Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Michael Simkovic’s Million Dollar Law Degree Proclamation Gets Flushed


TTT Math Skills: On August 26, 2015, ATL published a Joe Patrice article entitled “Law Schools Need To Lie More About The Market.” As you can see from this opening, Patrice is not a big fan of Michael Simkovic’s math:

“That’s the stunning conclusion of Professor Michael Simkovic. 

Actually, given the source, that should read: “That’s the not-so-stunning conclusion of Professor Michael Simkovic.”

Simkovic, you may recall, is the author of the ever entertaining “Million Dollar Law Degree” study that posited that attending law school nets a student on average — cue Dr. Evil — ONE MILLION DOLLARS. Less taxes and tuition of course, because why would those matter? Anyway, just months after he went full tilt over a solid empirical study in the New York Times, he’s taken to the pages of Professor Brian Leiter’s blog (obviously) to make the inspiring call for law schools to step up their propaganda efforts to dupe kids out of a couple hundred thousand dollars. 

Earlier this month, I charted the overwhelmingly negative press coverage of law schools and the legal profession over the last 5 years and discussed the disconnect between the news slant and economic reality. To the extent that news coverage dissuaded individuals from attending law school for financial reasons, or caused them to delay attending law school, newspapers will on average have cost each prospective law students tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The total economic harm across all prospective law students could easily be in the low billions of dollars.

Classic Simkovic approach: total up a bunch of bad assumptions into one big bad assumption that ends with “-illion.” Nothing invites panicked overreactions like a word that ends in “-illion”! But apparently the massive layoffs coupled with curtailed new hiring along with the rise of cheaper DIY legal solutions that clients are flocking toward didn’t discourage students from law school, it was “negative reporting.” [Emphasis mine]

Later on, Patrice points out the following:

“Anyway, Simkovic thinks law schools lack a key tool: 

Whereas many industries have trade associations that employ professionals to work with journalists and help them provide more accurate, informed, and fair news coverage, law schools were unprepared to interact with the press in ways that would encourage more responsible and accurate coverage.

That sounds suspiciously like the Fox News commitment to “Fair and Balanced” reporting. By which he means more reporting of tripe like this:

For many college graduates, the $30,000 to $60,000 extra per year that they can typically earn with a law degree will mean the difference between living in a safe and clean neighborhood or one that is dangerous and polluted. The expected boost to earnings can improve the healthfulness of their food, the quality of their healthcare, and the quality of education they can afford to provide for their own children. For most law graduates, the extra earnings will affect when and whether they can afford to retire. One of the best things law schools can do to help the middle class is to educate more of them. 

Holy hyperbole Batman. “The difference between living in a safe and clean neighborhood or one that is dangerous and polluted.” I refuse to believe this was written with a straight face. You know how most law students make the decision to retire these days? When they can’t find a job.” [Emphasis mine] If Simkovic truly believes his own words, then his IQ must be in the low 70s. Then again, we know that he merely wants to entice more lemmings to take the plunge.


Other Coverage: Paul Campos provided an excellent response to Simkovic’s “analysis,” with an LGM entry labeled “Quantities are limited” – which was posted on August 25, 2015. Take a look at this portion:

“Having demonstrated that that, discounted to present value, a law degree from an American law school is worth on average just under one million dollars, Michael Simkovic has turned his attention to a genuine social crisis: the billions of dollars in lost earnings suffered every year by prospective law students, who have made the serious, and eminently preventable, mistake of not enrolling in law school The blame for this multi-billion dollar catastrophe is easy to ascribe: ongoing bad publicity, based on a sensationalist media environment, that promotes TV shows like “Suits,” which I’ve been told is about document reviewers being paid $15 per hour to be basement-dwelling helots for law firms that use them for casual and mind-numbing labor, and Legally Blonde, a film which has been compared The Seventh Seal in regard to the existential dread in which it envelops the viewer.” Campos then uses Simkovic’s logic to comically explain how “law professors” are severely underpaid, seeing that they supposedly, indirectly generate billions in revenue. Check it out, when you have a chance. 

Conclusion: Michael Simkovic has no basis for his assertion that earning a law degree, on average, will result in the JD holder making an additional $1 million over the course of his or her work life. I would use the term “career,” if it applied. However, Biglaw associates typically burn out – or are tossed – within 3-5 years, if they don’t make partner by then. Furthermore, TONS of law grads – each year – end up working in low-paid, unstable jobs. According to Seton Hall's Simkovic, these people took out $120K+ in additional NON-DISCHARGEABLE debt, but they are not motivated enough to make good money. 

In the final analysis, this “educator” makes a bunch of false, positive assumptions about the “value” of a law degree to the recipient – while ignoring sound criticism that is based on facts and economic reality. Does anyone believe that a JD from Cooley or Thomas Jefferson Sewer of Law is equivalent to one from Stanford or Yale?! Again, this shows that the law school swine do not care about their students or future graduates. You are simply a mean$ to an end. There is no valid reason for you to personally ruin yourself financially, so that these “scholars” can continue to make $180K per year. You have to look out for your own best interests.


  1. The real tragedy is that guys like you fought the good fight, but it looks like the law school cartel will ultimately prevail.

    Law school applications look like they reached the bottom and LSATs are up 6%. It looks like the majority of the thieves will survive this, and I just can't believe it. I really can't.

    It is such an absurd scam; it's such a joke career for everyone but the very top of the pyramid, that I don't understand why kids, particularly poor and middle class kids are throwing away their lives like this. There are other options for people that can hack a college degree and get a 150 or higher on the LSAT. They may not be glamorous; they may not be what one dreamed of when growing up, but they pay a decent, middle class wage, with pensions and political protection to boot.

    At this point, I have to say the students are almost as culpable as the law schools themselves. Every lemming I try to talk from the cliff just won't listen, pure and simple.

    1. Think of it this way: "quality" undergraduates are more likely to avoid law.

      As recently as 5 years ago, there were smart people (who legitimately could have gone into some other profession) that went into law and wasted their talents. This is less likely to happen now. At the end of the day, we can only save those who listen.

    2. Honestly, if they go now, they deserve utter financial ruin and misery. There are no dupes left because the cat is out of the bag. Aggressive ignorance cannot be fixed.

    3. For nearly all the 750 lawyers in my town the law is definitely not glamorous. It IS 10 to 12 hour days, weekend work, tons of proof-reading, "hand-holding" anxious clients, writing off bills that go unpaid for months or years. There is no glamour in any of it. It doesn't take too many years to realize that there never is any glamour, that the income is modest, that you have no pension, no health insurance, no life insurance, no vacation, no disability insurance, and no one to cover for you if you take time off.

      John Donne stands corrected: lawyers are an island, stand alone, and in the vernacular of my depression era parent: "head cook and bottle washer."

      I would never do it again, and my children are not becoming lawyers as I forbid it.

      "You should not become a lawyer. If you go to law school, I will not pay for it. If you become a lawyer, it is your own damn fault."

      And that is the advice of a successful solo lawyer to his children.

      None of them are lawyers. One does much better than me, income-wise, even though being 30 years younger.

    4. I am no genius-I have a law degree-but I think there will be double bottom. I think employment will NOT rebound even if LSAT takers and law school applicants numbers enjoy a bit of a rebound.

      As apparently bad as being a lawyer is, I am TRULY THANKFUL that I am NOT a LAW PROFESSOR. Those folks will reap the whirlwind.

      At least I "command" a going concern, as modest as it is.

      I note that many huge firms have had layoffs. Well, my solo practice has not laid me off in nearly 40 years, so THERE!

    5. Your whole "and my children are not becoming lawyers as I forbid it" is getting really, really old. You have said it enough. Shut up about it, please.

    6. @4:34 AM

      "Hi, Professor Simkovic! And Professor Leiter! And Dean Freedman! And Professor Diamond! And..."

    7. 4:34 is Autistic. Something I've found common in the legal field, and a common thread amongst the lowest functioning law grads who all seem to refuse to get jobs and pay back their loans.

      Note how this contrasts with the non-Autists, who struggle in the legal field and do what they can, but certainly don't run around whining and attacking others the way the Autistic do.

    8. Well, my target audience is the OL's, not those who are here frequently.

      I am confident that most folks visiting here don't bother to go back too far into the blog posts, whenever I have written that before is history, just like the 1958 corn flakes commercial I watched as a kid. I have seen a few more corn flakes commercials since. Can't imagine an advertising exec telling a client he wants to run his commercial too many times.

      In any event, when I was reading it, I decided I had grown tired of typing it.

      Your better argument is that it is not effective, as students still seem to be enrolling in numbers far too many. With even an uptick recently, apparently.

    9. So as you would apparently not object to Simkovik's "always selling" mantra, yet my repetitive, parallel opposing commentary is objectionable? So, I would think that you are a Simkovikian supporter and pro law school scam supporter willing to destroy our children however damaged they may ultimately end upl

      Well, let me as a few other questions.

      Most successful parents would like to pass down their business to their children. I have made efforts to prevent that because my business is practicing law and it is Hell.

      So, YOU are tired of hearing of it, but there are thousands of 0L's who have no idea of the Hell they approach, in their innocence.

      If YOU have better words than me to persuade OL's to avoid the death of law school, no one will be better pleased than me.

  2. Always be selling. So, Simkovic thinks law schools need to invest in a propaganda campaign. Law schools are already really good at thinking up nonsense arguments. Cooley Law School's mass demand creation by the retirement of gray hairs argument. Emory Law School's you may have to practice in Nebraska and work your way up. The you cannot value a law degree value until you are dead argument. The versatility of a law degree...it is the Swiss Army knife of employment.

    If a law degree is so versatile and valuable why do law professors insist on tenure and other job guarantees. Surely, these superstars, with all their practical experience, could walk into a partnership at a big law firm or become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Why do law professors function in a system, where they get law students to go into huge debt with no job guarantees and in contrast, they are unwilling to function as an at will employee? Law students pay for this very expensive entitlement of tenure.

  3. When asked why he targeted law schools and law students, Willie Simkovic purportedly said, "Because that's where the money is ....."

  4. Maybe things would be different if these so-called scholars had any actual experience being lawyers or even appreciated that career track.

    1. Does anyone know if a law professor even needs to hold a law license?

    2. No. I have had professors in law school who have never passed a bar exam in any state.

    3. Well, that sort of puts the exclamation point on the statement that law schools don't teach you to practice law!

    4. Lots of professors have never been licensed to practice law. Indeed, some of them have never studied law.

  5. If law grads can make an extra $50k a year, why don't law profs put that on their CVs? Look how much wealth they're creating.

  6. But wait, there's more.

    If you sign on the dotted line, we'll throw in a free student membership to the prestigious American Bar Association...

  7. Not meaning to sound defeatist, but EVERYONE of importance knows about the collapsing legal sector by now.

    Try applying to any job with a reputable company. I guarantee you the human resource person will know about the state of the legal sector, as well as the hiring manager.

    The last few conversations I've had regarding a possible employment opportunity, I've gotten the "oh yes, I know things are terrible in law these days."

    Everybody knows!!

  8. I talked to a recruiter from Golden Gate. He told me several times that "you have to really, really want it." Meaning that he has no reasonable arguments in favor of his school, and he prefers not to deal with reasonable students.

  9. http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2015/08/law-schools-four-billion-dollar-collective-action-problem-michael-simkovic.html

    Here is the idiotic piece from Michael Simkovic, from August 24, 2015. This garbage was labeled “Law Schools’ Four Billion Dollar Collective Action Problem.” Try not to throw up while reading the following bile:

    “Earlier this month, I charted the overwhelmingly negative press coverage of law schools and the legal profession over the last 5 years and discussed the disconnect between the news slant and economic reality. To the extent that news coverage dissuaded individuals from attending law school for financial reasons, or caused them to delay attending law school, newspapers will on average have cost each prospective law students tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The total economic harm across all prospective law students could easily be in the low billions of dollars.*

    What can we learn from this?

    Accurate, informed, and balanced news coverage does not happen of its own volition, particularly in a world where sensationalism and negativity attract eyeballs and sell advertising.

    The national press is powerful. Many journalists mean well, but they lack deep expertise and often face tight deadlines and financial pressures. Sometimes editors and journalists use their power irresponsibly. Whereas many industries have trade associations that employ professionals to work with journalists and help them provide more accurate, informed, and fair news coverage, law schools were unprepared to interact with the press in ways that would encourage more responsible and accurate coverage.

    Law schools remained silent, but other individuals and groups were actively working to plant negative stories with the specific goal of driving down law school enrollments. They believed driving down enrollments would reduce competition for legal work. (One of the leaders of Law School Transparency explained his efforts to pitch negative news stories in specific parts of the country where he thought law school enrollments were too high and competition for jobs was too intense.) (PDF here). Some practitioners may be hostile to new entrants for similar protectionist reasons. Unlike law schools, law school critics were prepared to speak out, even if it meant appearing self-interested.”

    Apparently, “law professors” and deans who make $180K+ each year cannot possibly be all about the money. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature realizes that these “educators” are acting entirely out of $elf-intere$t. By the way, Simkovic relies on MANY baseless assumptions in order to reach his manufactured $4 billion figure. To wit:

    “* Assuming 40,000 prospective law students from 2010-2015 who delayed law school and worked with a bachelor’s degree or chose to enter the labor force with just a bachelor’s degree, and an average financial harm to each student of $100,000, the total harm would be $4 billion. As I noted previously, the harm from each year of delaying law school is typically more than $30,000, even after taking into account the potential benefits of graduating into a better economy. $100,000 per student would represent a delay of slightly more than 3 years for each student, or about one out of 10 students deciding to enter the labor force with a bachelor’s degree instead of completing law school or a comparably beneficial graduate program. 40,000 students represents the sum of the differences between first year enrollments in 2010 and in each of the subsequent 5 years.”

  10. The assumption of these would be lawyers just getting BAs is a hogwash assumption.

    The problem in law is the severe oversupply of workers - several hundred thousand lawyers in the U.S. are redundant so to speak There are careers in health care and education where the demand for workers right now exceeds the supply. Some of the workers who do not go to law school will go to the health care sector or education. They will get advanced degrees, maybe just an MA or MS, or maybe a doctorate in something else where the demand exceeds the supply.

    No one is talking about leaving the people who decide against law school with just BAs. The thrust of this is that many will continue in higher education where there is a better supply demand ratio. I think the income is higher for a teacher or a cop, at least in the New York City area where I live, than it is for an unemployed or underemployed lawyer, a struggling solo lawyer or a document reviewer.

    The Simkovic article missing the point of prospective students moving from law to greener pastures so to speak.

    1. That's true. "Law school or nothing" is a false dichotomy. Even on Simkovic's bogus terms, however, his claims are wrong.

  11. In response to the question above, no -- law professors don't need to be licensed to practice. In fact, most have never been lawyers and look down on the profession. It's like our nation training its doctors using "scholars" who have never practiced medicine, nave no intention on practicing medicine, and have complete disdain for that profession. This is one of the more egregious parts of the scam, which hopefully will be exposed soon.

  12. Hello Third Tierers, I am having severe doubts about entering the legal field because of the shocking nature of the legal market. I am not going to puruse a law degree, but my family members are disappointed to say the least and think that my reasons for not going to law school are flawed, or even downright wrong. My reasons are the low employment statistics/glutted market, hyper-conpetitiveness, and uber stressful workload. Of course, as parents are, they think I am lazy, not motivated, and being lied to. I know the truth, but they dont think Third Tier, Above the Law, Paul Campos, etc. are as trustworthy as the schools that post employment statistics, career oriented webpages (ABA, BLS, USNWR, etc). Can someone who isn't snarky tell me what sources can I trust concerning the legal field and how can I convince my parebts that pursuing law isn't the smartest choice?

    Keep in mind I am a HS Senior, so leaving or ignoring them isn't an option for now.

  13. http://abovethelaw.com/2015/05/everyone-should-go-to-law-school-poster-child-goes-full-tilt/

    Back on May 1, 2015, Joe Patrice barbecued Pig Michael Simkovic to a crisp, in an ATL entry entitled “Everyone Should Go To Law School Poster Child Goes Full Tilt.” Take a look at the lengthy portion below:

    “One of the preeminent voices peddling the idea that students should run, not walk, into their nearest law school — regardless of ranking — and get that degree has gone full tilt this month, raging against the New York Times for daring to suggest that maybe going into debt for a law degree doesn’t get you a million dollars at the end of the 3L rainbow.

    Stay tuned for the new reality show: When Academics Attack!

    Earlier this week, the Times published a piece highlighting the difficulties that law school graduates face when bad job prospects meet crippling debt. The piece opens, as formulaic mainstream journalism stories do, with a sad personal anecdote, supposedly to “humanize” the topic, before transitioning to the abstracted nuts and bolts. In this case, we met Columbia Law 2010’s Jonathan Wang, who can only find work as an LSAT tutor, before focusing on Ohio State University Law[1] Professor Deborah J. Merritt’s new study, What Happened to the Class of 2010? Empirical Evidence of Structural Change in the Legal Profession. Slate’s Jordan Weissmann sums up Professor Merritt’s study:

    In February 2011, 68 percent of all law grads were working in positions that required a law degree. In December 2014, that number had only reached 75 percent. That, Merritt writes, compares poorly with the national class of 2000, which also graduated into a recession thanks to the dotcom bust. By 2003, 85 percent of that group had found its way into a career in which a J.D. was necessary, and 62 percent were employed at law firms. Only 40 percent of Ohio’s class of 2010 are now at firms. They are also almost twice as likely to work as solo practitioners, who often barely scrape by financially. Merritt argues that this is a sign that the legal job market has indeed contracted for good and that there won’t be a sudden surge of new hiring to soak up excess graduates.

    Professor Merritt’s study may not be perfect, but it provoked a swift and weird response from Seton Hall Law Professor Michael Simkovic[2]:

    Instead, The New York Times compares law graduate outcomes today to law graduate outcomes when the economy was booming. But not all law graduates. The Times focuses on law graduates who have been unusually unsuccessful in the job market or have unusually large amounts of debt. For example, The New York Times focused on a Columbia law school graduate working as an LSAT tutor as if that were a typical outcome for graduates of elite law schools.

    Now that’s just disingenuous. Yes the story opened with a down-on-his-luck Columbia Law grad who is undoubtedly not typical, but since we can walk and chew gum at the same time, we all understood that it was a framing story and had nothing to do with the study. Come on, man. The butthurt over the Times runs even deeper:”

    1. Indeed, it's not at all typical. Very few JDs could find high-paying work as LSAT tutors. For that, one typically needs an LSAT score no lower than the 98th percentile.

  14. “A few weeks ago I asked a research assistant (a third year law student) to search for stories in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal about law school. Depending on whether the story would have made my research assistant more likely or less likely to want to go to law school when he was considering it or would have had no effect, he coded the stories as positive, negative, or neutral. According to my research assistant, The New York Times reported 7 negative stories to 1 positive story in 2011 and 5 negative stories to 1 positive story in 2012. In 2013, 2014, and 2015, The New York Times coverage was relatively balanced. In aggregate over the five-year period The New York Times reported about 2 negative stories for every 1 positive story. The Wall Street Journal’s coverage was even more slanted—about 3.75 negative stories for every positive story—and remained heavily biased toward negative stories throughout the five-year period.

    Damn liberal media! Who makes shaming media outlets a research project? And how much fun is it being Professor Simkovic’s research assistant, eh? That’s an easy day’s work. It turns out chasing down the rabbit hole a little further, we start to see the source of Professor Simkovic’s beef with the Times. Apparently, the paper deviated from its stated mission of printing all the news fit to print and published a piece by Berkeley Law Professor Steven Davidoff Solomon that stuck up for the Simkovic and Rutgers-Newark Professor Frank McIntyre knee-slapper about the $1 million law degree. I guess Professor Simkovic had been hoping this would usher in a new era of the Times embracing the status quo law school delusion.

    Then he got hot because Kyle McEntee of Law School Transparency took to our pages to poke holes in that Times article by Solomon. McEntee suggested we shouldn’t judge whether or not lawyers have jobs using the same standards on the oft-criticized Bureau of Labor Statistics model. Professor Simkovic wasn’t having any of that:

    Mr. McEntee’s problem is not that The New York Times got the facts wrong. His problem is that The New York Times got too many of the facts right. Mr. McEntee simply dislikes the facts.

    Jeesh. Simmer down. It’s also not true: if Kyle hated facts so much, there would be a lot less on his website.”

    Simkovic is upset that LST and others have provided solid research and information to prospective students, free of charge. Those actively involved in rackets get upset when others point out the scam to others. This is the same cockroach who has proclaimed that law grads will earn an additional $1 million in their lifetime – without a single shred of evidence to back up his assertion. In sum, this "educator" has no integrity, which makes him no different from the vast majority of "law professors."


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