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Good for the goose

[ 109 ] October 6, 2013 |

Now here’s an interesting idea:

The debt ceiling turns out to be unexploded ordnance lying around the American form of government. Only custom or moral compunction stops the opposition party from using it to nullify the president’s powers, or, for that matter, the president from using it to nullify Congress’s. (Obama could, theoretically, threaten to veto a debt ceiling hike unless Congress attaches it to the creation of single-payer health insurance.) [emphasis added] To weaponize the debt ceiling, you must be willing to inflict harm on millions of innocent people. It is a shockingly powerful self-destruct button built into our very system of government, but only useful for the most ideologically hardened or borderline sociopathic. But it turns out to be the perfect tool for the contemporary GOP: a party large enough to control a chamber of Congress yet too small to win the presidency, and infused with a dangerous, millenarian combination of overheated Randian paranoia and fully justified fear of adverse demographic trends. The only thing that limits the debt ceiling’s potency at the moment is the widespread suspicion that Boehner is too old school, too lacking in the Leninist will to power that fires his newer co-partisans, to actually carry out his threat. (He has suggested as much to some colleagues in private.) Boehner himself is thus the one weak link in the House Republicans’ ability to carry out a kind of rolling coup against the Obama administration. Unfortunately, Boehner’s control of his chamber is tenuous enough that, like the ailing monarch of a crumbling regime, it’s impossible to strike an agreement with him in full security it will be carried out.

“Theoretically.” Hmmm . . .

Chait of course isn’t suggesting either that Obama actually do this, or that he would even consider it. But the point is that once a system starts going far enough down this road the logic of hostage-taking pretty much demands symmetrical behavior by the executive, who is in fact in a stronger position to extract concessions, since he only needs cooperation from one third of the members of one legislative chamber. (Which I take it is a point that flows out of Linz’s analysis, although I’m not familiar with it).

Read the whole thing,.

Don’t Go To Law School (Unless) in flowchart form

[ 69 ] October 3, 2013 |

strangelove

Connecticut attorney Samuel Browning has distilled my book Don’t Go To Law School (Unless) into the purity of its essence, via a flowchart. Matt Leichter has posted the chart on his great blog The Law School Tuition Bubble. So anybody who is thinking of dropping $250,000 on law school but doesn’t want to invest $4.99 in the book can use this instead.

Dealing with the crash, Pt. 3

[ 62 ] October 1, 2013 |

This post is part of a series. Earlier installments are here and here.

The first two posts in this series looked at a school (Iowa) that has dealt with the crash in demand for law school admissions by drastically cutting its class size, and another (American) that has reacted by slashing its admissions standards. This post looks at a school that has done both.

Hofstra’s law school is a classic example of an institution whose very reason for being has become at the least highly questionable. Located in the hyper-saturated New York City-area legal market (there are about 15 law schools within 100 miles of its campus), Hofstra nominally charges a preposterous $49,500 in annual tuition and fees, even though half of the 2012 graduating class didn’t get legal jobs, and a grand total of 17% of graduates reported salaries of $55,000 or more nine months after graduation.

The 78% of the class that incurred law school debt had average loan balances of approximately $150,000 six months after graduation. That more than one in four graduates had no law school debt at all at a school with a nominal annual attendance cost of more than $70,000 says a great deal about the SES of the nearly one quarter to of the class that is paying — or more accurately whose families are paying — cash on the barrel for the privilege of attending the nation’s 89th-ranked ABA law school (out of 202).

Over the last three years Hofstra has, even more than American, defenestrated its admission standards. Three years ago the entering class’s median GPA was 3.58; this fall it is 3.14 (This latter figure is now lower than that of all but a handful of bottom-tier law schools with frankly quasi-open admissions policies). Over the past two years the entering class’s median LSAT has gone from 159 (77.6th percentile) to 154 (59.7th); a quarter of the new entering class has LSAT scores lower than those of the average test-taker.

None of this has stopped the school’s matriculant numbers from cratering — from 370 1Ls in 2011 to 320 in 2012 to 215 this fall. Apparently Hofstra has been losing out in the transfer game as well, with the result that total JD enrollment has fallen from 1,074 two years ago to 850 today.

As for actual tuition revenues, Hofstra is notorious for giving “scholarships” to about two-thirds of students who matriculate — actually straight discounts on nominal tuition — that more than half of these recipients lose, because retention requires remaining in the top 40% of the class.

Some back of the envelope math, taking into account nominal tuition, tuition discounts, scholarship retention rates, and overall enrollment, indicates that over the past two years Hofstra’s tuition revenue has fallen from approximately $37.5 million per year to $28.05 million. Because law schools like Hofstra tend to depend on tuition for around 80% of their operating revenue, (the rest comes from endowment income, annual fundraising, grants, and various subsidiary income sources such as building rental, CLE programs, parking and other vending etc.) this suggests that, keeping the ratio between other law school revenues and expenses constant, over the past two years the annual gap between Hofstra’s tuition revenue and its total operating expenses has increased from around $9.5 million to about $19 million.

The $47 million question, of course, was whether and to what extent Hofstra was running an operating surplus (i.e., to what extent if at all it was a “cash cow” that cross-subsidized other university operations) before its tuition revenue crashed. If the school was kicking ten million per year to central way back in 2011 (possible, but unlikely, from what I’ve seen of recent law school budgets) then it’s breaking even now, which is something central is no doubt quite unhappy about, but which doesn’t count as a major crisis — probably — for the school, at least in the short run. On the other hand, if Hofstra’s law school has, like so many other schools, engaged in profligate spending over the past few years while playing the rankings and prestige game, and was therefore only more or less breaking even or already running a deficit a couple of years ago, then . . .

The 30 greatest offensive seasons in baseball history

[ 164 ] September 30, 2013 |

Per Baseball Reference.

Rank Player (age that year) Offensive WAR Year Bats
1. Barry Bonds (36) 12.4 2001 L
2. Babe Ruth+ (26) 12.2 1921 L
Babe Ruth+ (28) 12.2 1923 L
4. Barry Bonds (37) 11.8 2002 L
Babe Ruth+ (25) 11.8 1920 L
6. Rogers Hornsby+ (28) 11.5 1924 R
7. Barry Bonds (39) 11.4 2004 L
Honus Wagner+ (34) 11.4 1908 R
9. Lou Gehrig+ (24) 11.3 1927 L
Mickey Mantle+ (25) 11.3 1957 B
11. Rogers Hornsby+ (26) 11.2 1922 R
Babe Ruth+ (32) 11.2 1927 L
13. Babe Ruth+ (31) 11.0 1926 L
14. Ted Williams+ (22) 10.9 1941 L
15. Babe Ruth+ (29) 10.8 1924 L
16. Mickey Mantle+ (24) 10.7 1956 B
Stan Musial+ (27) 10.7 1948 L
18. Ty Cobb+ (30) 10.6 1917 L
Mickey Mantle+ (29) 10.6 1961 B
20. Ted Williams+ (27) 10.5 1946 L
21. Babe Ruth+ (36) 10.4 1931 L
22. Ty Cobb+ (24) 10.2 1911 L
Lou Gehrig+ (31) 10.2 1934 L
Rogers Hornsby+ (29) 10.2 1925 R
25. Nap Lajoie+ (35) 10.1 1910 R
Ted Williams+ (23) 10.1 1942 L
27. Jimmie Foxx+ (24) 10.0 1932 R
Rogers Hornsby+ (32) 10.0 1928 R
Babe Ruth+ (35) 10.0 1930 L
Mike Trout (21) 10.0 2013 R

Comments:

PEDs must have been unusually beneficial in Bonds’ case.

Mickey Mantle is, oddly enough, one of the more under-rated hitters of all time.

Mike Trout is, in baseball terms, radically younger than anyone else on this list other than Ted Williams (in regard to projecting future performance, there’s an enormous difference between 21 and 24).

Could it be that the GOP’s methods have become . . .

[ 36 ] September 27, 2013 |

kurtz

. . . unsound?

This message showed up today in the in-boxes of a whole lot of lawyers:

“In the event of a government shutdown on October 1, 2013, the federal judiciary will remain open for business for approximately ten business days. On or around October 15, 2013, the Judiciary will reassess its situation and provide further guidance. All proceedings and deadlines remain in effect as scheduled, unless otherwise advised. Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) will remain in operation for the electronic filing of documents with courts.”

Dealing with the crash, Pt. 2

[ 58 ] September 27, 2013 |

wcl

This post is part of a series. The first post is here.. A third post is here.

Background information here.

I got a particularly glossy and garish bit of law porn in my mailbox yesterday, from American University’s Washington College of Law. It highlighted the school’s current one hundred and something million dollar building project, (a live stream of which can be viewed here), which is erecting a voluptuous and gleaming structure among the leafy streets of northwest Washington’s Tinley Park Tenleytown neighborhood.

American is arguably the biggest ripoff going in legal academia, as it combines “prestige” of a sort (it is normally ranked among the top quarter of ABA law schools) with sky-high sticker attendance costs (estimated as $71,070 per year for 2013-14), very little in the way of tuition discounts (more than 60% of the class is currently paying sticker, and almost all the rest get a miserly $10,000 discount off that $70K bill), and wretched employment statistics, which have combined to produce a massively indebted and seriously depressed student body.

In these increasingly transparent times, the school tries to disguise these facts with a bunch of malarkey about how a law degree from American will allow prospective admits to “champion what matters”

The school markets itself as deeply committed to serving the public interest, which is an accurate characterization if serving the public interest is defined as transferring increasingly large sums of taxpayer money in the form of non-dischargeable educational loans into the bank accounts of law school administrators and faculty. Prospective AU law students are lured with visions of writing Brandeis briefs about polar bears for the DC office of the Environmental Defense Fund, without being warned that these days it’s actually easier to get a job at Wachtell than an even moderately sexy public interest position.

Moving right along . . . despite the seemingly endless supply of naive young people who can be snookered by this kind of thing, it’s heartening to note that the law school reform movement has helped crash AU’s applicant pool, which has shrunk from 9,000 three years ago to 5,800 this fall. Like other schools, American had and has three options for dealing with this unpleasant and potentially unprofitable development, which are to reduce the size of its class, the cost of attendance, or the selectivity of its admissions — or some combination of these strategies.

While the University of Iowa represents a school that appears to have gone all in with the first option, American has shoved in its chips with the third. This fall’s entering class of 474 1Ls is at just about the average size for AU entering classes over the last decade, and while real as opposed to nominal tuition data isn’t officially available yet, all indications are that the school didn’t up its very small “scholarship” budget.

What it did instead was continue to slash admissions standards. The median LSAT for the entering class has declined from the 86th to the 70th percentile in just two years, and, even more tellingly, since 2009 the 25th percentile for full-time matriculants has fallen a startling seven points — from 160 (the 80.4 percentile) to 153, which is barely above average for LSAT takers (55.6%). To get some sense of what the latter stat signifies, consider that a decade ago, only 55.6% of all law school applicants were getting into any law school, and that only about two-thirds of LSAT takers even bothered to apply to law school at all.

Amusingly, even as it trends toward an open door policy for modestly qualified applicants, American has become particularly aggressive about practicing what is known in the trade as “yield protection.” This is the practice of rejecting or more often wait listing highly qualified applicants, in order to game admission stats for the purpose of the ever-pernicious rankings. The way this works is that part of a school’s ranking is based on its “selectivity,” which is measured by what percentage of applicants it offers admission end up enrolling. What American did in this last cycle was to wait list or reject almost everybody who applied with a 166 LSAT or higher, which under the circumstances is sort of like sending Salma Hayek an email informing her that you won’t be asking her out tonight after all.

Field of nightmares

[ 78 ] September 25, 2013 |

This is the first of what may be a series of posts about how law schools are dealing with the sharp decline in demand for legal education. (The second post is here. The third is here).

The University of Iowa is currently the 26th-ranked (out of 202 ABA law schools) law school in the nation, per the US News rankings. Iowa is typical of fairly highly ranked law schools at state flagship universities, in that it has raised tuition drastically over the past ten to fifteen years. In state tuition has gone from $7,100 per year in 1999 to $28,047 this year, while out of state tuition has risen from $17,600 to $49,025.

Graduate debt has risen rapidly as well: members of the 2012 graduate class averaged around $110,000 in total law school debt alone when the first payments of their loans came due in November of last year. Such debt levels would be problematic under any circumstances, but despite the school’s relatively lofty ranking, very few Iowa graduates get high-paying jobs with large law firms (17 of 185 2012 graduates got such jobs), and only 53 graduates in the class (28.6%) were reported to have a salary of $57,408 or more.

Until about six years ago, the school typically enrolled 215 to 240 JD students each year, and had at any one time around 650 to 700 such students in total (Iowa usually loses a few students on net in the post-1L transfer market).

Then a few years ago the school’s entering classes began to shrink, slowly at first, then quite suddenly:

Total JD students enrolled

2004: 712
2005: 656
2006: 644
2007: 633
2008: 616
2009: 590
2010: 574
2011: 550

In the fall of 2012, only 155 1Ls matriculated – by far the smallest class the school had seen in decades. Total enrollment fell to 517: nearly 200 less than the 712 students attending the school in 2004. Then this fall the bottom fell out. Although the school hasn’t officially announced its entering class numbers, the university’s on-line enrollment system shows only 95 first-year students matriculated last month. This story essentially confirms that number, as it reveals only 422 students (I assume this means JD students; Iowa does have an LLM program) are enrolled this fall. Total enrollment has declined 41% since 2004, and first year enrollment is down an even more startling 62% since 2004.

Why has enrollment at Iowa declined so sharply? The precise reasons are no doubt complex, but a simple answer is largely sufficient: because the school has neither reduced admissions standards nor cut real tuition (real tuition = nominal tuition minus “scholarships,” i.e., deep tuition discounts for students with high LSAT and GPA scores, cross-subsidized by students with lower scores who pay full price).

The entering 75th/median/25th LSAT percentiles for last fall’s entering class were actually higher than those of the much larger classes from a few years earlier, and while the stats for this year’s class haven’t yet been released, it seems clear that a willingness to admit a class less than half the size of the school’s traditional 1L group indicates that the school is refusing to cut admissions standards at all. Meanwhile the real cost of tuition to attend the school, as measured by nominal tuition minus discounts, continues to rise.

It’s an interesting strategy, although one that doesn’t seem sustainable, especially given that the school’s student to faculty ratio has declined from 15.5 to 1 in 2009 to 10.8 to 1 last year (I’ve been told that the faculty features a large number of very old very highly paid professors who appear to have no intention of ever retiring). At any rate, these numbers suggest that the school is experiencing a radical decline in its revenues relative to expenses. Indeed the school at present is likely to be losing a great deal of money — something which most universities (though not all) are unwilling to tolerate from schools that have traditionally been profit centers.

Iowa’s strategy is just one of several being pursued by law America’s law schools, as they confront a world in which something resembling accurate entry-level employment statistics for law graduates are now widely available, and (not coincidentally) it is suddenly no longer possible to indulge in unending consequence-free tuition increases that fund reckless institutional spending sprees, while remaining willfully blind to the effects of these policies on law school graduates.

Mmmm . . . donuts

[ 91 ] September 24, 2013 |

krispy kreme

KRISPY KREMES FOR ATTORNEY WORK (CHATWORTH, SAN FERNANDO VALLEY)
Needing a Seasoned Lawyer who’s familiar with civil suits filed at the Chatsworth courthouse. Will agree to a modest cash donation and for your time will also deliver 2 Dozen Krispy Kremes to your firm each Friday for 2 months if you can help me negotiate a settlement with Mandarich and make this Go Away! Please email phone number will call you back quickly Thanks a lot!

Location: CHATWORTH, SAN FERNANDO VALLEY
Compensation: Krispy Kremes plus Cash for Services Rendered
This is a part-time job.
Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster.
Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

Posting ID: 4081080825

Posted: 2013-09-20, 8:37PM PDT

Updated: 2013-09-20, 8:47PM PDT

September 19, 1973

[ 34 ] September 19, 2013 |

Gram Parsons died 40 years ago today, at the age of 26.

An brief appreciation, with links to six other songs.

Did climate change cause the Great Colorado Flood of 2013?

[ 40 ] September 18, 2013 |

I don’t know anything about climate science, but the rain we got last week in Boulder was truly freakish — instead of a short intense thunderstorm (the usual mode of rainfall in these parts) we had many hours of non-stop deluges, of a sort I’ve only seen in the tropics before.

Mass shootings, homicide, and the politics of gun control

[ 72 ] September 18, 2013 |

Mass shootings actually aren’t on the rise, homicide in America rates are half of what they were 20 years ago — although still far higher than in other Western nations — and meaningful gun control isn’t a political possibility in this culture at this time.

Credibility struggles

[ 94 ] September 17, 2013 |

It turns out that Elizabeth O’Bagy was never even accepted into the Georgetown graduate program from which she claimed to have already acquired a Ph.D.:

O’Bagy, whose work on the Syrian opposition was hailed by Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), was fired from her job as the lead Syria researcher at the Institute for the Study of War on Sept. 10 after it was revealed that she misled her bosses by telling them she had completed a dissertation defense for a Georgetown Ph.D. Subsequently, questions arose as to whether or not O’Bagy was ever enrolled in the joint MA/Ph.D. program that she claimed in her official biography.

O’Bagy confirmed to The Daily Beast that she was only enrolled in a master’s program at Georgetown and had applied to join the joint MA/Ph.D. program but was never accepted.

The psychology of this sort of thing is interesting. As several LGM commenters pointed out when this story first broke last week, it’s not like you have to have a Ph.D. to get on the wingnut warmonger conservative expert on foreign affairs talking head circuit in D.C.

Perhaps these people lie just to keep in practice.

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