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Deborah Merritt is the John Deaver Drinko/Baker & Hostetler Chair in Law at The Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. She has received multiple teaching awards for her work in both clinical and podium courses. With Ric Simmons, she developed an "uncasebook" for teaching the basic evidence course. West Academic has adopted their template to create a series of texts that reduce the traditional focus on appellate opinions. Deborah writes frequently about changes in legal education and the legal profession.

New Semester, Old Classes

January 10th, 2017 / By

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.

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The Long Road

December 23rd, 2016 / By

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.

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A Milestone for Legal Education

December 15th, 2016 / By

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.

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Women In the Law

December 7th, 2016 / By

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.

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Blawg 100

December 7th, 2016 / By

We’re honored to appear once again in the ABA’s list of “Top 100 Blawgs.” Many thanks to our readers.

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Council Approves New Bar Passage Standard

October 21st, 2016 / By

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.

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Can We Increase Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Legal Profession?

October 11th, 2016 / By

Yes, we can. I offer some ideas in this column posted at Bloomberg’s Big Law Business.

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The Latest Change in the MBE

September 5th, 2016 / By

In the memo announcing results from the July 2016 MBE, Erica Moeser also notified law school deans about an upcoming change in the test. For many years the 200-question exam has included 190 scored items and 10 pre-test questions. Starting in February 2017, the numbers will shift to 175 scored items and 25 pre-test ones.

Pre-testing is an important feature of standardized exams. The administrator uses pre-test answers to gauge a question’s clarity, difficulty, and usefulness for future exams. When examinees answer those questions, they improve the design of future tests.

From the test-taker’s perspective, these pre-test questions are indistinguishable from scored ones. Like other test-makers, NCBE scatters its pre-test questions throughout the exam. Examinees answer each question without knowing whether it is a “real” item that will contribute to their score or a pre-test one that will not.

So what are the implications of NCBE’s increase in the number of pre-test items? The shift is relatively large, from 10 questions (5% of the exam) to 25 (12.5% of the exam). I have three concerns about this change: fair treatment of human research subjects, reliability of the exam, and the possible impact on bar passage rates. I’ll explore the first of these concerns here and turn to the others in subsequent posts.

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Surprise: MBE Scores Rise in 2016

August 31st, 2016 / By

Erica Moeser, President of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, sent a memo to law school deans today. The memo reported the welcome, but surprising, news that the national mean score on the MBE was higher in July 2016 than in July 2015. Last year, the national mean was just 139.9. This year, it’s 140.3.

That’s a small increase, but it’s nonetheless noteworthy. LSAT scores for entering law students have been falling for several years. The drop between fall 2012 and fall 2013 was quite noticeable: Seventy percent of ABA-accredited law schools experienced a drop in the 25th percentile score of their entering class. At 19 schools, that score fell 3 points. At another five, it was 4 points.

LSAT scores correlate with MBE scores, so many observers expected July 2016 MBE scores to be lower than those recorded in 2015. Moeser, for example, has repeatedly stressed the link between LSAT scores and MBE ones. She recently declared: “What would surprise me is if LSAT scores dropped and bar pass rates didn’t go down.”

Moeser just received that surprise: Students who began law school in fall 2013 had lower LSAT scores than those who began a year earlier. The former students, however, beat the latter on the MBE after graduation.

So What Happened?

Unpacking this news will take more time and data. Moeser mentions in her memo that the mean MBE score increased in 22 jurisdictions, fell in 26, and remained stable in two. Teasing apart the jurisdictions will provide insights. School-specific results will be even more informative in exploring why the overall score rose.

For now, I offer four hypotheses in descending order of likelihood (from my perspective):

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Accreditation

July 31st, 2016 / By

Earlier this summer, a federal panel recommended suspending the ABA’s power to accredit new law schools for one year. The transcript for that meeting has now been published, so we can examine in detail what happened. It’s clear that the panel intended its action to “send a signal” to the ABA Council that accredits law schools. All of us in legal education need to hear that signal: It affects the standards we adopt for accrediting law schools, as well as the eligibility of our students to take the bar exam.

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About Law School Cafe

Cafe Manager & Co-Moderator
Deborah J. Merritt

Cafe Designer & Co-Moderator
Kyle McEntee

ABA Journal Blawg 100 HonoreeLaw School Cafe is a resource for anyone interested in changes in legal education and the legal profession.

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