms were paying in the markets I was interested in (this would jump up a bunch by the time I graduated in the early 00s). My choice was between the good, solid state school essentially for free (low tuition plus merit money) or a top school for approximately half price (I think the money was mostly need-based — my parents weren’t making much money, plus I had a bunch of siblings in college or about to start). At the time, tuition was just under $30k. I graduated with approximately $75k in debt. It was mostly paid off within five years.

    • Crusty

      My dad was a lawyer. He provided a comfortable life in a nice suburb for us and seemed to like what he did, except for occasional bouts of grueling hours. That was the bulk of the research. Beyond that, I was aware that there were “white shoe firms” or “wall street firms” or “big firms” that hired new grads and paid well and offered good training and a name on your resume that would serve you well later in your career after you left that life. I made sure that those firms interviewed at the schools I was applying to. That was about it.

    • PeteMoss

      my background: BA, Econ from a top public University, graduated in 2002.

      Sad to say, I really didn’t do much in terms of researching employment statistics and outcomes prior to getting a solid LSAT score & deciding I would go to law school, telling everyone that was my post-college plan. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

      I had decent enough grades, and no doubts in my head (nor reason to doubt!) that going to one of the decent midwestern T-25 or Big Ten schools (other than UM or Nwestern, which would’ve been a reach for me) would easily leave me positioned to get a high paying job with a firm in Chicago. That was it. That was the extent of my “reasoning.”

      Later, after getting admitted to all the schools in my range (UW, UI, IU) and geographic area, I did look at employment/starting salary numbers. I decided on UI because they told me their 2002 class had 100% employment, and an avg. starting salary somewhere in the $90’s.

      I had no idea that:

      1.) that % employed number was probably somewhat “massaged” even in 2002, and in any case, would not reflect the reality of the job market in May 2006, when I graduated, which was the “beginning of the end” when the Chicago lawyer supply reached the oversaturated point, and the e-discovery-lead boom in legal employment was on its way down; and

      2.) the average starting salary was not the top of a “bell curve” but the middle of two peaks, with the top 1/3 or so of the class on the golden one, making $125K+ in BigLaw, then a thinly populated valley between the peaks, and then “everyone else” making $40K-$50K at small law, PD’s, state AGs, or state court clerks.

      • PeteMoss


        I like the practice of law and am happy doing what I do now (in-house, negotiating IT contracts & counseling business folks), and going this route was not a terrible outcome, for me at least.

        I don’t think, given the timeframe in which I was considering law school/studying (2002-2006), that employment numbers & outcomes would’ve been bad enough to deter me. Plus I was also younger and more optimistic/dumber during those years.

        At best, they would’ve prepared me for the reality of the 8 months post graduation where I struggled to find a job. That was really rough.

        • observer

          Your post reminds me again of the limits of transparency. Job stats (even when they are not calculated to mislead) are prior results, and students bear the risk of the job market a number of years into the future.

          Transparency is never going to eliminate that risk.

          When the tuition is obscene, the debt is non-dischargeable, and the interest rate(s) non-negligible, the risk is unacceptable.

          Everywhere you go, law school tuition is high. If the ‘public’ schools in your state have high tuition, you’re stuck, unless you can move, wait, and get in-state tuition in another state. If you go the private law school route, the tuition is high everywhere.

          Prospective law students have no particularly viable way of controlling cost to mitigate risk. As many have said, the only winning move is not to play.

          I was just wondering what a kid graduating with a petroleum engineering degree in 2015 from a Texas university is feeling right now…surprise!

          • Fortunado

            I was just wondering what a kid graduating with a petroleum engineering degree in 2015 from a Texas university is feeling right now…surprise!

            This is key. I know because I’ve lived it in a sense. Even if they don’t spend a fortune in tuition, it’s still wasted opportunity.

            Three to four years out is way too far to project what the field you are studying for will look like, and, moreover, there’s always the risk that too many people will make the same calculation you do.

            It seems like common sense that getting into an elite school matters much more than the material you study. Focusing on the latter is like putting the cart before the horse.

            • observer

              I’m very cynical about all degrees. The system’s broken.

              To put it in the most neutral terms: What are the risks? Who controls the factors that drive that risk? Can the risk be mitigated?

              The risk is wasting your time but also, the damn debt, the cost. Schools and the feds have control over that cost, period. Can students mitigate the risks by going to elite schools? It still depends on price relative to earnings potential…and all kinds of risks foreseeable and unforeseeable exist.

              If Harvard wanted to let you in for whatever, but wanted to charge you $1,000,0000, do you go? Not if you’ve got a brain in your skull, you don’t.

              Students are required to bear risks they don’t create, cannot control, and cannot actually bear, if they want to be students.

              My law school loans are bad – they’re rotten, not getting paid back and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. The loans to hypothetical petroleum engineer are probably bad too.

              But I’m sure I’ll die before I see the federal government lift its pinky finger to control cost. It’d rather just drive risk through the roof with its practices and blame students for the outcome.

    • LuckyRonSwanson

      I didn’t do any research because I realize now that I was a complete idiot – a lucky idiot, but an idiot nonetheless. I wanted to get into transactional environmental law related to real property so that I could save the world. That was all I knew, and I figured if I worked at it hard enough, and believed in myself, I could make it happen.

      I went to a mid-tier school in the Midwest with a few environmental law/environmental law related courses, but no dedicated program. I had a wife and two kids going into law school, and graduated with a wife, three kids, and no job. I didn’t want to stay in the Midwest, and so we packed up and moved west to be close to family.

      I networked like crazy, and within a week, I landed a job. I am doing exactly what I wanted to do, and I occasionally get paid to hunt and fish. The pay isn’t the greatest, but the position qualifies for debt forgiveness after ten years, and the opportunities for lateral movement are great.

      The moral of the story: it doesn’t matter how much research you’ve done on the front end, what kind of law school you go to, how well you’ve done, etc.; all that matters is who you know, and how willing you are to work your contacts to get the job you want.

      • Barry_D

        “…all that matters is who you know, and how willing you are to work your contacts to get the job you want.”

        And vast luck. If you had spent two years networking like crazy and got such a job, you’d still be lucky.

  • Camilla Highwater

    Scary picture. Guy evidently went off the rails a bit after Garp and Cider House Rules.

  • Stan1

    So thats what res ipsa loquitur means!

  • Barry_D

    I just went over to Prawfblawg and The Faculty Lounge.

    One of the things which I’ve learned (sorta late in life) is that liars will lie, bullsh*tters will BS, and cons will con, even – or especially – when caught.

    These guys (MR, BDG, S himself, the Big (egoed) BL, the guy named after a jewel, a guy selling law school in Brooklyn rather than a bridge, etc.) are simply con men, pure and simple.

    • NewishLawyer

      I am always surprised at the doubling down accusation. Of course people double down. That is human nature.

      • Barry_D

        They’ll triple down, they’ll sextuple down, they’ll pull out the argument debunked years ago, etc.

        And there are always a lot of motherf*ckers who’ll pretend to be neutral, saying that ‘both sides do it’. They’ll look at lies and truth, and talk about ‘heat and light’, ignoring what’s heat and what’s light.

  • Shakezula

    Did you see the Washington Post article about the predicament of law schools? I think it ran a couple of days ago.

    • NewishLawyer

      I found one from March and one from April 9.

      • Shakezula

        It was probably this one, from the 20th.

        But I only looked at the front page of the deadtree version right before I was taken for a stumble by the dog.

        • PeteMoss

          from the article, LOL:

          The government’s generous repayment options, including one that forgives debt after 10 years of working in public service, makes law school appealing even in a down market, said Jason Delisle of the New America Foundation, a think tank. But that can also get expensive for taxpayers, especially since law school costs far more than an undergraduate education.

          “There is no downside for grad students,” Delisle said. “They can borrow as much as they want and eventually have it forgiven.”

          private loans… most law students still get some significant % of their tuition & room and board from private loans, no?

          I think they covered around 40% of my total COA, and were at higher interest rates than the federal ones.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            One can borrow $61.5k in graduate Stafford loans and cover the remainder with federal GradPLUS loans. That’s 100% of your graduate/professional school’s (or schools’) cost of attendance: tuition, living expenses, travel budget, computer budget, etc. The only ceiling on GradPLUS is… how much your school(s) care to charge. It’s been this way for just under a decade now. Moral hazard, anyone?

            • PeteMoss

              ah. I had an inkling things had changed since I graduated.

              about half my loans @ graduation were through Access Group. Federal loans were capped at $18,500/year for me.

  • Yankee

    The other day we were talking about history geeks and the troubles they have finding economic sustenance doing the thing they love. We should give them free food and let them practice history whereever they find it, because history does benefit humanity at large. Law school, OTOH, seems like studying COBOL, an almost totally disfunctional legacy system that is still necessary because the things it does are marginally useful but too poorly understood to be worth fixing. Having worked on COBOL systems for 20 years (and thus demonstrating a huge tolerance for frustration & ingenuity) is still a good meal ticket, but no sane person would get up in the morning joying in their heart that they get to punch some control cards. And Law. Does what the law is have anything to do with why people want to do it?? In short, what benefit from knowing how to deal in Moot Court?

    It isn’t just the schools that need reform.

  • Ken

    whether “99% EMPLOYMENT AT GRADUATION” is logically or morally justifiable

    “Chancellor, I’ve got an idea. Let’s just give everyone $10 with the diploma, and record them as temporary employees.”

    “Brilliant, Dean.”

    • yet_another_lawyer

      “Gentlemen, I like the way you’re thinking, but the money just isn’t in the budget, what with dwindling state support and all. Would it be possible to employ them at the minimum wage, and say that they’re working for the school for the period in which they physically receive their degree from the dean, but everything else is pre- and post-liminary work that does not have to be compensated under the recent Integrity Staffing decision? We could thus prorate the minimum wage and pay them for one minute of work, saving us hundreds from the first draft of this idea.”

      *awed silence*

      “That’s why you’re the president!”

  • bobbo1

    “Barista” is like Spanish or something for “barrister,” right?

    • sanity clause

      Barrister, barista, what’s the difference?

      • Camilla Highwater


    • MacK

      Barista is Italian for barman, i.e., someone who tends the counter in a bar or restaurant, a bar-tender (or coffee/soda jerk), these days used for the guy in coffee shop like Starbucks who makes the coffee or takes your order. Barrister is English for the persons allowed to go inside the railing or bar to the tables and seats in front of the bench in a court room, i.e., a lawyer with rights of audience (historically only barristers.) Outside the railing is the actual audience – the public (historically along with the solicitors.)

  • MacK

    Steve Freedman is ranting about this thread over at the Faculty Lounge.

    • djw

      That post is the epitome of “when neither the law or facts are on your side, pound the table.”

      • Breadbaker

        He claims to be “justifiably” outraged. Is there a test? A scale? A certifying organization?

        • Barry_D

          I’m sure that he’s ‘shocked! shocked, I tell you!’ at the hideously impolite truths being so carelessly slung about.

  • CP

    Apropos of denialism, Inquisition Denial remains an art form among quite a few Catholics. As with Holocaust denial and slavery denial, you don’t actually deny that it happened, you just talk about how it’s been overstated and overdramatized by enemies of the Church, and you can’t trust what these people say anyway, and the Inquisition wasn’t any worse than what civil authorities did, and besides, all these Protestants and everyone else did things that’re just as bad and why does no one ever talk about those, clearly an anti-Catholic conspiracy. (Same thing’s done with the child molesting scandal today).

    I think my all time favorite argument I’ve heard for why the Inquisition was kinder and gentler than we think is “nobody was tortured more than once.”

    • Fortunado

      I don’t have a horse in this race, nor am I aware of why you have decided to veer into this territory, but the wikipedia page suggests 1000-2000 people were murdered during the inquisition.

  • Jestak

    While the response to Simkovic from an economist’s perspective is a pretty obvious one (I think), nevertheless it should be stated clearly:

    1) Measuring a macroeconomic statistic such as the unemployment rate is qualitatively different from measuring a professional school’s placement success, so there is no inherent reason for “[using] the same standard method of reporting data as the U.S. Government” when doing the latter.

    2) The BLS in fact reports multiple measures of the unemployment rate each month, and some of these measures do take into account whether people are part-time workers, and also do not limit the unemployed to those actively looking for work.


    Prof Simkovic’s position that one should consistently use the same governmentally defined statistic may be valid, but he is looking at the wrong governmental agency’s definition. BLS’s definition of employment is used to defined unemployment generically. However, when the government wants to have statistics to see if federally funded student loans are effective for trades schools (like auto mechanics), it insists on a different statistic. See 75 FR 466665 -“major regulations proposed in that document to establish measures for determining whether certain programs lead to gainful employment in recognized occupations and the conditions under which those programs remain eligible for title IV, HEA program funds.”

    For post-secondary non-degree granting programs (i.e. trade schools) that are eligible for student loans, the schools have to show that a relatively high percentage of its graduates find employment in the recognized field.

    The reason for this is analogous to the problem that we see with law schools. These programs were notorious for charging high tuition and their graduates being unable to find jobs. Thus, the Department of Education requires that these schools, in order to remain eligible for federally funded student loans show a history of job placement in the specific field.

    Law school (while not a trade school per se) is closer to an auto mechanics school than an undergraduate liberal arts college because it is designed to train people for a specific profession.

    The whole issue around the so-called law school scam is that the availability of governmentally guaranteed student loans make it easy to go to law school, run up huge debts and then not find a job as a lawyer (or a least a job where the employer thought it was a plus that you went to law school). This is the same problem that the DOE had with trade schools and their solution is the same one that you are advocating — statistics on how many students get jobs in the particular profession taught.

    If the argument is that law school is useful for many other professions, then require the same measures that the DOE requires which is to track the default rate on student loans 3,4 and 5 years out of school.

    The DOE requires that the schools disclose these statistics to students applying to trade school. Is Professor Simokvic saying that the DOE is requiring trade schools to publish confusing or misleading statistics because they don’t use the BLS general employment definition?

    • yet_another_lawyer

      I am seriously starting to question your commitment to helping people get the million dollar premium from a law degree. Why would you confound the analysis with statistics that apply to trade schools, not the law? I remind you that the law is a profession, not just a business.

    • Andrew

      Excellent point; you might want to point that out next time the Simkovic argument starts over at thefacultylounge.org.

    • Peterr

      BLS doesn’t have one definition of employment, but multiple definitions depending on what they are trying to understand. The entire body of data and research on “underemployment” is designed to try to understand the kind of phenomena related to folks graduating from law school and finding employment in the “would you like fries with that?” industry.

      • observer

        You know there’s great source of reliable data showing how law graduates are doing financially – the Dept. of Ed’s records on the repayment (or lack thereof) of loans made to law school graduates.

        As long as the loan information was not personally identified, it would appear to be discoverable under FOIA. Problem is, the DOE just rejects FOIA requests for aggregate, non-personally identified loan data for no reason.

        Let me correct that. Probably they reject FOIA requests because of how god-awful the repayment of loans really is. We have some evidence of how god-awful it is across the whole portfolio. If restricted to law school grads…just imagine.

        • Unemployed_Northeastern

          The DOE also refuses to give any sort of breakdown on IBR/PAYE/PSLF enrollees; i.e. 25% of associate’s degree recipients are on IBR, 100% of MPP recipients are on PSLF, etc, 250,000 IBR enrollees have law degrees, etc. That would be very useful stuff to know, too – though I suspect the reason this information is not divulged is that it would inevitably give info for neoliberal researchers at New America and Brookings and all the rest of the think tanks to claim that these plans will be a fiscal disaster (which is almost certainly untrue) and that lending should go right back to the private student lenders, who by the way provides all the funding for these researchers in the first place.

          • observer

            I’m 100% with you on the conclusion that the New America Foundation are industry shills and purposefully mislead people. But, I’m not sure it’s untrue that there’s a bad fiscal consequence looming – I think it’s from FFELP not Direct loans, though.

            Have you been following the NY Fed’s Liberty Street Blog posts on repayment statistics? They’ve got more information than the DOE has given to anyone else, and it is ugly – at least, the “cohorts” they’ve highlighted 2005-2010 are bad. For instance, looking at every size balance from the graduating class of 2010, they’re showing an average 24% default rate…that’s with a 6-month grace period + 270 days (it takes to default), so, you’re looking at a 24% default rate in 3 years post-school. That’s horrible. That’s on 78 billion if I recall correctly.

            It’s entirely plausible that IBR, etc. causes FFELP loans to be defaulted at maturity and the government to pay out on the guarantees – and it’s definitely not chump change – but ending federal lending today would not change one thing for the FFELP portfolio or whether the gov’t has to pay on guarantees it entered.

            The direct lending cannot possibly be a fiscal disaster, unless the DOE was lending deficit funds as opposed to tax receipts. I believe direct lending was done out of the budget and we already paid for it – so no bill is coming due as a certain someone from New American likes to claim, because that bill has been paid.

            I resent the DOE masking serious, widespread and kind of shocking levels of debtor distress. Policy will not move unless we acknowledge that distress and acknowledge that it’s not the fault of the debtor, it’s economic conditions.

            One last: whether these categories should have been added together or not, I don’t know, but the NY Fed also showed that 2009 (graduating in 2010) cohort by serious delinquency (120 days) and increase in balance, and they show minimally 50% of debtors at every level of balance have either defaulted, become seriously delinquent or the balance have seen their balance increase since leaving school.

    • Barry_D


      I did a quick search – do you have any links handy for specific results? I’d like to post them at The Faculty Lounge and Prawfsblawg.

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    Slightly off-topic, but it appears we have a new possible candidate for massive law school layoffs. From https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2015/04/23/lsu-prepares-financial-exigency-plan,

    “The Louisiana State University System is drafting a plan to declare financial exigency… Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, has proposed massive cuts for higher education and the Legislature’s various versions of his budget have added to the cuts, which now appear to total more than 80 percent of state funds for LSU… Under financial exigency, it is generally easier for a university to make deep cuts. And because such statements mean that the survival of an institution is in danger, the American Association of University Professors permits layoffs to include tenured professors.”

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  • Morse Code for J

    What’s old is new again. Not only are we hearing that a law degree actually is worth the time and money borrowed because of some law professor’s handwaving, but also that everyone in legal academia would be receptive to this particular criticism of the status quo were it not for OMG The Tone. These law professors have clamored for transparency and lower effective tuition, though apparently not in a way observable via Google or reading proposed rule changes at ABA, and OMG The Tone makes them regret their invisible but very real efforts on students’ behalf.

    As long as we’re recycling, Steven Freedman: Fuck your precious concerns for the public being enlightened in just the right way.

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  • etheridge

    Prof. Campos,

    Did you see this? The Department of Education fined Corinthian Colleges $30 million for misrepresenting its graduates’ employment prospects. To save you time, jump down to the four bullet points and you’ll see that all Corinthian did is EXACTLY what law schools have always done!


    Good thing about this release is that it has a link to a legal memo with citations to the regulations that prohibit such misrepresentations.

    Let’s hope that after the DoE starts to look at toilet law schools soon.

    (I also sent this message to Nando)

  • squirt

    Hey, you know, you’ve done a great service by pointing out actual facts about law school employment prospects and helping prospective students to make intelligent decisions about whether to go to law school.

    But this posting is so unbelievably unprofessional, I’m almost at a loss for words. If I understand what you’re saying, it’s that concern for the plight of Palestinians constitutes a low grade of holocaust denialism, because the plight of Palestinians should be put into the context of the holocaust, and the only way to believe that the Palestinian suffering is worth thinking about is to put out of mind the past wrongs against the jews? Wow.

    First of all, one can be concerned for the plight of any suffering person in the world without needing to justify their concern by comparison to how other people have suffered in the past. Each person is entitled to work for a better future for the humanitarian causes that he or she believes in. It is so disrespectful to your readers to call some of them holocaust deniers for their humanitarian sympathies.

    Second, this is completely irrelevant to the discussion of law school employment prospects. The facts speak for themselves, and there is no need to compare law school employment prospects with the holocaust.

    Third, this kind of posting (and your bizarre follow-up that this unprofessional posting has hurt the feelings of legal academics) diminishes your credibility. When people cite to what you write, they assume that you’ve done your work diligently and professionally. Postings that make it seem like you do not understand the rules of basic rhetoric (not to say basic human interaction) undermine these assumptions. You’ll lose your credibility a lot faster than you earned it.

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