Archive | Law Schools

Financial Regulation Reform – AALS Call for Papers

The American Association of Law Schools section on financial regulation is seeking paper proposals for the January meeting on all topics of financial regulation and regulatory reform.  The deadline for proposal submissions is August 1, fast approaching; I have posted details below the fold, and you can also contact my colleague Anna Gelpern with any questions … agelpern at wcl dot american dot edu.  I encourage to take advantage of this opportunity for exploring these issues; as I suggested in a recent talk to a student group that was later published as an informal essay, lawyers and law professors do have certain comparative advantages in relation to economists and others in addressing financial regulatory reform.   [...]

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New ABA Accreditation Standards

Via TaxProf, I learn that the ABA Section of Legal Education & Admission to the Bar seeks comments on proposed changes to the law school accreditation standards. I blogged about one of these proposed standards in December, the one that requires law school graduates to have a “knowledge and understanding of … the legal profession’s values of justice, fairness, candor, honesty, integrity, professionalism, respect for diversity and respect for the rule of law.”

I wrote then,

there’s nothing inherently wrong with “respect for diversity,” if this means “respecting and treating fairly all clients and colleagues regardless of their background.” Indeed, this is praiseworthy.

However, given the past record of ABA accreditation committees, who have rather loosely interpreted ABA guidelines to try to enforce a political agenda on law schools–for example, requiring strong affirmative action preferences in admissions when there was no textual basis in the accreditation guidelines for such a requirement–one could easily imagine this language being misused in the future. Teaching “respect for diversity” could easily be interpreted as teaching that law schools, law firms, etc., should and must engage in affirmative action preferences.

Without further clarification, the ABA could easily threaten the accreditation of a law school if a substantial percentage of the faculty signed a brief opposing Grutter–like diversity admissions; or if students interviewed by the accreditation people complained that the faculty seems to them insufficiently supportive of “diversity” (i.e., affirmative action) in its teaching; or if professors assigned academic papers arguing that homogeneous organizations or societies function better than heterogeneous ones; or if the law school failed to discipline students who undertook a satirical “affirmative action bake sale”; and so forth. After all, any of these hypotheticals could arguably decrease students’ “respect for diversity,” depending on how this phrase is interpreted.

I suggested at [...]

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The Bernardine Dohrn of the early 20th century: The terrorist professor at U of Texas law school

My DU colleague Thomas Russell, who used to teach at the University of Texas Law school, has a written a paper, available on SSRN, which urges the University of Texas Law School to rename Simkins Hall, a law and graduate male student dormitory named for William Stewart Simkins. Simkins taught equity, contracts, procedure, and related topics at UT for three decades in the early 20th century. He was also a founder of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida, and every year at UT he gave a formal speech extolling the Klan.

Most of Russell’s paper concentrates on Simkins’ career at UT, as well as the 1954 decision (five weeks after Brown v. Board was announced) to name the dormitory after him. I was curious to learn more about Simkins had actually done with the Florida Klan, so I read Michael Newtown’s book The Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Florida. [...]

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Kagan and Diversity Hiring

I admire the fact that Elena Kagan made it a point to hire prominent libertarians and conservatives while she was dean at Harvard.

It’s difficult to get many American law schools, dominated by a broadly and comfortably liberal consensus across almost every field, to recognize the importance of ideological diversity among faculty. That’s true for hiring both libertarians and conservatives, but especially the latter. It’s not that law schools flatly refuse to hire them. Most academics have a richer regard for intellectual freedom and discussion than that. They are not so crudely intolerant of dissenting views.

Instead, the process of ideological self-replication in hiring is more insidious. Whatever our views, we are more likely to admire work that broadly agrees with our own than to admire work that profoundly disagrees with our own. So we say, “I’d welcome someone who disagrees with me (on conclusions, methodology, etc.), but this person does poor scholarship, is not ‘collegial,’ etc. Next.” 

Overcoming this intellectual narcissism requires a conscious effort (a) to recognize that it exists, (b) to say so openly, and (c) to make real efforts to counter-balance it in generating the pool of candidates and in reviewing scholarship. It goes without saying that qualitative standards should not be lowered to hire conservatives or anyone else. It’s similar to the way in which overcoming racism and sexism in hiring requires a certain self-consciousness and self-criticism. (And no, I’m not saying that conservatives and libertarians are oppressed.)

While dean at Harvard, Kagan not only hired conservative scholars, but hired openly, prominently, and controversially conservative scholars. These included Adrian Vermuele and Jack Goldsmith from Chicago, and John Manning from Columbia. These were no squishes getting strange new respect from liberals.  They defended heresies about international law, executive power, constitutional and statutory interpretation, and so on. [...]

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My own Kagan experience

Elie Mystal, who graduated from law school at the same time as I did, has bad memories of Elena Kagan from when he had her for Civ Pro as a 1L. [UPDATE: Read The Whole Thing, the commenters remind me to say.] For what it’s worth, here are my own impressions of Elena Kagan:

  • I had Kagan for Administrative Law in Spring 2002. She showed sound judgment early on by giving me a high grade in the class, and wrote me a very gracious letter afterwards (which no doubt will fetch a high price on eBay) in which she added, by hand: “I loved everything you said in class. Thanks for making things interesting. EK”.

Slightly more substantively:

  • I enjoyed her class a lot, and she was very good at eliciting all the relevant points of view through questioning. I recall saying some fairly libertarian stuff in the class, which she welcomed.
  • My scribbled Admin notes for Tuesday, February 12, 2002, say the following. (This was after a discussion of Myers, Humphrey’s Executor, and the “unitary executive theory.”) “Kagan thinks this is all total garbage — so manipulable. Pitch for honesty: everyone needs one area where policy views ≠ constitutional views. Kagan is a total unitarian for policy reasons. But doesn’t think this is a constitutional command. The constitution says so remarkably little that to take this issue away from political decisionmaking is a mistake — courts shouldn’t make these decisions.”
  • As has been well documented elsewhere, as dean, Kagan was a good friend (though not a fellow traveler!) of the Federalist Society and of conservative/libertarian professors.
  • In particular — and despite her presumably pro-gun-control views (see the David Kopel post below), she was a good friend of the HLS Target Shooting Club, which I founded
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A Common Law School Exam Mistake

With law school spring exams around the corner, I wanted to blog on a common law school mistake on “issue spotter” exams: Writing too soon, and then writing too much on the facts at the top of the fact pattern. This probably won’t make much sense to non-lawyers, and it will only trigger bad memories for most lawyers, but I hope it will be useful to the current law students in the VC readership.

Here’s the problem. Say you have 1 hour to write an answer on a long fact pattern. You read it over quickly, and you spot a few issues. The instinct is to say that there’s no time to waste: You gotta start writing now to get it all in. And because you’re writing early, you feel you have more time to write (almost a full hour!), so you start to write in pretty serious detail, even pausing to flag minor issues just to let your professor know you can think of everything. Sounds good, right? But then after a while you look at the clock, and you realize you’re behind, and you need to really pick up the pace: By the end you’re rushing through the issues. But you’re thinking you probably did a good job: The professor will start at the beginning of the essay, and the professor will see how carefully and thoroughly you analyzed all those issues at the beginning. That’s the thinking, anyway.

But I think it’s a mistake. To see why, look at it from the perspective of a professor. Say your professor has to grade 100 exams, and your exam comes up in the middle. After grading 50 exams, the professor know exactly what he is and is not looking for. There are a few issues that are easy to [...]

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Legal Clinics Under Siege

The New York Times reports that law school legal clinics continue to spark controversy and political backlash, particularly (though not exclusively) at state-supported schools.  The story keys on efforts by some Maryland legislators to defund the clinic at the University of Maryland law school unless the clinic turns over information about its clients and its finances.  This might seem like no big deal — the fact of client representation is not privileged and the legislature has a right, if not obligation, to know how state money is spent — but the request appears to have been a politically motivated respoonse to clinic lawsuits against Perdue, a major  employer within the state.  Maryland legislators did not seem to care what the clinic did until it challenged a powerful local corporation.

Law clinics at other universities — from New Jersey to Michigan to Louisiana — are facing similar challenges. And legal experts say the attacks jeopardize the work of the clinics, which not only train students with hands-on courtroom experience at more than 200 law schools but also have taken on more cases against companies and government agencies in recent years.“We’re seeing a very strong pushback from deep-pocket interests, and that pushback is creating a chilling effect on many clinics,” said Robert R. Kuehn, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, citing a recent survey he conducted that found that more than a third of faculty members at legal clinics expressed fears about university or state reaction to their casework and that a sixth said they had turned down unpopular clients because of these concerns.

But critics say law clinics are costly, unaccountable and often counterproductive to states’ interests, especially as they have broadened the scope of their work. The debate has raised larger questions about academic freedom at state-financed

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Joseph Bottum Spots Eugene Volokh Changing the Culture

Instapundit points us in the direction of Joseph Bottum’s First Things blog post yesterday; also Althouse’s comment:

[W]hile I was [at NYU Law School] I saw posters for a lecture this afternoon by Eugene Volokh on the structure of slippery-slope arguments.  … the posters for Volokh’s talk read, as I remember: “Founder of The Volokh Conspiracy blog and Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at UCLA.”

I wonder how the Schwartz family feels about that. Indeed, I wonder how UCLA law school feels. For that matter, I wonder how I feel. Since when has even a blog as interesting as the The Volokh Conspiracy trumped, for a law-school audience, a chair at a major law school and all the speaker’s academic publications?  A fascinating change in the culture of things.

Well, heck (and  not speaking for Eugene), I feel pretty darn good as a coat-tails participant at VC! [...]

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Information Asymmetries and the Agent Principal Problem, As Found in … The Coca Cola Kid

Is this the ‘Australian Sound’? My class is covering information asymmetries as transaction costs affecting pure Coase Theorem analysis, and we will soon come to classic information asymmetries found in agent – principal relationships.  I am thinking of using this as a pedagogical tool.

Consider Eric Roberts’ soliloquy on agent-principal relations, and the many ironies involved.  (Midway through – the focus here is not on the political discussion at the beginning, but the Australian sound debate midway through.)  Good teaching tool?  (Also, the Coke jingle by Tim Finn is surely one of the best around, and I’m amazed that the real Coke corporation never figured out it had a winner.)

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The Break-Even Starting Lawyer Salary?

Above the Law has a very interesting post summarizing a talk given by the Dean of Northwestern Law School, David Van Zandt, at a PLI conference on law firm management – Dean Van Zandt talks about the model of law school education and tries to approximate the median starting salary for a lawyer to make legal education pay.  His conclusion is – $65,000.

ATL has some discussion of that number, what it reflects and how derived, as well as other models that suggest the figure is much higher.  But equally interesting is the discussion of changes in the teaching model at law schools, including the introduction of a 2 year degree, and curricular changes.

[W]hat salary would you have to earn upon graduation in order to make going to law school an economically rational decision?  Van Zandt and some of his Northwestern colleagues did a study to determine the added value of a J.D. degree. They concluded that the break-even starting salary for a law school graduate is $65,000. Put another way, going to a law school with a median salary upon graduation that’s below $65,000 is not a wise investment.

Schools with median starting salaries under $65,000, which generally land somewhere in the 70s in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, are not good values. They need to either lower their cost to students and/or improve job opportunities for their graduates, according to Van Zandt.

(A break-even point of $65K seems low to [ATL], given high law school tuition, the borrowing costs associated with student loans, and the opportunity cost of going to law school when you could be earning a salary in some other industry. We’ve reached out to Dean Van Zandt to ask for more detail about the data he utilized and the assumptions he

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Returns on Investment in Law School Education

The New York Times ran a much emailed piece talking about the declining value of a top-tier law degree, and now law professor Sarah Waldeck has followed up at Concurring Opinions with a blog post urging potential law students to be very tough-minded in deciding whether to go to law school:

Forty-five thousand dollars per year (plus other costs) seems like a lot to pay for such uncertain prospects.  But the number of people sitting for the LSAT this year suggests that quite a few will be willing to pay it; soon we’ll have a clearer picture of how many LSAT scores will materialize into actual applications.

Of course, this year law school applications will be partly driven by the lack of opportunity costs. Graduating college students face generally dismal employment prospects regardless of what field they want to enter.   But I suspect that optimism bias plays just as large a role in student decision-making.   No matter what the economy, some lawyers will be wildly successful.  Many prospective students are inclined to think that they will be part of this group, no matter how daunting the odds against it.  On the more rational side of the analysis, it’s also true that law school historically has proven itself a relatively good place to weather out bad economic times.

What is different this time around, however, is that no one is yet sure whether the changes in legal markets and in law firms are permanent, or whether things will eventually return to what we had come to think of as normal.  If you haven’t always wanted to practice law, or if you’re considering a law school that is not one of the best in the nation, or if the law school isn’t offering to pay for you to attend, my advice is

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My School’s Great Logo Debate

I am not very good with graphic design, illustration, and anything that requires good visual instincts.  So I don’t really regard myself as fit to have an opinion about this.  However, a current debate at my school is between Old Logo:

american university washington college of law

And New Logo:


Opinions at the school seem to be divided; naturally, a Facebook protest page got formed, WCL: What A Crappy Logo.  I don’t know – my Beloved Wife tells me I’m not the guy to pick out a snapshot and get the good one.  So I thought I would ask you, although I know of course that this is a nearly irresistible invitation to put your game face on.  (It also got picked up at Above the Law, but ATL does specialize in being snotty, so even if New Logo were the greatest in the world, it would come in for a bit of sneer.) [...]

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Thought on First-Year Law School Grades

[Adapted from previous years– Ed.] Grades are being released at law schools around the country, and I thought I would offer some some comments about grades for our many law student readers (especially 1Ls). I wanted to address two questions: First, how important are first-year grades, and second, are law school grades random?

I’ll start with a few thoughts on the importance of 1L grades. Yes, 1L grades ordinarily are very important in the short term. There are so many law students and so many employers that employers tend to rely on proxies to to determine which law students will make the best attorneys. The most obvious proxies are an applicant’s school and GPA, largely because there isn’t much else to go on when the applicant is only a student. The basic problem is limited information. Employers need an easy way to screen candidates down to a small enough group to interview, and the school/GPA combo is a quick and easy screen. Different employers look for different combos: some employers favor school A over school B, others B over A (generally depending on whether big shots at the firm went to school A or B). And some employers focus more on grades than others. In general, though, the school/GPA combo is used as a sorting mechanism by legal employers hiring people out of law school.

With that said, I suspect that fall 1L exam grades are often less important than people think. This is true for two main reasons. First, lots of people find that their first-semester grades are pretty different from their later semester grades. It takes some students more time than others to get “the game” of how to answer a law school exam question, and when they do their grades go way up. that certainly was true [...]

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Overall Hispanic Matriculation to American Law Schools is Increasing

Somewhat surprisingly the Society of American Law Teachers study on minority matriculation to law school didn’t give data for all Hispanics. Instead, it focused on Mexican-Americans alone, concluding that their “representation” has “trended downward since 1993.” Most law schools target Hispanics as a group for affirmative action admissions, not Mexican-Americans alone. It could be that overall Hispanic matriculations have gone up, even if the Mexican-American figures have stayed constant or declined slightly (as the SALT study shows). According to Law School Admissions Council data (the same source SALT used), it turns out that the percentage of “Hispanic/Latino” students among matriculating law students has increased from 3.6% in 2000 to 5.1% in 2008, even as the percentage of “Mexican-American/Chicano” applicants has declined slightly from 1.7% to 1.4%. Unfortunately, the LSAC hasn’t posted data going back all the way to 1993 on its website, so we can’t look at the full period covered in the SALT study (1993-2008). But if the 2000-2008 figures are representative of the total period, this suggests that the percentage of Mexican-Americans has declined slightly in large part because law schools are hitting their targets for Hispanic admissions by taking more students from other Hispanic groups, such as Puerto Ricans, Cuban-Americans, and Dominicans.

Obviously, “Hispanic” is a somewhat arbitrary and socially constructed category. But the fact remains that it, not the Mexican-American subcategory, is the main focus of most relevant affirmative action programs. Mexican-Americans are far from the only group that is considered “Hispanic” as that term is used in both ordinary speech and law school admissions policies. And under either the compensatory justice or diversity rationales for AA, it is difficult to see why Mexican-Americans deserve greater consideration than other Hispanic groups.

UPDATE: In this January 2008 post, co-blogger David Bernstein cited LSAC data showing [...]

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