Education


If you’re considering law school, maybe you should read this take from the folks over at Big Debt, Small Law along with all those glossy law school brochures.

Consider the typical, hapless TTT[*] law school grad: First she invested 100 K in a worthless undergrad degree like English Lit or Poli-Sci, then compounded this initial mistake by piling on 120 K or more in non-dischargeable law school loans, bought hook, line and sinker the materially fraudulent salary stats of her law school, endured the BarBri blather-thons, walked the hot coal hazing ritual of the bar’zam, and now finds herself coping with $1500 a month loan payments and a total lack of job opportunities.

I commented on the bimodal nature of lawyer salaries back in the good old days (2007), and I can guarantee you that the top salary hump has gotten a lot smaller in the intervening years.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still believe that the law is (or can be) an honorable profession and that the rule of law is an absolutely necessary condition for a free and prosperous society.  I’m just reminding everyone that there is no such thing as a free lunch, no matter what the admissions office says.  I cannot comprehend how a fourth tier school like Pace University can justify $39K a year in tuition.   How would you ever pay it back when good students from top tier schools are out of work?

However, my favorite quote from the diatribe is a side note about pro bono.

Thanks to a generation of propogandist “college for everyone” drivel, there’s an acute shortage of HVAC repair techs, plumbers, electricians, and other skilled tradesman. Don’t believe us? Call a plumber and a lawyer and see who can get there first. By the way, ask the plumber if he’s willing to install your faucets “pro bono” because you have no money. After all, running water is surely as important as your legal problems (and plumbers are VERY expensive), so just tell him he should do it for free in the public interest. Try the same thing with your auto mechanic, roofer, HVAC guy, and electrician. You’ll quickly find that only the “law” is so fixated on the merits of giving expensive professional services away to deadbeats for free. Here at Big Debt we’ve long argued against any and all pro bono work. Why? Because by so doing, one reinforces in the public’s mind that the service provided is worthless. This is especially true when rendering an “intangible” product like law, one that looks to a layperson like nothing more than a stack of very boring paperwork.

Justice should be free, right?

For context, a good CNC technician can make six figures without the bar dues and malpractice insurance, and no one ever asks them to give their work away for free.

(*Note: TTT stands for third tier toilet.)

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JustKidding, a friend, reader and frequent commentator on this site was recently asked, in another forum, to provide a list of Libertarian readings that might help someone get an idea of what Libertarians are all about.  He was kind enough to forward his response to me, and I think it is well worth repeating here.  I have included links for those works that are available on line.

Here are some books that I would recommend.  They are not all the most scintillating books, but they will get you started:

1.  An easy start to learning about libertarian philosophy (or classical liberalism, as it is also called) is to read almost anything by Frederic Bastiat, a nineteenth century philosopher.  He is generally concise and easy to understand, something not all philosophers can say.
a. The Law
b. What is seen and what is unseen
c. The petition of the candlestick makers

2.  One thing that most libertarians believe is that the use of government force is inherently immoral, and that in only a few cases is that immoral quality outweighed by the near-universality of the benefits (some level of national defense and law enforcement, for example).  However, most libertarians also believe that, even if it weren’t immoral for government to use force to do “good things,” it is impossible for the government to coordinate the resources necessary for it to do what it claims to want to do.
a. I, Pencil, Leonard Read (discusses the enormous amount of info needed to make a simple pencil)
b. The Use of Knowledge in Society, by Fredrich Hayek (this is a little more complicated reading than I, Pencil, but addresses the same principles in a much more powerful fashion)

3.  The environment is one area where people usually assume that the government has to step in or we humans will destroy everything, but humans are possibly not that destructive, and government can also be devastating to the environment.
a. Free Market Environmentalism, by Terry Anderson
b. The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Bjorn Lumborg

4.  There is a lot written about the natural inclination of government towards being bought off by interest groups (economists call it rent-seeking), but much of it is pretty complicated.  Here is one that isn’t:
a. Beyond Politics, by William Mitchell and Randy Simmons

5.  There are some libertarian books that are just a fun read
a. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein (a sci-fi book about a moon colony – very good)
b. Fair Play, by Steven Landsburg (non-fiction, but written by an economist who writes in a very easily understood and entertaining way)

6.  Finally, if you like these books, and want something a little more in-depth and complicated, try:
a. The Road to Serfdom, by Fredrich Hayek
b. The Fatal Conceit, by Fredrich Hayek
c. The Mystery of Capital, by Hernando de Soto

I hope that helps!

Everything that is not prohibited is compulsory.

When the Supreme Court said that affirmative action in law school admission was not Unconstitutional, I don’t think they meant that it should be compulsory.  But, the ABA’s political agenda hasn’t had much to do with the actual law for years.

Outreach was not the problem; even the site evaluation report (obtained as a result of Freedom of Information Act requests) conceded that GMU had a “very active effort to recruit minorities.” But the school, the report noted, had been “unwilling to engage in any significant preferential affirmative action admissions program.” Since most law schools were willing to admit minority students with dramatically lower entering academic credentials, GMU was at a recruitment disadvantage. The site evaluation report noted its “serious concerns” with the school’s policy.

Over the next few years, the ABA repeatedly refused to renew GMU’s accreditation, citing its lack of a “significant preferential affirmative action program” and supposed lack of diversity. The school stepped up its already-extensive recruitment efforts, but was forced to back away from its opposition to significant preferential treatment. It was thus able to raise the proportion of minorities in its entering class to 10.98% in 2001 and 16.16% in 2002.

The Mercian Royal Family is sort-of in the market for a new castle.  So, we sometimes drive around on Sunday afternoon and look at houses.  We stopped by an open house in a nearby neighborhood a couple of weeks ago.  The house was way beyond the budget of this minor kingdom (not enough serfs to exploit I think), but it’s fun to look.  The real estate agent made a little bit of small talk and casually asked what I did for a living.  When I told her I was a (soon to be) lawyer, her eyes positively lit up.

My brother, also a lawyer, recently faced the same reaction when buying a house in Utah.  He recounts how he dreaded the point in the discussion where the seller asked about his job.  He wanted to lie and say he was a plumber or a school teacher.  Because, the reaction was invariably, “Oh, you should have no problem affording this house then.”

Everyone knows that all lawyers are loaded, aren’t they?  It turns out that maybe not.

A friend and loyal reader recently sent me this article from the Wall Street Journal.*

A law degree isn’t necessarily a license to print money these days.

For graduates of elite law schools, prospects have never been better. Big law firms this year boosted their starting salaries to as high as $160,000. But the majority of law-school graduates are suffering from a supply-and-demand imbalance that’s suppressing pay and job growth. The result: Graduates who don’t score at the top of their class are struggling to find well-paying jobs to make payments on law-school debts that can exceed $100,000.

The actual situation is stunningly shown in the distribution of starting salaries for law school graduates (via Adam Smith, Esq. and Empirical Legal Studies).

Photos-Uncategorized-2007-08-30-Nalp-Bimodal

Can you say “bimodal,” and this predates the recent move to a $160,000 starting salary at many big firms.  Unfortunately, the future prospects might not look any better.

Public-Resources-Images-P1-Aj088-Lawjob-20070923191725-1

The Wall Street Journal article spills a lot of ink taking law schools to task about their marketing and makes some valid points about the transparency of law schools’ marketing material.  A law school could say, “the average starting salary of our graduates is $95,000,” and that would be perfectly true and honest.  But, it doesn’t quite tell the whole story because almost no one makes $95,000.  Starting lawyers make almost twice that much . . . or half that much.
Maintaining a little skepticism, I do have to wonder if the graph represents actual salaries or base salaries.  Smaller firms are much more likely to have a lower base with a higher portion of salary dependent on billing.  For example, a small firm may offer a base salary of $50,000 with the actual salary being much closer to $90,000 if the lawyer bills a reasonable number of hours.

All this being said, I have one word of advice for those starting or considering law school:

GRADES
.

Having been on the job hunting side and more recently on the recruiting side, there is not another single factor, or combination of factors, that comes close to the emphasis big firms place on grades.  One can argue all one likes that good grades do not mean good lawyers, and I would probably agree.  But, as I tell my clients: I don’t make the rules, I just explain how they work.

(HT Elijah G.)

(* I’m sure this article will shortly disappear behind WSJ’s pay-per-view firewall.  Sorry.)

On Friday, the Utah state house of representatives passed a bill creating a statewide school voucher program.  The bill is expected to pass the state senate and be signed by the governor.  The program makes a voucher available to every public school student in Utah, which the student can use toward tuition at a private school if they so choose.  The value of the voucher is between $500 and $3,000 annually based on family income, and there are relatively few requirements that the private schools must meet.  (Utah government schools spend about $3,500 annually per student.)  More specifics are here.

I think this voucher program is a good thing.  It goes at least some way toward addressing what I see as a significant distortion in the education market created by government  schools.

Imagine for a moment that the government decided to make a car available to every citizen old enough to drive.  The government provides only Ford Focuses, which retail for about $15,000 in the United States.  I think one would see a couple of things happen to the automobile market.  First, and most obvious, there would no longer be any cars on the market for less than $15,000, why buy a car worth less than the one you could get for “free”?  Perhaps less obvious, I think that you would see almost no cars in the $15,000 to $40,000 range as well.  Why would you pay the full $20,000 for a car that was only $5,000 better than the car you could get free?  Put another way, the incremental value of the car would be only $5,000 while the incremental cost would be $20,000.  I expect you would start to see a market for private cars only at a much higher price point, where the $15,000 lost opportunity cost was not as important.  I also expect that you would see some specialized cars for those who really needed something other than a Focus.  Though, you would almost certainly see a lot of people making do with the Focus even if it wasn’t entirely appropriate.

The same thing happens with education.  My eldest daughter is five-years-old and currently attends a government school in Arlington County, Virginia.  Our county spends in the neighborhood of $5,000 annually per student and has very good schools compared to the national average.  However, this system creates the same dilemma for me as the government car would create.  If not for the government school, I might decide that I would prefer my daughter get $7,000 worth of education, but I’m faced with paying the full $7,000 for an incremental gain of only $2,000 in education.  And, even if I was willing to pay the full $7,000, it is unlikely I would be able to find a $7,000 education.  The government schools have pushed these options out of the market.

Even worse, government schools force all children into a single solution.  Much like the carpenter with a Ford Focus covered with ladders and stuffed with tools, children who would be much better off with a different “vehicle” face a stiff incentive to fit into the solution provided.

I think vouchers are a good start to addressing this and other issues with “public” education.  I hope Utah’s experiment proves successful, actually and politically.

[NOTE:  A brief, unscientific survey of private schools in Arlington Co. shows that almost all schools are either significantly more expensive than public school, overtly connected to a religious denomination, or both.  Interestingly, the number of schools available decreases significantly for higher grade levels, with only one private high school in the county.  A number of these schools are also notoriously difficult to get into–stop and put your name on the waiting list on your way home from the hospital if you expect to get in.]

[Disclaimer:  My dad has been a public school teacher and administrator in Utah for thirty-plus years.]