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Revisiting “Hemispheres” in the Legal Profession

August 28th, 2017 / By

Excerpts from “Professional Apartheid: The Racialization of U.S. Law Schools After the Global Economic Crisis” American Ethnologist 44:3, August 2017. This piece relates to the author’s recent book, Law Mart: Justice Access and For-Profit Law Schools (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017).

The 2008 global financial collapse was a watershed for US law schools. The sudden loss of capital, triggered by overspeculation and the repackaging of debt among multinational banks, caused global corporations to cancel transactions, settle litigation, and demand greater efficiency in remaining legal-services agreements. Large global law firms laid off thousands of attorneys, canceled new recruitments, and began outsourcing work to legal temp agencies, which in turn benefited from a professional labor oversupply and the new “gig” economy. In the preceding years, US law schools had expanded their operations and planned their budgets based on tuition priced against once-widespread lucrative corporate law incomes. Now they faced austerity. And because it was already in doubt whether law school job outcome reports were accurate, the moral hazard that they generated seemed to multiply after the economic crash. Prospective students took heed. Whereas legal education had seen increased demand in prior economic downturns, this time would be different: enrollment in US law schools plunged 30 percent from 2011 to 2015.

Indexing public fascination with this, failures in legal education made headlines in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Huffington Post. In an age of new cultural insurrections like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, people grew fascinated by the discomfort of this once-elite knowledge community. Beneath those news stories lay serious lessons about difference and knowledge capitalism in the contemporary global system. The so-called crisis of legal education and the legal profession, along with the overwhelmingly market-based reaction to it, suggests something deeper about the state of social justice under neoliberal political economy. (more…)

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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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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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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?

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International JD Students

March 18th, 2017 / By

A recent news story notes that 17% of Harvard’s first-year law students are international students. This statistic intrigued me. International students have long been a staple of LLM programs, but how many enroll and graduate from ABA-accredited JD programs?

The answer, it turns out, varies a lot from school to school. I used the ABA’s Standard 509 reports to count the number of “nonresident alien” students enrolled at each accredited law school. That number undercounts “international” students because it does not include foreign students who hold permanent resident visas. Nonetheless, it offers some measure of a JD demographic that has received little press attention. I explore here the presence of nonresident aliens in accredited law schools–although I will refer to these students as “international” students (a somewhat imprecise but friendlier term).

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Charlotte School Of Law Should Be More Transparent, Immediately

January 4th, 2017 / By

game of loansEd. 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.

  1. Continue their classes at CSL. These students would need to cover the more than $22,000 in tuition and fees per semester with a combination of discounts from the law school, cash, and private student loans.
  2. Pause their legal education. Rather than rush into a decision based on incomplete information, students may wish to take a semester off and weigh their options. Under ABA rules, students have up to 84 months within starting law school to obtain all the credits to earn their JD.
  3. Visit at another law school. Students may attend another law school that accepts them as a visitor. They would need to cover tuition and fees at the new school in the same way as they would at CSL — without federal student loans. Some students may be able to complete their degree requirements as a visitor. Otherwise, they may return to CSL (if open) or transfer, though they may lose some credits.
  4. Transfer to another law school. A transfer to another law school would likely be a permanent move. The school’s latest communication to students indicates a pending arrangement with Florida Coastal School of Law (likewise owned by Infilaw) that would guarantee transfer to Coastal. For students with low grades or on academic probation, this may be the only available option. Students wishing to attend another law school will need to obtain admission through the target school’s standard transfer application process.

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.

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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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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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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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