Archive | Legal Profession

More on Washington and Lee Law School

Professor Jim Moliterno of Washington and Lee Law School has a lengthy post over at The Legal White Board, which is in part a response to my post on this blog suggesting that the jury remains out as to whether W & L’s innovative curriculum is a hit among prospective law students.

I noted that despite what appears to be have been a banner year last year in admissions, “W & L’s median LSAT score was in the top 20 of law schools when it announced its experiential curriculum in 2008, and that it’s gone down every year since.”  Moliterno replies, “Actually the W&L median LSAT was steady at 166 from 2005-2010, dropped 2 points to 164 in 2011 and stayed at 164 for 2012. It has not ‘gone down every year since [the new curriculum was announced in 2008].’”

Moliterno seems to have misunderstood what I wrote, and, in retrospect, I can see that I wasn’t clear.  I did not mean that W & L’s median LSAT score went down every year.  I meant that relative to other law schools, W & L’s median went down every year.  As a result, W & L’s median LSAT was in the top 20 among law schools in 2008, and was not even in the top 30 in 2012.

I also noted that to the extent W & L’s admissions stats are taking a dramatic turn for the better, it may not be because of its curriculum, but because W & L is being especially generous with financial aid, making it, on average, one of the least expensive law schools in the U.S. News top 40 for out of state students.

Moliterno replies that when asked about the strengths of the law school, students ranked the curriculum number one, and financial […]

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Too Soon to Pronounce Washington and Lee Law School’s “Experiential Curriculum” a Hit with Law School Applicants

Bill Henderson has a post over at The Legal Whiteboard that has been getting a lot of attention in law school circles, praising W & L’s innovative curriculum, which focuses on practical lawyer skills, as both an educational success and as a hit with law school applicants.   Bill goes over some of W & L’s recent admissions data, and concludes:  “A sizeable number of prospective students really do care about practical skills training and are voting with their feet.  W&L has therefore become a big winner in the race for applicants.”

Some caution is in order here.  My understanding is that W & L’s median LSAT score was in the top 20 of law schools when it announced its experiential curriculum in 2008, and that it’s gone down every year since, while its GPA rank has, after a plunge, more or less returned to where it was.  As Bill points out, W & L had a banner “yield” last year, with many more students accepting offers than places available, with a substantial percentage of students being asked to defer, and the first-year class still filled beyond capacity.  So we’ll have to see whether future statistics reflect strong gains in GPA and LSAT ranks, or whether W & L is attracting many students, but the “best” (most sought-after because of their LSATs and GPA, which are for the most part all law schools care about thanks to US News) students are still avoiding it.

Even if W & L does wind up with increasingly strong classes while everyone else is struggling, it wouldn’t be clear that its curriculum is the primary cause, or perhaps a cause at all.  Washington & Lee has a tuition “sticker price” of around $42,000,  but is known for being among the most generous law schools […]

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More on the Law School Business Model

A few days ago I posted on WSJ and NYT articles talking about the opening of new law schools in the midst of a crash in law student applications.  Since then, a couple of other professors have posted comments on the topic, and I thought I’d flag them.  NYU law professor Robert Howse, writing at Prawfslawblog, argues that the gloom and doom is overwrought, and suggests that American law schools will be able to look to foreign students, not just to fill LLM slots, but JD classes as well:

Application for JD slots are down-we all know that. But even assuming that’s a longer-term trend rather than a reflection of th economic anxieties and difficulties of the last years, there is no reason for panic or despair.  The potential of America’s law schools is only starting to be realized.

The global market for US legal education was traditionally regarded as composed of a relatively small group of foreign-educated lawyers seek advanced degrees. But this changing. Increasingly, a US JD degree is an attractive option for foreign students. And you have probably noticed more non-US JDs in your classes. In most countries law is the subject of a first degree after high school. The market could be expanded of US law schools were to offer a combination undergraduate degree in another discipline and a law degree-what about a 5 or 6 year program that leads to a BA in economics or political science or philosophy and a JD?

The fact is that American law schools have a competitive advantage. To be sure there is excellent legal education in some other countries. But my considerable global experience suggests to me that those countries are few. In most places, legal education is dominated by old-fashioned rote learning and by professors who spend

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12-Month Suspension from the Bar, for Fraudulently Manipulating Billings to Get Bonus Money from Firm

Note that the fraud here was on the firm, not on clients. From In re Siderits (Wis. Jan. 4, 2013):

In both 2007 and 2008, Attorney Siderits allegedly recorded in excess of 1,800 hours (1,803.3 hours in 2007 and 1806.3 hours in 2008). Because his recorded billable hours exceeded 1,800 hours, Attorney Siderits participated in the bonus system in 2007 and 2008, earning … [a total of] $46,978.04.

After the Firm paid Attorney Siderits each of the bonuses, but before the Firm mailed his bills to his clients, Attorney Siderits reduced, or “wrote-down,” certain of his billable hours for the years for which the bonuses were paid. In early 2008 Attorney Siderits wrote-down 29.2 hours of time from his 2007 billings without notifying the Firm. These write-downs caused Attorney Siderits’ 2007 billables to drop about 25 hours below the 1,800 level. In early 2009 Attorney Siderits wrote-down 231.9 hours from his 2008 billings, again without notifying the Firm. These write-downs caused Attorney Siderits’ 2008 billables to drop below 1,600 hours….

The referee believed the most damning evidence of wrongdoing was Attorney Siderits’ time-recording for 2008. Focusing on Attorney Siderits’ billings for Matter “A,” the referee wrote:

[I]t is inconceivable to me that an experienced attorney could expect anyone to believe that he spent 140 hours on a relatively straightforward brief; especially since the matter had been fully briefed previously and the new brief was substantially based on the work of an associate. His protestations to the contrary are simply not credible. Furthermore, his time on that brief was entered late in the year, at times one would not normally expect an attorney to be working on the brief, in large quantities, and entered days and weeks after the work was allegedly performed. The same amounts were then routinely deleted

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Law School Applicant “Capitulation”

Back in 2008 or so, a VC reader told me that because of my blogging about the housing bubble in 2004-05, he put off buying a house and was very glad he did.  Now, he said, he was wondering when would be the best time to buy a house from a capital gains perspective.  I responded that the best time to buy real estate, or really any investment, is when “everyone” is saying it’s a terrible investment.  On Wall Street, when buyers have almost disappeared from a market, and prices seem in permanent free fall (as in March 2009), it’s referred to as “capitulation.” (Both then and in October 2008, I was busy buying closed-end mutual funds, which “capitulated” to an even greater degree than the market as a whole, and for which I had an objective measure of their relative undervaluation.)

If we’re not as this stage with regard to demand for law school, we are damn close, with applications running about half the level  of six years ago.  Law school certainly isn’t for everyone, and how worthwhile economically it might be for anyone in particular has to start with that individual’s opportunity cost and where he gets admitted–it’s a very different decision if you currently are thriving as a consultant than if you are currently advancing your barista skills at Starbucks, and very different if you get into Harvard than into a newly accredited school in a saturated legal market, and very different if you can keep your current job and get an automatic pay raise (as in some government jobs) for getting a law degree and if you will likely need to hang out a shingle but have poor social skills.

But there hasn’t been a better time to apply to law school in a long […]

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Morriss on Tamanaha

Many commentators have praised Brian Tamanaha’s Failing Law Schools for its unflinching (and much needed) look at the state of legal education. Without question, Tamanaha was among the first to sound the alarm about legal education, and Failing Law Schools is an important book. But does Tamanaha go far enough? My former colleague Andrew Morriss does not think so. The book, Morriss concludes “raises more questions than it answers. Its greatest virtue is the concise, clear statement of the economic problem of legal education. Its greatest flaw is its failure to probe below the surface of the problem.” […]

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Are Regulatory Restrictions Killing The Law Firm Business Model?

There is an interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today by the Brookings Institution’s Clifford Winston and Robert Crandall, authors of First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All the Lawyers (the op-ed length version of which Jonathan blogged about here). The piece, cheerily entitled “The Law Firm Business Model is Dying,” uses the Dewey & LeBoeuf implosion as a jumping-off point to discuss how regulatory limitations on the legal market are undermining the law firm model.

Their basic thesis is this:

The problems these firms face today are twofold: Large clients are increasingly using in-house counsel to reduce costs, and the public is increasingly taking the do-it-yourself route given the growing access to a variety of legal services and documents on the Internet. The rational response would be for new, low-cost legal firms to start up, and for incumbents to reduce costs and attract new clients by providing innovative services.

But that is happening only to a limited extent because of state licensing requirements and American Bar Association (ABA) rules. Deregulation could open the market and transform the legal industry for the better.

The authors argue that the requirement that new lawyers have graduated from an ABA-accredited school and pass a bar examination “significantly limits the flow of new legal practitioners,” and requires that new attorneys recoup the cost of their education in the form of high salaries. That, the authors say, makes it difficult to control costs, and “[e]fforts to outsource some tasks have met with only limited success.” Furthermore, the authors say, ABA regulations prohibiting financial-services companies from having an ownership stake in law firms limit firms’ financing options and raise its capital costs in a way that the authors say hurt the highly leveraged Dewey.

The authors do not (by my lights) spend enough […]

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NLJ on Misreporting Law School Costs

The National Law Journal reports on the under-reporting of estimated cost-of-living expenses at many law schools. The story begins:

The news just keeps getting worse — at least as far as financing a legal education goes.

Law School Transparency has recalculated its estimates of the debt that law students stand to incur after discovering that a number of schools had low-balled the cost-of-living figures that they provided to U.S. News & World Report. On average, schools underreported those expenses — upon which the organization pegged its initial estimates — by $5,000, according to the Law School Transparency’s executive director, Kyle McEntee.

Additionally, the organization made several mistakes in its handling of the U.S. News data, which contributed to the problems, he said.

Here is the post that led to this story. […]

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Misreporting the Costs of Going to (Some) Law Schools

In an effort to educate potential law students about the real costs of attending law school, Law School Transparency has launched a “Data Clearinghouse”, a database of “consumer information” on law schools, including much information law schools have been reluctant to disclose.

The latest addition to the database are projections of the full cost of attending each law school in the nation. Based on Law School Transparency’s calculations, these costs can vary widely. As the NLJ reported:

As part of the comprehensive database of law school employment statistics it launched this week, the organization has projected the total cost of law school loans for students who will graduate in 2015 and 2016 — that is, the ones who will start law school this year or next. The former will owe an average of $195,265 and the latter will owe an average $200,595.

“My jaw dropped when I ran the numbers,” McEntee said.

He added a few caveats. The calculations are based on the assumption that students will borrow the full tuition amount in the form of federal loans, even though many students receive some scholarship money. They also assume that students at public law schools pay out-of state-tuition levels, which generally are higher than in-state rates. . . .

The City University of New York School of Law features the lowest projected debt for the class of 2015, at $96,242. The University of California, Berkeley School of Law had the highest, at $273,667, although that figure assumes graduates paid out-of-state tuition rates; most students from outside California qualify for in-state tuition after one year.

New York University School of Law had the next-highest projected debt at $266,462.

Some of the numbers are quite revealing — and some of the numbers are quite wrong. In a quick review of […]

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Shrinking Sales? Increase Prices!

The number of prospective law students taking the LSAT has declined significantly in the past few years after peaking in 2009-10.  So what is the Law School Admission Council doing in response?  Increasing the test fees.  The fee increases include a substantial increase (in percentage terms) in the cost of sending LSAT scores to schools.  Yet if the LSAC is among those concerned about declining law school applications, making it more expensive to apply is hardly a sound way to respond.

UPDATE: Brian Tamanaha takes a closer look at the LSAC here.  As he notes, this is strange behavior for a non-profit organization that’s “sitting on nearly $200 million in assets” and is supposed to serve the nation’s law schools. […]

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Panel on Reform of Lawyer Licensing at the University of Washington School of Law

This Friday at 4 PM, I will be on a panel on reform of the licensing system for lawyers at the University of Washington School of Law, in Seattle. I will be joined by Paula Littlewood, Executive Director of the Washington State Bar Association, and University of Washington law professor Thomas Andrews. The panel is sponsored by the University of Washington Federalist Society and – I believe – the Washington State Bar Association.

I will argue, as I have previously at the VC, that the public interest would be best served by deregulating the licensing system, including abolition of the bar exam and elimination of the requirement that lawyers must attend three years of law school. At the very least, I will explain, we should allow people to enter the bar after “reading law” or apprenticing with a current practitioner, as was common in the 19th and early twentieth century (this is how Abraham Lincoln became a lawyer, among many others). Such reforms can drive down the cost of legal services for consumers and also make it possible for people to enter the legal profession without a vast expenditure of time and money. It will, of course, be important for consumers to have information available to them about the quality of legal practitioners. But that can be done in many different ways, without perpetuating today’s guild-like licensing system. […]

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The Court’s Legitimacy

Following up on Jonathan’s post below, I’m not terribly worried about warnings from the left that a ruling against the ACA will undermine the Court’s legitimacy.

Who, after all, is going to lead the charge against the Court?  Liberal journalists like Linda Greenhouse and Dahlia Lithwick, whose human capital is invested in covering the Court?  The fraternity of elite liberal  lawyers who served as Supreme Court clerks, for whom undermining the Court’s legitimacy means undermining the value of their own prized credential?  Liberal constitutional law professors, who are as invested as anyone in the Court’s significance?  (It’s hard enough to get people to read one’s latest article on “A Kantian/Weberian Approach to the Fourth Amendment” when the Court is as important as it is now!)  Liberal activist groups and think-tankers, who still treasure the Court’s rulings on abortion, due process rights for terrorism suspects, term limits, and more, and who hope that a future Court will recognize a right to gay marriage?  Liberal Congressmen, when Congress’ popularity rating is well below the Court’s, and who have hardly shown themselves to be constitutional scholars? (Not to mention that journalists like Lithwick are on record suggesting that it’s “weird” for members of Congress to be considering the constitutionality of legislation.  “Isn’t it a court’s job to determine whether or not something is, in fact, constitutional?” wrote Lithwick.)

At most, a ruling against the ACA will have the same effect as Bush v. Gore or Citizens United, or Roe v. Wade and Boumediene for that matter; a fair amount of caterwauling, with the Court as an institution remaining unscathed.

UPDATE: I probably should add that I’m not at all sure the Court should have the level of legitimacy it currently has.  I think the other branches of government were […]

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Legal Ethics Forum Symposium on the Legal Education and the Legal Profession

This week the premier legal ethics blog, Legal Ethics Forum, is hosting a symposium on “Legal Education’s Response to the Economic Realities Facing the Profession.” In this symposium, “scholars on the legal profession from the United States and around the world will post contributions about the implications of economic pressures on the way we teach our students.” They have what looks like a fantastic line-up (including my colleague Cassandra Burke Robertson), so this will be a must read for those interested in how legal education and the legal profession are responding to broader economic changes. […]

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