Monday, January 7, 2019

New AALS President, Vicki Jackson: "The State of Legal Education is Excellent": A Reply

Incoming AALS President, Vicki Jackson, said in an interview with that "[the state of legal education is excellent."  This is an extremely naive statement, which demonstrates complete ignorance of the state of legal education.  AALS has done a disservice to its members, law professors, and law students by electing someone who is so out of touch with the current state of legal education.

Here is Professor Jackson's complete statement:

"Q: What is the state of legal education today? It seems like a year of transition.

On the whole, I think the state of legal education is excellent. I want to talk about two aspects. First, we have thankfully seen rising interest. The applicant pool rose something like 8 percent, and enrollment rose something like 3 percent. These are both, I think, very good figures. Schools are proceeding in a prudent way in responding to that interest.

My second point is about the tremendous state of innovation, public service, and pro bono work that is going on in law schools across the country. This phenomenon is not limited to any one segment of institutions of legal education in this country. I see a wealth of innovation and commitment to pro bono work that reflects the immense change that legal education has undergone since I was in law school, which was the mid-1970s."

We have written a great deal about the state of legal education on this blog since its inception.  I will reiterate a few key points.

1.  Bar passage rates have been falling for the last few years, and they are dismal at many law schools.  David Frakt has made the following points about recent California bar exam results:

"The report found that between 20-50% of the decline in bar exam performance could be attributed to lower entrance credentials. The authors of the report could not account for the other 50-80%."

"Final law school GPA was the single most important predictor of performance followed by LSAT score. In other words, LSAT scores do have a strong and statistically significant correlation with bar passage. And of course, LSAT scores were the best pre-law school indicator available to law schools of likely bar passage success."

"As the LSAT score dropped, the bar pass rate dropped. . ."

"The report dramatically underscores the drop in the caliber of students admitted to law schools between 2010 (when most of the 2013 bar takers started law school) and 2014 (when most of the 2017 first-time bar takers matriculated)"

"First-time takers – July 2018 pass rate                  LSAT profile entering class of 2015

Whittier: 16 of 61 - 26%                                                         150/148/146 

LaVerne: 17 of 50 - 34%                                                         150/147/144

Thomas Jefferson: 20 of 79 - 25%                                       148/144/141

Golden Gate: 19 of 56 - 34%                                                  151/148/145"

I think you can get the idea from the above.  Law schools are admitting more and more applicants with low credentials because the lack of quality legal jobs and the poor reputation that legal education has received over the last ten years sends quality applicants into other professions.

2.  The situation is even worse for minorities.  In recent years, law schools have been trumpeting themselves as the path to opportunity for minority and low-income students.  However, the bar passage rates and job opportunities have been even worse for these groups.  Law schools do not help social justice by admitting students who will probably not pass the bar or get quality jobs, especially considering the ruinous debt that these students incur by attending law school.

In addition, most of the law schools that admit minority and low-income students do little or nothing to help these students once they are in law school.   There are lots of teaching techniques to help students from disadvantages groups.  How to Help Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds Succeed in Law School

3.  High tuition is putting law graduates into deep debt.  Law school tuition has skyrocketed over the last two decades, and there is no sign this trend is ending.  Even students with high paying jobs are limited by crushing debt, which makes it difficult to get married, buy a house, or buy a car.  Professor Jackson talks about the importance of public service, but how are law school graduates supposed to go into public service jobs when they have heavy debt.

4.  Are most law schools in good financial shape?  Aren't many just getting by?  Aren't even a few high ranking law schools having financial problems, as evidenced by recent lay offs?

5.  Does Professor Jackson understand that most law teaching is still based on 19th-century ideas?  There have been great advances in teaching methods over the last 20 years.  Yet, while some law schools have adopted these innovations, most law schools have made changes only at the edges.   ( I discuss these innovations in detail in How to Grow A Lawyer: A Guide for Law Schools, Law Professors, and Law Students and many, many others have written about better teaching approaches in legal education.)  What would happen if scientists said that what we did in the 19th century is good enough for today?

Legal education has been in a state of crisis for over a decade, and it desperately needs strong leadership to make the necessary changes.  Someone who buries her head in the sand cannot provide that leadership.

(Scott Fruehwald)

P.S.  The recent rise in law school applications is due to the anti-Trump bump and not anything law schools have done.

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