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“Theft” is such an unpleasant word

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If I were the dean of a law school that was getting sued for luring students to my school via wildly misleading employment and salary figures, here’s what Item One on my day planner would not be: “Publish op-ed full of wildly misleading employment figures in legal employment magazine.”

But I’m not Nelson Miller, dean of the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law’s Grand Rapids campus. The charitable interpretation of Miller’s defense of legal education as a “value proposition,” as they say in the B-school literature, is that he is a profoundly stupid man who is incapable of understanding even the simplest statistical arguments. The realistic interpretation is that he is a profoundly dishonest man, who is quite capable of making what he fully realizes are utterly misleading arguments, if doing so is necessary, in his calculated view, to preserve his salary.

But again, even leaving the ethics of lying your ass off in public aside, I don’t believe a prudential calculation regarding present circumstances would lead to the conclusion that it’s wise for Cooley administrators, of all people, to publish “arguments” of this sort:

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyer unemployment rose from 1.1 percent in 2007 to 1.9 percent in 2008 and 2.3 percent in 2009 but fell to 1.5 percent in 2010. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of unemployed lawyers grew from 9,000 to 16,000, but only from 12,000 to 16,000 between 2007 and 2010 during the depth of the recession. Contrast these small numbers to 1,040,000 employed lawyers and to much greater job losses in other fields. New law jobs arose even in the teeth of recession. From 2000 to 2010, the economy created another 123,000 lawyer jobs while adding only 7,000 unemployed lawyers. Employed lawyers grew by 39,000 from 2007 to 2010 across the recession.

Dean Miller’s argument is that there are more than one million employed lawyers in America, and only 16,000 unemployed attorneys in our fair nation, so going to law school right now, especially a law school like Cooley that prepares its graduates to practice law, is a wise investment. I actually laughed out loud typing that sentence. Seriously, why is this guy wasting his talents as a law school dean when he should be arguing that his client has a constitutional right to pave over Lake Tahoe, or that the victim of this so-called crime stabbed himself in the back repeatedly?

I’m not going to bother pointing out what’s so absurd about this “analysis,” since Matt Leichter has already thoroughly trashed Miller’s preposterous claims (twice!). Instead I’m going to touch briefly on a couple of related issues.

First, what exactly is the ABA accreditation process good for if it lets a place like Cooley rip off nearly 4000 law students per year? Yes, you read that right: Cooley currently has 3,931 J.D. candidates: one out of every 38 law students at an ABA law school currently goes to one of Cooley’s four campuses. Right now it appears the ABA accreditation machine is giving both lawyers and the public the worst of both worlds: the extra costs associated with regulatory barriers to entry, without the benefits — to lawyers obviously — of cartel-level prices, or of higher quality legal services to the public. (In terms of the latter, how much “quality control” is being maintained by a system that allows Cooley to accept 84.4% of its full-time applicants, as it did last year?).

Second, what is the matter with these people? By “these people” I mean legal administrators, not naive young people in a lemming-like race to get ripped off by supposedly respectable authority figures at the top of a supposedly respectable profession. I guess the answer could be as simple as that some people will do anything for money.

The dean of the University of Texas School of Law was forced to step down Thursday amid criticism by some faculty members about his allocation of donated funds to professors.

Larry Sager had planned to conclude his deanship at the end of the 2011-12 academic year. But UT President William Powers Jr., a former law dean who named Sager his successor in 2006, told the American-Statesman that the faculty had become so divided over Sager’s leadership that an immediate change was needed.

Apparently, Sager’s “leadership” included extracting a half million dollar “forgivable loan” for himself from the law school’s private funds (Jurisprudential puzzler for you soon-to-be unemployed UT law students: if you take out a loan that doesn’t have to be repaid, is that really a loan, or more of a gift to yourself?). But Sagar’s generosity didn’t just extend to himself:

UT records obtained by the American-Statesman under the Texas Public Information Act show that a number of law professors received sizable funds from the foundation, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars. Powers and Sager said those outlays are made on the dean’s recommendation. Jon Newton, president of the foundation, confirmed that.

“Every member of the faculty with a named professorship or chair gets summer support and/or a salary supplement from the foundation,” Powers said. “Sometimes we help people with mortgage loans and things of that sort.”

Hmmmm. Exactly how much “help” do these people need? (According to public records the average salary of UT law professors is north of $200K a year, not including fringe benefits, loans that don’t have to be repaid, and things of that sort. Apparently these “forgivable loans” were retention payments, i.e., the school “loaned” professors money that they wouldn’t have to repay as long as they didn’t leave during the duration of the “loan.” So Sagar essentially paid himself $100,000 per year, on top of his annual $380K salary, not to quit his job.).

The foundation outlays and other compensation information were originally requested by three law professors. One of them, Jack Sampson, said the records speak for themselves.

“This is above my pay grade,” Sampson said. “I don’t need to comment, and I don’t think I should comment.”

The records show that some faculty and staff members at the law school have complained of being underpaid or discriminated against because of their gender, age or ethnicity. In some of those cases, sizable settlements resulted.

Linda Mullenix , a law professor who complained of “pay discrimination,” received a $20,000 raise and a $250,000 forgivable loan. Laura Castro, who had been a spokeswoman for the law school, received $101,292, the honorific title of “visiting scholar” and use of an office for a year.

Maybe Dean Miller should use these inspiring examples for another article how well getting a JD can pay off these days, so to speak.

O tempora! O mores!

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