Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Dan Bernstine, the President of the Law School Admissions Council has issued a release arguing that the recent report by Law School Transparency misuses LSAT scores in labeling students as being at "high risk" for failing the bar exam and in making gradations based on difference of a point or two in LSAT scores.
Kyle McEntee of LST recently relied on his LSAT research to urge the ABA Section of Legal Education to strictly enforce Standard 501(b) ("A law school shall not admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar."). Bernstine's letter illustrates the danger in simply relying on LSAT scores in making this judgment. Standard 501 is also internally inconsistent and problematic on other levels. Law school outcomes, rather than inputs, should be more important in the accreditation process. As McEntee points out, though, the current bar pass standard is not very useful either in determining whether any schools should be at risk for losing their accreditation.
UPDATE: Kyle McEntee has asked that I post his initial response to Dan Bernstine's release. Here it is:
"The assertion that LSAT scores alone measure comparability is patently wrong."
The report does not make this assertion. Indeed, the report says:
According to the Law School Admissions Council's (LSAC) National Longitudinal Bar Passage Study, the LSAT is the best predictor before law school as to whether a student will pass or fail the bar exam.
Declining LSAT scores of admitted students is the first indicator of a potential bar passage disaster that won't be evident for three years to the students who are affected, and four years to the ABA. We cannot be afraid to use the best tool we have.
The framework represents only a starting point for assessing the risk of bar failure. A student with a low LSAT score but very high undergraduate GPA, for example, has less risk of failing the bar than a student with the same LSAT score and a very low UGPA. Some law schools have also been more successful than others in helping students with low LSAT scores succeed on the bar exam. Where the student takes the bar exam matters as well.
On average, however, students with LSAT test scores in each band are more likely to experience academic attrition and/or bar exam failure than students in the next higher band. If a school dips into lower LSAT bands to fill its class, the risk of bar failure at that school increases. This framework, therefore, offers a useful tool for analyzing which schools are enrolling a significant number of students who face genuine risk of not finishing school or passing the bar. Importantly, this framework shows when relative change in incoming student credentials matters.
If any schools do figure out how to improve bar outcomes for students with low predictors, they have a duty to share that information with other schools and at-risk students — with an emphasis on empirical data rather than hopeful conjecture.
"LSAC has long cautioned against drawing such fine distinctions in LSAT scores."
The LSAT is one tool we have. It is a great one; it is a starting point. There is a statistically significant correlation, and correlations do not require that the tool was designed for that purpose.
If LSAC has any reason to show that the study -- which our report did not depend on -- is invalid today, it should show why instead of baldly claiming it. LSAC certainly should not assert that it is not valid for bar exam conclusions, and in the very next sentence assert that the eventual bar passage rate of the students in the study is 90 percent.
Will any law school dean or academic support administrator or faculty member come out and say that their school's falling bar exam rates are due to a lower quality legal education at the school compared to prior years? If not, what else explains the uniform fall in rates than the students? We're listening. An honest assessment is essential to stop the falling bar pass rates.
LSAC's decision to speak out is an obvious attempt by a minority of law schools taking unjust risks to change the conversation through the appearance of an impartial entity. LSAC is anything but impartial. LSAC is an agent of law schools.
The best these schools can do is make strawman arguments through a mouthpiece. LSAC's voice comes from all law schools. It trades on your reputation to justify unprofessional and immoral choices in the face of financial pressure. I hope the majority of law schools refuse to stand for this. It's terrible for the legal profession in the short and long term.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Really interesting career move for Pat, the former long-time dean at Seton Hall's law school. He served as interim AD for awhile at Seton Hall when they were recovering from a scandal, so he's an inspired choice for a troubled Rutgers program. Good luck Pat!
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
On the most recent episode of The Good Wife, an applicant for an associate position at a large law firm is disparaged for attending "Loyola Law School" (I assume it is Loyola Chicago, since that is where the show is set). The partners reveal themselves to be snobs and racists, so who would want to work there anyway. But had the show been striving for accuracy, they should have been crawling all over themselves to hire a Loyola graduate. As Bill Henderson demonstrated a few years ago, graduates of our school who are hired by large firms become partners at a rate 6 times or more greater than graduates from elite schools (although a far higher percentage of elite school graduates are hired by such firms). The same is true for graduates of many other strong regional schools.
Of course, the writers were probably just trying to caricature elitism in the legal profession. And at least they weren't as bad as the New York Times!
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Paul Campos has an entertaining post on a very interesting psychological phenomenon in football. Coaches of teams trailing late in a game routinely punt on fourth down when the statistical evidence is quite clear that their small chances of winning would actually be increased by trying to get a first down. They often talk about "extending the game." They worry about doing something bold, which might fail in a very visible way, but their caution actually increases the likelihood of ultimate failure.
Although Professor Campos doesn't explicitly make the link, is this an analogy for some of the timidity in legal education as we face long odds and a dwindling clock?
Monday, November 2, 2015
My teenage daughters have been "forcing" me to watch every episode of a series called Once Upon a Time. The first season of the series involves the main character's attempt to remove a dark curse that has befallen the citizens of her town.
Last week brought great news for the Charleston School of Law community. The announcement that Ed Bell would be a new owner of the law school, and that he would serve as president of the school was almost a story book happy ending, and a new beginning. Mr. Bell, who has an outstanding reputation for his philanthropy and service, is going to convert the school to a non-profit entity. He will be paid $1 a year.
There are still abundant challenges every law school must face in these transitional times for legal education and the legal profession, but the Charleston School of Law will have a much better chance to survive and thrive, now that the dark curse on the school has been removed.
Friday, October 30, 2015
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Dean Nick Allard of Brooklyn Law School has written the following message to fellow deans. He asked me to post it here as well.
While the New York Times editorial of Sunday, October 25th, “The Law School Debt Crisis,” weighed in primarily on the ongoing student loan debate, it is symptomatic of a much broader and urgent challenge because it underscores and extends the continuing negative drum beat that is demeaning law schools, law students, and the entire profession.
The time has come for the legal community – and law schools in particular – to press the reset button on the reputation of our profession. As Deans, we should not stand silent as those with biases and outdated or inaccurate information recycle myths and tired, predictable versions of their “wisdom” about our profession, law schools and the quality of newly minted lawyers. Over and over again.
The overarching challenge facing lawyers and the law school community across the country is that there is virtually no effective public counterweight to offset the worn perceptions repeated by high visibility media and others. We must, together, come to the defense of the value of law and lawyers, and make the compelling case for lawyers’ contribution to society in general and America’s national experiment in democracy, in particular. We need to highlight how valuable lawyers are to our nation’s leadership around the world, and the important role our law schools play in developing lawyers that will provide the legal expertise necessary to assure our nation’s stability in the future.
As we seek to attract the next generations of practitioners, we should remember to keep front and center the relevancy of our central message and vision: the value of our profession in these absolutely essential pursuits.
Regrettably, lawyers have too often allowed our fellow citizens to forget the essential contributions of lawyers to government, society, and to our commercial enterprises. Regrettably, legal educators in particular, have not been sufficiently and effectively vocal about the most salient aspect of our profession’s role in society going forward - - focusing on the new, critical roles lawyers will play in a global marketplace, and confronting the challenges of disruptive technologies, borderless geopolitical entities, even more splintered competing interests, and enduring threats to freedom and equal rights.
Into this vacuum have stepped critics, who for whatever reason are seeking to define our profession and our training in ways that neither reflect the realities nor in ways that we can control.
Let's stop the hand wringing, whining and the recycling of misperceptions. Let’s instead call attention to the positive value of our profession and the contribution we, our colleagues, and our students make. Let’s challenge ourselves and our institutions to do better. We could begin by focusing our energy on the following imperatives and begin the process of recalibrating America’s thinking about lawyers:
• Tomorrow’s lawyers must be seen as agents and facilitators of change within American and around the world;
• The legal enterprise must be seen as the engine that can stimulate innovation, the economy and international well being;
• We must do all we can to change the perception of lawyers from that of disruptors who cause commercial and social stagnation to navigators who foster compromise and progress;
• We must train our students to be both foundation builders and architects for a dynamic social system and market economy;
• Lawyers must be viewed as crusaders for peace, individual freedom, market driven economies and global stability;
• Lawyers must be trained to be integral components of tomorrow’s global society.
Entry into the legal profession must be justifiably understood to be a noble pursuit with new relevance for the 21st century. We must rebrand American lawyers and re-engineer the perceptions of how lawyers are trained if we are to change the flawed projections of our profession by others. We must advocate for more, not fewer, of a new breed of 21st-century attorneys who will continue to perform in new ways the essential functions of American society: bridging divides, finding solutions, breaking gridlock, enabling commerce, freeing innovation and forging speedier consensus on a range of commercial, legal, policy, regulatory and social issues among all the competitive interests, not just in the U.S., but around the world.
Many innovative and forward-looking law schools already have adapted their curricula to enable new lawyers to be optimally prepared to meet these imperatives.
We are the ones who can help renew our country. We are the ones who can help make it less splintered, less litigious and more solutions oriented. If not us, then who? What choice do we have? Amidst transformative societal change, we need more than ever what lawyers do: help clarify and move issues forward to resolution through Analysis, Advice and Advocacy. This is work lawyers, not lay people or computers, must do. It is work worthy of the time, energy and money our students invest in earning their law degree.
Today, we must, and can, do better making our case in the affirmative. I look forward to hearing and watching you make the case.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
My university took a step forward by removing the Mississippi state flag from our campus. I am proud of this move, and have been open in my support on social media.
When I was dean here, I was much more cautious about expressing my political opinions about issues, and elections. Ole Miss is a public university, and our law school alums often oppose each other in elections. Neutrality, I figured, was my best avenue even though I have strong political convictions.
Sometimes being impartial meant that I had to swallow hard, especially when an alum or governmental official took a position I adamantly disagreed with. For example, during my first meeting with a powerful elected official, he turned to me and said "we must stop Obamacare at all costs." He was assuming, of course, that I agreed with him (which I do not). We were at a plated meal, and were soon served a casserole covered with bacon. That same official turned to me and said, "you can't go wrong with bacon." I am vegan, so I quickly resorted to the only common ground I knew I could have with him, and said, "the team looks good this year. I really like our coach."
We had a nice conversation after that.
I'm sure all of you have seen the NYT's dreadful editorial about legal education over the weekend. Of course there were truths in it, but it was remarkably sloppy. It ignores the many reforms taking place in legal education since the crisis began. It also ignores that because of scholarship competition for students, the actual net price of legal education is declining (just ask the budget manager at almost any law school). Whether or not law schools deserve any credit for these changes, the Times shows willful blindness towards these critical factors. In addition the Times strangely suggests that the federal government could "redirect" federal student loan dollars to the worthy cause of improving funding for legal services organization. This completely ignores the fact that lending money to law students is a profitable activity for the government. Even with income based repayment and a somewhat growing number of defaults, the federal government is not "investing" in legal education, it is generating revenue from it.
Much more serious was yesterday's article in the Times examining the impact of declining admissions standards in legal education. Based on the impressive research by Law School Transparency, it discusses the impact of law schools, particularly the least selective law schools, enrolling large numbers of students whose academic credentials suggest that they are likely to struggle gaining admission to the bar. I have quibbles with both the LST Report and the Times article (for example, it is odd that the Times focused on Southern Illinois, a school with good bar passage and employment rates, and low tuition), but the basic point is an important one that legal education must address.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Northwestern Law School announced today that J.B. Pritzker has donated $100 million to the school, which will be renamed the Pritzker Northwestern School of Law in the family's honor. Congratulations to Dan Rodriguez and everyone at Northwestern! Here is a video of the announcement: http://www.law.northwestern.edu/about/news/newsdisplay.cfm?ID=765.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Friday, October 16, 2015
Protectionism has won the day in Florida. The Board of Governors of the Florida Bar has rejected a proposal to allow out-of-state attorneys to waive into the Florida bar. This unfortunate decision is a setback for progressive bar admission policies. We should be making it easier, not harder, to practice law across state lines.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
The Wall Street Journal LawBlog has a post with an update on the remaining employment data related law suits against law schools. It is no big surprise that the few remaining suits continue to fail.
A few thoughts about employment data and law schools:
1. there was a time when a number of law schools used employment data in a way that was morally, if not legally, fraudulent.
2. the ABA-mandated reporting regime has effectively eliminated that problem. There is now more meaningful and accurate employment data about legal education than there is in any other field of higher education. We should be proud of this.
3. there is sometimes too narrow a focus on employment outcomes 9 (or now 10) months after graduation. But the availability of the data has fostered a very meaningful debate about the role and value of legal education.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Below is a posting authored by my administrative assistant, Patti Bell. I asked her to offer a different perspective on deaning. As you will read, she probably knows as much about managing a dean's workload as anyone out there.
Dean Michael Schwartz is a gracious and generous boss. When he first suggested I guest write a blog entry for this blog, I felt flattered. Later, as I mulled over what I might write, terror set in. What had I gotten myself into? What could I possibly have to say that would mean anything to a law school dean, green, well-seasoned, or otherwise?
I’ve worked for four deans in my thirteen years as the “sword of the dean” (how I jokingly refer to my position). All of my deans came from different backgrounds. Some came from internal appointments and some from external. Each has different strengths, weaknesses, and agendas. Observing them, working closely with them, and adapting to each and to their respective work styles, I discovered some rules that can make a deanship easier (or at least manageable).
Learn to Say “No.” Deans are flooded with offers to speak, serve on committees, host events, and attend numerous social events. Learn to say “No.” Don’t worry; you will be asked again. Take some time to figure out what it important and what you can skip. Your assistant and your Associate Dean can be invaluable in helping you determine priorities. Let them.
Learn to Delegate. You like to do everything yourself. Great, you are self-sufficient. Soon you will “self-sufficient” yourself into working seven days a week. Have discussions early on (and frequently) with your management team. Figure out who possesses the strengths and abilities you need for a certain task or project– then delegate. Don’t let department divisions, titles, or assumptions stymie you. Delegate, assume the person can handle it, and let it go. You’ve got to rely on your team.
Schedule Work Time AND Play Time. Take a look at your calendar. I bet I can tell you what it looks like – an endless schedule of meetings and events. Let’s take a peek inside your head. The mass of priorities, projects, deadlines, and, frankly, complaints are swirling around and creating a paralysis – not just where to begin but when?
The where is up to you – that’s why you are the boss. The when is a problem solved by an iron grip on your calendar. You must schedule time to work on projects and hold the line. How many times have you had a day that was packed full of meetings only to realize at the end you didn’t accomplish anything that you needed to and now you will be working at night or on the weekend? How many dinners with family and friends have you cancelled? How many of you have given up a hobby or a pastime because you simply no longer have time to do it? Yep, I know. Put everything on your calendar and stick to it.
I’ve made progress on teaching my latest dean all of these lessons. He still says “yes” when he should say “no” and he still puts things on his calendar that create conflicts, but we’ve come a long way. If you need a little help with implementing these or other practices to make your deanship better, give a copy of this to your assistant. Your assistant is as vested in a great deanship as you are.
Thursday, October 8, 2015
[by Rick Bales]
I had the pleasure yesterday of seeing Jim Obergefell speak at Bowling Green (OH) State University. He is speaking widely these days, telling his very moving story. As or more importantly, he makes the case that marriage equality is only one battle in the much larger fight for nondiscrimination -- that the LGBT community may be free to marry, but they are still not free from employment or housing discrimination, and trans individuals in particular still live in fear for their lives. (It's a point echoed recently in Keith Cunningham-Parmeter's Marriage Equality, Workplace Inequality: The Next Gay Rights Battle (67 Florida L. Rev. (2015)).
If you have a chance to see Mr. Obergefell speak, I highly recommend it; better yet, bring him to your campus.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
I suspect at least some readers may be surprised by one aspect of the recent deans vs. clinicians debate relating to California’s proposed 15 credit-hour skills requirement. It should be no surprise that clinicians have come out in support of the initiative; clinicians are all about the skills. It should be no surprise that a group of deans acted collectively to oppose it; deans tend to oppose anything that might add to the cost side of the ledger. What may be surprising is the absence of comments from deans who support the proposed requirement. Does anyone seriously believe that all deans oppose it?
Years ago, my tax law professor would regularly say in class, “If you ever observe people engaging in unexplainable behavior, think tax law.” I have a corollary, “If you ever observe deans engaging in unexplainable behavior, think US News.”
A few stories of bizarre behavior fueled by US News considerations will make this point.
My first story involves bizarre university behavior and not bizarre law school behavior. Many years ago, my wife received a letter in the mail from one of the three universities from which she graduated. The letter enclosed a crisp one dollar bill and a stamped, self-addressed envelope. The letter that accompanied this mailing explained that US News (at that time) weighed percentage of alumni giving as one factor in the rankings. The letter explained that my wife, who had not previously donated to that university, was free to keep the dollar as a gift from her alma mater but encouraged her to return it to support the university. It also encouraged her to give more. As I recall, she sent back the dollar and more in the enclosed envelope. (By the way, that university’s US News ranking has soared since then.) I cannot imagine a university making such a choice outside the shadow of US News.
Three stories from within legal education suggest legal education is no different. First, we all know that some law schools play the US News ranking game by taking a high number of transfer students. Transfer students’ LSAT scores and undergraduate grades are ignored by US News; the law schools that adopt this approach can therefore swell their ranks while maintaining their entrance credential numbers. Second, we all now know that some law schools doctored their entrance credential data; other law schools manipulated their placement data by hiring their own grads. Most recently, I have heard reliable rumors that two different law schools are getting law firms and in-house legal departments to hire their grads on one-year contracts by agreeing to pay those salaries.
I lack the imagination to picture a US News-less world in which any of these things could have occurred.
The absence of disagreement among deans about the California skills credit-hour proposal is another manifestation of US News concerns driving surprising behavior.
I believe we deans hesitate to disagree with each other because of US News rankings. Deans know that all of us are US News voters. Sure, it’s possible we might gain respect in some corners by thoughtfully asserting a contrary viewpoint. However, staying silent is surely the safer path.
Why is silence so much safer? Because reputation scores are the largest factor in US News rankings. Every year, all of us rank all of the 200+ US law schools. I believe, when we are ranking most of those law schools, we are making up our rankings to a degree that makes professional wrestling seem legit. There are no criteria. Most of us have visited less than half of the law schools we rank. We have no basis, aside from a past pleasant visit, past rankings, or our knowledge of the scholarly work of the few scholars at each law school who write in our fields, for drawing conclusions about what actually goes on at other law schools.
Thus, it’s better to remain silent and have our dean colleagues think we might oppose their views than to speak and remove all doubt.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
The ABA's Accreditation Committee has recommended that the Council acquiesce in the planned merger between William Mitchell and Hamline's law school.
It has been at least mildly surprising that there have been no law school closures or other mergers until now.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Thursday, September 24, 2015
As states have been reporting their (generally lower) bar pass rates from the July examination, the debate about what is the cause and what should be done is intensifying. The New York Times has an interesting Room For Debate feature today. Professor Derek Muller has some interesting analysis here.