Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why prospective law students will never get the message.

Recently on JD Underground, someone posed the question as to when or whether prospective law students would ever learn the truth about the legal job market and stop applying to law school in mass.

My answer is, No.  I don't think word will trickle down to enough people.  There will probably always be a perception among some people that becoming a lawyer will guarantee you an at least solid middle class quality of life and offer an excellent chance of attaining an upper middle class income, at least amongst enough people to fill the law schools.

Perhaps students from middle class and upper middle class families will get the message from their sisters, brothers, and cousins, but legions of students from poor and minority families who think that just gaining admission to a for-profit college is a huge achievement will continue to believe that going to law school is a golden ticket (just as they think that higher education in general and especially graduate degrees will guarantee a ride on the gravy train).  If the students from middle class and upper middle class families stop coming, the law schools will simply lower their admissions standards rather than deprive themselves of tasty tuition dollars, and students from lower class backgrounds will eagerly break down the doors, starry-eyed and giddy at the thought that they could become the first lawyer or professional in their families.

Our society has been indoctrinating people about the value of higher education for decades and people from poor and minority backgrounds are especially susceptible to that message because they often don't have any family members who can tell them otherwise.  As evidence, I cite the hordes of people who have no business going to college who are flooding into the community colleges and for-profit schools.  This notion that higher education is a guarantor of at least a solid middle class lifestyle is deeply, deeply entrenched in the American psyche and exactly zero voices are saying otherwise on a public scale.  (Little guys like you and me who gripe on blogs and specialized forums don't count. I want to see Oprah or the President or Brian Williams spread the message.)

Read this article about "Professor X" who teaches at a "College of Last Resort" to get a better sense of what I'm talking about.  Hordes of people, including people who have no business going to college, feel desperate to go, believing that higher education will give them a golden ticket on the gravy train.  Also watch the Frontline program College, Inc. and read the New York Times article about how well-intentioned people are being suckered into for-profit college debt.

Thus, even if a great many undergraduates learn the truth, a great many will still continue to succumb to the propaganda put out by the ABA, NALP, the LSAC, the law schools, Hollywood, politicians, pundits, and society in general.

Friday, October 8, 2010

ABA (Law School) Accreditation Chairman speaks.

The Minnesota Lawyer blog's JDs Rising blog recently published an article about a lawyer's interview with ABA (Law School) Accreditation Committee chair Jay Conison, who is the Dean of the TTT Valparaiso University School of Law.  It was reported that Conison doesn't have the authority to speak for the ABA or the Committee, but could speak based on his own experience.

The interview (or at least the article) produced few revelations other than standard claptrap about how the ABA can't really do anything to remove accreditation from law schools and how the ABA wants to increase the standards and transparency in employment statistics.

The article didn't seem to mention whether or not Conison addressed the real issue nor whether the interviewer asked any substantive questions:  Is the ABA at all concerned about the problem of lawyer overproduction?  If so, what is the ABA doing to address this humanitarian crisis of having tens of thousands of highly-educated yet student-loan-debt ridden and impoverished lawyers?

I suspect that the ABA is not concerned about it all.  The people who sit on these committees have done very well for themselves and many, such as Dean Conison, have a pecuniary interest in lawyer overproduction.  (What would Conison do if Valparaiso's law school closed because no one wanted to enroll at TTTs anymore?)

If the ABA were truly concerned, it could probably address the problem of lawyer overproduction without violating any antitrust consent decrees.  The ABA could probably increase the standards for accreditation and require a very detailed and transparent reporting of employment statistics.  Most importantly, the ABA could warn prospective law students about the reality of the legal profession and strongly recommend against going to law school.  If the ABA did this, it would send a loud message and might reduce the amount of JD production.

That the ABA has refused to do any of that is evidence that it is not sincerely concerned about lawyer overproduction, lawyers’ financial well-being, and the quality of lawyers’ lives.  Also, I doubt that the ABA's consent decree requires it to accredit foreign law schools and to approve the foreign outsourcing of legal work.

If Dean Conison were willing to discuss this further and face the scambuster blogger and JD Underground crowd, what questions would you want to ask him?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2 million attorneys?

On the JD Underground forum a poster suggested that our nation would surpass having 2 million attorneys within 20 years.  So, I thought it might be fun to guesstimate when we might actually attain that number, assuming a consistent rate in the increase of JD production, that the federal government and banks will continue to loan students gobs of money for worthless degrees, and that ambitious but naive people will continue to want to enroll in law school (and burden themselves with $120,000-$185,000+ of debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.)  Also, as we have done in the past, let's assume that lawyers only stay in the labor market for 40 years.

First, let's determine the rate of the increase in JD production based on data from the past 10 years.  To determine the percentage increase, take the number of JD's awarded in one year (year A), subtract it from the number of JDs awarded in the next year (year B) and then divide by the previous year (year A).  Then we add up the differences from those ten years and divide by ten to obtain the average increase.  I calculate that the average increase is 0.01684 or 1.684%.

Year JDs Awarded Difference
2000 38,158 -0.0065
2001 37,910 0.0184
2002 38,606 0.0070
2003 38,875 0.0296
2004 40,024 0.0662
2005 42,672 0.0284
2006 43,883 -0.0083
2007 43,518 0.0016
2008 43,588 0.0095
Average Increase0.01684 or 1.684%

Without any year-over-year increase the amount of new JD production would be stuck at about 45,000 per year (the number for 2010).  At that rate the total amount of JDs in the U.S. would max-out at 1.8 million in 40 years.  However, since the ABA continues to accredit new law schools and is even considering accrediting foreign law schools, it seems unlikely that the amount of JD production won't increase.

So, assuming a consistent rate of increase of 1.684%, we can calculate future JD production.  (Multiply the previous year's amount of JD production by 1.01684.)  Then we need to gather the data in 40 year chunks and add it up.

Year JDs Awarded
1963 9638
1964 10491
1965 11507
1966 13115
1967 14738
1968 16007
1969 16733
1970 17477
1971 17006
1972 22342
1973 27756
1974 28729
1975 29961
1976 32597
1977 33640
1978 33317
1979 34590
1980 35059
1981 35604
1982 34847
1983 36390
1984 36688
1985 36830
1986 36122
1987 35479
1988 35702
1989 35521
1990 36386
1991 38801
1992 39082
1993 39915
1994 39711
1995 39355
1996 39921
1997 41115
1998 39456
1999 39072
2000 38158
2001 37910
2002 38606
2003 38875
2004 40024
2005 42672
2006 43883
2007 43518
2008 43588
2009 44000
2010 45000
2011 45758
2012 46528
2013 47312
2014 48109
2015 48919
2016 49743
2017 50580
2018 51432
2019 52298
2020 53179
2021 54074
2022 54985
2023 55911
2024 56852
2025 57810
2026 58783
2027 59773
2028 60780
2029 61803
2030 62844
2031 63902
2032 64979
2033 66073
2034 67185
2035 68317
I calculate that in 2034, the number of JDs will be 1,994,766 (JDs produced from 1995 to 2034).  We pass the 2 million mark in 2035 when the 39,355 produced in 1995 retire and are replaced by 68,317 freshly-minted JDs from 2035, bringing the number up to 2,023,728.
Thus, by 2035 the number of unemployed and underemployed-involuntarily-out-of-field JDs will be staggering and could conceivably pass the 1 million mark.  Will the ABA and/or the federal government ever stop this madness?  I highly doubt it.


EDIT. As evidence that this seemingly nonsensical scenario may not be as far-fetched as it may seem, consider the fact that several colleges are planning to open new law schools in the future (and to presumably seek ABA accreditation).  Some of the new or planned schools are: Concordia University School of Law, Louisiana College School of Law, University of North Texas College of Law, a law school at Binghamton University, Southern New England School of Law (U. Mass), and Belmont University College of Law.

As long as students can continue to easily obtain loans and law schools continue to serve as university profit centers, more two-bit colleges will want to open their own law schools. 2 million lawyers, here we come.

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