Originally published on Above the Law.
More than 90 law school deans have asked their accreditor to halt new standards that would hold schools accountable for very low bar passage rates.
Last October, the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar approved two new standards to stop exploitative admissions and retention practices. At a time when demand for law school decreased significantly, a minority of law schools began admitting swaths of students who, after three or more years of legal education, were not adequately equipped to pass the bar exam.
Why would a law school choose to do this? To keep tuition dollars flowing.
The optimistically named “spring” semester has begun at most law schools. One-L’s nervously await their fall-semester grades while climbing a mountain of new reading. Two-L’s focus on their externships, student organizations, and job searches, while mostly ignoring the assigned reading. Three-L’s celebrate with glee the fact that this is their “last first day.” They haven’t even opened their course syllabi, much less the assigned readings.
In a very thoughtful essay, Bob Kuehn reminds us what’s wrong with this picture. Whether the students do the readings or not, they’re not learning enough of the professional skills they will most need as new lawyers. Study after study demonstrates that law schools fail to give students enough education in professional essentials like listening effectively, interviewing, counseling, negotiating, identifying client goals, strategizing to meet those goals, and problem solving.
Law schools prepare their graduates to perform as superb appellate lawyers, but only mediocre (at best) lawyers for every other type of legal problem or client need. Graduates slowly learn how to lawyer for those clients, but they don’t give their early clients and employers the excellence those groups deserve. And, without a sound foundation at the start, these graduates may never become the superb counselors, strategists, and problem solvers they could have been.
Law schools have made progress, but we haven’t traveled nearly far enough–and our progress has been crawl-like. As 2017 unfolds, I hope to offer some ideas for more effective progress. Meanwhile, put Bob’s essay on your personal first-week reading list. And then, do more: read the underlying studies and reflect on what they mean for legal education. Let’s try for a newer new semester this time next year.
Ed. note: This post was co-authored with David Frakt, an attorney and the chair of Law School Transparency’s National Advisory Council. This was originally published on Above the Law.
The United States Department of Education (ED) notified Charlotte School of Law on December 19, 2016, that its students would no longer be eligible for federal student loans. The decision, as with the American Bar Association’s decision to put CSL on probation a month earlier, surprised and alarmed CSL students. Since that time, students have reached out to law schools across the country to inquire about attending in the immediate or near future. With no other law schools in Charlotte, North Carolina, there are practical limitations on the choices CSL students face.
Several students report to us that, despite CSL’s assurances, information has been both limited and not particularly useful as they try to assess their options. Furthermore, these students report that administrators have been unavailable to answer questions. The school appears to have completely shut down for winter break from December 22 through January 3 despite the urgency of the situation that has developed in Charlotte. These administrators have likewise not been available to the press since the Education Department’s announcement in December.
It is not yet clear that the school will resume classes on January 9, as scheduled. And even if the school does resume operations next week, students still have an understandable desire to explore available options.
In theory, students have four options.
At this point, CSL students cannot make informed decisions because CSL has not been sufficiently transparent. As such, Law School Transparency has sent CSL a letter with an urgent request for information that will help CSL students make the choice that is best for their personal career ambitions.
Infilaw, which owns Charlotte School of Law and Florida Coastal School of Law, must be transparent about any pending or reasonably foreseeable ABA sanctions at Florida Coastal. As CSL develops its plan for CSL students to transfer to Coastal, they must ensure that CSL students are fully informed about Coastal’s compliance with ABA standards. Students need and deserve to know about the potential for similar problems to emerge at Coastal.
In November, the ABA placed CSL on probation because of its exploitative admissions and retention policies. Coastal’s admissions statistics are not meaningfully different than CSL’s. The majority of students at both schools face extreme risk of failing the bar exam. These two schools also have the highest attrition rates in the country. It’s possible that the ABA has already warned Coastal that it is out of compliance with the ABA standards, much in the way that the ABA warned CSL in February 2016. Indeed, Coastal’s dean announced the school’s intent to raise admissions standards this past fall. Infilaw should disclose any communications from the ABA that in any way indicate potential sanctions against Coastal, including fact-finding inquiries that the ABA will use to evaluate whether the school has sound admissions and retention policies and practices.
Infilaw should be transparent about communication with the U.S. Department of Education regarding Florida Coastal School of Law’s continued participation in the federal student loan program. The ED cited two independent reasons to deny CSL’s participation in the federal student loan program. First, the ED cited CSL’s non-compliance with the ABA standards. Second, the ED cited CSL’s “substantial misrepresentations regarding the nature of its academic program.” The ED based this finding, in part, on CSL’s failure to disclose until November 2016 that the ABA found the school non-compliant with the ABA standards in February 2016. If Coastal has received notice from the ABA about non-compliance, it has not disclosed it to date. That could provide a basis for the ED to take similar action against Coastal.
Coastal might be a reasonable alternative for some CSL students, but it is not fair or ethical or consistent with the school’s fiduciary duty to withhold this information from CSL students considering a transfer (or, for that matter, current Coastal students).
Infilaw should be transparent about its plans to facilitate transfers within the Infilaw System, including moving expense reimbursement, alternative class schedules, tuition discounts, and whatever else students need to ease the transfer after Infilaw and CSL withheld critical information for nine months. Even assuming that Coastal does not face any immediate issues from regulators, Infilaw and CSL should recognize that simply offering students the opportunity to attend another law school in the Infilaw system is not enough to discharge its legal and ethical obligations to students. This is especially true given Infilaw’s financial interest in moving students to one of its schools that has access to federal student loan dollars from one that does not.
Students who choose to relocate 400 miles from Charlotte to Jacksonville will incur substantial costs, including transportation costs, moving expenses, and early lease termination fees. Students who seek to join the bar can ill afford to have negative credit reports or collection actions taken against them for breaching a lease. It is essential that administrators promptly develop and communicate a fair, simple, and transparent approach for students to file for reimbursement.
Charlotte School of Law should clarify whether it will permit and facilitate students who seek to visit another law school this semester. At least a handful of current CSL students have inquired with other law schools about visiting this coming semester. As one law school in North Carolina told us, the obstacles to a visit are not with their school — they are prepared to promptly review and act upon any applications for a visit. Rather, the question is whether CSL will approve the visit, accept the credits towards CSL degree requirements, and waive degree requirements that cannot be met at the visiting school, such as the course on North Carolina distinctions.
The school has sent mixed messages to students about the possibility of visiting at another school. CSL should publish clear guidance on visits as soon as possible, and should do everything possible to facilitate visits for students who request them. We asked Traci Fleury, assistant dean of academic services, for clarification. She did not respond to our phone call.
Charlotte School of Law should devote more resources to student service and administrative offices. Completed applications, whether for a visit or a transfer, typically require a letter of good standing, an official transcript, and, for visits, a letter promising to accept credits from the visiting school. Students report to us that they are still waiting on one or more of these items from CSL. Dean Fleury indicated in an email to a student that a team of five people is working through transfer packets for students. But time is of the essence, and Infilaw schools have been accused of purposefully impeding transfers in the past. Thus the school needs to devote even more resources so that inattentiveness does not prevent students from making informed choices about their futures.
Charlotte School of Law should clarify why it indicated that the school will submit a “teach-out” plan to the ABA in March. A teach-out plan helps students find a reasonable opportunity to complete their program of study. The ABA accreditation rules require a teach-out plan for any school that loses access to the federal student loan program. However, Rule 34 also requires a teach-out if the school intends to cease operations. CSL has already informed students who had been planning to start this month that the “spring start” for which they had been admitted has been canceled. With deadlines for transfer and visits looming, and nearby schools preparing to begin classes as early as tomorrow, CSL should clarify whether the school plans to cease operations in the near future, or if it is even considering such a step, as this will obviously have an impact on the decisions that students make.
While we understand that the situation is fluid, and that the school’s plans may be contingent on a variety of factors that are outside of its control (such as regaining federal funding), CSL must not let uncertainty prevent timely release of information. If in doubt, CSL should err on the side of full disclosure and immediately release any information that could conceivably affect its students’ decisions.
Women now make up a (slight) majority of JD students and that’s a milestone to celebrate. But why did it take us so long to reach this milestone? And will we be able to maintain women’s success throughout law school and their careers? I offer some thoughts here.
For the first time ever, women constitute a majority of JD students at ABA-accredited law schools. 50.32% of JD students studying for fall exams are women.*
It’s a milestone to celebrate–but also one to view with caution.
As Kyle McEntee and I reported last month, female law students remain clustered at the least prestigious law schools. You can find a graphic representation of these data, along with a podcast in which Kyle and I discuss the numbers, here.
After crunching the latest disclosures, there remains a strong (and statistically significant) correlation between a law school’s US News rank and its percentage of female students: On average, the better ranked schools enroll a significantly smaller percentage of women students. The correlation remains when we look at schools’ placement outcomes. Men are significantly more likely than women to attend schools that place a large percentage of their graduates in full-time, long-term jobs requiring a law license. Women are more likely to attend schools with weak employment outcomes.
When we looked at last year’s data, we found a correlation of .381 between a school’s US News rank and the percentage of women it enrolled. This year, the correlation is almost as high, at .357. The story is similar for the relationship between percentage of female students and good job outcomes. Last year’s data showed a correlation of -.520, while the updated data yield an association of -.508. All of these relationships are statistically significant: the odds of them occurring by chance are less than one in a thousand.
Women now outnumber men in law schools, but our pipeline is still broken. Let’s do more to recognize and correct gender bias in the profession. You can start with Law School Transparency’s podcast series on Women In the Law.
* Source: The ABA’s annual data release. These totals include students from Penn State’s two campuses, which seem to have been omitted from the “All Schools” spreadsheet on the ABA site. 55,059 of this year’s students are men, while 55,766 are women.
Law School Transparency continues its excellent series of podcasts, Women In the Law. Recent episodes discuss the portrayal of women lawyers in the media, the leaky pipeline in law school admissions, and ongoing pipeline leaks in practice. Each episode has generated a set of op-ed columns and other commentary; all of those are linked on the episode pages. Check out the conversation and keep it going with your own friends and colleagues.
We’re honored to appear once again in the ABA’s list of “Top 100 Blawgs.” Many thanks to our readers.
I’m pleased to announce that Law School Transparency has a new show, Women in the Law—a podcast mini-series and related articles that examine the many professional and personal challenges that women continue to face as members of the legal profession.
The first theme is Hey Sweetie! Sexism in the Legal Workplace.
During the podcast (above), we hear from lawyers around the country about persistent sexist behavior, as well as the more pernicious implicit bias. During a roundtable discussion at Wake Forest University (below), six lawyers talk with the show’s producers about mistaken job titles, whether and how to respond to sexism in the workplace, and more.
We’ve also published several editorials on our partner websites.
Stay tuned for new shows every week through the end of December. Future themes include the leaky pipeline, solutions, and women lawyers in the media.
The Council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has approved a hotly debated proposal to tighten the accreditation standard governing bar passage rates. When the new standard takes effect, schools will have to demonstrate that seventy-five percent of graduates who choose to take a bar exam pass that exam within two years.
Opponents of the standard argued that it might reduce racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession. Council members, however, largely rejected that argument. Raymond Pierce, former dean of the North Carolina Central University School of Law, distinguished between programs that give students “an opportunity” and those offering “a false chance.”
For more, see this story.
Yes, we can. I offer some ideas in this column posted at Bloomberg’s Big Law Business.
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