September 26, 2007
Helping (underpaid?) judges through law school innovation
I am not sure I consider federal judges underpaid, but I am sure that concerns about judicial salaries create an opportunity to involve (and compensate) judges with law school innovations. Specifically, how about a program to "hire" federal judges as law school fellows for a few months in the summer?
Federal judges could be fellows in residence at law schools from, say, July 4th until Labor Day. While in residence, judges would teach a summer class, participate in faculty workshops, be available for student advising, and maybe write a commentary for a school's journal. These paid fellowships would allow federal judges to supplement their incomes by, in essence, serving as resources and consultants to law schools in the summer months. (Since the average tenured faculty member earns roughly $10-15 thousand per month, it would be very fair to pay judges around $25,000 for spending two months around the law school. They would, of course, still have to keep up with key judicial responsibilities during this period.)
Even if a law school hired, say, four judicial law school fellows each summer, the yearly investment would be $100,000 in a program that would surely produce many dividends. Better yet, I think AALS might urge Congress to foot the bill. To fully fund this kind of fellowship for 200 law school would cost only $20 million annually (which is probably about what the federal government was spent in Iraq just this morning).
Congress should see many benefits from creating a judicial fellows program. Not only could this program lower the volume on calls for judicial pay raises, but it also might keep the Justices in the states during the summer so that they do not run off to Europe and start getting crazy ideas about the import of foreign law.
Advice for a new dean of a new law school
As explained here at TaxProf Blog, Paul Caron and Bill Henderson have used the Chemerinsky brouhaha as a foundation for asking various folks this simple question about law school innovation: What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?
The responses at TaxProf are all interesting reads, and here is a list of what's been posted so far:
- Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky from Caron & Henderson
- Mark Herrmann's Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky: Hire Adjuncts to Teach Substantive Courses
- Paul Butler's Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky: Take Back the Law School From Dead White Men
- Doug Berman's Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky: Reengineer the 1L Curriculum
- Dan Polsby's Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky: Focus on Your Comparative Advantage
- Gordon Smith's Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky: Concentrate on Classroom Instruction
- Ann Bartow's Advice For Erwin Chemerinsky: Build Gender Equity Into UC-Irvine
September 24, 2007
Does It Matter What Courses You Take for Bar Passage?
A new study finds that "bar courses" in law school — law school courses that cover subject matter tested on the bar exam — do not notably improve student's chances of passing the bar (except for those in the third quartile, by law school GPA). The study, by Douglas Rush and Hisako Matsuo, is here. Discussion at the NY Times and WSJ blogs.
Addition by DAB: Members of my faculty have done internal research that reached the same basic conclusion. However, I have heard that some school have developed courses that are truly a form of bar prep by teaching test-taking techniques and content specifically tailored to help at-risk students improve their chances of passing the bar.
I would be interesting in hearing from faculty or students who know more about the development and success of these new and true bar courses.
Widening Gulf in Prospects After Law SchoolThe Wall Street Journal offers a sobering front-page story on legal prospects after law school:
For graduates of elite law schools, prospects have never been better. Big law firms this year boosted their starting salaries to as high as $160,000. But the majority of law-school graduates are suffering from a supply-and-demand imbalance that's suppressing pay and job growth. The result: Graduates who don't score at the top of their class are struggling to find well-paying jobs to make payments on law-school debts that can exceed $100,000. Some are taking temporary contract work, reviewing documents for as little as $20 an hour, without benefits. And many are blaming their law schools for failing to warn them about the dark side of the job market.
...Some practice areas have declined in recent years: Personal-injury and medical-malpractice cases have been undercut by state laws limiting class-action suits, out-of-state plaintiffs and payouts on damages. Securities class-action litigation has declined in part because of a buoyant stock market.
On the supply end, more lawyers are entering the work force, thanks in part to the accreditation of new law schools and an influx of applicants after the dot-com implosion earlier this decade. In the 2005-06 academic year, 43,883 Juris Doctor degrees were awarded, up from 37,909 for 2001-02, according to the American Bar Association. Universities are starting up more law schools in part for prestige but also because they are money makers. Costs are low compared with other graduate schools and classrooms can be large. Since 1995, the number of ABA-accredited schools increased by 11%, to 196.
Evidence of a squeezed market among the majority of private lawyers in the U.S., who work as sole practitioners or at small firms, is growing. A survey of about 650 Chicago lawyers published in the 2005 book "Urban Lawyers" found that between 1975 and 1995 the inflation-adjusted average income of the top 25% of earners, generally big-firm lawyers, grew by 22% -- while income for the other 75% actually dropped.
…The news isn't any better for the 14% of new lawyers who go into government or join public-interest firms. Inflation-adjusted starting salaries for graduates who go to work for public-interest firms or the government rose 4% and 8.6%, respectively, between 1994 and 2006, according to the National Association for Law Placement, which aggregates graduate surveys from law schools. That compares with at least an 11% jump in the median family income during the same period, according to the Census Bureau. Graduates who become in-house company lawyers, about 9%, have fared better: Their salaries rose by nearly 14% during the same period.
…Incoming students are "mesmerized by what's happening in big firms, but clueless about what's going on in the bottom half of the profession," says Richard Sander, a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles who has studied the legal job market....
At ELSBlog, Bill Henderson has posted a NALP graph that shows a dramatic bimodal distribution of salaries of graduates.
Given the increasing costs of a law school education, it is especially important for students to be told about job prospects. I suspect that websites such as Above the Law, which cover the high end of the legal market with (understandably) breathless "Year end bonus watch" reports on "legendary Kirkland & Ellis bonuses" might mislead many students. At the same time, where one is likely to fall in the distribution depends on a number of factors, including: (1) law school attended; (2) class rank; (3) how well one performs in a job interview; (4) local job market; and (5) determination. The bimodal distribution reflects both first, second, and third tier schools, so it may not be as surprising as it initially seems. This makes it even more important that information about job prospects, by law school attended, should be made available to students.
Active discussion of the issue here on the WSJ's law blog.
An Illustration of Virtual Law Classes
Arno R. Lodder of the Computer/Law Institute at the Free University of Amsterdam has deposited Short Note on Virtual Law Classes: Second Life and Other Three Dimensional Visual Worlds Next Phase for Online Dispute Resolution? in SSRN. Here's the abstract:
Virtual communities and virtual worlds have become popular places on the internet, with some visited even more than Google. The virtual worlds offer opportunities to Online Dispute Resolution. With the advent of the virtual worlds, virtual conflicts ask for an adequate online resolution mechanism: a virtual courtroom. Insights from Online Dispute Resolution research can be applied in developing such a courtroom. The interesting aspect about these environments is that they are electronic by nature but that they look and feel like the real world. As such they might be able to bridge the gap between online and offline dispute resolution. This paper elaborates upon the potential of ODR in three dimensional worlds. I use as an example two recent classes I gave in Second Life, and indicate the experiences relevant for dispute resolution.
-- Joe Hodnicki