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If I had a million dollars, Part II

[ 10 ] July 19, 2013 |

In an earlier post, I argue that The Economic Value of a Law Degree exaggerates the value of a degree to people enrolling in law school now by using a mean rather than a median figure, by excluding taxes, and most of all by failing to account for the cost of acquiring a degree. I conclude that, even accepting all of the authors’ data and methods as sound, the value of a degree to prospective law students would more accurately be characterized as about $100,000 rather than $1,000,000.

In this post I will critique some of the authors’ data, methods, and the interpretations they draw from them. Read more…

If I had a million dollars

[ 79 ] July 19, 2013 |

The legal internets are atwitter with talk of a new paper which suggests that a law degree is worth a million dollars. It’s an interesting exercise in econometric advocacy, and I’m going to spend some time analyzing the authors’ claims.

I’m going to proceed in two parts. First, I’m going to assume for the purposes of argument that the paper’s interpretation of its data is correct in regard to the value of law degrees acquired in the past, and that, as they argue, there is no good reason to assume this value will not be maintained in regard to law degrees acquired in the future. Then I’ll critique those assumptions. Read more…

Has Florida Coastal just fired 20% of its faculty?

[ 83 ] July 18, 2013 |

Updated below

Two weeks ago, Florida Coastal School of Law issued a press release:

Florida Coastal School of Law has laid off about a dozen employees.

The job cuts are across the board in the support staff services areas for the law school on Jacksonville’s Southside off Baymeadows Road, said Brooks Terry, communication director for the school. He said Tuesday that most of the job cuts are reflective of a drop in enrollment for fall classes at the small campus, which has about 1,300 students.

He said he didn’t have specific numbers.

In addition to staff cuts, Terry said there is some natural attrition of a limited number of faculty members voluntarily leaving who will not be replaced. But he stressed no faculty members were laid off in the process.

Shortly afterwards I got a phone call from FCSL faculty member, who told me that he/she had just been fired. When a Wall Street Journal reporter called me a few days later to discuss law school faculty layoffs, I suggested the reporter contact Florida Coastal. The school’s administration told the reporter there had been no involuntary attrition of faculty, and FCSL wasn’t mentioned in the WSJ story earlier this week on shrinking law school faculties.

After I talked to the WSJ, I got the following message from another FCSL professor:

It’s a complete sham what’s happening. They’ve gotten rid of 20% of the faculty by putting a gun to their head, including seven of the original faculty members of the school. [FCSL was founded in 1996]. They’ve gotten rid of anybody with institutional knowledge. 14 faculty members were let go last week with less than a week’s notice. They’ve also gotten rid of the younger faculty members who dared to speak out and questioned some of the school’s practices. There’s been no natural attrition, except perhaps in one or two cases.

I’ve tried to get the school’s president and a couple of its faculty members to respond to these assertions, without success. (The faculty page on the school’s web site does not indicate that a bunch of people have been fired, as the roster is with one exception identical to what it was two months ago. This is not terribly meaningful, however, as the page currently includes two people who have told me directly they are no longer on the faculty — one who says he/she was fired two weeks ago, and another who says he/she left voluntarily at the end of June).

Florida Coastal is a for-profit school (six of the ABA’s 202 accredited law schools are for-profit), and enrollment has been plunging. First year enrollment declined from a staggering 808 in 2010 to 570 last fall. In addition no less than 114 of the school’s 671 2011 1Ls transferred to other law schools last summer, while 84 others flunked out. (I suspect that the good folks at Sterling Partners, which owns FCSL, view academic attrition as similar to kicking willing buyers off a car lot. See the press release below for evidence that someone is trying to put a stop to such an obviously counterproductive business strategy).

This morning the school issued a press release, announcing that it was accepting applications from people who just got their June LSAT score for next month’s entering class, and publicizing the school’s new “Assured Outcomes Partnership.”

Students who follow the program, but are academically dismissed after their first year will receive a $10,000 tuition refund from the school. Likewise, Assured Outcomes students who do not pass the bar exam the first time, despite adhering to the terms, will receive a living stipend while preparing for the next exam administration and supplemental bar exam preparation materials at no cost. After a second unsuccessful bar exam attempt, eligible students will receive $10,000 from the school.

Perhaps the ABA will look into the question of whether the school is lying to the media in order to keep its incoming class from being limited to people who are expecting deposits into their bank accounts from the widows of Nigerian generals.

Update: I just received this in the form of an email (it’s also posted as a comment):

Professor Campos, my name is Chidi Ogene and I am the Dean of Florida Coastal School of Law. I am surprised to read that you contacted members of the administration, both because I did not receive any email from you and also because I was the person to speak with the Wall Street Journal reporter. You accused us of “lying to the media,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Some of our faculty members have indicated their interest in resigning, retiring or continuing in a different role with the school. However, because of the confidential nature of our discussions, we are not able to discuss this in any more detail or otherwise respond to rumors. If any of our students have questions regarding this matter, I strongly encourage them to contact the administration directly.

We understand the lurid fascination with the existential crisis law schools supposedly are experiencing. Your disappointment that our school is not, despite your best efforts, included on a law school “death watch” is palpable. But it is not our job to indulge your morbid concern with us. We’d much rather focus on our continued successes in practical, experiential education, such as our moot court victories and our innovative curriculum redesign. That is the real story of our school, and we are both proud of our legacy and excited about our future. Finally, as a proud Nigerian-American, I take great exception to the last line of your post. One would hope that, as a trained lawyer, you would be loath to traffic in broad caricatures and stereotypes.

First, Interim Dean Ogene ought to insist that his school’s web site be updated to reflect his ascension (?) last month from his position as General Counsel of Infilaw (the company owned by Sterling Partners that also owns Phoenix and Charlotte, two other for-profit law schools). I contacted the president of the school and two other senior administrators. I would of course have contacted him if I had been aware of his existence.

As for the dean’s specific complaints, I leave it to readers to decide for themselves whether it seems at all plausible that “some” (how many? — my guess is 20%) of the school’s faculty have developed a sudden spontaneous interest in resigning, retiring, or otherwise altering their relationship with the school in a way that will prove less burdensome to what to all indications appears to be a severely strained budget.

I would like to apologize to 419 scammers for associating them with Infilaw, however.

(Any current or former FCSL employee who would like to contact me can do so at paul.campos@colorado.edu. All communications will be treated in strict confidence).

Is Hamline Law School on its last legs?

[ 60 ] July 16, 2013 |

The Wall Street Journal has a story today about law schools shrinking faculties via attrition, buyouts, and layoffs, in the face of the continuing slide in applicants (over the past three years total applicants to ABA schools have declined from 88,000 to around 59,000, and total number of LSAT takers for last month’s test was down yet again).

One school the story discussed was Hamline:

Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., for example, has shrunk its full-time faculty about 18% since 2010, and the school is exploring ways to further scale back its head count. Ten faculty members have retired since the school began offering early-retirement incentives in 2011, and four more have accepted agreements and plan to retire in the coming academic year.

That has allowed the regional law school to balance its budget amid what Hamline Dean Don Lewis calls “the tsunami effect” of declining enrollment nationwide. This year’s entering class at Hamline is expected to be about 100 students, Mr. Lewis said—a 55% drop from 2010. To lure more students, the school has ramped up financial-aid offers, a strategy that can compound financial pressures.

“I’m pretty confident about our future,” said Mr. Lewis, who is stepping down as dean next year. “But the turnaround will be slow.”

It’s Lewis’s job to sound an optimistic in these circumstances (although he himself is leaving academia to return to the law firm he helped found), but in fact there’s a significant chance that Hamline University will decide to close the law school within the next year or two.

Here are the relevant numbers:

(1) The school’s enrollment is in free fall. Until last year a typical entering class at Hamline was 205-235 students, and total JD enrollment was consequently around 650 to 715. Then last year the entering class plunged to 124. The story quotes Lewis as expecting “about 100″ matriculants next month, but a well-placed source tells me that as of last week the school had received seat deposits from between 80 and 90 applicants. Since at law schools the number of July seat deposits is less than the subsequent August enrolllment, and sometimes considerably less (schools lose deposited applicants to other schools who pull people off wait lists late in the summer; in addition some people think better of enrolling at the last minute), an entering class of 100 for Hamline seems extremely optimistic.

(2) Hamline will probably have a total of about 400 JD students this fall. This is already down 40% from total enrollment two years ago, yet fully half of those students will graduate next spring. There are only going to be about 200 total students in the first and second years, which means that total JD enrollment is likely to fall to around 300 next year — down from 716 in 2009.

(3) The numbers are actually even worse than this, however, because Hamline has been cutting real tuition. Four years ago, 43% of Hamline JD students were getting discounts off tuition, and the average discount was about $19,000 the $30,500 nominal tuition. This past year, 60% of students were getting discounts that averaged $26,000 off the $36,400 nominal tuition. In other words, Hamline is getting less tuition per student than it was four years ago. Indeed if you do the math, total tuition revenues this fall will be barely half of what they were in 2009, and will fall sharply again next year.

(4) The Twin Cities are a relatively small legal market. Hamline is one of four law schools in the metro area, which under current and foreseeable conditions is about two too many.

(5) Hamline University is a small institution, with around 2100 undergraduates, and a total university operating budget of around $120,000,000. It also has a very small endowment, that throws off just a few million per year (all this is taken from the school’s IRS tax filings). The reduction in law school tuition over the past two years alone equals something like 5% of the entire university’s operating budget. All of which is to say that Hamline isn’t some multi-billion dollar behemoth that can decide to carry a law school that’s bleeding red for a few years without doing too much damage to the university’s bottom line.

Speaking of the bottom line, if you’re one of the few dozen people currently scheduled to start law school at Hamline next month, you may want to re-think your plans — or at least do a careful head count on the first day of orientation. You might also want to make inquiries into what the school’s contingency plans are for its students should the university close the law school.

Steve Diamond is still confused by claims that his employer published misleading employment stats

[ 16 ] July 15, 2013 |

When we last reviewed his oeuvre here at LGM, Prof. Steve Diamond, a political scientist on the faculty of Santa Clara’s law school, was arguing that people trying to reform the structure of American legal education were secretly attempting to limit legal education to white males.

Here’s a revealing glimpse into the professor’s research methods, courtesy of The Faculty Lounge.

A post noting the appointment of Janet Napolitano as the new head of the University of California system inspired Diamond to point out that she is an alumna of Santa Clara College University. This in turn caused a commenter to ask Diamond if he might care to explain how Santa Clara Law School came to post especially egregious phony employment stats:

Santa Clara, a Jesuit institution devoted to social justice, was particularly adept at pulling two specific scams on its students. It parked ungodly numbers of students (it was No. 1 in the country, by far!) into the “unemployed and not seeking employment” category, which briefly allowed Santa Clara to publish misleadingly rosy employment stats. Second, it was near the top nationwide in pulling the ol’ “we promise scholarships but ensure that few students can actually retain them.” Social justice? You decide.

But perhaps Professor Diamond is right. What Santa Clara does on the sly to it students prepares the students for a world of sleazy stealth layoffs, false performance review, and pre-textual firings. Who ever said that law schools can’t prepare students for the real world? Santa Clara does.

Diamond responded by addressing the second point about scholarships with some Ayn Rand-style nonsense, while ignoring the matter of fake employment numbers. The commenter asked again:

Santa Clara stood alone, far alone, at the top of the list for exploiting the “unemployed not seeking work” category when that category worked as a loophole to avoid reporting accurate employment stats. No school came remotely close. Professor Diamond, why did SCU report that way? Who made that decision? And the reason that SCU won’t report that way again is because the trick no longer is a loophole, correct? The practice was deceptive, correct? Please answer.

After Diamond made another non-responsive reply, the commenter noted that “itt is revealing that Professor Diamond will not explain why Santa Clara falsely parked so many students into the loophole category.”

To which Diamond replied:

Claims of a school acting “falsely” or engaging in “gaming” should not be made anonymously or without substantiation.

You have not yet taken me up on my offer to discuss the basis of your claims directly so I assume you either have no basis for them or are not serious about resolving any problems related to them.

If you change your mind, please let me know.

The basis for the commenter’s claims consists of the ABA’s graduate employment data base, which the organization was finally pressured into making public last year. Here’s what it reveals regarding Santa Clara’s practices:

What the poster is referring to is that until March of 2011 US News excluded graduates who were categorized as “unemployed not seeking employment” from its employment percentage calculation. A school’s unemployment rate was calculated by USN by dividing the total number of graduates by the number of unemployed graduates seeking employment nine months after graduation.

So, for example, Harvard reported an employment rate of 97.3%, because 16 of its 589 2010 graduates were unemployed and seeking employment nine months after graduation. The three 2010 graduates who Harvard reported as unemployed not seeking employment were excluded from this calculation.

Santa Clara, interestingly, was reported by US News to have a better employment rate for its 2010 graduates than Harvard, even though 20% of the class didn’t have a job of any kind nine months after graduation, in comparison to 3.2% of Harvard’s 2010 graduates. This is because while only 15% of Harvard’s unemployed graduates were categorized by the school as not seeking work (this is a typical percentage), 90% of the one fifth of Santa Clara’s class that was unemployed were categorized by the school in this way. It turns out that 55 of Santa Clara’s 61 unemployed 2010 grads (out of 305 total graduates) weren’t looking for jobs. Apparently, while only 0.5% of Harvard law graduates don’t desire employment within nine months of graduation, 18% of Santa Clara law graduates went to school for purposes other than getting a job.

Or, to put it another way, these data suggest Santa Clara grads were 36 times more likely to not seek employment upon graduation than Harvard grads.

The race card

[ 150 ] July 13, 2013 |

The Zimmerman verdict.

California’s illegal prison sterilization program

[ 84 ] July 10, 2013 |

I have a piece on California’s illegal prison sterilization program. (I hadn’t realized how horrendous the facts actually were in Buck v. Bell).

Over-qualification and unemployment

[ 61 ] July 9, 2013 |

If you’re stuck in a cab in Bangalore with Tom Friedman, you’re probably going to end up hearing about how the key to competitiveness for American workers is more education. One problem with this line of argument could be called the It Can’t Hurt fallacy: the idea that the worst case scenario for choosing more schooling is incurring direct (usually debt-financed) and indirect opportunity costs that result in no significant improvement in the graduate’s employment prospects.

The reality is quite different:

Paul Krugman’s column summarized the problems of job hunters quite well. Often overlooked is that 50 percent of the employed are dissatisfied enough with their jobs to also submit their résumés, resulting in thousands of applications for advertised jobs.

Employers use sophisticated applicant tracking software to schedule interviews with only a handful of candidates who seem a 100 percent job match. Overqualified candidates are rejected as well, practically eliminating the chance for anyone unemployed to take on a lesser job.

In the past, an applicant could “simplify” a résumé to get at least some work to pay the bills. This doesn’t seem to work anymore, as recruiters do Web searches that can easily reveal an applicant’s advanced education and skills.

(Referenced Krugman column is here.)

I see this all the time in the legal world: people find that getting a JD actually hurts their job prospects, not just because they can’t get jobs as lawyers (48% of the national class of 2012 didn’t have real legal jobs nine months after graduation), but because, despite self-serving claims of legal academic administrators and faculty that a law degree is “versatile,” most non-legal employers consider a law degree either a negative or a flat disqualification for a job candidate. (Perhaps the most stark example of this is provided by paralegals who quit good jobs to go to law school, then discover that employers won’t hire people with JDs to do paralegal work).

And, as the quoted letter indicates, in the contemporary panopticon it’s becoming increasingly impractical to take a degree off your resume, while hoping an employer isn’t too inquisitive, or perhaps coming up with some acceptable-sounding explanation for the biographical lacunae. In a googled world, the discreet resume gap is ceasing to exist.

I have no idea to what extent the over-qualification trap has been or is becoming a problem for people in other graduate and professional schools, but I would be surprised if this is limited to law graduates.

Six or seven people shot by foreign terrorists in Winnetka

[ 73 ] July 7, 2013 |

Sorry . . . that should have read “67 people shot by well-armed Americans in Chicago.”

Not much of a story after all.

Does your conscience bother you?

[ 58 ] July 6, 2013 |

Updated below

Erik’s latest post regarding MOOCs and the very interesting discussion thread it generated raises a critical question: to what extent will technological innovations in the structure of higher education generate efficiencies that will be passed on to students, and to what extent will those innovations simply enrich the owners of those technologies and their favored hirelings? In a tolerably efficient market one wouldn’t have to worry too much about this — that Bill Gates and Larry Ellison have become gazillionaires has not interfered with a process by which the laptop that I’m typing on costs less in real terms than many electronic typewriters cost 30 years ago, even though the laptop is a vastly superior device.

But of course the market for educational credentials in America is, from a consumer perspective, wildly inefficient and increasingly dysfunctional (Note that the market for educational credentials is not the same thing as the process of education itself, which in many ways is simply not reducible to classical economic analysis).

What follows is a vignette about how rotten one corner of the business of higher education in America has gotten. Read more…

Tips for untenured law faculty

[ 55 ] July 3, 2013 |

It’s been an eventful week in the law school world. Two law schools have announced the immediate or imminent downsizing of their faculties, while another has laid off a dozen staff people, and is claiming that an unspecified number of faculty positions that have opened up because of “voluntary” departures will not be filled (I have heard from one of the departed faculty members that his/her departure was in fact in no sense voluntary).

Interestingly, legal academic law blogs, including some which normally spend inordinate bandwith on the comings and goings of deans and faculty in this status-obsessed and gossip-ridden thing of ours, have with almost no exceptions remained eerily silent about all this.

Anyway, if you’re an untenured member of a law school faculty, here’s some free advice on how to do what you can to avoid ending up looking for — Jah forbid — a job as a lawyer. (Obviously the salience of this advice will vary depending on your particular institutional situation, this is far from an exhaustive lists, no warranties of quality are expressed or implied etc)

(1) Work with your senior colleagues to put pressure on your administration to cough up candid financials to the faculty. How much money is the school spending? How much is it bringing in? How much, historically speaking, has the law school been expected to kick to the central university? (This latter question can be very tricky to answer, as universities are hives of various forms of cross-subsidization. For example, the law school will be reasonably expected to pay a certain amount in “indirect expenses,” that is, university-wide expenses, a certain percentage of which will be imputed to individual schools. However, if a school is being used as a cash cow — if revenues are being siphoned off to pay for other programs, as opposed to covering genuine collective costs — they will often be categorized in this way).

(2) How has the admissions office been told to handle the severe contraction in law school applications — nationally they’re down by nearly a third over the past three years, and of course by much more at some schools — and who has given the marching orders? The dean? Central? Has there been any faculty input? The options here are, cutting real tuition by giving out ever-larger “scholarships” to people with high or at least historical median scores, shrinking class size, and slashing entrance requirements. Which or what combination of these things is happening? How much tuition revenue will be generated by this fall’s incoming class relative to last fall’s?

(3) What plans are in place, or being formulated, to deal with further revenue contraction? Are staff layoffs being contemplated? What are the rules for laying off faculty? Should people take a pay cut now to avoid layoffs, not only of faculty, but of (generally powerless) staff? What about buyouts of senior faculty? Has central offered anything along these lines?

(4) Depending on the answers to the above questions, why is the school planning to spend X dollars on faculty hiring this coming year (Other than, of course, to give the dean something to highlight in the glossy law porn that gets distributed to alumni and the rest of legal academia. Speaking of which, how much does that thing cost to put together and distribute?).

(5) Go to your (probably enormous and largely empty) law library and dig up some annual catalogs. Count the number of administrative positions at the law school ten and fifteen and twenty years ago. Compare those numbers to the present situation, and do some back of the envelope math. Start asking questions about who does what and why.

(6) Do the same for the teaching faculty, and compare the teaching loads back in that distant era known as, say, 1998, to that borne today by you and the rest of your “insanely busy” (this is an actual term used in faculty meetings at many schools to describe faculty schedules) colleagues. Start asking questions about whether some — needless to say long-term and very gradual! — downsizing might not be in order, via retirements, buyouts, natural attrition, and not doing idiotic things like tying up several million dollars of future revenue by adding someone to the faculty to teach an “understaffed” first year course.

(7) Volunteer to teach an understaffed first year course.

Songs and movie scenes

[ 194 ] July 3, 2013 |

I’m very excited about having an 8:30 res at Dorsia this evening; and agonizing about what to order has somehow reminded me that several songs are now permanently intertwined in my mind with the scenes in which they’re used in various films. These include:

(1) Hip To Be Square (American Psycho)

(2) Suzy Q (Apocalypse Now)

(3) American Girl (Silence of the Lambs)

(4) Layla (Goodfellas)

(5) April Come She Will (The Graduate)

(6) Basketball Jones (Being There)

. . . comments remind me of a huge personal omission, (7) Let’s Stay Together, Pulp Fiction

What songs are inextricably embedded in celluloid for you? Is this a good or a bad thing? (For me it’s good, because it only seems to happen with songs in movies I really like).