Monday, December 26, 2011

The top stories for 2011 on the state of legal education

This past year was a watershed moment in terms of outside scrutiny of legal education.  Whether it was accusations that law schools goosed the stats on incoming students, inflated employment figures for recent grads, or failed to impart practical legal "skills" to students, never in the history of legal education have so many - from the popular press, to U.S. Senators, to legal employers and jobless graduates, and even law professors themselves - questioned whether the American legal educational system needs some serious fixing.  One could blame the pressure created by the USNWR rankings combined with a declining applicant pool for much of the behavior that's come to light over the past year. And while that's undoubtedly true, it's also a cop-out.  Law schools must be paradigms of honest-dealing when it comes to students.  Comporting oneself with integrity and forthrightness are among the key "skills" we are trying to teach our students. The events of the past year hurt all of us in a way that will take a long time to overcome.

Here are some of the "top" stories of 2011 regarding the state of legal education as compiled by the National Law Journal.  

The Year The Chickens Came Home To Roost.

1. Pants On Fire

It is a truth universally acknowledged that law schools feel pressure to admit students with good grades and high scores on the Law School Admission Test, since those metrics count heavily toward their U.S. News & World Report ranking. That pressure got the better of some [schools that inflated the stats for incoming students]. . . .  The Law School Admission Council — which maintains data on applicant tests scores and grades — now is considering whether to audit the figures law schools report, and the ABA is mulling tougher penalties for schools that lie.
2. Sue Your School
Instead of asking alumni for money, maybe law schools should ask graduates to pledge not to sue them. 2011 will go down as the year law students got litigious — at least against their alma maters. [Several schools were sued by unemployed or underemployed grads who allege that their former schools inflated post-grad employment stats to induce them to enroll]. . . . This could be the first sign of a litigation wave.
3. U.S. Senators Give The ABA The Stinkeye
Forget the fight over the debt ceiling or high unemployment. A number of U.S. senators this year zeroed in on the American Bar Association's oversight of law schools — or what they apparently see as a lack thereof. . . . Rumors have been swirling that the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold hearings on law schools next year.
4. Anybody Want To Go To Law School?

It was bound to happen. Applications to American Bar Association-accredited law schools declined by 10 percent in 2011 after increasing during each of the previous two years as recent college graduates sought to ride out the dismal job market in law school.  The number of people taking the Law School Admission Test during the 2010-11 cycle also declined by 10 percent — a huge reversal from the previous year, when that figure increased by 13 percent. It seemed that all the grim news about rising tuition and a weak legal job market finally sank in with some would-be law students.

5. Show Me The Data!

The movement to improve law school consumer information started when the legal job market dried up several years ago, but really hit its stride during 2011. Law School Transparency — a nonprofit founded by two Vanderbilt University Law School graduates — lobbied individual schools and the American Bar Association to improve the reporting of job and salary data, and saw results.

Check out the remaining "big" stories for 2011 by clicking here.


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