Value Proposition

Raise your hand if you’re tired of the debate over the value of a legal education. Yeah, me too.

Well, sorry to disappoint you, but the debate rolls on. A prominent law school dean and one of his colleagues took to the pages of the New York Times to once again defend the law school ivory tower from its critics.

Who are we talking about, and what are their arguments?

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And now back to our regularly scheduled programing. We join this episode of “My Law School Nearly Got Away With It,” already in progress.

We all know that law schools do all kinds of things to game the U.S. News law school rankings. U.S. News knows this, yet does little to stop this behavior. But rarely do we catch a law school red-handed.

Here, we have a school openly calling upon its students to do something for the express purpose of increasing the school’s U.S. News rank.

Even more embarrassingly, the school is targeting a class of graduates who have generally not had much luck in the employment market. The email suggests that the way to increase the value of their law degree is to give money to the school, since right now it’s not good enough to get them a job…

(Please note the important UPDATE at the end of this post, a punchline of sorts.)

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Star Jones thinks some of you are whiners.

When William Robinson, president of the American Bar Association, gave an interview in which he suggested that unemployed or underemployed law school graduates “should have known what they were getting into,” he was widely criticized. His emphasis on “personal responsibility” didn’t go over too well in some quarters of the legal profession and blogosphere.

But in defense of Bill Robinson, other people share his views. And some of these people are prominent personages.

Take prosecutor turned television personality Star Jones, who seems to have little sympathy for jobless law grads….

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Professor William Birdthistle

Welcome to the latest installment of Lawyers & Economics, our occasional video series on financial topics by Professor William Birdthistle of Chicago-Kent College of Law. He’s joined in some of these videos by an acting professional: Johnny Kastl, television actor turned 2L at Iowa Law, better known to some of you as Dr. Doug Murphy of “Scrubs.”

In the last video, Birdthistle and Kastl tackled the Greek debt crisis. Sadly enough, that problem remains unsolved, to the detriment of the world’s financial markets.

Today’s topic isn’t going away anytime soon either. If you have — or are thinking of taking on — student loans, keep reading….

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Every so often, people ask us about the “value” of getting an LL.M. degree. Our answer has remained pretty consistent. Is it a tax LL.M. from Georgetown or NYU? No? Then save your money and buy something valuable like gold or drugs. See this graphic (click to enlarge):

Photo credit: some dude on TLS.

But still, people ask: “Is it worth it to get an LL.M. degree?” And obviously, there are a bunch of people who put down good money chasing an extra credential that has little to no impact on their job prospects.

Why? Well, the simplest answer is that LL.M.s are extremely valuable to law school budgets. LL.M.s are so lucrative for law schools that law school deans are willing to lie or become willfully ignorant as to the employment opportunities generated by an expensive post-law school degree.

The National Law Journal made that EXTREMELY OBVIOUS point yesterday (again)….

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Remember that ironic message about the versatility of a law degree?

Now we bring you an ironic message about the value of a law degree….

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I have no idea why this is blowing up today, but it looks like the mainstream media just figured that maybe going to law school isn’t the most awesome idea (especially in this economy).

On New Year’s Eve, John Carney — our former colleague, from his days at Dealbreaker — noted on CNBC’s NetNet that the ABA issued a paper entitled The Value Proposition of Going to Law School (Word document). NetNet called the report an official warning from the ABA about the perils of going to law school. I’m always happy to see that particular report get a little bit more coverage. We linked to Carney’s post in Morning Docket on Monday, when we got back from break.

But then it seems that Doug Mataconis of Outside the Beltway noticed Carney’s report, and he did a story on it. And then Megan McArdle of The Atlantic noticed the Outside the Beltway report, and she did a story on it, today. And in the meantime the ABA paper has been linked and retweeted a bunch of times.

And that’s all well and good, except for the fact that the damn thing came out years ago and was widely discussed in the legal blogosphere back in 2009. So, umm, while it’s great that everybody is interested in this party, there hasn’t actually been any new news about the matter over the last few days….

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In a time of rising tuition prices and declining job prospects, looking at the value proposition of going to law school is more important than ever. For the second year in a row, the National Jurist has named the 60 best value law schools in its preLaw magazine. From these 60 schools, it has further honored the top 20 value schools (unranked for now, but to be ranked, one through twenty, in October).

For the second year in a row, the methodology used to formulate these rankings needs to be much better if anybody is going to pay attention. The National Jurist recognized law schools as “best value” schools if they met four criteria:

1) their bar pass rate is higher than the state average;

2) their average indebtedness is below $100,000;

3) their employment rate nine months after graduation is 85 percent or higher; and

4) tuition is less than $35,000 a year for in-state residents.

We’ll get to naming the top 20 in a minute. First, we need to break down these inputs — inputs that could have been so much better and more relevant…

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Over the past year, we’ve devoted a great deal of coverage to the value proposition of going to law school. While reasonable people disagree on just how much law school should cost (Canadian professor Robert Martin starts the bidding at $12 a year), there is a growing consensus that the cost of legal education is already too high — and is continuing to go up, despite the faltering job market.

Law schools can’t be counted on to help their students get jobs in this economy — but that’s not about to make them stop raising tuition. And we are now in the season of tuition hikes. Over the summer, when students are off campus and thus generally unable to engage in violent protest, many administrations look to raise tuition.

We’d like to track these hikes on Above the Law, so send us your tips when your school raises (or, God forbid, doesn’t raise) tuition.

As a jumping off point, we have news that Brooklyn Law School is raising tuition. Because you know, anytime you can sport a sub-80% employed at graduation rate, a tuition hike makes a lot of sense….

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