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.
Friday, September 18, 2015
It is easy to understand why people regard academics as arrogant.
We choose our scholarly projects via a process that appears to be self-centered, deciding what topics are worthy of our research time and energy simply by asking ourselves. Without even a drop of input from our communities, we decide how we will conduct our studies and think through solutions to the problems we address. We then publish our results, too often just to each other, and, when we do share our work beyond academia, we have a tendency to frame our presentations in an off-putting way: “You have this problem. I know the solution. Here.” In other words, we say, in our best Captain Picard (of Star Trek Next Generation) voices, “Make it so.”
As a result, non-academics have coined pejorative terms for our hard work such as “ivory tower” thinking and “navel gazing.”
Even our plentiful, excellent, and admirable service work can possess a degree of self-reference to it. We decide there is a need, and we rush in to fix the problem, bringing our expertise and delivering it like a military aid air drop. And then we leave. Having worked on two ABA Rule of Law Initiative projects and a USAID project working with law teachers in three different countries, I must acknowledge my own, well-meaning service has involved some of this swooping in and out.
There is an attractive alternative. Community-engaged research or, as it is also known, the scholarship of engagement, is a national trend outside legal education. It is a different, arguably more humble, approach to planning and implementing the service and research projects we undertake. This form of research blurs the lines between scholarship and service and between researcher and community. Community-engaged researchers collaborate with community leaders in dialogues about the subjects they might choose to research, the methodologies they adopt for accomplishing their research objectives, and the solutions they develop. They do not delegate their scholarly agendas to their communities, but they do solicit, accept, and rely on community input. Read the materials at this link, from Loyola University Chicago, if you are interested in this movement.
Yesterday, my law school, UALR Bowen, and the UALR College of Social Sciences and Communication co-hosted a Community-Engaged Research Summit. We partnered with the College of Social Sciences and Communication because that college has a long tradition of community-engaged research, because my dean colleague there is herself an expert in such research, and because the faculty in that college possess the quantitative research design, survey construction, and statistical analysis skills needed for some of the projects we thought might be useful to Arkansas. If there is nothing I have learned from the humbling job of being a dean, I better know what I don’t know and make sure I get the help I need.
In preparation for the Summit, the two colleges surveyed roughly 350 Arkansas community leaders, including judges, legislators, agency heads, non-profit leaders, and law firm managing partners, asking for their input into our future research projects. Our response rate was good, over 20%.
Based on this input, the two colleges shared the survey results during the Summit, inviting community leaders to identify research projects that can serve the state and local communities. A large number of the faculty members from the two colleges have indicated a willingness to participate in at least one project that comes out of the Summit.
Our first Summit went well. We were heartened to discover that most community leaders do not see us as ivory tower-dwelling narcissists, and many had thoughts about research projects we should undertake. However, we were concerned that a significant segment of the respondents either did not believe our work could help them or at least did not recognize how our research work might serve their professional work. For a first-time event, attendance was pretty good. Attendees included the Arkansas Attorney General and a number of other lawyers in her office, a federal court judge and a state court judge, a legislator, the executive director of Arkansas Access to Justice, several prosecutors, a number of private practice attorneys, a prominent legal aid lawyer, two representatives of Arkansas’ medical school, and a senior employee of a high tech business. A second legislator asked me to send her the video of the event. Several collaboration connections were made. I am optimistic.
I wish I could “Make it so” and magically convince our government and community leaders to collaborate with us immediately, but we are at a starting line. I hope this post convinces other law schools to consider joining us here.
Law professors often contribute to important public policy issues. Here as story about a debate between four distinguished law professors (including Dean Michelle Anderson) about whether colleges or courts should adjudicate claims of on-campus sexual assaults.
Very interesting exchange between writer/blogger Steven Harper and Dean Jeremy Paul:
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Many deans around the country have expressed concern that the National Conference of Bar Examiners is purposely gaming the MBE to reduce the number of lawyers entering the profession. While the NCBE has stated that declining credentials for entering law students has been the primary reason for a decline in bar passage rates in many jurisdictions, I have spoken to many deans who say that their entering credentials have remained flat, because they have reduced the size of their entering classes.
I find it interesting how many lawyers told me when I was dean that law schools are producing too many new lawyers. I heard the same sentiment about the booming population of Florida, when I lived there. Politicians and citizens advocated for limiting the numbers of people migrating to the state. Why do we naturally assume that the best solution for overpopulation of a state or a profession is barring (pun intended) the entry of new participants? Many senior members of the bar entered law school before there was an LSAT, and several states even admitted those lawyers through the diploma privilege. Maybe we should thin the profession by requiring a practice competence exam for lawyers every decade or so. Those who do not pass would lose their licenses, or be required to take special training to regain the skill necessary to practice law.
If there are too many lawyers, why do we assume that the best solution is to make it harder to enter the profession?
Monday, September 14, 2015
Robert W. Adler
S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah
At the dedication of the new home for the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, I announced our new 100/100 Initiative, which establishes a firm goal of attaining 100% first-time bar passage and 100% full-time professional employment for our new graduates as quickly as possible.
Although our roles as law school administrators often diverge from our work as scholars, in this case my strong belief in the value of setting aspirational goals derives in part from my scholarship. I recently published an article on this issue in connection with the thirtieth anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA) (Robert W. Adler, The Decline and (Possible) Renewal of Aspiration in the Clean Water Act, 88 Wash. L. Rev. 759 (2013), available at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2567451). The CWA is full of highly aspirational goals: full restoration of the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters; “zero discharge” of pollutants; “fishable and swimmable waters” nationwide. Although we have not met those goals despite three decades of effort, our waters are far cleaner and healthier than when Congress adopted the law. One reason for that success is that we set the bar so high, and another is that Congress backed up the goals with concrete (although imperfect) implementing tools.
I fully expected mixed reactions to my announcement of the 100/100 Initiative, from praise to some serious skepticism. In his otherwise positive blog post, Professor Paul Caron referred to the 100/100 goals as “audacious.” I agree. They are bold, and intentionally so. We care about every one of our students, and we want every one of them to succeed.
Just as important, our goals are backed up by very concrete steps we will take to meet them as quickly and as aggressively as possible. For bar passage rates, those measures include better academic support to our second and third-year students; increased and enhanced formative assessments during core bar exam courses; and better predictive modeling of those students who face a higher risk of not passing the bar exam. For employment, they include more one-on-one mentoring; improved student-alumni networking; exploratory incubator programs; and rural job placement programs.
I am quite serious about our intent to meet these goals. And if we fail to meet the 100/100 goals, we will add and modify strategies with the intent of getting closer and closer. Every year. As aspirational goals, they prompt us to do better than we are now, and better than we would have otherwise. Thus, even as goals, they will serve a very useful purpose. In my CWA article, I labeled this phenomenon “aspiration as asymptote.” The goals prod us to get closer and closer, even if we never quite reach the end.
The alternative attitude, which I refer to in my CWA article as “the pathology of excessive aspiration,” is that we view such lofty goals as “so ambitious that they cannot possibly be met,” and therefore we simply stop trying. That unfortunate and pessimistic view, I fear, is how some in the legal community now view legal education today, particularly in light of declining applications and other challenges.
Our task is to shun the pathological view, and instead to set—and to use—lofty aspirations as challenges to push us to do better. Our students deserve no less.
Friday, September 11, 2015
Dean Dan Rodriguez and I have been sharing some thoughts about tuition discounting in legal education. In this post I would like to raise the possibility of ending or scaling back the destructive practice of merit scholarships.
To summarize and add to some of Dan’s points, among the negative attributes and effects of merit scholarships are these:
*”merit” is typically defined very narrowly in terms grades and standardized test scores;
*directing so much scholarship money toward merit aid has caused need based aid to shrink (at many schools, there is now effectively no need-based financial aid);
*the students who receive the most merit-based aid are often the least needy, because high test scores correspond with socio-economic advantage, and generally translate into higher law school grades and, consequently, employment opportunities;
*the need for large sums of merit-based aid has contributed significantly to the excessive rise in tuition.
I am not proud to participate in this system of allocating financial aid. Yet individual deans and schools are essentially helpless to resist. The process by which merit scholarships proliferated was very rational, even if the results are undesirable. When the first schools tried to move up in the US News rankings by discounting tuition for students with strong academic credentials, other schools had to copy them if they wished to remain competitive. It is tempting to believe that schools could ignore this trend, but that simply ignores reality. Our susceptibility to the influence of rankings is not admirable, but it is widespread in higher education, particularly in law. At almost all schools, a dean who refused to play this game would have been replaced by one who would play. These trends have been playing out throughout many segments of higher education, not just law, which demonstrates the stickiness of the problem.
The only real way to resist the logic and power of merit scholarships is through collective action. An agreement among schools that all aid will be need-based, if adhered to, would be a game-changer. The obvious questions are whether such an agreement among law schools is lawful and practical. Frank Wu has done some excellent research on the law pertaining to this. He will be posting on this site soon to explain. In essence, there is a federal statute that seems to offer protection from antitrust rules that otherwise might prohibit this. This is why the Ivy League schools can agree to offer only need-based aid.
If lawful, would such an agreement be attainable? Could law schools reach and abide by such a policy? Would it result in a lower tuition rate over time? I hope that we can start a conversation on these and other related questions.
The request has a very good memo summarizing some of the strengths and weaknesses of the UBE. Now that New York has signed on, I expect that the UBE will sweep much of the country, which will be a good thing.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
[by Rick Bales]
Inspired by an email Michael Wolff shared several months back, I used the occasion of our hiring a new Clinic Director to write an op-ed for the local paper explaining the role of a law clinic. Here's an excerpt; the entire op-ed follows the break. Feel free to borrow freely for your own purposes.
... The ONU Law Clinic serves two critical purposes. First, it represents Lima residents who cannot afford to hire a private lawyer. ONU Law students represent Lima clients with domestic violence proceedings, divorces, expungements (sealing an arrest or conviction so it is not publicly available), wills and trusts, and many other types of cases. Unfortunately, the need for such services exceeds our ability to provide them, so we often have a waiting list even for residents who are income-eligible.
Second, our Clinic gives our students hands-on experience doing things that real lawyers do, such as interviewing clients, appearing in court, and drafting legal documents, under the close supervision of an experienced attorney. Because the Clinic’s clients tend to be from poor and marginalized communities, the Clinic helps ONU Law students understand that everyone deserves a voice and vigorous representation, and demonstrates to students why it’s important that they continue to serve the underserved later in their professional careers.
As dean of the Law School, I don’t choose the Clinic’s clients, and I don’t choose the clients’ cases. Sometimes, the Clinic represents unpopular clients, on unpopular cases. But so do real lawyers – and every once in a while, today’s unpopular legal cause becomes tomorrow’s groundbreaking legal advance. Civil rights is the perfect example. ...
We at ONU Law are proud of our Clinic. It gives us an opportunity to serve the Lima community while at the same time training law students to be better lawyers and, more importantly, better people. The French poet Anatole France famously said that the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal bread. The ONU Law Clinic helps ensure that tomorrow’s lawyers understand that in the United States, justice is not the privilege of a wealthy few, but a right that all of us are entitled to.