Saturday, May 25, 2019

Here's Your Feasibility Study, Shreveport

To make up for posting to the wrong blog yesterday, I'm now going to rip on the idea of a law school in a third-tier metro area, which is somehow an idea people are still discussing in 2019.

As Old Guy mentioned earlier this month, Shreveport, Louisiana, is actively exploring getting a new law school, or maybe a branch of Southern, whatever, who cares.  Earlier this week, the Louisiana House voted - 98-0 - for the Board of Regents to study the viability of a law school in Shreveport.

In other words, for now at least, they're seeking a feasibility study. Well, why can't we do that here and simply save the legislature some money?

As we know from the Indiana Tech experience, feasibility studies can be rigged by white collar salespeople desperate for a law school, leading well-meaning idiots down a path of disastrous idiocy.  Okay ideas go 50-48.  Atrocious ones, 98-0.

In contrast, consider this well-reasoned feasibility study for a potential law school in Alaska from 2004, which found that the entire state would only produce about 56 qualified law school applicants each year, not all of whom would necessarily want to attend law school in Alaska since Harvard is still in Massachusetts and people still want to go to places like USC.

Rounding up for convenience, Alaska has approximately 740,000 people.  At the 2000 census, it had 630,000, so it is gaining about 6k a year and the estimated population in 2004 would be around 654,000.  Using crude math, that means one qualified applicant for every 11,500 residents or so.  Nationwide, incidentally, there's currently about one admitted law student for every 8,000 or so people in the general population.  As we all know, however, there's too many darn people going to law school, so that number is probably high.

In any event, using the 75-student minimum number cited by the Alaska report, to support a law school, there would need to be an untapped population of 600,000 at an absolute minimum (this is approximately Wyoming's population, and it barely supports a law school dedicated to one single state) and more like 850,000 to a million.

Do we have that in Shreveport?  Nope.  The metro population for Shreveport, Louisiana, is around 450,000.  To get into the range of even minimum law school demand, you have to expand the population radius to include places like Longview, Texas (65 mi., 45k) or Texarkana (70 mi, 40k).

But neither of those places will really feed directly into a new 5th-tier school in Shreveport.  Longview residents can get in-state tuition at Texas public schools and Dallas (a two-hour drive away) fills most law school demand by itself with Southern Methodist, Texas A&M, and - now - UNT-Dallas (which was built in 2009, in part, to serve this area!). Texarkana is similar but on the Arkansas side it is just two hours to a state school that is more established and in a better location.

No one is moving from a nicer city to attend law school in freaking Shreveport and no one is fretting about driving two hours to law school instead of one.  It's not keeping a single person from going to law school currently, so building a law school in Shreveport would suck demand from schools like UNT-Dallas, UA-Little Rock, Southern U., Loyola-New Orleans, Mississippi COL, and similar places.

It's particularly egregious when you look at the in-state competition's admission scores.  In 2018, LSU's hypothetical 25th percentile student is at a 150 LSAT/3.16 GPA. Loyola's is at 148/2.89.  Southern's is at an offensive 142/2.55.  If there's anyone in Shreveport (or Monroe or Alexandria) with the chops for law school, they can currently get more than enough in scholarship money to make attending one of these places worthwhile and that's before we consider the Texas schools.  At a minimum, these paltry scores tell us there's no qualified in-state candidates being rejected or anything; that teat is milked..
 "If you look at points south between Baton Rouge and Shreveport and west between Dallas and Shreveport and north between Little Rock and Shreveport and east between Jackson and Shreveport we have one of the largest geographic regions in the country without a law school," Glover said.
Good God. Alaska (663 sq. mi.) has no law school.  There's no law school anywhere in eastern Montana or northern Wyoming.  There's no law school in northern Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota.  There's no law school in Nevada outside of the very southern tip. A large swath of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas is completely devoid of any law school.  Western Texas has no law schoolat all.

Yet El Paso survives, same as Reno/Carson City, Mobile/Pensacola,  and - yes - Shreveport.  Colorado and Wisconsin - these are sizable states with more than 5 million people each, okay? - do just fine with two law schools. Arizona, at 7 million, should have only two.  Louisiana doesn't even have five million and it's already got four law schools, two of which objectively suck and a two of which are weak sisters to their southern peers.

Shreveport?  Shritttttt.  The city's not really growing and if it's made it this long 2019 is not the time to build.  If you come up with a feasibility study that says otherwise as to organic law school demand, the countdown to an Indiana Tech-like fate is on, because you're boarding a cruise speeding towards an iceberg even faster than the one boarded by the sophisticated consumers enrolling at Loyola or Southern with a 145 LSAT.

So I'm looking forward to this feasibility report and its exorbitant price tag, because it's either going to take 30 pages to repeat the above or be an incredibly, stupendously expensive lie.  And you know, that's sorta fun either way.


  1. Good analysis, Law School Truth Center. Especially interesting was the report that found that Alaska (by the way, you mean 663,000 square miles, not 663) could not sustain a law school. Hardly any money was available for that report, but the author did investigate the subject reasonably and thoroughly on the basis of the available data. Some highlights:

    — Perhaps 30 people per year would be interested in attending a law school in Alaska. But 75 per year would be needed.

    — Admissions to the Alaska bar are declining.

    — Only about 70 or 80 jobs per year are created for new lawyers in Alaska, and 60% of those are judicial clerkships lasting only a year or two. Furthermore, the number of new jobs is likely to decline.

    — Even the other states with large areas but small populations eclipse Alaska in the issuance of degrees of all sorts. An important point is that Alaska doesn't award any professional degrees at all—so why a law school?

    — The cost would be prohibitive, and annual subsidies in the millions of dollars would be required.

    The author did refer to "pent-up demand" for a law school, meaning interest from local people who for whatever reason were not prepared to study outside the area. She correctly thought that the pent-up demand would not last beyond the first few years. And that is exactly right, as we know from Indiana Tech's experience. In its first year, Indiana Tech drew in a handful of people from the Fort Wayne area who otherwise would not have gone to law school even though establishments from Notre Dame down to Cooley were just a couple of hours away. Almost all of that "pent-up demand", however, was soaked up in the first year. Enrollment kept dropping from its already unsustainably low level. After four years and some $20 million from the parent institution's endowment, Indiana Tech was gone.

    The same would happen in Shreveport. A law school there actually would draw in a few local students who wouldn't have gone to law school at all—but only in the first year or two, after which that pool (more like a puddle) of local interest would dry up and La Toilette Shreveport would find itself competing unsuccessfully, like Indiana Tech, for schools that at least had an established presence, reputation, and alumni base.

    One fact of life in places with a relatively small population is a limited range of facilities. It is no accident that Broadway is located in New York City, not in Shreveport or Alaska. There just aren't enough people to support every specialized offering. Consequently, if you live in one of these places, you know that you will probably have to go elsewhere for certain types of medical treatment, entertainment, employment, and instruction.

    By accident of history, a few smaller centers, and even a couple of rural locations, have a law school. That's no excuse, however, for building one in Shreveport. There simply is no need for a new law school anywhere in the US, nor for the lawyers that one might generate. Not for nothing have the past two or three years seen a spate of closures, with more easily predictable.

  2. The scam rolls on-but a question: how did Alaska(above) and Tennessee(the potential Valpo scam sale) get honest appraisals? Somebody at Scam Central must have failed, as the central tenant of the scam is to never tell the truth about anything.

    1. Good question. Certainly in the case of the proposed "sale" of Valpo (for $0) that central tenet was upheld: Valpo was framed as a brilliant opportunity to establish a law school "needed" in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Perhaps in that case, however, the scam was easier to expose. After all, Valpo was obviously a failure: that's why the parent institution was trying to give the pig away, rather than selling it for value. In addition, the state regulatory body that put the kibosh on that proposal had to consider the other law schools in Tennessee, which would be adversely affected by competition from a new law school (some of them said so!). At Indiana Tech, by contrast, no one gave a damn about potentially diverting lemmings from the other four law schools in Indiana: Indiana Tech had only its own interests to consider, and it would gladly have driven other law schools out of business if it could have. (Fat chance of that. A new law school these days has many strikes against it and cannot expect to succeed—unless it is Irvine, with immense funding and the support of a powerful state university system. The idea that Indiana Tech, with no record nor even accreditation, would start out with a higher median LSAT score than two established law schools in the state was always ridiculous, yet Peter Alexander and his fellow scamsters held it out as realistic.)

      That said, I certainly don't put it past a public actor to approve a stupid über-toilet project. Perhaps Alaska and Tennessee are fortunate enough to have reasonably sane people in charge of such decisions. Louisiana and Texas may not share that fortune.

  3. "Western Texas has no law school at all."

    So Texas Tech is where? Eastern Texas, maybe?

    1. Texas Tech is located in Lubbock. I'd say that Lubbock is part of the region known as West Texas but not necessarily part of "[w]estern Texas", much as Ohio is part of the region known as the Midwest even though it is situated quite far to the east.

      The geographic point stands. There's no law school in the vicinity of El Paso, for instance. The U of New Mexico, hours away in Albuquerque, is closer to El Paso than Texas Tech is.

    2. 347 miles, and in a different climate, topography, and culture.

  4. From the Alaska study (2004):

    "(1) The existing data on present and future demand for lawyers indicate no appreciable growth in demand in Alaska in the next ten years...

    (2) In addition, the potential pool of applicants doesn't appear large enough to sustain a [$50mil to build, $6mil/year to operate] law school...

    ...[i]f the state of Alaska is truly interested in offering its residents access to a legal education, it should begin with a grant or incentive program for law students attending school outside."

    Aw, HELL naw! How are people gonna get their names on buildings, and draw those juicy high-dollar salaries? Student Loan money doesn't just grow on trees, you gotta have a law school in place first to open that slush fund!

    1. Keep in mind that that study is 15 years old. Maybe the law school would have cost only $6M per year 15 years ago, but I doubt it. Today $6M per year is about the least that a law school can expect to spend. A school in expensive Alaska, even a small one, would probably have higher operating costs than one in most other parts of the US. Let's say that today it would cost $9M per year. That study estimated enrollment below 30 students per class, or 90 in the whole three-year program. To break even on operating expenses (never mind the initial outlay), the school would have to charge more than $100k in annual tuition, with no discounts, unless it received reliable continuing funds from some other source (hello, $tate government). The cost of three years, fully financed with student loans, would be half a million dollars or so—far more than at any other law school (even the élite ones are still well under $400k). So people would look elsewhere, enrollment would fall, and the price would have to go even higher…

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  6. I've never been to Shreveport, but I have family in and around Monroe Louisiana. The towns and parishes there have been declining for at least 40 years and probably longer. Economically we're talking small farmers, drilling for small pockets of natural gas, and logging. Attempts to attract more lucrative employment for people have failed for nearly half a century now. There is absolutely nothing that a third tier (Or fifth tier, or whatever tier) law school will add to this mix.
    Any study that tells you otherwise reeks worse than the papermills that have been closing throughout north Louisiana.

  7. The feasibility study had concluded that "Louisiana doesn't have a capacity problem; it has a distribution problem." In other words, the study recommended trying to attract lawyers from other parts of Louisiana to the Shreveport area as opposed to minting ones there.

    Sensible enough. But they missed something. The local politicians weren't really interested in increasing the supply of lawyers in the area, they just have to pretend that's the goal because the real goal is..unsavory.

    The real goal has nothing to do with demand for graduates and everything to do with demand for seats. A new school means job creation - remember the school isn't just hiring profs and admins, but all sorts of other jobs like secretaries and janitors, not to mention whatever other cushy gigs the local politicians who spearhead the thing will (in an unwritten way) essentially get to hand out as favors. Meanwhile, student loan dollars flood the region every year and those dollars rapidly find their way into the hands of local landlords, restaurants, etc.

    It simply doesn't matter what happens to the kids after they graduate. While they are in school, they have a check from Uncle Sam to pay living costs in any amount the school determines reasonable and every year a new crop of them comes in.

    That's why they'll push ahead regardless of the results of the feasibility study. A REAL feasibility study would ask ONLY whether the school can attract enough students without so much tuition discounting that you end up at a loss, and without so many bar failures that accreditation is jeopardized. But that would expose the real motive, so they tried (and failed) to get some consultant to say there's an actual legitimate reason to create a law school, i.e. a lawyer shortage. Well, surprise surprise: It's impossible to say there's a lawyer shortage anywhere in the country. No matter how charitably your hired gun expert tries to twist the numbers they just can't find a way to say that, so they're just barreling ahead anyway. Because the real idea is to rob Peter (the national taxpayers and the students themselves) to pay Paul (the hyper-local economy in the school's own municipality).