Monday, February 7, 2022

Über-toilet coming to West Virginia?

A new bill before the West Virginia House of Delegates would establish a law school at Marshall University.

Now, Old Guy had never heard of Marshall University, but he can say that this proposal is even more ridiculous than the proposal to open a law school in Shreveport, Louisiana. West Virginia is declining in population. The largest city, Charleston, does not have even 50,000 people. Pretty though its mountains can be, the state is the very poster child of illiteracy and backwardness. (Q: What does a West Virginian girl say when she loses her virginity? A: "Cut it out, Pa; you're crushing my Marlboros.") This rural, retrograde state absolutely does not need even the toilet law school that it already has, let alone another one.

Even Brad D. Smith, the president of Marshall University, has expressed polite doubts. He points out that he and his colleagues have not "seen or conducted a market study for the development of a law school". Indeed, Mr. Smith, a sensible person would start there! Especially after the Indiana Tech catastrophe. But don't expect much sense in the West Virginian legislature.

How little sense? Have a look at this:

A law degree is one of the most versatile degrees, [Delegate Matt] Rohrbach said. Many corporate CEOs and other corporate leaders hold the degrees to help them better fulfill their roles without ever stepping [sic] foot in a courtroom, he said.

First of all, as we have said countless times, a law degree is actually one of the least versatile degrees. It's useful for practicing law—and just about nothing else. And it's not even very useful for that, because there are two graduates for every entry-level job. 

Second, we've also exposed the fallacy of concluding that the fact some "corporate leaders" or other supposedly prominent people have a degree in law implies that the degree contributed significantly to their professional attainment. Many "corporate leaders" own a set of golf clubs, but it does not follow that by buying a set of golf clubs you will stand a decent chance of becoming a "corporate leader".

Third, a new law school at Marshall University would only ever be an über-toilet, and anyone who wants an idea of what would await its graduates can have a look at the many über-toilets that see fewer than half of their graduates working in law ten months after graduation—and then usually in low-paying positions. An über-toilet in West Virginia could expect to fare even worse than its established counterparts in more urbanized states, because whatever demand there is for lawyers in West Virginia is amply met by the one law school in the state and others in the region. 

In a manner strikingly reminiscent of Indiana Tech's "feasibility study", Rohrbach maintained that his proposed law school would "fill[] the need in the Huntington, Charleston, Beckley market. There's [sic] a lot of people with a need, but they can't really quit what they're doing and move to Morgantown for three years" in order to study law at West Virginia University.

Why does that recall Indiana Tech? Because there too we were told of the vast numbers of people stuck in Fort Wayne who couldn't move their asses to attend one of several law schools within a two-hour drive. But the bogus "feasibility study" could not change the facts. What Indiana Tech found was that the local market consisted of a couple of dozen people at most—by no means enough to run a law school. And hardly anyone moved to Fort Wayne for the privilege of studying law 'n' hip-hop at Indiana Tech. The über-toilet was gone in four years, and the parent university lost much of its endowment on the disaster. The same fate would surely befall a law school at Marshall University, except that Fort Wayne—which is quite a bit bigger than Huntington, Charleston, and Beckley combined—would look downright promising in comparison to southwestern West Virginia.

Mr. Smith, take it from Old Guy: resist every effort to saddle your institution with a law school. 


  1. Ahem...West Virginia's literacy rate is 86.6%. New York - 77.9%. New Jersey - 83.1%. NY has how many law schools? 15? Looks like WV could use more and NY less. (Former NYC resident now living in TN)

  2. Ah yes the old chestnut about versatility which is itself just an illustrations of the correlation/causation fallacy.

    Here's what I've seen in real life: The people who have JDs but who are in highly paid nonpracticing jobs usually either had preexisting connections or prior career experience.

    The "usual" law student who goes straight from kindergarten through JD usually has nothing of relevance to nonlegal employers, and the resume screaming "law law law" may even put you at a disadvantage because they'll assume that you're just a failed lawyer (and who wants to hire a failure), or an argumentative jerk, or have too-high salary expectations, or you might even be an active saboteur who will be looking for reasons to sue them.

    In many cases, people wish they could leave the JD off the resume entirely, but that is often impossible because of the "resume gap" it would create. It can feel like you'd have had a better chance if those three years had been spent in prison. Versatile my butt.

  3. And this surprises us, how? Way back when, it was the goal of every politician to have a post office built in his/her district-and their efforts would be permanently recorded in the granite cornerstone of the building.
    Well, the PO is now it's law schools.
    And if I've got the right guy, Rohrbach is a physician, who knows precisely ZERO about the current status of lawyers or the legal profession-or the fact that WV has plenty of lawyers, thank you, and PA, MD, and VA are a short car ride away with their surplus pools of attorneys-at-law.
    And Rohrbach is a Republican-I thought the GOP opposed wasteful government spending-what gives? Oh yeah, the prospect of "Rohrbach School of Law" or his name chisled in granite on the building.

    1. You do know one thing if you're a politician: Those students get loans, and those loans flow not only into the school but into the pockets of the various employees the school has to hire, the contractors that built and maintain the building, and also to local landlords and restaurants and such. It's a way to draw federal money down into your community or state, and it really doesn't matter what happens to the grads afterwards because every year one class graduates but another class comes in with more fresh loan dollars. So the demand for lawyers is irrelevant; all that matters is the demand for seats in law schools.

    2. Oh, it's certainly no surprise. This kind of thing has been attempted everywhere from Alaska to Louisiana. Every little whistle stop just has to have its own law school. Sane heads prevail now and then: consider the cases of Alaska (no law school yet!) and Tennessee (which rightly rejected the proposal to give now-defunct Valpo away—talk about a white elephant—and set it up in Murfreesboro). But Indiana Tech won't be the last unneeded über-toilet law school.

      Naming it after Rohrbach isn't likely. I think that 8:44 is right: it's just a pork-barrel project for putting federal money into local pockets.

      What's interesting is that the president of the university that would be directed by legislative fiat to open a law school is expressing doubts about the soundness of that proposal, which, as he correctly points out, is unsupported by any research on demand. Was he even consulted?

    3. It's telling that even the university president doesn't think there's enough "demand" when he too is probably really thinking of demand for seats, not demand for lawyers.

      That means he thinks he either couldn't fill it, couldn't fill it without too much tuition discounting, or couldn't fill it with enough people who'd pass the bar even under the ABA's rather lax standard.

    4. Yes, of course he's thinking of demand for enrollment. He too doesn't know a thing about demand for lawyers. But he must have heard about calamitous law schools at places such as Indiana Tech, Valpo, and even the U of Minnesota that have bled the parent institutions white, and he doesn't want his own institution to suffer a similar fate.

      Even the law school at West Virginia U has only 111 first-year students and LSAT scores of 151/154/156. A new law school at Marshall University would be far worse: knock off six or seven points on the LSAT and count on an initial class of 20 students or fewer. Like Indiana Tech, it would fail to thrive and would have to be shut down ignominiously within a few years. Remember too that only one student in Indiana Tech's first graduating class passed the bar exam (though I vaguely recall that two others slipped through on appeal). Do you expect more from an upstart of an über-toilet in Huntington, West Virginia?

    5. Well, Marshall, like U of Minn and WVU, is a state school so I doubt the endowment is at risk as was the case at Valpo and Indiana Tech. I think the issue at state schools is that law schools are upsetting the apple cart, looking for cash infusions rather than paying a "tax" to subsidize less lucrative programs. Medical schools are black holes for cash but that has always been the case so it doesn't get questioned. Consider the case of Quinnipiac University. It aquired, by means of a faculty revolt, the hyper toilet U. of Bridgeport law school in 1990. This neccesitated re-accredidation by the ABA, with full accredidation coming in 1992. They then managed to start improving the calibre of the student body. In 2000 Quinnipiac opened a medical school. I am just cynical enough to believe that had QU not gotten ahold of a cash cow law school the medical school would never have happened, though I would imagine that nowadays the landscape has shifted.

      And more to one of OG's points, the combined population of Huntington, Charleston and Beckley in less than 45% of the population of Fort Wayne. There are no doubt smaller communities in them thar parts and people living in unincorporated areas, but it is well to remember that Fort Wayne is the seat of 660 square mile Allen County, the population of which is about 20% of the population of the whole State of West Virginia. Even if in-state tuition might lure some local yokels who would otherwise go to some out-of-state TTTT the population base is so much smaller I don't see them doing much better that IIT did.

      Most people who have heard of Marshall heard of it becuase of the November 1970 crash of a chartered airliner that was bringing the football team back from an away game, killing all 75 people on board. Most of the football team, all of its coaches, some trainers, athletic department officials and boosters were among the dead, as well the flight crew. It now being over 50 years later that would probably be mostly forgotten but for the 2006 feature film "We Are Marshall" which told the story of the school's ultimately successful effort to field a team the next year. Never saw it, read it got mixed reviews. No idea how it performed at the box office.

    6. Those WV #s don't look too bad, from a purely accreditation standpoint. Statistically speaking, if your 25th percentile is 150+ they're likely to pass the bar.

      As woefully inadequate as it is to get into a school worth going to, I think we have to remember that 150 is average...Average for kids who've managed to finish college and applied to law school. Even that rather modest achievement is already surprisingly above a whole-society average level of intelligence. Although most high school students do go to college nowadays, over half still don't finish and fewer still ever look at any kind of graduate school. Average in an above-average pool should be able to get licensed.

      Such people may not likely get jobs, but they're pretty unlikely to put your ABA status in jeopardy.

    7. Indiana Tech did indeed draw from a much larger population base than any school in Huntington, West Virginia, would. Feel free to throw in the people in small communities in the vicinity of Huntington, but a fair comparison would require doing the same for the Fort Wayne area, and that would only make the case against Huntington even stronger.

      The experience of Indiana Tech is instructive. The place started with a purchased "feasibility study" that presented the same tired old canard about scads of brilliant people who were crying to become lawyers but couldn't carry their asses a couple of hours away to any of several existing law schools. On the basis of nothing in particular, Indiana Tech's misleaders anticipated an inaugural class of 100 students. They actually got a number in the low thirties (33, if I remember correctly). Right after the first year, the founding dean was sacked outright (losing his teaching position as well as his administrative position), or, as the official propaganda put it, tendered his resignation effective immediately so that he could explore other opportunities. (He appears to have been out of work for a long time, though eventually he ended up at another toilet law school.) Two years later, Indiana Tech desperately tried to solicit students by reducing tuition for the entire entering class to zero, yet still only 15 people took the bait. A year later, Indiana Tech announced that it was shutting up shop without the usual "teach-out" plan.

      Now, if the legislature of West Virginia compelled Marshall University to open a law school in an area with a much smaller population, what would happen? I estimate that initial enrollment would not exceed 20. Perhaps the state would keep pouring money down that rathole in order to maintain the tiniest accredited law school in the US (assuming that the toilet ever achieved accreditation), but a more likely outcome would be closure within a few years in the style of Indiana Tech.

      By the way, law schools, at least make your names distinctive. There are already two law schools with "Marshall" in their names, and a couple of years ago there was another. All of these are über-toilets, so the name Marshall is already tainted with shittiness. "Washington" is similarly overexploited, being used by the U of Washington, George Washington, Washington & Lee, Washington U in St Louis… At least those aren't über-toilets, but still the similarity of the names causes confusion.

    8. It's true that the median LSAT score is around 151. But 84% of the graduates of West Virginia U in 2018 who took a bar exam had not passed one within two years. One failure in six—over a period of two years, with multiple chances and 50+ jurisdictions in which to try—is far from glorious.

      Let's also remember that 5% of the latest entering class at West Virginia U got free tuition and that 14% got an outright bribe (formally a discount of "more than full tuition"), so nearly one student in five was bought.

      And that above-average pool of yours is also far above average in another respect: 18% of the class of 2020 at West Virginia U was unemployed ten months after graduation. The unemployment rate for the general public is a small fraction of that. And most of the general public doesn't take out $150k–200k in non-dischargeable student loans at high interest for the privilege of being unemployed.

    9. Not sure where you got that #? According to their ABA disclosures the first-time pass rate was 70% in 2018, and by 2020 they got it up to 80.

      No question that the employment outcomes are still going to be abysmal, nor is there any question that they might well have to bribe those 150s to attend. But those bar passage rates seem to say their accreditation is safe for the time being.

    10. Sorry, I said the opposite of what I meant: only 84% of graduates in 2018 who took a bar exam did pass one in two years. Source:

      Yes, their accreditation seems safe, owing to the unreasonably lax standard—and even it is quite recent—whereby an accredited law school can consistently see a quarter of its graduates fail to pass a bar exam within two years (and that goes only for those who do attempt an exam). Of course, as we have discussed before, even those law schools that fall below the 75% threshold are likely to get all sorts of dispensations from the scam-enabling ABA, such that they won't really be held to the so-called standard.