Tuesday, July 1, 2014

JD-Disadvantage, Part IV: Burk's "The Smokin' Bucketful of Awesome" Test

Damn, I just found another Unicorn/LawProf who "gets it," and it brightens my day.
Readers of this blog have heard me go on about this before, for example, but outside of a Campos or a Tamanaha, ScamDeans and LawProfs would often brush the concerns and complaints of working-class-JDs aside, even those who hold these allegedly gold-plated "JD Advantage" jobs, such as yours truly. Nope, instead of listening to the anecdotes of people "living the dream," it's better to opine about things one actually knows nothing about in reality and then proffer those speculations as valid evidence, somehow. Thus, the scambloggers were historically relegated to the dustbin, as is the usual fate for those who have the temerity to voice messages that are unpopular with the Establishment, because Federal Student Loan Dollars.
Remember folks, for those keeping score at home, "JD Advantage" jobs comprise approximately 15% of law school graduate outcomes in the aggregate, depending on how you fiddle the numbers. This is easily verifiable for those law schools who are willing to publish accurate employment statistics, or from those Heroes who study this sort of thing (nice chart below). Approximately one grad out of seven actually "gets" and/or "wants" these positions, meaning the other six have vastly different plans for their JD like, oh, I don't know, actual practice or something. The non-legal (or, hell, legal for that matter) marketplace doesn't seem to be wanting JDs as fast as the Law School Cartel seems to be producing them, but, hey, whatevs.
 Chart from The Law School Tuition Bubble - Note the so-called popularity of JD Advantage and Professional Positions over, say, Bar Passage Required Jobs over the last 13 years.

Professor Bernard Burk at UNC Law dives in:
I explained in my last post that there are essentially three ways to think about the relationship between a course of graduate or professional study and any employment the prospective student may obtain.....[o]ne way is to posit that...you are pursuing the course of study for its own sake without expectation of any practical benefit[.] This is perfectly valid, but highly personal and idiosyncratic, and not typical[.] The second way of thinking about the relationship [is that] there must be a relationship between the two such that the education is justified by the worldly benefits that it creates...this Practical Justification Test is met if either the postgraduate position requires the degree as a condition of employment, or the course of study provides dramatic and substantial advantages in obtaining or performing the job...[t]he third way of thinking about the relationship [is] that the course of study transforms you into such a Smokin’ Bucketful of Awesome [(tm) -Ed.] that the degree alone routinely opens doors to countless jobs unrelated to the course of study that would otherwise be closed to you[.]
Sounds pretty rational and reasonable. Typical ScamDeans and LawProfs love to harp on Number One, as if everyone has a trust fund and goes to school for pure funsies and "to avoiding working hard," to hear some Boomers tell it. Perhaps that was true for some ScamDeans and LawProfs, but most mere mortals have to work for a living, thanks. Number Two is the classic "Law School" explanation that doesn't rely solely on "defending liberty" and "pursuing justice" platitudes (again, insert trust fund here if you want to be a "do-gooder," sadly, but these are the times we live in). Number Three is our favorite oft-proffered "JD Advantage" claim - yessuh, serve me up some o' dat Smokin' Bucketful of Awesome! Who doesn't want an outcome that sounds like your favorite barbecued-ribs recipe?
But the Establishment has to get a word in edge-wise, because Federal Student Loan Dollars, so here we go:
In response[,] [an] admissions officer suggests..."a fourth way to think about the relationship between seeking an advanced degree and the employment a student may obtain afterward":

I think many students see the versatility of the law degree as a form of risk insurance. Their intent in attending law school may be to practice law and they'd be disappointed not to. But if they don't find "traditional" legal employment, they still might be able to make use of their law degree. It's common to run into law graduates who have ended up outside of traditional legal practice, but in a field for which the JD has some benefit. Is it wrong to point to such outcomes?...So while it may be overselling to say that a PhD is perfect for someone seeking to become a high school teacher, or a JD is perfect for someone looking to do compliance, I think it's fair to point out to prospective students that these degrees might be beneficial in ways that are not obvious.

BWAHAHAHA, yes, (sniffle) because (giggle) "law degree as risk-insurance" and "law degree as something that might be beneficial in ways that are not obvious" is CLEARLY the SAME THING! Yes, I would like my insurance policy that I paid good premium for to be beneficial, maybe, in some vague, ephemeral, and non-obvious ways, thanks. Because if my house catches on fire, I'm willing to roll the dice and "see where things go" instead of, say, getting real value from the policy.
Thankfully, Professor Burk doesn't let the ScamDeans of the world get away with such tripe:
Let’s apply this insight (assuming you can dignify it with that title) to the decision whether to buy a particular car...[t]he used-car salesman is touting the value and utility of the car, assuring you it has everything you need to take you where you want to go. You are understandably worried that the car may not live up to your needs. One thing that the used-car salesman does not say is, "No worries, pal. You should buy this car because, even if the engine implodes the minute you drive off the lot, the smoking pile of scrap that’s left will have measurable salvage value." We generally don’t buy cars for their salvage value[.]

If you have your wits about you, you consider whether to go to law school taking into account the likelihood that the degree will take you where you want to go—at the very least, a job that justifies that course of study under the Practical Justification Test[.] But what if the degree (car) blows up the minute you drive it off the lot (graduate)? And what if the car costs $150,000, and there’s a 50-50 chance (or worse) that’s it’s going to blow up as soon as you hit the open road? What’s the value of what’s left? Should you buy a law degree for its salvage value?
Ah, yes, the wonders of the "open road." But I digress.
Here is where the wish is all too often father to the thought. Law-school apologists assume very high salvage value for a law degree...[u]nfortunately, there is simply no empirical evidence that [these] assumed benefits exist for the typical person in any measure substantially greater than could be achieved by paths other than law school that require much less time and money[.] So does a law degree have any salvage value? Undoubtedly. Is that salvage value materially greater than what you could get (and the costs you could avoid) doing something else for three years instead of law school? There’s no evidence that it is for many if not most people...

In other words, touting the salvage value of a law degree as "a form of risk insurance" without offering a clear-eyed assessment of how likely it is that the risk insurance will be needed, what its coverage limits are, and how cheaply you could get the same benefit another way is inexcusably incomplete. It’s a failure to accept the difference between a Smokin’ Bucketful of Awesome and smoking pile of scrap.
Damn straight, Professor Burk, and thank you for being willing to express the truth. Friends, we've been saying this for some time now, but don't take it from the scambloggers, take it from a LawProf. Would that many, many others in the Establishment would pull back the curtain in so frank a manner. We all might actually get somewhere, then, rather than enticing the next crop of 0Ls to make pipe-dream decisions that are really not in their best interests, because Federal Student Loan Dollars.



  1. How many of those supposed "JD Advantage" jobs pay enough to justify 3.5 years and $134,212.86 in NON-DISCHARGEABLE debt?!?!

  2. I apologize this is off-topic, but it's important to the federal lending landscape so I wanted to alert OTLSS and didn't want to make throw away e-mail.

    Corinthian Colleges (Heald, WyoTech, etc.) a for-profit entity is almost certainly going to close very soon (matter of days).

    Get this: the Closed School Discharge in the Code of Federal Regulations will likely cost the federal government 1.2 BILLION in written-off federal student loans for Corinthian College students unable to complete their degrees.

    Taking a billion + dollar hit on one for-profit network could be a game-changer for Congress and the White House.

    Important development in scam land, especially because they've been gone after on the recruitment / revenue side by the California AG.

  3. "It’s a failure to accept the difference between a Smokin’ Bucketful of Awesome and smoking pile of scrap."

    If someone did look into it, I think what they would find is what is already widely, albeit anecdotally, reported: the salvage value is NEGATIVE.

    The JD is toxic outside of the law, particularly when John Q. Public does not have the first clue what is happening inside the legal industry. The legal industry is dying, imploding, shrinking rapidly, only you've never head of it.

    Imagine if Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns had failed, but the general public had no idea. You think the guys that were traders making millions 2 days ago and who are today trying to find jobs delivering pizzas are going to get a job?

    Why even assume a salvage value because someone was able to land a job DESPITE the obvious failure to gain legal employment; i.e. despite the JD/ Esq.????

  4. The justification that "study is good for its own sake" is actually trotted out quite frequently by law-school touts who want to make us seem base and money-grubbing for wanting a paying job. Yes, study is good for its own sake. I've studied any number of things, some of them to a quite advanced level. Mind you, I've studied them on my own, not through a hackademic program that costs $200k or more. (For one thing, I don't have $200k to spend like water.) And I certainly would have studied law on my own if only I could have become a lawyer in that way. As we know, however, law school is (realistically if not always technically) the sine qua non of admission to the bar. And that is the only reason for which I went to law school. I certainly didn't sink years and most of my savings into that project for the pleasure of possibly being allowed to lick the boots of some jive-ass pseudo-intellectual who writes risible tripe about the Open Road or hip-hop.

    Time was when just about any degree transformed its bearer into a Smokin' Bucketful of Awesome™ for the purpose of finding work. That time was over by 1980. Now that everyone and her pet iguana has a fistful of degrees, the things just aren't worth much. They certainly don't impress in their own right. Indeed, a JD is a downright liability outside the legal "profession".

    So that leaves us with needing to find a decent and relevant job in order to justify law school. Would any law-school tout like to explain where I can get said job?

  5. "No worries, pal. You should buy this car because, even if the engine implodes the minute you drive off the lot, the smoking pile of scrap that’s left will have measurable salvage value."

    As far as my JD, is there anyone I can call to haul this thing off to the junkyard?

    But seriously, in the realm of law school apologetics, this is by far the highest pile of bullshit.

    "The JD will open so many doors and vastly increase your earning potential!"

    Uh, no, actually it took me almost three years from graduation to find my first full-time gig, and I'm making $35k a year, with no sign things will improve. Quite a few of my classmates are in the same boat, or never got a toehold in law at all.

    "But you have to look at the value of the JD over you lifetime!"

    Yeah, well, all available evidence suggests that the field is 1) getting more overpopulated each year; 2) being undermined by technology and outsourcing; and 3) your first job (if you get one at all) sets the trajectory for the rest of your career. Moreover, it would take my next SIX years of income to retire this student loan debt.

    "Don't overlook that the JD gives you enhanced critical thinking skills and prepares you to be a better citizen in our democracy! Just think how that benefits us all!"

    Yeah, man...without a JD, how could I possible keep up on current events and issues?

    "But no matter what you end up doing, your legal education will be relevant and beneficial!!"

    For sure. H.L.A. Hart is by far the greatest influence on my grease trap emptying technique.

    1. With four names, how could H.L.A. Hart have missed the opportunity to use the lower case exclusively?

  6. but why?

    for what reason would they do that?

  7. Cooley's toppling! See Above the law.

  8. Such a crock. JD advantage pretty much don't exist - we know that because graduates of the very top law schools rarely take them. In other words, the number of non-attorney positions which graduates in lieu of attorney positions is negligible.

    And why call it JD advantage? Let's not forget that these are all college graduates in the first place. If the JD was really an "advantage," wouldn't see that these positions pay significantly above what an undergraduate with 3 years of experience makes? Enough of a premium to justify the debt? Any premium at all? I didn't think so.

  9. Don't get me wrong, obtaining a JD b/c you do NOT want to practice law is ridiculous. The only people who should go to law school are those who actually WANT to practice. Still, I don't agree that a JD is "toxic" or a "disadvantage" when looking for a non-legal job.

    BUT a JD certainly won't open any doors for you, AND it won't get you more money if you somehow manage to get a "JD advantage" job. So the term "JD advantage" really is misleading, since there is NO advantage to having the JD. You're basically being considered with all the other applicants, who probably have a wealth of experiences that the company may find just as valuable.

    The problem with finding non-legal work these days really is the bad economy. We STILL don't have the same number of jobs in the workforce as we did back in 2007, plus many of today's jobs are part-time and/or temporary, so the workforce numbers are being inflated (for political reasons). Thus, schools are still pumping-out graduates at a time when nobody is hiring and everyone is clinging to what position they do have.

    I'm old enough to have been in the workforce back in the early 2000s, and lawyers were able to move around from job to job. Aside from lateral moves at small/mid sized firms, suburban lawyers were getting jobs at insurance companies, banks and plenty of other places too, so it wasn't something exclusive to the "biglaw" crowd.

    Thus, I do believe an improved economy will help new graduates and lawyers who have managed to stay employed during this time. Who it will NOT help are those who have been unemployed for too long and/or those who rely on contract work as their primary income.

    1. "JD disadvantage" is more like it. A JD applying for a job outside legal practice comes across as a lawyer manqué.

  10. Imagining The Open ToadJuly 6, 2014 at 8:39 PM

    "Damn, I just found another Unicorn/LawProf who "gets it," and it brightens my day. "

    Commenting on this, just sayin', Prof. Burk has been writing stuff like this for years. Google his "what matters most" series (use the quoted matter with the word burk in the google string an you should hit it).