Deception With Statistics

When I went to law school, lo these many years ago during the Clinton Administration, I heard pretty much two kinds of stories about what came after the bar exam.

The first story was of happiness and nirvana obtained through the grasping of the Brass Ring: a job as an associate in a prestige firm with a comfortable salary and interesting work. “So-and-so got in to the securities section at Arrogant, Expensive, and Condescending — she just paid cash for a brand-new BMW!” The story was ostensibly told to share happiness in Ms. So-and-So’s success, but also so that the listened could covet Ms. So-and-So’s affluent life.

The other story was told with the graduate school equivalent of the tale’s teller pointing a flashlight at her blue-blooded chin from below, for it was a tale of fear and horror. “Other Guy didn’t get an offer. He’s bagging groceries to pay his bills!” This could happen to you, the story implied, so you’d better get yourself that awesome Prestige Firm Job and maybe you ought not to make so many snarky jokes the way Mr. Other Guy had done, because clearly he was Finally Getting His Comeuppance for Something Bad He Had Done.

I know, it seems a little bit like high school. Except much more materialistic. Nothing really has changed since these long-ago days. Law school is still ridiculously expensive. But there is still the allure of ridiculously lucrative jobs. And still the fear of no job at all to go along with the student loan debt.

So when I happen upon a back-and-forth on memeorandum concerning an academic study of the earning power of a J.D., it draws me in like a magnet. The authors of the study “estimate the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree [is] approximately $1,000,000.” Well. That makes me a millionaire, doesn’t it? And as one of the two authors argues, the recent proliferation of both statistics and apocrypha concerning the paucity of legal employment is not the fault of the expensive law degree:

It’s not the case that the law degree stopped working. It’s just the case that it’s a recession … . And the people with law degrees are still doing a lot better than people with only bachelor’s degrees.

This is a direct challenge to the Paul Camposes of the world who maintain that…

…[L]egal academia is operating on the basis of an unsustainable economic model, which requires most law students to borrow more money to get law degrees than it makes sense for them to borrow, given their career prospects.

Now let’s get to the numbers. Using U.S. Census data and their own information gathering and analysis, Profs. Simkovic and McIntyre conclude that the mean premium on a law school graduate’s lifetime earnings (compared to the earnings of a similar person with only a baccalaureate degree) is that $1,000,000 figure, where the percentile figures are: 25th percentile, premium of $350,000; 50th percentile, premium of $600,000; 75th percentile, premium of $1,100,000. Interestingly, in the lower percentiles, women are projected to earn more than men, but at the higher percentiles, men are projected to earn more than women.

Of course, the ability to prognosticate future earnings in an ever-shifting commercial environment is a bit like predicting natural disasters.

I know you’re all just dying for my opinion.

First, it’s sort of silly to economically value a thing without first figuring out what that thing costs. And this study does not do that. “People are paying so many different prices. It would be really complicated and take up a lot of space to include a lot of the possibilities.” That’s right — the study ignores the difference in cost between Stanford Law and the University of West Los Angeles, because the authors found that it would be too difficult to track these things.

They’re right, of course. The real cost of a law degree must take into account what the law student actually pays — which for some might be less than three years’ tuition, but for most will be considerably more because student loans are payable out over ten, fifteen, twenty, or if consolidation occurs, twenty-five to thirty, years after getting the degree. A $1,000 a month in student loan payments for twenty years is going to have a non-trivial effect on a lawyer’s net lifetime income.

Second, as Elie Mystal points out at Above the Law, isn’t it reasonable to assume that there is a foreseeable earning disparity between the Stanford and University of West Los Angeles degrees? Which graduate is more likely to fall within the 75th percentile as opposed to the 25th percentile? (Hint: law school prestige matters, at least when you’re going for a job with a prestige firm.) I’m unimpressed with Prof. Simkovic’s rebuttal posted in Mystal’s postscript.

Third, this is kind of an apples-and-oranges problem. Profs. Simkovic and McIntyre analyzed the question of lifetime earning capacity for J.D.’s versus holders of bachelor’s degrees. But a J.D. is a graduate degree. It is not surprising at all that your typical holder of a graduate degree earns better money than does your typical holder of only an undergraduate degree. Of course, so do other kinds of people who hold graduate degrees or high-level technical designations: M.D., MBAs, any of a number of tech or computer certifications, and the list goes on. Does the holder of a J.D. make more over her lifetime than a CPA or a medical doctor or a college professor? We will need another study to find out.

So it might not be surprising to learn that lawyers are, on average, well-paid compared even to many other kinds of professionals. But then again, I would not be all that surprised to learn that they aren’t.

Fourth, law school remains synonymous in my mind with a career practicing law. But that’s not necessarily true for everyone, and it may very well be less true as we move from the lower to the higher earnings percentiles. As the Gray Lady‘s columnist points out, it may well be the case that nearly half of law school graduates do not go on to practice law, at least not for significant amounts of time in their careers. Blows my mind, I tell you — if you’re going to be a CEO or found a big company, why are you taking three years out of your life to go to law school? Just go do the business thing and make the big money!

Fifth, the juris doctorate’s income premium, even if exactly as real and as documented by Simkovic and McIntyre, may not be so extraordinary as it seems. A million dollars seems like a lot of money. Spread out over thirty to thirty-five years, it’s less than thirty thousand dollars per year, on average. And a lot of the premium earnings for a lot of the lawyers are going to come later in their careers. (If they come at all, of course.)

Profs. Simkovic and McIntyre have pointed out that you make more money with a graduate degree than without one, and that there are some lawyers who make a whole lot of money. The American Lawyer reports that the average partner in an AmLaw 100 firm (these are the really big ones) makes over a million dollars a year in pre-tax partnership profits. But that number again may conceal more than it reveals: the partners in the AmLaw 50 firms make a lot more than the partners in the lower half of the AmLaw 100.

If you’re getting the idea that there’s only a few haves who are raking in big bucks, and a whole lot of have-nots who are making enough money to have comfortable but not extraordinary lifestyles, that would be pretty much my view of things. The bend on that curve is likely to be pretty sharp, and there’s a long tail that comes after the tall head.

What bugs me about the Simkovic-McIntyre study is that it suggests that the typical law school graduate can look forward to making it out of the long tail and breaking in to the tall head — to topping out the curve. I don’t think that’s realistic. Yes, it can happen. But just like a kid who is pretty good at baseball in high school can dream about making it to the big leagues, but will probably play A and AA ball for most of his career, so too will most students who mortgage their futures on a law degree never really get into the income stratosphere.

Life down in the troposphere is not bad. As I say, lawyers of reasonable skill and diligence can readily make a comfortable middle-class sort of living. Which is nothing to complain about.

Profs. Simkovic and McIntyre’s paper places some big numbers somewhat unfairly against some smaller numbers, and fail to include some other big numbers, and thereby create the illusion that the Juris Doctorate is very valuable. But to say a J.D. is “very” valuable as an income-enhancing degree would be, both on the face of the study and when compared to experience, more than either is accurate or than the data support.

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49 thoughts on “Deception With Statistics

  1. I wonder how much is putting the cart before the horse… someone who is fairly smart and fairly driven will, all things considered, make more money than someone who is one but not the other and a lot more money than someone who is neither (all things considered).

    And, as far as I can tell, you have to be fairly smart and fairly driven to go to law school, graduate in something like the top (whatever’s worth mentioning) and pass the bar the first or second or third time.

    If we want to use money as a good-enough marker for “success” (and why not?), I’m pretty sure that the folks who were capable of going to law school and passing the bar would be folks who would have made money had they instead gotten MBAs, jumped into the whole sysadmin thing, or did all they could to swim with the sharks in academia. (Of course: some of these jobs are more suited for some personalities than others and you need to take that into account… but smart/driven is smart/driven.)

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        • “I’m just saying that you take that same kid at 18 and dump him in one of the military academies, you’d end up with a full-bird colonel (if not general).”

          I was told that there are generally 6 people making colonel for every thousand LT’s, so that would probably only apply to the grads of top law schools, and the top grads of some other law schools.

          OTOH, most law school grads will have possession of what a Michigan law student told me years ago was the key to getting through law school – the ‘iron butt’ (to study for a loooooong time).

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    • The joke we had in law school was that lawyers were people who wanted to make money but were too nerdy for business school.

      In my school, we can from a variety of academic backgrounds but I think most of us tended more towards the arts and humanities than the sciences. There were a few science people among us. One classmate decided to go to law school because she did not want to get a PhD.

      I toyed with the idea of getting a PhD but my fantasy (assistant professor of drama in a small picturesque liberal arts college) did not team up with the current reality of academia (adjunct hell).

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    • Something which Paul Campos pointed out repeatedly (and probably others have) is that the current system takes 22-year olds with good to great grades and lousy immediate job prospects, and makes it incredibly easy to go into $100K – $300K into debt (i.e., buying a house level of debt). Given bleak immediate prospects, it’s hard thing to turn down.

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  2. I have nothing of note to add, other than that I think this is a good post and that I have an intense, personal, and entirely selfish interest in the answer to the question considered.

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  3. One man’s opinion — law school is “worth it” if you meet any two of the following three conditions:

    (1) You really, really, REALLY want to be a lawyer;

    (2) You get into a really good law school;

    (3) You get something very close to a full scholarship (provided your school doesn’t habitually revoke these).

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    • 1. I decided to become a lawyer later in life after not making it in theatre. Like many lawyers, I am a bit too academically inclined for business but not academically inclined enough for the academy.

      2. My school was a respectable Tier II when I attended but not Tier I

      3. I did not get a full scholarship but was lucky to graduate with no debt.

      I’m still doing better than I ever did in theatre and working project/temp jobs.

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  4. The joke I’ve heard a million times and I am sure you heard a million times is this:

    “A students become professors, B students become judges, and C students become really rich lawyers.”

    It has always been my thought/impression that most of these really rich lawyers were in the plaintiff’s bar. That place of low respect (ambulance chaser, shark, enemy of business etc) but if you do it right you can become very successful in financial terms.

    My dad graduated law school in the 1970s. It took him one year to find his first law job. His first law job paid less than his day job (he went to law school at night). Now he is doing much, much better than he ever would have done if he kept at his day job. Did it take him a while? Yes, it took him decades.

    Flash forward forty or so years later. I graduated law school in 2011. I should be railing against the world according to Paul Campos because I was “scammed” But I knew I would never be a big firm lawyer. I don’t like that I am still working on a project to project basis but I am slowly (very slowly) building a career (I hope) and doing much better financially than any other time in my life. Not saving much but I pay my rent and my insurance. So I am somewhere between that brass ring and the guy or gal working at a coffee shop or bagging groceries. What does Paul Campos want me to do? Give up so he can have one more statistic? Honestly the law school scam people piss me off. Though I said this a million times and most people still rush to the defense of St. Paul Campos, Brave Truth Teller (TM).

    Do I like this project to project life? Not super-much. Do I get scarred about it being my permanent condition? Yes! Does that mean I am going to throw in the towel? No.

    I think in American culture we are too focused on instant success. As a society we have come up with the idea that you need to be the person with the big firm associateship right out of the gate or you will be a loser. We don’t focus on people who took a longer time to build their careers. I think it takes decades to build a career and struggling a bit in your 20s and 30s should not mean damnation to an unsuccessful life.

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    • I think your last point is very well-taken and one that I don’t think the study spent a lot of time looking at: it takes a lifetime to build a successful career. And while there are exceptions, the typical story is that all that hard work goes in before the money comes back.

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      • Agreed. I don’t really blame the paper for this. This is endemic to American society. We like the young and successful like Lena Dunham, Athletes, Rock Stars, etc. We don’t really pay attention to the fact that Gene Hackman was working as a doorman well into his 30s before his acting career took off.

        Something like this list seems more common but probably more of a downer to talk about:

        http://www.buzzfeed.com/moerder/19-successful-people-who-had-a-rough-time-in-their-20s

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        • “Agreed. I don’t really blame the paper for this. ”

          This is not celebrity new, this is supposed to be a factual analysis. If they focus only on those who succeed, then they haven’t done an NPV. There’s a joke about people doing a ‘benefit analysis’ when they are supposed to be doing a ‘cost-benefit analysis’.

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          • Okay. It is not the best example but I could not find a real world version.

            The truth of the assertion that it takes a long time to build a career still stands and that graduating into a bad economy is not necessarily going to damn someone or at least hopefully will not.

            Burt pointed out that he went to law school during the Clinton admin, a much better time for law school grads and the economy. He still heard stories that it was the brass ring or packing groceries. There don’t seem to be many stories about the person who worked in government or started out at the small/medium sized firm. It is brass ring or bust while ignoring everything inbetween.

            The same is true for college. We seem to think it is all people will end up at Google/Apple/Wall Street/Consulting or they will be working in a coffeeshop, as an admin assistant, or some other job that might not require a college degree.

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      • Burt, I’ve heard comments about this but haven’t read it yet. From what other people are saying:

        1) They used a sample of currently practicing lawyers who graduated in 1985 and later. IS that true? Because if so, there’s massive survivorship bias there – the ones who were not successful, and who left the practice of law are not included. Now, some of them may have left law to become millionaires in another field, but my money would be on them having spent several years to over a decade miserably struggling before admitting failure.

        2 If they don’t account for the cost of law school, then they don’t have a NPV calculation. You said in your post ‘Nothing really has changed since these long-ago days. Law school is still ridiculously expensive.’ That’s not really true, the cost of law school has changed vastly since those days, *becoming* far more expensive. A lawyer graduating in 1990 might have thought that they paid a lot for their JD; a lawyer graduating in 2010 paid far more, even if the the earlier lawyer had a degree from an elite school and the 2010 law grad had a degrees from the UrFookdNow School of Law.

        3) Adding on to the survivorship bias, present grads have an overall chance of getting law jobs of 50% (at nine months after graduation, but at that point a fresh class is coming into the job market). Multiplying the law career salary by 50% up front, even before attrition, knocks the NPV down quite a bit. If they didn’t account for this, they are bullsh*tting. Law professors don’t have an excuse for being ignorant about the job prospects of their students, and law professors alleging that they studied the worth of a law career have even less than that.

        4) Bayesian prior. The bleak prospects and astronomical tuition for law schools shocked me, as I read ‘Inside the Law School Scam’ and other blogs, but not as much as the raw stinking fraud of the law professors and especially deans of law schools. I’m not sure what the limit is on the depth of this, but it’s not been encountered yet. And we’ve seen things like schools which counted all jobs as ’employed’, but only some jobs for salary statistics (they’re admitting it now, but the stats haven’t changed from when they weren’t admitting it, which is flat-out fraud in my book). I’ve seen a school baldly stating that 24% of their new grads were unemployed and not seeking employment, which had to have been a lie, and then change that the very next year when the rules changed – which means that either their demographics changed radically within one year, or that they were lying. The reason I say this is that this analysis can’t and shouldn’t be treated with any sort of up-front respect; it should be treated as if it were produced by Goldman Sachs – no figure can be trusted, all definitions and assumption are to be considered as having been made up to prove the desired conclusion, no matter how far they are from what a ‘reasonable person’ would think.

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    • NewDealer: “What does Paul Campos want me to do? Give up so he can have one more statistic?”

      Please stop lying. Paul Campos has *never* said that, and never *implied* that. What he has pointed out is that outcomes like yours are far more common than the law schools state. He points out that you are far from a failure; you’re probably modal now, and that people should take into account the *fact* that a goodly proportion of grads will end up envying your position.

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        • …yeah. I like Barry’s spirit and energy A LOT already (do we know him under another name? …he’s comfortable like he’s an old-timer, which if he isn’t is awesome), but I was inclined to ask him to put a safety on the L-word trigger, as it really shouldn’t have been pulled there.

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          • Will do. Please change my comment to say:

            ‘NewDealer, what you’re saying is factually wrong, and I’d appreciate it if you’d post any facual basis for thinking that. Where ‘factual basis’ is on the level that a professional in evidence and facts is supposed to operate.’

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            • I’d prefer something like ‘You misunderstand Campos’s argument, which is advice for people considering law school. He doesn’t have suggestions for those who already went to law school. He just wants to prevent more people from going that route with false expectations, which is important in its own right even if not helpful to people who have already gone that route. ‘

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              • Accepted, with the waiver – it’s not like Paul has ever presented himself as not caring about people who graduated. Analogy – a guy who advocates for wearing helmets while motorcycling isn’t responsible for doing brain surgery on people who’ve cracked up a bike without one.

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              • Perhaps I do but I also find is tone to be very grating. I don’t like it when people style themselves as moral crusaders for truth and justice and think they are heroic warriors speaking truth to power. There is a certain lack of humility in his prose. There is something about how he views himself (or I perceive he views himself) that is off-putting.

                Then again, my wish for humanity is that more people would express doubt in their beliefs openly. Doubt and self-reflection are good for the soul and humility.

                There is a lot I see about “If you can see yourself being happier doing anything but X….do it” I don’t know why it is so radical to think that people who make such statements should have some constructive/useful advice on helping people find X”

                A lot of people use grad school (including and maybe usually law school) as a way of getting out of dead-end and lack of promotion employment. So even if you are telling people don’t go to grad school or law school, it is nice if you have some idea as to how people can improve their lots without those tools.

                Otherwise you are not doing anyone a service in my opinion.

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                • As a general matter I share your response to self-styled righteous truth-tellers. It’s usually good that they’re telling the truth as they see it, but the self-righteousness can be grating.

                  I guess I’ve always responded differently to the particular case of Paul Campos, however, for a few reaosns. First, I actually just don’t find his writing be that bad a case of the tone you’re talking about. It’s there a bit, but it doesn’t just bowl me over the way a Glenn Greenwald does. (And again, this kind of tone can be bothersome regardless of the actual correctness/righteousness of what’s being written.)

                  Second, I take him to be an example of sort of a special case among truth-tellers: the acknowledgedly guilty co-party to the wrong being described. I’ve read his blogging at LGM since before he started the ‘Scam’ blog, was outed, and then continued his blogging on the topic back at LGM. I read the entire ‘Scam’ blog concurrently with my girlfriend deciding she wanted to switch her grad school plans from social work to law, applying, choosing Hamline (ahem, review Campos’ recent posts at LGM), and completing her 1L. From the beginning, he presented himself as someone benefitting from the very scam he was describing, who had no intention of removing himself from that position. Perhaps that colored my reading of the writing itself and my judgement of its tone, but I took that as a surrender of really any claim to personal righteousness.

                  Which leads to the third factor: where he does get righteous is not in response to the simple fact of the economics behind law schools today, but to law schools’ reprenetaiton of that reality, their value, and their trading on exactly the undifferentiated ambition that is common to so many college graduates (esp. in the humanities and social sciences) trying to figure out how to proceed career-wise). It’s one thing to be self-righteous in simply describing the ways things are as if you have some special right to be particularly outraged about it just because you’re the one who’s saying it. It’s another to let your outrage show at sustained misdirection and dishonesty that comes back from those about whom you’re telling the truth. (I try to keep this in mind myself when reading Greenwald.) Campos lets his outrage show not because he thinks law school is a bad investment for a large number of college graduates, but because of representations to the contrary are made by so many law schools to so many students in an endeavor to get them to take steps that amount to putting their life in hoc to those institutions. If the underlying reality is the way Campos understands it to be (about which there is certainly legitimate debate), it seems to me he is quite justified in trying to draw attention to that by striking a tone that get people to notice what he’s saying. (Again, I try to keep that in mind in thinking about my assessment of Greenwald’s decision to use the tones he does: ie. to me he’s entirely justified in doing so, even though if truth be known it’s caused me to stop reading his actual writings entirely, though that also relates to being able to divine exactly what he’s going to say just by knowing what he’s writing about after reading about ten of his posts.)

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    • I get that. Even in the sciences, it takes a long time to make a name for yourself. You need a significant body of work behind you before people take you seriously. Even the guys who break big early with a cool invention/discovery are often looked upon as lucky, one-hit-wonders until they show that they can keep the work going.

      I wonder how often those stories of early success fail to mention the amount of soul-crushing work that went into it, or how many later faded out because they rested too much on their laurels?

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      • Mad Rocket Scientist, the thing that most people don’t realize is that it’s closer to a Ph.D. in science (namely most don’t get the spotlighted jobs, and most of those who don’t really struggle to even make a middle-class living), with the addition of hundred(s) of thousands of dollars of debt. It’d be like you had to take out student loans for your Ph.D. program.

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          • The rule of thumb I was told was that if you were not supported in a Ph.D. program, do not go. The program didn’t care if you went or not; you were a marginal student from their viewpoint, and they weren’t going to help you.

            And given that overall Ph.D. completion rates are very low (I’ve seen multiple casual estimates of 30%), this also meant that your chance of getting a Ph.D. was about zero.

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            • Depends on the field. In some humanities departments, few students are supported, particularly in their first few years, while in most sciences, everyone is supported if they are admitted.

              Not being supported does make completing a PhD program without loans or being independently wealthy difficult, but not impossible.

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  5. What bugs me about the Simkovic-McIntyre study is that it suggests that the typical law school graduate can look forward to making it out of the long tail and breaking in to the tall head — to topping out the curve. I don’t think that’s realistic. Yes, it can happen. But just like a kid who is pretty good at baseball in high school can dream about making it to the big leagues, but will probably play A and AA ball for most of his career, so too will most students who mortgage their futures on a law degree never really get into the income stratosphere.

    Yes, this. But it’s not just the idle question facing basball players, “Do they get rich or are they just left having to work for a living like the rest of us shmoes?” With current tuition and thus debt levels, the question is much more daunting: “Do they get rich; more or less break even financially but attain a level of social status that may make the lack of riches and opportunity cost pretty well worth it on the whole; or do they end up essentially failed in an career track in which they invested up to three years and at least mid-five-figures to often much more money, financed with non-dischargeable debt, and with potentially net-diminished employment prospects (i.e. if you have a JD there are lots of places where you can’t be a paralegal or are unlikely to be hired as one)?”

    With those as the disparate outcomes, and with the right-side tail of the income-outcome curve extended ever further rightward, calculating the mean of those outcomes seems – you nailed it – like the definition of misleading with statistics.

    It’s also necessarily the case that this study examines, like, the past, since that’s where real data comes from. And it seems to me that part of the thesis of the Campos view of the profession(al school) is that we are in the midst of a rapid shift in expected net benefit from the attainment of JDs *from the total corpus of law schools that exist today*, that a showing that over some period in the past, “the (average) expected added benefit is X” might even on its explicit terms be, well, maybe the term would be, “not (necessarily) responsive.”

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    • “… and with potentially net-diminished employment prospects (i.e. if you have a JD there are lots of places where you can’t be a paralegal or are unlikely to be hired as one)?””

      And from what people say, having a JD make one’s non-law job prospects much worse.

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    • Another way to phrase it is that current law students are basically buying a rental property for income. If you find that you can’t rent it out, or that the rent is low, there’s a good chance that you just wouldn’t do it.

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        • Thank you, Burt. I have two reasons for using it – first, that this is not a liberal arts degree; it’s not going to expand your horizons, except in a very narrow, vocational direction. Second, it’s a huge honking amount of money. A friend once used the term ‘life-changing amount of money’, and even a cheap JD ($100K) is enough to financially ruin a person.

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    • It’s fair to correct myself that the study authors do break out law grads into percentile groups (I’m actually not clear yet as to percentiles on what scale, but I’ll figure it out), so they’re not truly just averaging everyone together. But they’re still using the great success of some portion of each quintile to smooth out the reality of the desperation of a nontrivial number of grads’ situations.

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      • “It’s fair to correct myself that the study authors do break out law grads into percentile groups (I’m actually not clear yet as to percentiles on what scale, but I’ll figure it out), so they’re not truly just averaging everyone together. But they’re still using the great success of some portion of each quintile to smooth out the reality of the desperation of a nontrivial number of grads’ situations.”

        It’s been pointed out that overall, 50-60% of grads have real legal jobs after nine months (i.e., the point at which recruiting for new grads has long since moved to the next graduating class). This suggests that the 25th percentile would be grads who didn’t even get the odd document review temp job.

        However, this analysis states that they are successful.

        In the end, the analysis (a) looks at a historical period which probably won’t repeat, and (b) has extreme survivorship biars – ’25th percentile’ means ’25th percentile of people who are still full-time lawyers after up to 23 years’.

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  6. Oh, another thing – the guys over on Balkinization also made a nasty comment about Paul Campos (I can’t find it now; I suspect that it’s been removed). They accuse Paul of not caring about what students do, if they don’t go to law school. Paul’s whole point is that for most students, they may be in a bad situation, but going to law is going to make their previous situation look pretty good.

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    • I agree with this. I think a lot of people go to law school because they see it as a way to earn big bucks. That’s partly because only the most glamorous and profitable aspects of law are depicted in media usually. One reason why Win-Win was that depicted a struggling solo practitioner. Campos just wants people to know this.

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  7. One of the things mentioned (I believe on Inside the Law School Scam) was that when looking at BLS figures vs. school graduation rates, for doctors and dentists the number practicing was very well predicted by a model assuming that all grads practiced, for 30-35 years, and then retired. In other words, it looked like an extremely high percentage of those grads had a full career in their fields.

    For lawyers, on the other hand, the number practicing was something like half of what the above model predicted. Half or so of law grads did not have a full career in law.

    Now, if you think that those people used their ‘versatile’ JD degrees to pursue promising careers in whatever, careers which would not have been open (or as much) to them without a JD, then the analysis in question makes sense.

    If you don’t think that……………………….

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    • No, I believe it only looks at post-degree earnings. Some people don’t work, go into debt, and are in theory supposed to work themselves out of debt afterwards. Others have good jobs, go to law school at night, and get even better jobs. A good friend (my wife’s attendant at our wedding) did just that. always earning pretty good money, but doing better after she got the J.D.

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