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Law and law school economics

[ 49 ] July 16, 2011 |

David Segal has written another interesting piece on the state of legal education, this time focusing on the business side of law schools. Much of the piece is taken up with a case study of New York Law School and its dean, Richard Matasar. I’ve long been an admirer of Matasar’s efforts to reform the basic structure of legal education in America, which he was involved in long before he became a dean (in my view reform efforts hinge largely on being able to convince the ABA to make its accreditation standards more flexible). As the piece illustrates, Matasar’s reformist agenda has ended up in considerable tension with many aspects of his administrative career.

A cynic might consider Matasar a hypocrite. If even he ends up engaging in many of the same practices he deplores, does that mean his efforts at reforming legal education are a sham? I disagree with this interpretation. In my view, Matasar’s career illustrates the paradoxical and even potentially tragic character of attempts to reform powerful, well-established institutions. Unlike the revolutionary, who can indulge in creative destruction, the reformer must work within a system, using tools that are designed to impede his efforts at reform. His position ensures he runs the risk that his efforts will be so compromised by practical realities that he will end up helping to perpetuate the very things he is trying to change.

Anyway, a question that deserves more attention than it has gotten from legal academics is, precisely why has the cost of legal education skyrocketed over the past generation?

This is a complicated matter, but I’ll use a few statistics from the law school from which I graduated (Michigan) to illustrate the current situation. (All of the following financial information is expressed in constant, 2010 dollars).

Thirty years ago, annual in-state tuition+fees at UM Law was $5,367, and out of state tuition was $11,514. This fall, the respective figures will be about $47,000 and $49,500. In other words, in-state tuition has increased by a factor of nine in real inflation adjusted terms. Part of this is no doubt a function of the gradual withdrawal of tax subsidies for in-state tuition. But note that out of state tuition, which was never tax-subsidized, has increased by four and a half times in real terms. One result of these trends is that the 84% of 2010 UM Law grads who borrowed money during law school graduated with an average debt of $112,133. (That class matriculated when tuition was nearly $10,000 per year lower, so the entering class of 2011 is likely to average close to $150,000 in law school debt when it graduates three years from now).

One main driver of increasing costs across legal academia has been an increase in the size and the compensation of law school faculty. For example, 30 years ago the salaries of Michigan’s tenure-track law faculty ran from about $75,000 to $155,000 in 2010 dollars. Today the comparable figures are about $140,000 to $300,000 (This counts only base salary. Actual salaries are about 15% higher for most faculty because of “summer research grants” that for most faculty are de facto salary supplements.). Interestingly, 30 years ago the law school’s dean’s salary was no higher than that of several other senior faculty. Last year the dean’s published salary was $442,000.

Meanwhile over just the past decade the number of full-time law faculty at ABA-accredited schools has increased by 40% (a related statistic that will surprise no one familiar with academia is that over the same period the number of law school administrators more than tripled).

All this has been taking place at a time when the number of jobs for law graduates whose salaries justify six-figure debt loads has dropped sharply. Meanwhile, legal academia has barely begun to grapple seriously with the issue of who (other than independently wealthy people and partners of well-paid spouses) is going to be able to afford to take public interest legal jobs, the vast majority of which pay salaries that will not allow today’s average law school graduates to service their educational debts while at the same time paying for even a modest life style. (Note that the figures on law school indebtedness do not include undergraduate or consumer debt).

Deficit-reduction suggestion: Stop wasting money on this sort of nonsense

[ 33 ] July 14, 2011 |

Mistrial.

Radical leftists like Jon Chait STILL don’t realize that Obama is playing 93rd-level World of Warcraft

[ 112 ] July 14, 2011 |

constanza

It’s sad, really.

All that’s necessary to turn Obama into a POTUS that any sensible liberal would love is to assume that his words and actions are all intended to produce the opposite effect of what he appears to be trying to accomplish.

Call it Constanzian politics.

Mitch McConnell is trying to play a busted hand

[ 140 ] July 12, 2011 |

For sheer cynicism it’s hard to top McConnell’s latest bright idea, which is essentially to pass legislation that will give the Obama administration the power to raise the debt ceiling, subject to a 2/3rds over-ride by Congress. The practical effect would be to raise the debt ceiling while allowing Republicans to vote “against” doing so with impunity:

Politically, the new debt process is a McConnell classic in that it seeks to shift all of the blame for any debt increase on to the president and Democrats. Republicans would be free to vote in opposition without the consequences of risking default.

Getting to a two-thirds majority in the Senate to override a veto will be immensely difficult for Republicans, who have only 47 votes at this stage. Even in the Republican controlled House it would be a climb, but going into the 2012 elections, the plan offers three opportunities then to put Democrats on the spot.

What this signals is McConnell’s recognition that he’s overplayed his hand, and that if the Socialist Death Panels have to euthanize grandma because her social security check bounced* the GOP is going to get the lion’s share of the blame (where have we seen this movie before?).

I’m hoping Obama calls this bluff.

*Hypothetical scenario

Life expectancy, race, gender, SES, and Medicare

[ 64 ] July 12, 2011 |

The news that part of the budget deal Obama offered to the GOP included raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 should be digested in the context of the vast differences in life expectancy in the US population based on various demographic factors. Consider that the gap in life expectancy between Asian-American highest SES quintile females and African-American lowest SES quintile males is nearly 20 years, and that, for an African-American male born in 2007, moving the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 will effectively reduce the time span during which he will be covered by Medicare by 40%. (On reflection the previous sentence is a statistically misleading and unhelpful way of phrasing the issue, because as several commentators have noted it conflates two separate questions: overall life expectancy and life expectancy of geriatric populations. It would be more accurate to say that as a matter of social justice the fact that large percentages of certain demographic cohorts — in particular low SES African American men — never benefit from old age programs ought to be taken into account when making cuts in those programs for those members of those cohorts who do benefit from them).

Update: Thoughts from Jon Cohn

Richard Dawkins asks: “Can’t we just get back to talking about how awful religion is?”

[ 106 ] July 12, 2011 |

Rebecca Watson demurs:

Richard Dawkins believes I should be a good girl and just shut up about being sexually objectified because it doesn’t bother him. Thanks, wealthy old heterosexual white man!

Dawkins’ comments during this whole incident are creepily reminiscent of the right-wing meme about how Western feminists are hypocrites for not necessarily supporting invasions of countries in which women are worse off than they are in the Western world.

UPDATE [SL]: Lindsay has more. As does Tracy Clark-Flory.

Don’t click on this link.

[ 82 ] July 11, 2011 |

It’s the #1 twitter topic in the world, which in itself is a devastating critique of our so-called culture.

(Also if you start you won’t be able to stop. Believe me I’ve tried. Seven days).

Extremely rich man accepts six-figure gift from impoverished admirer

[ 77 ] July 11, 2011 |

Jeter

All Gotham rises as one to salute feudal cap-doffing.

Derek Jeter has, um, “earned” $205,430,000 (and counting).

Christian Lopez makes slightly less as a cellphone salesman and apparently owes $200,000 in non-dischargeable student debt.

A quick scan of the interwebs indicates almost universal acclaim for the “integrity” Lopez displayed in not selling the ball to the highest bidder.

Has the world gone mad? How does Derek Jeter sleep at night after accepting a gift worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from a worshipful young man with no money and enormous debts? (Let me guess: On top of enormous piles of cash surrounded by naked supermodels).

An unsentimental legal note: Technically Mr. Lopez should owe gift tax was using up part of his five-million dollar estate and gift tax exemption (when he caught the ball it became his property. By giving it to Jeter he was making a gift, whose value above the $13,000 per person annual exception is considered taxable income to him).

Of course all these goings-on are based on the willing suspension of disbelief without which professional sports could not exist, or at least could not be nearly as profitable as they are. It requires believing that Derek Jeter is something other than a very rich employee of even richer employers, who together are dedicated to separating Christian Lopez and Co. from as much of their scarce discretionary income as possible. And that’s fine — I’m a sports fan and I suspend disbelief happily and willingly all the time.

But if I had caught that ball I would have been on the phone to Sotheby’s before Jeter had gotten to second base.

There is a non-trivial chance that 18 months from now we’ll be saying hello to . . .

[ 48 ] July 8, 2011 |

null

. . . President Bachmann.

There’s a good joke somewhere in all this involving The Turner Diaries, The Book of Revelation, and Bachmann Turner Overdrive.

RIP Dick Williams

[ 11 ] July 7, 2011 |

Williams and Martin

Williams, Earl Weaver, and Billy Martin were all similar men: tough SOBs who didn’t care if the toes they stepped on were wearing cleats or Italian loafers. I was 13 at the time of the Mike Andrews incident, and it was the first thing of that type that genuinely shocked me. It was a stark introduction to the idea that crazy rich old men played by different rules than everybody else.

Another sharp memory of Williams was how he just outright released Juan Bonilla at the start of the 1984 season, before the Padres went on to win the pennant. That was a classic Williams move: simply cutting a 27-year-old second baseman who had had 617 plate appearances the year before, and handing the job to Alan Wiggins, a second-year guy who had played exactly one game at second base in his major league career.

After Williams was told that Tony LaRussa had passed the bar, he remarked “I never pass a bar.”

Stand By Your Man

[ 10 ] July 7, 2011 |

Sometimes it’s hard to be a liberal
Giving all your love to just one man
You’ll have bad times
And he’ll have good times
Doing things that you don’t understand
But if you love him you’ll forgive him
Even though he’s hard to understand
And if you love him
Oh be proud of him
‘Cause after all he’s just a man

How it’s supposed to work

[ 33 ] July 7, 2011 |

The perfectionist strain in American culture tends to rebel against the idea that in a well-functioning criminal justice system lots of probably-guilty people should not be convicted.

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