Sunday, February 11, 2018

"Values" explain why law schools are still lobbying to eliminate the reporting distinction between actual jobs and law school-funded make-work.

Last year, the ABA decided to eliminate a significant feature of the annual recent graduate employment survey--namely the requirement that any school-funded position must be classified as "Employed – Law School/University Funded" rather than as "Employed – Bar Passage Required." 

Disgracefully, the ABA made its decision without providing an opportunity for notice and comment. In response to fierce criticism, the ABA subsequently postponed implementation of this change pending further discussion. In so doing, the ABA issued a hilariously brazen memo explaining that it had dispensed with its customary rulemaking procedures in good faith anticipation of "universal or near universal acclamation. . . as to both process and substance." 

Why consult the public in advance when you are sure that the public will approve anything you cram down its throat, all the more enthusiastically in that it comes as a complete surprise? Yes, this is the same ABA that purports to tutor the world in rule of law.  

Unfortunately, the proposal to merge the categories of "employed" and "employed/ law school funded" is far from dead. Indeed, it was the main item on the agenda of the ABA Section on Legal Education council meeting, which was held from February 8th through 10th in San Antonio. In anticipation of the meeting, 187 law professors signed a letter to the ABA in support of the proposal. William Treanor, long-time Dean of Georgetown Law, felt so strongly about the matter that he submitted his own letter. To quote from these delightful missives:
"The exclusion of school-funded public interest fellowships from the calculation of full-time, long term, bar passage required employment has had the direct and immediate effect of harming our students who aspire to careers in public interest law. The current reporting format punishes law schools by treating their year-long fellowships differently from other year-long opportunities, such as clerkships, and incentivizes decreased school support for such fellowships. . . . Why would the bar seek to chill schools who seek to encourage students to pursue public service? Why close off avenues to public service when the state courts, judges, and bar leaders urge that we redouble our efforts to provide legal representation to those who cannot afford it? The spirit of the current reporting format is directly contrary to the values that we, as legal educators, seek to instill in our students." -- signed by 187 values-instilling lawprofs.
* * * 
"An argument I often hear for distinguishing law-school funded positions from others is transparency. This argument is at odds with reality. Far from being a negative, our public interest fellowships are a selling point to prospective students. . . . We tout our partner fellows because they reflect our law center’s social justice mission and because students find them attractive. . .Far from hiding our program, we celebrate it. . . . Treating law-school funded public interest fellowships differently than other legal positions devalues public service and sends a signal to prospective law students that public interest fellowships are not as good as other types of positions. Such treatment undermines our profession’s core commitment to justice."  -- William Treanor, Dean and Executive Vice President, Georgetown Law School. 
These letters constitute discouraging evidence that law schools intend to chip away at transparency protections by aggressively lobbying an accomodating-to-the-point-of-regulatory-captured ABA.

A law school-funded position is a highly artificial creation in that it is supported by tuition money already paid by the recipient, a compensation structure more akin to a partial refund than to a salary or even a run-of-the-mill grant. So a clear distinction ought to be made between these make-work programs and real jobs.

I do not doubt that the many law professors who signed the first letter instill values as generously as mosquitos instill mosquito bites, but it is still a shame that they are so eager to conceal or obfuscate highly relevant information about employment outcomes from the very idealistic young people who have paid huge sums of money to prepare for a career in public service. It may be presumptuous to challenge law faculty in their expert domain of "values," but I seem to recall from kindergarten that honesty is a pretty important value. 

Interestingly, the ABA Law Student Division Council opposes changing the reporting requirement. These selfish souls are clearly in dire need of innovative remedial values instruction from their law professors. 

The professors complain that the reporting format unjustly "punish[es]" law schools that are seeking to do the right thing in offering fellowships. But the punishment, such as it is,  merely consists of preventing law schools from claiming unearned success in their placement stats or conveying a false impression of what the public sector/public interest job market is really like. (See e.g. Yale Law School Career Development webpage, updated Sept., 2017: "Getting a permanent public interest job is more challenging than getting a large firm job").

The related disincentivization argument advanced by the academics is especially galling in its hypocrisy. It is similar to some wealthy brute arguing that he would be disincentivized or chilled from throwing a few conscience-easing scraps to his victims if the public, including intended or potential future victims, were clearly informed about the number of persons in need of such charity.  

Maybe worse is Treanor's point that his school serves transparency by "celebrat[ing]" school-funded fellowships in promotional and recruitment material, making it unnecessary and counterproductive to tabulate these fellowships separately from actual jobs. Treanor  boasts in his faculty bio that he has been formally designated a "Champion" by the National Law Journal because of his commitment to the "core values" or the legal profession. One might have hoped that a values champion-- I mean Champion-- such as Treanor would have acknowledged the difference between public relations and transparency. 

But I suppose that simply looking at cold columns and rows of segmented data muffles the celebratory "signal" that law schools wish to transmit, the same deceptive signal that predators often convey to their prey. 


  1. The problem here is the lack of transparency from the defenders of these supposed public interest law fellowships. Medical school graduates can pursue a variety of fellowships after residency to further specialize. Pediatricians can further specialize in areas like cardiology or infectious disease. Orthopaedic surgeons can further specialize in areas such as sports medicine or surgery of the spine. What exactly are law schools teaching graduates about public interest law? I can buy the value of a fellowship from a school like Harvard or Stanford. Only a small fraction of grads from the very top schools pursue these fellowships. Perhaps these grads passed on an Article III clerkship and Biglaw for the prestige of working as a “fellow” at a top ranked law school. It’s unlikely Harvard, Yale, or Stanford are merely trying to pad their employment stats.

    But I doubt the remaining law schools promote fellowships as a means of training grads to practice public interest law. 5% of 2016 grads from the overrated Georgetown law school were unemployed 10 months after graduation. Over 10% of Georgetown grads worked in these supposed public interest law school funded jobs. Only 74% of grads obtained a FT, LT, bar passage required job. If these fellowships were truly created as a path to public interest law, then give us the data on where these grads end up a year after graduation. Give us the results of a public interest law employer survey indicating employers prefer grads with experience in public interest law fellowships. More than likely, Georgetown is just trying to prop up their abysmal placement rates to fill seats and get their hands on student loan dollars. The school did churn out 650+ grads in 2016.

  2. JD-Advantage clocking in at a whopping 15%, just as it has for the last decade! Nothing says "non-legal employers value legal education" like 15% of graduates getting and/or actively choosing this category. Sign right up, kids, sign right up...!

  3. Let's also be honest - throughout most of American history, public service was filled by the upper-crust. Public service was instilled as a value, a virture, and you did it out of (ideally) a sense of good-faith duty and obligation.

    In other words, only the wealthy went into these public service positions, be they prosecutors, defenders, or judges, because they could afford to. They didn't need the money, and they had the education and connections to do the job well.

    It's not a perfect system, as wealth, education and culture are not absolute proof against corruption, but neither is trying to convince naïve young people to enter public service just so the student loan dollars can roll in. There is just not that much demand that government is willing to support, and it is not the fault of the young people that free legal services don't abound everywhere.

    Hey, shouldn't the law profs be filling these roles, for free, as part of their commitment to "service"...? I mean, a few do, but look at all the untapped potential...!

  4. This is like the question of whether sales returns and allowances are an expense or direct reduction of revenue (negative revenue). Imagine a company that had $10 million in sales, all of which were returned. Should that company be allowed to report $10 million in sales, $10 million in expenses and zero net income? Of course not. Even though net income is zero, a legitimate $10 million in sales means something to investors and creditors. So, the company has to report $0 sales, $0 expenses, and $0 net income. Now we can truly see what the company is doing.

    Similarly, imagine a law school that employed 100% of its graduates is such positions. Should it be able to report 100% of its graduates as Employed - Bar Passage Required? Of course not. That would not give a true picture of the success of its graduates finding real law positions. It is, as the kids say, a no brainer.

    And in truth, Employed – Law School/University Funded is a generous category. I don't think they should be counted as employed at all.

  5. The Law Schools aren't really fooling anyone, though. There has been a steep decline in both the quantity and the quality of Law School applicants. Here in Maryland, University of Baltimore law school grads have told me how dumb many of the current law students there are. The smart ones manage to intern in prosecutor's offices and at the Public Defender's Office and get hired upon graduation, which is why I run into them in court, but apparently most U.B. students aren't very bright, and the problem gets worse each year.

    1. Quality is declining even at the top, to say nothing of fifth-tier institutions such as the University of Baltimore.

  6. How shameless! They know full well how disingenuous their argument is, but they do it anyway. Maybe they are becoming more brazen as some of the law school scam blogs fade away, such as Nando's blog.

    Eventually this blog will also shutter. They are just trying to wait these things out.

    I do not at all understand why people still go to law school.

  7. What careers are there in "public service law" that (a) arne't there otherwise and (b) are aided by the law schools filling any demand with Ponzi-funded positions?

  8. Scam-dean Treanor seems not to have noticed the clash between allegedly noble funding of programs in the "public interest", on the one hand, and base concern with alleged disincentives, on the other.

    How many of these scam-funded positions really do involve public service? Don't many of them consist of administrative work for the law school, such as rubber-stamping applications at the admissions office?

    If scamsters wanted to contribute to public service, they could set up an eleemosynary institution with stably employed full-time lawyers, or at least fund positions for years on end. Instead, they fund "fellowships" just long enough to get past the ABA's ten-month threshold for reporting of graduates' employment. Strictly coincidental, I'm sure.

  9. "Public service" is another myth heavily promoted by the law-school scam. It's a trap set for students who fancy themselves pursuing worthier goals than filthy lucre.

    Well, here's what happens:

    Well-meaning but naïve 0L goes off to law school with the goal of representing dolphins against evil corporations or bringing constitutional challenges against the Trump régime. Three years later, our hero(ine) graduates with no job—but $200k in non-dischargeable debt. Maybe the law school extends a one-year "fellowship" that pays perhaps $15k out of the vastly greater take from tuition. That won't come close to covering the payments on the debt, never mind such luxuries as food and housing. Even if the graduate somehow completes the "fellowship", it doesn't lead to a job, in public service or anything else. So much for brandishing one's barristerial sword against corporate stooges and ultra-right-wing buffoons (one and the same, really).

    Now and then a recent graduate finds a public-service job in law that pays $30k or perhaps $40k. Typically that goes to a rich kid. Who else could afford to take it?

  10. All true. . .but how much sympathy can you have for an aspiring law students who has such unrealistic expectations? I have told people, again and again, careers in Sports Law International Law Space Law do not exist. . .

    1. When I went to law school back in the early 90s, lots of students at my T2 trash heap professed an interest in “environmental law.” I even took an environmental law class during my second year and spent a semester being bored to tears learning about the finer points of the Clean Water Act. What they didn’t teach us in that class was that environmental law employers preferred to hire grads with words like Harvard and Columbia printed on their JD degrees.

    2. "All law schools are equal...but some law schools are more equal than others..."

      Oh well. Let's not let some harsh realities get in the way of the student loan gravy train, said the law school cartel...

  11. Law students fail to understand that the most common type of modern law graduate is not an Environmental Lawyer, an International lawyer, etc. The most common are "Unemployed laywer" "under-employed lawyer" and "ex-lawyer". I have been practicing for over 20 years and know and encounter these types of lawyers all the time.