Thursday, September 15, 2016

Villanova Law: A Case Study in Second Tier Employment Outomes

I have to concede, there are times when I truly miss having this blog as an accessible platform to denounce the law school scam. Nevertheless, while I have been a victim of such an insidious system, I have been very blessed in recent years and wallowing in this pool of injustice just isn't healthy. That's why I left my blogging venture behind me years ago.

Moreover, the environment is very different than it was during that tumultuous time. Back then, it was just the bloggers versus the law school cartel. Today, any honest person with a modicum of sense recognizes that the law school emperor has no clothes. Blogging won't move the goal posts any further - only economic and political forces will bring the system crashing down.

Thus, as I have allocated my limited free time, I have resisted the temptation to post my thoughts on such topics as law professors who claim that a law degree virtually guarantees an additional one million dollars in lifetime earnings or the travesty that was the Thomas Jefferson Law School verdict.

I still peruse JD Underground for updates on the scam, and one post recently caught my attention because it included a link to the ABA's compilation of employment statistics - broken down by school.

Many other organizations such as Law School Transparency have extracted and crunched the numbers - exposing most schools as very poor investments. I, however, thought it would be helpful to create a case study of a single second tier school to evaluate the employment outcomes graduates can expect.

I have decided to profile Villanova Law for the class of 2015 (the latest data available). Villanova makes a good case study because it is neither an urban school in the heart of a metropolis like the New York schools nor is in the middle of nowhere like a more rural institution. It has access to the Philadelphia, New York, and DC markets. It also resides in a large state and borders New Jersey and Delaware (which has no law school of its own.)

The conclusions derived from this analysis should be applicable to most schools ranked between 26 and 100 in US News and World Report while graduates from schools ranked lower probably will have worse outcomes. If one disagrees, this analysis can easily be applied to any of the data sets for other schools.

There is no way to directly link to the data set, but the data for the Villanova Law class of 2015 - as well as all other classes/schools - can be downloaded here: http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/

For May 2015 graduates, the survey includes ten months of post-graduate data (i.e. graduates had ten months in which to a find a position in order to be considered "employed").

According to Villanova's own website, tuition and fees are now roughly $43,000 or $129,000 over three years. The school estimates the total cost of attendance (including living expenses) is about $66,000 per year or just under $200,000 for three years. Throw in interest and any undergraduate loans and a graduate could easily find himself approaching $250,000 in debt at graduation.

It certainly would be reasonable for a prospective student to question what type of return he's going to receive if he's going to go a quarter million into the red.

Based upon the hard (and self-reported) numbers compiled by the ABA, a $200k JD is hardly a sound investment.

The data indicates that there were 213 graduates in 2015. After 10 months, 27 were unemployed and seeking employment. That's a 12.7% unemployment rate after nearly a year of job searching. The national unemployment rate in May 2016 was 5.5%. For such a massive investment, graduates are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than the US population as a whole.

The data further notes that 138 of graduates found employment in jobs that require bar admission - the types of jobs people would expect if they graduate law school. This comes out to just under 65% of graduates - or nearly two-thirds of the class.

Of those who are neither employed as attorneys nor unemployed, a smattering (8 students) are not seeking employment, employed by the law school, pursuing another degree, or have been deferred by their employers.

Virtually everyone else has a non-legal job - the bulk of whom are classified as having "JD Advantage" jobs. Only two are listed as being employed in another professional field while two others are listed as being employed in a non-professional field.

(Sidebar: I'm not sure how this proud alumnus' career choice will be classified next year.)

This is where some of the chicanery of self-reported data begins to show. Let's be clear: there is virtually no such thing as an entry level "JD Advantage" job unless you're talking about being a Lexis or Westlaw sales rep or the school is shoving doc review roles into this category. Otherwise, feel free to search the job listings and see just how many non-attorney roles you can find where a company is really looking for someone with a JD.

Trust me, as someone who has had to answer the interview question - "So, why do you have a law degree?" - more times than I can count, a JD confers no advantage.

Anyway, back to the numbers. Given that it's unlikely any of these non-legal positions actually require a law degree, I think it's fair to lump these jobs (JD advantage, professional, and non-professional) together with the number who are unemployed after 10 months. If you add these groups up, the sum is 67. Divide by 213 and you get 31.4%.

This is what I call, the "Worthlessness Factor". These are the people, who after investing in a legal education either can't find a job or can only find a job that could have been secured without enduring the law school ordeal. Therefore, their law degree is essentially worthless.

If you remove the aforementioned special circumstances - the 8 people who pursued an LLM, landed an MRS, etc. - the breakdown is that almost exactly 2/3rds of the class found attorney positions and 1/3rd of the class would have better off buying lotto tickets.

Back when law schools used the the first year to weed out poorly qualified students, they used to scare the 1L's during orientation with a line like, "Look to your left, look to your right. After this year, one of you won't be here." They should amend this adage to read, "Look to your left, look to your right. One of you is essentially going to borrow and flush 200 large right down the toilet."

But what of the other 2/3rds. Theoretically if you can finish in the top two thirds of the class, you should okay, right? Well, let's take a look at the second table where the ABA breaks down the data for those are able to find employment.

It's impossible to link the data from the two tables directly because the categories shift - though we know the unemployed and special cases are no longer included. The "Business and Industry" category roughly matches the size of the "JD Advantage Category" - though some "advantage" jobs may be with the government.

"Business and Industry" - like "JD Advantage" - is also code for "does not require a law degree". Unless, you're offered a role to be a GC for your buddy's hair-brained startup that hawks some crummy mobile app, you're not going to work in a corporate legal office right out of school. It's not surprising that there's overlap between the two categories.

Taking a look at the numbers, let's first look at the number of graduates who landed a position at a firm...any firm: 85. I'm going to calculate the percentage out of the the graduating class as a whole - not just the number employed - because we're looking at overall outcomes for graduates.

The percentage employed at a law firm is pretty dismal: 40% (rounding up). That's right, only 2 out of 5 LAW graduates end working at a law firm. We're not even being selective - this includes everyone from the Skadden bound graduate to the guy working part time for a shady firm located underneath a highway overpass.

Let's examine the breakdown a little more. Most - though not all - law students dream of the elite jobs. The jobs that will produce six figure salaries and will confer upon the attorney the prestige he so desires. When you're talking about six figures of debt, it is probably fair to expect a pretty decent return on that investment.

The jobs that pay such impressive salaries are referred to as BigLaw. BigLaw usually is defined as firms that are larger than 100 employees. According to the ABA data, there are 27 such students (interestingly this is the exact same number as those who are unemployed). It's probably fair to throw in the three graduates who landed federal clerkships because they are likely BigLaw bound.

Combining the various tiers of BigLaw (most fall into the 500+ attorney bucket) and those with federal clerkships, the percentage comes out to 14%. Because maybe one or two other students have a BigLaw caliber government or PI job, we can call it an even 15%.

This isn't horrible for a second tier school. (Typically the cutoff for attaining such a job is being in the top 10%.) Nonetheless, 85% of graduates are walking away with non-elite jobs. That should definitely give anyone pause before assuming a mortgage size student loan balance.

A common fallacy among prospective law students is that even if they fail to land a BigLaw or another elite job, they'll just settle for a "mid law" position. It's a fallacy because the distribution of entry level law firm roles is bimodal rather than normal: the bulk of law jobs aren't at mid-size firms; instead, they are concentrated at the extremes (small law or big law).

The data supports this analysis. If we exclude the 30 students who landed elite jobs, only 8% of the remainder (everyone who didn't land a BigLaw or fed clerkship position) ended up at a firm with between 26 and 100 attorneys. Even if we're generous and count everyone employed by a firm with 11 - 100 attorneys, it only comes out to 15%. That is if you miss the BigLaw ship, you pretty much only have an 8-15% chance of landing a mid law job (most of which are likely uninspiring insurance defense shops paying between $60-80k).

If a graduate does land a law firm role, chances are he or she is going to end up joining a small firm of 2-10 employees. A plurality - 31 graduates with law firm jobs - ended up working for a firm of this size. A majority worked for a firm that was between 2 and 25 attorneys.

While there may always be a small law gem here or there, small firms tend to be the most likely to have high turnover, psychopathic employers, and fail to provide basic benefits that the employees of Starbucks and Whole Foods take for granted. Salaries rarely exceed $50k and may even dip down into the $30k or below range. Because the law schools aren't forced to disclose salary data, we don't know exactly how bad median salaries may be. Nonetheless, you probably don't want to gamble nearly a quarter of a million bucks hoping that this analysis is too pessimistic.

Moreover, of all graduates who end up working for small firms, one out of five of them aren't even employed full time.

The public interest and government employment numbers are probably the hardest to parse, but only about 10% class end up in either category. Even if someone claims that he/she doesn't really want to go into private practice and instead wants to serve the public interest, this isn't a significant portion of the class. These categories presumably include all assistant DA, PD, legal aid, and general bureaucratic (including non-attorney) roles.

Finally, there are state clerkships. Aside from *maybe* one or two graduates who end up working for a state supreme court, these jobs are mostly with low level state courts, don't pay much, and aren't designed to be long term career opportunities. Yes, they can sometimes serve as launch pads for better roles, but often it's a stepping stone to moving to an aforementioned small firm. For every clerk who lands a decent role at a boutique firm, many more will wrap up their New Jersey traffic court clerkships only to be unemployed or left scrounging around for work fighting speeding tickets.

This leads us to another figure, the combined percentage of graduates who end up unemployed, in a non-legal role, working at a small firm, or working in a state court clerkship. This comes out to 62% of the class. If you throw in the "special circumstances" - not looking for work, pursuing an LLM, etc., the number is 66% - just under 2/3rds.

Early on we noted that about 1/3 of the class pretty much has nothing to show for their time in law school. This figure indicates ONLY 1/3 of the class is likely to have a job that even begins to justify the six figure price tag: BigLaw associate, Fed clerk, potentially interesting public/government role eligible for PSLF, or anything that could be theoretically considered a mid law associate role.

Now, I can see someone criticizing these calculations or this analysis. Maybe someone feels I'm too pessimistic or I wasn't consistent in calculating the various rates. My calculations were intended to provide the most clarity regarding prospective employment outcomes, but it's fair to disagree. The numbers are out there and anyone is welcome to drill deeper into the data.

In fact, while I used Villanova's numbers, my point wasn't to vilify this particular school. (I intentionally veered away from mentioning the school's name too often in this post.) It's merely a case study. I hope this blog post will instead serve as a catalyst for prospective students to apply a similar analysis to the school he or she is considering. The breakdown will likely be similar (if not worse) for any school outside of the top 25.

You see, regardless of whether you'd spot the school a few additional percentage points here or there, it doesn't change the overarching analysis. Graduates will still face twice the unemployment rate of the population as a whole. Only around 15% of graduates are going to end up with the type of elite positions most law students covet. Mid Law is hardly a backup plan as it still constitutes a small portion of the class. A full third of the class won't end being attorneys. Most of those who are employed in the legal field are heading to small law or low level clerkships.

This isnt' conjecture, hearsay, or propaganda. This is based upon real, SELF-REPORTED data. As a prospective law student, you have to ask yourself, do I really want to take out a mortgage (in essence) for these results? Do I really want to forgo three years of work experience, retirement savings, etc. to possibly end up as state judicial clerk or personal injury associate pulling down $45k a year?

Obviously the choice is yours, but if you're a potential law student, you're the one - not a smooth talking dean or a law professor with a phony baloney "study" - who will assume the debt and the career options (or lack thereof) with which your degree will saddle you. If you borrow and gamble six figures worth of tuition for a limited chance to get a decent legal job and you lose, there will be no sympathy and no turning back.

10 comments:

  1. Great analysis Esq Never. I graduated from Villanova Law in the early 1990's, and while the debt load was considerably smaller back then, the job prospects for my class were much the same as those faced by the class of 2015. If you finished in the top 15% or so, you would have some decent employment options. Beyond that, finding a legitimate legal job was a real struggle unless you had employment connections. Keep in mind that there was a legal recession going on at that time. I think the job market improved somewhat in the latter half of the 1990's up until the crash of 2008, but I doubt it was ever all that great. I graduated in the top third of my class and was unemployed at the time of graduation. After nearly a year, I ended up getting an attorney job in a state government position (not in Pennsylvania) through a family connection and have remained in that job ever since (only 9 more years to a full pension!). That period of unemployment after law school was a dark time in my life. I have never forgotten the feelings of fear, shame, humiliation and anger which I experienced and even though things eventually worked out for me, it left me with a life-long antipathy toward these scamsters who have ruined so many lives.

    I don’t keep in touch with many of my classmates. Of those I do, I’d estimate that half are out of the law altogether and have been for a long time. I know a couple guys who went to work in small firms that had already been established by their parents who have done ok and another guy (who was on law review) who has had a very successful legal career. I guess the bottom line is, even back then, a JD from Villanova (or similar second tier school) was far from a sure thing. It might work out, it might not. I will say that in this day and age, borrowing 200K to obtain a JD from Villanova or similar caliber school is flat out crazy. Hell, I’d even be hesitant to borrow that kind of money to attend a low-end T14 like Georgetown. As bad as things were for me as an unemployed law school grad, at least I wasn’t drowning in debt.

    Finally, I’m glad to hear things turned out ok for you in the end. I used to read your blog back in the day and it reminded me of my own struggles trying to find a job after graduation. While I give guys like Nando props, I think you are correct in saying that the scam blog movement has run its course. The risks associated with attending law school are now common knowledge, to the point where the New York Times writes editorials about it. And yet, the worst of the worst schools manage to keep the lights on even while new schools like Indiana Tech are still opening. The culling will only occur if and when the politicians place real limits on handing out the student loan dollars.

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  2. Nice analysis. The problems remain

    -- the types of jobs most Villanova grads could attain are being eliminated through technology and offshoring

    -- on the whole it seems students entering school have weaker credentials than in prior years (decades). Some have tried to counteract this by reducing class size but most just want to fill seats

    -- related to the above, these students are not receptive (read: reachable) to statistics, no matter the quality or quantity

    -- the scamblog movement is still useful to the extent it can put any pressure on the ABA and DOE by shining light on this scummy academy. I expect the ABA to be stripped of accreditation authority thanks to the tireless efforts of Indiana Tech and Infilaw. Once the money spigot is cut off the problem goes away

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  3. I disagree with Anonymous that the scam blog movement has run its course. Not until (1) the Government cracks down on the huge waste of taxpayers' money that is GradPLUS lending for law school, and (2) a serious accreditor steps up and insists that law school job placement numbers be independently-audited rather than self-reported, will the need for thoughtful, articulate scam bloggers like you end.
    Without the blogging we would have no mainstream media coverage of the law school scam, and you can bet that we would not even have the small level of reforms that have been accomplished thus far. Please keep the blog going!

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    1. 10:26 here. When I said the scam blogs have run their course, what I meant was that they played the role they had to play, and it was a critical role - they got the truth out there. Thanks to people like Nando, Campos, the OTLSS folks and many others, all but the willfully blind now know the score. Those law school bastards used to laugh and sneer at Nando. They weren’t laughing when the New York Times published an editorial echoing the same points (minus the pictures of poop) that Nando had been making for years. They weren’t laughing when they saw their enrollment numbers crash either.

      I don’t know why Campos shut down his blog a few years ago, but I suspect it had something to do with the fact that he said everything there is to say about the scam several times over. And while it can still be fun to see Nando, Dybuk, or Old Guy roast Arizona Summit or Indiana Tech over their bar passage rates or nonexistent admission standards, I don’t know how much it accomplishes in terms of ending the scam. If you’ve noticed, the number of commenters on the blogs has been in decline for a while. Its not that the points aren’t valid, its just that there are only so many times you can say the same thing.

      If it was up to me, I’d erect a monument to the scam blogers outside the Education Department building in Washington DC. But they have played their part, and now, its up to others (i.e., the politicians, the ABA, and the mains stream media). We can laugh about the fact that only one Indiana Tech grad passed the bar exam, but we can’t pull its provisional accreditation status. We can point out that there is zero chance that the 145 LSAT guy who attends Touro will ever repay 200K in debt, but we can’t cut off the government loan spigot. Everyone knows the truth. But only the powers that be can act on the truth.

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    2. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingSeptember 19, 2016 at 2:57 AM

      Stop poking fun at Indiana Tech. I passed through Gary and it didn't smell that bad. They resurfaced the Toll Road. Indiana is on a roll. Their building CVSs', diabetes clinics and entrepenaurs are opening gun and pawn shops. Folks are starting to move up to 'OOs Pontiacs, Saturns, and Mercury's. Economic growth!!! The casinos are crowded with folks smoking and having a good time. The RV industry in hiring for now at $9.00 and hour. Good things are happening in Indiana. If you want a State that makes it, make it Indiana!

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  4. Good comments and thank you. I do hope the analysis proves helpful to prospective students (and prospective dropouts).

    Anonymous, sorry you had a rough run like I did, but I'm glad most of that is behind me.

    I'm glad for the continued blogging. Nando has been stalwart in his blogging role. Nonetheless, there's only so much bloggers can do. We provided the aerial assault, but we need infantry troops to claim the final victory.

    I will continue to blog from time to time as I find interesting items to comment on (and I have the time). Overall, though, it isn't healthy to let this consume my life.

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  5. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingSeptember 18, 2016 at 10:00 PM

    To top it off, these newbies must compete with attorneys out decades like me (underemployed or unemployed) for any sort of work or jobs. You are competing with folks who graduated long before you did. I lost my practice because my appointed work dried up (there are a now tons of attorneys on those lists...the "batting list" is now pages and pages and my referral sources (other attorneys) now take the work they once referred to me. The pie is too thin.

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  6. There is be no shortage of scam bloggers as long as there are 1.8 million attorneys and growing. Even tired elderly attorneys who can't retire, are pissed at the ABA, Deans and Prawfs. We are all engaged in a cage fight for a three bill DUI. It is getting to the point where most attorneys just say, "No," it isn't worth the hassle or the potential bar beef. There goes the argument for representing the underserved.

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  7. Great analysis. Thank you. I graduated from Villanova law in the late 80s in the bottom half of the class. No employment prospects in law whatsoever. Interestingly never received a 9-month ABA employment questionnaire, perhaps as a result of my class rank.

    Started out in an entry-level real estate management position after law school paying about a third less than a Federal Civil Service job I had post College. In my opinion the law school investment was a complete waste of time and money. Undergraduate accounting and economics got me through a succession of management positions. 90% of the law courses had no bearing on business whatsoever. Only saving grace was that tuition was about ¼ then what it is today.

    Fortunately all of my children have avoided the law school scam, and are gainfully (and happily) employed in other fields. There is no excuse for attending Villanova Law today, even on full scholarship.

    I spoke with a fellow Villanova law graduate recently-- law review in her day--who had a successful career at a number of large and medium firms. She recently attended a class reunion, and reported that most grads in her class who had been attorneys were now out of the profession. While 30% of the class may start out as gainfully employed attorneys, this number atrophies over the decades as freshly minted attorneys take the place of burnouts at lower salaries.

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  8. From your excellent analysis, its pretty clear that the bottom 1/3 of the class have totally wasted their time and money. The more interesting question is the middle 1/3. Given that the latest VLS class has a 75% LSAT score lower than the bottom 25% score of 5 years ago, it seems that the middle 1/3rd have questionable competence and job prospects as well.
    Given the paucity of "mid-law" positions, and that most small firm work is doc review/shit law with sub $40,000 compensation and no benefits, many would argue that those in the bottom 66% of the class are in a wasteland. Key to the question are how many small firm attorneys remain in the profession after 5 years, and how many of these pathetic individuals are still living in their parents house.

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