The Applicant Plunge Is Not a PR Problem

July 21st, 2017 / By

The following was part of a series published by the National Law Journal called Law Schools Are Losing Smart Applicants. How Do They Lure Them Back?” The NLJ asked 11 people from inside and outside the legal academy for responses, including me and Debby Merritt. Her response has been republished here.

The applicant plunge is not a PR problem. Schools cannot just demonstrate and appeal to a lifetime wage and opportunity premium. Although applicants expect both, people do not typically make standard investment analyses. Applicants consider a variety of factors, key among them that student loan repayment begins only six months after graduation.

I can’t say I blame them. Monthly payments for borrowers without family support exceed $3000 at several top law schools, even with a generous scholarship. Significant student debt undermines aspirations college graduates have for their 20s and 30s: a fulfilling career, home ownership, marriage and kids, active community participation, financial freedom. Massive debt also deeply affects students on a psychological and emotional level.

Law schools need to substantially lower prices so student debt stops scaring so many applicants away. Safety nets like income-based repayment make worst-case scenarios tolerable, but do little to quell concerns related to quality-of-life aspirations. Tuition increases have been internally justified for decades on the belief that law school was a great deal. But until law schools account for how today’s applicants think about their future, too many potential lawyers will make other arrangements—maybe to their detriment, but certainly to the legal profession’s.

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Law Schools Should Set Reasonable List Prices That Reflect Earnings Available to Their Graduates

July 21st, 2017 / By

The following was part of a series published by the National Law Journal called Law Schools Are Losing Smart Applicants. How Do They Lure Them Back?” The NLJ asked 11 people from inside and outside the legal academy for responses, including me and Kyle McEntee. His response has been republished here.

Law schools should set reasonable list prices that reflect the earnings available to their graduates. Our high sticker/discount system requires applicants to commit to legal education, invest significant time and money studying for the LSAT, and risk rejection from multiple schools—all before they learn the true cost of their legal education. That system discourages the type of careful thinkers and planners who once found law school attractive.

On campus, we should integrate much more hands-on work throughout the curriculum. Millennials like to do things, not just read about them. Employers, clients and cognitive scientists agree that “doing” is essential to develop professional expertise. Until we embrace that wisdom, we won’t attract talented students back to law school—or prepare them to serve their clients effectively.

Finally, we should replace mandatory grading curves with more nuanced assessments of student learning. Outcome-based assessment helps students focus on the specific knowledge and skills they need to master. Students learn more and employers receive more helpful information about a graduate’s abilities. An educational program that promises to foster expertise, rather than ranking students on a fixed curve, will draw more talented applicants.

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The High Cost of Not Lowering the Bar

June 28th, 2017 / By

Gilbert A. Holmes is Dean and Professor of Law at the University of La Verne College of Law

In July of 2016, graduates from ABA-approved law schools in California had a first-time General Bar Examination pass rate of 62 percent, and all bar takers in the state had a first-time pass rate of 56 percent. These numbers are down from previous years, sparking debate, discussion and deliberation about the reason for the decline and what can be done about it.

Deans of ABA-approved law schools in California have been calling for a lowering of the cut score that serves as the basis for grading of the exam. California has the second highest cut score in the country. It also has the lowest pass rate, even though researcher Roger Bolus reported to the State Bar of California that the state’s bar exam takers perform higher than the national average on the only portion of the exam that every state except Louisiana administers—the MBE.

The State Bar has responded to this call by engaging in a number of studies about the content and validity of the bar exam and the California grading system. (more…)

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Provisional Accreditation for UNT-Dallas

June 6th, 2017 / By

The Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has granted provisional accreditation to the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law. As I wrote last fall, this innovative law school well deserved a chance to try its wings.

Here are some distinctive features of the school:

  • 51.4% of its students are minority students. National Jurist recently named the school the third most diverse law school in America.
  • The student body is notable for its diversity in age and prior work experience, in addition to race and gender.
  • Tuition for 2016-17 was $15,768 for full-time residents and $11,653 for part-time residents.
  • During 2016-17, more than half (51.8%) of students received scholarships, with a median grant of $1,250 (for both full-time and part-time students).
  • Entering scholarships depend upon academic record, socioeconomic background, first-generation status, and community service. There are no conditional scholarships.
  • The school requires completion of courses in accounting and finance for lawyers; interviewing and counseling; negotiation and conflict resolution; effective oral communication; and the business of law.
  • The school also requires students to complete two fully experiential courses (drawn from clinics, externships, or practicums)
  • Many upper-level courses incorporate writing, research, and/or skills segments. Students must complete multiple segments in each of these three categories (in addition to required writing, research, and skills courses)
  • Students must demonstrate proficiency in several practice-related technologies.

The first group of 74 graduates will receive their degrees this month–and those degrees are now from an ABA-accredited law school. Godspeed UNT-Dallas and grads!

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Bar Exam Scores and Lawyer Discipline

June 3rd, 2017 / By

Robert Anderson and Derek Muller have posted a provocative paper, The High Cost of Lowering the Bar, in which they argue that “bar exam score is significantly related to likelihood of State Bar discipline throughout a lawyer’s career.” Thus, they warn, “lowering the bar examination passing score,” as several California law deans have advocated, “will likely increase the amount of malpractice, misconduct, and discipline among California lawyers.”

Anderson and Muller urge the state bar to collect more detailed data on the relationship between bar scores and lawyer discipline–and then to consider the possible impact on attorney misconduct if the Supreme Court lowers the passing score. “The data we have collected,” they conclude, “should raise serious concerns about the effect on consumers of lowering the passing score.”

What type of correlation did Anderson and Muller identify? Should it affect decisions about the passing score for the bar exam? Let’s take a closer look.

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More on the Bar Exam: Correlation and Competence

May 31st, 2017 / By

Derek Muller has identified an intriguing study of alternative ways to assess bar applicants. In 1980, the California bar examiners worked with a research team to explore the desirability of testing a wider range of lawyering skills on the bar exam. The researchers designed a two-day supplement to the bar exam and invited all July test-takers to participate in the supplemental exercise. More than 4,000 test-takers volunteered and, using appropriate sampling methods, the researchers chose 500 to participate. A few volunteers were unable to complete the exercise due to illness, so the final sample included 485 bar examinees.

These examinees completed the supplemental exercises in August 1980, shortly after taking the regular July exam. For two days, the examinees interviewed clients, drafted discovery plans, prepared letters, wrote trial briefs, cross-examined witnesses, and made arguments to mock juries. Each day’s work involved 5-6 tasks focused on a single client matter. Professional actors played the role of clients, and the researchers developed elaborate protocols for scoring the exercises.

How did results on the supplemental exam compare to those on the conventional test?

(more…)

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Trends in Law Firm Staffing

May 28th, 2017 / By

Altman Weil has released its annual report on “Law Firms in Transition.” The report, based on a survey of managing partners of law firms with at least 50 lawyers, documents continued change in the way law firms staff their matters.

More than half of these law firms now use contract lawyers (57.1%) or part-time lawyers (52.7%). Almost half (41.8%) employ staff attorneys. Larger firms (those with at least 250 lawyers) are more likely than smaller firms to use these staffing strategies. Indeed, about three quarters of those larger firms use contract lawyers (77.0%), part-time lawyers (71.3%) or staff attorneys (78.2%). The numbers, however, are still significant at firms with 50-249 lawyers–especially for contract lawyers. More than half (50.4%) of the mid-sized firms use those lawyers.

Law firms have adopted these strategies because they increase profitability. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed leaders indicated that “shifting work to contract/temporary lawyers” has resulted in a “significant improvement” in that metric. Almost half (49.5%) thought that “shifting work from lawyers to paraprofessionals” had the same salutary effect.

Law firms have also started to push the next frontier in staffing client matters: by using artificial intelligence (like IBM’s Watson) for some analyses. More than a third of law firms (36.3%) have started using those tools or “have begun to explore” those opportunities.

These results are not surprising to anyone who has followed law firm trends since the Great Recession. They underline, however, firms’ enthusiasm for these new staffing models.

H/t to TaxProf for noting the availability of Altman Weil’s report.

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Reflections of a Bar Exam Skeptic

May 26th, 2017 / By

Robert Anderson has posted a thoughtful comment on the bar exam in which he dubs me a “bar exam skeptic.” I accept the label with pride: I have been deeply skeptical of the bar exam for years. I first wrote about the exam in 2001, when the national pass rate for first-time takers was a relatively high 77% (see p. 23). My skepticism today, with a national pass rate of 69%, is no greater or smaller. As I wrote recently, it’s time to convene a National Task Force to examine our bar admissions process.

Who Cares About the Bar Exam?

As Professor Anderson rightly observes, decanal concerns about the bar exam have risen as pass rates have fallen. That’s human nature. The content and scoring of the bar exam are boring subjects for alumni gatherings, graduation speeches, or law review submissions. Few legal educators spontaneously write about setting cut scores, scaling essay questions, or equating test scores over time. The bar exam is like plumbing: most people take it for granted until something goes wrong.

But now the bar exam pipes are leaking and people are paying attention. The leak doesn’t mean we should patch things up just to revive pass rates; the bar exam should measure competence, not admit a predetermined number of lawyers. But now that people are paying attention, this is a good time to consider whether we’re using the right type of filter and piping in our rather antiquated system.

(more…)

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What Do Students Do in Clinics?

May 17th, 2017 / By

Douglas Kahn has posted an article criticizing the “proliferation of clinical and other experiential courses” in legal education. These courses, he argues, reduce the number of “doctrinal” courses that students take, leaving them “ill-prepared to practice law as soon after graduation as law firms would like.” The TaxProf Blog posted a summary of the article, and a baker’s dozen of readers have offered pro and con comments.

It’s an old debate, one that has bristled for more than 50 years. The discussion doesn’t surprise me, but Professor Kahn’s ignorance of clinical education does. His bold assertions about clinics reveal little familiarity with the actual operation of those courses. Let’s examine some of Kahn’s claims.

(more…)

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LST Reports Updated

May 11th, 2017 / By

As Debby pointed out, the ABA just released the latest employment statistics. Each school’s report is on the ABA website and their own website, but it’s not easy to compare schools in a giant spreadsheet, either with each other or year over year. I just updated the LST Reports with all the new data. These comparisons are easy using our tools.

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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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