Archive | Law Schools

Declining African American/Mexican American Matriculations to Law School?

A few days back, while I was away at the Federalist Society Faculty Division conference in New Orleans, Orin linked to a study out of Columbia’s “SALT” that reported declines in the percentage of African Americans and Mexican Americans matriculating in American law schools since 1993.

Orin tentatively attributed this decline to law schools becoming increasingly concerned about LSAT and GPA scores because these scores are so important to schools’ U.S. News rankings.

I have two related comments.  First, even if we assume that 1993 is the appropriate baseline year (and the study never explains why it is), we see that 9,577 African Americans and 1,434 Mexican Americans applied to law schools in 1992-93, compared to 9,030 and 1,130, respectively, in 2007-08.  In other words, there was a total of just over 11,000 African American and Mexican American applicants  at the beginning of the study period, compared to just 10,160 fifteen years later.  Nevertheless, almost exactly the same number of law students from these two groups matriculated in 2008 as in 1993: 4,060  in 2008, compared to 4,142 in 1993.

So, even though in 2008 there were almost one thousand fewer applicants, only eighty-two fewer individuals matriculated, meaning that a higher percentage of applicants ultimately matriculated.  And this despite the fact that in the interim, public law schools in several states, including, notably, California, Florida, and Michigan, have been legally barred from considering race in admissions.

So, in fact, there is no reason to think based on the statistics provided that law schools have become any less vigorous in their admission of African Americans and Mexican Americans.  ([Corrected:] The study claims that members of the two groups who apply to law school are increasingly well-qualified, but oddly enough, while the study notes an increase in GPAs and LSAT scores, it [...]

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Do We Need Government Intervention to Reduce the Number of Lawyers?

Attorney Mark Greenbaum has a widely quoted column in the LA Times arguing that there is a glut of lawyers in the marketplace, and that the American Bar Association should combat this trend by reducing the number of accredited law schools:

Remember the old joke about 20,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea being “a good start”? Well, in an interesting twist, thousands of lawyers now find themselves drowning in the unemployment line as the legal sector is being badly saturated with attorneys.

Part of the problem can be traced to the American Bar Assn., which continues to allow unneeded new schools to open and refuses to properly regulate the schools, many of which release numbers that paint an overly rosy picture of employment prospects for their recent graduates. There is a finite number of jobs for lawyers, and this continual flood of graduates only suppresses wages. Because the ABA has repeatedly signaled its unwillingness to adapt to this changing reality, the federal government should consider taking steps to stop the rapid flow of attorneys into a marketplace that cannot sustain them.

From 2004 through 2008, the field grew less than 1% per year on average, going from 735,000 people making a living as attorneys to just 760,000, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics postulating that the field will grow at the same rate through 2016. Taking into account retirements, deaths and that the bureau’s data is pre-recession, the number of new positions is likely to be fewer than 30,000 per year. That is far fewer than what’s needed to accommodate the 45,000 juris doctors graduating from U.S. law schools each year….

The U.S. Department of Education should strip the ABA of its accreditor status and give the authority to an organization that is free of conflicts of interest,

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Economists as Cheapskates? Law Professors as Conference Seekers of Golf and Surfing?

The Wall Street Journal has an entertaining article on the front page (Justin Lahart, Jan. 2, 2010), recounting tales of economists as hard bargainers and, well, cheapskates.  The article opens noting that the annual professional meetings occur the week after New Year, when hotel costs are generally low, and this year are taking place in Atlanta:

Academic economists gather in Atlanta this weekend for their annual meetings, always held the first weekend after New Year’s Day. That’s not only because it coincides with holidays at most universities. A post-holiday lull in business travel also puts hotel rates near the lowest point of the year.

Economists are often cheapskates.

The economists make cities bid against each other to hold their convention, and don’t care so much about beaches, golf courses or other frills. It’s like buying a car, explains the American Economic Association’s secretary-treasurer, John Siegfried, an economist at Vanderbilt University.

The rest of the article has entertaining stories of people like Keynes and Milton Friedman.  But let me stick with professional conferences.  We law professors are also holding professional conventions this week, as are many other academic groups, such as the MLA.  Price is part of the timing; so is, as the article notes, the general agreement to schedule academic calendars across the country’s institutions in order to hold the professional meetings before classes resume.

Update: I didn’t realize that this economics conference is also a job market and not just professional confab – definitely changes the picture.  Here is an interesting comment, pulled up from below:

As someone pretty close to the economics AEA meetings, I think the article misses the point about these meetings: they aren’t in fancy places because a huge swath of attendees are graduate students doing job market interviews. These students basically have

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B+

I am delighted to say that President Obama has supplied me with what to say to students coming to complain about receiving a B+ in my classes – a semi-regular occurrence, in these days of grade inflation.  (I have a sneaky feeling that my student evaluations are going to take a nosedive this term, having advised the students that I had allowed the curve to creep up too high in the last couple of years, and that I intended to “take the liquidity out of the Anderson grading supply.”  I explained this in great detail in the first week of class, when there was still time to drop, and even earlier in a pre-enrollment memo, but clearly not everyone believed it.)  However, if Professor Obama awards himself a B+ for his first year, how can my students not be pleased with one from Professor Anderson for their accomplishments this term? [...]

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LSAC Study on Law School Gaming Resources for US News Rankings

My law school’s Librarian and Associate Dean, Billie Jo Kaufman, sent around this latest newsletter from the Law School Admissions Council re a new study on how law schools move resources around in order to maximize USNWR rankings (thanks Billie Jo!).  Here is part of the LSAC executive summary:

Fear of Failing:  the Effects of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools, by Michael Sauder, and Wendy Espeland.  Love ’em or hate ’em, the rankings are a fact of life for law schools.  This report looks at the effect of the USN rankings on legal education, and it’s not peripheral.

From the Executive Summary:

One general effect of the USN rankings on law schools is that it has created pressure on law school administrators to redistribute resources in ways that maximize their scores on the criteria used by USN to create the rankings, even if they are skeptical that this is a productive use of these resources. This redistribution is illustrated by two examples mentioned consistently by the administrators interviewed: (a) increases in marketing expenditures aimed toward raising reputation scores in the USN survey and (b) increases in merit scholarships intended to improve the statistical profile of incoming classes. A more subtle form of resource redistribution is also described in this section: the adoption of strategies by some schools to “game” the rankings.

Some forms of this redistribution comes in the forms of brochures and other publications designed to enhance a school’s reputation, which is a full 40% of the ranking.  Many administrators acknowledge that many these enhancing publications are probably not read before being recycled (go green!), but peer pressure makes them spend upwards of $100,000 to produce and distribute these publications anyway.  Library volume count, by the way, represents 0.75% of the weight

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Another reason to be happy you went to law school

Louis Menand’s new article The Ph.D. Problem: On the professionalization of faculty life, doctoral training, and the academy’s self-renewal. Cliff Notes version: the academy (the tenured folks who run things) have every incentive to take in huge numbers of Ph.D. candidates, and turn them into ABD drones to teach undergraduates–even though about half of them will never finish the Ph.D. program, and half of those that do finish will never get a tenure-track job. The result is the over-production of Ph.D.’s who are highly specialized but who are not very good at doing the things that universities should foster (e.g., teaching to non-specialists, intellectually engaging with the world outside the academy). The hyper-specialization puts non-tenured people (including Ph.D. candidates, and young teachers) at the mercy of the rigid political correctness of the tenured folks. Ten years of time invested in getting a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature leaves you with almost no job choices in your field, if you get blackballed for non-p.c. attitudes. 

“[T]he most important function of the system, both for purposes of its continued survival and for purposes of controlling the market for its products, is the production of the producers. The academic disciplines effectively monopolize (or attempt to monopolize) the production of knowledge in their fields, and they monopolize the production of knowledge producers as well.” Menard applies the above statement to law as well as to humanities Ph.D. programs, but as he explicates, the problem is a lot worse in the Ph.D. context, because the credential takes so much longer to obtain. [...]

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How Common is the Socratic Method?

In a recent post, Orin expresses doubts about whether the “traditional” form of the Socratic method is still used in many law schools. If by “traditional form” he means something like what is portrayed in The Paper Chase, I agree that not many use it. Very few lawprofs are as obnoxious as the mythical Professor Kingsfield. But, in my experience of teaching at three different US law schools over the last six years, a large number of professors do still use the Socratic Method in the sense of spending the bulk of their class time cold-calling on students and asking them questions about legal doctrine. A recent report on The Faculty Lounge blog states that most entry-level candidates on the lawprof job market say that they intend to use “soft Socratic” method as their primary teaching tool, by which they mean that they “like to create a welcoming atmosphere in the classroom where students feel free to participate, but also be sufficiently rigorous in calling on students to ensure that everyone is prepared.” To the extent that it still involves large amounts of cold-calling (as in most cases it does), “soft” Socratic method has many of the same shortcomings as the “hard” version. I discuss some of those problems here and here.

I don’t claim that all law professors should completely abjure all aspects of SM; I use some elements of it myself. For example, I have students sign up to be “on call” a couple times during the semester, when I assign myself the right to call on them involuntarily. But I only devote a minority of the class time to this activity, and don’t use SM at all in classes with fewer than 30 or 35 people. The optimal level of SM probably varies from [...]

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Why Tradition Does Not Justify the Socratic Method

One of the standard defenses of the Socratic method, which I criticized in my last post and here, is adherence to tradition. If American lawprofs have been using the method for decades, there must be something to it. Who are we to question the approach that worked so well for Professor Kingsfield?

I am generally skeptical of the “Burkean conservative” case for traditionalism. But I do recognize that voluntarily adopted (as opposed to coercively imposed) traditions have some value and may be entitled to a measure of deference. Perhaps the Socratic method is an example of this kind of tradition. No one forced lawprofs to use it, and law students could potentially have chosen to attend schools that don’t use it – a preference they might have imposed on lawprofs through market pressure. On other hand, the AALS [update: should have said ABA] certification cartel diminishes competition in the market for legal education and makes it much harder for new schools to enter the field and gain a competitive edge by emphasizing novel teaching methods.

In any event, the tradition-based argument for the Socratic method fails even on its own terms. It ignores the fact that virtually every academic discipline other than law has a long tradition of not using the Socratic method. That includes professors who teach courses on legal issues in political science, economics, history, and philosophy departments. Similarly, the Socratic method isn’t generally used by law professors in other countries, including other Anglophone common law jurisdictions such as Britain, Canada, and Australia. There is no reason to believe that either non-law classes in the US or legal education abroad suffers because they don’t inflict SM on their students. Nor is there any significant movement to adopt the Socratic method in any of these [...]

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Teaching to Different Learning Styles in Law School

By nature, I am a highly verbal, nonvisual person. I learn best by reading books or listening to lectures. I rarely benefit from looking at tables, charts, pictures, and the like. I’m the kind of guy who can’t drive to an unfamiliar destination without a detailed mapquest itinerary telling me exactly which turns to take; otherwise, I’m sure to get lost. This learning style is hardly unusual for a law professor, or indeed for most humanities and social science academics (with the exception of those who regularly use quantitative methods in their work). Unfortunately, when teaching, we lawprofs often assume that all the students have the same learning style as we do. Most of the time, we operate either in pure lecture mode or use the Socratic method. Yet at least some of the students are not like us. They may be visual learners, or otherwise diverge from the pure oral learning style. For visual learners, it helps to have handouts, tables, graphs and other tools that go beyond oral lecturing. Yet, in my experience, many law professors either don’t use these at all, or only do so very rarely.

The traditional law school reliance on the the Socratic method, which I criticized on other grounds in this series of posts, is part of the problem. Many professors and students assume that it is the only correct way of teaching law classes, especially large intro courses, and therefore don’t bother with anything else. Not only is SM a purely oral method of teaching, it is a particularly difficult one for non-oral learners to follow. Even for the orally gifted, it is often hard to pick out the really important information from the morass of indeterminate questions posed by the instructor and often flawed answers given by the student [...]

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Textbook Suggestions for IL Law & Econ Elective?

I’ve been asked to step in and teach a 1L elective course on law and economics this spring, covering for a colleague who has taken a high level economics post in the administration.  I have to pick a textbook very soon.  The course is for second semester 1Ls, and my goal is to attract 1Ls who did not major in business or economics as undergrads, and make it comprehensible to them.

That means that I don’t want it to be super-math heavy.  It also needs to focus around the 1L courses that they’ve been taking – antitrust and IP and my own corporate finance won’t work, because they come in later years, and so it needs to focus around contracts, tort, property, criminal law.  In addition, it is only a two unit, once a week class, so it can’t cover vast swathes of material, and in fact very far from it.  I’ve never taught the basic, intro law and econ class before, and I’ve never taught 1Ls, so it should be an exciting pedagogical experience – for me, at least!  I’d be grateful for suggestions in two categories:

  • Main text – please tell me why this would be a useful textbook, given my constraints above.
  • Supplemental texts, such as short introductions on game theory, statistics, supplemental readings on law and econ, etc., but specifically with law students in mind.
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Paul Caron on Drivers of Law School Cost from GAO Report

Paul Caron, at TaxProf, has posted some executive summary parts and the link to a GAO report on drivers of law school cost as well as minority enrollment.  Regarding costs of legal education, the GAO summary says:

According to law school officials, the move to a more hands-on, resource-intensive approach to legal education and competition among schools for higher rankings appear to be the main factors driving the cost of law school, while ABA accreditation requirements appear to play a minor role. Additionally, officials at public law schools reported that recent decreases in state funding are a contributor to rising tuition at public schools.

Very interesting post over at TaxProfBlog – the screen shots include a number of powerpoint charts and graphs from the GAO report.  I agree with the GAO report and its surveyed law school officials that accreditation plays very little role in driving up law school costs, and that rankings are an important driver.  They are also an important driver in things schools spend money on that drive up costs, such as faculty student ratios, for example.

I also believe, however – but wouldn’t try to defend here – that law schools respond to the availability of federal dollars and capture that money from students, and that law school tuition rates reflect perceptions of the return on investment available to students in going to work for law firms.  At least in my discussions with fellow professors who have some idea about law school economics, the thought is that mid tier schools found that they could place more of their students into large law firms, not necessarily the very top firms, but large workhorse firms that paid well.

And in my discussions with professors, the concerns are two-fold.  First, that if the big law model is genuinely collapsing [...]

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Legal Scholarship in the Internet Age

That was the subject of a recent symposium at Denver University’s law school. The DU Law Review’s online publication, DUProcess, published several short articles on the topic.  I wrote on Connecting Laypeople with the Law Through Blogs, and began: “Blogging is creating a Golden Age of legal scholarship.  For the first time in the memory of any living person, legal scholarship is now connecting with an audience beyond the world of law professors and legal professionals.” I argued that law blogging provides readers with much better coverage of important appellate cases than does the MSM, and as an example pointed to Dale Carpenter’s VC posts on gay marriage cases. I also suggested that comment threads on legal blogs provide people with an opportunity that, in the olden days, mostly belonged only to on-campus law students: having a serious, enjoyable pro/con discussion of legal issues. Checking on Westlaw, I found that of the 291 law review citations to the Volokh Conspiracy, five were to comments. Lastly, I suggest that law blogging continues a salutrary trend which began nearly four centuries ago:

Starting around 1250, courts in England began operating in French.  After hundreds of years, the legal language had turned into something called “law French,” which was a confusing amalgam of English and of a French that no French person would ever speak. The new American colonists jettisoned law French.  In America, the law was stated positively in statutes written in straightforward English comprehensible to ordinary people.

The writing of statutes in plain English was one of the methods by which the Americans ensured that the law was under the control of the people, rather than imposed from above.  One of the causes for the cynicism which many modern Americans feel about government in general, and law in particular,

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Proposing New Law School Finance Courses – Bleg

I’m considering submitting two new course proposals to our curriculum committee at our law school here in DC.  I’d be grateful for your pedagogical advice.

One would be a reading-research seminar in law and economics on the current state of debate over the Efficient Market Hypothesis.  I imagine we would read some standard economics articles and material running back over the last few decades, including classics like A Random Walk Down Wall Street, but also a couple of recent books on the debate, including Justin Fox’s The Myth of the Rational Market, and perhaps Dick Posner’s book, among other things.   One specifically law school connection would be to help students understand how the theory underpins much regulation, how courts view cases, many parts of the law itself.

The second class would be on financial derivatives, considered as contracts.  We already have a class on derivative regulation at my school – this would be a class specifically on the contracts themselves, and the economic context in which the derivatives are used.

Would those seem like useful seminar courses for business law students in their third year of law school?  Or yet another example of professor doing what interests him without much attention as to pedagogical utility?  We are a solid mid tier school, in DC; many, many of our students go into government regulatory agencies dealing with the economy. [...]

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Legal Scholarship in an Electronic Age

That’s the topic of a lunchtime symposium at Denver University, Sturm College of Law, on Wednesday, Sept. 30. Details here. Presenters will be Professors Alan Chen,  Sam Kamin, and me. Kamin is the author of, inter alia, How the Blogs Saved Law School: Why a Diversity of Voices Will Undermine the U.S. News Rankings. The symposium is the first public event for the DU Law Review’s on-line supplement, DUProcess; each of the speakers will write a short item about blogs and academia for DUProcess. [...]

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