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The higher learning in America

[ 105 ] December 30, 2013 |

gw

Final graph of the year’s final column by the nation’s leading conservative opinionator:

Finally, a regularly recurring fever of progressive indignation about the name of Washington’s professional football team again waned without success, which means Oklahoma will not have to change its name. “Oklahoma” is a compound of two Choctaw words, “okla” meaning people, and “homma” meaning red.

Background on the origins of Washington’s NFL franchise’s nickname here.

Apropos of nothing in particular I have been told by German speakers that their language includes a term that means “a face that is crying out for a fist.”

Universities, money, and intellectual freedom

[ 74 ] December 28, 2013 |

Following up on Erik’s post referencing today’s NYT piece about the potentially invidious effects of industry funding academia (or academics), I’d like to throw out a few hypotheticals, some of which are closely related to some current goings-on in legal academia that I won’t discuss directly at this time. These hypotheticals all touch on the increasingly fraught issue of the extent to which donors should be given the power to shape the intellectual structure of an institution via restricted gifts. (The issue is increasingly fraught because universities are becoming increasingly dependent on private giving in general, and restricted donations in particular, to fund their operations).

Of course all restricted gifts dedicated to supporting research have this effect to some extent: for example if someone endows a chair for the study of constitutional law or financial regulation, that means that relatively more of the institution’s resources will be dedicated to the study of constitutional law or financial regulation than would otherwise be the case. So all restricted gifts are “ideological” in this sense. But what about the following?

A chair in originalist constitutional theory.

A chair in the legal rights of the unborn.

A chair in reproductive rights.

A chair in Marxist legal thought.

A free enterprise chair.

Which of these, if any, would be problematic, and why? Should a dean consult with a law school’s faculty before accepting a donation for some of these purposes? Does it matter if the school is public or private? What other considerations ought to be relevant?

. . . to sharpen the question a bit, at what point to the terms of the gift become sufficiently restrictive that it ought to be rejected? As phrased, all of these gifts strongly imply the donor’s desire to see a certain political project advanced. But what if the terms of the gift are explicit? For example: “This chair will be dedicated to producing scholarship that advances [originalist constitutional theory, the legal rights of the unborn, reproductive rights, Marxist legal thought, the legal protection of free enterprise].”

The myth of the government/public interest backup plan

[ 42 ] December 28, 2013 |

From my correspondence, it appears a significant number of potential law students still think of becoming a government lawyer as a kind of backup plan, if their aspirations to get a job with a large law firm don’t work out.

There are at least two big problems with this:

(1) Public law jobs have become far more competitive than they used to be, for three reasons. First, funding cutbacks have created hiring freezes and slowdowns at all levels of government hiring. Second, the severe contraction in the legal employment market means there are far more experienced attorneys now who are willing to consider taking what are advertised as entry-level jobs. Third, the combination of spiraling law graduate debt (the average law graduate now has around $150,000 of educational debt by the time he or she becomes licensed to practice) and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives all federal educational debt after tens years of non-profit employment (and doesn’t treat the forgiven amount as taxable income) means that from a purely economic perspective, government legal jobs are far more valuable than they used to be to law graduates, despite usually featuring modest entry-level salaries.

(2) For those who are fortunate enough to get such jobs (getting one now generally requires a demonstrated commitment to government legal work, that pretty much disqualifies people who aim for big firm jobs and miss), holding onto them is now apparently much harder than it used to be, at least in places like New York City. A correspondent writes:

I do not know about anything outside of my own observations in NYC, but I have no doubt that there is similar trend in other big jurisdictions with an enormous glut of new lawyers.

Basically, it is like this:

In the olden days, i.e. 15 years ago and more, it was normal for the middle to lower portion of a law school class to search for jobs in small law and government. Prosecutors offices had slightly higher standards than PD offices. PD offices were often seen as enclaves of law students with low GPAs. Most of the lawyers who wanted to work for DA/PD offices could find a job within a year. If you wanted to stay in these jobs, you could. Even if you stayed working in a non-prestigious trial unit for 10 years, it was easy to stay under the radar, collect raises every few years, and perhaps wait for a higher position to open. Or you could go solo by joining the (now dwindling) assigned counsel programs.

Now, the PD offices in NYC all get thousands of applications a year. NYC has five or six PD offices, two per borough except in Staten Island. Also, there are other PD organizations like the Appellate Defenders. There are other family law organizations, civil Legal Aid, etc. It is very confusing, there are tons of government funded organizations and mini-firms.

All of them now follow a more-or-less standardized application timeline due to the enormous floods of applications. It is like applying to law school all over again. You submit in the fall and provide cover letters, resumes, answers to essay questions, writing samples, letters of recommendation, etc. They spend a few months going through the thousands of applications, grant a few hundred interviews, and then pick a few lucky winners.

Most of it is based on nepotism. As I mentioned, I won a felony trial from a case I took over from one of the top trial attorneys at the Bronx defenders, yet they would not even grant me an interview this year (although they are interviewing some 3Ls). This proves beyond any doubt that this organization and others choose candidates based on factors other than experience (such as connections and other behind the doors decisions that they never have to answer for).

But even if you get hired by one of these DA/PD organizations, it is not the end of the struggle. In the DA/PD organizations, you are assigned to misdemeanors for the first two years. Many organizations can get rid of you after the first two years for any reason, or they can promote you to low-level felonies, grand jury stuff, that sort of thing. Some people move between departments, like they go from vehicular crimes to sex crimes to narcotics, etc. But for the most part, the offices now look more like pyramids than they did in the olden days. If you get stuck doing low-level crimes for more than a few years without getting promoted to a higher level of responsibility or supervisory role, you will be booted eventually. Why would they keep you doing low level crimes for more than a few years, paying you raises every two years? Instead, they can replace you with a new desperate law student who can do the same work for the lowest possible pay grade.

Now, plenty of people voluntarily leave DA/PD offices for greener pastures after a few years — which has always happened. But the pastures are not so green on the other side, so there is less of this. Most people know that going solo is risky at best.

I feel lucky that I made close to what I would have as an entry level PD this year (without benefits). It makes me feel like I actually have more job security and a greater capacity to increase my income by continuing to figure out the best ways to market my niche services. And I may get onto some of the assigned counsel panels in the next few years, which would give me a steady income (the bar associations block new lawyers from these panels until they have a few years of experience). In some ways, I feel lucky to have started the solo journey now instead of ending up here after doing a few years with PD organizations and suddenly getting booted because I did not make friends with the right supervisor. It is better to get the foundation of the solo practice started sooner rather than later, I guess.

But that is also scary when you think about it. Again, the DA/PD organizations are a bit of a scam for the thousands of people who think that they can stay in government jobs to wait out the 10-year loan forgiveness…because many of them will not last that long.

When will technology undercut sports attendance?

[ 145 ] December 26, 2013 |

Here are two assertions that don’t seem contestable:

(1) The cost of attending most major sporting events has been rising in real terms for decades.

(2) The cost of watching most major sporting events via remote technology has been plunging, especially in recent years.

The second point might require a bit of elaboration. “Cost” in this context means the relation between the price of watching a sporting event other than by attending in person, and the quality of that experience. That experience has been improving at a very rapid rate in recent years: for example, watching a high definition broadcast of a sports event on a 50-inch screen costs a sports fan today perhaps one-twentieth of what purchasing such an experience would have cost a decade ago. (HDTV is an especially superior technology for sports viewing).

In addition, the variety of games available for remote viewing, and the technologies available for viewing them other than standard televisions (computers, mobile devices etc.) are vastly superior to what they were even a few years ago.

As a simple matter of economics, these trends can’t both continue indefinitely. 40 years ago the average NFL ticket cost $30 in 2013 dollars: this year the average is probably over $100 when you include the cost of private seat licenses. And the cost of parking and concessions has risen even faster than ticket prices. Meanwhile a giant television with a superb picture costs in real dollars what what a 12-inch portable black and white TV that pulled in a fuzzy broadcast of two games per weekend cost a generation ago, and you can for a fairly modest price watch literally every NFL game of the season on your IPhone if you so desire.

On the other hand . . . people have been predicting that broadcasting sports events would kill the live gate ever since the invention of television, and pretty much precisely the opposite has happened: as more sports have become available on TV (and now through other technologies as well), the live gate for major sports events, in America at least, has continued to grow.

Still, it must be true that there’s a tipping point. Whether we’re beginning to see the signs of such a tipping point is an open question, but it’s perhaps notable that both NFL and major college football attendance has dipped a bit over the past few years.

I would guess that football is much more vulnerable to the live gate being undercut by viewing technology than baseball for a couple of reasons:

(1) The experience of watching baseball is much more degraded, aesthetically speaking, by remote viewing than that of watching football (In this regard basketball, which is pretty much perfect for TV, should be even more vulnerable, while hockey should be even less vulnerable than baseball).

(2) Football is played in terrible weather far more often than baseball.

But again, while it seems that live attendance at major sports should suffer from the combination of rising prices for actual attendance and the declining cost of remote viewing, there’s still little evidence this is actually beginning to happen in a significant way. Still, this now more than 20-year-old passage from Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch remains resonant:

THE MATCH
COVENTRY v ARSENAL
13.12.87

Pete and I left around twelve, I guess, for a three p.m., Sunday afternoon kick-off, and got there just in time. It was an awful game, unspeakable, a nil-nil draw in freezing conditions … and it was live on television, so we could have stayed at home. My powers of self-analysis fail me completely here: I don’t know why we went. We just did.

I didn’t see a live League game on television until 1983, and neither did anyone else of my generation. When I was a kid there wasn’t so much football on TV: an hour on Saturday night, an hour on Sunday afternoon, sometimes an hour midweek, when our clubs had European games. We got to see an entire ninety minutes only very rarely. Occasional England games were shown live; then there was the FA Cup Final, and maybe the European Cup Final … two or three live club games a year, maximum.

That was obviously ridiculous. Even Cup semi-finals, or Championship deciders, weren’t televised live; sometimes the stations weren’t even allowed to show us highlights. (When Liverpool just pipped QPR for the Championship in 1976, we got to see the goals on the news,but that was all; there was a whole set of incomprehensible rules about TV coverage that no one understood.) So despite satellite technology,and colour televisions, and 24-inch screens, we had to sit with our ears pressed against transistor radios. Eventually the clubs realised that there was big money to be made, and the TV companies were happy to give it to them; the behaviour of the Football League thereafter has resembled that of the mythical convent girl. The League will let anybody do anything they want – change the time of the kick-off, or the day of the game, or the teams, or the shirts, it doesn’t matter; nothing is too much trouble for them. Meanwhile the fans, the paying customers, are regarded as amenable and gullible idiots. The date advertised on your ticket is meaningless: if ITV or BBC want to change the fixture to a time more convenient to them, they will do so. In 1991, Arsenal fans intending to travel to the crucial match at Sunderland found that after a little television interference (kick-off was changed from three to five),the last train to London left before the game finished. Who cared? Just us, nobody important.

I will continue to attend televised games at Highbury, mostly because I’ve already paid for my ticket. But, sod it, I’m not going to travel to Coventry or Sunderland or anywhere else if I can sit at home and watch the match, and I hope lots of other people do the same. Television will notice our absence, one day. In the end, however much they mike up the crowd, they will be unable to create any atmosphere whatsoever, because there will be nobody there: we’ll all be at home, watching the box. And when that happens, I hope that the managers and the chairmen spare us the pompous and embittered column in the programme complaining about our fickleness.

See also:

This sounds unfortunate

[ 78 ] December 24, 2013 |

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio certainly have the talent to make a good movie about Wall Street scandals, but per Yglesias it sounds like they’ve produced a film that will find great favor in the board rooms of the great and the not so good:

By focusing on cases of egregious criminal fraud the movie elides the real scandal, which, as is often the case, is about what’s legal. If you have a 401(k) plan through your employer or an IRA or other investment account through your bank, the financial institution may try to set you up with a “financial adviser” to help steer your investment decision-making. This person will claim to be giving you advice in your own interest but in fact is under no legal or professional obligation to advance your interests. His real job is to steer you into high fee products that are lucrative for his employer. This is not criminal fraud that the FBI will investigate. It’s not a civil offense that the SEC will investigate. It’s not illegal. The Labor Department tried to change the rule and impose a fiduciary standard at least for employer-sponsored plans but congress stepped in to tell them no. You’re never going to have a world without some sociopaths breaking the rules (read Josh Levin’s amazing reporting for a spectacular example) but what we have is a world where congress steps in to make sure that deliberately peddling bad advice to middle-class savers isn’t against the rules.

At any rate, a few different things are going on in the movie but the main thing is that Stratton Oakmont is operating what’s called a “boiler room” (see 2000′s Boiler Room for a more straightforward treatment) where you use aggressive sales tactics to market thinly traded very cheap stocks that trade “over the counter” rather than on an exchange. Your aggressive sales tactics work better if you lie (“pump and dump,” which is illegal) and can be made even more profitable if you turn yourself into a “bucket shop” (where your transactions are basically fake, which is also illegal).

This kind of fraud is a real thing, and it especially happens when you have a prolonged boom (as we did in the 1980s and 1990s stock market), but I think that if you’re a major Wall Street executive or work for one of the bank lobbies you have to be very happy with this film. Indeed, very happy in general that Hollywood keeps churning out stories with this kind of focus. Everything Stratton Oakmont is shown as doing has been illegal for years and the enforcement, though imperfect, is real. What’s more, like the more recent story of Bernie Madoff, they weren’t just perpetrating frauds they were a whole fake firm. These guys in this movie aren’t real Wall Street guys. They have tacky outer-boroughs accents and no education. The idea that the FBI and the SEC need to do a more rigorous job of keeping sleazy drug-addled deviants from posing as real stock brokers and investment advisers is the most comfortable possible reform proposal for the real Titans of Finance, most of whom are perfectly respectable people with respectable accents and real degrees from prestigious universities. You have to rein them in not with exciting wiretaps but with boring regulations on leverage and liquidity. And this doesn’t even begin to touch the larger questions around the financialization of the economy.

Narcissism as vocation

[ 350 ] December 24, 2013 |

A helpful reader points me to a remarkable ongoing research project:

As a precursor to a new research project, which I’ll discuss in later posts, I’ve done some firsthand qualitative investigation of dating websites, including Match, OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, Craigslist, and Ashley Madison. At this point my investigation has consisted only of the following: creating two identical profiles (not at the same time) in the “women seeking men” section of each site with the same racially ambiguous photograph; identifying myself as Asian in one profile and White in the other; and then simply reading the responses that each profile generates. Different websites have different options for signaling one’s race: for example, Match provided an array of boxes to check as well as the option not to answer, while on Craigslist it was necessary to take affirmative steps to signal my race in a free form response box.

With the caveat that all of this is preliminary and anecdotal, I noticed a remarkable difference in the responses the white and Asian profiles generated. The Asian profiles received about 20-30% more responses, depending on the site. But to me the much more interesting phenomenon was the difference in the content of the responses. Not a single response to the white-identified profiles even mentioned race. Yet about a quarter of the responses to the Asian-identified profiles said something racial. Sometimes the responses were superficially flattering, describing Asian women as “exotic” or “beautiful.” “I’ve always wanted to date an Oriental woman,” one said wistfully. Sometimes the responses invoked tired stereotypes about Asians writ large: “I love your culture’s food and family values,” one message earnestly explained (because all Asian cultures have identical food and family values, obviously). There were more iterations of the phrase “let me love you long time” than I hope ever to see again. And, of course, plenty of responses were vulgar: “i know what u asian sluts like ill give u what u need,” asserted one gentleman, followed by a lengthy description of what he thinks we Asian sluts need and some distinctly unimpressive pictures.

The racialization of responses was particularly overt on Ashley Madison, which, for the uninitiated, describes itself as a website for people who want to engage in “married dating” or “have an affair.” (For those curious about how the site works, Julie Bort went undercover on the site and writes about it here.) My own experience was that people became even more uninhibited about expressing their preferences. “We should get together! I LOVE Asian women and they love me!!!” stated one gentleman, whose screen name was “AZNLUVR69.” Another explained that he “knew how to please an Asian lady,” adding, by way of proof, “my wife is also an Asian.” A number expressed “geisha fantasies.” (My background is Chinese and Native Hawaiian, but close enough, I guess.) And several noted that their favorite porn stars were Asian.

All told, my Asian-identified Ashley Madison profile received about three hundred responses within a month of its creation, and over a third of them mentioned some sort of affinity for Asian women.

I don’t want to make this primarily about Nancy Leong. I’ve never met her — for all I know she may be a perfectly admirable person in her personal as opposed to her political life — and in any case she is merely a single example of a very widespread phenomenon, rather than being herself in any way the cause of the scandal that is contemporary legal academia.

But that scandal is almost perfectly encapsulated by the fact that Leong is a rising young star in the law school world. Why is she a star? First, as Bored JD noted yesterday, she had “great credentials” when she got a tenure track job. Those credentials consisted of being an honors graduate of a top university and an elite law school, where she was also a board member of the law review. After law school she did a federal appeals clerkship, and then after spending a year in the kind of unicorny public interest fellowship that people with gold-plated resumes get, she went straight into academia, spending a year at Georgetown and another at American in VAP-type positions, during which time she published four academic pieces of various sorts, before “finally” getting a tenure-track job in 2010.

Those are, in the contemporary legal academic world, very good if not great credentials for somebody trying to get a tenure track job. These credentials don’t actually feature either any experience practicing law or any formal academic training per se, which you might assume would be a serious problem for someone trying to become a lawyer-academic, but you would be wrong.

Legal academia is stacked to the rafters with people like this, and the results speak for themselves.

Yesterday some people weren’t too happy when I described Leong as “tenuously racialized” on the basis of her photos, but it turns out that Prof. Leong’s new research project is literally an exploration of the fact that she is tenuously racialized on the basis of her photos.

Leong’s preliminary findings seem to indicate that certain ethnographic categories of gender identity are fetishized as especially desirable within a hetero-normative frame in which the social concept of “white” identity functions as an unmarked category. One problem with this research project is that such an empirical conclusion would not be considered particularly novel within the relevant literature.

Another is that this is just the sort of human subject research that universities tend to have strict protocols regarding, since trolling surveying sleazy transgressive web sites for narcissistic kicks legitimate research purposes is the kind of thing institutions understandably maintain all sorts of rules about. Hopefully Prof. Leong didn’t wing itignore relevant bureaucratic protocols before launching this particular investigation.

Yet another is that my helpful commenter explains, it seems like a badly designed experiment on its own terms:

Her experiment isn’t very interesting. It’s actually pretty puerile. Again, she posts two profiles on an infamous online hook-up website, one in the “white” section and one in the “Asian” section. She then observes that the Asian post is somewhat more popular. (Query: How many total profiles are in the respective sections? If, as I suspect, there are exponentially more women posting in the “white” section, you’d EXPECT the “Asian” profile to draw a lot more interest. Alas, Leong doesn’t address this issue.) She also observes that the people responding to the “Asian” profile seem to reference the fact that she’s identifying as Asian. Oh how shocking. Someone who logs on to the hook-up site, goes specifically to the “Asian” section, and starts browsing profiles, just might have a particular interest in Asian women. Go figure.

As I said above. What’s the point? Really, what was she trying to show? That some (presumably white) men have a predilection for Asian women? That Asian women are sexualized in a way that white women aren’t? Her experiment was really crappily designed if it’s either of those (not to mention I don’t think she’s come close to supporting the latter statement, even on the face of her findings).

This really smacks of someone who starts off with an ideological hypothesis and designs a heavy-handed experiment to prove that point. That’s not research. It’s propaganda.

And yet another is that some people might question exactly why University of Denver law students are expected to incur nearly $180,000 of expenses over three years to subsidize this sort of thing.

But as I said, this isn’t ultimately about Leong, because in the legal academy today, people like her — brandishing impressive credentials that don’t actually have much if anything to do with either carrying out serious academic work or training people to practice law — are legion. (Indeed I’m one of them).

So none of this is coming from a putative position of superiority. Not at all. We are all, as a great philosopher once observed, part of the same hypocrisy. Recognizing that is merely the first step toward doing something about it.

Law professor tries to leverage phony claims of racial victimization into better job

[ 434 ] December 23, 2013 |

Updated below

In the fall of 2012, Nancy Leong, a law professor at the University of Denver, was taken to task on JD Underground for authoring what a commenter considered a very bad law review article, which, in the critic’s view, highlighted the absurdity of a system in which law professors with literally no experience in the practice of law are paid to churn out dilettantish “cultural criticism” of the sort that could be produced — at almost infinitely lower cost — by any clever undergraduate. (Note that the very first response to the JDU post came from cyber-stalker extraordinaire Brian Leiter, using one of his many internet pseudonyms).

The JDU post led to a series of events that have concluded with Leong accusing the JDU poster of racially motivated harassment, and filing a complaint against him with the bar in the state where the poster practices.

Here is the sum total of Leong’s “evidence” for her claim that the JDU poster has subjected her to racist harassment:

The only example Leong offers to substantiate her contention that I made numerous racist posts is particularly ludicrous. In a comment on a JD Underground (JDU) thread last year, I referred to a law professor conference in Hawaii, where Leong was one of the speakers, as “a gravy train, or shall I say, a luau train.” “Gravy train” was a reference to the free vacations masquerading as scholarly conferences that law professors routinely hold for themselves, vacations ultimately paid for by their massively indebted students. “Luau train” was my reference to the fact that this particular law professor conference was held at a Waikiki beach resort, where they stage starlight luaus for the pampered resort guests.

Leong described my joke about a “luau train” as an effort to disparage her Native Hawaiian ancestry, something I had no idea she possessed. Personally, I doubt that Leong herself believes that that comment was racist. It is yet another irony that a lawprof, who blogs in an authoritative tone about the proper way to converse about race, grants herself permission to defend her wounded pride with false accusations of racism.

More generally, Leong’s definition of “harassment” seems to be that a few anonymous commenters on a couple of fairly obscure web sites have said some mean things about her cv and her law review articles (A couple of these comments could be described fairly as sexist, in that they implied or asserted that Leong’s professional success has been in part due to her appearance. Characterizing this as adding up to harassment seems like quite a stretch, although absurdly enough a Slate columnist recently went so far as to equate Leong’s almost completely imaginary “victimization” with that experienced by Jonathan Martin. Note that Leong could avoid being “harassed” in this way by choosing not to read JD Underground and OTLSS. Update:Per JDU posters some offensive comments were scrubbed by the administrator from at least one of the JDU threads. So the links probably don’t give a complete picture of the extent to which Leong was the target of sexist or racist comments. It should go without saying that such comments are deplorable, and also tend to take attention away from the many legitimate criticisms aimed at Leong in these threads.).

Indeed, in what appears to be a classic case of projection, the only actual harasser in this context appears to be Leong herself, who, after tracking down her critic’s identity, both emailed him and called him at his place of employment, demanding that he have a telephone conversation with her, and threatening to “out” him if he refused. When he declined her offer, she decided to file the bar complaint.

All this is adding up to a particularly preposterous example of how some people who have spent their entire lives near the top of the American SES pyramid will strive to leverage their very tenuously racialized identities into yet more social privilege. (Leong is currently angling for a job at UCLA. In the kind of plot twist you can’t put in an academic novel because it would be much too heavy-handed, her newest law review article is entitled “Identity Entrepreneurs.”)

People who wish to judge for themselves whether Leong has been subjected to “harassment” (racial or otherwise) in any meaningful sense can look at the threads on JDU and OTLSS that reference her:

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Update: This post should have been more precisely focused on Leong’s decision to file a bar complaint against Dybbuk. Leong is giving off every sign of trying to get out of Denver faster than the protagonist of a Bob Seger song, so I tend to interpret her decision to try to make a huge deal out of Dybbuk’s comments as a tactical career move (Oppressed Woman of Color Fights the Power — “the power” here being a couple of scamblogs of all things).

But that’s not really the central point. The central point is that a law professor is trying to get a lawyer professionally sanctioned for having the temerity to publish harsh and wholly justified criticisms of her. Leong is understandably eager to focus attention on the fact that the lawyer made the mistake of making a couple of arguably sexist remarks in the process, all the better to deflect attention from both her wholly false accusation of racism against him, and the essential accuracy of his substantive criticisms.

The other America

[ 143 ] December 21, 2013 |

cleese

Recently PrawfsBlawg inadvertently held an impromptu Upper Class Twit of the Year competition, when a thread about law school faculty hiring veered into a discussion regarding entry-level salaries for law professors, and specifically about whether these were munificent enough to allow someone to raise a family. Such entry-level salaries (counting summer money, which for 90% of legal academics and 100% of pre-tenure people is effectively part of their salary) currently range from $100,000 at very low-ranked schools to around $185,000 at elite schools, with the average being around $130,000 to $140,000. These sums were described as “dismal if you have a family to support” by one commentator, which triggered a debate regarding just how great the financial sacrifices (sic) legal academics make actually are.

While a number of commenters took the author of the “dismal” characterization to task, others jumped to his or her’s defense:

The salary’s pretty dismal when you consider the current barriers to entry — roughly $210,000 in student loans followed by 1-2 years clerking, 1-3 years of private practice, and 2 years of fellowship/VAP. Assuming one year of clerking, two years of private practice, and two years of fellowship/VAP that comes out to approximately $110,000 yearly average salary pre-academia (it’s actually even worse when you consider the lousy tax impact). That’s not really enough, especially for someone supporting a family (see, e.g., http://www.calcxml.com/calculators/student-loan-repayment?skn=#results). Practically-speaking, this makes legal academia a pretty rough financial option for the typical applicant who has to support a family.

All this reminded me of University of Chicago law professor Todd Henderson’s lament that it’s hard out here for a family in Hyde Park scraping along on a combined income of around $400,000 per year (btw the perpetual race for most obnoxious member on the U of C law faculty is academia’s version of the 1978 Belmont.)

Anyway, the government just published figures on wages in America in 2012. Some highlights:

153.6 million Americans earned wages last year. This means that just under 40% of all Americans 16 years or older earned no wages in 2012 (there were approximately 252 million such people in the country last year). Breaking down these figures into income categories:

Median wage of all Americans 16 and older in 2012 (working and non-working): $6,250

Median wage of Americans in 2012 who worked for income: $27,519

15.8% of adult Americans earned $50,000 or more in 2012.

26% of Americans who worked for income earned $50,000 or more in 2012.

18.9% of adult Americans of working age (ages 16-64) earned $50,000 or more in 2012.

95.5% of adult Americans earned less than $100,000 in 2012.

58.8% of adult Americans either didn’t earn income or earned less than $10,000 in 2012.

24.2% of Americans who worked for income earned less than $10,000 in 2012.

39.6% of Americans who worked for income earned less than $20,000 in 2012.

63.5% of adult Americans either didn’t earn income or earned less than $20,000 in 2012.

The last three statistics drive home a point that remains largely invisible among the privileged classes (defined here as social contexts in which people have arguments about how difficult it is or isn’t to support a family on a low-six figure salary). We read that the unemployment rate is down to 7.0% and think that doesn’t sound too bad — after all 93 is a lot larger than seven. Except:

40% of people with jobs are working for poverty-level wages.

Nearly three out of five adult Americans made basically no money at all last year (No money at all being defined as less than $10,000. BTW less than 13% of the population is 65 or over, and 65 is increasingly becoming a constructive rather than an actual retirement age).

If a “good job” is defined as one that generates wages of $50,000 (a figure that needless to say would make many of the people in the Prawfs thread shriek in agony at the mere thought of trying to survive on a third world income), then fewer than one in six adult Americans currently has a good job.

Update:Atrios’ points out that even a law professor entry-level salary may not be that comfortable if one has $210,000 in educational debt, as apparently the commenter quoted in the Prawfsblawg thread has. This is true, but it also points to other ironies:

(1) Law school debt is that high, in part, because of significant increases in the faculty salaries that the commenter thinks are low (Although to be fair this is a relatively minor factor in skyrocketing tuition costs. A bigger factor is the radical decline in student-faculty ratios, which of course provides faculty with non-pecuniary compensation increases — lower teaching loads, smaller classes, etc. Also, current graduates of the primary feeder schools for legal academia — Harvard, Yale, and Stanford — who take out law schools loans take out an average of $110,000 to $125,000, while 20% of the graduates of these schools graduate with no law school debt at all). But that irony pales before this one:

(2) If the Prawfsblawg commenter snags a low-paying entry-level legal academic job and keeps it, he/she will never have to pay any of the principal on his/her loans. Here’s how it works: assuming the loans are federal (as essentially all law school loans have now been for several years), then the commenter can go on PAYE and PSLF, because 196 of 202 ABA law schools are “non-profits,” and therefore becoming a law professor, for legal purposes, counts as a form of public service work! This means that instead of paying $2,500 per month for ten years or $1,560 per month for 25 years — the sums the commenter would have to pay to retire $210,000 of educational debt under the standard ten year and extended 25 year plans — the commenter will start off only having to pay $690 per month, which barely covers half of the interest on them. After ten years, assuming COL raises, the commenter will have close to $300,000 in principal debt — but at that point the debt will be forgiven, and the forgiven sum doesn’t even get imputed as income for tax purposes, as it would if the commenter had been in the private sector (also PAYE doesn’t forgive debt for private sector workers until after 20 years of payments, not ten). Nice work if you can get it . . .

Happy 70th Keith Richards

[ 91 ] December 18, 2013 |

kr

Lift a glass to a man who beat the odds.

Added to satisfy Lemieux (and also because it’s pretty great):

Also:

There would be enough legal jobs for law graduates if law schools hadn’t slashed admissions standards

[ 69 ] December 17, 2013 |

animal house

The ABA has just released first year enrollment figures for the fall of 2013 at the nation’s 202 ABA-approved law schools. 39,675 students enrolled this fall, marking the third straight year that has featured a steep decline, after enrollment reached an all-time high of 52,488 in 2010. You have to go back to 1975 to find a smaller first year class (Attempts to fill the gap with ever-more non-JD students seem to have stalled, as schools enrolled almost exactly the same number of non-JD students this year as last).

What’s particularly striking about these numbers is that first year enrollment is down by 24.4% even though admissions standards have been slashed all across legal academia (Yale, Harvard and Stanford are the only elite schools that haven’t dropped admissions standards, and many non-elite schools have cut median LSAT scores for admits by ten percentage points or more).

In 2004, 55.8% of 100,600 applicants were accepted to at least one school, and 47.9% of applicants ended up enrolling: this fall, about 76.8% of 59,400 applicants were accepted, and 66.8% ended up enrolling. Applicant totals are heading down to a projected total of about 51,300 in this admissions cycle, which means that if law schools had maintained the admissions standards that prevailed a decade ago, next fall’s incoming class would feature about 24,600 matriculants, which is a number about 13% larger than the average annual total of jobs for lawyers that the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates will become available over the course of this decade. (Actually applicant totals would probably be even lower if so many schools hadn’t started offering to admit anyone with a college degree who can sign a federal educational loan document, but let’s not make this hypothetical unnecessarily complicated). Since currently about 10% of matriculants fail to graduate, simply maintaining admissions standards would have essentially eliminated the current oversupply of law graduates.

Len Dawson, half time of the first Super Bowl, 1/15/1967

[ 86 ] December 13, 2013 |

The drink is a Fresca.

len dawson

Thomas Jefferson School of Law slashes jobs, salaries, and budget

[ 42 ] December 12, 2013 |

The new dean at TJSL has apparently been brought in to clean up the mess created by his predecessor, and he’s not being too shy about the fact:

I do not know how Thomas Jefferson became the whipping boy for critics of legal education. We must, however, be honest with ourselves; many of our troubles are the result of our own missteps, our own failure to plan, and our own failure to address problems in a timely fashion. My immediate plan and promise to you is that we will take aggressive and transparent action to confront these challenges. Since July 1, we have taken what I think are positive, though at times painful, steps to address the most critical challenges, whether self-imposed or systemic. Let me give you three examples.

First, while a general decline in enrollment is a systemic problem, we did not help the situation by allowing an unsustainable growth in the administrative structure of the school or building a facility as grand as ours. But, as you may have seen in press reports, the law school made severe cuts to its budget in response to the nationwide decline in applications. The reports did not paint the full nature of those cuts. For fiscal year 2014, the law school made cuts, totaling $4,798,081. Among other things, we layed-off 12 staff members, eliminated many more unfilled open positions, cut staff salaries by a minimum of 5%, cut faculty salaries by a minimum of 8%. In spite of these cuts, I am proud to say that 100% of the faculty contributed to this year’s annual fund.

Skimming TJSL’s tax filings for FY2012, it appears the new dean has cut the school’s operating budget by nearly 10%. As of 18 months ago TJSL’s balance sheet looked pretty shaky: the school appears to be almost 100% dependent on tuition, with a bit of rental income thrown in (if it has an endowment I can’t find it in its financials).

The school’s only significant asset is an extremely expensive and very heavily leveraged new law building: the institution’s net worth, as of 18 months ago, was equivalent to about five months of its current operating costs. Its bonds have been downgraded to junk status. (Per S&P, “management does not anticipate meeting the [school's] financial covenants until 2018.”)

Even by today’s grisly standards, employment outcomes for TJSL grads are almost unbelievably bad: a glance at its NALP report suggests that perhaps a quarter of the 2012 graduating class got real legal jobs, very loosely defined (21 of 260 graduates were reported to be making salaries of $56,750 or more nine months after graduation). Almost all these jobs were with tiny law firms (ten or fewer attorneys); only seven graduates got government positions, four as PDs and three as DAs. More than a third of the class was simply unemployed nine months after graduation.

TJSL doesn’t give out much in the way of tuition discounts, with the average student paying around 85% of the school’s $47,300 nominal sticker price (current nine-month cost of attendance is estimated at $72,000 by the school). If you include accrued interest the 98% of the 2012 graduating class with law school debt had just under $200,000 in such debt. This doesn’t include undergraduate debt (Again, the federal government will loan $216,000 over three years to anyone TJSL chooses to admit, assuming that person has not already defaulted on other loans.)

Obviously, even the most mild reform in the absurd process by which higher education in general, and post-graduate education in particular, is funded in America would put TJSL out of business immediately. (The school’s enrollment is shrinking very rapidly, with the last three first year classes featuring 440, 387, and 265 students respectively, despite moving to a quasi-open enrollment policy. While the school traditionally admitted about 45% of applicants, that number was up to 73% in 2012. And since a very large number of TJSL students transfer or flunk out after their first year, graduating classes tend to be only about two thirds the size of entering classes). Even without any reform, it may well be the first ABA law school to keel over, in which case the votaries of “the market” will undoubtedly celebrate another triumph of their mysterious god.

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