Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Burdens Follow Benefits

When I teach a tax class, I always tell my students that tax burdens follow tax benefits, and vice versa.  For example, the person who enjoys  economic benefit typically bears the tax burden for that benefit, and the person who bears the burden of an expense is the person who should have the benefit of an allowable tax deduction. Taxpayers get into problems when they try to enjoy benefits and avoid burdens.

It is therefore completely appropriate that Tax Prof posted a link earlier this year to Karen Sloan's NLJ article discussing a proposal by California law schools to change the US News Rankings methodology:

I have symapathy for the challenges the California law schools are facing, but their proposal seeks to allow them to keep the benefits they have enjoyed, while avoiding any burdens that accompany those benefits.

California's Legislative Analyst's Office reports that California is the ninth biggest economy in the world:

Not bad for a state that has been suffering an economic downturn. I would surmise that an analysis of rankings over the past twenty years would show that California schools have historically benefited in the rankings, simply because they are California schools. Now some of those schools seek to discount the burden of California's job market, because it appears to be a drag on those rankings.

If we separate benefits from burdens, how will that affect other law schools in other regions? Some regions of the country have LSAT/gpa medians that are lower than other regions.

The LSAC data shows that the performance of test takers from the various regions remained fairly constant across  7 testing years. Test takers in the New England region scored the highest for all testing years covered in the report. Test takers in the Southeast and South Central regions scored the lowest on average. Should US News adjust its rankings methodology to take into account those differences, as well?

Maybe we should all stop worrying about rankings, and focus on helping our students reduce their debt, and find jobs.

July 23, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fisher: Law School Admissions Committees Can Breathe A Little Easier

Declining applications have certainly made serving on a law school admissions committee a more challenging proposition, but there was another issue hanging over admission committees until Tuesday's 5th Circuit decision in Fisher

Most law schools agree that having a diverse student body enhances the learning environment for all students. Furthermore,  ABA Standard 212(a) of the Standards for Approval of Law Schools requires that:

 (a) Consistent with sound legal education policy and the Standards, a law school shall demonstrate by concrete action a commitment to providing full opportunities for the study of law and entry into the profession by members of underrepresented groups, particularly racial and ethnic minorities, and a commitment to having a student body that is diverse with respect to gender, race, and ethnicity.

To achieve greater diversity, admissions committees have been using holistic review of files. Tuesday's ruling by the 5th Circuit should help them breathe a little easier, but it probably can't hurt to have a Constitutional Law expert serving on the committee.



July 16, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dean Frank Wu: Ambition, Headhunters, and Fruit Flies

This essay is by Dean Frank H. Wu, who is Chancellor & Dean of University of California Hastings College of the Law.

The other day a colleague of mine reported that at a conference she attended, people knew me. They were surprised I was still where I am, because they confided to her that I am ambitious. I have heard it before: I'm rumored to be in the running for this or under consideration for that. I have never been sure whether to take these comments as compliments.

On the one hand, I suppose someone who is thought of as ambitious likewise is thought of as successful and that by definition should be positive. Nobody achieves anything without making an effort. Even what looks like luck is rarely an accident.

On the other hand, since all but the people who have dropped out of the economy — itself a respectable choice, in my book -- possess some ambition, to be noticed for the trait suggests an abnormal quantum of it.

The problem with ambition is more often too much of it. An individual who displays overvaunting ambition generates mixed feelings. It is tedious to be around anyone who points out with any frequency above once that they have other opportunities, which highlights that the listener is more dependent on the speaker than vice versa.

The innuendo of the label "ambitious" is not that you are qualified for anything better; rather that you are eager to move on anyway. Or you are willing to use whatever means to advance your ends: Richard III will kill everyone to possess the crown.

Almost all of us, however good willed we are, wish an upstart will meet her comeuppance. Our resentment persuades us a fall may be deserved.

All the more so if you occupy a position of authority. A leader must demonstrate commitment to a community. She must belong to it.

Anyone who is deemed a flight risk is low on credibility if she claims to share in suffering during a crisis. She could simply leave.

Or perhaps her self-interest isn't quite aligned with other people's interests. Since trust is mutual, that makes it difficult to sustain the relationships that are vital.

Ambition also is perceived differently depending on identity. Some people are reminded of their place. They especially are not to reach beyond their grasp. A woman's ambition is more readily disapproved of, it seems, by other women as well as men.

I never thought it would have been possible for someone who looks like me to have been selected for my job. I used to be considered too young (and was told that explicitly), but such a problem takes care of itself. I was once briefly the youngest law school dean in the nation. It was nothing to brag about.

Yet society conspires against modesty. When I was appointed to my current role but before I knew my way around campus, I started receiving calls from headhunters. I am flattered by inquiries, but I wonder if society benefits from what they are encouraging. From the perspective of every other institution, it is rational to recruit someone already holding a similar position elsewhere: the initial screening is done, and somebody else essentially is vouching that the potential applicant is capable.

Aside from the lack of loyalty that is promoted, however, the implication is that both people and communities are fungible and interchangeable. The one is as good as the other, and there isn't any need to be concerned about compatibility. We reduce ourselves to plug-and-play components in a system. Such a regime renders it rational to be selfish.

While we might lament for the era when a person joined a company with mutual expectations of lasting employment, much has evolved since back in the day. Discrimination was normal and open until recently: not only on the basis of race and gender, but also religion, disability, and sexual orientation.

It is an improvement, if you ask me, that most of us will switch jobs more than our parents. But it is no aspiration of anyone's to mimic the lifecycle of the fruit fly — the model organism, scientist Charles W. Woodworth's drosophila melanogaster, birth to death in a laboratory in one week.

Over time for most of us, personal priorities inexorably shift. I am ambitious for my institution. I am motivated to be a better husband and better person more generally. I've had a lifelong dream to build my own house, and I'm determined to make that happen. These goals are as significant as adding another award on the CV, and I will not be tempted otherwise.

I recently was renewed for another term. I'm ecstatic. The extension is unusual. Law school deans tend to expire prematurely: the median length of service (four years) is less than the typical contract period (five years).

I remain enthusiastic, because there is much work to be done. As I consider the prospects, I see the distinction between being a good candidate for a job and being good in the job. When I was hired, I was evaluated on potential; now, I am judged by performance.

I am fine with that. From my perspective, the corollary is that I must be sure not merely that I wish to hold the job but that I want to do it on a daily basis.

As I reflect on my career, while still in what I hope to be a healthy period, I cannot deny that it took ambition to arrive where I am. But now that I am here, it is imperative that I show dedication. The greater the challenge presented by any calling, the greater the need for staying power.

July 10, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Law Schools Are Not Very Successful Plaintiffs

It seems that Law Schools have much greater success as defendants in law suits than they do as plaintiffs. The 6th Circuit has just ruled against Thomas Cooley in its defamation claim against Kurzon Strauss.

LMU Duncan was also unsuccessful in its 2011 lawsuit against the ABA.


July 3, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)