Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thankful for the Financial Times (Michael Simkovic)

This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for the Financial Times.  

While some leading business and financial newspapers have adulterated their coverage to appeal to a mass audience or reduce costs, the Financial Times continues to produce high quality, fact-based reporting about serious business, financial, and economic issues.  The FT's target audience continues to be legal and financial professionals who are prepared to pay a premium for reliable information.  The FT includes a minimum of hyperbole and fluff.  It also offers a more global perspective than most U.S. papers, while still providing strong coverage of important U.S. issues.  

For the last 5 years, I've routinely recommended the FT to students in my business law classes, who are generally more familiar with U.S. papers.  The FT is available on Lexis (with a few days delay), but is well worth the cost of a subscription.  

If you're not a regular reader of the FT, but have been following U.S. newspapers' higher education coverage, you can get a sense of the differences between the FT and U.S. newspapers' approach across subject areas by reading this article about fees at public UK universities exceeding those at U.S. universities.  The article is entirely focused on costs and benefits of education and how those costs and benefits are distributed between students, government, and employers.  There are no unrepresentative anecdotes, no histrionics, only summaries of data.  When advocacy groups are cited, their interests are noted.  This is what journalism can and should be.

Pearson recently sold the FT to Nikkei.  Hopefully the new owners maintain the FT's high quality. 

November 24, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Student Advice, Weblogs | Permalink

Monday, November 23, 2015

More signs of the times: Gonzaga offers buy-outs to all tenured faculty...

...and four accept, which will apparently address the immediate budgetary issues resulting from a nearly one-third decline in enrollments.

November 23, 2015 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Legal historian and UVA faculty member Risa Goluboff named Dean at Virginia

UVA's announcement here.

November 21, 2015 in Faculty News | Permalink

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hate crime Harvard Law School

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What do you need to find out now that you've gotten a tenure-track offer?


With luck (and luck will help more than usual in what is a very tight year on the academic job market), some of you seeking law teaching jobs will get offers of tenure-track positions in the next couple of months.  What then?  Here's roughly what I tell my Texas and Chicago advisees they need to find out, and in the interest of having it written down in one place and for the benefit of others too, here it is (not in order of importance):

1.  You will want to get (in writing eventually) the basic salary information, obviously, and the nature of summer research support and the criteria for its award (is it automatic for junior faculty?  contingent on prior publication [if so, how much?]?  awarded competitively (if so, based on what criteria/process)?).   You should also find out how salary raises are determined.  Are they, for example, lock-step for junior faculty?  Fixed by union contract?  (Rutgers faculty, for example, are unionized, a huge advantage and why they are among the best-paid faculty, not just in law, in the country.)  Is it a 'merit' system, and if so is it decanal discretion or is their a faculty committee that reviews your teaching and work each year?

2.  You should ask for a copy of the school's tenure standards and get clear about the expectations and the timeline.  Does any work you have already published count towards meeting the tenure standard?

3.  What research leave policy, if any, does the school have?  A term off after every three full years of teaching is a very good leave policy; some schools have even better policies, most have less generous leave policies.  (If there is a norm, it is a term off after every six years.)  Many schools have a special leave policy for junior faculty, designed to give them some time off prior to the tenure decision.  Find out if the school has such a policy.

4.  One of the most important things to be clear about is not just your teaching load, but what courses you will be teaching precisely.  You should ask whether the school can guarantee a stable set of courses until after the tenure decision.  Preparing new courses is hugely time-consuming, and you also get better at teaching the course the more times you do it.  As a tenure-track faculty member, having a stable package of, say, three courses (plus a seminar) will make a huge difference in terms of your ability to conduct research and write.   In my experience, most schools will commit in writing to a set of courses for the tenure-track years (and do ask for this in writing), but some schools either won't or can't.   In my view, it's a good reason to prefer one school to another that one will give you the courses you want and promise them that they're yours, while another won't--a consideration that overrides lots of other factors, including salary. 

5.  You should ask for the school's materials on benefits:  retirement, life insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, and so on.  The biggest, and certainly the most easily discernible differences, are often in the retirement and life insurance categories (sometimes longterm disability insurance too, though unlike life insurance, you're hopefully less likely to utilize this!).  What is the university's contribution to retirement?  At the low end are schools contributing only 5-6% of your base salary to retirement; the more competitive schools will be in the 8% range, and some will be higher.  The big issue on life insurance concerns the amount you are guaranteed irrespective of your health history.  500-600K increasingly seem to be the norm.  And, of course, if your health is perfect, this doesn't matter, but I've worked with plenty of candidates where this was a serious issue.  (Life insurance companies have no incentives to insure faculty beyond the base amount they have to provide, so even health matters that strike you as trivial may disqualify you from more coverage.)  A final benefits issue concerns education/tuition benefits for children.  State schools don't offer these; the wealthier private schools do, and if you have kids or expect to have kids, this is worth looking into.  At the high end is Chicago, which pays up to 75% of Chicago tuition anywhere for each child.  Most of the wealthier private schools will pay 30-50% of the home school tuition for faculty children, wherever they go.  Some will offer a larger benefit if your kids go to that school.  But there are differences, and they don't track your ordinary expectations about prestige (e.g., last time I looked, the Wash U/St. Louis benefit was much better than the benefit at Penn or Cornell).  In any case, get the information.  But remember, university-wide benefits are rarely a subject for negotiation--the law school can't give you a higher benefit.  Of course, if you have a competitive offer, they may be able to compensate for a significant benefits differential.

6.  Finally, once you have an offer, this is a good time to raise issues about the employment prospects for a spouse or partner.  Sometimes you may just want help:  can the Dean help the significant other make relevant professional contacts in the area?  Sometimes you may be hoping for more:  e.g., a position in the law school, or in another university department, for the significant other.  It is certainly fair to explain the situation and ask.  Schools vary in their ability to response effectively to these situations, but many have formal universities policies pertaining at least to spouses who are academics.  Raise the issue, and see if the school can help.  But realize that the school made you the offer, and they may be able to hire you, and that's that.

The last point relates to a more general issue.  If you don't have other offers, you are not in a position to bargain.  Period.  You may certainly ask about things, raise concerns, etc.  But unless you're going to walk away from a tenure-track offer (not a wise thing to do in this market), don't make demands.  And even then, a collegial discussion about issues of concern is far better than demands.  Even if you have other offers, this advice applies:  proceed with caution and respect for the institution.  You can report that School Y is offering you a salary 20K higher, and ask whether the Dean of School X, to whom your talking, has any flexibility on this front.  But remember:  you may end up at School X (because of location, or colleagues in your field, or a better teaching load etc.) and living with that Dean and the other faculty for many years to come.  Don't poison the well by displaying a sense of entitlement and self-importance before you even get through the door.  Remember:  no matter how good you are, you're quite dispensable--in almost every instance, you need the job more than the school needs you.  Approach any 'bargaining' or discussion of the package in that spirit.  A good school has every reason to want you to succeed and to try to help fashion a package of professional duties and support in that spirit.  A good school doesn't need a prima donna.

I invite signed comments from faculty or deans on these issues.  A comment without a full name and e-mail address won't appear.  Post your comment only once; comments are moderated and may take awhile to appear.

Good luck to all job seekers!

November 18, 2015 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers | Permalink | Comments (14)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Roger Williams Law extends tuition freeze for another year

Press release here.

November 17, 2015 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

Monday, November 16, 2015

Against student-edited law reviews, once again

Lawyer/philosopher Ken Levy (Louisiana State) comments.

My impression is that many of the student-edited law reviews are now seeking faculty input into acceptance decisions, though not generally at the initial screening stage.  What are the impressions of others?  (I do not submit very often to student-edited law reviews, so my sample size is small.)

November 16, 2015 in Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

New America Foundation versus College (Michael Simkovic)

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Frank Pasquale reviews "The End of College" by Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation:

"Tax-cutting, budget-slashing politicos are always eager to hear that education could be much, much cheaper. . . . “disrupting education” mobilizes investors and excites startups. Kevin Carey’s The End of College is the latest book to seize the imagination of disrupters. It touts massive changes for post-secondary education. . . .


[Carey] believes things need to change drastically in higher ed, and that they will change. But bridging the gap between “is” and “ought” is a formidable task — one Carey tries to solve by muckraking indictments of universities on the one hand and encomia to tech firms on the other. . . .  In The End of College, Silicon Valley thought leaders are as pragmatic, nimble, and public-spirited as university administrators are doctrinaire, ossified, and avaricious. . . . They’ve devised methods of teaching and evaluating students that solve (or will soon solve — Carey vacillates here) all the old problems of distance education.


Online learning at the University of Everywhere could eventually improve outcomes — or degenerate into an uncanny hybrid of Black Mirror and Minority Report. Big data surveillance will track the work students do, ostensibly in order to customize learning. . . . Want to prove you aren’t faking exams? Just let cameras record your every move and keystroke — perhaps your eye movements and facial expressions, too. . . . Certainly we can trust Silicon Valley to respect our privacy and do nothing untoward with the data! . . . 


Silicon Valley has even lured universities into giving away lectures for free. The colleges think they’re establishing good karma with the public, but disrupters hope for a more chaotic endgame: students deciding to watch free courses, then proving their credentials to certifiers who give out “badges” to signify competence in a skill set. . . . It could be a very profitable business. As students pay less for actual instruction by experts, they have more money to spend on badges. . . . 


Carey implies that faculty opposition to MOOCs is simply a matter of self-interest. His concerns about greed, so prominent when he discusses universities, fade away when he rhapsodizes about ed tech’s “disruptive innovators.” . . . One of Carey’s heroes . . . had a no-bid contract to MOOCify San Jose State University math instruction, only to see the partnership pause after “no more than 51 percent of Udacity students passed any of the three courses” (while “74 percent or more of the students in traditional classes passed”). . . .


Traditional college education endures — and even those who dismiss it rarely, if ever, try to dissuade their own children from attending a university. If colleges were really so terrible at preparing the workforce, the college earnings premium would have disappeared long ago. . . . [E]mployers are unlikely to subscribe to Carey’s [alternatives to college].


So why bother reading Carey? Because, like Donald Trump blustering his way to the top of the Republican field by popping off shocking sentences, Carey’s rhetoric has political heft. To the extent it gains traction among education policy staffers (and the student loan companies that love to hire them), it changes the debate. The End of College is a master class in translating an elite project of privatization and austerity into bite-sized populist insults, even as it sings the praises of powerful corporations.


Carey claims he wants dramatically better educational opportunities for all. But that goal will require more public support . . .  Many millionaires and billionaires want to see their taxes go down . . . Before touting D.C. researchers’ “findings” and “big idea books,” the media and indeed all of us should look closely at exactly what interests are funding the think tanks behind them."

November 12, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Law in Cyberspace, Of Academic Interest, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sleazy lawyer Marc Randazza gets caught

A number of law professors have been sharing the news on Facebook.   Randazza first emerged on my radar screen as the lawyer defending Anthony Ciolli of Autoadmit notoriety, and later represented the slimy gossip blog, Above the Law.   He always struck me as a bit creepy, but he's got bigger troubles now.  A strange but not wholly surprising ending.  (Randazza is challenging the arbitration decision in Nevada courts, so we'll see if there isn't another chapter.)

November 11, 2015 in Law in Cyberspace, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

In Memoriam: John H. Jackson (1932-2015)

The Georgetown memorial notice (where Jackson spent the last nearly twenty years of his distinguished career) is here.

(Thanks to Robert Thompson for the pointer.)

November 10, 2015 in Memorial Notices | Permalink

Monday, November 9, 2015

A look at Northeastern Law

Bill Henderson (Indiana) takes a look at the beliefs, attitudes, and aspirations of alumni of one law school.  Interesting read, in three parts (so far).

November 9, 2015 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lateral hires with tenure (or equivalent), 2015-16

These are appointments that will take effect in 2016; I will move the list to the front at various intervals as new additions come in.  Last year's list is here.


*Shubha Ghosh (intellectual property, law & technology, antitrust) from the University of Wisconsin, Madison to Syracuse University.


*Gregg Polsky (tax, corporate finance, corporate law) from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to the University of Georgia.


*Steve Vladeck (federal courts, national security law, constitutional law) from American University to the University of Texas, Austin.


*Melissa Wasserman (patents, intellectual property, administrative law, torts, innovation law and policy) from the University of Illinois to the University of Texas, Austin.

November 5, 2015 in Faculty News | Permalink

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Failed the Bar Exam? Try Again (Michael Simkovic)

Noah Feldman recently argued that law schools are not helping students with low standardized test scores by denying those students the opportunity to attend law school simply because those students might find it challenging to pass the bar exam.*  According to Feldman, denying people an opportunity to try to improve their situation in life is “paternalism that verges on infantilization.” Moreover, “A standardized test score, taken alone, shouldn't determine your future.”

Feldman’s perspective is bolstered by an important feature of bar exams:  People who fail an exam can study harder and then retake it.

Standardized test scores might predict the likelihood of passing the bar exam on a single try.  But a more important question is arguably whether an applicant can eventually pass a bar exam.  Delays in bar passage can have short-term financial costs, entail logistical challenges and stress, and in rare instances where employers require recent hires to practice law without supervision, even result in the loss of a job.  But most law graduates won’t lose their jobs for retaking the bar exam, and an individual who passes after multiple attempts will have the same license for the rest of his life as one who passes on the first try.** 

Many law schools maintain exclusive admissions, not necessarily for the benefit of the students to whom they deny admission, but rather for the benefit of prospective employers and clients—in other words, to maintain a brand that suggests certain qualities above and beyond the ability to pass a bar exam.  Different law schools have different brands. 

The probability of eventually passing the bar exam is a function of how many times an applicant is willing to try.***  A bar exam taker with only a 50 percent chance of passing on any one try has an 88 percent chance of passing the bar exam if he is willing to retake the bar exam up to two times, and a 94 percent chance of passing if he is willing to retake it up to 3 times.

Probability of Eventually Passing the Bar Exam as a Function of Number of Tries


Probability of Passing on Each Try






Number of Tries

Cumulative Probability of Passing


























These model-driven calculations seem to map well to the real world.  For example, Florida Coastal—which admits many students with very low LSAT scores—reports that although its first time bar passage rate is much lower, 93 percent of its graduates eventually pass the bar exam. 

How motivated is a particular law school applicant?  This is something an applicant is likely to know better than a law school admissions officer.  For those with grit and determination, failure is often temporary.  And anecdotally, law graduates have failed bar exams and gone on to have successful careers.

It would be strange if newspapers claimed that those who fail a road test on the first try are doomed to never obtain a drivers license, will never be able to hold down a job, and should never have enrolled in high school in the first place.  But in the world of legal education, members of the press too often make comparably misinformed claims about law students and the bar exam. 

Continue reading

November 3, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Weblogs | Permalink

Monday, November 2, 2015

Law school Deans and others respond to NYT editorial...

Friday, October 30, 2015

LSAT takers up 7.4% in Sept/Oct compared to last year...

...the first increase in six years (link now fixed).  (Recall that June also saw an increase.)  While enrollments will not return to 2010 highs (a good thing!), it's clear that we are arriving at a "new normal" for enrollments.  This is already being felt in the hiring market for new law teachers, which is much more active this year than last.

October 30, 2015 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Rankings | Permalink

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Brooklyn Dean Allard: Legal Profession Should Challenge Slanted, Inaccurate Press Coverage (Michael Simkovic)

Dean Nick Allard of Brooklyn Law School writes:

[T]he New York Times editorial . . . “The Law School Debt Crisis,” . . . is symptomatic of . . . the continuing negative drum beat that is demeaning law schools, law students, and the entire profession. 

The time has come for the legal community – and law schools in particular – to press the reset button on the reputation of our profession. As Deans, we should not stand silent as those with biases and outdated or inaccurate information recycle myths and tired, predictable versions of their “wisdom” about our profession, law schools and the quality of newly minted lawyers. Over and over again.

The overarching challenge facing lawyers and the law school community across the country is that there is virtually no effective public counterweight to offset the worn perceptions repeated by high visibility media and others. We must, together, come to the defense of the value of law and lawyers, and make the compelling case for lawyers’ contribution to society . . .

Let's stop the hand wringing, whining and the recycling of misperceptions. Let’s instead call attention to the positive value of our profession and the contribution we, our colleagues, and our students make. Let’s challenge ourselves and our institutions to do better. . . .

I've expressed similar sentiments about the need to work to improve the accuracy of increasingly slanted and inaccurate press coverage. 


October 29, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Weblogs | Permalink

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

N.Y. Times is Mistaken: Law Student Loans are Safe and Profitable for the Government (Michael Simkovic)

This weekend, The New York Times Editorial Board  published a sensationalist lead editorial, “The Law School Debt Crisis,”  claiming that law student borrowing is harmful to taxpayers.  The New York Times is mistaken.

The Times cited Florida Coastal School of Law, a for-profit institution, as its prime example of law schools “vacuuming up hordes of young people, charging them outrageously high tuition and, after many of the students fail to become lawyers, sticking taxpayers with the tab for their loan defaults.”  Florida Coastal seems like an easy target—even a Federal Court which dismissed a fraud suit against Florida Coastal described it as having “some of the lowest admissions standards of accredited or provisionally accredited law schools in the nation.” The Times has repeatedly criticized for-profit colleges, which it deems “predatory” based on their unusually high student loan default rates. (See opinion, upshot, news and news again). 

If the Editorial Board's accusations were true—if the “majority of law schools” really were running “a scam” in which they load down their students with “crushing amounts of debt” which “they can’t repay”—Florida Coastal and other law schools should have among the highest default rates of any institutions of higher education in the country.

They don’t and they aren’t.


For the cohort entering repayment in 2012—the most recent year of data available*—the national 3-year cohort default rate on federal student loans was 11.8 percent.  The comparable figure for Florida Coastal was only 1.1 percent—more than 10 times lower.

This isn’t a one-time fluke.  In 2010 and 2011, Flordida Coastal's 3-year Default rates  were 1.6 and 5.2 percent, respectively, compared to much higher national rates of 13.7 and 14.7 percent.

Other measures tracked by the Department of Education, like repayment rates, also show law school borrowers performing as well or better than most.

We see the same pattern across law schools and going back decades for which data is available.**  Even low ranked law schools with allegedly “outrageously high” tuition generally have much lower student loan default rates than either the national average, or the average for institutions that grant bachelor’s or advanced degrees. 


Law students not only have higher debts than most student loan borrowers; as professional students, they also pay higher interest rates on government loans than undergraduates.  

Law students rarely default because the financial benefits they receive from attending law school are usually far greater than the costs.*** Law school typically boosts annual earnings by around $30,000 (median) to $60,000 per year (mean) compared to a bachelor’s degree.****  Even at the 25th percentile, toward the low end of the distribution, the annual boost to earnings is around $20,000 per year—more than enough to repay typical law school loans over the course of a career.

Taxpayers also benefit.  For every extra dollar a law graduate earns, the federal government receives an extra 30 to 40 cents in payroll and income taxes.  The federal government charges far more in taxes than most law schools charge in tuition.

But the government isn’t paying for most law graduates’ education.  In fact, loans to law students are among the most profitable in the federal government’s student loan portfolio, thanks to high interest rates and low default rates.  Many law graduates are such good credit risks, and are overcharged so much by the government, that private lenders have offered to refinance law graduate loans for substantially lower interest rates. 

There are cases in which particular individuals have unusually bad outcomes and struggle to repay their loans.  Thankfully, these situations are relatively rare among law graduates. 

Incomes for law graduates may seem low when they first graduate, but typically climb rapidly over the next several decades.  Education loans exist precisely so that borrowed money can be repaid later in life, when employment is more stable and incomes are usually higher. 



The New York Times is right that many law school graduates—around 40 percent—do not practice law. But law graduates do not have to practice law or earn spectacular salaries to benefit financially from their degrees and repay their loans over their careers.  They need only earn roughly $10,000 per year more than they would have earned without a law degree. The overwhelming majority of law graduates, including those not practicing law, receive substantially larger boosts to their earnings.

Thanks to income based repayment programs with debt forgiveness and progressive taxation, the overwhelming majority of successful law school graduates can offset the risks of investment in education for those rare unfortunate individuals who do not benefit as much from their educations.

It would be a mistake to let the small tail of defaults wag the much larger dog of public benefits.

Scaling back access to federal student loans to law students will not benefit taxpayers.  To the contrary, the loss of revenue would mean larger deficits for the government, and eventually higher taxes for the rest of us. 

Continue reading

October 28, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Professional Advice, Rankings, Science, Weblogs | Permalink

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

In Memoriam: Peter Tillers (1943-2015)

Emeritus at Cardozo Law School, he was well-known for his contribution to evidence scholarship.  The Cardozo memorial notice is here.

October 27, 2015 in Memorial Notices | Permalink

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pasquale responds to New York Times' latest critique of law student loans (Michael Simkovic)

Frank Pasquale responds  to a very poorly researched editorial by The New York Times Editorial Board.  My own response is forthcoming and I'll link to other responses in the coming days.

Update 10.25.2015 8:30pm: Pasquale places the student loan debate in the broader context of privatization efforts.

October 25, 2015 in Guest Blogger: Michael Simkovic, Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Weblogs | Permalink