TheUnicornHunter wrote:A lot of experts in the burgeoning field of law school and economics ITT.
At the end of the day, I think jbagel's got the strongest normative and descriptive argument*. If you want to maximize flexibility, minimizing debt (or if you're rich, maximizing savings**) is the best way to do it. The stats speak for themselves: the overwhelming majority of T6 grads end up at the same places. It might be easy to say you value some unicorn outcome (say AUSA) at $1,000,000+ or whatever our law school and econ experts think would justify sticker at H> a ruby before you've even looked at the AUSA payscale,*** but it's much harder to do when you're looking at $300,000 of debt. Given that most AUSA's only stay in their positions for 5 years or so, you can't even say "but PSLF". The argument against unnecessary debt is even stronger when you consider that a lot of the unicorn jobs people want coming into law school (politics, art, sports, small/mid market firm work) are NOT PSLF eligible. By taking on additional debt in order to "keep doors open," people are actually reducing the odds that they'll end up in one of these fields. To answer OP's original question, the only way to explain the vast majority of H students who turned down full-rides at CCN is that they either didn't take the time to fully understand what they were getting into or that they're coming from rich families and it really didn't matter.
*Yale's LRAP is so broad that my argument might not apply to it.
** I don't understand why TLS treats no debt as synonymous with no cost. Even for relatively wealthy families who have saved up enough to pay for law school, $200,000 is going to be a significant amount of $$$ for most.
*** Spoiler alert: it's shitty.
A couple of points:
1. I think we probably all agree that on the margins, less debt = more job flexibility. The question is whether (and when) that outweighs the marginal increase in job possibilities that comes with attending Harvard over Columbia. Like everything else, it's a spectrum--for most people choosing between a $145k job and a $160k job, having $10,000 in student loans will have a vanishingly small impact on their decisions. On the other hand, for most people choosing between a $40k job and a $160k job, having $200,000 in debt that they have to repay
will play a very significant role in their decision. The complicating factor here is that few, if any, HLS students who are $200,000 in debt who make $40k actually have to repay any of their debt
. Thus, looking just at debt and salary misses what's really important: monthly or yearly loan repayment demands. Harvard's loan repayment program essentially makes those demands $0 for many (most?) folks going into public interest--which makes the effective difference between Harvard at any amount of debt and Columbia at no debt close to $0. I'm arguing that because relatively few legal jobs either
pay too little to service Harvard-level debt or
pay too much to qualify for Harvard LIPP benefits, the loss of job flexibility due to debt is reasonably small. (Even looking at those few jobs that do fall into the sweet spot, the availability of the federal loan repayment options decreases the loan repayment burden sufficiently that even these jobs may be realistically financially available to a law student with massive debt.) The question is not whether $180k is a lot of money -- it's whether the actual repayment burdens associated with $180k in Harvard Law School debt, given LIPP and PAYE and the actual
salaries of desired jobs, is sufficient to financially constrain the job choices of Harvard graduates. I think the answer is that it is generally not.
2. You also argue that because "the overwhelming majority of T6 grads end up at the same places," whatever advantages are conferred by Harvard must be minimal. First, I disagree with your statement -- the employment outcomes of Harvard and Columbia are, at the very least, noticeably different. Harvard students are about 2.5x more likely to land federal clerkships and about 3x as likely to land prestigious PI positions like Skadden Fellowships--and are about 20% less likely to end up in biglaw. Moreover, even within these broad strokes, the numbers mask much of the difference. Not all NLJ 250 firms, federal clerkships, or public interest employment are created equal, and I am confident that if the numbers existed, it would be evident that Harvard students are more likely to get better positions within
those broad groupings than Columbia students--e.g., more likely to be at the most desirable vault firms, have the most desirable fed clerkships, get the most desirable PI positions, etc. Because the numbers don't exist, I'm not going to venture a guess as to what the difference is: but I think it's safe to say that the numbers are almost certain to understate the difference.
Second, and even more importantly, even if the numbers reflected the employment situation exactly as it is, looking broadly at the numbers to a large extent misses the point. A large number of students at Harvard and Columbia choose biglaw. I suspect that nobody on this board is going to dispute that for a Harvard or Columbia student, biglaw is the easiest employment option to find yourself in--the jobs are prestigious, pay well, and pipeline is strong. As a consequence, for a large swath of the Harvard and Columbia student body, biglaw is their first choice. Including these students in the denominator understates the difference between the schools: these students are not seeking non-biglaw options, so the fact that they ended up in biglaw doesn't indicate that they couldn't have gone elsewhere. Moreover, we are not arguing about these students--I think we all agree on this board that for the prospective student who wants nothing more than biglaw (and is only outcomes-driven, etc), the marginal advantage of Harvard does not justify $180k in debt. (It's probably worth noting that only a small minority of Harvard admits are actually choosing between Harvard at full tuition and CCN at full scholarship.) The relevant question isn't how many folks at Harvard end up in biglaw relative to Columbia. It's how many folks at Harvard end up in biglaw despite preferring a different career path relative to Columbia.
Once again, the numbers just don't exist for this--but I think it's safe to say that the numbers that do exist understate the difference between Harvard and Columbia. (For example, if we assume--very conservatively--that only 25% of Harvard and Columbia students actually prefer biglaw, that means that 40% of Columbia students (65%-20%) end up in biglaw as a sub-optimal choice, while 28% of Harvard students (53%-25%) end up in biglaw as a sub-optimal choice. Thus, according to this conservative estimate, going to Columbia rather than Harvard increases your chances of this sub-optimal route by 160%. If the actual number is closer to 50%, that leaves you with 15% of Columbia students who are doing biglaw as a second choice as compared with 3% of Harvard students. I would argue that the best indicator of what percentage of these student bodies actually prefers biglaw is to look to Yale: ~40% (which would indicate that about 25% of Columbia students end up in biglaw when they would prefer to be elsewhere, whereas only about 13% of Harvard students do).)