About that Chemerinsky editorial… [UPDATED]

Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of UC-Irvine School of Law, and Carrie Menkel-Meadow, a professor at Irvine and Georgetown, wrote an editorial headlined “Don’t Skimp on Legal Training” in yesterday’s New York Times.  The editorial is so horrible, so misleading, so full of complete bullshit, that it could only have been written by two people who draw their paychecks from American law schools.  It’s hard to know where to start, but let me try to rebut some of their nonsense with actual facts/truth:

1.  C and MM write that 84.7 percent of law school graduates reported being employed in a paid, full-time position nine months after graduation.  Sounds pretty good, right?  Unfortunately, as pointed out time and time again by basically everyone in the world who writes about this stuff, that figure includes anyone who is “employed” doing anything.  Working at Starbucks?  Congrats, you’re one of the lucky 84.7!  A more informative number is the percentage of students employed in positions requiring bar passage, which was 64.4% in 2012.

2.  “The number of graduates who are employed is higher if the measure is over a longer interval than just the nine months after graduation.”  Well, yes, if you ask someone who has been out of law school for ten years if he/she is employed, the answer will most likely be yes.  People need to eat, and so eventually they will find some kind of job, legal or otherwise.  What this most certainly does not mean is that if you’re unemployed nine months after graduation, you just need to wait a few more months/years and that high-paying job you went to law school to get will come your way.

3.  “And with the economy improving and law-school enrollments shrinking, there will be more jobs available for new law graduates.”  I’m going to take a cheap shot here, because I understand what they really mean.  But technically, there will not be more jobs available for new graduates as a result of shrinking law-school enrollments.  There will be the same number of jobs available; there will just be fewer new graduates competing for those jobs.  There may even be fewer jobs available:  a few paragraphs later, C and MM report that “major law firms continue to hire many fewer new graduates than they used to.”

4.  “As with any other field of study, the ability to get a job out of law school obviously depends on where a person went to school and how he or she performed.”  This is not true–or it is at least much less true–of other fields of study.  If you complete medical school, you are extremely likely to find a job as a practicing physician.  That is because there are only around 141 medical schools in the country and, according to my friends who are doctors, there aren’t really any bad ones.  Similarly, my wife is a dietitian.  If you get a master’s in dietetics, you get a job as a dietitian.  There are only about 40 programs in the country for this.  See also (and go into) pharmacy, dentistry, and a bunch of other stuff.

5.  “A recent conversation between the deans of various public policy and international affairs schools in Foreign Policy suggested that law degree graduates were faring much better than both doctoral and master’s students in specialty programs such as international studies.”  NEWSFLASH:  Going to law school is better than getting a master’s in international studies!  I predict that this revelation alone will lead to a 20% spike in law school applications.

6.  “Law schools specifically should do more to provide need-based financial aid to students — rather than what most law schools have been doing in recent years, which is to shift toward financial aid based primarily on merit in order to influence their rankings.”  Great idea!  Perhaps UC-Irvine could set an example by announcing that it will no longer award merit-based financial aid.

7.  “[T]he increased costs can be attributed to a variety of factors: significant decreases in state funding at public law schools, increased faculty salaries, the growth in clinical education that requires smaller classes, and providing more services to students.”  They mention these four factors as if they contribute roughly equally to the increased costs.  I seriously doubt that that is the case.  For one thing, public law schools tend to be a lot cheaper than private ones, so the idea that decreases in state funding at public schools explain the increased costs is crazy.  This is the first time I’ve heard clinics blamed for increased costs; I don’t know what the numbers are, but I doubt that clinics are a significant factor in the increased costs.  As for the last point, law schools probably are providing more services to students than in the past, but I suspect that those services amount to a small fraction of most schools’ budgets.  That leaves “increased faculty salaries.”  (Ding ding ding, we have a winner!)  According to the Sacramento Bee’s State Worker Salary Search website, Erwin Chemerinsky made $361,000 in 2012.  Nowhere in the editorial do Chemerinsky and Menkel-Meadow propose a solution to the increased costs, which even they seem to acknowledge is a problem.  Can you think of one?

UPDATE:  As Mickey Kaus would say, the editorial isn’t as bad as I initially thought.  It’s worse!  Much worse.  The great Paul Campos points out here that the NALP figures cited by C and MM do not say what C and MM say they say because those figures include part-time and unpaid jobs.

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