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LSAC Throws a Temper Tantrum

August 17th, 2016 / By

The Law School Admissions Council has thrown its latest tantrum.

In a letter to admissions professionals around the country, LSAC’s president, Daniel Bernstine, signaled that LSAC would stop certifying the accuracy of each law school’s LSAT and undergraduate GPA statistics. The certification is a joint effort between LSAC and the ABA to prevent law schools from lying about their admissions statistics.

LSAC agreed to certify admissions statistics in 2012 after months of roundly dismissing calls for certification. The group had claimed that certification would be cost prohibitive, despite nearly $60 million in total revenue in 2011 and a $10.7 million surplus in 2012. The group also claimed that certification was outside the scope of its organizational mission, despite its member law schools saying that LSAC was best positioned to protect the integrity of the admissions process.

Pressure mounted in 2011 and 2012 for LSAC to help the ABA after two law schools intentionally reported fraudulent data to the ABA and elsewhere, including to U.S. News and World Report for their annual law school rankings. In February 2011, Villanova University School of Law reported that an official at the law school intentionally reported fabricated LSAT and GPA statistics for an unknown number of years prior to 2010. Later that year, the University of Illinois College of Law admitted to intentionally fabricating the same statistics over a seven-year period. The school’s assistant dean for admissions and financial aid, Paul Pless, resigned as a result of the controversy.

This tantrum is LSAC’s second one this year. Both came after the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law announced that the school would allow applicants to submit GRE scores in place of LSAT scores.

At that time, LSAC threatened to strip Arizona of its membership, which would eliminate access to a variety of services. LSAC walked back the threat in May after pressure from its membership and anti-trust concerns.

So why is the ABA now the latest recipient of LSAC’s retribution?

In response to law schools hoping to utilize the GRE as a non-exclusive alternative to the LSAT, which is designed and administered by LSAC, the ABA is examining whether the GRE meets Standard 503. That standard provides that schools must use a “valid and reliable admission test to assist the school and the applicant in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s program of legal education.” The LSAT is the only nationally validated test as of right now, though Arizona independently validated the GRE and other schools are trying to also.
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Alternative Publishing Models For Cost-Conscious Professors

July 13th, 2016 / By

Casebooks are shockingly expensive. The latest edition of Stone, Seidman, Sunstein, Tushnet, and Karlan’s Constitutional Law has a list price of $242. It’s even more shocking when you consider where the money goes. Not to pay for the cases and other primary materials that make up most of a casebook’s contents: they’re public domain and free to all. Mostly not to cover printing costs: the paperback edition of The Power Broker (to pick a book with the same word count and heft as a casebook) has a list price of $26, and you can buy it on Amazon for $18. Mostly not to authors: royalty rates are typically 10% to 20%. No, most of that money ends up in the pockets of the casebook publishers and other middlemen in the casebook chain. This is a tax on legal education, sucking money from law students and from the taxpayers underwriting their student loans.

In a perceptive and persuasive recent essay, Choosing a Criminal Procedure Casebook: On Lesser Evils and Free Books, Ben Trachtenberg runs through these numbers and reaches the obvious conclusion: law schools shouldn’t be asking students to shell out the big bucks to read public-domain legal materials. Casebooks should be cheap or free.

Trachtenberg’s preferred solution is that law schools, alone or together, fund the creation of “top-quality casebooks” which could then be made available to students for the cost of printing. Here at Law School Cafe, Kyle McEntee endorsed Trachtenberg’s suggestion and added that “it may make more sense to do this through an external organization funded through grants” to save students even more.
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Law Books For The Price Of Printing?

June 30th, 2016 / By

Originally published on Above The Law.

library w bookLaw students spend between $3,000 and $4,000 on books during law school. For those that borrow, add another $1,000 on the 10-year plan or $2,000 on the 20-year plan. While a drop in the bucket compared to tuition and living expenses, $4,000 to $6,000 for books is not insignificant.

Shaving these costs down to the cost of printing is a common suggestion, but it does not appear to have been done at scale. In a new article in the Saint Louis University Law Journal, Professor Ben Trachtenberg from the University of Missouri School of Law outlines how to actually do it with the goal of encouraging action.

The question is: will it happen?
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Lessons for Online Legal Education

June 5th, 2016 / By

An increasing number of law schools are creating online courses, certificate offerings, and degree programs. As newcomers to online education, we should look to existing programs for inspiration. One of those is Harvard Business School’s successful CORe program, an online certificate course in business basics. I wrote about CORe’s suitability for law students several weeks ago. Here, I examine three lessons that the program offers to law schools interested in online education.

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Engines of Anxiety

April 29th, 2016 / By

Two sociologists, Wendy Nelson Espeland and Michael Sauder, have published a book that examines the impact of US News rankings on legal education. The book, titled Engines of Anxiety, is available as an e-book through Project Muse. If your university subscribes to Project Muse (as mine does), you can download the book and read it for free on your laptop or tablet. If you don’t have access to a university library, some public libraries also subscribe to books through Project Muse. It’s a great way to read academic books and journals. H/t to TaxProf for noting publication of this book.

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Trial Over Law School’s Job Statistics Symbolizes an Industry Gone Wrong

March 14th, 2016 / By

Originally published online and in print in the National Law Journal.

In May 2011, Anna Alaburda filed a lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson School of Law alleging that the school in San Diego lured students with deceptive and fraudulent employment statistics in violation of California consumer protection laws. With the trial starting last week, Alaburda’s case highlights how far the law school transparency movement has come in reforming U.S. legal education.

Outsourcing, automation and a ­thriving legal tech industry have ­fundamentally changed the legal profession. Law firms large and small closed or laid off huge swaths of attorneys in the wake of the Great Recession. Even recently, in Febru­ary, Milwaukee’s largest minority-owned firm, Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan, abruptly discontinued its business, laying-off more than 100 attorneys and 200 staffers. Many remaining jobs on the legal market are temporary or paying low wages.

But Alaburda’s claims about an unknown glut of law school graduates predate the financial crisis. After graduating from New York University in 2002 and working for several years, she started law school in 2005. Her lawsuit reflects several decades of unethical marketing from law schools of all types.

When Alaburda applied, Thomas Jeffer­son and the American Bar Association reported a graduate employment rate north of 80 percent. In court documents, she alleges that she relied on reports about Thomas Jefferson’s success in deciding to enroll.

To say she should have known better is to miss the cultural context in which she made her decision. Until only recently, “education debt is not bad debt” dominated career advice that college provides a positive return on investment. Law school especially has been portrayed as a ­ticket to financial security or even wealth. Students are told to and, indeed, want to trust the institutions they’re seeking to attend for higher education. To mistrust schools, your advisers and common wisdom required a divergent leap of faith.

Alaburda decided to attend law school before The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, The Wash­ington Post and hundreds of other publications covered misleading employment statistics. Coverage of law school deception started in earnest in April 2010 in this very publication — nearly five years after Alaburda started law school. That fall, after decades of conditioning, law school enrollment peaked while thousands of recent and not-so-recent graduates began to realize they were not alone in feeling duped. Against an overwhelmingly positive cultural backdrop, they misplaced their trust.
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The U.S. News Rankings Are Horrible. Stop Paying Attention.

March 11th, 2016 / By

Note: A version of this piece was published last year on Law.com, but the U.S. News rankings remain as toxic of an influence as ever. This years version was published on Above the Law.

Next week, the law school world will overreact to slightly-shuffled U.S. News rankings. Proud alumni and worried students will voice concerns. Provosts will threaten jobs. Prospective students will confuse the annual shuffle with genuine reputational change.

Law school administrators will react predictably. They’ll articulate methodological flaws and lament negative externalities, but will nevertheless commit to the rankings game through their statements and actions. Assuring stakeholders bearing pitchforks has become part of the job description. (more…)

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What President Obama’s 2017 Budget Tells Us About Law Schools

February 16th, 2016 / By

Originally published on Bloomberg.

As law school — as well as other graduate and professional programs — become ever-more costly, the viability of the current federal student loan program wanes. The latest evidence comes from President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal, released last week.

But first a little history.
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How Student Loan Refinancing Could Undo Federal Loan Policy

January 26th, 2016 / By

Originally published on Above the Law.

If you’re a law school graduate with a ton of debt, there are a few companies that really want to talk to you — if you went to the right school and have the right job.

The deal works like this. The bank or non-bank lender pays the federal government the balance of your loan and you pay the new lender instead. In exchange, the private lender charges you a much lower interest rate. Rather than a rate north of 7%, you receive a rate as low as 2.5%.
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Harvard for Free?

January 17th, 2016 / By

I rarely vote my ballot for the Harvard Board of Overseers but I may have to do so this year. A group of candidates is running on a two-plank platform: (1) make tuition free for all undergraduates, and (2) disclose information about admissions decisions that would reveal (among other things) the role of race and legacy status in admissions.

Whoa, those are two goals rarely paired. The candidates are similarly diverse. One member of the slate is Ralph Nader, who is known for his far-left views. The other four publicly oppose affirmative action. What should we make of this?

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Cafe Manager & Co-Moderator
Deborah J. Merritt

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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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