Monday, April 24, 2017

The Writing was on the Wall at Whittier

Given the conflagration that has occurred now that Whittier has voted to close its law school, I'm reminded of earlier discussions in late 2015 where a defense was proffered for the existence of the school.  Given the lofty-pedestal that selfless, sacrificing non-profit schools have occupied, it was especially telling to read the recent TRO that was filed in defense of the law school, whose arguments for non-closure were all about how profitable the law school was to the parent university, and how much money had been made in the selling of land the law school stood upon.  
 
Frankly, I'm not posting here to get into that (although Professor Frakt did pointedly chime in), as we all had our opinions then and years prior, Whittier or no Whittier.  What I remember more are the following comments from (former) Law Professors:
 
 
Several years ago I had the misfortune of being a professor at a TTT/TTTT law school, and let me assure you that it was predatory.
 
To the point where I quit working there after only one year rather than continue to be associated with it and also reported its shenanigans to the ABA.
 
Which did nothing, of course. Which is a big part of the problem.
Sheldon,
 
You are obviously bright and accomplished. Like you, I taught at a low-ranked law school. I made all the arguments you make. You have to make those arguments to convince yourself that you are not part of the problem. I understand. It was a wonderful, rewarding, flexible job, and I did not want to leave.
 
At the end of the day, however, most of your students, like most of mine, are worse off after graduating from your law school. You can deceive yourself by keeping in tough with the handful of graduates that, by luck, connections, or brilliance, land lucrative or fulfilling legal jobs, but if you are honest, most of your students will never get a reasonable return on their investment. The vast majority of your students at Whittier are not given opportunity by their JD, but rather are given a financial burden that will crush them.
 
Again, you are smart. You can poke holes in LST's work. Congratulations. You have a PHD and a JD from elite schools; you should be able to do that, even with work from much more sophisticated people. But you should be seeking the truth. And do you actually think that the vast majority of your students are better off after obtaining their law degree from your school? Have you surveyed your graduates? Have you kept in touch with the ones who failed the bar multiple times? Again, you have a wonderful job, but at some point you may realize that most low ranked law schools create more burdens than opportunities.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Whittier Law School Closing

Happy 4/20 day.

In arguably the first "real" casualty of the law school bubble's burst, the Whittier College Board of Trustees has voted to close Whittier Law School.
We believe we have looked at every realistic option to continue a successful law program. Unfortunately, these efforts did not lead to a desired outcome.

Accordingly, on April 15, 2017 the Board voted not to enroll new 1L classes at the Law School beginning this fall.
The law school leadership is disappointed at their little game being over.
As is well known, the last few years have been extremely difficult for law schools across the country. Whittier Law School felt those challenges keenly and we took significant steps to address them. Sadly, our sponsoring institution opted to abandon the Law School rather than provide the time and resources needed to finish paving the path to ongoing viability and success. We believe this action was unwise, unwarranted, and unfounded.
Apt, as attending Whittier Law School itself has been an "unwise, unwarranted, and unfounded" decision for prospective law school applicants for some time.

According to Law School Transparency, Whittier's 2015 graduating class had an employment score of 19.1%, an underemployment score of 48.9%, and a bar passage rate of 38.1%.  The non-discounted cost of this train-wreck is $284,377.  In 2016, Whittier enrolled a class of 132 with 25-75 LSAT split of 144-149. 

I am not sure Whittier provided a valuable service when it was founded in 1966, but today it is a deadweight piece of foul shit that needed flushing.  Literally everyone in the legal profession - and the clients we represent and that intangible sense of "justice" we supposedly uphold - except Whittier Law School administrators benefits by its closure.

We can debate how many negative-value institutions should close, but few people with any real credibility would defend Whittier's existence.  So let us celebrate this particular domino falling and hope that it is not a one-off loss of faith by a rogue small college.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Another View of the Economics of a Law Degree

OTLSS has been fairly consistent in its fundamental message over the last four years: law school is too expensive overall for what you get, the job market is not favorable and continues to not be favorable to graduates, and what program you get into is a primary consideration assuming you still want to take the plunge.

An unpopular message, of course, if you are involved in legal education.  Especially if you do not have a long history and a large endowment that allows one to be picky about who it lets in.  But the scambloggers don't know anything, of course, so best to dismiss them as whiny losers - which was the extent of the response from the Cartel to scamblogger criticism.  Sure it was couched in fancy terms and attempts to legitimize the argument with dubious economic data, but that was the end result.

People with no dog in the fight, however, would seem to say otherwise, which much more straight-forward data:

 
Per this chart, we seem to know this already.  Law degrees are one of the (inexplicably) most expensive graduate degrees on the market.  MBAs and STEM degrees are significantly less by contrast.  Heck, even certain Arts programs require actual studio space, to say nothing of science, engineering, and medical facilities required to teach their respective subjects.  Law, by contrast?  Pfft, open up a mall storefront and some WestLaw accounts and you're good.  Books and fax machines are expensive, but not THAT expensive.

Well, what about that stellar success that awaits 98.6% of law graduates, or whatever the Cartel advertises as a good job rate nowadays? 

 
Hmm.  Well, eleven years out, Law Grads still have a one-to-one ratio as regards their income and debt burdens.  Doctors are down to 0.90, which is to be expected given their initial high-cost/high-pay scenario.  MBAs and STEM folks are down into the high 0.70s.  MAs sadly seem to increase, which points to why many folks ran into the arms of the Law School Cartel in the first place.  Hey, with no other points of comparison, Law looks better than a career in the Arts...!
 
Lastly, preftige matters, full stop, as can been seen from this last chart:
 
 
It would be hilarious if it wasn't so sobering.  Graduates from non-elite law schools (if you even want to call the top 100 "elite" in the first place) start with TWICE the debt burden, on average, that their preftigeous conterparts, yet still only have the above-referenced 1.0 income to debt ratio eleven years out.  While you see some confirmation of this phenomenon in other fields as well, only in the medical profession does in not seem to matter where you went to school(?), at least as far as economics are concerned.
 
Again, one has to ask: why is law school so expensive?  Why is the data so starkly different than the "positive" trends that are so noticeable in other professions?  How can it possibly cost twice as much to educate a lawyer as opposed to, say, a scientist?  Yes, the law can be complex to the uninitiated, but over time one's knowledge base and skills improve as in any field of study.  The same it true with, say, organic chemistry, for example - people manage to make significant educational strides in fields of that nature as well, but apparently at half the price.
 
In any event, the article closes with the following:  So, if you are seeking an affordable graduate degree that will boost your earning power, what should you do?
 
Yes, indeedily-doodily, that is the question.  It would appear that the data speaks for itself.  Don't go to low-tier law schools on vague and ephemeral notions of "defending liberty," "pursuing justice," or "loving the law," that's for sure.  Also, don't go to law school at all, unless your social capital allows you entre into top programs with a lock on a job prior to starting. 
 
Unless you enjoy having debt equal to your earnings for decades or more, of course.  Sadly, this appears to be the case even in the best of scenarios.



Monday, April 3, 2017

Cincinnati and the Limits of Law Dean Power

Often we direct our ire at law school deans, usually for egregious things documented in the public record.  But it's important to remember that at many schools, law deans are far from monarchs and serve at the daily will of a pleased administration, governing, board or faculty.  Particularly in the faculty context, cookies are not easily returned to the jar from when they were stolen.

Consider the last few weeks at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and Dean Jennifer Bard.

On March 19, Cincinnati Business Courier ran this item:
A group of faculty at the University of Cincinnati College of Law is calling for the ouster of its new dean less than halfway into her five-year contract due to an apparent conflict of priorities.
...
[A] group of at least nine law professors discussed holding a vote of no confidence in Bard as early as Nov. 22, 2016. UC's College of Law has 36 faculty members and seven professors and deans emeriti.
Upon reading, one has to wonder what, exactly, Bard did to earn a vote of no confidence.  Thoughts of Larry Mitchell, Sujit Choudhry, and to some extent Lawrence Sager emerge.

Three days later, the Business Courier had a response from Dean Bard herself:
The University of Cincinnati's College of Law dean said calls for her ouster from a "small but vocal cabal" of faculty result from steps she has taken to tackle the college's deficit.
...
One suggestion was to integrate the UC law library into the existing university library system.
...
Bard said an audit of the law school identified a need for written pre-travel approval and the submission of travel receipts, which has caused discomfort for faculty.
Emphasis added.  The New York Times write-up also identifies increased teaching loads and trimming supplemental salaries to those with endowed chairs.

These ideas aren't radical cost-cutting measures. For over a decade the rest of the legal profession - if not the white collar world in general - has been tightening the reins on travel abuses.  That a public law school would require pre-approval and receipts for reimbursement should be the long-held, no-duh expectation and not a controversial suggestion from a radical dean.

Almost immediately, she was placed on administrative leave by an interim provost.

As with any workplace soap opera, there's likely additional facts to which the public is not privy, but consider the optics on this:
  • Cincinnati brings in a female law dean to fix the budget in an era of deficits and reduced revenue
  • Law dean proposes what appear to be entirely reasonable cost-cutting solutions
  • At least a quarter of the faculty revolts within two years of a five year deal and they unceremoniously put her on leave mid-semester
Not only is it bad for Cincinnati that the faculty has put its pouting foot in the ground that no one's touching their luxury goodie bags, but consider the ramifications upon the bigger picture.

Many law schools still operate in a 2005 mentality that the applicants will come, tenure is sacred, academic conferences in Waikiki must be attended, etc.  You can't simply inflate revenue the way tuition is inflated.  Dean Bard isn't the first hatchet-wielder and she sure as heck will not be the last in this particular industry.

Seeing a provost dump the law dean at Cincinnati for proposing such measures, what law faculty would stay silent in the face of auditing and radical proposals? Does this not encourage a stronghold defense of such sacred perks?

Ultimately, law deans can only be as good - and can conversely be as evil - as the people who support them permit.  Here, we have a law dean who from public appearances, made an effort to curb costs at a mid-range public law school.  As a thank you, she has apparently been shown the door and will likely be replaced by an executive will be more deferential to the crucial needs of tenured faculty.