Friday, November 7, 2014
Above is the letter from the ABA to Dean Abrams at the Charleston School of Law recommending that the sale to Infiliaw be approved by the ABA Council. The approval depends on Infilaw's ability to secure a licence from the SC Commission on Higher Education.
It should be noted that Infilaw has six months to close the deal, or the acquiescence expires.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
The College Football Selection Committee is tasked with choosing which four college teams will play for the national championship in January. The committee creates small groups of teams, debates their merits and ranks the teams using as many votes as needed to come up with a consensus. Members are given reams of data on each FBS team and each member is allowed to judge those numbers however they determine is best.
Compare that with the way law schools are ranked. US News sends ballots to all of the law schools asking deans, associate deans, recruitment chairs, and recently tenured faculty to rank the other law schools from 1 to 5. A 1 ranking means that, in the opinion of the ranker, the school is marginal, a 5 ranking means that it is outstanding. Unlike the College Football Selection Committee, we typically have sparse information about the other schools we are ranking. While we do receive brochures and glossy magazines from many of the schools (essentially saying "vote for us"), those promotional materials provide very little objective information upon which to base our votes. Furthermore, the system seems to incentivize bad behavior by rankers, in that they can gain from giving lower rankings to schools they perceive to be competitors. The College Football Selection Committee, on the other hand, has various built-in protections, including recusal rules that are designed to protect the integrity of the process.
To the extent schools are ranked on objective factors, some law schools have found ways to "game the system" by fudging their numbers. In August of this year, the ABA decided that it would no longer require schools to provide student-faculty ratios. US News, however, has stated that it will continue to factor student-faculty ratios into their rankings. It is problematic that a magazine is requiring law schools to provide information no longer deemed relevant by our accrediting organization, especially since the numbers submitted by schools would no longer be subject to ABA scrutiny. The law school rankings process is seriously flawed.
It’s time we had a selection committee for legal education.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
...at least not in small towns, and rural communities. Legal services are hard to find in rural populations in the United States. Furthermore, many lawyers in those towns will be retiring within the next decade. There are opportunities for recent law graduates to work with those senior lawyers, who will be mentors. The younger lawyers will, in many cases, have the opportunity to take over existing practices with established clients. Lawyers in small towns are important for the economic development and health of the community. They are often civic leaders and municipal judges.
As Richard L. Hermann said in his book, Practicing Law in Small-Town America:
Small-town America is still very much under-served by the legal community. Moreover, housing is affordable, commuting to and from work is a non-issue, and schools have fewer problems than their urban counterparts...
Many state bars, including the Mississippi Bar, are developing programs to encourage law graduates to practice in rural areas. They recognize that there are simply not enough lawyers to serve these important communities.
Professor Laura Ross of the Touro Law Center's Gould Law Library has developed a bibliography on legal education reform, which she plans to continue to update.
The SSRN link is here. The abstract states:
"This legal education reform bibliography was originally presented by the Dean of Touro Law Center, Patricia Salkin (as co-chair) to the NYSBA Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. The compilers intend it to be a continuously updated and comprehensive survey of literature and news regarding the current state of, as well as suggested and upcoming innovations in, legal education reform in the United States."
Friday, October 3, 2014
I am excited for my University of Mississippi and Oxford. This is a big weekend. ESPN Gameday is here, and our town of about 30,000 (including the university community) will swell to about 100,000 in anticipation of a great football game against Alabama. Law firms and law alums from all over the country will be here. Normally I would have taken the opportunity to meet with them, because I enjoy doing that, and it is an important part of my job.
This football Saturday, however, happens to be Yom Kippur. I will never forget that Sandy Koufax, not a very religious person, refused to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur. Arguably, that game was the most important game of his life, but he chose to honor something higher. He is my inspiration this weekend, and has been every year around this time. I will not be attending the game.
An easy fast, to those who are so inclined. Go Rebels!
Monday, September 29, 2014
Friday, September 19, 2014
From the Charleston Post & Courier:
"Charleston School of Law founder Ed Westbrook has formed a nonprofit corporation to run the school, which he says would provide a viable alternative to selling it to the for-profit InfiLaw System. However, George Kosko and Robert Carr, the other two remaining founders who strongly support the sale to InfiLaw, are not inclined to go along with Westbrook's new plan."
Westbrook's plan is overwhelmingly supported by the faculty, alumni, and students at CSOL, as well as community leaders.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
This essay is by Dean Frank H. Wu, who is Chancellor & Dean of University of California Hastings College of the Law. It was originally published on LinkedIn.
I have no opinion about Scotland seceding from the United Kingdom. But I have an observation to offer about the importance of opinions. I happen to be acquainted with not one but two law professors who are experts on sovereignty. Their work should be supported.
It is a common sport to mock academics for their research. Faculty are criticized for their dedication to obscure, specialized fields. Their work might appear to be theoretical. Since their salaries are paid in part by tuition revenue, the public wonders about the social utility of what they end up producing.
A subject such as secession is an example, however, of the need for independent, neutral, and knowledgeable sources of information. There is no shortage of commentators chattering away about Scotland from near and far. But some of them are aligned ideologically or otherwise have a stake in the outcome, while others are all-purpose pundits who should not automatically be deemed authorities.
Press coverage makes apparent the complexity of the Scottish issue. It dates back to 1707, when the Acts of Union passed in the Parliaments. History, economics, culture, and politics all factor into the situation.
A journalist who is writing on Scotland likely is a generalist. She will contact sources for guidance. A reader who consults Wikipedia depends on the contributors to the online encyclopedia. Data does not create itself.
That is why scholars must be trained. An individual cannot become informed instantly. An undergraduate pursues these possibilities as she is encouraged to join an intellectual community. That occurs by reading books, written by earlier generations of teachers; discussing the material, under the guidance of additional teachers; and writing papers, evaluated by the same teachers.
She then enters a graduate program, learning further regardless of whether the topic is the most timely. Eventually, she is invited to become a colleague to her mentors. She repeats the cycle.
There are myriad branches of study that fall out of fashion only to come back to favor. They are intrinsically valuable, inasmuch as they form our shared heritage. They also are instrumentally worthwhile, because they inform public policy decision-making.
It is likely that we will continue to see the formation of new states and the disintegration of old states. Scotland today, another nation tomorrow. Change can be orderly or not. We hope the rule of law is established, to enable civic society to flourish.
One of the professors who is a friend has another area of investigation. He is a leading author on piracy. A generation ago, that would have been dismissed as, at best, a quaintly idiosyncratic diversion from more serious matters. Given the resurgence in robbery at sea, not to mention the geopolitical effects, he turns out to be useful for the most practical purposes.
In 1964, the Richard Hofstadter won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. What he said fifty years ago remains true: experts are disliked not because they are unimportant, but just the opposite — because they are influential.
Monday, September 8, 2014
I remember one of the highlights of my early career as a law professor was receiving my first copy of the Directory of Law Teachers. Having your name and bio in the directory was exciting. That was in the in the mid-1980’s.
Today, on the other hand, when the Directory is delivered to my office in all of its cumbersome glory, I have a different reaction. Why is the AALS still taking the time and effort to publish an anachronistic phonebook, when all of the information it contains is much more easily accessible online? I know the Directory is not the biggest issue facing legal education, or the AALS, but it is a symptom of an entrenched unwillingness to change that has plagued law schools and the AALS for years.
I recently compared the AALS to SEALS, and am left wondering, do law schools even need the AALS anymore? Ten years ago, schools would have never asked that question, and new schools were eager to join, because of the enhanced prestige of AALS membership. After all, you wanted to be listed in the Directory under “Member Schools,” instead of “Fee Paid Schools.” But, there are around 180 member schools out of approximately 200 total law schools (around 90%), so does membership really add prestige? AALS membership might matter to other legal academics, but I am convinced that lawyers and judges, for the most part, do not care whether their law school is a member school, and prospective students only really care about rankings and ABA approval.
The cost of membership in AALS is over $10,000 for most law schools (the AALS Bylaws state that fees are determined by FTE). Additionally, law schools pay the cost of sabbatical review by the association. These dues pay the salaries of a fulltime staff, and overhead. Recently, the AALS has decided to purchase a building.
There is no doubt that AALS needs law schools, but I think we at least need to have a conversation about whether law schools still need the AALS. We have much invested in our memberships over the years, but does that large investment justify continued investment in the organization? We have also invested many tens of thousands in microfiche for our libraries for decades, but I cannot imagine anyone making the argument that we should continue to spend resources on microfiche.
In full disclosure, I am the chair-elect of the Socioeconomics Section of the AALS, and I know the organization hosts some really strong programs, especially at the section level. I also think that the appointment of Judith Areen to lead the association is a wonderful choice, and that she has already made strides to move the AALS forward. I hope that she can make the AALS vital and relevant to law schools, or she might find that, for the first time in the association’s history, its membership is declining.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Being a dean has its challenges, especially in these days of rethinking and redefining legal education, but the person with the hardest job in the law school is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
I will never forget the day that Stetson's then dean, Bruce Jacob, came to my office. I was happily enjoying the life of a soon-to-be-tenured tax professor, when Bruce asked me to serve as Associate Dean. I had no idea what the Associate Dean did, or even why Bruce and the Stetson faculty would put their faith in me, but I reluctantly accepted the position.
Over four years as Associate Dean, I learned more about the the students, my colleagues, the law school staff, and the operation of the law school than I possibly could have as a full-time faculty member. I came to especially appreciate the work of the staff members. Before I was Associate Dean, I had no idea that the law school staff works from 8-5 (or often later and on weekends), and that no event or process at the law school happens without them.
Of course, not all interactions an Associate Dean has are positive, and that is what makes the role difficult. Associate Deans typically have a direct role in hiring or firing adjunct faculty. Telling a sitting judge or prominent attorney that they will no longer be teaching at the law school is not an easy assignment. Another big part of the job is scheduling classes. It is impossible to make a class schedule that everyone is happy with, and most faculty members and students understand that. Unfortunately, the Associate Dean will hear from every student and faculty member who is not satisfied with the course offerings, time slots, or classrooms scheduled for the semester.
In fact, one of the most disappointing interactions I had in my time as Associate Dean was when a new faculty member in his first semester of teaching expressed anger at being given a 9 a.m. class. I always asked faculty what their preferences were, and this faculty member had indicated that he preferred to teach at 10 and 2. He was teaching a 1L class, and I explained that we wanted to give the students an hour between their 1L classes, so we scheduled their morning classes at 9 and 11. His response was that he was too good a teacher to teach at 9 a.m., and that I should stick an inferior teacher in that slot. It just so happened that I was teaching the same group of 1L’s a different class at 11, and I offered to switch with him so he wouldn’t have to teach at 9. One of the things I tried to do when I was Associate Dean was to put myself in the worst classroom. When the faculty member saw that my 11 a.m. class was in the least desirable classroom, he responded that he would take the 11 a.m. class, but I would have to move him out of that “sh**thy classroom.”
Maybe every faculty member should serve as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at some point in their careers. The job certainly gave me more empathy for the people I worked with and for.
Monday, August 18, 2014
As you will see the candidate involved was David Frakt, who had experience in legal education, and administration. David's email to me in April was confidential, so I could not put too many details in the April post. I am happy that he is now going completely public with what happened during his visit to Jacksonville.
UPDATE: David Frakt has posted a detailed account of his presentation at Florida Coastal on the Faculty Lounge Blog: Frakt Presentation at Florida Coastal
Sunday, August 3, 2014
The Southeastern Association (SEALS) of Law Schools Annual Meeting is underway. It started on Friday, August 1, and will run until Thursday, August 7. The program can be found at: SEALS 2014 Program
Since declining enrollments at most law schools will mean reduced faculty travel budgets, it will be even more important for faculty members to maximize the benefits, while minimizing the costs of travel. Two of the biggest conferences for law professors are SEALS and the AALS Annual Meeting, in January. If a faculty member has to choose one of these conferences, which one should they choose?
I realize that there are individual considerations that have to come into play. There are some great, specialized meetings that may be better than both SEALS and AALS for teachers and scholars in particular areas, but I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of SEALS and AALS, since they both attract a broad range of law school faculty members from around the country. While SEALS started as a meeting targeted to law schools in the southeast, it has grown every year, and now has member schools from all over the United States SEALS Member Schools. It is truly a national organization.
Registration Fee $160 $450
Annual Membership* $500 $10,000+ (based on FTE)
*This amount is paid by the law school on an annual basis to maintain membership in the organization.
SEALS Pro's and Con's:
Pro: The SEALS annual meeting is very inclusive. Every faculty member attending from my school this year is speaking on a panel, or participating in a workshop. SEALS makes a point of including at least one new scholar from each member school on a panel, every year. These newer faculty members work directly with mentors from other law schools, and receive feedback on their scholarship. AALS only recently added a program for developing scholars. Law schools derive much greater benefit when their faculty members actively participate in conferences, rather than passively attending them.
SEALS programs tend to encourage participation from the audience, and the workshop programs even depend on that participation. Attendees at SEALS typically report that the programs were interesting, and worthwhile.
SEALS is held in a relaxed, and casual environment. The networking opportunities are numerous and varied.
The conference is held at resort locations, and benefits from reduced off-season hotel rates.
Con: SEALS always lasts a full week. It is impractical for many attendees to stay for the duration of the conference. In that regard, there are almost two different sets of attendees, and some networking opportunities are lost because of the length of the program.
AALS Pro's and Con's:
Pro: AALS is the most respected of the law school annual conferences. It brings together speakers of national import, and attracts attendees from around the world. The size of the organization insures that its sections and committees have the critical mass necessary to put on programs each year. Speaking at AALS is considered an honor, and a law school benefits from having a faculty member present on a AALS panel. Attendees have multiple opportunities to network with colleagues from many different law schools.
Con: The exclusive nature of the conference means that it is often hard for new voices to be heard as speakers or panelists. One complaint that I hear, repeatedly, is that the same people appear on panels every year. I have also heard that the audience has been greatly discouraged from asking questions or participating during several of the panels. The atmosphere at AALS is much less relaxed and casual than the atmosphere at SEALS.
The conference is held in large cities, where the hotel costs tend to be high. As shown, above, the cost of membership and registration for the AALS meeting is much higher than SEALS membership and registration.
The January meeting time can make travel to and from the conference difficult.
Friday, August 1, 2014
As reported on Taxprof:
Texas Wesleyan Law alumni have filed a complaint with the ABA against Texas A&M. Their goal is to be recognized as graduates of the new Texas A&M law school, since Texas Wesleyan School of Law no longer exists. While their ABA complaint will likely go nowhere, I recommend that Texas A&M embrace the alumni of Texas Wesleyan, because they can be a huge asset to Texas A&M law school.
A&M's dilemma is not unique in Fort Worth. The law school that is now Texas A&M was originally called the DFW School of Law. The students at DFW took a big risk by going to a new law school, with no guarantee that the school would achieve accreditation. They literally helped to build the school. When Texas Wesleyan University purchased the law school for $1 (the school's value seems to have increased somewhat), the law school was told that the DFW students would have to graduate before the law school would be provisionally approved. As might be expected, this did not sit well with the students who helped start the law school. Fortunately, they were permitted to sit for the Texas Bar, because the Texas Supreme Court granted them an exception. Still, these important alumni were not happy with the way they were treated.
When Texas Wesleyan received full accreditation in 1999, the law school held a reception for those students who paved the way, and dedicated a plaque with all of their names on it. That plaque remains there today, and those alumni have been strong supporters of the law school from that point on.
Texas A&M law school will have many generations of alumni, but it has none. In many cases, the Wesleyan Law graduates have the capacity to employ new lawyers, and to make financial contributions to the law school. The upside of including them as A&M alumni seems to far outweigh any downside. They did, after all, pave the way for Texas A&M to have its new law school, and to be fully approved from the beginning.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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 http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2014/03/nlj-california.html earlier this year to Karen Sloan's NLJ article discussing a proposal by California law schools to change the US News Rankings methodology: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/home/id=120264694929/California%20Grumbling%20at%20US%20News?mcode=1202615432217&curindex=1&slreturn=20140623111507.
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: http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2013/calfac/calfacts_010213.aspx#Californias_Economy
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. http://www.lsac.org/docs/default-source/research-%28lsac-resources%29/tr-12-03.pdf
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.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
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 http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/09/09-50822-CV2.pdf.
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.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
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.
Thursday, July 3, 2014
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. http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/14a0139p-06.pdf
LMU Duncan was also unsuccessful in its 2011 lawsuit against the ABA.http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/dec/22/lmu-suing-american-bar-association-over-law/
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Monday, June 23, 2014
From a Mississippi College Press Release:
A graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law, Wendy Scott will make history as the first African-American to serve as dean at the Mississippi College School of Law. This summer, Scott becomes the 8th law dean at MC Law, which became part of the Christian university in 1975. Mary Libby Payne broke ground as the first woman to lead the law school, with Professor Scott now the second woman to hold that distinction.Scott will succeed Dean Jim Rosenblatt, who served as dean for 11 years.
Congratulations to Dean Scott and Mississippi College. I will look forward to working with her in Mississippi.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
One of my favorite things I get to do as dean is to call all of the students admitted to Ole Miss Law School. From the many conversations I have had, I am happy to say that the majority of students entering law school in 2014 have a really good understanding of the economics of legal education. They have done their research, and recognize that the cost of their legal education will affect their options when they graduate. They are certainly entering law school with their eyes wide open.
In that regard, the National Jurist Prelaw Magazine has published a list of the best value law schools. The story can be found at: http://www.nationaljurist.com/content/best-value-law-schools-5-private-schools-make-list