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Some men you just can’t reach

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How much money has the law school reform movement cost ABA law schools?

This is not very difficult to calculate, if we define the law school reform movement as including everyone who has helped bring about more transparency regarding employment outcomes for law graduates: scambloggers, journalists, Law School Transparency, internal critics of the system, internal defenders of the system making arguments that are so bad that they lend yet more legitimacy to criticisms, etc.

If you assume none of the above had done any of the stuff they’ve done over the past few years, it seems reasonable to assume that, conservatively speaking, there would have been no downturn in law school enrollment (actually it seems more realistic to assume enrollment would have continued to climb, but we’ll go with the more conservative assumption that it would have remained where it was five years ago). It also seems reasonable to assume that effective tuition (sticker minus discounts) would have continued to climb at its recent rate of two or three percent a year above inflation, instead of flat-lining as it has over the past couple of years.

On the basis of these assumptions, a legal academic world without any push-back to the carny barking that dominated the information available to students until about four years ago would feature about 147,500 JD students this coming fall, who would be paying about $31,500 per year, on average, in effective tuition. So law schools would be extracting about $4.65 billion in tuition revenue from their JD students during the 2015-16 academic year.

Instead, they’re going to be getting a lot less. This year’s enrollment cycle is almost complete, and at this point it’s easy to estimate within a few hundred students how many people will matriculate this fall. Schools are going to receive applications from just under 53,000 applicants. The quasi-open enrollment policy already in place at several dozen schools means that approximately 80% of these applicants will be accepted to at least one school to which they apply (many applicants won’t apply to schools with open enrollment policies, plus about 10% of the applicant pool won’t be admitted anywhere because their files more or less scream potential litigation exposure risk to any school reckless enough to take them).

Of those who are admitted to at least one school, around 87% will end up matriculating somewhere. That means the first year class is going to be around 36,850 students, which in turn means the total JD population this fall will be about 111,000. (This past fall’s total JD enrollment was a little over 119,000, and the 2015 entering class is going to have about 8,000 fewer students than that of 2012). How much they’ll be paying in average effective tuition is a touch more speculative, but massive tuition discounting at many schools over the past couple of cycles will if anything be likely to intensify, so it would be optimistic to assume that schools will be getting more than the $28,500 per student they were pulling in three years ago. But let’s assume an average effective tuition of $30,000, just to be on the generous side.

That adds up to $3.33 billion in total JD tuition revenue this coming year. So schools are looking at about $1.3 billion less this fall in tuition revenue than they would have enjoyed if only some troublemakers had gotten their minds right. That in turn is about $6.37 million per school, on average, which works out to about $140,000 less tuition revenue per faculty member.

When you put it that way, I almost want to fire myself.

Update: Pace’s law school’s dean — Pace University, which was founded in the 19th century, has its main campus is in lower Manhattan, but the law school, which is 39 years old, is in White Plains — has apparently sent out a Secret Memo to the faculty, which, in the way of such things, is no longer secret. (The secrecy was supposed to be maintained by a secret invisible watermark on the memo, which was designed to identify any potential Deep Throat to a vengeful administration).

The memo announced an immediate 10% salary cut for all faculty, the elimination of summer research stipends and sabbaticals, and a 5% salary cut for some staff. These measures are designed to eliminate $2.1 million of the law school’s current $5 million operating deficit. Interestingly, the administration apparently hasn’t offered to buy out any faculty.

h/t Taxprof

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  • DAS

    Is it true that “it seems more realistic to assume enrollment would have continued to climb”? While there is a certain inelasticity in professional school enrollments (because for most people, they are the only “money earning career paths to pursue after graduating college” that they really understand or perhaps are even aware of prior to enrollment in an undergrad institution), given the poor job market in the law field (which is not a big secret), I don’t imagine that there are a bunch of additional folks clammering to go to law school even without the efforts of the law school reform movement.

    • BoredJD

      “given the poor job market in the law field (which is not a big secret)”

      Why do you think this is, exactly?

      Nobody was talking about the crappy job market in 2008, when I applied to law school, except for the scambloggers. At that time people were organizing online in larger and larger numbers, for things like LSAT prep and admissions advice. The schools controlled the narrative and the narrative was that law school was what a sharp, useless liberal arts majors did if they wanted to be upper middle class.

      The sheet amount of advice and information available to the applicants now is staggering. Many don’t even think to take advantage of it, but many do. And even then, what’s going on among students is slowly filtering down so that it becomes general knowledge- the days of law school being the default option for those sharp, useless liberal arts majors are coming to a close (one hopes).

      • Barry_D

        In addition, DAS, go to your nearest four-year college’s career center, and ask about law school (if you’re older, ‘for my kid’).

        I guarantee that you’ll get a large number of professional, glossy pieces of propaganda, and little if any counter-information, even now.

        • NewishLawyer

          Has a Career Center ever given counter-information for any career? They are not exactly the Debbie Downer types.

      • NewishLawyer

        “The schools controlled the narrative and the narrative was that law school was what a sharp, useless liberal arts majors did if they wanted to be upper middle class.”

        The big problem here is that this is kind of true. My joke is that law school is (or was) for people who were too nerdy for business school/marketing but not nerdy enough for STEM and Medicine. This is a bit of an exaggeration and there are exceptions (a friend of mine studied Art History and became an Occupational Therapist).

        The problem is (and I’ve said this before) is that we seem to be very good at giving negative advice but not so great at giving positive advice. We can say “Don’t go to law school, grad school, into journalism, into the arts UNLESS……” What we seem horrible at doing is telling people what to do except perhaps “Major in business, major in STEM, major in pre-Med…..”

        I was a drama major in college at a small, liberal-arts school. I tried doing theatre for a bit and decided it was not happening. No one ever gave me career advice. I was able to get some interesting jobs like teaching English in Japan, supervising an election at a non-profit, and working for a small publicity company but no one seemed to be able to tell me how to take all these experiences and turn it into a career or at least a job with benefits and the like. Everyone just sort of assumed that I would figure it out on my own or it would just happen. My dad and brother took a year to find law jobs, I’ve been freelancing for three years and two months now.

        Why is the United States so bad at giving positive career advice except for some very narrow specialties? Is it an innate anti-intellectualism that sneers at kids who want to study things that interest them (note: I think people can be sincerely interested in Marketing, Accounting, and STEM but there does seem to be a sneer at the Arts and Humanities majors of the world? Is this a form of revenge from the Marketing, Accounting, and STEM majors?

        So I wonder what I would have done if someone was able to give me positive advice on alternate careers besides law school and how to get jobs.

        • Barry_D

          “The problem is (and I’ve said this before) is that we seem to be very good at giving negative advice but not so great at giving positive advice. We can say “Don’t go to law school, grad school, into journalism, into the arts UNLESS……” What we seem horrible at doing is telling people what to do except perhaps “Major in business, major in STEM, major in pre-Med…..””

          They don’t really know, *since it’ll be different for various people*. What they can say is ‘if you lose a bunch of money in Vegas, and a gentleman offers you a loan form to sign, and talks about winning your money back, don’t quadruple down’.

          • NewishLawyer

            Of course it is going to be different for different people. There still has to be a way of giving more positive advice like “Apply for these kind of jobs…”

        • MattT

          note: I think people can be sincerely interested in Marketing, Accounting, and STEM but there does seem to be a sneer at the Arts and Humanities majors of the world?

          I can’t speak for Marketing or Accounting, but as science major, I noticed that negative attitude toward Arts and Humanities a lot more often from people who were doing science or engineering for mercenary reasons. It really came across “I’m making myself miserable, you should too.” People who were majoring in science because they enjoyed it/had idealistic views of making the world better with it tended to have more curiosity about and respect for other fields.

          • NewishLawyer

            I don’t know if I know anyone who has done science for mercenary reasons. Though I suppose this is hard to tell. I do know lots of first-generation college students (often Asian and either immigrants or the children of immigrants). They often seem to have majored in STEM out of strong cultural reasons (i.e. their parents told them so).

            My girlfriend is from Singapore and went to college in Europe. A lot of her friends are from Singapore and Malaysia and went to undergrad and grad abroad. They all seemed to pick STEM and Economics even if from the middle-class or above. Based on what I’ve been able to gather, the Singaporean and Malaysian educational systems are relentlessly utilitarian and most schools don’t make any pretext at needing to cover literature, history, etc. The education* she and her friends seem to receive (especially the Malaysian ones) is math, math, math, and more math. I guess it takes till the third generation to care about arts and humanities as a signifier.

            A lot of my friends at undergrad were science majors because they enjoyed science (but Vassar is not exactly a school that people attend for mercenary reasons). However through them, I’ve encountered enough of the “You aren’t intelligent unless you major in STEM and are graded on a hard curve” types.

        • DAS

          My joke is that law school is (or was) for people who were too nerdy for business school/marketing but not nerdy enough for STEM and Medicine.

          Most of the lawyers I know (including my wife) resemble this remark. The few exceptions I can think of are nerdy enough for STEM and are in tax law or patent law.

        • Morse Code for J

          What positive advice would you give 18-year-old you, given the chance?

      • DAS

        I guess maybe my experiences don’t translate to those of everyone else: 2008 was just about the time I became aware of how bad the lawyering job market was when Mrs. DAS as well as a few other law-talking-folks I knew were getting laid off.

        I guess being an educated Jewish person, I happen to know a lot of lawyers (yay stereotypes!) and hence am more aware of the job market for lawyers than, for example, many of my students would be. Well, actually my students are quite aware of this sort of thing, but my students are not planning on going into law in general (and if they are, they would end up being well-compensated IP specialists) as they are science majors … but in general, you do have a point, as I think about it, many students at my institution would not have first or second hand experience or knowledge of the job market for lawyers.

        I guess I should take Barry_D’s advice and go to my school’s career center to see what it’s like in general. I didn’t even go to the career center when I was an undergrad as I had a pretty clear idea of what I was going to do (although that changed from “medicine” to “academia” over the course of my undergrad education) as well as pretty clear back-up plans (apply for a job working for a company making mathematical/statistical software), so maybe I should, at some point, have an idea of what those places do.

        • BoredJD

          This is probably right. As a solidly middle-middle class kid, in my youth I didn’t know a single lawyer through family networks nor did I have any friends growing up who were applying to law school. Everything I knew about the law school application process I got from the internet. Without it I’d have been applying blind.

  • JCougar

    if we define the law school reform movement as including everyone who has helped bring about more transparency regarding employment outcomes for law graduates: scambloggers, journalists, Law School Transparency, internal critics of the system, internal defenders of the system making arguments that are so bad that they lend yet more legitimacy to criticisms, etc.

    I LOL’d from my volunteership computer terminal.

  • MacK

    You know, I always want to say to kids talking about going to law school – do you know, really know, what being a lawyer means?

    Do you know that it means a life in most circumstances, even if you are successful of daily insecurity, of a constant search for business and paying clients. That so many of the people who desperately need you held resent needing it and buy into every lawyer joke. That most of the work consist of extremely meticulous attention to detail. That, at least in private practice, people will expect you to account for every minute of every day in 6 minute increments?

    I enjoy practicing law – I hate the business side of legal practice. But yes I enjoy it. However, realistically, I am weird – very few people enjoy the law, very few lawyers. Very few knew what they were signing up for. I am wholly in agreement with Paul’s view that applicants to law school need to know what the outcomes are. I just wish more had a realistic sense of what legal practice is.

    • DAS

      That most of the work consist of extremely meticulous attention to detail.

      Actually when I had to deal with lawyers in a professional context (when we bought our current co-op apartment and a lawyer drafted the contract and there was also the lawyer from the co-op to deal with), I was shocked at the lack of attention to detail in drafting the contract. I guess relative to most jobs being a lawyer requires attention to detail, but if I, as an academic scientist, were to hand in to a granting agency an application or to a publisher a paper or to our provost a report as poorly formatted and with as many loose ends as our contract to purchase our current apartment had, the grant/paper/report would be rejected with the harshest of responses.

      I similarly was unimpressed when I served (it turned out as an alternate) on a jury with the lack of attention to detail (it was a criminal case and the alleged victim was under the influence of marijuana at the time the crime occurred and there was no evidence presented about the reliability of recollection of events occuring when someone is under the influence of marijuana) in the argument. The prosecutor won the case, but if the prosecutor were to attempt to publish a scientific paper “X is Guilty: Evidence for a Sexual Assault” it would get rejected as would the defense’s paper of “X is Innocent: A Perfectly Coherent Explanation of the Events on the Night in Question”.

      So I guess again it’s a matter of perspective. From my perspective, law hardly requires attention to detail … not compared with academic science.

      • BoredJD

        It does require mind-numbing attention to detail but with an overwhelming amount of work. The average caseload for a public defender, for example, is usually over 100 and closer to 200 cases ongoing at any one time. Prosecutors are similar. So a crapload of work probably went into that case just to get it to “shoddy” which was the state you saw it in.

      • Srsly Dad Y

        The core thing I learned clerking for a judge (other than what a nice job judge is) was how bad most litigators were. I felt like a piano player who walks around and hears worse piano players in bars. I thought, if these bozos can do this, then I can.

  • PaulB

    Gosh darn it, Prof. Campos, you had your one and most likely only chance to give a shout out to Brian Leiter as he was the source of the Taxprof post! More seriously, if there are profs with unpleasant stories to pass on who feel more inclined to reach out to him rather than you, all the better.

  • Lee Rudolph

    Interestingly, the administration apparently hasn’t offered to buy out any faculty.

    Has the Pace administration offered to extend the 10% salary cut to administrators too?

  • MDrew

    If you assume none of the above had done any of the stuff they’ve done over the past few years, it seems reasonable to assume that, conservatively speaking, there would have been no downturn in law school enrollment (actually it seems more realistic to assume enrollment would have continued to climb, but we’ll go with the more conservative assumption that it would have remained where it was five years ago). It also seems reasonable to assume that effective tuition (sticker minus discounts) would have continued to climb at its recent rate of two or three percent a year above inflation, instead of flat-lining as it has over the past couple of years.

    You can always “assume” things (i.e. for the sake of discussion), but if what that mean here is that you’re just saying you think it’s almost certainly *true*… I mean, I love what you’ve done, but that seems like kind of a lot of effect to so confidently assign to your efforts. And then you say it’s a conservative estimate. I mean… a conservative estimate would be to assign yourself half of the effect, maybe, so that without the movement the downturn would have been half as big. That would be a big deal! That’s a huge effect if we are talking about a minority of the law teaching profession writing blog posts and so forth.

    Anyway, who knows, maybe you are right. But I can’t agree that it’s reasonable, much less conservative to just assume, by which we mean confidently conclude/assert without argument or evidence, that ALL of the difference between enrollments and tuition merely flatlining, and declining, is due to this information campaign. It’s reasonable to assume it had an effect. I don’t know how much more effect than that it is reasonable, not to say conservative, to assume the movement has had.

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