Nonrespondent law graduates and other sampling questions

The Washington Post reports one possible concern with estimates of the Economic Value of a Law Degree:

“[Paul] Campos argues that low-earning lawyers may be less likely to participate in SIPP in the first place because of the stigma involved in admitting that, even anonymously.”

By email, Jerry Organ asks related questions about the representativeness of our sample.

“SIPP” is the United States Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, and is one of the primary data sources used in The Economic Value of a Law Degree.  Campos worries about stigma and non-response.  Thankfully SIPP is specifically designed to deal with these problems and to include impoverished and stigmatized members of the population, including those who receive government aid.

The Census Bureau explains SIPP’s purpose as follows:

 “To collect source and amount of income, labor force information, program participation and eligibility data, and general demographic characteristics to measure the effectiveness of existing federal, state, and local programs; to estimate future costs and coverage for government programs, such as food stamps; and to provide improved statistics on the distribution of income and measures of economic well-being in the country.”

The Census Bureau elaborates on the use of SIPP to analyze participation in Food Stamps and other anti-poverty programs here.

Census explains in greater detail how SIPP handles issues related to response bias, non-response bias, and weighting here.  SIPP oversamples in poor neighborhoods, imputes when necessary, and adjust the sample weights to approach a nationally representative sample.

It is about a good a survey as one is likely to find conducted by people who care a great deal about nonresponse and accurate estimates.

Additionally, to the extent that any lingering nonresponse bias may cause those with low earnings to be less inclined to participate, this bias will affect both law graduates and bachelor’s degree holders.  What we measure in the Economic Value of a Law Degree is the earnings premium, or difference in earnings that is attributable to the law degree.  The biases should wash out, or more likely, bias down our estimates of the law degree earnings premium, because bachelors are far more likely than law graduates to live in poverty.

Indeed studies that have compared earnings reported in SIPP to earnings from administrative data (tax and social security administration data) find that SIPP data underestimates earnings premiums because more highly educated and higher income individuals tend to underreport earnings, while less educated and lower income individuals tend to over report.  We make no attempt to correct for this downward bias in our earnings premium estimates to offset any lingering selection on unobservables.

Individual response bias issues also won’t affect federal student loan default data, which is administrative data from the Department of Education.  As noted in the article and in previous blog posts, former law students default on their student loans much less frequently than former students of bachelor’s degree or other graduate degree programs.


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36 Responses

  1. Derek Tokaz says:

    I’m curious about the attention the authors give to student loan default rates. With IBR and now PAYE, default should only occur when someone cannot pay their loans and is either irresponsible in dealing with their hardship, or ignorant of the programs’ existence. Thus the default rate is not particularly well suited for answering the question of who is earning enough money to pay back their loans.

    It would be a bit like saying lawyers are better drivers because they get fewer moving violations than the general population, while ignoring the fact that they may be better at challenging their tickets.

    To the meat of the article though, much of the criticism has been about the predictive value of past performance, and the authors have argued that the downturn is just cyclical and things will get better. For some sectors of the legal industry, I believe this is probably true.

    However, it is worth paying special attention to the very bottom of the industry. Document review has served as a safety net for many law school graduates. The work is tedious, intellectually empty, dead end, and comes with no benefits and less prestige, but $30/hr plus overtime isn’t too bad as a job of last resort. These are jobs that are particularly at risk from automation and outsourcing.

  2. Innocent Question says:

    To the law school critics crowd: “Simkovic and McIntyre find that the recent drops in salaries are well within historical patterns. It’s just that salaries always fall during recessions.”

    So the question is: can you accept and acknowledge any good news about law schools? Or are you so ideologically committed to your own point of view that you will grasp at something, anything (“Oh, SIPP is totally unrepresentative!!!” — except, it’s not) to reconfirm your views?

  3. Derek Tokaz says:

    Innocent Question,

    I believe that law school critics largely acknowledge that many schools are doing the right thing by reducing class sizes. So yes, they can acknowledge good news.

    However, given law schools’ history of publicizing dubious (if not fraudulent) salary data and making highly deceptive claims about the value of a JD, critics have plenty of reason to be skeptical.

    They also have good reason specifically to doubt that the recent drops in salaries are not just part of a historical pattern. The employment crisis for young lawyers started in 2008-09, and yet 5 years later it still persists. Employment rates have not recovered. Starting salaries have not recovered. Mass layoffs at large firms are on the rise. Tuition on the other hand has never been higher, making law school an increasingly risky prospect.

  4. Barry says:

    In addition, the cost of law degrees has skyrocketed, even (or perhaps especially) at middle and lower ranking schools, whose graduates have a very hard time breaking into the actual practice of law.

  5. Ben Barros says:

    An observation and some questions for Derek. First, the observation – I like a lot of the work you and others have done with LST. I think, though, that IQ raises an important point. You are a critic, and you say that critics have plenty of reason to be skeptical. Without getting into your claims about deception, I think it is fine to be a skeptic. Ask hard questions. But at some point, you have to take contrary evidence seriously.

    Second, the questions. (1) Do you have any actual evidence that suggests that legal employment is immune from cyclical economic downturns? The employment crisis began at the start of the recession. It also happened to coincide with record highs in enrollment. Employment in the overall economy is just now starting to recover. Based on anecdotal conversations with my students who just graduated, it appears that the legal job market is starting to improve. I’m aware of the problems of arguing from anecdote, and we’ll have to wait until we have a better data set from the 9 month numbers. If those are improved, it would be consistent with an economic explanation.

    (2) What is your evidence that layoffs are rising at large law firms? Weil doesn’t strike me as indicative of a trend – they seem to be doing what a lot of firms did a few years ago, and Weil’s bankruptcy practice explains why they are acting later than other firms.

    (3) Regarding the risk of attending law school, don’t you think that the decline in enrollments severely reduces that risk? In a few years, we will have dramatically smaller classes graduating into what is likely to be a stronger job market. Plus, real tuition is going down dramatically as schools compete for students. So how can you say that going to law school _now_ is high risk?

  6. Ben Barros says:

    Barry, your assumption about graduates of lower ranking schools is false. See this:

    I agree, by the way, with the concerns about cost. The mythology about the need to go to the highest-ranked school possible keeps costs high, because it discourages students from taking scholarship money to go to lower-ranked schools.

  7. Ben Barros says:

    By the way – I don’t mean to suggest that job placement a higher ranked schools isn’t better than at lower-ranked schools. Generally it is, at least to a degree. The questions are how big is that bump, and how much is it worth. A lot of that depends on what a prospective student wants to do, and where they want to practice.

  8. Casual Observer says:

    I think the study is very interesting and important. Three thoughts: (1) I wonder what impact the Great Recession will have on the profession. All anecdotal evidence that I’ve seen makes clear that young lawyers are getting clobbered out there. Many are really not even breaking into the profession. New entrants post 2008 are excluded from the data set. I’d love to see this article redone when a new dataset comes out. Will there be confirmation of a structural change in the legal field?

    (2) Even with good data from “the before times” the delta on a law degree (after taxes and after tuition) for the median student is something like $11,000 to $12,000 per year [assuming no debt interest]. That’s good but not great dough.

    (3) I appreciate how the authors tried to add dummy variables to control for certain characteristics that could explain any difference (e.g., hours worked, gender, college prep high school, etc.). I did not see a control for whether a respondent lived in a metro area or not, or any dummy control for “District of Columbia” or not.

    My suspicion (and personal experience) is that there is a disproportionate concentration of lawyers in metro areas, especially New York and DC. These metro areas also pay disproportionate wages. I would be very interested if the authors could add a metro area variable to their model or a dummy 1/0 for District of Columbia to see if the wage delta was impacted.

  9. Derek Tokaz says:


    (1) Do you have any actual evidence that suggests that legal employment is immune from cyclical economic downturns?

    I suppose my professors saying that law was recession proof back when I was in school is inadmissible hearsay. They were also wrong.

    I completely agree that the legal industry is exposed to the ups and downs of the market at large. If your clients lose their money, they can’t pay you, right?

    The question is whether there is evidence the legal industry has changed in a way that will lead to a persistent contraction of the market. In November 2002, at the start of the mid-2000s boom, there was 1 legal job for every 256 people (note that this isn’t just lawyers, but the legal industry in general). At the height of the boom, November 2007, there was 1 legal job for every 253 people. Salaries grew, but we didn’t really see much growth in the size of the industry itself. I think this is fairly intuitive — if suddenly you have an influx of M&A work, hiring a ton of fresh grads doesn’t help much; you need experience now, not 5 years from now. More work goes to the people already in the industry, their salaries increase, but hiring lags.

    The more complex legal work becomes, the less valuable new graduates will be, and the more firms will rely on overloading the existing talent. At the other end there is the simple work fresh graduates are well suited for, and more people are doing this work themselves, without the help of a lawyer. We have a combination of DIY books and websites, and an increasingly educated population more capable of figuring things out for themselves.

    The proof of the pudding is in the tasting of course, and we will have to wait to see what happens in the next 5-10 years.

    (2) What is your evidence that layoffs are rising at large law firms? Weil doesn’t strike me as indicative of a trend.

    Weil hasn’t been the only firm downsizing. This year there have been cuts at Strook and Strook, Patton Boggs, Jones Day, Latham, Sullivan and Cromwell, Kramer Levin, Cleary Gottlieb, Allen and Overy, Akin Gump, Edwards Wildman, Dickstein Shapiro, WilmerHale, Orrick, and Crowell and Moring.

    Trendy enough?

    (3) Regarding the risk of attending law school, don’t you think that the decline in enrollments severely reduces that risk? In a few years, we will have dramatically smaller classes graduating into what is likely to be a stronger job market. Plus, real tuition is going down dramatically as schools compete for students. So how can you say that going to law school _now_ is high risk?

    Objection, compound question.

    On the issue of declining enrollments, it remains to be seen just how big that decline will be. The median under-employment rate is around 30%. Not many schools are looking at cuts at all close to that, and we’re likely to see some of those cuts offset by larger classes at other schools.

    On the issue of real tuition going down, I assume what you mean is the average price paid, rather than the sticker price (which is of course going up). It would be nice to see some good data on how much it’s really declining — schools are rather stingy on putting that out there though.

    But, looking at the data that is available, last year Widener’s tuition $38,250, 32% of full time students received some scholarship with a median amount of $2500. Back in 2009, tuition was $32,040, 30% received scholarships, and the median amount was $7,500. So, for the median student, tuition is up $6,210, and for the medians scholarship recipient the cost is up $11,210.

    Maybe it’s down significantly for the next cohort, but that’s a claim that really needs solid data to back it up.

    What’s particularly important to the question of risk however is not the average paid, but the distribution of risk. The average might go down, but half of students will see their risk exposure continue to climb lockstep with the sticker price.

  10. Ben Barros says:

    Derek, thanks for the response. Briefly, on point (1), you are correct, we’ll have to see how things play out. I don’t buy the structural change argument, but I might be wrong. (2) Fair enough, that is trendy. (3) Also fair enough. We’ll see how far down enrollments go – we should be able to get good data on that. You are correct that it is hard to get good data on discounted tuition, which is unfortunate. Here is how I look at it from the narrow view of my campus of my school. (a) Even though the job market has been weak, the last couple of classes of our students have done reasonably well, especially if you look past nine months. Not perfect by any means, but not a disaster. (b) Our last two classes (the one that started last year and the one that will start in the fall) are _dramatically_ smaller than the classes that graduated into the weakest part of the market. (c) These small classes will likely graduate into a much better economy. I therefore think it is likely that they will do very well. On the issue of tuition, I’m on the record as being very concerned about the constant increases of tuition in law schools and throughout higher education. Perversely enough, it is really hard to do much about tuition right now, as schools deal with the budget impact of smaller classes. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get costs under control, and I’ve become pretty pessimistic, largely over collective action problems. The cost problem might resemble the issue involved with law firm partners that David Luban discussed in this classic post:

    The only thing that I think might actually work is if the federal government reduced or capped the amount of loans that are available to students. If there is enough tuition on the demand side, schools will find ways of collecting it.

  11. Derek Tokaz says:


    I agree that the federal loan spigot needs to be turned either off or way down.

    Another thing that might work in bringing down tuition is, if you’ll excuse my frankness, for professors to grow a conscience and a spine.

    Raise your hand if you think it’s important for law students to seriously consider doing public interest work rather than just following the money at big firms.

    Now keep your hand up if you’d be willing to work for the same pay you hope your students will take.

    Who’s still got their hands up?

    I know the gospel response is that if law schools started professor pay at $45,000 and it topped out around $65,000-75,000 they wouldn’t be able to compete with the law firm industry or other schools. Yet plenty of highly qualified graduates who could go to BigLaw are instead opting for public interest jobs, so I think that argument is bupkis.

    The professors you won’t be able to compete for are the ones who see academia as a form of mercenary work. On the other hand, you’ll still be able to attract people who view teaching as a public service and who have some degree of loyalty to their university community. Those folks might even turn out to be the better professors.

  12. Frank Pasquale says:

    Derek, you argue that schools will “still be able to attract people who view teaching as a public service.” Is your model essentially to have all professors at law schools be adjuncts—that is, their main source of income is from the practice of law, and they teach “on the side?” If not—would you give your guidelines on what pay should be? Or is your main focus on administrators, ala Ginsburg:

    If your model is to have professors squeeze in a few hours of teaching each week, beyond their practice, won’t we miss a) at least some well-prepared classes, which may take 10 to 20 hours a week to prep and b) the kind of independent expertise many professors provide? In the heavily regulated fields that I study and teach, many of the only people not offered funding to advance a particular commercial interest are from the academy.

  13. Derek Tokaz says:

    Frank, I mean that law schools should pay their professors a salary that is more in line with what public interest jobs pay. $45,000-75,000. That’s not your side job. That’s your full time job.

  14. Frank Pasquale says:

    Apologies to Derek for one of my questions–I see that you’ve advocated for a $40K to $70K pay range. Could you let us know about how much that pay reduction would reduce tuition?

  15. Derek Tokaz says:

    Frank, without access to law school’s books I can’t give a precise figure.

    However, starting salaries tend to be around $90-100k, with tenured professors making around $150k. So, my proposed pay scale would be roughly half of that.

    I know that at UC-Hastings about half the school’s expenses are faculty salary and benefits, so cutting salaries in half could reduce a school’s expenses by upwards of 25%.

    The percentage of the cut to tuition would be somewhat greater than that amount, since tuition is not the only source of revenue for law schools.

  16. Derek Tokaz says:

    Correction: UC-Irvine.

    I should also add that I would eliminate summer research stipends. This is a permanent job, not seasonal employment.

  17. Ben Barros says:

    Derek, I disagree with a couple of steps in your analysis. As one example, I teach Real Estate, Bus Orgs, and Property. I think it is totally fine for people to go for the big bucks if that is what they want to do with their lives. So my hand would have come down at step two if it somehow denigrates one choice over the other. I don’t apologize for taking the amount of money I make into account in my career decisions, even if I did take more than a 50% pay cut to go into teaching. I have my preferences, and I acted on them. And I don’t think that I or my colleagues see this as mercenary work.

    But even if your idea was solid in the abstract (and I don’t think it is), it wouldn’t work unless all schools did it, for the same reason why law firms can’t reduce partner compensation, as David Luban explains. Schools compete with each other. No one could try to force compliance without violating the antitrust laws. Also, for what it’s worth, faculty have very little input into tuition decisions, though that doesn’t absolve us from caring about the issue or speaking up about it.

    More broadly, I think that the market would probably come up with appropriate tuition levels over time. Right now, though, the market is being distorted by the flow of subsidized federal money.

  18. Frank Pasquale says:

    This is in response to both Ben and Derek:

    Could you let me know a sector of the economy that isn’t “distorted” by federal intervention? That was part of my point in my post on IBR a few days ago here. Consider the following sectors:

    1) Banking
    2) Defense
    3) Telecom/Cable
    4) Housing
    5) “Guard Labor” (security outside normal defense and law enforcement)
    6) Airlines
    7) Health Care

    I could go on…my point is: Try to consider what happens if you just get rid of government support in any of those areas. They probably collapse, or at the very least contract in ways that are destabilizing for the economy generally.

    Is there a reason why support for education is particularly troubling? Or is your agenda broadly libertarian, and legal education is just one place where you want to see the state shrunk? I’m not in favor of keeping all the subsidies involved in 1-7, obviously. But I think if you were to rank order them, whatever funding is going to student loans would be pretty low on my list of “necessary cuts.” And given the amount of money the government is making from student loans, is there really a subsidy here at all?

  19. Ben Barros says:

    Frank, to be clear, I don’t want federal support for student loans to go away. And I don’t have any real problem with government intervention in the marketplace. I do think, however, that the availability of federal student loans allow tuition to be higher that it otherwise would be. I also think that the constant increases in tuition throughout higher education at above the rate of inflation is inherently unsustainable and problematic. If the federal cap was reduced, or at least if it no longer rises, then there should be downward pressure on tuition rates. I’d rather see the feds spend the money on IBR and public service repayment than on continually increasing the amount of money students can borrow.

  20. I think the market for law professors is deep enough that you probably could reduce compensation to ~75K and still get excellent professors. Some of the low-tuition public schools already pay close to that range (New Mexico and Idaho are the ones I recall being on the low end); and of course, legal writing professors earn close to that at many schools. And frankly, the low-cost schools have managed to make excellent hires, and legal writing positions are also highly competitive. Ben is right that many “superstars” would flee to the schools with higher compensation, but in a market this deep, I suspect you’d still get great people.

    But I also agree that the current GradPlus lending program is highly distortive. A big part current expenditures at most schools is tuition reallocation–giving scholarships to the students with higher LSAT/GPA combos. The money to offer scholarships comes from tuition, which comes from student loan dollars, and schools compete to get the students with the best credentials. If GradPlus capped lending at ~$20k a year, schools would have to reduce the total amount of tuition charged and could not afford the same level of tuition cross-subsidization–so the nominal tuition charged would more closely match the real tuition paid. My concerns are spelled out in more detail here:

    Even if GradPlus were not capped, I think that the federal government could at least place a restriction that no student loan funds could be used to cross-subsidize other students’ tuition.

    And I agree with Frank that many markets are more distorted by federal spending, and that access to higher education is an important public good–but when lending is unlimited and repayment is capped (as in the current GradPlus/IBR scenario), I think you do get significant inflationary pressure on tuition without a corresponding increase in educational quality.

  21. Derek Tokaz says:


    I also agree that it’s fine for some people to go for the big bucks. What I meant in step 1 was that it’s pretty universally accepted that some significant portion of law school graduates need to go into low paid public interest jobs. There need to be public defenders, small town prosecutors, legal aid clinics, advocacy groups, etc.

    As for the collective action problem, that’s the point which I believe is bupkis.

    Schools with high BigLaw placement rates also tend to have high public interest placement rates. Columbia sent 16.8% of 2011 grads into public service, NYU – 21.6%, Cornell – 13.7%, Chicago – 10.6%, Berkeley – 14.7%, UVA – 19.8%, Michigan – 16.0%, Georgetown – 25.6%. Of the top 30 large firm feeders, 22 sent at least 10% of their class into public service jobs.

    These are students, most of whom could have gone into BigLaw had they so desired, but instead they gave up roughly 2/3rds of their income in order to work in the public interest. These organizations are able to recruit because there are young lawyers who care more about the cause than their paycheck.

    Is it your contention that the number of professors who care more about affordable education than their salaries is too small to staff a law school?

  22. Frank Pasquale says:

    My second point regards the 45-70K pay band that Derek proposes. A few thoughts:

    1) The GS Pay Scale appears a bit broader:

    2) I don’t think that halving pay will halve compensation (given health benefits, etc). Do you have the UC Irvine budget–I’m a bit surprised by that figure. Is it for all staff, or just faculty?

    3) In the health context, there is a lot of controversy about the pay of specialists, effectively benchmarked by the RUC board under the authority of CMS. I don’t really have a position on whether heart surgeons should make $300K or $500K or $700K a year. But I don’t think any of the proposals on the table call for simply cutting people’s pay in half.

    4) I’m just wondering what you think of the first chart in this post:

    Do you support state and federal government actors continuing to turn their back on education? Is your view that it should be a completely free market initiative?

    My back of the envelope calculation says that a $50,000 pay cut for 45 profs at a school with 600 students would save each about $11,000 over their three years of law school. I’d really like to see law school critics push more for a re-commitment of tax dollars to education (especially since taxes on the very rich have been pushed so low) to make up some or all of that $11,000.

  23. Derek Tokaz says:


    About the superstars, is there any real value to having them at your university, other than earning reputation points for US News rankings?

    As I understand it, most of the superstars are in that category because of their writing, not because they are known to be particularly gifted teachers. I don’t know if this is common knowledge or not, but you’re allowed to read articles by professors at schools other than your alma mater. Many of those articles are even available on the internet.

  24. Derek Tokaz says:


    1) Yes, some government jobs do have a high top end pay range. Nothing wrong with that. Yet, there are also career public defenders out there not earning anything close to six figures, as well as plenty of small town lawyers serving the lower and middle class who earn a modest middle class income themselves.

    2) Chemerinsky has said that half of UC-Irvine’s expenses are faculty salary and benefits. That does not include staff, which are another 20% of the budget.

    You are correct that halving salaries does not halve salary+benefits. Healthcare costs would likely remain the same. I would cut summer stipends. I don’t know what law schools do in terms of retirement plans, but where those exist I’d imagine they track to salaries fairly closely. Chemerinsky didn’t say if that 50% of the budget included payroll taxes, but you would see significant savings there by cutting salaries. (I should also point out that because professors would be in a lower tax bracket, a 50% cut in pay translates to less than a 50% cut in the money they take home).

    3) I don’t see that as being particularly relevant.

    4) I think it’s a shame state governments have not been more dedicated to funding higher education and I absolutely support direct funding.

    What I oppose is the loan system which artificially increases the supply of money available for education, which in turn allows schools to raise tuition.

    Robust funding of public universities would drive their costs down, and put pressure on private schools to do the same. 100% in favor of this, though I would make public funding contingent on certain tuition levels.

  25. Ben Barros says:

    Derek, no, the numbers are not too small to staff a law school. As Cassandra points out, there are some schools that already pay in that range. I could even imagine some low-cost law schools emerging that are staffed in that way. I just don’t think there is any way to impose it into the current law school structure. Schools can and should care about retention of faculty, and school Y isn’t going to start paying people $75,000 per year if it is worried that its faculty will leave for school X, which pays $125,000. You don’t have the same dynamic in public interest law (at least not to a high degree), in part because public interest organizations are limited in their funding. Law schools (and colleges and universities) are not as limited. Proposals like yours just don’t work in a market economy.

  26. Ben Barros says:

    Derek, re: your response to Cassandra in #23. Your proposal might work in a world where no one cared about reputation, and cared only about quality. That is not the world we live in. US News has made things worse, but reputation, flawed as it is, matters. This is true even if there is no relationship at all between superstar academic reputation and quality of teaching and educational experience. Let’s be honest – people don’t go to Yale because of the quality of the education. They go there because of the reputation.

  27. Ben Barros says:

    UC Irvine, by the way, is a great example of how an institution can succeed by chasing reputation. Gotta pay to do that.

  28. Derek Tokaz says:

    Ben, you say: “school Y isn’t going to start paying people $75,000 per year if it is worried that its faculty will leave for school X, which pays $125,000”

    But cf Barros supra, “I don’t think that I or my colleagues see this as mercenary work.”

  29. Frank Pasquale says:

    Derek, 3 is relevant because one of the policy instruments you’ve proposed is caps on pay or tuition tied to loan requirements. Medicare “conditions of participation” generate benchmarks for professional pay in a similar way: if you want to be part of Medicare, you need to accept its payment level for beneficiaries (and can’t balance bill more than 15% above the set payment). That creates certain limits on pay, but it also creates certain reliance interests. And there would have been very little buy-in to this system in the 60s, 70s, and 80s if it were just applied as a fait accompli to cut pay dramatically for professionals.

    I think that, from either a market or non-market perspective, your proposal for the limited pay band has some problems. From a market perspective, Simkovic and McIntyre demonstrate that there has been a great deal of “surplus” created by the legal educational process that is enjoyed by the JD degree holders. Sure, there is a need for consumer protection on the low end (say, the bottom 15% of schools or graduates). But looked at from a purely economic perspective, and given that this recession is in line with past recessions, that’s their bottom line.

    Of course, this market view is not how I look at things. I don’t think there are functioning markets in education, health care, or housing. I think there are more and less well-connected individuals creating rules that allocate risk and reward to different groups. At present, given larger trends in the economy, I think that far too many risks are shifted onto borrowers, and away from wealthy lenders. I also think that we need many more people like clinical professors and policy-engaged law profs who are trying to figure out ways to re-balance those risks and rewards, and to advocate for the systematically disadvantaged.

    By proposing the pay band you do, you essentially seem to endorse a state of affairs where, say, a polluting company can pay its laywers 5 to 10 to 20 times what the environmental lawyer fighting for accountability should be paid. That’s not a very progressive proposal, nor will it do much to level the playing field between advocates of the public interest and those who are doing so much now to make law degrees worth less (by fighting in legislatures, courts, and agencies to assure impunity for a wider and wider range of corporate behavior).

    To summarize: we may be in an economic environment largely like that of the past—in which case McIntyre and Simkovic give us little reason to be greatly concerned about current effective tuitions (which are generally dropping as schools offer more scholarship money to chase after a smaller applicant pool). Or we may be in a dramatically different, and far harsher economic environment, where we need the creative legal advocacy and policy work of clinicians and engaged law professors more than ever. (I can, off the top of my head, think of 5 to 10 law profs doing vital work on our credit system of immediate value to the indebted; 5 doing critical ACA work; etc, etc.) Our goal should be less “let’s try to find the cheapest person we can for any position” than a more general commitment to creating a more equitable and just social structure. I say we value that work at least as much in the future as we do now.

  30. Derek Tokaz says:


    I’m not sure how the polluter vs. public interest group analogy works. Who are the polluters? The schools that continue to pay high salaries?

  31. Ben Barros says:

    Derek, fair enough. There are a lot of law professors who are willing to move from one school to another for prestige and money reasons. This is true if professors aren’t just in it for the money. Human nature is what it is. Your plan wouldn’t work with human beings.

  32. Derek,

    In California there is no requirement that a student attend an ABA school to take the bar. In fact, you can sit for the bar without going to law school at all.

    So there is a layer of non-ABA schools and even some ABA schools that do not hire research faculty as do most ABA schools. Those non-ABA/non-research schools would seem to conform closely to your low paid teach-only model.

    What explains the fact, in your opinion, that there remains huge demand (albeit slightly less than five years ago, yet substantially higher than 25 years ago) to attend law schools with research faculty?

  33. Frank Pasquale says:


    First, thank you for your support of a restoration of prior levels of public funding for education. I think that LST will get a lot more buy in from educators if that aspect of its platform is promoted more. I also hope LST will consider condemning plans to raise interest rates on student debt.

    As for my example of polluters: here’s concrete stories from Tulane:

    There are many other environmental clinics and other public service clinics staffed by law professors. For many communities, these clinics are a “last resort;” they have no other option for legal representation or advocacy.

    I’d rather see a world where the leading lawyers for, say, a polluting firm are only paid 5 times what the clinicians leading the clinics are paid, rather than the 10 or more times that would likely result from the pay band you suggest. I don’t think we can resolve debates about people’s degree of “mercenary-ness”; rather, we should think about the social value of what they are doing. Given the vast environmental problems prevailing in so many parts of the country, I think the clinicians fighting to assure the law is faithfully executed deserve at least a fifth of what, say, firm partners are earning to put the case of the other side.

  34. Derek Tokaz says:


    It doesn’t matter that there are a lot of professors who’d wave goodbye to their school to go from an upper-middle class lifestyle to an upper-upper-middle class life. All that matters is if there are enough professors who value trying to fix the cost of law school enough to stay at that university despite being able to earn more elsewhere.

    We just need about 1 in 200 professors to feel that way. Actually, a bit less. Some will be attracted to the school for other reasons, such as location — it’s near their extended family, has a killer football team at the undergrad, or they just won’t move to Columbia because NYC smells so horrible in the summer.

    You don’t need collective action among all the schools, you just need leadership by one fairly well ranked school which can then put pressure on other schools to lower their tuition. Two thirds of UVA students receive no scholarship money. How many of them do you think you could have enticed to attend Michigan with $10k a year?

  35. Derek Tokaz says:


    I think it’s quite clear that I only suggested a change in the compensation model. I didn’t say it would be a non-research institution, so I reject the premise of your question.

    Also, I’m sure you’re aware that there are differences between ABA accredited schools and unaccredited ones beyond having professors write journal articles.

  36. BoredJD says:

    (3) Regarding the risk of attending law school, don’t you think that the decline in enrollments severely reduces that risk? In a few years, we will have dramatically smaller classes graduating into what is likely to be a stronger job market. Plus, real tuition is going down dramatically as schools compete for students. So how can you say that going to law school _now_ is high risk?”

    It is high-risk, as others have pointed out, because tuition is so high. My main contention with the study is that it is not particularly illuminating. Deans and professors have long argued that a JD has a significant earnings premium over a career, that you can’t make good decisions based on nine-month employment stats, and that the market will bounce back. We have numbers and charts to back up that claim now, but it misses the point.

    What I think students are really doing is taking a look at tuition, salaries, and debt and coming to the conclusion that even if the JD will deliver $1 or $100 or $100,000 of earnings over the course of a career, it’s simply not worth spending 5 or 7 years of your 20s and 30s paying a huge % of your monthly income, or going on PAYE and having to live with an enormous amount of debt for 20 years.

    I am sure there will even be a point at which students don’t want to attend Yale or Harvard simply because the sticker cost is so high, and that point will be much lower than $1.1 million (or the actual earnings premium for those schools, which is much higher).

    Re: public support for higher ed and alumni support- I would be much more likely to give money to my law school if it stopped acting like a business. When you make attending a university merely a market transaction between sophisticated sellers and buyers, or you point to “market” compensation, as if law school salaries are out of the control of law professors, it does not tend to make me very sympathetic to the academy.

    In other words, I think law schools are going to see a serious reduction in their alumni support sometime in the future, just as people don’t donate money to their car manufacturer or landlord.