Tag Archives: law school

Thoughts on Law School

By James Kwak

A number of friends have asked me what I thought about David Segal’s article in the Times a couple weeks ago on law schools, so I thought I would share my thoughts here. The short answer is that I thought it was pretty silly.

I admit that law schools aren’t perfect. The simple fact that many (no one really knows how many) law school graduates can’t find jobs as lawyers is a problem. Now, it’s not obvious that that’s the fault of law schools as a group: when you pile a severe recession on top of an ongoing shift among law firms away from first-year associates and toward contract lawyers, the number of entry-level jobs is going to go down, and no matter how good a job the law schools do, that isn’t going to increase the number of jobs. Furthermore, you could make exactly the same criticism about all of higher education: it leaves people with large debts, and many don’t get jobs; imagine the article you could write about humanities Ph.D. programs! Still, Segal’s earlier article pointed out some of the ways in which rankings pressure has pushed some law schools to be less than candid about their graduates’ job prospects, which can’t be good. (And people like making fun of anything that has to do with lawyers. It comes with the territory.)

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Bad Data

By James Kwak

To make a vast generalization, we live in a society where quantitative data are becoming more and more important. Some of this is because of the vast increase in the availability of data, which is itself largely due to computers. Some is because of the vast increase in the capacity to process data, which is also largely due to computers. Think about Hans Rosling’s TED Talks, or the rise of sabermetrics (the “Moneyball” phenomenon) not only in baseball but in many other sports, or the importance of standardized testing scores in K-12 education, or Karl Rove’s usage of data mining to identify likely supporters, or the FiveThirtyEight revolution in electoral forecasting, or the quantification of the financial markets, or zillions of other examples. I believe one of my professors has written a book about this phenomenon.

But this comes with a problem. The problem is that we do not currently collect and scrub good enough data to support this recent fascination with numbers, and on top of that our brains are not wired to understand data. And if you have a lot riding on bad data that is poorly understood, then people will distort the data or find other ways to game the system to their advantage.

Readers of this blog will all be familiar with the phenomenon of rating subprime mortgage-backed securities and their structured offspring using data exclusively from a period of rising house prices — because those were the only data that were available. But the same issue crops up in many different stories covering different aspects of society.

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