Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Seton Hall Law Prof. Michael Simkovic bags $220,000 from the Access Group and the Law School Admissions Council.

"Funding bias" or "funding effect." This is the widely-accepted phenomenon whereby the results desired by a study’s funders closely correlate to those reported by its researchers. Funding bias includes a researcher’s awareness that some types of studies are more likely to be funded than others. 

It is old folk wisdom that he who pays the piper calls the tune, but funding bias is more subtle. The payer may sincerely give the piper discretion to play whatever tune he or she wants, and the piper may sincerely do so. Nonetheless, the tune that the musician selects will still have a striking tendency to be one known or believed to be favored by the moneyed patron. This bias can apparently operate unconsciously, which is why funded studies should be treated with a mammoth dose of skepticism. See e.g. Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 501 n.17 (2008) ("Because this research was funded in part by Exxon, we decline to rely on it"). 

As most here presumably know, last year Seton Hall lawprof Michael Simkovic published a provocative study of the economic value of a law degree, claiming that a law degree is worth an average of just over a million dollars more than a BA, with the average annual earnings premium calculated at $57,200. See Michael Simkovic & Frank McIntyre, The Economic Value of a Law Degree, 43 J. Legal Stud. 249 (2014). Simkovic has recently followed up by publishing a draft of his next article, called "Timing Law School." 

According to Simkovic, the huge lifetime JD premium accrues whether a JD actually practices law or not. Moreover, even at the bottom quartile of outcomes--the fourth tier of law graduates as it were--the lifetime JD premium is calculated at $432,000, and the annual earning premium at $21,700. In my mind’s eye, I see a young JD-Barista or a JD-part-time tree-trimmer whipping out a Cooley or Florida Coastal law degree before his or her boss’s delighted eyes, and receiving an immediate $20,000 a year raise. 

Kids need not fret about missing the gravy train if they graduate in a recession year, or about the size of the "cohort" of new lawyers that law schools pump into the economy in their graduation year, or about starting salaries, or about those dismal nine-month-out job stats. According to Simkovic’s new research, that stuff doesn’t matter in the long-run-- the main thing is to enroll as soon as possible to maximize the value of the JD-premium. Thus, Simkovic explains one of his "key takeaways": "The best time to go to law school is the earliest point possible after which you make the decision that you’d eventually like to go. By waiting, you’re spending more of your limited working life working for lower wages."

Now, Simkovic is a junior law professor at a second-tier law school, and therefore a finding that a law degree is an extremely risky proposition would be adverse to his employer's interests, and his own -- it doesn't take an econometrics study to deduce a causal connection between the decline in tuition-paying lemmings and the decline in cushy lawprof jobs. But perhaps even more saliently, Simkovic has received grants totaling $220,000 from the Access Group and Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) to fund his ongoing studies of the great value of a law degree. Simkovic collected $120,000 from the Access Group and $100,000 from the LSAC. The draft of his new article discloses the funding source, but not the grant amounts, and his CV mentions the amounts, but merely describes the source as "private foundations."

So who exactly are Simkovic's generous funders--patrons of his pied piping, Pembrokes to his law school Bard, sugar bowl to his porridge pot? Let's have a brief look at these private foundations, and readers can judge for themselves whether there could possibly be any ulterior motive to their philanthropy. 



The Access Group is a nonprofit membership organization comprised of 196 ABA-approved law schools. It touts itself, on its website, as a "leading provider" of student loans for aspiring professionals. As such, it has served as a national originator, holder and servicer of federally guaranteed and private, credit-based loans, funding more than $18 billion of education loans since 2001. On its IRS Form 990, Access Group lists its "primary activity" as being to "support. . . the organization’s student loan borrowers in facilitating timely repayment." It also seeks to "promote access to higher education through lending programs offered." [1]

Access Group's President and CEO Christopher Chapman earned a trifling $730,470 in fiscal year 2012. But, being public spirited, Chapman also serves on the ABA’s Task Force on Financing of Legal Education, which is chaired by Dennis Archer (who is also chairman of Infilaw's National Policy Board, and a past President of the ABA). 

Access Group’s Board of Directors is headed up by Syracuse Law Dean Hannah Arterian, and includes several other current and former law deans. It also includes a Hastings lawprof named William Wang, who once published an article on investment strategy bearing the following title: "Toilet Paper—It’s Good As Gold or How to ‘Clean Up’ in Toilet Paper."  (I couldn’t have thought up that title even as an April Fool's joke. It is like the perfect motto for every lawprof who got rich off the law school scam). 

The Law School Admissions Council is the nonprofit that administers the LSAT and facilitates the law school application process on behalf of its 200+ member law schools. According to its Form 990, LSAC exists to "provide services" to member law schools.  These services include staging "national forums" to acquaint students with their "legal education alternatives" and holding training and educational programs for law school admissions professionals. LSAC’s gross receipts in fiscal 2013 totaled about 49 million dollars. 

In addition to funding Simkovic, the LSAC provided a generous grant of $54,731 to DiscoverLaw (recall: DiscoverLaw coordinates law school pipeline programs for college students and schoolkids, and developed a remarkable PowerPoint presentation touting law school to kids as the way to fulfill their noblest aspirations, including saving endangered dolphins). In 2013, LSAC paid its CEO, Daniel O. Bernstine, $657,363 for performing this noble work, and I am a sure that no dolphin would begrudge him a cent. 

Yes, a kid's decision to attend law school generates a lot of money for stakeholders of various sorts. But scambloggers are not among these stakeholders. OTLSS has received no six-figure grant offers to date. No one-figure grant offers either. No paid advertisements on OTLSS, you will notice. No compensation of any sort, unless we can figure out a way to monetize smears and threats from certain of our professorial betters.

OTLSS, like its inspiration ITLSS, is a project rooted in the personal consciences of its writers and commenters, in our simple desire not to see young people get scammed, and in our professional integrity. The dramatic and ongoing drop in law school applicants and enrollment--notwithstanding Access Group’s and LSAC’s sponsored scholars, sponsored conferences, sponsored pipeline programs, and cozy relationship with the ABA-- is proof positive that the scam is deflating, and a really remarkable tribute to our collective cyber-activism. 

But maybe I should give selling out a whirl, since so many of our profession's learned teachers have done so without apparent moral qualms. Hey, Access Group and LSAC, I have a scholarly thesis about the immense benefits of a legal education, and you may rightly conclude that my research needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding. It goes like this: Those who enroll in law school are virtually certain to obtain temporary occupancy of their very own castle in the air where they will all dine sumptuously on pie in the sky.

-----------------------

[1] Register with "Charity Navigator" (for free) and log-in to view Access Group's recent 990s. 

48 comments:

  1. I love how Simkovic's biography on the Seton Hall website says that, during what I'm assuming was a summer internship at the New York AG's office, he "investigated retail financial service companies engaged in illegal and deceptive sales practices."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm guessing that he can't see the irony there. The slightest bit of "public interest" work seems to create a lifelong sense of moral superiority and financial invulnerability in those who feel the urge to become law professors.

      Delete
  2. Confused - are you saying it's preferable that he get funding for his necessary scholarship from student loan revenues rather than seek independent financing?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ok, but what's actually wrong with his study? You still need to refute it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bathsheba BoldwoodMarch 31, 2015 at 12:10 PM

      Morning, Brian.

      Delete
    2. That's not the point of the post. regardless, the study has already been refuted by Campos.

      Delete
    3. Yes, it's already been refuted.

      I'd actually like to be reminded of its shoddy and fallacious methodology from time to time, but there's no need to give Simkovic unlimited time and attention to flog his dead horse.

      Delete
  4. Molding practice-ready professionals for tomorrow's constitutional challenges is Seton Hall's mission. It does not come cheap. But Seton Hall grads are getting the chance to argue before the Supreme Court, save African villages from cliche-bad-things, and live on board the International Space Station as in-house lawyer.

    Seton Hall law professors are underpaid actually.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Look, dolphins need lawyers. They become disabled and need workers comp. Dolphin businesses go under and they need bankruptcy help. Especially when they face discrimination in today's shockingly anti-dolphinist society. Many restaurants don't even accommodate dolphins' entry with special feeding tanks and transport to and from the ocean. Did dolphins march for civil rights in the 60's for nothing?

    This is why Seton Hall needs to charge $250,000 dollars from its student loan conduits. Wishing that tuition cost less is a subtle form of anti-dolphinism that belongs under the Confederate Flag.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My cat Tigger was arrested for domestic violence, and he needs an animal rights attorney to bail him out. Wherr are those animal law attorneys when you need them? Tigger is an orange tabby with anger management problems.

      Delete
  6. Thank you for opening my eyes (in this and other posts) to the fact that LSAC is in the tank for the law school scam.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't forget that the LSAC collects a fee every time someone applies to a law school (even if the law school doesn't charge that person an application fee).

      In addition, the LSAC's revenues from the LSAT must be plummeting: the fee has not gone up very much, but the number of people taking the test has fallen sharply.

      Old Guy

      Delete
  7. "Ok, but what's actually wrong with his study? You still need to refute it."

    Of course, but funding sources are always of interest.

    Amusingly, Simkovic contradicts most other law school apologists, who are arguing that yeah, going to law school in 2008 was retrospectively a terrible decision, but The Big Lawyer Shortage is right around the corner, and you can get in on the ground floor of this shortage and make the big bucks by enrolling in law school in 2015.

    Since Simkovic is arguing that timing is irrelevant to going to law school, he is contradicting all the people who are saying times were bad, but they are about to get a lot, lot, better for law school graduates.

    ReplyDelete
  8. At my TTT university (not law), this probably would not count as scholarship, not only because it was not peer reviewed, but also because it is more akin to a consulting assignment.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It is like when the tobacco companies used to sponsor self-serving studies about tobacco and that it absolutely did not cause cancer. This is not a study, it is a marketing piece. These law professors really deserve their own level of Hell in Dante's Inferno. They do not care about the profession or the economic train wrecks they create, so they can keep their 2-4 hour class work week, sabbaticals, tenure, and summers off. Law faculty are vile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let's take Seton Hall as an example and see what these clowns are actually charging for one hour of time, shall we?

      It takes 88 credit hours to graduate at 750 minutes of instruction per credit hour. That's 1,100 hours of instruction. Assuming Seton Hall doesn't raise its price over 3 years (LOL), those 1,100 hours cost $147,582 per student.

      So, a Seton Hall professor lecturing to 100 students for 1 hour is charging each 134.16...in aggregate, $13,416 dollars PER HOUR.

      Law professors claim they charge so much because they can do so well as practicing lawyers. Rrrreeeaaallly? They can do better than $13,416. an hour???!!!

      No, no, they cannot. This is just a rip-off.

      Delete
    2. As I've said before, one could hire a private tutor for much less than the cost of tuition at almost any law school.

      Old Guy

      Delete
    3. Private tutor? Barbri costs a couple thousand, and it teaches you everything you need for the bar exam. It's like they've figured out a way to teach law that doesn't cost $50K per year for three years. Like, there's this amazing new technology that lets you record one very competent lecturer (And Paula "JokeMachine" Franzese) and distribute that recording to thousands of students, rather than pay hundreds of individual instructors to teach classes in person.

      Delete
    4. Well, a decent legal education would involve more than preparation for the bar exam. But not many people coming out of law school have had a decent legal education.

      Old Guy

      Delete
    5. Well put, Old Guy

      Delete
  10. You are the Seymour Hersch of the scam blog movement... I Love it!

    ReplyDelete
  11. You are being very generous to call Seton Hall a "second-tier law school."

    You are being over-the-top generous to refer to Simkovic's infomercial as a "provocative study."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is a puddle of academic diarrhea located smack dab in the middle of a verminous hellhole. Though he may be leaving soon, the Valvoline Dean still stalks its halls and his soul will never depart. The fools who graduate from here will soon find that peddling a $eTTTon Hall degree, in this job market in particular, is like going to Golders Green and doing door-to-door sales of Zyklon B canisters.

      Delete
    2. This raises an interesting question: why the hell does an urban bomb crater like Newark, New Jersey need two law schools?

      Delete
    3. Why not? After all, Grundy, Virginia, needs one. So does South Royalton, Vermont.

      Old Guy

      Delete
    4. Isn't Newark like Robocops Detroit?

      Delete
  12. An offline friend offered to buy me a beer for this one. You see, Prof. Michael Simkovic, you are not the only one receiving tempting grant offers for writing about the value of a law degree. But will my blogging be trusted if I hops aboard the barley train?

    ReplyDelete
  13. I once contacted the admissions office of Indiana Tech Law Skule 'n' Biker Bar. Quite quickly they sent me a copy of Simkovic's bought-and-paid-for bullshit propaganda about the putative million-dollar premium for a JD. Theirs must not be the only toilet that circulates that codswallop.

    Old Guy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I once contacted the admissions office of Indiana Tech Law Skule 'n' Biker Bar. Quite quickly they sent me a copy of Simkovic's bought-and-paid-for bullshit propaganda about the putative million-dollar premium for a JD. Theirs must not be the only toilet that circulates that codswallop."

      One of amusing things about the S&M study is that they don't try to distinguish outcomes by the quality of law school attended - obviously, a JD from Santa Clara is every bit as valuable as a JD from Stanford.

      Any JD, from any law school, is worth a million dollars!

      Delete
    2. You obviously have not read the paper.

      Delete
  14. Unemployed NortheasternMarch 31, 2015 at 11:10 PM

    Just want to point out the irony/hypocrisy that Michael Simkovic himself has gone on the warpath multiple times about how funding from the Lumina Foundation, which Sallie Mae cofounded and gave $700 million in funding, drives think tanks like Brookings and New America Foundation to create neoliberal studies that recommend federal lending be curtailed, PSLF be repealed, and PAYE be jettisoned in favor of old IBR. See, for instance:

    1. "“It’s hard to make sense of a lot of what Lumina is advocating on student loans unless you think of how it would benefit Sallie Mae,” says Michael Simkovic, an associate professor at Seton Hall." http://www.buzzfeed.com/mollyhensleyclancy/how-a-private-foundation-with-deep-ties-to-the-student-loan#.oqnVbMa1nn [the linked article relates how Lumina, which was cofounded and solely funded by Sallie Mae, gave New America $3 million and now NA rails against PSLF and federal student lending]



    2. "Michael Simkovic, a visiting associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on lending issues, said that if Brookings’s reports on student debt were to dictate policy, they would “boost the profits of the student lenders like Sallie Mae.”" http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/at-fast-growing-brookings-donors-help-set-agenda/2014/10/30/a4ba4e8e-48ef-11e4-891d-713f052086a0_story.html [article relates how Lumina gave Brookings $1.9 million and now Brookings claims there is no student loan crisis]

    And here he is, taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from entities with direct stakes in the law school revenue game and writing studies that claim that law school graduates are immune to the laws of supply and demand, wage suppression, bear markets, elitism, etc. As if. To spell it out really clearly for anyone still confused about Access Group, it was a student lender. Back in the dark ages before GradPLUS (2006, I think), a law student could only borrow about $60,000 in federal loans for law school. Access Group competed with Sallie Mae, Nelnet, Citibank, etc. for the ability to extend $80,000 or $100,000 in private student loans to make up the difference. They would bundle those loans into Student Loan Asset-Backed Securities and sell them on Wall Street, of course. Yes, the law schools jointly own a student lending company, albeit a non-profit one (that sits on about $300 million in cash, if I am reading their 990s correctly). As far as I can tell, they haven't lent money in years, have outsourced their loan administration to third parties, and seem to exist only to provide salaries for their executives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have read that lots of the Student Loan Asset-Backed Securities (SLAB's) were bought by university endowments.

      Delete
  15. Yes, these academics are highly "honorable," huh?!

    ReplyDelete
  16. It's probably not a coincidence that this article came out in late March. The law school application cycle is just about over, and people are starting to get their acceptances.

    Do law schools anticipate/fear lower matriculations?

    I'm betting quite a few people accepted to law school will decide against going. Thoughts?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. People are applying later and later in the law school admissions cycle - I can only imagine the inducements desperate law schools are offering, just to get people to apply.

      After all, remember the 2015 law school motto:

      Always Be Closing!

      Delete
    2. Even many of the better law skules now admit people for the same year in July, August, and even early September.

      Old Guy

      Delete
  17. Those incredible claims about timing will sink Simkovic once and for all. He finished one extremely dubious study, and Brian Leiter had to fight like a rabid cat to defend it. Then, because of his own insatiable greed, Simkovic went for the easy bucks one more time. That was a very foolish move on his part.

    Simkovic has now established a pattern of accepting tainted funding, so his predictable conclusions are likely to be ignored the second time around. In addition, since the first study was revealed, Brian Leiter has destroyed his own reputation and become the pathetic object of nearly universal moral condemnation. He has little or no ability to further aid Simkovic by smearing his critics. Combine that with Leiter's endless legal problems, ironically initiated by himself, and his status within the law school cartel has to be close to zero by now. Simkovic appears to be yet another gullible narcissist who accepted Leiter's freely offered career assistance--and found his career irreparably damaged as a result.

    Such is life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure if Access Group or LSAC funded Simkovic and McIntyre's original paper, or if such funding naturally followed once their tendency to pursue flawed lines of reasoning had made the authors "safe."

      I do know, however, that in some very important sense Simkovic's research time was tainted from the start, since it was funded by the lifelong debt slavery of ignorant and naïve young people.

      Delete
    2. "Then, because of his own insatiable greed, Simkovic went for the easy bucks one more time. That was a very foolish move on his part."

      No. He still has his professorship, and likely future business with people needing 'scholarship'. Remember, he's proven his reliability, and is 'Professor Simkovic, author of the most-cited article on the economics of attending law school...' (where 'cited' means 'cited' by deans).

      -Barry

      Delete
  18. NYT - Law Schools and Industry Show Signs of Life, Despite Forecasts of Doom

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/01/business/dealbook/despite-forecasts-of-doom-signs-of-life-in-the-legal-industry.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Notice how he approvingly cites Simkovic's intellectually incompetent and dishonest "study" without mentioning the many people who have exposed it as a load of bullshit.

      Solomon's article is nothing but an advertisement designed to dupe gullible prospects into signing up for law school.

      Old Guy

      Delete
    2. I think that this is the second Dealbook article on this, and the second dishonest one.

      That tells me about other Dealbook articles, I think..........

      -Barry

      Delete
  19. Old guy: I just read that article too and it is basically what you said it was. Complete and utter bullshit coming from a law professor who just wants to completely ignore the damage legal education has done to a lot of people. The only good thing from this whole crisis is that student loans are going to eventually collapse. Most likely sooner than later based on how fast they are exploding the bubble. Maybe I'll be able to file for bankruptcy eventually and get rid of them at least.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Solomon's article is an unmistakable sign that the Berkeley law school is in serious trouble. They undoubtedly have a serious shortage of admitted students willing to sign the loan documents at sticker price. How do I know this? Because other explanations don't fit.

      Professors at schools like Chicago have an incentive to lie in order to get their pet students placed in academic positions. If the lemmings quit going to trashy law schools, the trash pits wont be in a position to hire any new professors. But Berkeley professors placed so few students in academia, even in the glory days of 2006-2009, that they don't have to care about enrollment at Tier 3 or Tier 4 schools. So they've obviously been reduced to lying just to maintain their own enrollment.

      Delete
    2. No, the day that Berkeley has problems will be long after half of law schools have actually folded. This is a professor spouting BS for his own purposes, and likely for money.

      -Barry

      Delete
  20. Yesterday I heard a couple of law professors in a public discussion about constitutional law, One of the professors was well-groomed, well-prepared, gracious, courteous, and professional. He made time for a pleasant conversation with me and left a very good impression. The other "professor" was physically and morally repulsive, perhaps even worse than Brian Leiter in that regard. He had a high, girlish voice, refused to look at the audience, and rambled through so many double and triple negatives that no one could possibly understand him. I was thoroughly embarrassed, not only for him but for the Tier 1 school that so carelessly hired him.

    I concluded from this experience that some professors are good scholars, good teachers, and good people. I also concluded that most schools are completely indifferent to the quality of their "professors." They literally don't care if your law degree is worth one dime, let alone the $200,000 you may have borrowed to obtain it.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Seton Hall Law school is a flaming pile of trash. The "degree" it awards isn't worth the paper its printed on. It will admit anyone just to take their money and then stack the deck against them finishing. They seek to climb the ladder on the backs of those they admit and manipulate employment and scholarship figures to rope in new applicants and improve their ranking, but it's a facade. Note to future law students: AVOID THIS "SCHOOL"!!

    ReplyDelete