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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Scapegoating

Prof. Bainbridge takes up the cause of faculty in his own way by a post with the ill-conceived title "Dean Dan Rodriguez Thinks Making the Faculty Work Harder is the Solution."  Uh, no, not exactly.  But I'll leave y'all to decide whether my various posts suggesting ways of getting a handle on the too-high costs of legal education can be read as such.

But Steve nonetheless raises a serious point, a point made frequently elsewhere, and one which deserves serious scrutiny.  What are we going to do about high administrative costs and the impact on law school budgets and, thus, student well-being?

First, some essential points of agreement: 

One, in this new environment, law schools must be prepared to justify thoroughly and concretely existing administrative costs -- and, indeed, we should do so with a dose of skepticism about whether the current configuration of administration can be sustained in a period in which students are suffering and in which our basic economic model (albeit at some places more than others) is in jeopardy.  Two, any augmentation to administration must be justified in clear terms and with compelling evidence that such initiatives are directly tied to student well-being, both with respect to the learning environment and with respect to expanding professional opportunities after graduation.  And, third, tuition revenues should be a last resort for these (if any) augmentations.  As we ask, and even press, our alumni for financial support of our respective law schools, we should be looking to them to support infrastructure where we can explain and justify it as contributing directly to the law school's ability to (a) improve student learning; (2) enhance professional opportunities; and (3) ultimately reduce student debt.

Now, to those insistent that administrators are the main (sole?) problem here.  The claim that law schools are filled with "administrator bloat" is not an argument, it is a slogan.  Responsible analysis of our current situation requires information and perspective.  Faculty members have long looked around their law school and wonder what all these "administrators" are doing.  "I remember the good old days when the dean ran the law school with the help of  his cheerful secretary, Mrs. Jones, a librarian, a couple admission folks, and a guy who made sure the podium and chalk was set up in the classroom.  Ah, those were the days . . . "  Yadda, yadda.  Not only were the good old days not unequivocally good, but let us take a step back and look at what the increase in law school administration over, say, the past quarter century has brought us:

(1) Student services.  The expansion in academic support as law schools looked to broaden their scope to historically disadvantaged students and, unlike the days in which they simply flunked out under performers, actually committed to the success of these students.  Counseling services and more sophisticated exam administration (that the guy moonlighting from Star Market who has hired to proctor several exams when I was in law school) is one example.  Specialized student support for foreign students is another.  Administrator bloat here?  Perhaps so.  But the expansion of student services and recognition that this is a career path and not simply something to be outsourced to overworked legal writing instructors has been a cost driver;

(2) Techology.  The need for specialized expertise in and with regard to technology has pushed law schools to make investments.  Most law schools have separate IT departments; and, to a greater or lesser degree, these investments have enhanced students and faculty work.  Current law students don't remember and can't easily fathom when technology support was the part-time person in the library or, even worse, was someone on central campus who might return your phone call and get to your law school problem as she went down her list;

(3) Career services.  Can anyone doubt that law schools ought to invest significantly in job placement and advising services for their students, especially now?  To be sure, law schools often do this inefficiently and haphazardly.  But the single biggest complaint from involving administration is that there isn't enough effort and energy (all requiring resources) mobilized in the service of expanding professional opportunities for students.  At Northwestern, for example, we have created an office of external partnerships, designed to increase opportunities -- that is, paid jobs -- for our law students by tactical and targeted networking.  Career services in the new normal is not just advising; it is outreach and it is placement-centered.  Lumping such efforts into the bromide "administrator bloat" doesn't capture it.

(4) Alumni relations & development.  One commenter noted that NYU has 32 individuals devoted to ARD.  I don't know whether that number is correct, but I do know that they were able to increase their endowment by over one half a billion dollars in the past few years.  Increases in endowments decrease student tuition pressure; it's that simple.  So, the significant augmentation in ARD within law schools have enabled law schools to continue to support their alumni communities, to enhance the reputation of the law school by strategic communication and marketing, and to raise money.

This all said, there is no doubt that there are serious inefficiencies in how law schools configure their administrative efforts.  (Some of the administrator expansion has accompanied regulatory pressures, but that is a subject for another day).  That there are such inefficiencies and that it is incumbent upon law schools to continue to look for ways of doing more with less and, to Steve's valuable point, to make sure that administrative enhancements are not coming at the expense of actual education.  Moreover, none of the above -- let me say this in bold font, none of the above -- is intended to justify by its own terms the present (unsustainably high) level of law school tuition. 

But the notion that any serious law school leader would suggest that budgets should be balanced and even reduced on the back of faculty members while administrators run riot is a foolish one.  That is not my point.  There are myriad places to look for meaningful changes to the economic model which is causing significant challenges to our students.  The modern law school is made up of many "houses."  We should be looking at getting all of them in order, no?

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on December 30, 2012 at 01:02 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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Comments

It would be extremely helpful, I think, to have a concrete starting point for discussions about where the money goes in the administration and staff portions of a law school budget. The nitty-gritty of how many FTEs there are in various administrative departments and what their job functions are has been a running theme this week in comments here, over at the Faculty Lounge, and in the recent LST paper on the modular law school model. Has anyone written, say, a Journal of Legal Education article on how how law schools, or even one specific law school, is staffed? Or even just a long and detailed blog post? This post is a start, as are Ralph's comments and some of Derek's observations, but something more systematic and granular would give a foundation of common facts.

I suspect that some job functions taken for granted by defenders of the current law school system would actually be the the subject of critics', er, criticism. (I wonder, for example, whether current professor to administrative assistant ratios will someday come to seem like a quaint and luxurious anachronism.) But I also suspect that some critics' senses of bloated law school administrations reflect an incomplete picture of all of the work needed to keep a law school running. (A registrar's office, for example, does a remarkable amount of direct student-supporting scut work, almost all of it indispensable.)

If someone has written such a treatise already, links would be very much appreciated.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 30, 2012 1:25:42 PM

Good suggestion, James.
Having been in this budgeting business for two law schools and having examined the budget of many others, two observations, perhaps obvious:
(1) Principal part of the law school budget is faculty comp. I am quite dubious whether this ratio has changed much in the past quarter century (despite the "administrator bloat" trope). Indeed, I think the ratio has moved in the opposite direction;
(2) Huge variation among schools in their administrator budgets, so any "treatise" would have to explore these major inter-school differences.

Posted by: dan rodriguez | Dec 30, 2012 1:53:58 PM

I can say that at Texas the business school has much more administrative bloat(?) than does the law school.

Northwestern should save some money though by getting rid of its Dean

Posted by: frankcross | Dec 30, 2012 2:13:43 PM

Just kidding of course, for the overly serious people

Posted by: frankcross | Dec 30, 2012 3:06:41 PM

As the one commenter who brought up NYU's alumni relations office, I'll follow up to your remarks.

NYU raised $415 million between 2005 and 2010. Has that decreased the pressure to raise tuition? For the 2004-05 school year, tuition was $35,700. It has since then gone up to $51,150, an increase of 43%. Of course, that's the sticker price, and maybe the school has increased its number and amount of scholarships, so there's no telling what the increase in real tuition has been. And there's no telling what tuition would have been without that extra $415 million.

I'd say that if you can raise more than $400 million in just a few years, and still have to raise tuition by more than 40%, and have the 11th highest sticker price in the nation, odds are not much of your fundraising is being used to keep down prices. Looking at the endowments and tuition rates at some other schools would seem to confirm this:

Yale: Per capita endowment: $1,908,000 / Tuition: $52,500
Harvard: $944,400 / $48,800
UVA: $339,000 / $44,600 (in state), $49,600 (out of state)
Michigan: $225,000 / $46,800 (in state), $49,700 (out of state)
Vanderbilt: $156,300 / $46,100

I'm sure someone with access to detailed budget information could do some serious analysis, but it sure doesn't look like law schools are using their wealth to keep tuition down.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Dec 30, 2012 4:57:22 PM

Much of the administrator bloat at law schools comes in the form of increasing centers and institutes, each of which has a non-faculty director. Some of those directors teach a class or two and most provide some specialized career services counseling. They also fundraise for their centers. They are valuable in the context of a world in which law schools have centers and institutes, but they are less so if you consider centers and institutes to be optional. The dilemma for Deans is that donors often want to give money for centers in their name and many of those centers are just ways to provide marketing and focus for something the law school already does and considers a strength. The executive directors of those centers are often funded by those donations and therefore do little to siphon away resources from the rest of the law school unless the donors could have been persuaded to give to the general fund or some other existing program. So, the number of administrators has clearly increased, but often not at the expense of anything else. It comes from money that might not have been donated without the center being created.

Posted by: anon | Dec 30, 2012 6:20:13 PM

"Increases in endowments decrease student tuition pressure; it's that simple." Is it? My sense is that most schools set their tuition in large part based on what other schools do. Fundraising might go to support scholarships, which can amount to a tuition discount, as Derek notes. But my sense is that the benefits from fundraising often go to support unusual expenditures that are designed to give the school an edge in the marketplace -- new buildings, etc. (An example often associated with NYU Law is extremely expensive faculty housing: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/realestate/20deal1.html) Of course, tuition would be higher if schools paid for everything from tuition and also maintained those expenditures, but I don't the sense that schools see the tradeoff as being fundraising vs. tuition increases. Is that wrong?

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 30, 2012 6:57:18 PM

Re: student services
While I'm sure heart warming can be dug up, given the fierceness of the labor market, and the disproportionate importance of first year grades in the job hunt, perhaps flunking out struggling or troubled students is the kinder policy. With respect particularly to disabled students, while the ADA nominally applies to employers just as much as schools, in practice I've never heard of a law firm relaxing billiable hours requirements for an associate.

Re: IT
While this is by no means limited to law schools, universities, and non-profits in general, have horrifically inefficient IT departments in my experience. One reason for this is the staff employment model of the university simply being a poor fit. Reduced salaries with iron clad job security and generous benefits is not a recipe for attracting a solid IT staff, given that the field requires constant skill updates. Nor is a strong focus on formal credentials. Finally turf wars and parocholism (surely you don't expect to use the same IT staff as the central university) prevent the full application of economies of scale in an area where that is particularly effective.

Posted by: Brad | Dec 30, 2012 7:07:14 PM

An alumni development office is sui generis among law school administrative departments because it's a profit center. (Admissions is another important special case.) Derek and Orin are undoubtedly right that many schools don't use their alumni fundraising to reduce tuition for present students anywhere near as much as they could. But Dan's underlying point -- that a development office brings in more money than it takes out of the budget -- is also important. Whatever "bloat" a large development office suffers from doesn't come out of tuition; paring back its staff wouldn't reduce tuition either.

One could ask other questions about development offices, such as whether law schools are the highest and best use of charitable contributions, or the effects on society of the pressure on lawyers to give back to the schools they attended, or the welfare effects of creating alumni magazines, glossy donor reports, and other badges and incidents of fundraising. But from the perspective of current students' tuition, there is a plausible argument that the development office, whether lean or bloated, is more or less a wash.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 30, 2012 8:03:45 PM

disagree about more money in career services. these places can't create jobs-all they do even when successful is redistribute a job from one graduate to another.

so why charge students more money for that service?

Posted by: anon | Dec 30, 2012 8:15:39 PM

To build on anon's comment, I'm not sure the career office adds value. As a student, I thought it was worthless. Talking to my colleagues, none of them remembered useful advice or connections from the career advice. At the three schools I've taught, students complain constantly about the ineffectiveness of the career office.

Since the complaints are near-universal, I seriously doubt that it's the fault of the people working in the career office. If only by chance, one of these schools would have hired someone good. More likely, finding a job is just not something anyone can do for someone else. So, close the career office and save students some money.

Even before I post, I can hear the shrieks of "What will the 0L think? We'll lose all our students." Our students are adults. Honesty, not pandering to the ill-informed, might be a competitive advantage.

Posted by: Quite serious | Dec 30, 2012 9:20:26 PM

Career services offices and officers are all over the map. In my experience as a student and professor, I've seen:


Good advice that the student followed, with success.
Good advice that the student didn't want to hear and got angry over.
Bad advice that the student followed, unwittingly.
Bad advice that the student could tell was obviously unhelpful.


That pretty much covers all the bases.

This is one of those departments in which it is possible to do better or worse work. I'd be curious to hear others' descriptions of how their schools evaluate their career services office and use what they learn to shape what it does and how.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 30, 2012 10:23:37 PM

james-

suppose "good" advice is given to a student and ultimately leads him to a job. has that student not simply taken the job from someone else who would have gotten it?

career services might be a net positive in a world where there were more jobs than people to fill them. in such a world, students could use guidance about where they would be happier etc etc. of course that is not now, has not been for decades, and will not be for the foreseeable future, the world we live in.

now-maybe on a school-wide basis this is a valid goal. after all-if you are able to use a career services office to get more of your students employed-and less of other schools students employed-that is a benefit for your school-and ultimately a school cares about itself more than any other school. But even there I question the effectiveness. You say you wonder how these offices are evaluated. Me too-since it would be virtually impossible to evaluate the office on placement grounds as it would be impossible to isolate the effects of the office on the placement change year to year over all the other variables (eg economy, legal market changes, student body changes, luck etc.)

Posted by: anon | Dec 31, 2012 12:49:04 AM

I'm not convinced that career services is necessarily a zero sum game (though it quite likely is in practice). CSO could call up an alum who is a senior partner at a large firm and say "Hey, I saw your PPP are back up to their per-recession levels. $2 million each, what a great year! How about taking a <1% hit and hiring another 10-20 associates? And by the way, I've got a binder full of qualified applicants."

...I'll wait for the laughter to die down before continuing.

Yes, it's a completely ridiculous notion. During the Lathaming, firms were laying off some people billing 30-40 hours a week, people who James would probably note are at worst a wash, and likely generating profits. But, firms knew they could just spread the work around the remaining associates and profit even more. So why would a firm go in the opposite direction and increase hiring beyond what they need?

For the same reason they cut a donation check to the school (I'm assuming some general good will here, and that it's not purely a tax motive). If alumni are willing to pay to fund scholarships, it stands to reason that they might pay to give more grads a job that will be used to pay off their student loans. If they're paying to fund post-grad public interest fellowships, it stands to reason they might be willing to fund associates who will be spending a lot of time on pro bono projects.

Alumni relations offices spend a lot of time asking alumni to give money (and if you tell them that you're unemployed, they still insist it's important for you to give -- I'd really love to see that script). How much time have deans spent calling hiring partners and explaining to them how important it is to increase their number of new associates?

If law school deans can't figure out how to get law firms with $1M+ PPP to increase their hiring, then I think they need to stop advertising creative problem solving as one of the skills learned in law school.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Dec 31, 2012 1:48:34 AM

I teach outside the US, so I may not be fully up to date on the structure and staffing of placement offices at US law schools. That said, my impression is that placement offices are frequently staffed with non-lawywers. Young and inexperienced non-lawyers at that. While they may be quite adequate to arranging schedules for visiting employers, I must wonder whether their career counseling skills are worth very much.

Posted by: Douglas Levene | Dec 31, 2012 7:04:08 AM

Re: The empirical relationship between tuition and giving, I just ran some back-of-the-envelope regressions using university-level data from the national center on education statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/, for the curious). Controlling for government funding, investment income, and Carnegie category (e.g., research university or teaching college), I find a roughly 1:1 relationship between the two (with a 95% confidence interval between .8 and 1.2). That is, tuition and giving rise at about the same rate. Gross tuition rises a bit faster than net tuition (tuition after financial aid), implying perhaps that good fundraising schools set their sticker price higher.

Readers should take these results with many grains of salt, since of course there are lots of possible other things that could be going on in the data, including some things that would obscure the hypothesized negative relationship between grants and tuition. And, of course, universities are not the same as law schools.

Posted by: BDG | Dec 31, 2012 9:26:50 AM

If you are in the top x% of students at a given school, you may get a job through OCI, organized by the career services office. At all but a few schools, this is an extreme minority of students. If you are not in the top x% of students at a given school, you will be pointed at a Martindale-Hubbell directory and told such useful things as to "think outside the box" and "network aggressively."

Under the current model, someone paid to be an OCI coordinator would be enough for most schools. If you want to pay people to learn what a student does to find work as a lawyer when a firm won't hire him out of school, that could have some value, but that is not what career services really does now. It's more like free commiseration over joblessness and occasional resume proofreading services.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Dec 31, 2012 9:57:06 AM

Derek's points make me wonder whether there is a way for alumni to structure their contributions that would effectively reduce law school tuition. Simply giving money to a law school earmarked for scholarships doesn't quite work. Among other issues, the school can just raise its tuition while "using" the donations to give discounts from a higher sticker price, thereby laundering the donations into its general fund. But perhaps a stronger set of conditions on the gift could have the desired effect.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 31, 2012 10:07:27 AM

The general perspective among students at my school was that Career Services was bloated. The simple truth is that Career Services can't create jobs out of thin air and cannot convince employers to hire a particular student who is struggling to find something. The best opinions on OCS was that they were completely ineffectual, and I've heard much worse. Several students told me that OCS's job was to protect the reputation of the school before helping out individual students, and the quality of the advice and information they gave reflected this. OCS counselors also seemed to have a bad grasp of the employment market during my year (2010).

Now the public interest career services department was a separate office- and these people were extremely good, as was the clerkship director. But I went to a school that placed a not insignificant number of folks into clerkships, the fedgov, and prestigious PI fellowships. So I could see the need for a specialized administrators.

I've heard the justification for IT departments before, and it is a fair point. But an increase in the need for IT should result in a decreased need for physical library services. Thanks to ABA standards (and we know who runs the ABA Section on Legal Ed), I'm not sure how you could reduce staff in this area.

Posted by: BoredJD | Dec 31, 2012 11:24:50 AM

I wonder if any law school has considered paying a bonus (~$500 or $1000?) to the CSO counselor for each student he or she assists in obtaining a full time salaried position. I agree that CSO can't make jobs magically appear, but I suspect that they could do a bit more to "sell" prospective employers on the benefits of hiring a particular graduate.

Posted by: CBR | Dec 31, 2012 12:13:25 PM

"If alumni are willing to pay to fund scholarships, it stands to reason that they might pay to give more grads a job that will be used to pay off their student loans. If they're paying to fund post-grad public interest fellowships, it stands to reason they might be willing to fund associates who will be spending a lot of time on pro bono projects."

With respect, that doesn't make sense.

Asking a law firm (or individual law firm partners) to donate toward scholarships or fellowships is asking them to make a one-time investment (even if the donation spans several years). Getting them to do "extra" hiring above what they believe their business model currently demands is asking for a long-term and (at least nominally permanent) investment with no apparent business justification.

Moreover, law firms are businesses that presumably only hire additional associates when it is in their business interest to do so. A dean telling a firm to "create more jobs" than they believe their current business model can support is unlikely to be persuasive.

And jobs for associates are significantly more expensive that funding a scholarship, even at the low end of private firm salary. (E.g., an annual private firm salary of $60,000 plus a fringe benefits rate of 30-40% of salary per associate is a lot more than funding a $30,000 scholarship every year).

Law schools, from the dean on down, should be devoting substantial time to placing their students in available jobs. But "deans should just persuade firms to create more jobs" is beyond "creative problem solving" -- it's a fantasy.

Posted by: anon | Dec 31, 2012 1:19:06 PM

Anon's comment above is well-reasoned, but I think there is something to Derek's suggestion. Even in these times, large law firms go to significant expense to hire from perceived top law schools. I don't think most law schools leverage this power very well inasmuch as they supply their students with very little information on how specific firms actually operate. Consequently, there is very little pressure on firms to change because associates will make their employment decisions based on perceived prestige and alike (as though there is a major difference in prestige between the #10 firm in the Vault ranking and #22).

For example, if I were in a CSO, I would remind my students of Latham's boom and bust approach to associate retention. I also think it would be perfectly fine to point out if firm X has been doing a lot of hiring recently from our school or that firm Y seems to have raised hours expectations as opposed to hiring more associates. Of course, this presupposes that CSOs actually know how firms operate, which means communicating with practicing lawyers, headhunters, NALP, etc.,

This would only work at elite law schools obviously, but it always struck me as irresponsible that aside from taking law firms money and organizing the logistics for OCI, law schools do very little to actually guide their students on their employment decisions.

Posted by: Youngprof | Dec 31, 2012 1:48:58 PM

Anon,

Law schools often ask alumni to make an on-going commitment. It's not "thanks for your one-time contribution!" but rather "it's that time of the year, again!"

Sure, the schools have to keep calling back to get their annual donation, and the attorneys can decide to stop giving at any time. But, associate positions are hardly permanent. The typical BigLaw associate only lasts a few years, and this is by design, not accident. It's a bigger commitment, but I'm thinking in terms of a partnership-wide commitment, not individual partners reaching into their pockets alone to bring on an extra associate.

If the average cost of junior/midlevel associates is $250,000 per year, asking a firm could hire about 5 more associates per year, keep normal attrition rates, and be looking at about a $5 million increase in annual expenses going forward. Split across 200 partners, that's $20k a year each. That's a lot of money to me, but to someone earning more than $1 million a year, it's hardly out of the realm of possibility.

The bigger question though, which you raise, is why would a law firm ever willingly decrease its profits? Because some of them are decent people who believe that an imperceptible decrease in their standard of living is a worthwhile sacrifice to make in order to help out the newest members of their professional community.

Again, I'll wait for the laughter to stop...

A lot of lawyers give money to their alma maters not with the hopes of getting a new endowed chair named after them, but because they want to support a school they believe in. They give to charitable causes they believe in. They do pro bono work not just to advertise it on the firm website, or to get business from the CEOs who sit on some non-profit's board, but because they believe in doing pro bono work. Now, there are certainly plenty of people with less than noble motivations, but surely there must be some out there who want to use their status and money to do good.

Does it make business sense to take 4 associates billing 50 hours a week and turn them in to 5 associates billing 40 hours a week? No. Does that mean it's impossible to convince a firm that it's for the good of the profession that they do so? No.

If the deans from half a dozen respectable schools got on a conference call together and starting ringing up all the AmLaw 250 and explaining that they need increased hiring, would some firms do it? Maybe. I think it'd be worth at least calling up 5 or 10 firms before deciding it isn't worth the trouble.

Skadden already funds something like 30 public interest fellowships. That hardly makes business sense. Yet, it's not fantasy, it's reality. Career services can't create jobs out of thin air, but highly profitable law firms can, and law schools can put pressure (guilt, whatever) on law firms to do so.

Posted by: Derek Tokaz | Dec 31, 2012 2:04:42 PM

youngprof-

again all of your suggestions even if successful, involve moving jobs from one person to another-so how is there anything to Dereck's point again?

i graduated two years ago and am licensed in multiple jurisdictions and have over a year of litigation experience and I'm still waiting for my first full time law job paying over 20k a year. So how can any CSO help the average 3L who is not at the top of his class (by definition 90% of students?)

Posted by: anon | Dec 31, 2012 3:01:48 PM

and more specifically-if they cant help then how do they justify their jobs at CSO when the grads who paid their salary are unemployed and their isn't much they can do for them?

Posted by: anon | Dec 31, 2012 3:03:54 PM

Derek,

Deans cannot control the demand for lawyers. They can, however, control the supply of lawyers. Maybe firms should get on a conference call and start calling deans and telling them to stop saturating the market with an unsustainable supply of labor. Of course, the Deans are running profit centers, not learning institutions. So we'll see how that goes.

There are marketplace realities. Derek's suggestion is to ignore them. Deans like Rodriguez talk a big game, but we'll see what happens. It's clear that the reform needed is inside the school's, particularly, their culture of baiting unsuspecting young students with fabricated job statistics and capitalizing on the unlimited supply of government loans. It's unconscionable, and idiotic, to try and shift the responsibility for a law school's irresponsible policy of destroying the labor market onto firms that aren't so cozily isolated from market reality. Bro.

Posted by: anon2 | Dec 31, 2012 3:40:01 PM

@anon/3:03:54 p.m.:

This is an example of what happens when a well-meaning, airy statement often made by law school personnel ("We are not here to *get you* a job; we are here to *help you find* a job") runs into a brutal fact that no one working at a law school wants to acknowledge ("Career services organizes OCI and other than that, students are on their own"). Another well-worn example is the line about being taught how to think like a lawyer. It helps if no one actually breaks down what it really means.

From an administrative perspective, the main virtue of a career services office is that it gives the dean an untenured someone to fire when placement data turns sour. If a dean starts having to answer questions like "Why aren't law graduates able to survive as sole practitioners when no one hires them?" or "If a JD is such an impressive credential, why aren't non-legal employers seeking JDs at OCI and post-graduation?", that does no one any favors.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Dec 31, 2012 3:54:37 PM

"...why would a law firm ever willingly decrease its profits? Because some of them are decent people who believe that an imperceptible decrease in their standard of living is a worthwhile sacrifice to make in order to help out the newest members of their professional community."

Tell that to the schools, not the firms!

Posted by: tls | Dec 31, 2012 4:08:00 PM

Morse Code, this is an aside, but what's the mystery with "thinking like a lawyer"? It means learning how to evaluate the strength and weakness of legal arguments and understand the significance of legal sources within the norms of the existing legal culture. Perhaps the phrase should be "thinking like a good lawyer," not just thinking like a lawyer?

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 31, 2012 4:31:15 PM

It is odd to me that the practices of large law firms and other legal employers are simply accepted by many of law schools' critics as "marketplace realities." Certainly no one on here would accept the marketplace justification if it were offered by a law school dean to explain why, for example, he or she felt the need to establish a new center at this point in time or raise tuition in order to retain key faculty members.

Large law firms acted irresponsibly from 2003-2008 by over-leveraging themselves. This necessitated "Lathaming" and alike. These same firms are now complaining about the expense of hiring new associates, notwithstanding profits of partner that would have been unheard of a generation ago, even when adjusted for inflation.

Perhaps we shouldn't begrudge law firms or their partners for insisting on increasing profits year after year by trying to reap more and more "productivity" out of their current associates (although it is a relatively new phenomenon for law firms to act solely as profit-making businesses). But the fact is that these firms could afford to hire more new lawyers while making the lives of their current associates more livable. Firms that do act this way should have a competitive advantage in recruitment it seems to me, although they currently do not because of information asymmetry.

Once firms start to lose out on alleged top talent because of concerns about quality of life, they will have no choice but to start hiring more (even at the expense of profits per partner). I am merely suggesting that CSOs at elite schools have a potential role to play here, whether one thinks that CSOs are valuable or not.

Posted by: Youngprof | Dec 31, 2012 5:58:11 PM

@Orin:

As I've heard it, the phrase is usually accompanied by the subtext that (a) there is something extraordinary about the thought process of lawyers (as you point out, there really isn't) and (b) that said thought process is fully imparted by law school to its students by graduation.

There is a contingent in this conversation about reform saying that law school is doing what it always has, and exactly what it should despite present circumstances. All I suggest is that there may be some benefit from law schools staring hard at what they think they accomplish as institutions, versus what they actually accomplish as institutions. Career services offices are just the easiest example of the gulf between intended and actual results in legal education.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Dec 31, 2012 7:48:02 PM

Thanks for the response, Morse. I think of learning to think like a lawyer as something like a learning a new language. It's not something "extraordinary," but it is definitely something that has to be learned over time -- and that law schools generally do a pretty good job of teaching, in my view. Of course, that's quite different from career services offices, which is a longstanding sore point for law students.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 31, 2012 8:06:46 PM

@Orin:

"It's not something "extraordinary," but it is definitely something that has to be learned over time -- and that law schools generally do a pretty good job of teaching, in my view."

Maybe they do, and maybe they don't. How do we really know, at either the macro- or micro-level, that law schools are doing a good job of teaching students how to think as attorneys? We write exams and papers, and at the end of three years, we take a bar exam (for which almost all of us get three months of test-specific practice costing thousands of dollars from a contractor, instead of relying on our lawyer-like thinking). Some of us get jobs in the law, and counsel and advocate and brief and whatever. To what extent is that outcome the result of what law school taught those who succeeded in becoming attorneys? To what extent was the typical law education counterproductive to that success? Nobody seems to be doing any head-turning research on this subject, in spite of its timeliness and mass appeal.

Jay Silver's recent screed against Tamanaha in the UCLA Law Review contains a fabulous example of the phrase at its most pompous and trite, in his paragraph concerning the need to teach beyond black-letter law (and his impression that clients actually still pay lawyers to do title examinations).

"Of course, that's quite different from career services offices, which is a longstanding sore point for law students."

The longstanding nature of that sore point has had no impact on the growth of career services offices nationally. If they eat resources and return nothing more than someone to follow up on scheduling for OCI, then why must every school have one employing several former attorneys? The answer would seem to be, "Well, it works for Harvard and this more prestigious school in the same market whom we are trying to emulate." Again - nobody is really examining the problem except to see how little change is possible to survive the current climate for student recruitment.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Dec 31, 2012 8:43:58 PM

Morse Code, your sense of what people do and don't think about differs from mine.

First, on how we know whether schools succeed at teaching students to think like lawyers, professors know because we see it everyday at work. Fall 1L professors in particular can see the dramatic progress over the course of the semester. The first-day class of entering 1Ls have little idea what they're talking about, and over the semester they transform into a group that can have a high-level debate on par with a good appellate argument. We professors then spend a few weeks at the end of the semester grading exams, and our goal is to grade students on how strong a lawyer they are showing themselves to be. The exams that reflect the best lawyerly skills get an A, less good get a B, poor get a C, etc. The process may seem random to students, but it doesn't look that way to professors. (The bar exam is an odd case because it mostly tests the opposite of lawyerly thinking: It requires just memorizing rules, many of which aren't actual legal rules but rather are a kind of fake model doctrine devised largely for testing purposes.)

As for career services offices, again, your perspective is different from mine. Perhaps my view is overly influenced by attitudes where I happen to teach, but my sense is that there has been a lot of recent thought and attention about the best ways to staff CSOs. The traditional approach was minimalist: Actually getting the jobs was up to students. That was my impression at how Harvard worked when I was at student there in the mid-1990s. In the last decade, though, more have come to think that an investment in CSOs will pay dividends for students, as today's students need more advice, more personal attention, and more active help in finding jobs. We may not have found the best way to staff CSOs, but my impression is that the subject is one that a lot of Deans think about. Or at least that's my impression -- again, I may just be reflecting what I am seeing at the one school where I happen to teach.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jan 1, 2013 1:58:14 AM

Morse Code for J: The best research I know on what it means to lawyer (and which skills good lawyering requires) was done by my colleagues Marjorie Shultz (law) and Sheldon Zedeck (psychology). Their research was focused on whether the LSAT predicts lawyering competency (the answer? "not so much") and didn't look directly at the question that you raise. But it does suggest that we teach an overly narrow subset of relevant lawyering skills in law school (whether we do a good job of it is an entirely different, and under-researched, question). Research by Lempert and Chambers also suggests that law school grades don't have a whole lot to do with success as a lawyer (measured a variety of different ways).

Posted by: Kristen Holmquist | Jan 1, 2013 1:33:47 PM

Going back to the original topic, a few thoughts:

1. Just because a group of administrators is beneficial to have doesn't mean that it is cost-effective, or that every school should have it. There are some things that may make sense for first tier schools but not for fourth tier schools etc. Maybe we should allow schools to provide a (at least somewhat) lower quality product in exchange for lower tuition.

2. One area of administrative bloat is the ABA and its requirements. For example, the ABA, by using bar pass rate as an accreditation element, is turning schools into bar prep factories. To become bar prep factories, schools have to hire academic support personnel, thus adding to overall costs.

More broadly, let's think about the law schools of 1980. Even allowing for technological improvements, these schools did not have a lot of things we take for granted today (professional legal writing staff, bar prep personnel, clinics). But they educated lots of pretty good lawyers at much lower costs than today.

Maybe we should allow this kind of neotraditional model, rather than digging ourselves deeper into the hole of "we're going to make law school better in every school and charge everyone a ton of more money to do it."

Posted by: ML | Jan 1, 2013 5:17:15 PM

orin

as to your comment:

"As for career services offices, again, your perspective is different from mine. Perhaps my view is overly influenced by attitudes where I happen to teach, but my sense is that there has been a lot of recent thought and attention about the best ways to staff CSOs. The traditional approach was minimalist: Actually getting the jobs was up to students. That was my impression at how Harvard worked when I was at student there in the mid-1990s. In the last decade, though, more have come to think that an investment in CSOs will pay dividends for students, as today's students need more advice, more personal attention, and more active help in finding jobs. We may not have found the best way to staff CSOs, but my impression is that the subject is one that a lot of Deans think about. Or at least that's my impression -- again, I may just be reflecting what I am seeing at the one school where I happen to teach. "


I understand that's the way many see it. As for YOU though-how do you feel about the zero sum game argument that CSO's even if more effective would just be redistributing jobs?

Posted by: anon | Jan 1, 2013 8:37:09 PM

One response to the zero-sum argument is that lawyers aren't interchangeable and jobs aren't interchangeable. If we threw all of the currently employed lawyers in America up in the air and randomly assigned them to each other's jobs, it would be bad all around. Layers would wind up in jobs that don't suit their temperament and skills. Job satisfaction would drop, and so would the quality of the work they do for clients. Indeed, clients would probably be less willing to pay for legal work on average, so the number of jobs would drop. Reversing the argument, then, suggests that better matching between law students and job openings won't just improve the aggregate happiness those who are employed take from their work, but there would also be less work for lawyers to go around.

Whether and to what extent career services actually improve the quality of matching between law students and the jobs they find is, of course, an empirical question. But in principle they can do more than just reallocate fixed resources among competing law students.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Jan 1, 2013 10:48:10 PM

James

your comment:

"One response to the zero-sum argument is that lawyers aren't interchangeable and jobs aren't interchangeable. If we threw all of the currently employed lawyers in America up in the air and randomly assigned them to each other's jobs, it would be bad all around. Layers would wind up in jobs that don't suit their temperament and skills. Job satisfaction would drop, and so would the quality of the work they do for clients. Indeed, clients would probably be less willing to pay for legal work on average, so the number of jobs would drop. Reversing the argument, then, suggests that better matching between law students and job openings won't just improve the aggregate happiness those who are employed take from their work, but there would also be less work for lawyers to go around.

Whether and to what extent career services actually improve the quality of matching between law students and the jobs they find is, of course, an empirical question. But in principle they can do more than just reallocate fixed resources among competing law students."

okay-so this is at the very least an admission that
a) at the best-career services can only help facilitate the market by helping the "right" lawyers-as opposed to the "wrong" lawyers-fill the jobs that are out there.
b) in any event, its not clear that CSO actually does that-but it might and if it does that would be helpful.

my response is that even if they do facilitate the free market process of employment by providing information to applicants and employers (which its in doubt if they really provide any information not already available) why should the students pay with tuition money for this service? i.e. why should unemployable students subsidize the availability of information for students at the top of the class to pick their employer-particularly when the are the exact students who one would expect to be able to find the information on their own?

Its time to admit that career services offices are a product of a time (not long ago) when school's still held out 90% of the class as employed and wanted students to belive most of the class was getting law jobs. During that time, the career services office helped add the to that illusion by suggesting that a) students who didn't get real jobs simply didn't follow the good advice given there and that b) there was a large need of many students with multiple offers that needed counseling about which too "pick."

this illusion has now been shattered relentlessly by the media and scamblogs, campos, abovethelaw and others in a tireless campaign.

the illusion being gone-its time to dismantle its chief institution-CSO-which ironically-has been paid for by its victims.

Posted by: anon | Jan 1, 2013 11:25:19 PM

Anon, there's a difference between admitting a proposition and assuming it to be true for purposes of argument. The ability to make this distinction is one of the skills Orin would describe as "thinking like a lawyer."

In any event, the last sentence of the first paragraph of my previous comment should have said "more" rather than "less."

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Jan 2, 2013 1:30:42 AM

indeed my disagreement with you about what is true (and therefore I request you "admit") means I must not "think like a lawyer"

classic

Posted by: anon | Jan 2, 2013 2:07:05 AM

james,

is the absence of a cso somehow equivalent to taking all the lawyers in america and tossing them in the air to random jobs?

they coordinate oci, but students make their bids with their oints based on their perceived skills, tastes, and opportunities. employers decide if they have the right temperament or skills for a job... with no input from cso, mind you. see, law schools have been generous enough to provide an ample supply of talented law students, far beyond the number of openings, so employers really don't need cso's help in deciding who to hire. cso is not a value-add department, it's just a "every other school does it so we have to to" sort of thing. it's a prisoner's dilemma, in game theory terms. if all schools had no CSO (or merge the law school CSO with the main university CSO), the students would win. if one school individually did it, then the students at that one school would lose, sure.

it amazes me how you egg-headed professors only justify the system, deny the need for change, and avoid the real solutions, instead preferring ideas like "get firms to subsidize legal writing" or "make firms hire more" or "get subsidies from firms." do you really not see the role the law schools and their administrations play in this? such a lack of true thought leadership, such obvious conflict of interest.

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