For-Profit Law School Faces Crisis After Losing Federal Loans
February 12, 2017 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Charlotte School of Law Loses ABA Accreditation, Students Lose Access to Federal Student Loans According to A.B.A. data, only 26.3 percent of recent Charlotte Law graduates had full-time jobs that required passage of the state bar and another 10 percent were in jobs where a law degree was preferred.

As federal law school debt mounts, discontent with the accrediting process has been building. Last summer, Education Department officials asked bar accreditors why so few graduates of low-performing schools had found bar-required employment. According to a transcript, when asked how many law schools had lost their accreditation for low bar passage rates, the A.B.A.’s answer was none.

A recent review of the 205 accredited law schools, by the nonprofit Law School Transparency, found that 51, including Charlotte Law, were in the “extreme risk” or “very high risk” category for graduate success.

Still, the A.B.A. has been reluctant to clamp down on schools. On Monday, its delegates defeated a measure that would have required law schools to shorten the period that graduates have to pass the bar.
posted by A. Davey (61 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hopefully the first of several to either lose accreditation or close outright. Over the past 5 years, the number of admitted applicants at US law schools has fallen by about 30%, and yet about 20% of law school graduates nationally still do not find full time employment that is either bar passage required or JD preferred, suggesting enrollment needs to fall by at least another 20% in order to balance supply and demand.

(It's not as simple as finding full time jobs for every graduate; they also need to be jobs that pay enough to cover the enormous cost of law school. Right now about a fifth to a quarter of recent law school graduates (i.e. in the last 15 years) do not consider law school to have been worth the cost.)

Personally I think the only way out of this mess is for law schools to move to offering an undergraduate degree in law and change the JD to being a research-oriented graduate degree on par with other doctoral degrees. I'm about to publish a paper exploring this idea in greater detail, but suffice to say there is ample historical precedent for the idea and fewer practical barriers than you might think (e.g. it wasn't until the 1970s that US law schools fully switched to granting the JD rather than the LL.B, and as a result most states still allow someone to take the bar with an LL.B).
posted by jedicus at 9:34 AM on February 12 [30 favorites]


is it weird that what is fundamentally a professional organization is following a policy that depresses wages in the profession?

or is this a matter where the interests of the senior partners at firms don't align with law school grads, and the folks who have already made their nut are selling out the new kids?
posted by murphy slaw at 9:46 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


Law school debt alone, when counting interest, has risen to about $175,000 per student, said J. Jerome Hartzell, a lawyer in Raleigh, N.C., who has studied the debt issue.

“It would require an income of over $122,000 to be able to afford just the interest on a student loan of that size,” Mr. Hartzell said. “Most North Carolina lawyers don’t earn that much.”


These loans are at a much higher interest rate than is typical for undergraduate loans. Moving to undergraduate degrees for prospective lawyers wouldn't do anything for law grads already saddled with high-interest loans, but it would improve things for future law students without having to do anything to change federal student loan policy.
posted by asperity at 9:49 AM on February 12


or is this a matter where the interests of the senior partners at firms don't align with law school grads, and the folks who have already made their nut are selling out the new kids?

It's that one. The ratio of associates to partners at the 250 largest firms in the US peaked about 25 years ago, and in 2008 the ratio flipped. At large law firms there are now fewer associates than partners.

This has been caused by several factors: large layoffs during the financial crisis, increased used of outside contract attorneys, increased use of technology (e.g. automated document review), and increased hiring for non-partner-track staff attorney positions.

When you look at surveys asking law firm partners to predict near term trends for their firms, they expect automation to increase, associate hiring to decrease, and profits per partner to increase. They are absolutely pulling the ladder up behind them.
posted by jedicus at 9:52 AM on February 12 [24 favorites]


I'm a Canadian law student, but as part of signing up for the LSAT, I opened myself up to solicitation by American law schools. I was mostly curious to see what it would look like.

I kept a little spreadsheet of all the spam I received from American schools. The vast majority of it was from Unranked schools (those that come in the bottom quarter of the US News Rankings). Often they sent multiple emails to let me know who perfect I was for their school.

Charlotte sent me 7 emails, making it the second most desperate of any schools. I assume their recruiters work on commission.

The only school to send me more email was Florida Coastal School of Law.

The only school to send me funnier email was University of LaVerne California which proudly proclaimed in all of their email that people should choose to move between countries to study with them because they are the only ABA-accredited law school in Inland Southern California. Not the best. The only. And if you read the fine print, you would discover that they weren't actually yet fully accredited. Their only selling feature and it was provisional.

All of this is to say, there are a lot of shitty law schools out there, Charlotte School of Law conducts itself among the shittiest, and the only thing surprising about this story is that they were actually sanctioned for their shittiness.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:57 AM on February 12 [20 favorites]


Another formerly sorta respected institution charged with protecting us from predators is shown to be corrupt. So much for "self-regulation". The ABA, at least in this instance, behaves like any other racket in protection. Law is a trade, the intellectualization of it results in aberrant anti-justice "logical" freaks like Scalia and those who claim to be able to mind read [aka channel] the dead [originalism]. Law and plumbing, not that much difference in the sense that they both have aspects of waste control and disposal.
posted by SteveLaudig at 9:59 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


I'm seeing a large increase in people asking me about going to law school in reaction to the current political climate. Many want to go fight the good fight for legal aid and nonprofit causes. However, they don't seem to know about these traps and the general high cost of law school education. They also are not well informed about the actual practice of law. I am very concerned that coupled with likely deregulation and oversight reduction, the maket is ripe for taking advantage of these people. All a school needs to do is entice people to pay for a semester or three before they give up, or maybe even graduate them without telling them that they have no hope for a job or, in some instances, even the ability to sit for the bar in most states because the school is total crap.
posted by Muddler at 10:12 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


The other pressure is that law schools are a profit center for universities- professional school prices combined with large classes and no need for supplies and equipment. When I was filling this issue before the recession, law schools were subsidizing other programs.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 10:26 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


The other pressure is that law schools are a profit center for universities

This certainly used to be true, but the programs I'm familiar with are now pulling substantial amounts of money from their parent universities in order to stay afloat. Law schools that aren't part of a larger university are feeling the pinch even harder.

This is one of the consequences of most law schools being funded primarily by tuition rather than an endowment. Growth was entirely dependent on being able to crank up tuition and increase class size. Well now class sizes are shrinking, and the schools are competing for a shrinking applicant pool, so raising tuition isn't an option either. (Nominal tuition continues to increase, but the bottom line discounted rate paid by most students is stagnant.)

A lot of schools are trying to make up the difference by opening the spigot on foreign LLM students, but that market is rapidly saturating as well.
posted by jedicus at 10:43 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


The ABA has law professor and law librarian sections which have an obvious vested interest maximizing the number of ABA-approved schools, as a key criteria for approval is having a certain minimum of tenure-track professors and full-time librarians. As we all know, small interest groups can often dominate large organizations due to the intensity of their self interest in certain questions.

Also, advocates for diversity often defend marginal schools on account of their demographics and hate tying student aid eligibility to Bar passage rates and LSAT scores, given the large achievement gap in those measures.
posted by MattD at 10:51 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I'm not at all an expert on this narrowly, but I did run a training organization once. As such, I'm well familiar with bad metrics blaming the instruction for things when nobody wants to look harder. (I also realize everything is more complicated than it looks from the outside).

That said, I'm either confused what accreditation fundamentally IS, or don't think this is (necessarily) the schools' fault. Was the instruction they provided good enough for someone who took the bar (with similar self-prep to what other schools' students do) to be able to pass?

It's not the school's fault too many people want to become lawyers for the market. I mean, they shouldn't mislead students about their prospects. But their job is to provide good instruction. Do they do that? Then a degree from there should be just as good as a degree from somewhere else, no? Why withhold accreditation?
posted by ctmf at 10:58 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Was the instruction they provided good enough for someone who took the bar (with similar self-prep to what other schools' students do) to be able to pass?

The short answer is no, not even close. Of late Charlotte's bar passage rate has been in the mid 40s. That's substantially lower than the ABA's standard of 75% and the national average of 70% for first-time takers.

NB: The national average has fallen recently [pdf], which is why it's below the ABA standard. Historically it was around 78-80%. In 2014 it fell to 74% and in 2015 to 70%. This is largely a consequence of almost all law schools outside the top tier relaxing their admissions standards in order admit enough students to avoid bankruptcy.
posted by jedicus at 11:09 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]


FTA: "But I know the school has been giving opportunities to students who do not have the opportunity to go elsewhere.”

I will state right off the bat that I am a gainfully employed lawyer and that may be colouring my perception.

However.

There seems to be an increasingly common misperception that if one is simply willing to take the LSAT, assume some massive student debt, and go to school for three years, they will be rewarded with a job as a lawyer and that all will be well.

What's missing is the fact that a lot of people are really not suited to be lawyers. It takes a lot more than a willingness to work hard and a desire to make money. It requires a very specific skill set, not the least of which is the kind of critical thinking that should frankly signal to anyone for whom schools like Charlotte are their only choice, that law is not for them.

Again, I may be biased, but I don't think my concern is just protectionism. There is a real problem in unleashing unqualified lawyers on the public. People entrust their liberty, their families, and almost invariably huge sums of money to lawyers. Anecdotally, it's my observation that a lot of professional negligence and almost-negligence involves not scammers but well-intentioned yet hopelessly incompetent lawyers who really should be doing something else. Some of them leave, some of them manage to eke out a living; but it's not good for the profession or the public.

In fact, the only beneficiaries of lax accreditation and oversight that I can point to seem to be the schools and the lending companies who happily profit from exorbitant tuition to churn out unqualified candidates without consequence.

So, I'm in favour of the ABA stripping schools of their accreditation and hope to see more of it. The fact that fewer accredited schools means that some people will not be able to get into law school is not a bad thing. Naive (though understandable) laments of the sort quoted above should not be an excuse to perpetuate these shameful institutions' existence or the broader idea that anyone can or should go to law school.
posted by AV at 11:09 AM on February 12 [47 favorites]


The other pressure is that law schools are a profit center for universities.

It might be worth pointing out that like business schools much of that money stays in the law faculty as a general rule. That's why they have such nice, new buildings with equipment that works and higher paid faculty. At least at the universities I've been connected to, the law deans are v insistent on that. At least, however they are a bit more generous than some business professors and administrators that I have encountered. If they think rude things about the Humanities, they don't verbalize them instantly as a hard and fast rule.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:10 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


CTMF -- these marginal law schools admitted people whom they knew lacked the intelligence or test-taking skills to pass the Bar, regardless of the caliber of instruction, and lacked the combination of smarts, verbal and social acuity and work ethic it takes to get and keep a job as a lawyer in a very very competitive market, once again regardless of the caliber of instruction.
posted by MattD at 11:14 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Given the state of US high school education, I don't think bringing back LL.Bs and letting them take the bar on graduation is a good idea at all, especially at that age and the way most undergrad works now (reading ignored, "study guides" for every exam expected). They'll be curved against each other, graduate without either an adequate liberal arts or legal education and we don't need an inrush of 21 year old lawyers who haven't read much since they turned 18 but their fellow students' outlines.

I also think it's exactly the wrong thing to do for supply and demand. If that happens many of the people who currently take history, pol-sci or sociology majors for want of a better idea will get LL.Bs because why not and then woe betide the profession. There's no LSAT to prevent them. Like, seriously, it's hard to imagine the damage this would do to both the job market and the average competency level.

However, the JD could be two years. Especially if it goes year-round. There's already Masters and SJ.D for those who want academic credentials.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:29 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


However, the JD could be two years. Especially if it goes year-round.

Speaking as a current 2L at a T14 university, that sounds like a horrific idea on multiple counts. The burnout alone would be bad enough, and then factor in the fact that you'd miss out on practical training in summer employment, and the summer associate to full-time offer pipeline...

Just like everybody else in my shoes, I have plenty of complaints about how things are run at present, but making law school into an even more compressed, boiler-room experience wouldn't go toward solving any of them.
posted by fifthrider at 11:44 AM on February 12


these marginal law schools admitted people whom they knew lacked

That's exactly my question: fundamentally, should accreditation be about quality of instruction, or about guessing right who is or who isn't going to succeed?

It's not obvious, of course. Individually, you could give someone the best instruction possible and they still don't find a job because the name of the school isn't prestigious enough to get your resume in the "interview" pile. In the aggregate, a low employment rate COULD mean that's happening over and over again. Or it COULD mean you're not preparing your students to be lawyers very well. More data needed. Are they getting interviews and failing miserably, or just not getting interviews? What's feedback like from employers who DO hire graduates? What's the attrition rate IN the program (are profs afraid to fail people who aren't making it?)

I'm just saying, no metric is good by itself and employment rate seems especially weak. Used wrong, that's just gatekeeping the monopoly of the traditional big schools. Bar exam pass per attempt seems much better (but still not all there is).
posted by ctmf at 11:44 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


are profs afraid to fail people who aren't making it?

I'm betting this is the real problem. If so, that seems like a plausible reason to pull accreditation - it means your degree doesn't certify anything but attendance.
posted by ctmf at 12:07 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


That's exactly my question: fundamentally, should accreditation be about quality of instruction, or about guessing right who is or who isn't going to succeed?

In this case, it's not even a matter of guessing right or wrong about who is going to succeed. The median GPA and LSAT for students entering the school are 2.82 and 142 (~18th percentile). They *know* that they're admitting the very bottom of the barrel of law students who have very little chance of ever becoming a successful legal professional, all the while they happily extract tuition from them. It's all pretty disgusting.
posted by gyc at 12:14 PM on February 12 [15 favorites]


Speaking as a current 2L at a T14 university, that sounds like a horrific idea on multiple counts. The burnout alone would be bad enough, and then factor in the fact that you'd miss out on practical training in summer employment, and the summer associate to full-time offer pipeline...


You wouldn't keep the same curriculum. And as the practicing graduate of a TTTop 50 regional school, OCI and the internship pipeline is near the root of the problem and getting rid of it is a feature not a bug.

Also, until you get down into the degree mills law school is not actually any harder at a T15 school than a T25 or T50'school in terms of the workload. It's law school.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:27 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


They'll be curved against each other, graduate without either an adequate liberal arts or legal education and we don't need an inrush of 21 year old lawyers who haven't read much since they turned 18 but their fellow students' outlines.

On the contrary, it's possible to fit almost the entire 3 year law school curriculum plus the typical liberal arts requirements into 4 years. The LL.B would not be "all law all the time" for four years.

The current setup (4 year undergraduate degree plus 3 year JD) is a relatively new innovation. For much of the twentieth century it was more common for law students to have a few years of college (but not a degree) and then earn an LL.B in two years. In other words, basically what I'm suggesting we go back to.

If that happens many of the people who currently take history, pol-sci or sociology majors for want of a better idea will get LL.Bs because why not and then woe betide the profession. There's no LSAT to prevent them.

Many history, poly-sci, and sociology majors currently get JDs because why not. And while there may not be an LSAT, there is a bar exam and accreditation standards for law schools, whether they're graduating JDs or LL.Bs.

Speaking as a current 2L at a T14 university, that sounds like a horrific idea on multiple counts. The burnout alone would be bad enough, and then factor in the fact that you'd miss out on practical training in summer employment, and the summer associate to full-time offer pipeline...

By comparison, switching law to a 4 year undergraduate degree would add a summer employment opportunity rather than taking one away. It really makes a lot of sense. It's also the norm in most other countries.
posted by jedicus at 12:36 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Anecdotally, it's my observation that a lot of professional negligence and almost-negligence involves not scammers but well-intentioned yet hopelessly incompetent lawyers who really should be doing something else. Some of them leave, some of them manage to eke out a living; but it's not good for the profession or the public.

I was recently up against an attorney in a civil case who was just horrifyingly bad as well as extremely lazy. I mean, if you put footage of him into a movie about lawyers, even laypeople would complain that he was an embarrassingly unrealistic cliche, and actual lawyers would scream that "no defense lawyer would ever do [xyz]." He had also gotten into the pool of attorneys who do indigent defense when the public defenders are conflicted out. My blood runs cold when I think about him stumbling in to half-ass some kind of defense for a person in such desperate straits as an indigent felony defendant. But I know he thinks he's some kind of hero of the people. (Admittedly, when you're weighing yourself against the criminal justice system generally, it's not hard to conclude you're a good person.)

The median GPA and LSAT for students entering the school are 2.82 and 142 (~18th percentile). They *know* that they're admitting the very bottom of the barrel of law students who have very little chance of ever becoming a successful legal professional

I'm skeptical of the value of standardized tests, but people performing at this level have basically spent their whole life to date demonstrating that they have no ability to deal with texts in English, none (those 2.82s aren't usually from Harvard or Michigan), and, since there is no one in their lives to tell them what a bad idea it is to go to a school like this, they don't even have the social capital that some otherwise mediocre lawyers are able to leverage to make a living. (Working with texts is far from the only skill you need to be a successful attorney, and indeed in certain fields it's not the most important one, but you need a baseline to be able to function.) Strapping tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of non-dischargeable debt onto such people is basically turning them into indentured servants for life. Probably 15 of these schools need to be shut down. I don't know how the people involved with them live with themselves.
posted by praemunire at 1:06 PM on February 12 [13 favorites]


Also, until you get down into the degree mills law school is not actually any harder at a T15 school than a T25 or T50'school in terms of the workload. It's law school.

What are classes like at a law school like Charlotte? I imagine it's much more focused on bar prep than theory or history or whatever, but are they still reading cases, or just trying to learn MBE subject outlines?

The article said that the median debt load at the school was $160k, which is unconscionable for a school with a 50%(!!!) attrition rate for 1Ls, a 35% law/JD advantage employment rate and a sub 50% bar passage rate. This is a for profit school, cutting federal funds in this case isn't about protecting the profession (frankly, they're not taking that many legal jobs), it's about preventing people from taking on crippling debt and wasting huge amounts of tax dollars to enrich the school's owners. I think their professors have serious ethical issues too.

I recently quit teaching LSAT classes, a job I used to love, partly because the student profile had changed a lot. I used to feel okay just cautioning students about employment prospects, debt loads and generally low job satisfaction rates. I got to the point where for 80%+ of my students, I felt like I needed to tell them "you should not do this, even if you find a school that will take you you'd be taking a huge risk for not that much gain." Two big reasons, so far as I can tell, for this change were lowered standards of admission, and the other was that potential students with better access to information were just not signing up for LSAT prep anymore. They were either not going to law school, or finding the very high quality prep materials that are now available online. I think lower tier schools likely have a similar adverse selection problem: they're largely getting students who are just not well-informed enough to know/understand the likely outcomes for students at those schools.
posted by skewed at 1:34 PM on February 12 [6 favorites]


What do you expect from a for-profit school? For-profit school = scam. Drill this into the head of every child and parent that you know.
posted by heatherlogan at 1:41 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Has the ABA considered adding Enterprise Java development to the bar? That would improve employment rates.
posted by GuyZero at 1:50 PM on February 12 [7 favorites]


"I'm seeing a large increase in people asking me about going to law school in reaction to the current political climate. Many want to go fight the good fight for legal aid and nonprofit causes."


I've worked for LSC-funded organizations in the south for thirty years,and think that I have always been in touch with law students. You're saying that "many" people want to go to law school to work for legal aid? Really?
posted by Public Corruption? at 2:09 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Has the ABA considered adding Enterprise Java development to the bar? That would improve employment rates.

Oracle will hire all of those grads?
posted by ryoshu at 2:57 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Tata and Infosys since there won't be any more sub-market H-1Bs any more.
posted by GuyZero at 4:05 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Many history, poly-sci, and sociology majors currently get JDs because why not. And while there may not be an LSAT, there is a bar exam and accreditation standards for law schools, whether they're graduating JDs or LL.Bs.

Whether or not you think it should be this way, that's not true when law school is another $100K plus and the student has no particular plans to use the BA they'd earn otherwise. Unless maybe the LL.B is going to take five years and cost significantly more than a BA, or something like that.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:29 PM on February 12


(Not the same, rather.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:36 PM on February 12


Lawyers and Liquor has been doing on ongoing series on Charlotte.
posted by zabuni at 4:39 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Of special note in those links is the last one, with its link to this audio, which consists of the faculty of Charlotte discussing the prospects of their students, in fairly sad terms.
posted by zabuni at 4:43 PM on February 12


I'm seeing a large increase in people asking me about going to law school in reaction to the current political climate. Many want to go fight the good fight for legal aid and nonprofit causes.

Probably a common misperception that all those Harvard and Yale graduates go to the big white shoe law firms leaving available those nice government and nonprofit jobs for the second tier. The truth is that most of those government and nonprofit jobs are highly competitive and filled by top tier Harvard/Yale graduates. More likely those starry eyed romantics will end up with starvation wages as county legal aid or public defenders.
posted by JackFlash at 6:39 PM on February 12 [11 favorites]


Ayyyy, but the school has time to threaten a student who criticized them about it.
posted by ctmf at 6:41 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Would changing bankruptcy laws back to eliminating school loans fix this?
posted by rdr at 7:58 PM on February 12


Maybe no law school should be allowed to charge you until you win your first case.
posted by miyabo at 8:06 PM on February 12


I've worked for LSC-funded organizations in the south for thirty years,and think that I have always been in touch with law students. You're saying that "many" people want to go to law school to work for legal aid?

No, people want to go to work for highly-polished and well funded PACs, watchdog groups and special interest litigation initiatives. Many more than actually exist, especially on the left.

Which makes the GOP's interest in getting rid of PSLF even more cynical.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:38 PM on February 12


Would changing bankruptcy laws back to eliminating school loans fix this?


Yeah, I think it would, but it would also mean that basically no one could get a loan for law school, or most any other type of school either, since lenders aren't going to make unsecured loan of that magnitude.
posted by skewed at 10:29 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


Though of course student loan availability itself is one of the things that's encouraged tuition to increase as much as it has.

More likely those starry eyed romantics will end up with starvation wages as county legal aid or public defenders.

Only if they're lucky. At least those are actual law jobs, and if public service loan forgiveness really works out for the people relying on it, it's one of the better financial options available for a heavily-indebted lawyer who didn't manage to land one of the jobs at the high end of the bimodal salary distribution.
posted by asperity at 8:20 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


If only there was some kind of mechanism that could be used to correct market failures...
posted by acb at 8:20 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think it would, but it would also mean that basically no one could get a loan for law school, or most any other type of school either, since lenders aren't going to make unsecured loan of that magnitude.

Private non-profit lenders were not exempt from bankruptcy until 1984. Private for-profit were not exempt until 2005. These usually had restrictions on when it became eligible for discharge (usually after 5-7 years of repayment.) Plenty of lenders were making student loans during this period.

Now, whether the lack of bankruptcy risk caused this explosion in tuition/student loans, is a different question. But lenders sure seemed to be lending before they had this protection.
posted by LizBoBiz at 9:40 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Maybe no law school should be allowed to charge you until you win your first case.

There are many types of lawyers whose work rarely to never involves them going to trial.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:48 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Would changing bankruptcy laws back to eliminating school loans fix this?

Making student-loan debt dischargeable in bankruptcy could help correct many problems affecting higher education today, particularly if the educational institutions bore a share of the risk of financial loss.

One of the problems is that colleges and professional schools continue to award degrees, including advanced degrees, in fields where the return on investment is unlikely to justify the amount spent on tuition. Ph.D. programs that lead (at best) to dead-end adjunct servitude are one example.

Now that the ABA has required somewhat more transparency in law schools' reporting of placement statistics, it is possible to see how many graduates are unlikely to break into the legal profession in a way that would allow them to make reasonable headway in paying down their student loans.

The place to look in law schools' placement stats is the category of "JD Advantaged," which is another way of saying "loser." I mean "loser" in the sense that the graduate has not broken into Big Law or Little Law or government law or probably any other niche that requires the panoply of knowledge, skills and credentials that come with a J.D. Once the holder of a J.D. has accepted a "J.D. Advantaged" position, it might take many years and a stroke of fortune to ever find a well-paying job as a lawyer because of his or her tainted resume.

The "J.D. Advantaged" graduate will quickly learn that it is an uphill battle convincing employers outside the field of law that having a law degree is an advantage. They're more likely to see the graduate as damaged goods. Or, they'll gladly offer a position that requires only a fraction of the student's skills and pays only a fraction of what his or her classmates in the magical top ten percent of the class are earning.

Of course, the other place to look in law schools' placement statistics for future bankrupts is the category of "unemployed."

If the J.D. Advantaged or the unemployed could discharge their student loans in bankruptcy after a requisite period of time - enough to cover a thorough job search and other bona fide efforts to find employment with a salary sufficient to service law school debt - in time we might see a reduction in the number of law schools reporting "J.D. Advantaged" and unemployed individuals among their recent graduates.
posted by A. Davey at 10:13 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


The place to look in law schools' placement stats is the category of "JD Advantaged," which is another way of saying "loser."

It is notable that the modest improvement in full time placement rates over the past 5 years has all been in the JD advantaged category. The number of "real" legal jobs has remained the same.

Once the holder of a J.D. has accepted a "J.D. Advantaged" position, it might take many years and a stroke of fortune to ever find a well-paying job as a lawyer because of his or her tainted resume.

This is absolutely true. Law students get jobs at law firms because they worked at the firm during their second summer of law school. They get the second summer job because of their first summer job. And they get the first summer job because of their first semester grades (and being male and upper class). Those first semester grades are almost entirely determined by 4 anonymously graded final exams. In a very real sense, those 4 final exams determine a law student's entire career.
posted by jedicus at 10:21 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


And they get the first summer job because of their first semester grades (and being male and upper class).

I'm going to climb into my time machine, go back to high school, change my surname to "Cabot" and cultivate an interest in sailing and polo.

This is a frightening study about the advantage that upper-class males have in finding employment in Big Law.
posted by A. Davey at 1:06 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


i'm a law critter. my opinion is that these types of for profit schools are absolutely a disgrace. their arguments that they give people opportunities not available to them at more selective schools is akin to what payday lenders say about loans, and equally unpersuasive. it's just a cover for exploitation, and there is absolutely a role for government to play, via removing accreditation, when there are strong signs that their grads cannot find gainful employment. this should be restricted to extreme cases, and by all accounts it has been. of course, given that the president himself has OWNED fake universities, i don't see robust enforcement in the offing.

as far as shortening law school as a way of making it cheaper, i don't think that is wise. yes, there are countries where law school is like an undergrad degree, but those are mostly civil law countries in europe where judges don't make law, they just apply statutes. common law countries like the US (and elsewhere that were influenced by the british system) require lawyers to do far more complex reasoning, and failing to do so screws over their clients (and, i should note, the kinds of clients most likely to have cheap/bad lawyers tend to be poor criminal defendants).
posted by wibari at 5:25 PM on February 13 [3 favorites]


but those are mostly civil law countries in europe

Law is an undergraduate degree in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and India. The US stands almost entirely alone in the world on this.
posted by jedicus at 7:56 PM on February 13


Law is only theoretically an undergraduate degree program in Canada. In practice, it is virtually impossible to get into a law school without an undergraduate degree, and in fact getting more and more difficult to get into law school without a masters degree or significant work experience. It is priced and treated like a post-graduate professional degree like an MBA.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:24 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


jedicus- i don't think that is true. there is definitely a post grad academic component of law in the UK.
posted by wibari at 9:15 PM on February 13


Law is only theoretically an undergraduate degree program in Canada.

Fair enough, but that is a relatively recent change, even more so than the US shift to the post-graduate JD.

i don't think that is true. there is definitely a post grad academic component of law in the UK.

This is a post-graduate component to becoming a practicing barrister or solicitor, but one still begins (most commonly though not necessarily) with an undergraduate degree in law.

It's also notable that the UK is running into the same problem as the US. Regarding the post-graduate training course for barristers, for example, "In April 2015, Chair of the Bar Council Alastair Macdonald raised concerns about the financial risk involved in taking the BPTC, claiming that 'There are too many people spending too much money in order to train [. . .] with no realistic prospect of being able to make a start in the profession.'"

The problem goes further back than that: "Lady Ruth Deech, chair of the Bar Standards Board (BSB), which sets the course, acknowledged the problem in February 2011, saying: 'There are too many people on the course who shouldn’t be there. We need to give a signal to those who aren’t up to it that they’re wasting their money.'"

This only underscores the point that we should be moving in the other direction.
posted by jedicus at 7:58 AM on February 14


There are too many people on the course who shouldn’t be there. We need to give a signal to those who aren’t up to it that they’re wasting their money.

For example, the ABA could require law schools below the charmed circle of the most elite institutions to have one-on-one meetings with law students after the first year of law school. The purpose would be to give them an honest assessment of their chances of finding a job in law that would generate enough revenue to service their law school debt.

The assessment would have at least two components: an assessment of academic performance and an evaluation of the student's soft skills and cultural competence. I have met a number of law graduates who simply lacked the interpersonal skills and the personal presence that hiring managers and clients are looking for.

Combine that with a severe bias against 1) graduates of low-ranked regional schools and 2) applicants who were not at the top of their class, and you have a recipe for underemployment or unemployment in the field of law.

Law school deans, law school placement personnel, some law professors and many law school alumni should have a very good sense after the first year of who is and who isn't going to be a competitive applicant for real law jobs.

They would be doing everyone, including law students, a great service if they would level with law students early on and discourage the people who probably aren't going to make it in the profession from continuing their studies. Among the things, they could paint a picture of their likely futures as starving sole practitioners trying to eke out a living on slip-and-falls and divorces in their dismal offices in suburban strip malls.
posted by A. Davey at 8:19 AM on February 14 [1 favorite]


> Among the things, they could paint a picture of their likely futures as starving sole practitioners trying to eke out a living on slip-and-falls and divorces in their dismal offices in suburban strip malls.

The various blogs and postings around the web by so-called Skadden Farts about the dismal working conditions of temp attorneys document review should also be required reading.
posted by gyc at 8:34 AM on February 14 [2 favorites]


They would be doing everyone, including law students, a great service if they would level with law students early on and discourage the people who probably aren't going to make it in the profession from continuing their studies.

This would be an extremely unpleasant job, no matter how useful it could be. Most students would already have thousands in sunk costs/debt at that point, so unless there were a provision for paying those off, the conversation would boil down to: "We think you're a loser. Good luck paying for your 1L loans while flipping burgers."
posted by asperity at 6:32 AM on February 15


Has the ABA considered adding Enterprise Java development to the bar? That would improve employment rates.

A bit late to replying to this, but if anybody finds this thread later in the despair of "oh my god what did I decide to do with my life", then I've got great news: The reasoning skills that law school selects for tend to make for good programmers, and if you already just dumped six figures on law school, boot camp will seem cheap in comparison. Rails is popular, and I love Rails, but Java definitely pays better. (I've split the difference and I'm working in Grails now, though it's a platform that's not aging well.)

Not a good match for people who aren't really comfortable with computers to start with, but it's worked out very well for me so far, and law school has now been relegated to a funny story about this thing I did once.
posted by Sequence at 3:56 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]


What were your math grades like in high school? I'm not sure it's just about computing acumen.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:08 PM on February 15


Not a good match for people who aren't really comfortable with computers to start with, but it's worked out very well for me so far, and law school has now been relegated to a funny story about this thing I did once.

I have a colleague who went to law school, did entertainment law at a NY biglaw firm and now... does business development for a Silicon Valley company as part of their media product line. And guess what, when it comes to writing contracts, he's pretty good at it and only needs formal legal signoff as opposed to having to wait for an overworked staff lawyer to do all his contract work.

I don't think it's a terrible thing that not every engineering graduate ends up doing formal engineering work and it doesn't seem bad that not every law school grad will do legal work. Except for the huge cost of law school.
posted by GuyZero at 4:19 PM on February 15


What were your math grades like in high school?

I've never been terrible at math, but I've never been amazing at it, either. (My high school math grades were abysmal because I was bored and unhappy.) I won't discount someone having trouble if they have actual dyscalculia, because there are sometimes numbers involved, but the amount that actual math has to do with anything I do with my day is minimal.

A CS degree is going to require a lot of math, but many other routes into software development don't. Not saying it's for everyone, because it isn't, but I think it's for more people than wind up considering it.

I don't think it's a terrible thing that not every engineering graduate ends up doing formal engineering work and it doesn't seem bad that not every law school grad will do legal work. Except for the huge cost of law school.

I wouldn't go that far, though. I lost a few years of my life to all that BS, and it had a lasting negative impact on other parts of my life. The fact that it's possible to recover from that does not make it okay that they're deliberately graduating massively more new JDs than there are jobs for new JDs. Anyone who started out doing entertainment law in BigLaw is going to be fine no matter where they end up, probably. Thousands more people every year don't start off with those sorts of opportunities and connections and have no chance at them, and the schools know that.
posted by Sequence at 5:10 PM on February 15 [3 favorites]


Speaking as someone with a Comp Sci degree who is now in Law School, I can say it works the other way, too. 99th percentile on the LSAT without doing more than writing a couple of practice tests, and I credit that entirely to the number of undergraduate credits I have in formal logic.

Another thing that Law and Programming have in common is that they have well-understood middles and lots of nooks and crannies around the edges, and getting the middle right isn't good enough. Both fields emphasize the ability to find the edge cases that are going to cause problems and make sure you have them handled.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:06 PM on February 15 [2 favorites]


The fact that it's possible to recover from that does not make it okay that they're deliberately graduating massively more new JDs than there are jobs for new JDs

Absolutely - no one is served by a substandard education in any field or by being trained for a job that doesn't exist.
posted by GuyZero at 9:08 PM on February 15


A CS degree is going to require a lot of math, but many other routes into software development don't. Not saying it's for everyone, because it isn't, but I think it's for more people than wind up considering it.

Speaking as someone with a Comp Sci degree who is now in Law School, I can say it works the other way, too. 99th percentile on the LSAT without doing more than writing a couple of practice tests, and I credit that entirely to the number of undergraduate credits I have in formal logic.

I find these stories (here and elsewhere) very encouraging (although not the LSAT logic games bit quite so much). I feel like a lack of mathiness keeps me from really understanding how to deploy the computing concepts and programming basics I pick up to do useful things, but maybe that's not so much of an issue when you're an entry level developer with clear tasks and people to keep an eye on what you're doing.

I'm reluctant to leave the law, I do enjoy it for its substance, but it's increasingly hard to rationalize staying in.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:12 AM on February 16


« Older An incalculable pleasure   |   Angry birds. And dogs. And cats. And frogs. And... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments