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 As Deans, we should not stand silent as those with biases and outdated or inaccurate information recycle myths and tired, predictable versions of their “wisdom” about our profession, law schools and the quality of newly minted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.
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.