"The entire law school industry -- and it is an industry of sorts, representing a significant profit center for universities -- is a giant bubble," writes Jonathan Chait at The New Republic today. He's referring to another TNR piece, an essay by Paul Campos that pokes around at the fantastic employment numbers--"95 percent, 97 percent, and even 99.8 percent"--that law schools often report for graduates. Campos, going on math, research, and guesswork, figures that the actual rates are probably much lower--one top-50 law school, he says, might have sent as little as 45 percent of its 2010 graduating class into actual, non-temporary legal jobs. Campos's essay is provocative and worth reading in full (although he's not the first to cast a suspicious eye on law-school-grad employment rates). In all of this, Chait sees similarities to the recent housing bubble:
One implication is that the entire law school industry -- and it is an industry of sorts, representing a significant profit center for universities -- is a giant bubble. The students are the investors, and the school ranking indexes (like U.S. News) are like the rating industries. The whole thing is supported by the obscuring of vital information which would expose the unsoundness of the enterprise. Once that is corrected, it's all going to pop.
He goes on to say that once people see less value in a law degree, that "vast swaths" of the law school industry "will probably disappear." If the education-as-bubble characterization seems familiar, that's because it's been a popular talking point in recent weeks. Entrepreneur Peter Thiel thinks college education in general is a bubble, and the idea has been echoed at Forbes, The Washington Examiner, The Economist, and Business Insider, to name a few. And Chait's not the first to apply the concept to law school specifically. That idea has had some currency in the blogosphere for a while, and just last month, Slate's Annie Lowrey wrote about the falling numbers of law-school applicants, which she cited as evidence that "the law-school bubble may have just burst."