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Ideology and belief

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great pumpkin

Lawyers are notoriously bad at math, and some legal academics are apparently even worse.

LGM punching bag Steve Diamond tries to criticize a WAPO piece that points out employment prospects for many new law graduates are grim:

The delay in the enrollment decline [among law schools] occurred because new college grads tried to flood into law schools from 2008-2010 in order to wait out the economic turmoil. The problem they then faced was that the recovery only took hold in 2012-13 and that meant oversupply in the market. The enrollment bubble can be seen in this chart prepared by the ABA. As the economy took off under the influence of low interest rates in 2003 enrollment steadily climbed and jumped up significantly as the credit crisis was in full swing. The peak in first year enrollment was in AY2010-2011 at 52,488. The continuing impact of that bubble period is indicated by the fact that the highest number of JD’s ever awarded in the US occurred in 2013, three years after the peak of first year enrollment.

This doesn’t even begin to make sense on its face, as Diamond argues that enrollment “steadily climbed” after 2003 because the economy was booming during the credit bubble, and then “jumped significantly” because the economy crashed, and “and new college grads tried to flood into law schools from 2008-2010.” (Diamond goes on to argue that law school enrollment has declined since 2010 in part because the opportunity cost of attending has increased due to the strengthening economy, apparently forgetting that he argued just the opposite in regard to increasing enrollment during the mid-aughts).

Leaving aside this theoretical confusion, the data Diamond cites don’t actually support his claim, and other, more relevant data flat-out contradict it. Diamond cites law school enrollment numbers, when of course the far more germane data in regard to demand for law school admission are law school applicant figures. Even the enrollment figures don’t back up Diamond’s argument, as 1L enrollment barely budged between 2003 and 2008, going from 48,867 to 49,414, which actually represents a 5.4% decline in enrollment per ABA law school (there were 187 such schools in 2003 and 200 five years later).

Enrollment did increase modestly between 2008 and 2010, to 52,488 — this 6.2% increase is Diamond’s “enrollment bubble,” which is supposedly the cause of whatever employment struggles recent graduates have faced — but what Diamond fails to note is that, far from “flooding into law schools between 2008-2010,” significantly fewer people applied to law school during the Great Recession than during the boom years immediately preceding it.

Total applicants to ABA law schools 2004-2006: 285,100

Total applicants to ABA law schools 2008-2010: 257,900

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the fact that demand for law school admission actually declined during the worst economic contraction since the 1930s should have been a warning sign to legal academia. It wasn’t, because instead law schools slashed admission standards, and managed to slightly increase total enrollment — although, again, enrollment fell per school — in the face of declining demand, leading innumerate observers like Diamond, who has a Ph.D. in political science as well as J.D., to conclude that demand was increasing. (Diamond claims that big year-end bonuses for lawyers at a handful of hyper-elite law firms means prosperity is just around the corner for the average law graduate, which is akin to arguing that Robert Axelrod’s salary is a good reason to enroll in a graduate program in political science).

Since then things have gotten much, much worse. Over at the Legal Whiteboard, Jerry Organ has a fascinating post detailing the practical collapse of admission standards since 2010 (recall that standards had already slipped a good deal between 2004 and 2010, as the percentage of law school applicants who were admitted to at least one school increased by 23.6% between those years). It’s difficult to pick out the single most hair-raising stat that Organ has assembled, but here’s a good candidate: between 2010 and 2013, the percentage of law school matriculants with sub-145 LSAT scores increased by 56.8%. And that percentage almost certainly grew again this fall, as ABA law schools collectively admitted an astounding 80% of all applicants.

A few days ago, The Faculty Lounge featured an amusing exchange between David Frakt, the dean candidate at Florida Coastal who got kicked out of his presentation to the faculty because that presentation featured too many unpleasant facts about the school’s situation, and Jay Conison, dean of another of Infilaw’s egregious diploma mills. Conison blustered at length about the supposed success the Infilaw schools have had in getting matriculants with bad LSAT scores to pass the bar, but tellingly he provided no data to back up these claims, even after Frakt challenged him explicitly to do so. (This exchange took place three months after my Atlantic piece accusing the Infilaw schools of admitting large numbers of students who have no realistic chance of passing the bar, let alone actually becoming lawyers, so Dean Conison has had plenty of time to assemble a rebuttal. That none has been forthcoming speaks volumes).

The question that interests me, in a somewhat morbid way, regarding Diamond, Conison, and their ilk throughout American legal academia in this the year 2015 of the Christian Era, is the extent to which they actually believe what they say.

The lawyer and sociologist David Riesman described ideology as the kind of sincere mental state that allows a man to habitually believe his own propaganda. American legal academia apparently remains a very sincere place.

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