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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 19, 2009 in Admissions to law school | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 16, 2009

Call for Papers: Lat/Crit Oct 2009, American

LatCrit XIV is being hosted by American University Washington College of Law on Oct. 1-4, 2009.  The theme of this year's conference is: OUTSIDERS INSIDE: CRITICAL OUTSIDER THEORY AND PRAXIS IN THE POLICYMAKING OF THE NEW AMERICAN REGIME.  The conference also includes the LatCrit/SALT Junior Faculty Development Workshop.  The complete call for papers/panels is here.

Please submit your panel and paper proposals through the online process at the LatCrit website (www.law.du.edu/latcrit/index.htm) no later than MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2009.  

(H/T Poverty Law Blog for the concise description.)

March 16, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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

March 15, 2009 in Admissions to law school | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack