Strasburg and law students

Joel Sherman on the draft:

I know people demonize Scott Boras for making huge demands for his players. But the person who finishes first, say, at Harvard Law is not told which law firm he must work for, nor is there a ruling authority pressuring that law firm to stay within certain financial parameters. So on one hand, I don’t see why Strasburg is different from that No. 1 law student who would have multiple firms bidding for his services.

While the top student at Harvard often eschews that world in favor of a Supreme Court clerkship or something, top law students otherwise tend to limit their suitors just as much if not more severely than the draft limits that of ballplayers. They all want to go to the Jones Days, Pipers, White & Cases, and Skaddens of the world. And unlike ballclubs, those guys hold pretty damn firm when it comes to their slotting system (see right-hand column).

If you run with that analogy further, I guess that makes me Bob Horner playing for the Yakult Swallows.

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  1. Bill @ the daily something said...

    The difference, of course, is that those salaries are built UP by the very fact that the top talent can go wherever it chooses (those figures are old, BTW, but they’re certainly trending back in that direction smile), so once your competitors go up to the next rung you feel like you have to follow suit or get left behind. And if Skadden went to $120K while Cravath and Jones Day and like Cadwalader or something were all at $160K, well, Skadden would very quickly not be Skadden anymore.

    So it’s really just the opposite as the MLB draft, right, where the slotting system is imposed unilaterally by the owners because the incoming talent CAN’T choose?

  2. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Fair enough. I’d argue that there needs to be a Moneyball for legal talent, however.  Given what most of these fresh-out-of-law-school kids are doing (doc review, legal research), there is no need to hire top-of-their-class students from elite law schools, because the talent that is required to do that is not particularly special.

    They’d never do it because there’s a whole ego/status thing (on the part of both the firms and their clients) about having elite school recruits, but a law firm could save/make a lot of money by recruiting smarter among the allegedly lesser law schools and offering lower salaries.

  3. Bill @ the daily something said...

    Very true (he says, now safely [or relatively safely, anyway] within the system). A lot more firms are hiring (and a lot of clients are demanding that they hire) contract attorneys to handle the very ground-level stuff.

  4. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    What about the “world is flat” impact of outsourcing this level of legal (and other stuff like it) to India?  From IT to finance to legal.  Outsource it to India and have it done by the time you get into your office in the morning at 1/3 the price.

  5. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Nothing wrong with it at all. I’m (internet) friends with a guy who is the CEO of a major Indian LPO, and back before I used to blog about baseball I blogged about legal outsourcing all the time. I’m a big, big fan of it.

  6. Melody said...

    A friend of mine graduated from Brooklyn Law School, having finally realized what the rest of us had known from the beginning… namely, that she never should have gone to law school in the first place.  Anyway, she declined to take the Bar Exam, but has had no trouble finding contract work and has supported herself very nicely on that.  Not being in the legal world myself, I had no idea that was a feasible career track.  But hey, I would have said the same thing about Twitter, so what the heck do I know?

  7. Jason Seaver said...

    It’s not just law students, of course.  A couple years ago, a friend was angry over some player leaving the team “that gave him his chance” as a free agent, and my response was that if I graduated from college and was told I’d been drafted by some IT business in Oregon, and would have to either work there or not work in my field of expertise at all for six years – being sent around the country at the company’s whim – how much loyalty should I have toward them when those six years are up (especially if they’d kept me in low-paying, crap assignments because they were paying a SQL coder at the home office big bucks)?

    Sports drafts are crazy when applied to any other business, and I don’t see why people have trouble with someone like Strasburg or Boras getting the most out of a system that is designed to limit a person’s career choices.

  8. Total said...

    I’m hoping that people in your day job don’t pay for that level of argument:  the difference, as others have pointed out, is such limiting by law students is _voluntary_, not imposed.

  9. Marc R said...

    The reason law students can go where they want but prospects are limited is because there’s a collective interest in parity in baseball but not in the law.

    If Boras and Strasburg wanted complete freedom of choice, Strasburg should have gone to law school.  He would have a longer career as well.

  10. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Total: The point was meant to be a rather glib one.  I’m generally an opponent of the draft.

    That said, you met any top law students at elite law schools? While I’ll grant you that such limiting is technically voluntary, the amount of conformity and social pressure among that crowd is such that not too many of them think they really have a choice.

  11. Jason Rosenberg said...

    Craig – when you say, “top law students otherwise tend to limit their suitors just as much,” doesn’t that hint at how this isn’t the same thing, at all? The law students themselves are limiting their own suitors; they aren’t being told by the Bar (or some such) what those limits are. That’s a free market, and one which (as Bill says) leads to higher salaries (which are set by that market). To me, that’s the fundamental difference, no?

  12. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Jason—see above comment. I wasn’t trying to make a serious comparison. Just noting that, despite the obvious technical difference between the legal market and the baseball player market, practically speaking, law students often fail to see themselves as true free agents, instead all opting to work for more or less interchangeable law firms for a salary that has been set by others in most practical respects.

    Good point by Sherman, not the best example, though it’s maybe only a point that jaundiced lawyers like me appreciate.

  13. Jamie said...

    Of course, draftees DO have a choice where they can play professional baseball. If they don’t want to lay for the team they are assigned, they can play in the Northern League, or they can play in Japan, Korea, or Mexico. It’s not like graduating law school and being told you can only practice law at one firm; it’s like graduating law and being told if you want to practice law at the BEST firm, you’ll have to accept an assignment to the DC office.

  14. Michael said...

    Yeah, I’ve never bought the ill-informed “top draftees are held down when compared to the ‘real world’” argument.

    Business is not in general a “free market.” And a business with only about 30 employers would give the employers the upper hand every time over new hires.

    What holds draftees down in MLB is not the limited market, it’s basically the existence of the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Dodgers. If all draftees were offered to these four teams first, the top picks would be paid more. Otherwise, I don’t see them making much more than they do now.

  15. Total said...

    “That said, you met any top law students at elite law schools? While I’ll grant you that such limiting is technically voluntary, the amount of conformity and social pressure among that crowd is such that not too many of them think they really have a choice.”

    You’re now officially going down with the sinking ship of this comparison.  We salute you.

  16. Bill @ the daily something said...

    Who you mean “we,” Total? Two of the things in this thread are not like the others…and those two things are your comments.

    Michael, I just don’t think that’s true at all. And maybe this is where the law school comparison is particularly apt. If you’re in say the top 10% at Harvard or NYU law and want to go into private practice, Craig is dead on that in effect, there really are only a few employers to choose from (less than 30, probably); going anywhere else would be like the Northern League. Yet, those <30 employers don’t have any kind of advantage over you (not until they have you in their clutches), and it’s not just because, as I said before, another one will crop up if they back off (obviously that wouldn’t happen in MLB). Even if it’s just those handful of firms, if they really want you, they’ll compete FIERCELY for your services. Which is why in better times the salary offered at these places moved very quickly from 100K to 125K to 140K to 160K; one firm moved up to get a quick recruiting advantage, then all the others HAD to follow suit, and then another firm moved up another notch, lather, rince, repeat (recession).

    Even better example—the cream of the crop, the Strasburg of law students, the Supreme Court clerk. If you’re one of those going into private practice, there are about ten top firms you’ll probably look at. Yet, you’ve got (or had, pre-recession) all the power; $200,000+ bonuses are (were) not terribly uncommon.

    So, no, it’s not that there are 30 employers, it’s that there are 30 employers who collude and get special exemptions from the antitrust laws and come together to, totally artificially, push salaries down through the draft. To pretend otherwise is, well, ill-informed.

  17. Bill @ the daily something said...

    And what am I saying? Michael’s point is defeated by the free agent market itself. When there’s no recession and no collusion, there’s plenty of competition among those wee 30 employers for players’ services. There’s no reason to believe there wouldn’t be similar competition (if on a slightly smaller scale) for prospects.

  18. Total said...

    “Who you mean “we,” Total? Two of the things in this thread are not like the others…and those two things are your comments”

    It was the royal We, Bill.  And tug your forelock when you address me.

  19. Total said...

    Tug your forelock when you address *us*.

    (for those who don’t get the reference in the original “we salute…”, go back to school.)

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