From the "Leave law school alone!" crowd comes this Bloomberg Law interview with Stephen Sheppard, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at the University of Arkansas School of Law, and a man who may be the inspiration for the character naming conventions used in the Harry Potter series.
We wanted to write about the ridiculous idea he puts forth that if law schools cared more about getting jobs for their students, only BigLaw and the government would exist. But, as we tried to suss out the logic behind that theory, we felt our heads getting too close to 'sploding and just gave up. Instead, we're going to analyze this gem:
As a percentage of either Americans or of university students or of college graduates, the number of people who enter law school has in fact fallen as a percentage whether you look at this from a window of 30 years or 20 years.
Let's first toss out the red herrings. Percentage of university students or college graduates entering law school is completely irrelevant. The comparisons that make sense are number of law school graduates compared to demand for legal services, legal industry jobs, and yes, the first comparison Sheppard made, the national population.
When trying to figure out if we're making too many or too few lawyers, comparison to the total population makes sense, though it doesn't give a final answer. As the federal government passes more laws of greater complexity, the need for lawyers per capita may go up. Policies such as the war on drugs may also increase the need for lawyers per capita. So might something such as growing wealth and home ownership among the middle class, which creates a greater need for lawyers to write wills, or a growing divorce rate and child custody suits. On the other hand there are variables that could decrease the needed lawyers per capita, such as electronic research tools making individual lawyers more effective at their jobs, or increased education among the population and access to online research and DIY guides allowing ordinary folks to handle many routine legal matters on their own. So, lawyers per capita only tells a part of the story, but it's still an important part.
Currently there is one law school grad for every 169 people. In 2010, the ratio was 1:174. [Flustercucked] Remember, Sheppard's claim is that the percentage of people is going down compared to previous decades. In 1993 the ratio was 1:163, and in 1983 it was 1:161. So, how do we rate Sheppard's claim? True.
And damned misleading. Let's take another look at his exact wording:
the number of people who enter law school has in fact fallen as a percentage whether you look at this from a window of 30 years or 20 years.
When we first heard this, it sounded to us like he meant "pick whatever time frame you want, doesn't matter, percentages are going down." The truth is that he means "the percentage is going down only if you make a 20 or 30 year comparison." If you pick any other time frame, the percentage has gone up.
In 2003 the ratio was 1:187. In 1973 the ratio was 1:190. And in 1963 it was an amazing 1:490. But wait, the "window of 30 years or 20 years" comment is even more misleading than that. From 1987-1990, we produced fewer lawyers than we do now, with ratios ranging from 1:171.1 to 1:174.1.
For Sheppard's statement to be true and not misleading, it would need to read something a bit more like this:
As a percentage of Americans, the number of people who enter law school has in fact fallen as a percentage whether you look at this from a window of 30 years or 20 years, but not 10 years, and not 40 years, and also not 23 to 26 years, or 15 years, or 28 years.
Impressed with Sheppard's bit of sleight of hand, we decided to give it a go ourselves. How did we do?