Friday, July 22, 2011

Economics negative 101

Over on facebook, I ran across this comment on a post about the economics of legal education:

"Legal education in the U.S. could be tweaked, sure. But the biggest problems I see are the absurd increases in number of law schools, class size, and tuition."

The writer is not a "friend" and I do not otherwise know him. I am not picking on him but I think his thoughts may be similar to that of others. That worries me because it seems so off course.

As I understand it the current pressing issue is that law school grads cannot find jobs. So, they invest thousands and end up with a great deal of debt and little or no return on that investment.

The question is whether the problem is more law schools, larger classes, and higher tuition. Unless the law schools are actively misleading investors, what is the connection between any of these and really bad decision making? In my town, there must be 50 people who have invested in selling pizza. If one of them folds, will the reason be that pizza making equipment was too expensive, or readily available? Makes no sense.

I cannot help but wonder if the recent "blaming" trend is the result of finally graduating an age group composed in large part of people who were always over affirmed, could never make mistakes and, thus, cannot handle the criticism the market is offering about their decision making.


Stephanie said...

I believe that part of the problem isn't that there are too many law schools, or that they are too expensive but that there are too many lawyers. These opinions touch on it better than I can:

Also, the entire model of legal education is flawed, which I think is a bigger culprit. There should be a bigger focus on skills classes and internship/apprenticeships, than on things like law review and legal theory. I mean,academia and theory is fascinating but it isn't going to help me draft a complaint or write a patent application.(Though UF does seem to be getting better with it's skills classes.)

Jeffrey Harrison said...

It is very flawed but the question is whether more skills would mean more job for graduates. It certainly would make them better but I am not sure the demand for them would increase even if they were better prepared. But, who knows?

You are right. UF is trying very hard to become better at skills. It is hard to determine exactly what that means and it is hard for people to be objective when jobs and status may be affected.

Stephanie said...

Yea, I'm not sure if it would mean more jobs per se, but it would shift the pressure away from having to focus on grades/academia and I think the quality of hires would go up. Also, students would have a better idea not only as to what type of law they want to practice, but whether they want to practice law at all.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I think an extensive apprenticeship makes sense. Like externships, the school could collect tuition but not actually do any teaching.

Anonymous said...

I know this has a been a much-discussed topic, but I think it should be reiterated that law schools have actively misled students about employment opportunities. Post-employment statistics are fudged, and it seems like "gaming" the stats is the status quo. Maybe it's naive for students to have relied on these stats. We're probably bad consumers for not doing more research. However, if you claim that 90% of your grads get jobs (when really its <30%) you're misrepresenting the value of the product you offer.

The pizza maker, on the other hand,knows the utility of the oven he's purchasing, it makes pizzas. If his business failed because of defective pizza-making equipment, it would be the manufacturers' fault. So, Legal education is like a defective pizza oven.

In addition, I think the 3Ls that just graduated didn't know the market would be this terrible. We were beginning our 3L year just as the crash was unfolding. And it seems like the legal profession has been disproportionally affected by the bad job market. The US economy lost over 8 million jobs in 2008, and we've only regained 2 million of those jobs in the past 3 years. This ongoing recession (I guess we're technically not in a recession, but it sure as hell feels that way) has also disproportionally affected "generation y." While overall unemployment is 9.2%, my generation has an unemployment rate of 13%.
As I look for jobs, I've noticed a recurring theme "must have at least 5 years experience." Where am I going to get this experience if no one is willing to provide me with it? I get the impression that employers (who, by the way, are making excellent profits right now) are unwilling to spend money to train inexperienced hires, when they can just get more productivity (ie, force people to work more hours for fewer dollars) out of the people that are fortunate enough to have jobs.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Agree with most of this especially the law school deception and the change in the market so quickly. Nevertheless, starting about 2 years ago, the word was out. Law school gets you a lottery ticket in the job market but not a job.

Anonymous said...

If a pizza maker wants to open a business, he usually needs to get a loan from a bank. The bank will not lend him money if the bank believes his business is likely to fold.

In contrast, the US federal government gives funding for higher edu to people based on need, not based on the student's likelihood of success in the job market.

So, unlike the pizza maker, there is no external mechanism that seems like it effectively regulates who can get federal funding (and therefore amass debt) for higher ed.
I think the problem is that there's an assumption that spending money on a degree will result in a higher paying job (I believe there is some correlation here, but the payoff isn't as big as people expect, especially for areas like law). These schools are basically getting paid for products that suck on the federal govt's dime. (assuming that students default on their loans because they cant find jobs) I think this points to the need for greater accountability for institutions.

Anonymous said...

What I think gets lost in a lot the law school bashing is that many of the law students who complain would not have had better prospects in other fields. The job market is terrible all over, particularly for young people with no experience. In the one field where jobs seem widely available--medicine--, doctors are complaining all the time about how they hate their jobs.

Anonymous said...

UF Law fudges job statistics, like all of the others. Part-time, $10-an-hour "public interest fellowships" and "research assistantships" created before job statistics had to be turned in should not count as "employed".

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I know. I think we are probably doing many of the things other schools are doing too. On the other hand, if our ranking drops, the alums have strokes. My advice to them, help out by hiring a UF grad,

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about whether any schools are more aggressive about massaging employment statistics than others. If so, we might see some shifts in the rankings when the new reporting regime, which requires disclosure about jobs that actually require a juris doctorate, kick in. If we had "more accurate" numbers, I think the schools that would take the biggest hit in enrollment and quality of students would be those for profit schools that charge tuition in the range of the top 10 private schools, but don't provide the same employment opportunities. I think the top 10, and most of the top state schools that have kept tuition costs lower, would still be a good bet.