A small point in Professor Schrag's critique of Tamanaha's book characterizes the collectivization of law school debt as progressive. By this I read him to mean two things: lawyers who earn more, pay more, and this form of debt relief depends on income rather than LSAT scores or GPA, for which schools themselves offer tuition breaks in various forms, sometimes very substantial ones.
Ex post, meaning after graduation, it certainly is fair to characterize as progressive the "make more, pay more" aspect of this subsidy. But, I submit, one must examine the ex ante picture as well. Who are the prospective students whose decisions may be influenced by the prospect of collectivizing debt?
It is an empirical question, so I would be interested in data readers have. Here is a summary of data from a piece by Rick Sander, in which SES refers to the income, education, and occupations of students' parents:
The vast majority of American law students come from relatively elite backgrounds; this is especially true at the most prestigious law schools, where only five percent of all students
come from families whose SES is in the bottom half of the national distribution.
The data are quite interesting, and I recommend at least this table: Download Pages from Sander Final_ToPrinter_917.
My own school falls into the 4th tier on these data (1997 USN ranking between 51 and 100). Within that tier 36% of students came from families in the 90th to 99th percentile (SES) and 27% came from the 75th to the 90th percentile. Only 19% came from the third and fourth quartiles combined.
Other data may paint a different picture, which is why I would be interested in them. But to the extent these data tell the story, and to the extent one is concerned with incentives to attend school, and thus with the ex ante perspective, it is fair to ask whether it is progressive to offer subsidies to this comparatively well-off group of people. They have considerable social capital already.