Dubious Investment Advice and the Conveyor-Belt Approach to Life

Over the last couple of years, numerous writers–on blogs and in the media–have been expressing concern about the state of the legal job market and asserting that there is an overproduction of lawyers. Comes now Lawrence Mitchell, who is Dean at Case Western’s law school, with an article titled Law School is Worth the Money. He denounces the “hysteria” of the critics and argues, basically, that those who are interested in going to law school should be encouraged to go ahead and do so.

I’m not very impressed with Dean Mitchell’s reasoning, and there are quite a few other people–many of them lawyers and law professors–who are similarly unimpressed.

One thing that particularly struck me in Mitchell’s article, and not in a good way, was this:

What else will these thousands of students who have been discouraged from attending law school do? Where will they find a more fulfilling career? They’re not all going to be doctors or investment bankers, nor should they.

Has the entire universe of careers that exists outside of law/medicine/investment banking…many of them very lucrative, many very challenging and satisfying…completely escaped Dean Mitchell’s notice? Or is he perhaps a follower of what I call the conveyor-belt view of life and of careers? The conveyor-belt view, in this context, is the idea that no one could have a truly successful career unless they have been trained for it in a way that provides a one-to-one mapping between their university coursework and their careers…lawyers, in particular, often seem to find it confusing that someone could be, say, a Director of Product Management or a Regional Sales Manager without ever having taken any university courses in Product Management or regional sales-managing, and I think this view is increasingly common among credentialists of all types. (Mitchell does depart from the conveyor-belt view a bit when he says “Moreover, the career for which we educate students, done through the medium of the law, is a career in leadership and creative problem solving”…but he provides no evidence or logic to support the view that a law-school education teaches “leadership” better than, say, a spell as a military officer, or that it teaches “creative problem solving” better than, for example, an engineering degree or a truly serious liberal arts program.)

Nowhere in Dean Mitchell’s article do I see seriously addressed an issue that seems to be fundamental to his topic: how many lawyers can/should the U.S. economy usefully and productively support? Maybe the decline from 55% of law graduates starting in law firms to 50% in 2011 is a temporary cyclic downturn, as he suggests. But maybe it is a secular change. Someone giving advice to young people who are making major educational and career decisions should at least attempt to seriously address this market-sizing issue. Citing a Bureau of Labor Statistics projection, without looking more deeply at the dynamics of the market, isn’t in my view sufficient.

For most people, the cost of college and professional-school education…which encompasses not only direct costs incurred but also the opportunity costs of their time–is probably several times greater than the amount they will ever invest in any particular stock or bond. Those who are considering these investments should look very carefully at the claims of those who are selling such program–whether they represent for-profit or “nonprofit” institutions.

There’s an old saying: “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut”

I’d say it’s okay to ask the barber…but if the haircut is an expensive and time-consuming one, you should get other views–and do your own research and analysis–as well.

12 thoughts on “Dubious Investment Advice and the Conveyor-Belt Approach to Life”

  1. There is an overpopulation of lawyers – witness the TV ads for “personal injury” lawyers – still, if you know what you want and which field…have a friend whose daughter I admire – from the time she was 14 wanted to be a judge. And despite her parents divorcing, her taking a job to put herself through undergrad school, she remained singularly focused.

    Decided Boston U was where she wanted to study law, went there a year to live (and work) to establish residency.

    Today she is doing quite well in some aspect of corporate law. I suspect the judge goal is down the road.

    Maybe the question is one of focus and specialization.

  2. The law schools are running scared. The likely return versus the cost in tuition and deferred income is out of whack. The schools have been brazenly dishonest about the career prospects of graduate. The bottom third of US law schools could close tomorrow and the world would be a better place. As a lawyer, I agree that there are too many lawyers — competing with me! But seriously folks, the young lawyers coming out have a huge problem on their hands getting real work. Lawyers with science and engineering backgrounds have good options in patent work, however. You have to know what you want to do with the degree and have a plan that makes sense. There is no longer a conveyor belt going from admission to good grades to law review to big firm associate to partner to career. People need to be entrepreneurial at every stage, and most people don’t know how to be. The idea that law school teaches leadership is a head-scratcher. It teaches diligence and attention to detail and general principles and how to do research and think about legal problems. Problem solving in any general sense was not taught, and the actual process of engaging with a client and with opposing counsel to work toward settlement, which is where virtually all cases end up, is not taught at all. But, that is what you need to do all the time if you have your own clients.

  3. I feel much the same way about medical school. I notice a change in attitude on the part of the medical students of today versus five years ago, when they were all for single payer. Tuition is far too high and the marriage of two medical students is quite common now that 60% of students are female. The result is a double dose of loan debt. I told me students last week that my tuition was $600 a semester. I don’t think they believe me.

  4. The ‘conveyor belt’ notion is quite old. The Romans called it the ‘Cursus Honorem’. A member of the ruling class was expected to start at the lowest office and, if he didn’t get himself assassinated, work his way up to consul. The proletariat (head count) started as tribunes and got promoted if he didn’t die first.

    Today, Laws schools want to make themselves the entry level of a 21st century cursus. But what’s the point of studying law? Obama just makes up laws as he goes along and his friends in the ruling class are not bound by the law (‘legibus solutus est’ as Justinian commented).

  5. Combine the comments of Bill Brandt and Grey Eagle. Law school is an expensive first gateway, not necessarily to riches [although they seem to come] but to power. If you are a national level politician, you almost certainly have a law degree. That is where you have power of varying degrees depending on level; but you definitely have access to riches. There are no poor elected/appointed officials at the national level.

    If moderate wealth, but absolute power, is your goal; you try to become a judge. Depending on the cases that come before you [and admittedly the mass of cases are routine] you have absolute, unaccountable power to rule any way you want. And admittedly there is the possibility for wealth depending on your area. Leftist judges in Blue states who are willing to be guided by the local machine do quite well, it seems.

    And I agree with Grey Eagle that the law is whatever those in power say it is. And that process was abetted by the kept judges who rule based on either personal profit or personal ideology. We have completed the transition from “Laws, not men” to “Men, not Laws”.

    Subotai Bahadur

  6. SB, that is a little too gloomy. We have lots of judges who play it straight. Even in Chicago. The rest of the country is probably better. We have not “completed” any such transition. Even in the Supreme Court Obama sometimes loses 9-0. either. Law-based and Constitution-based challenges to government power are worth bringing if there is a good faith basis, and we are not in the Warsaw Pact and the prospect of success based on legal authority is real. To pick one example, the cases on gun rights that went to the Supreme Court a few years ago led to very good outcomes. To pick another, the Catholic bishops are currently waging a solid legal attack on the HHS mandate, and the outcome is not foregone, not by a long shot.

    What factual basis do you have for saying that Leftist judges in Blue states benefit financially from being ” are willing to be guided by the local machine.” I say this not as snark but as a legitimate request. I am not seeing that. What are you seeing?

    “There are no poor elected/appointed officials at the national level.” “Not poor” is a low standard. Are you saying every “elected/appointed officials at the national level” is corrupt and gains wealth by means of corruption? That is not consistent with the facts as I know them. Again, it is one thing to say the system is corrupt, or that it permits and rewards certain kinds of corruption — in fact, lawful activity is often more destructive than illegal corruption — but it is not true to say “all.” Again, I am seeing a counsel of despair which is beyond what is warranted by the facts as I know them.

    Things are bad. Let’s not be Pollyanna about it. But let’s not imagine them worse than they are.

  7. I think Dean Wormer… sorry, “Mitchell” is kind of a biased source for opinions on this matter.

  8. Where did Susan Rice get her vast wealth? Sierra Leone has diamonds which were controlled by Foday Sankoh after Rice used US power to put him in control. Its amazing how many thugs an assistant secretary of state for African affairs can turn into wealthy friends.

  9. Lexington Green,

    First, let me apologize for the delay. I first saw your reply at 0-dark-30 on Tuesday morning, and was not awake enough to assay an answer. I happened to check back before bed, to confirm the thread was dead, and it wasn’t. I am trying to write carefully offline to answer your questions and not just respond as usual, ad hoc, online in the comment box, and have to be away from the computer for part of the day.

    Primus, I admit that I am at the point where I am highly dubious about the current legitimacy of our form of government; not because the form is flawed, but because the functions have been corrupted. From what I have seen amongst my acquaintances and from various sources in the wider world, I am not alone in that belief. YMMV

    Secundus, while I spoke in absolutes [and I will defend that below], the finding of the proverbial “one honest man” does not rescue the legitimacy of the system. The legitimacy of a legal or political system depends on a reasonable man being able to judge that resorting to the system will give an outcome according to the accepted rules of the system as laid out; and not according to arbitrary exceptions and inserted complexities outside those rules as reasonably interpreted. I will also be forced to limit the number of links and footnotes here because of the nature of a reader comment and because of whatever spam filter you have. I fear I still may strain the boundaries of both.

    Tertius, the “reasonable man” doctrine implies that there is a limit to political/legal corruption beyond which the appropriate response is to presume corruption.

    Proof beyond a reasonable doubt, therefore, is proof of such a convincing character that you would be willing to rely and act upon it without hesitation in the most important of your own affairs. However, it does not mean an absolute certainty. http://www.lectlaw.com/def2/q016.htm

    If you have a 5% chance of being forced to submit to corruption when you encounter the political/legal system, is that reasonable doubt as to the legitimacy of the system? How about 10%? 25%? If you have one or more people you know personally who have had to pay someone off outside the law to get what they should get legally? Or be denied their legal due, which was given to someone “connected”. Or what if you or they have seen someone get off after an illegal act was detected, purely based on connections with obvious payoffs? Does the corruption have to reach 50.0001% of encounters to be corrupt? What if there are no legal, political, or reputational consequences of the illegal act(s) being known?

    Somewhere in that continuum, a political/legal system is judged to be corrupt. The exact point cannot be accurately determined absent massive criminal indictments. It is kind of like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. And like with the Uncertainty Principle, one is forced to extrapolate from outside effects.

    Quartus, I submit for consideration the postulate that if illegal conduct, or conduct that would be considered contrary to the mores of a significant mass of the population by the members of a ruling class and their supporters becomes common knowledge, and there are neither consequences or surprise [and frequently there is arrogance]; that the ruling class, their supporters, and the system they operate in is corrupt. Such a condition is probative to a reasonable man that the system and those who live and prosper in it are tainted. The level of tolerance by the reasonable man of such conditions is another variable. I do note the validity of the saying, “Beware the wrath of a tolerant man.”.

    Quintus, the commonplace of illegal acts going unpunished based on status in the ruling class [and while it biases strongly towards Leftists, it is bipartisan] cannot be argued. Let us take a few recent exemplars. Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury. During his confirmation it turned out that he had not bothered to pay Federal income taxes for several years. Anyone not in his favored position would be spending time at the very least in a Federal Correctional Country Club, and more likely at a Graystone Lodge. He was confirmed, and still is the Treasury Secretary and one of the prime administration proponents of raising taxes. Charles Rangell, Congressman and longtime Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee [writes tax laws] until the Democrats lost the House. After a prolonged denial, he admitted concealing assets, income, and half his net worth, arguably well into 7 figures, for decades. The tax liability and criminal liability for that is impressive. However he has not done one day of jail time. Unlike anyone else who would have done the same thing. Just recently it turns out that HHS Secretary Sibelius appointed an acquaintance who worked for a healthcare group [QSSI] to design the Federal Healthcare Exchanges for the states who refuse to set up their own [only 17 states are setting them up] as required by Obamacare. He set it up to give it to a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, which bought his company and made him an executive of UnitedHealth Group, and the smaller company sets the rules under which its owner competes with all other healthcare companies. [ http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/sebelius-coverup_664285.html ]

    And there are dozens of cases in the last few years.

    Politicians getting caught committing fraud and various acts of corruption are not rare. Punishment is.

    One has to be gullible in the extreme to assume that the ones caught are the only ones who are corrupt. If you approach it rationally, you have to conclude that with the help of a compliant press, politically motivated prosecutors, and the air of immunity carried by our elites; that this is in fact merely the tip of the iceberg. And that it is widespread enough that no Federal politician can be ignorant of it. If you swim in polluted waters, you have to notice the crud in it.

    Looking at Congress, there is the matter that their net worth increases unrealistically given their limited salaries [$148,000 a year], the need to maintain two households [one in one of the most expensive areas in the country], and to travel back and forth. Somehow they become rich.

    The net worth of Congress is growing at an amazing rate, considering the economy. We are in a functional depression, moderated by massive transfer payments that we call a recession. Yet from 2009-2011, the net worth of Congressmen and Senators has grown 25%. And that does not include the value of their homes and minimizes the values of other items on the Federal forms. A rather unique result for a limited group of 535 people.
    [http://www.rollcall.com/issues/57_51/And-Congress-Rich-Get-Richer-209907-1.html ].

    Part of it may be because Congress is exempt from insider trading laws, and the results of their trades seem to indicate that they are using that exemption for their personal profit. [ http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/may/25/house-members-stock-market-success-questioned/ ]

    Once again, it is not something that can go on unnoticed in Congress. Or in the Executive Branch.

    Pressure on Judges can be varied. In Blue states, especially Illinois, I think a detailed examination of their finances would show benefits beyond their normal compensation. And there is a quid pro quo for the machine help. I know people in Illinois, and on point in Chicago. To do business there, you have to pay the right people, hire the right people, or do things not required by law but by men. And all with impunity.

    I hold no hope for the Supreme Court. Since the Obamacare decision, it is apparent that the Court is owned by the Executive. The Dissent in that case was written by Chief Justice Roberts. It was still used by the losing side in the hope that Roberts would change his mind at the last minute. Without warning or explanation, Roberts changed sides, and came up with the construction that the law was unconstitutional, but allowed under Congress’ taxing power. That leaves the implication that the Constitution can be violated so long as the taxing power is invoked.

    Sir, you are a CHICAGO BOY. You know how it works. Roberts was gotten to, and once owned, always owned.

    And as to the absolutes I spoke of above; if you are a part of the political/legal system, know and see the corruption [and that pretty much covers everybody] and are not doing something about it, you share the guilt.

    Yes, I am gloomy about the future. I see us as akin to being somewhere between January 30, 1933 and August 2, 1934 in Germany, or the similar period in pre-Soviet Russia. The election had something to do with it. I have been active politically since I was 10 years old. And I am retired. I spent the pre-and post election period looking for fraud. Short form [and it is longer as I have done presentations on this before two of our TEA Party groups and before our County Republican Central Committee]:

    1. The electoral difference was 407,000 votes in 4 states that would have swung the election. [ http://www.nationalreview.com/campaign-spot/333167/407000-votes-four-states-away-presidency# ]
    2. In every “swing state”, there were reports of voting machines recording votes for Romney as votes for Obama. The claim was that the machines were “miscalibrated”, but calibration errors would work the other way sometimes.
    3. There has been testimony before the legislatures in Ohio and Florida by programmers who wrote programs to alter votes in the machines. They are self-extracting and only have to be on a thumb drive plugged into the machine’s USB port.
    4. There is the matter of Philadelphia [where the Democrats build a lead to overcome the rest of the state] In 13 Voting Districts [what they call precincts] the Democrats and New Black Panther Party physically ejected all Republican vote judges and poll watchers. Those precincts voted 99%+ Obama. In 59 other precincts there was a 100% Obama vote. Now this is impossible. Even if everyone wanted to, human error would have made a few votes come out Romney. No system is foolproof, because fools are so bloody ingenious.
    5. Cuyahoga County, Ohio [Cleveland], 100 precincts voted 100% Obama.
    6. St. Lucie County, Florida; the average precinct vote was 148% of the number of registered voters. Low was 113%, the high was 159.5%.
    7. In my own state of Colorado, 17 of our 64 counties have more people registered to vote than there are people of voting age.
    8. In Pueblo County, Colo. [normally a Dem stronghold] Romney was welcomed, and the Republicans were able to hold campaign events that would have literally been physically attacked in other years. And yes, there were voting machine miscalibrations in Pueblo. It landslide Obama.
    9. Two days ago, I talked to a former LEO colleague who now is an LEO in the Houston area. He reported that in Houston, they had seizures of precincts by the Democrats like in Philadelphia, but it was not mentioned by the media. He used to be my partner. I trust him.

    Returning to Tertius and Quartus above; I believe that the election was likely determined by election fraud. There are legitimacy implications there. Among them is that absent force majeure all further elections will follow the same pattern. The Republican Party has been dead silent on all issues of election fraud, and is busy accommodating itself to permanent subordinate status. I see where we are on the continuum. YMMV.

    Subotai Bahadur

  10. In California, the judge who decided that Prop 8 (the proposition that held that marriage was between a man and a woman) was unconstitutional, was himself a homosexual who planned to marry his “partner” and therefore had a serious interest in the result. He did not recuse himself and has been quite brazen about his role.

    Maxine Waters was investigated by the House Ethics Committee for her role in the banking situation when she was in the majority and her husband was involved with a bank that benefitted from legislation she sponsored. The ethics investigation was ended with no action and she will be the ranking member on the financial services committees next term. She is also an idiot but that cannot be held against her in a setting that includes a colleague who feared that Guam would capsize if more Marines were stationed there.

    There is an interesting case in Massachusetts in which a blogger was ordered to delete reference to a politically connected woman who had been in a car crash.

    The ruling class gains power every year, especially this year. I fear that we are becoming Zimbabwe. Jamie Foxx and Harry Belafonte give me reason to worry but I will not elaborate lest I become another racist.

  11. one clever comment noted that Obama makes up laws. I did not know that was how the system worked. Why do we pay Congress and the Supremes?

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