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Race to the bottom

[ 46 ] February 28, 2014 |

Ichininosan has compiled a list of the law schools that have slashed their admissions standards most drastically over the past four years, as measured by average LSAT. I’m reproducing his work here, and adding 2004 data for comparison purposes (Note that good LSAT scores are far rarer than respectable UGPAs, because of grade inflation and variability in college quality, Note also that the “same” LSAT score in 2010 is actually a bit lower than the same score from 2004, because in 2007 LSAC allowed schools to start reporting only the highest scores of re-takers, as opposed to their average score).

The LSAT percentages are ordered 2004, 2010, and 2013.

1. Suffolk 67. 4% 67.4% 40.3%
2. Valparaiso 54.9% 44.3% 22.9%
3. Illinois 90.1 % 93.2% 80.4%
4. Arizona Summit N/A 44.3% 22.9%
5. Elon N/A 67.4% 44.3%
6. Florida Coastal 48% 40.3% 22.9%
7. DePaul 70.9% 77.6% 59.7%
8. Vermont 60.1% 67.4% 48.1%
9. San Francisco 79% 77.6% 59.7%
10. Capital 55.8% 55.6% 36.3%
11. Catholic 73.4% 77.6% 59.7%
12. American 79% 85.9% 70.9%
13. Charlotte N/A 44.3% 26.1%
14. Thomas Jefferson 54.5% 48.1% 29.5%
15. Samford 66% 67.4% 48.1%)
16. John Marshall (IL) 57.8% 48.1% 29.5%

The end of the law school epidemic

[ 82 ] February 27, 2014 |

The University of Tulsa’s law school has just announced that it is effectively cutting tuition by 54% for the incoming first year class, from $33,428 to $15,428. The cut is coming in the form of a “scholarship” which will be given to every admitted student from a 12-state region (but as a practical matter will have to be given to any admit from outside that region whom the school hopes to enroll). The “scholarship” is renewed annually if the student maintains good academic standing, which in recent years approximately 95% of Tulsa’s admits manage to do.

So in effect the law school is cutting sticker price by more than half for everyone who starts attending this fall (last year about a third of Tulsa’s students got comparable discounts, which makes one wonder what the other two-thirds of the current 1L and 2L classes will do about this development).

Note that this price cut is coming when we’re more than 70% through the current application cycle, which indicates that Tulsa is even more dire shape than the average school when it comes to its current applicant pool (nationally, applications were down 11.7% year over year as of last week, making this the fourth straight year of severe declines).

Naturally the school’s administration is characterizing this as a sudden outburst of public-spiritedness on the institution’s part:

“The ALES program directly responds to rising tuition, mounting student debt and a challenging job market for law school graduates,” said Janet Levit, TU law school dean.

She added that a recent American Bar Association report encouraged innovation by law schools to address the issues.

ALES, she said, is TU’s response to that call for action.

Currently, Levit said, there’s a growing need for more attorneys to serve rural communities, as well as to advocate for children and families, military veterans and small companies.

“TU Law graduates, with less debt, will be prepared and willing to represent underserved populations in our region,” she said.

It’s tiresome to keep repeating this but apparently my rock awaits me:

*The notion that Tulsa’s graduates will decide to take low-paying jobs to serve clients with little or no money is ludicrous on its face, since the existence of such a “choice” entails the option of taking a high-paying job — an option which practically no Tulsa graduate currently has (exactly one graduate in the class of 2012 got a job with a large (100+ lawyer) law firm).

*Even the most public-minded and altruistic lawyer can’t work for free. Under-served communities are under-served because their members don’t have the money to pay for lawyers. Cutting law student tuition doesn’t create jobs for lawyers.

*The amount of debt a law graduate carries has literally zero effect on the market for that graduate’s services. Lower debt leaves people who are unable to get a legal job better off in regard to their overall economic circumstances, but it does not make it more likely that these people will get to be lawyers.

Tulsa’s radical slashing of tuition follows on the heels of similar moves by several other law schools. And this is merely the publicly available information: many other schools are undoubtedly offering ever-more extreme discounts to potential students on a case by case basis. With first year enrollment this fall likely to total around 36,000 students (down from 52,500 in 2010) the combination of much smaller classes and lower per capita real tuition is going to prove unsustainable for some schools.

. . . a commenter points out:

Regardless of the motive this is a move in the right direction. Law schools need to end racially exploitative reverse robin hood scholarships and charge the same tuition to everyone.

I would add that reverse Robin Hood scholarship policies have a severe class bias, since the lower a student’s SES, the less likely the student will benefit from such policies. (Because lower SES students will, all other things being equal, have weaker entrance numbers than students who buy big discounts off sticker price with their LSAT/GPA scores, and because lower SES means less of the sort of cultural capital that allows high SES students to figure out how to game the system).

Total number of 1L students enrolled at Tulsa:

2008: 139

2009: 140

2010: 166

2011: 108

2012: 110

2013: 83

Total number of ABA-accredited law schools by year:

1972: 149

1982: 172

1992:176

2002: 186

2012: 201

The end of the obesity epidemic

[ 87 ] February 27, 2014 |

I have a piece in TNR on the new JAMA study finding no statistical change in obesity rates over the past decade in either adults or children. (The finding that got the most headlines was a 40% drop in “childhood obesity” among 2-5 year olds, but for reasons I explain in the article this finding is probably not very meaningful in and of itself).

On a related note, here is a review of Michael Gard’s important book The End of the Obesity Epidemic (A version of this review appears in Critical Public Health): Read more…

Handbags and gladrags

[ 158 ] February 26, 2014 |

I have a piece on how the market for college and postgraduate degrees resembles that for Veblen goods.

The whole point of paying thousands of dollars for a Louis Vuitton bag is that other people can’t. If they could, the bags would instantly lose almost all value in the eyes of those who buy them. Hence, the more such things cost, the more desirable they become.

In economic terms, higher education is a positional good: It is valuable to have a college degree because other people don’t have one. It is also to a significant extent a Veblen good: Sending one’s children to college, and most especially a prestigious (meaning expensive) college, is a way of signaling social status via the conspicuous consumption of a luxury good.

All of this helps explain why college tuition has increased three times faster than the cost of living over the past three decades. University administrators have discovered that, to a remarkable degree, the more they charge for what they’re offering, the more people will want to buy it.

. . . Expanding on some points not touched on in the article:

(1) Obviously higher education can and often does have value that can’t be monetized, which means that an analysis which treats it strictly as an investment in pecuniary terms is going to be incomplete.

(2) There is probably no such thing as a pure positional or Veblen good. The key question, from an return on investment perspective, is the extent to which the enhanced earning power associated with higher education is a product of ameliorating structural un-and-underemployment via enhanced human capital, as opposed to that increased earning power being a product of a positional good signaling pre-existing abilities on the part of those who acquire it. The education lobby proceeds from the axiom that substantially all of the investment value of college degrees is a product of the former effect rather than the latter. This is clearly false, and it has an invidious effect on education policy.

Epitaphs of war

[ 138 ] February 25, 2014 |

Former vice president Dick Cheney went on Fox’s “Hannity” show last night to discuss the recent plans to reduce the Army to levels not seen since 1940 — through a reduction in personnel and removing a class of warplanes from the field — in an effort to cut budgets after a decade of war, calling the decision “over the top.” He told host Sean Hannity that President Obama would “much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.” . . .

Earlier in the interview, Cheney said, “The fact of the matter is he’s having a huge impact on the ability of future presidents to deal with future crises that are bound to arise. … I can guarantee you, there’s never going to be a call from the future secretary of defense to Barack Obama, to thank him for what he’s done to the military. This is just devastating.”

I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

Kipling, “A Dead Statesman”

Public service, Brooklyn-style

[ 109 ] February 24, 2014 |

Updated below

A couple of days ago, in the course of surveying the grotesque spectacle of the three for-profit Infilaw law schools gorging themselves on hundreds of millions of dollars per year in federal student loans, I asked if being a traditional non-profit organized for “charitable” (501(c)(3) qualifying) purposes provided any meaningful ideological constraint in regard to ripping off the public fisc while the getting is good.

Let us take a guided tour on the wrong side of the East River, courtesy of Matt Leichter:

Freestanding Brooklyn Law School is selling six of its student dormitories due to declining enrollment. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle it’s unclear if the sale has reached agreement yet, though Brooklyn Law School (BLS) dean Nick Allard says it has. The purchase price is $36.5 million, and amusingly the city just assessed the properties’ combined market value at less than a third of that. . .

None of these numbers really matter since BLS availed itself of a student dormitory property tax exemption. The six properties could have been worth hundreds of millions and nary a dime would’ve been collected by the public—unless it got sick of subsidizing housing for law students whose odds of working in full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required jobs nine months after graduation were about even. In the last two years, one in five BLS grads was “unemployed-seeking.”

Leichter goes on to document how there’s a striking correlation between the federal government making unlimited amounts of GRADPLUS loans available to pay for post-graduate student living expenses and BLS jacking up its estimates of how much it costs to live in the very dorms it pays no property taxes for owning (the school will rent a student a one-bedroom in its dorms for $20,000 per year, electricity and wireless access not included).

Leichter also points out that BLS has horrible employment statistics (more than one in five graduates in the last couple of classes have been completely unemployed nine months after graduation, and only half the class is getting a legal job of any kind).

In addition to its success as a landlord to soon to be un-and-under-employed law graduates, BLS charges more than $50K per year in sticker tuition, which in FY2012 generated $65 million nominal dollars, and $40 million net dollars (after discounts). Into what personal rivulets is this glorious stream of taxpayer-funded rents being diverted?

In FY2012 the school (more precisely the school’s students, largely via taxpayer dollars) paid President and Former Dean Joan G. Wexler Esq. $1.3 million for her service to this tax-free charitable enterprise. BLS’s students and U.S. taxpayers provided Wexler Esq. with “a tax-free furnished apartment complete with designer kitchen and skyline views of Manhattan, a car, and a driver,” per a complaint filed by a non-gruntled faculty member.

But Wexler was far from the only BLS employee who was doing very well by doing good. At least a half dozen faculty members were pulling down in excess of $300,000 per year in compensation, topping out at the $420,000 paid to Aaron Twerski, a 70something former Hofstra Law School dean and current part-time lawyer who has published almost nothing since the Clinton administration, but who is clearly what in a related context would be known as a connected guy.

Update: Eric S. Riley, Communications Director at Brooklyn Law School, has asked me to correct this post to reflect the following:

• Since 2001, Professor Aaron Twerski has published 19 law review articles (either authored or co-authored).

• These articles have appeared in the Yale Law Journal, Cornell Law Review, Columbia Law Review, and the University of Michigan Law Review, among other prestigious journals.

• In addition, since 2001 he has co-authored two casebooks on Torts and Products Liability (Aspen Casebook Series).

For reference, one look at Professor Twerski’s bio reveals his many publications, honors, and other distinctions.

(My mischaracterization of Prof. Twerksi’s publication history was based on the fact that as of three days ago, the publications page on his faculty bio did not list any articles published after 2003. It has since been updated).

All of this suggests the answer to my initial question is, “in the new Gilded Age, not much.”

Florida Coastal is admitting applicants with LSAT scores of 134 (and probably lower)

[ 116 ] February 22, 2014 |

This post is the Infilaw law schools. Infllaw is a subsidiary of the good folks at Sterling Partners. Infilaw currently owns three ABA-accredited law schools, Arizona Summit (formerly Phoenix), Charlotte, and Florida Coastal, and is trying to acquire Charleston. These schools are for-profit operations, and a question I’ve been puzzling over lately is whether non-profit status (195 of 201 ABA law schools are non-profits) produces any significant ideological constraint on the institutions that maintain such a status.

Given that operations like Thomas Cooley and New England Law are non-profits, there are some reasons to think the answer is no, it doesn’t. On the other hand:

The 25th percentile LSAT score for matriculants into the part-time program of Florida Coastal’s entering class of 2013 was 138. A 138 means that 90.4% of test takers scored higher than you did. That means a quarter of the entering students had an LSAT score below that. How far below? That’s unknown, but Florida Coastal was imprudent enough to publish its 2012 LSAT/GPA admissions grid in the 2014 ABA Guide, which shows the school admitted eight applicants with LSAT scores between 130 and 134. Note this information is regarding the entering class of 2012, which ended up having a 25th LSAT for the part-time program of 140, i..e, two points higher than that of the class of 2013, which in turn suggests that the school in this past admissions cycle admitted many more than eight people with LSATs of 134 and below.

An LSAT of 134 means that 95.3% of test takers scored higher. To get a 134 you have to choose the right answer on about 29 of 100 LSAT questions, but since it’s a multiple choice test this means that, accounting for random correct answers, you only need to get nine questions right as a consequence of something other than chance.

Typical LSAT question:

Laird: Pure research provides us with new technologies that
contribute to saving lives. Even more worthwhile than this,
however, is its role in expanding our knowledge and
providing new, unexplored ideas.

Kim: Your priorities are mistaken. Saving lives is what counts
most of all. Without pure research, medicine would not be
as advanced as it is.

Laird and Kim disagree on whether pure research

(A) derives its significance in part from its providing new technologies
(B) expands the boundaries of our knowledge of medicine
(C) should have the saving of human lives as an important goal
(D) has its most valuable achievements in medical applications
(E) has any value apart from its role in providing new technologies to save lives.

(You can spend an average of about a minute and a half per question).

Moving right along, the Infilaw schools have published student loan data for their 2013 graduating classes (this information won’t be available for law schools in general for another month or two), and the numbers are startling. Arizona Summit reports that the “median cumulative program debt” for its 2013 grads is $184,825. Note that this number doesn’t include interest accrued during law school, which can be calculated fairly precisely since these are all federal loans, at interest rates of 6.8% for a minority of the debt and 7.9% for most of it. So the median law school debt of the school’s class of 2013 is approximately $220,000 at repayment (November 2013). This doesn’t include undergraduate or other educational debt.

Charlotte’s 2013 grads took out a median of $175,715 in loans (translating into about $210,000 in law school debt at repayment), while Florida Coastal’s numbers were $162,549 and $196,000.

Collectively these schools produced 1,214 JDs in 2013, which means a single year’s worth of graduates of the three Infilaw law schools are carrying roughly a quarter of a billion dollars in federal loan debt, none of which is dischargeable in bankruptcy. A glance at schools’ employment statistics suggests that approximately seven of these 1,214 graduates acquired jobs that would make it possible for them to service the median debt acquired by the school’s graduates without in enrolling financial hardship programs (Income-Based Repayment/Pay As You Earn). These programs will cause the graduates’ principal debt balances to balloon over the next 20 to 25 years, until it is discharged, with the discharged amounts imputed as income to them at that point (if man is still alive).

A question only a lawyer would think to ask

[ 51 ] February 20, 2014 |

Are televised college sports news programs or commercial events?

The NCAA’s legal theory, as put forth at the summary judgment hearing in the O’Bannon class action suit today, is that college football and basketball games are news events, rather than commercial events. Commercial events, NCAA lead counsel Lionel Hutz argued, charge people for admission, and license their exclusive broadcast rights to individual television networks, while news events . . .

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Consumerism

[ 155 ] February 20, 2014 |

This commercial is getting heavy rotation during the Olympics coverage. Its social theory is that Americans live in multimillion dollar houses because they work harder than the latte-sipping denizens of various European welfare states.

Yes it’s “only” a car commercial. (I can practically see the smirk on Don Draper’s face).

Openly heterosexual running back may prove to be locker room distraction

[ 94 ] February 20, 2014 |

Per this summons, Baltimore Ravens’ star running back Ray Rice hit his girlfriend so hard that he knocked her unconscious. (She allegedly hit him first, so she’s also being charged with assault).

A video of the aftermath of what appears to have been a very one-sided altercation:

Law school stuff

[ 86 ] February 19, 2014 |

I’m going to be on Al Jazeera America (DirecTV 358 or possibly 347) at 7:30 EST tonight discussing the law school mess. Another guest will be Andrew Post, who graduated from USC’s law school at age 21 (he is apparently something of a prodigy as he enrolled in college at 13), incurring more than $215,000 in debt in the process. Post was unable to get a job as a lawyer, so he hung out his own shingle, with predictable results. He is now supporting himself as a full-time computer programmer, while living with his parents. Post reported his annual income as of last fall to be between $80,000 and $96,000, which means of course that he’s an excellent example of how a law degree is worth ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Over at JD Underground, LGM commenter ichininosan has put together a list of the 20 law schools which have seen the largest percentage declines in the size of their entering classes between 2010 and 2013. I’m reproducing it here along with some marginal comments/predictions:

2010 / 2013 (% Decline):

1. La Verne: 166 / 50 (69.9%)

Lost provisional ABA accreditation three years ago, causing enrollment to crater. Got it back again last year, but has probably suffered a fatal wound.

2. Thomas Cooley: 1583 / 582 (63.2%)

Maybe P.T. Barnum was wrong after all.

3. Hamline: 227 / 88 (61.2%)

It’s just absurd that the Twin Cities have four law schools, when the local legal market can barely support two. Will either close or merge with William Mitchell.

4. Widener-Harr. 178 / 74 (58.4%)

Located in Delaware, but has a random campus in Harrisburg. Could end up illustrating the survival strategy of offloading faculty onto a satellite campus and then letting that branch of the operation go under.

5. Case Western 236 / 100 (57.7%)

Karma.

6. Saint Louis 334 / 145 (56.6%)

Uh oh.

7. Pacific (McGeorge) 346 / 147 (54.6%)

Former faculty home of the most important man in the American legal system. Still teaches in the school’s “Salzburg summer program,” which sounds lovely (The hills are alive with the sound of school loans).

8. Appalachian 127 / 58 (54.3%)

You can rent a pretty nice two-bedroom apartment in Grundy for $300, so this place is probably a better deal than American or Brooklyn.

9. Iowa 203 / 93 (54.2%)

What happens when you refuse to slash admissions standards and your location is not amenable to trustifarian lifestyles.

10. Seton Hall 358 / 165 (53.9%)

Faculty just took a 10% across the board pay cut instead of laying off all the untenured tt faculty and rescinded a plan to lay off untenured faculty after enough senior faculty took buyouts (thanks to PaulB for the correction).

11. Golden Gate 320 / 150 (53.1%)

There are way, way too many law schools in the Bay Area.

12. Dayton 207 / 100 (51.7%)

Should have been done long ago.

13. George Mason 303 / 149 (50.8%)

What would Hayek do?

14. Western State 242 / 120 (50.4%)

There are way, way too many . . .

15. New York LS 641 / 322 (49.8%)

Sitting on an entire block of super-prime Tribeca real estate.

16. Liberty 135 / 68 (49.6%)

17. Duquesne 212 / 107 (49.5%)

18. Rutgers-Camden 269 / 140 (48.0%)

Will probably merge with Rutgers-Newark.

19. Florida A&M 288 / 150 (47.9%)

20. Florida Coastal 808 / 441 (45.4%)

There is a passage in the Buddhist sutra on mindfulness called the Nine Cemetery Contemplations. Apprentice monks are instructed to meditate on a series of decomposing bodies in the charnel ground, starting with a body “swollen and blue and festering,” progressing to one “being eaten by…different kinds of worms,” and moving on to a skeleton, “without flesh and blood, held together by the tendons.” The monks were told to keep meditating until they were calm and a smile appeared on their faces. I describe this to Arpad and Ron, explaining that the idea is to come to peace with the transient nature of our bodily existence, to overcome the revulsion and fear. Or something.

We all stare at the man. Arpad swats at flies. “So,” says Ron. “Lunch?”

Mary Roach, Stiff

21. Roger Williams 198 / 111 (43.9%)
22. Tulsa 146 / 83 (43.2%)
23. Ave Maria 203 / 117 (42.4%)
24. Penn State 228 / 132 (41.7%)
25. New Hampshire 132 / 77 (41.7%)

Can you spot the invisible people in this graph?

[ 36 ] February 19, 2014 |

Delinquency rates overall have been steadily improving since the crisis. Overall 90+ day delinquency rates are at 5.0 percent, much improved from the peak of 8.7 percent reached during the first quarter of 2010, with declines in the individual 90+ day delinquency rates for mortgages and auto loans and a slight increase in the delinquency rate for credit cards.

graph

h/t Matt Leichter.

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