September 25, 2011
Of interest in The National Law Journal
These recent pieces from The National Law Journal caught my eye this weekend:
September 05, 2011
Identifying the disconnect at the center of the "law school scam"
I still continue to find Inside the Law School Scam an interesting and useful read, and this passage from a recent post comparing law schools to other graduate programs (and some follow-up comments) has helped me to see the heart of the problem that keeps pumping blood though the modern legal education market and has allowed the so-called "law school scam" to develop and continue. First the passage from ILSS (with my emphasis added), then my explanation:
[It] is an interesting comparison [between law schools and the huge recent expansion of creative writing MFA programs], although in some ways an obviously inapt one. No one goes into an MFA program intending to make lots of money. Indeed it's notable that such programs never focus on producing successful genre writers -- i.e., the next Stephen King or John Grisham -- but are rather dedicated almost exclusively to literary fiction. Nor, as far as I know, do MFA programs engage in industry-wide placement stat deception. (Unlike business schools I know something about these programs because my best friend and his wife are graduates of one). The biggest distinction between law schools and MFA programs goes to the crucial issue of what economists call psychic income. Lots of people grow up hoping to write the Great American Novel. Nobody grows up hoping to one day be Henry Kravis's water carrier on a big M&A deal. People go to law school, with occasional exceptions, in order to acquire a respectable and well-paid career. MFA programs cater to peoples' dreams. Law school is where dreams go to die (Yes I'm generalizing).
Implicit in this passage are three critical contentions/assumptions about the professional thinking of some (many? most?) law students: (1) students go to law school intending to "make lots of money" (not because they dream of practicing law), (2) students expect that "average" performance at an "average" law school will result in a in a "respectable and well-paid career," and (3) students rely on deceptive law school placement stats to justify these decisions and expectations.
I trust some (many? most?) law students — especially those who are most aggrieved and vocal in their complains about the "law school scam" — would endorse these three critical contentions/assumptions and agree they help explain why so many recent graduates are now so upset that they "invested" so much in law school and are now not getting a fair (or any) return on that investment.
Changing perspectives, let me articulate what I suspect to be professional thinking of some (many? most?) law professors: (A) students interested primarily in making money should go to business school (because only those with lawyer dreams will be happy lawyers), (B) students with "average" grades at an "average" law school can find legal jobs, but they will need to "pick up their game" in practice to have a "well-paid" legal career, and (C) students who make serious and savvy efforts to find a legal job will eventually get a legal job.
Perhaps I am wrong to assert that others would embrace points A, B, and C above, but these realities account for why I personally have not been attuned to "law school scam" complaints until quite recently. I have long believed that (A) those who went to law school for "the wrong reasons" were unlikely to be happy no matter their professional success, (B) my "average" students could and would find legal work at a living wage, and (C) I can help my students land a legal job if they are serious and savvy in their efforts. (Indeed, I still hold these views, though I now better understand that (too) many law students may be in it "just for the money" and that the recession has made it much harder for "average" students to find legal work at a living wage. But while these students may often feel "scammed," they do not often come by my office to ask for job-hunting advice. I often have "top" students coming for job advice, typically to ask which of two job opportunities they ought to pursue, which I now realize greatly distorts my perspective on the legal job market.)
Not to be overlooked here is the inevitable affinity for law schools to spotlight — in recruiting materials and alumni publications — their most successful and happy graduates and to "hide" their least successful and miserable graduates. A coming attractions even for a lousy Jack Black movie creates the (deceptive?) impression everyone should spend money on that movie even though only Jack Black fans will be content with the product. (This preview metaphor justifies greater transparency in law school employment data — i.e., studios should not "scam" Brad Pitt fans into paying to see a Jack Black movie by having the whole preview focus on a tiny Brad Pitt cameo. But this metaphor might help students appreciate the unique (insulated) perspective of law professors: law profs are essentially Jack Black fans (read, law geeks) who assume the only folks paying for their movie (law school) are fellow Jack Black fans who should still appreciate the experience even though better movies (other professional opportunities) might be at the Cineplex.)
So, even as I grow more aware/attune to the "law school scam" and suffering grads, I still have a hard time viewing law professors as avaricious Ponzi schemers eager to drive students into a lifetime of debt to fund a lavish lifestyle. Instead, I see a group of well-meaning service-providers (law professors/schools) working earnestly to provide what they consider a valuable non-economic service ("teaching students how to think like a lawyer") to some people who are paying a lot of money (law students) problematically believing they are getting a valuable economic service ("becoming a practicing lawyer").
To the extent that deceptive placement stats fuel this disconnect between the "law school service" most law professors seek to provide and what some (many? most?) law students actually want and expect, more honest employment data should help considerably. But if one fears (as I do) that much bigger societal and human psychology forces are in play, more honest employment data is just a first step on a long journey toward a sounder legal education system.
Posted by DAB
September 5, 2011 in Admissions to law school, Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 24, 2011
Given modern labor realities, should law schools admit fewer students? Fail more out?
If nothing else, this new blog authored by (once anonymous) LawProf called "Inside the Law School Scam" has generated some useful discussion throughout the law professor blogosphere about the current realities of law school and legal employment. And the take-away data I found most notable and important in this context comes from this (under-reported?) New York Times piece from two months ago indicating that US law school each and every year are now graduating roughly two new lawyers for every one new legal job. (Kudos to Brian Tamanaha for spotlighting these important data (and for the chart reprinted here) via this post at Balkinization titled "The Coming Crunch for Law Schools.")
In light of this current significant over-supply of junior lawyers seeking jobs in legal fields with only half the opennings needed for full employment (a market problem which has arguably been going on now for numerous years), it is unsurprising that now only the most highly-ranked students and highly-ranked schools are still able to easily find acceptable legal employment and in turn have the resources need to pay off large accumulated student debt. And, now with a glut of tens of thousands of recent law school grads who are unemployed or underemployed and yet still likely to keep seeking legal opportunities, it seems unlikely that even a huge improvement in the economy will create enough new law jobs for the seemingly ever-increasing number of new law school grads.
With an eye on these market realities, Brian and Gerard Magliocca in recent posts are exploring why there seems still to be a huge demand for law school access as reflected in law school application rates:
- Gerald asks here, "Why did you decide to go to law school?"
- Brian asks here "How Inelastic is Demand for Law School? (Testing The Limits)"
Though I think the law school demand side is a very important component of this story, the question in the title of this post is meant to urge discussion of the law school supply side. In particular, I would like to hear view from anyone inside or outside the law school marketplace as to whether law schools ought to be, in light of modern labor realities, significantly reduce the sizes of their graduating classes either by letting in many fewer students or failing out many more students before these students accumulate huge law school debts.
In a future post, I will set forth my own innovative proposal for how I think modern law schools should try to deal with these issues. In the meantime, though, I am hoping to generate some feedback on these basic questions.
Posted by DAB
August 06, 2010
Should innovators be pleased or worried that grades may matter more than prestige?The question in the title of this post is inspired bythis report via the ABA Journal, which is headlined "Law School Grades More Important to Career than Elite School, Researchers Say." Here are the basics:
Law school grades are the important predictor of a lawyer’s career success—in fact they are “decisively more important” than the eliteness of the school attended, according to two law professors who have studied the issue.
University of California, Los Angeles law professor Richard Sander and Brooklyn Law School visiting professor Jane Yakowitz analyzed data from four studies and concluded that the standard advice—go to the best law school that will take you—doesn’t necessarily hold true, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports.
“Since the dominant conventional wisdom says that law school prestige is all‐important, and since students who ‘trade‐up’ in school prestige generally take a hit to their school performance, we think prospective students are getting the wrong message,” they write in a new paper (PDF posted by Law Blog).
Sander told the Wall Street Journal he doesn’t know why grades are so important, but he was willing to speculate. “It could have to do with psychological factors, a level of confidence you gain from doing well that serves you well not only in school but afterward,” he said.
Sander and Yakowitz studied data from more than 40 public law schools across the country, and found that applicants tend to go to the most elite law school that will have them. But is that a good idea? Not according to data collected in the American Bar Foundation’s After the JD study of lawyers who entered the bar in 2000, they write. It indicates that the salary boost for achieving high grades more than makes up for the salary depreciation associated with attending a lower‐ranked school. The study also found that lawyers who left law school with the lowest grades felt the least secure about their jobs.
Two other studies of lawyers practicing in Chicago in the mid-1970s and mid-1990s found that law school eliteness was associated with higher incomes in the 1970s, but that had changed in the 1990s, when class rank more accurately predicted earning power.
Two other findings: In two of the studies, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews all appear to have a salary edge over nonbelievers and the unaffiliated, creating “an interesting issue for further exploration,” according to Sander and Yakowitz. And while law students tend to come from upper-middle and upper class backgrounds, social status now appears to not have a role in shaping grads' careers.
Posted by DAB
July 14, 2009
"Law school pays students to stay away"
The title of this post is the headline of this recent piece from the National Law Journal. Here are excerpts from an effective piece:
The unstable economy created a tricky situation for law school admissions offices this year. Would the downturn prompt more applicants to accept offers of admission? Would the prospect of thousands of dollars of law school debt dissuade accepted applicants from enrolling at the last minute?
Admissions officials didn't know whether they could rely upon the formulas they traditionally have used to determine how many admissions offers to extend to reach their desired incoming class size. For at least one school, experience was little help.
The University of Miami School of Law saw a significant increase in its so-called yield rate — the percentage of accepted students who enroll — and has offered incentives for students to defer their starts until the fall of 2010....
The law school was aiming for an incoming class of 400 to 420 students, said university spokeswoman Karla V. Hernandez. She would not disclose how many students the law school accepted for next fall, but said that the yield rate increased from 28% last year to 36% this year.
Those who opt to delay for a year will receive a $5,000 scholarship when they complete 120 hours of public service and will have a better chance at receiving a $75,000 scholarship, among other incentives.
Officials at the Law School Admissions Council declined to comment on Miami's situation, but a spokeswoman said it's not unheard of for schools to grapple with an undesirably large incoming class. "When some schools find themselves with more depositors than they expected, it's common to invite students to defer," said counsel spokeswoman Wendy Margolis. However, it is unusual for a law school to offer deferral incentives to its entire incoming class, according to Sarah Zearfoss, assistant dean and director of admissions at the University of Michigan Law School....
Law school applications were up overall this year, but they didn't surge the way many had predicted. Conventional wisdom holds that more people seek out graduate programs during bad economic times to avoid a tough job market. According to the admissions council, law school applications increased nationally by 4.3%.
I would be eager to hear more about Miami's experience here and also about any other schools being as innovative as Miami in dealing with this new numbers problem. I suspect that this story is just one of many potential examples of how necessity becomes the mother of law school innovation.
Posted by DAB
March 19, 2009
A not-so-innovative way to deal with tough times: head to law school
At the Wall Street Journal, Nathan Koppel has this new piece headlined "Best Defense? Seeking a Haven in Law School," which reports that a down economy has meant an uptick in law school application. Here are particulars:
The job market for lawyers, hit hard by the recession, seems to reach new lows every day. But that has not done much to discourage the thousands who are lining up to become the next generation of attorneys.
In seeming defiance of logic, many law schools are surging in popularity. At Washington and Lee University in Virginia, for example, law-school applications are up 29% this year over 2008, while Yale Law School and the University of Texas School of Law both enjoyed an 8% increase in applications. Nationwide, the total number of applicants is up by 2% over last year, with the deadline to submit applications having passed at most schools.
College graduates, educators say, are seeking refuge from the economy in the relative tranquility of higher education, hoping that the job market will improve by the time they graduate. Law schools also have been aided by the long-held belief that the legal business is relatively immune from recessions....
School administrators seize on the versatility of a law degree in asserting that it is still a sound investment. Lawyers, they say, will play a central role in navigating a variety of issues, such as the use of natural resources, cross-border trade and government stimulus spending, which likely will play a central role in the economy for years to come.
The very large jump in applications at Washington and Lee seems especially notable in light of its innovative (some might say radical) reform of its entire 3L program (discussed here). One year's application data does not prove that students are voting with their feet for innovations, but this seems like a possible trend worth watching.
March 15, 2009
Could a new test of lawyer skills really challenge the LSAT?
Earlier this week the New York Times ran this interesting article, headlined "Study Offers a New Test of Potential Lawyers." Here are snippets:
Just what makes a good lawyer? In trying to answer that question, professors at the University of California, Berkeley, have come up with a test that they say is better at predicting success in the field than the widely used Law School Admission Test.
The LSAT, as the half-day exam is known, does not claim to predict much beyond a student’s performance in law school. But critics contend that it does not evaluate how good a lawyer someone will be and tests for the wrong things. They also say it keeps many black and Hispanic students — who tend to have lower scores — out of the legal profession....
To find out what applicant traits should figure in admissions decisions at law schools, [Professors Marjorie Shultz and Sheldon Zedeck] coordinated individual interviews, focus groups and ultimately a survey of judges, law school professors, law firm clients and hundreds of graduates of Berkeley’s law school. They asked, among other things, “If you were looking for a lawyer for an important matter for yourself, what qualities would you most look for? What kind of lawyer do you want to teach or be?”
The survey produced a list of 26 characteristics, or “effectiveness factors,” like the ability to write, manage stress, listen, research the law and solve problems. The professors then collected examples from the Berkeley alumni of specific behavior by lawyers that were considered more or less effective.
Using the examples, Professor Shultz and Professor Zedeck developed a test that could be administered to law school applicants to measure their raw lawyerly talent. Instead of focusing on analytic ability, the new test includes questions about how to respond to hypothetical situations. For example, it might describe a company with a policy requiring immediate firing of any employee who lied on an application, then ask what a test taker would do upon discovering that a top-performing employee had omitted something on an application.
More than 1,100 lawyers took the test and agreed to let the researchers see their original LSAT scores, as well as grades from college and law school. The study concluded that while LSAT scores, for example, “were not particularly useful” in predicting lawyer effectiveness, the new, alternative test results were — although the new test was no better at predicting how well participants would do in law school. Unlike the LSAT, the new test did not produce a gap in scores among different racial or ethnic groups.
But participants might have performed differently on it, had they taken the test when they were applying to law school. Professor Shultz said this was one reason the next step in the research should include tracking test takers over time, from when they apply to law school through their careers.
David E. Van Zandt, dean of the law school at Northwestern, said he would welcome a supplement to the LSAT to evaluate applicants, a sentiment echoed by other law school deans. John H. Garvey, dean of Boston College Law School and past president of the Association of American Law Schools, said, “It would be good for us and for other schools to have other measures that complement the LSAT and that would help us identify promising candidates.”
I have nothing but praise for the efforts here to develop an LSAT alternative, and I hope this project keeps moving ahead. I also hope that the development of new visions and new assessments of lawyer “effectiveness factors” might also impact law-school testing methods, too.
Posted by DAB