Archive | Law Schools

Hardest Exam Question?

What’s the hardest exam question you ever faced in law school? Was there one so difficult it is seared into your memory?  One fiendish question I recall was on the final exam given by Judge Jay Plager in his Legislation class.  I don’t recall the precise substance, but it was immaterial.  There was a reasonably complex hypothetical fact pattern setting up  a legal dispute over the proper interpretation of a statute.  Question 1 asked us to take on the role of a judge hearing the case and to write the majority opinion.  Question 2 asked us the write the dissent. [...]

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Northwestern University Rejects Israel Boycotts

I am proud to say Northwestern University has strongly rejected the American Studies Association and other proposed boycotts of Israel, and reaffirmed its ties to Israel institutions. The following statement was released Friday by Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Dan Linzer (emphasis mine):

Recently the membership of the American Studies Association approved a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli higher education institutions. Two other U.S. academic associations have also advocated that stance. While we support the right of academicians to voice their viewpoints, Northwestern University disagrees strongly with the boycott vote of the ASA. Northwestern also rejects the actions suggested in the resolution. In fact, we believe the ASA resolution directly contradicts the values of academic freedom and advancing scholarship for which Northwestern stands.

Northwestern University faculty and students should have the ability to pursue academic collaborations with their colleagues at institutions around the world, including Israel. Northwestern for years has had highly successful and valued joint degree programs and extensive partnerships with Israeli institutions and scholars. We intend to maintain and strengthen relationships such as these.

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George Mason Law School Freezes Tuition

Here’s the press release:

Visitors Freeze George Mason Law Tuition

Fairfax, VA – December 11, 2013: The Board of Visitors of George Mason University voted today at its quarterly meeting to freeze the tuition of the law school for the upcoming year, for current and incoming students, and it declared its intention not to increase law tuition through 2016-17.

The Dean of the law school, Dan Polsby, stated, “One thing we understand is law and economics. Law school tuition went up more than fifty percent in the past seven years. This isn’t a business plan that can be sustained. The Board’s move recognizes that demand for legal education is changing, and that we must change with it. Our applicants can now apply to a top-tier law school with confidence that they will be able to manage the cost of their education.”

George Mason remains the least expensive top-tier law school in the dynamic Washington, D.C., legal market. With this move, Mason reaffirms its commitment to providing the highest value legal education at a reasonable price.

The Board’s tuition freeze is consistent with Mason’s commitment to affordability. Last year, seventy-three percent of Mason’s first-year law students received scholarships toward reducing their tuition.

Dean Polsby noted that “students choose Mason for three reasons: location, quality of education, and price. The location and quality they could always count on. Now they’ll be able to count on price as well.

[DB adds: GMUSL has traditionally been the “low-price, high-value” alternative in the DC legal market, and this and other moves signal a commitment by key players to preserve the law school’s identity as such.] [...]

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Law School Electives and the Two-Year vs. Three-Year Debate

Whether the J.D. degree should take two years or three years is a recurring question in legal education. But a lot of the debate ignores one of the more unusual aspects of the J.D. degree: For the most part, the second and third years consist only of electives. The first year features a mandatory curriculum, with perhaps one elective in the spring. But the remaining years consist mostly or entirely of electives, with perhaps one mandatory course (professional responsibility). Subject to scheduling constraints and the occasional difficulty getting into a class that may be oversubscribed, students can pretty much take any courses they want. At most schools, the upper-level course offerings are plentiful and wide-ranging. So after that first year, the rest is a “choose your own adventure” book.

I think this matters for two reasons. First, it largely counters the argument that law school needs to last for three years because students pick up essential skills and knowledge in their third year. We let students graduate from law school without having taken any particular classes beyond the 1L curriculum and P.R. If the third year were so essential, wouldn’t we require students to take specific classes to pick up those critical skills? The reality that schools happily graduate students regardless of what electives they selected suggests that we don’t really have a specific set of skills in mind.

Second, the elective nature of the second and third year means that students have some control over the usefulness of their third year. I agree with Eugene’s recent suggestion that there is no shortage of really important classes to take to fill up a student’s 2L and 3L years. When I learn that a student is finding her third-year useless, my first thought is to ask, “What classes are you taking? [...]

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SCIL Loses First Amendment Challenge to Bar Passage Disclosure Requirement

As I noted here, the Southern California Institute of Law sought to challenge a requirement that it disclose the bar passage rate of its graduates.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the judge was not too impressed with this argument. SCIL’s attorney says the school may appeal.  More from the WSJ Law Blog and ABA Journal. [...]

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Dean Sanctioned for Submitting False Admissions Data

Via Legal Ethics Forum comes news that former Villanova Law School Dean Mark Sargent received a three-year suspension from the Massachusetts Bar for knowingly submitting false admissions data.  Former Illinois Law DeanAssistant Dean of Admissions Paul Pless was also reprimanded by the Washington State bar.

[Note: Errors to this post have been corrected.  Most significantly, as initially written the post suggested that Paul Pless was the Dean of Illinois, rather than a Dean, as in Assistant Dean of Admissions.  This distinction is significant as there is no evidence of which I’m aware that other members of the the then-administration at Illinois were aware data had been misrepresented.  I regret the error.] [...]

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Law School Applications Continue to Drop

Law school applications are down 18 percent and the number of applicants is down 12 percent. Paul Caron has details here. Relatedly, the LA Times reports on shrinking law school class sizes at California schools. Most schools face a stark choice between shrinking the size of incoming classes and lowering admission standards. In the coming months we’ll all learn more about the choices different schools have made.

UPDATE: The greatest drop in law school applications comes from graduates of top colleges. [...]

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The “New Normal” in the Legal Profession

UNC’s Bernard Burk has an interesting new paper on changes to the legal profession and legal job market, “What’s New About the New Normal: The Evolving Market for New Lawyers in the 21st Century.” Here’s the abstract:

Everyone agrees that job prospects for many new law graduates have been poor for the last several years; there is rather less consensus on whether, when, how or why that may change. This article analyzes historical and current trends in the job market for new lawyers in an effort to predict how that market may evolve.

The article derives quantitative measurements of the proportion of law graduates over the last thirty years who have obtained initial employment for which law school serves as rational substantive preparation (“Law Jobs”). In comparing entry-level hiring patterns since 2008 with those in earlier periods, a significant development emerges: While other sectors of the market for new lawyers have changed only modestly during the Great Recession, one sector — the larger private law firms colloquially known as “BigLaw” — has contracted six times as much as all the others. Though BigLaw hiring has historically accounted for only 10%-20% of each graduating class, it is responsible for over half the entry-level Law Jobs lost since 2008.

While some observers predict a return to business as usual as the economy recovers, this article is skeptical of that account. The article identifies significant structural changes in the way that the services traditionally provided by BigLaw are being produced, staffed and priced that diminish BigLaw’s need for junior lawyers both immediately and in the longer term. These observations suggest that entry-level BigLaw hiring, and thus the market for new lawyers overall, will remain depressed below pre-recession levels well after demand for the services BigLaw has traditionally provided recovers. At the same time,

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California Law School Claims First Amendment Right Not to Report Bar Passage Rates

The WSJ Law Blog reports that the Southern California Institute of Law claims that it cannot be required to disclose the bar passage rate of its graduates as a condition of accreditation. Such a requirement, SCIL claims, runs afoul of the First Amendment.

Southern California Institute of Law is suing bar association officials for requiring that it include information on its website advising students where they can view exam passage rates online.

The school argues — in a federal lawsuit filed February — that the rule infringes on its speech rights. It claims that it forces them to endorse the notion that a school’s exam passage rate reflects the quality of its legal education. SCIL thinks one has nothing to do with the other.

“[D]efendants have no right to foist their ideology onto SCIL and compel it to refer or disclose bar passage rates of its graduates,” the school stated in a legal brief last week. . . .

None of the 43 SCIL graduates who took the 2012 California Bar Examination passed, according to state data. Over the course of a dozen test cycles between 2007 and 2012, SCIL graduates failed 93% of the time, the defendants claim.

“There are good years, and there are bad years when it comes to bar passage,” said SCIL’s attorney, George Shohet. “It’s not something that the school can control.” He said going to law school and passing the bar require “different skill sets.”

Note that SCIL is not objecting to a particularly detailed dislcosure. Rather, according to the above report, it objects to having to post the following statement on its accreditation page:

For information relating to bar pass rates, on this school and other CBE-accredited law schools you may consult

Hat tip: Paul Caron . [...]

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Sixth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Suit Against Cooley Law

Today, in MacDonald v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the SIxth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit by several former students at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Here’s the court’s summary of its opinion.

The plaintiffs, twelve graduates of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, sued their alma mater in district court, alleging that the school disseminated false employment statistics which misled them into deciding to attend Cooley. The graduates relied on these statistics as assurances that they would obtain full-time attorney jobs after graduating. But the statistics portrayed their postgraduation employment prospects as far more sanguine than they turned out to be. After graduation, the Cooley graduates did not secure the kind of employment the statistics advertised—or in some cases any employment at all. They claimed that, had they known their true—dismal—employment prospects, they would not have attended Cooley—or would have paid less tuition. Because their Cooley degrees turned out not to be worth what Cooley advertised them to be, they have sought, among other relief, partial reimbursement of tuition, which they have estimated for the class would be $300,000,000. But because the Michigan Consumer Protection Act does not apply to this case’s facts, because the graduates’ complaint shows that one of the statistics on which they relied was objectively true, and because their reliance on the statistics was unreasonable, we AFFIRM the district court’s judgment dismissing their complaint for failure to state any claim upon which it could grant relief.

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Debating the Value of a Law Degree

The new study by Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre estimating the value of a law degree has sparked a substantial amount of debate and commentary, as I noted here and here. Most recently, WUSTL’s Brian Tamanaha, author of Failing Law Schools, went after the study on Balkinization arguing it systematically overstates the value of a law degree and understates the risk of assuming debt to obtain a law degree. Simkovic has responded forcefully against Tamanaha’s “straw men,” here and here. John Steele, Frank Pasquale and Stephen Diamond also have comments on the exchange.  I am quite certain there will is more to come.

UPDATE: There are more entries in the debate. One from Tamanaha, another from Simkovic. Pasquale also comments again here.

UPDATE: Simkovic has yet another post respnding to Tamanaha’s critiques here.

THIRD UPDATE: Another round from Simkovic and Tamanaha. [...]

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More on the Value of a Law Degree

Following up on his posts at Concurring Opinions discussing his study (with Frank McIntyre) attempting to measure the value of a law degree, Michael Simkovic rounds up the commentary and critiques of the study on Leiter’s Law School Reports. I noted prior coverage of the study here, and Paul Caron rounds up some additional coverage here. [...]

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On the Value of a Law Degree

In the NYT‘s Dealbook column, Ohio State’s Steven Davidoff discusses a new study, “The Economic Value of a Law Degree,” by Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre. This study purports to show that a law degree remains a good investment for many people. Here is the study’s abstract:

Legal academics and journalists have marshaled statistics purporting to show that enrolling in law school is irrational. We investigate the economic value of a law degree and find the opposite: given current tuition levels, the median and even 25th percentile annual earnings premiums justify enrollment. For most law school graduates, the net present value of a law degree typically exceeds its cost by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We improve upon previous studies by tracking lifetime earnings of a large sample of law degree holders. Previous studies focused on starting salaries, generic professional degree holders, or the subset of law degree holders who practice law. We also include unemployment and disability risk rather than assume continuous full time employment.

After controlling for observable ability sorting, we find that a law degree is associated with a 60 percent median increase in monthly earnings and 50 percent increase in median hourly wages. The mean annual earnings premium of a law degree is approximately $53,300 in 2012 dollars. The law degree earnings premium is cyclical and recent years are within historic norms.

We estimate the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree as approximately $1,000,000.

A PowerPoint file highlighting the study’s findings is available here, and co-author Michael Simkovic is blogging about the study and the debate it has triggered at Concurring Opinions. Davidoff’s column also discusses what the study does and does not show.

A one might expect, this study has provoked quite a bit of response. ATL’s Elie Mystal calls it [...]

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“An Employment Puzzle”: Merritt on Washington & Lee’s Placement Results

Over at The Law School Cafe, Deborah Merritt has a very interesting post on the placement results for graduates of Washington & Lee’s law school, which adopted a much-discussed practice-oriented program for the 3L year. Just a taste:

Employers say they are eager to hire . . . better-trained, more rounded, more “practice ready” lawyers — and they should be. That’s why the employment results for Washington & Lee’s School of Law are so troubling. Washington & Lee pioneered an experiential third-year program that has won accolades from many observers. Bill Henderson called Washington & Lee’s program the “biggest legal education story of 2013.” The National Jurist named the school’s faculty as among the twenty-five most influential people in legal education. Surely graduates of this widely praised program are reaping success in the job market?

Sadly, the statistics say otherwise. Washington & Lee’s recent employment outcomes are worse than those of similarly ranked schools. The results are troubling for advocates of experiential learning. They should also force employers to reflect on their own behavior: Does the rhetoric of “practice ready” graduates align with the reality of legal hiring? Let’s look at what’s happening with Washington & Lee graduates.

For earlier VC posts on whether W&L’s program has been successful, see David B’s posts from February of this year here and here.

Hat tip: TaxProf [...]

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Eliminating the “C” in Law School Grading?

Via Paul Caron at TaxProfBlog and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, a proposal by Joshua Silverstein, law professor at Little Rock-Arkansas William Bowen School of Law, to eliminate the “C” in law school grading.  Here is the SSRN abstract for “A Case for Grade Inflation in Legal Education,” forthcoming in University of San Francisco Law Review:

This article contends that every American law school ought to substantially eliminate C grades by setting its good academic standing grade point average at the B- level. Grading systems that require or encourage law professors to award a significant number of C marks are flawed for two reasons. First, low grades damage students’ placement prospects. Employers frequently consider a job candidate’s absolute GPA in making hiring decisions. If a school systematically assigns inferior grades, its students are at an unfair disadvantage when competing for employment with students from institutions that award mostly A’s and B’s. Second, marks in the C range injure students psychologically. Students perceive C’s as a sign of failure. Accordingly, when they receive such grades, their stress level is exacerbated in unhealthy ways. This psychological harm is both intrinsically problematic and compromises the educational process. Substantially eliminating C grades will bring about critical improvements in both the fairness of the job market and the mental well-being of our students. These benefits outweigh any problems that might be caused or aggravated by inflated grades. C marks virtually always denote unsatisfactory work in American graduate education. Law schools are the primary exception to this convention. It is time we adopted the practice followed by the rest of the academy.

It is worth the time to read the whole article, because it is a more nuanced argument than perhaps the abstract suggests.  In fact, speaking as someone best described as a reluctant [...]

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