Undergraduate majors that get the biggest pay boost from law degrees

A new study conducted by Michael Simcovic and Frank McIntyre available at the SSRN showed that humanities majors get a median $45,000 pay boost in annual earnings with a law degree. This is compared to a $29,000 boost for STEM majors- science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. These figures are derived from the Census Bureau data that identifies occupations and professional degree holders.

To estimate the group of law school graduates, the study authors looked at professional degree holders which excluded those who worked as medical professionals, accountants, teachers, education administrators, clergy and psychologists—fields where many people with professional degrees other than law degrees are likely to work.

When the study looked more closely at earnings for professional degree holders working only as lawyers, the median boost in annual earnings was $60,000 for  humanities majors, $54,000 for social sciences majors, $49,000 for business majors, and $66,000 for STEM majors.

This study also took notice of the average annual income for specific majors among the professional degree holders. In the business category, economics majors holding JD’s make the most on average: about $187,000 a year. In the STEM category, electrical engineers make the most; about $166,000 a year. In the humanities category, history majors make about $151,000 and in the social sciences, political science majors make about $150,000.

Michael Simcovic is a law professor at Seton Hall University and Frank McIntyre is an economics and business professor at Rutgers University. These same professors published a controversial study finding that a law school graduate makes about $1 million more than an undergraduate college graduate.

When looking at the proportion of law degree holders, 48% have undergraduate degrees in humanities or social sciences. Only 18% were STEM majors. “Thus the majors that are disproportionately over-represented among law graduates—humanities and social sciences—are also the majors for whom the expected benefits of law school are the greatest,” the study says.

Article via ABA Journal, March 9, 2016

Photo: LAW749_20120518_0539 via Villanova Law [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Can ‘borrower defense’ help forgive student debt?

A once obscure federal law is being cited by more than 7,500 borrowers who applied to have their debt erased because many schools apparently used illegal recruiting tactics.

Wall Street Journal reported that if schools violate a state law regarding the recruiting process, federal law states that students may receive forgiveness of debt from the government’s Direct Loan program. One example of a violation would be if the school lied about how many of its graduates landed jobs.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides. The law does not specifically state what is needed to prove fraud. The U.S. Education Department is presently drafting rules to provide clarification.

Most of the 7,500 borrowers that are seeking loan forgiveness attended private universities and 3/4 of those colleges were owned by now-defunct Corinthian Colleges. But, Above the Law says some unemployed law grads are encouraged to apply for loan forgiveness through this program known as “borrower defense”  or “defense to repayment.”

In spite of the negatives, Above the Law sees a positive beyond individual borrowers who might be able to benefit. In a blog, they state this: “If enough borrowers are granted relief under the borrower defense program, the Department of Education will eventually start investigating law schools that continue to admit under-qualified students who end up with no jobs and are unable to pass the bar exam.”

Article via ABA Journal, February 4, 2016

Photo: 2011 10 06 – 1237 – Washington DC – Occupy DC via thisisbossi [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


The law school brain drain and bar pass rates

For the past few years, alarmingly low bar pass rates have made headlines. In July 2014, Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners declared that the current bar exam test takers are “less able” than their predecessors. Law schools deans argued that this was a harsh categorization of their graduates. However, when the July 2015 bar exam results came in, Moeser’s statement was proven correct. Since the law school crisis began, applicants with lower qualifications who were predicted to encounter difficulty passing the bar exam were admitted in packs.

The great law school brain drain is evident but let’s take a closer look on what caused this great phenomenon. Jerry Organ, professor of the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis has been tracking LSAT profiles of law school students for years. His analysis shows that LSAT scores correlate with scores on the bar exam. Below is a graph that displays categories of LSAT scores and the percentage of those with that score matriculated into Law school.

LSAT-Matriculant-Score-Changes-2010-2015-600x368

While the percentage for the students that scored between a 150-159 remained relatively stable, the 160+ category slowly declined and the students that scored below a 150 continue to increase every year. This is what happens when law schools need money and accept virtually anyone. Organ noted that “the top is eroding and the bottom is growing” and predicts the brain drain will have lasting effects: “Given that the LSAT profiles of matriculants and of law schools for fall 2013, fall 2014 and fall 2015 are less robust than those for fall 2011 and fall 2012 (the classes that graduated in 2014 and 2015, respectively), one can anticipate that the declines in median MBE scaled scores and corresponding bar passage rates in 2014 and 2015 will continue in July 2016, 2017 and 2018 absent increases in attrition, significant improvement in academic support programs at law schools, or improved bar preparation efforts on the part of graduates.”

Article via Above the Law, January 20, 2016

Photo: Studying via Francois de Halleux [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Northwestern University terminates its accelerated J.D. program

The much publicized accelerated J.D. program has been discontinued. Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez announced this decision via e-mail on Friday, Oct 2, 2015:

“I write to inform you that we are suspending indefinitely admissions recruitment for our Accelerated JD program. Consequently, we will not be enrolling a new class of AJD students this coming spring.

This decision was a difficult one — a conclusion I have reached after many months of deliberation and consultation with numerous individuals throughout our university and law school community, the legal academy, and our profession, and after a careful review of relevant internal and external data. In the end, I have determined that this course is the best one for the time being in order to advance the strategic priorities of our law school.”

The American Bar Association’s refusal to allow law schools to experiment with this sort of innovation factored in with this decision. Also, Northwestern didn’t want to charge students two years’ worth of tuition for two years of education so it killed the market for this program. Even though Rodriguez thinks people should choose to obtain a law degree within 2 or 3 years, he still wants to charge by the degree.

Benefits of the 2 year program included students saving a year of living expenses and finding a job more quickly. And because of that, some students disagreed with this decision:

“I would have never considered going to law school without the AJD program and I know the same is the case with many of my classmates. The AJD brought a unique and interesting group of students to the school. We were hardworking, successful and quite frankly paid the same as our three-year counterparts. In a landscape where traditional legal education seems antiquated and in desperate need of reform, I always looked with pride in Northwestern and the AJD as a front runner in legal education reform.”

Northwestern will support the program until the currently enrolled students graduate.

Article via Above the Law, October 5, 2015

Photo: Northwestern University 18 via Herb Nestler [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]


Law schools need to change to meet new needs

The legal profession is resistant to change, but the world is changing very fast. The longer it takes law firms—and law schools—to catch up, the more painful the transition is going to be. According to Paul Lippe of the ABA Journal and the idea of prudent innovation, it’s important that lawyers do not resist change just because it makes them uncomfortable or believe that there is only one method suited for preparing law students for the future. In fact, sticking to the same process for teaching law students and funding their education isn’t “sustainable”, according to Lippe.

An article in the New York Times by Steven Harper titled “Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs” points out some of the flaws in legal education, including tuition, and states that the American Bar Association should start trying to limit the number of law students. Lippe, on the other hand, argues that  law schools do not need to decrease their numbers. Instead, they need to innovate an change according to how the rest of the world is changing. He cites the University of Colorado Law School, and specifically it’s dean Phillip Weiser who will be stepping down in 2015, as proof that prudent innovation works. Contrary to Harper’s ideas, Weiser has increased the number of students in the University of Colorado Law School and kept tuition the same due to exceptional fundraising. In addition to those impressive feats, Weiser has created several ways for law students to learn about technology, including the Tech Lawyer Accelerator and the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship. By implementing these initiatives and waiting to see if they benefit their students in the careers, Weiser and the rest of the University of Colorado Law School can make sure that their style of law education is ready to solve the new problems the legal profession is being tasked with as technology, security, and intellectual property laws change and become more important.

Even though schools like the University of Colorado are taking bold strides toward prudent innovation, many schools are in denial or nostalgic for the “good ol’ days”. Law schools have a responsibility to society and their students to make sure that the law profession remains relevant and viable. And, unfortunately for those who hate change, that means law schools will need to start determining how best to adjust and grow to suit the needs of the rest of the world.

Articles via ABA Journal, September 10, 2015; New York Times, August 25, 2015;

Photo: Harvard Law School Library via NKCPhoto [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]