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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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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.

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Clinics and Costs

May 6th, 2017 / By

Bob Kuehn has written an incisive article about the relationship between law school tuition and clinical education. Contrary to many educators’ assumptions, Bob finds that there is no statistically significant relationship between the tuition charged by schools that require a clinical experience and schools that do not. Requiring students to complete a clinic before graduation, in other words, does not correspond with increased tuition.

Similarly, schools that guarantee students a clinical experience–should they choose to take one–do not charge significantly higher tuition than schools without that guarantee. Accounting for tuition discounts did not change these results: Schools with clinical requirements or guarantees did not acquire significantly more tuition revenue per student than those without those requirements or guarantees.

The same story emerged when Bob analyzed clinical course availability (rather than requirements or guarantees). Enhanced clinical opportunities never correlated significantly with higher tuition (either list price or discounted). On the contrary, several analyses found a significant relationship between clinical opportunities and lower tuition rates. Bob summarizes the results of his research in a post on the Best Practices for Legal Education blog.

How could this be? Aren’t clinics incredibly expensive to run? Well, yes and no. As Bob explains, the availability of clinical education depends more on the choices that law schools make than on the direct cost of clinics.

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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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The View from Minnesota: A Profession on Edge

July 25th, 2016 / By

Wood R. Foster, Jr., a Minneapolis lawyer and former president of the Minnesota State Bar Association, has written a striking review of recent changes in the legal profession. Foster spent his career as a commercial litigator with Siegel Brill, a small Minneapolis firm. Relatively few lawyers from that background have written about changes in the legal profession, and Foster does so eloquently.

Foster covers the growing surplus of lawyers, which he dates to 2000; fracturing of the profession; stalled diversity efforts; the high cost of legal education; BigLaw and its equally big shadow; and the impact of technology.

With some irony, Foster quotes a column that he wrote in 2000 after holding a series of focus groups with lawyers. “I have found,” he wrote then, “that lawyers are generally reluctant to visualize the profession’s future.” The future, however, arrived anyway. Today, he reflects, “a good argument can be made that the legal profession has changed more in the last 15 years than it did in the 150 years from 1849 to 1999.”

Foster’s views echo those I hear from many practitioners in their 60s and 70s. While academics continue to debate the existence of change, these lawyers have lived it. Their vantage point makes them particularly sympathetic to the newest generation of lawyers. “There really can be no doubt,” Foster concludes, “that it has been a rough ride for lawyers graduating from law school since 2000. . . . [The facts] add up to an unflattering picture of why so many young lawyers are finding it so hard to get the kind of start in their chosen profession that older lawyers like me were able to take for granted during the last half of the twentieth century.”

Give Foster a read. His featured series of articles absorbs much of this issue of Minnesota’s Bench and Bar journal.

 

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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. (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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Caveat Venditor: Empty Threats From Notorious For-Profit Law Schools

May 27th, 2016 / By

Closeup of a pile of caution tape
This piece was originally published on Above the Law.

Welcome to Caveat Venditor, a new series that assesses claims made by law schools to separate truth from fiction. This week, we look at a threatening letter sent to a documentary film maker by Tom Clare, a lawyer for The Infilaw System.

InfiLaw owns three law schools — Arizona Summit, Charlotte School of Law, and Florida Coastal — and several legal education-related management companies. These are three of six total for-profit law schools approved by the ABA, although two of the other three are transitioning to non-profit status. InfiLaw also tried and failed to purchase Charleston School of Law after faculty, alumni, students, and the local legal community revolted.

Hat tip to Paul Campos for the full text of the letter:

I write on behalf of my client, The InfiLaw System (“InfiLaw”), regarding your inquiry into interviews with Florida Coastal School of Law officials for a documentary you are making. I write to caution you as you proceed with fact-finding and information gathering associated with your planned documentary.

Prior reporting on the issues you plan to address, including law school attrition rates and student success, has been plagued by gross misinformation, factual errors, and a general misuse and distortion of available data and analysis. This is especially true as they have been applied to InfiLaw schools such as Florida Coastal. Individuals, such as Paul Campos, have distorted facts and data and engaged in nefarious and inappropriate investigative tactics in order to accomplish a false agenda attacking law school admissions and career advancement policies. As such, I caution you to carefully assess any information and facts you gather from Mr. Campos and any other purported “authorities” on law school success metrics and the risks and rewards of attending law school in this day and age. InfiLaw and its affiliated schools will carefully analyze and assess any statements made about them and will not be afraid to pursue legal recourse to protect its reputation against any false and reckless statements.

In addition, InfiLaw requests that you notify me immediately upon any decisions to include any references to or subject matter about InfiLaw or any of its affiliate schools in your documentary, and provide InfiLaw the opportunity to review and comment on them prior to any public dissemination.

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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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