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November 30, 2012

Schrag on Tamanaha


Philip Schrag (Georgetown) has written an interesting, substantive criticism of Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools, focusing, in particular, on what he argues is Tamanaha's misunderstanding of current debt repayment programs and their effects on credit-worthiness.

UPDATE:   Tamanaha has a useful response to Schrag here, conceding some points about the changes in loan repayment since his book and raising some additional concerns.  The conversation continues in the comments, with a sur-reply from Schrag and then a further response from Tamanaha.

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 30, 2012 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Student Advice | Permalink

Case Western Dean Mitchell: "Law school is worth the money"

In The New York Times.  He makes a number of quite fair points, though omits mention of the projected BLS gap in the number of new lawyer positions relative to the number of newly minted lawyers.  A fairer thing to say would be that many law schools are worth the money, but not all are, and some are probably worth less than they are currently collecting, given realistic appraisals of employment outcomes.   Absent real regulation by the ABA (or the government), only the market will sort this out, and to that end, prospective students need to be well-informed.

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 30, 2012 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest, Student Advice | Permalink

November 29, 2012

The Academic Job Market in Law: Looking Forward

As Dan noted last week, there was another nearly 20% drop in the number of LSAT takers in October.  That will almost surely translate into another decline in the total number of law school applicants and then law students, which will put further financial pressure on two-thirds or more of law schools in the United States.  And that will, in turn, translate into fewer jobs for new law teachers next year.  Already this year, we saw 20% fewer schools at the "meat market" than in 2007; we don't have a clear read on how many fewer positions even those schools that went are filling.   A number of schools that went are not sure whether they are really hiring this year.  In all the cases I know about, these are schools that are being affected by the declining pool of applicants, including the most highly-qualified applicants. 

Given all this, my expectation is that next year, 2013-14, will be an even tougher year for aspiring law professors.  The fiercer competition will exacerbate the credentials inflation that has taken place over the last decade (more publications, more Fellowships/VAPs, etc.).   Some colleagues think they've seen slightly more emphasis at some schools on candidates with practice experience, but I'm skeptical:  it still seems that the bulk of candidates doing well have the traditional academic credentials, plus the usual 2-5 years of experience.  But we won't have a clearer picture on that score until the hiring season is over.  My own impression is that curricular hiring is dominating more of the process at more schools than usual this year (and it usually dominates in a normal year, but this year seems to be extreme--that, of course, creates fabulous opportunities for schools doing "best athlete" hiring).

Until the application pool stabilizes, law schools are going to postpone or forego hiring.  There will probably be an increase this Spring in VAP hiring, but this will be driven by curricular needs, rather than presenting opportunities for scholarly and professional development for those seeking tenure-stream positions.  Still, now that the recession has really hit home for law schools, job seekers would do well to take those VAP positions seriously as well.

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 29, 2012 in Advice for Academic Job Seekers | Permalink

November 28, 2012

Attridge Named Dean at Catholic

Daniel Attridge, a senior partner in the Washington DC office of Kirkland and Ellis has been picked as the new law school dean at Catholic University.  

Posted by Dan Filler on November 28, 2012 in Faculty News | Permalink

November 27, 2012

List of Active Law School Dean Searches

I've started up my annual accounting of dean searches here.  Please let me know of any errors or updates. 

Posted by Dan Filler on November 27, 2012 in Faculty News | Permalink

November 26, 2012

Signs of the times: Vermont Law School "buying out" staff, maybe faculty

Story here.  As we've noted before, free-standing law schools that are not part of universities are often the most vulnerable in an economic downturn.

(As an amusing sidenote, you will see that that expert self-promoter and failed academic, Paul Campos, gets himself quoted insulting Vermont Law School in the linked article.  Journalists, alas, eat this stuff up, regardless of the source.)

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 26, 2012 in Legal Profession, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

Todd Zywicki is obviously still smarting...

...from being whacked last Spring.  How else to explain why he would post a link to a not very substantive, but critical, review of my book from an obscure blog?  I guess he thinks it harms me!  (If so, I guess my re-linking it is a failure of prudence on my part!) 

The review itself elicits a pretty good response in the first comment from another libertarian reader of the website, who concludes, "Leiter’s book is one that is worthy of a real response. A review of his book, especially in a high quality site like this one, should be written by somebody with the professional and intellectual competence to do this."  I can agree with all that!  The reviewer, Mr. Anderson, is, for the record, co-author of a rather notoriously silly (Thomist-inspired) paper on the metaphysics of marriage, that I noted on my philosophy blog here in 2011.  (It's a special feature of this kind of silly metaphysics that you can perform it on artifacts!)

For those actually interested in Thomism, pages 86-91 of my book are given over to the Thomist argument for the specialness of "religion."  I rely on John Finnis's version of those arguments, viewing him, correctly, as a serious representative of the position.  I argue that his argument's aren't very persuasive or sound.  What the reviewer's counter-arguments are to my position remains, as of this writing, top secret.

(As if to prove the old adage, "There's no such thing as bad publicity," since Zywicki linked the review, the book went from a rank of around 250,000 on Amazon to the top 50,000.)

ADDENDUM:  For those interested, there has been some adult discussion of themes from the book at the Talking Philosophy blog.

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 26, 2012 in Jurisprudence, Law Professors Saying Dumb Things | Permalink

November 23, 2012

Paul Campos (and his commenters) say "Happy Thanksgiving!" to female law students

Well, not exactly, but just the other day he posted this little open insult to all women in law school, which an eminent colleague elsewhere, who flagged it for me, accurately described as follows:

Just when you thought Campos couldn’t stoop to new levels of obnoxiousness, he writes a post which basically insults women law students by claiming that (a) they are coming into law school with every expectation of being less committed professionally, and that (b) law schools are preying on them as potential “Mrs” degree candidates.   Predictably, women are outraged by this post.  Predictably as well, the unregulated comment thread is chock full with misogyny and drivel.

I have to admit that knowing Campos, and knowing that he cares not a whit about his students (see his teaching evaluations) or about prospective law students or about scholarship or about anything but himself and his own media exposure, and knowing also that he had already exploited a student suicide, I was always confident he could "stoop to new levels of obnoxiousness"!  And he did! 

UPDATE:  One reader points out that (b), above, is explicit only in the comments to the post, though it's hardly surprising they took the post to invite (b).

APRIL 30, 2013 UPDATE:  Some useful context for today's latest outburst from Crazy Campos:  apparently, Colorado law faculty just got their annual reviews from the Dean, scoring them on a scale of 1 to 5 for scholarship, teaching, and service.  Today's little outburst suggests it may not have gone well for CC (which would hardly be surprising, but no doubt he will make the results public, "for the record").  As with BLS's new tenure standard, my view is that poor teaching evaluations do not demonstrate incompetence, but they are certainly evidence that could properly trigger a peer review of teaching competence (CC has been on the edge of this cliff before, so he knows the risks).  Colorado, of course, has some experience firing faculty, which may also explain CC's ill humor.

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 23, 2012 in Law Professors Saying Dumb Things, Of Academic Interest | Permalink

November 21, 2012

Penn State To Split Into Two Law Schools

The dean of Penn State Law announced this week that the school would split the two campuses - State College and Carlisle - into two different law schools.  I have some further thoughts here.

Posted by Dan Filler on November 21, 2012 in Of Academic Interest | Permalink

November 19, 2012

University of Texas Law School Crisis Redux: UT System and AG Critical of Forgivable Loans

The Texas Tribune has the story and the links to the pertinent documents arising from last year's turmoil.  Only a small portion of the report is actually given over to criticizing the forgivable loan the Law School Foundation gave to former Dean Larry Sager (his spokesman has a sharp response to that which can be downloaded here); most of the report analyzes the history of the Foundation (whose purpose was precisely to supplement faculty salaries to make Texas more competitive) and mustering arguments against the use of the device of forgivable loans.  Strikingly, on page 20 of the report, the UT System General Counsel notes:

Without speaking to issues of the use of forgivable personal loans by a public university for the moment, the vehicle of a forgivable personal loan is a highly effective and sensible recruiting and retention tool. It quite simply combines the best of both worlds – (1) it provides an upfront slug of cash like a signing bonus without the immediate tax consequence to the recipient; and (2) it provides the same retention (i.e., golden handcuffs) of deferred compensation. It is, therefore, not surprising that forgivable personal loans became a favored tool of the Law School in its drive to recruit and keep world class faculty.

Notwithstanding this sensible explanation of why the device is useful and widespread, the report concludes that such a salary supplement is inappropriate for a public university.  Even more bizarrely, the AG letter says the existing loans should be terminated immediately.   I'm not sure whether the proposal is to court a series of breach of contract lawsuits or simply to pay out the remaining amount in a lump sum, which would, of course, defeat the purpose of the way this compensation is structured.  One can see already the consequences of this whole crisis in the disproportionate presence of former (or soon-to-be former) UT faculty in a list of recent lateral moves, and this latest development is, sad to say, likely to exacerbate the exodus of faculty. 

UPDATE:  I've now taken a closer look at the AG's letter, which is alarming; it states, ominously:

While we agree in large part with the Report’s recommendations regarding the forgivable loan program and the structure of the Foundation, we disagree with the Report’s recommendation about how to properly handle the Foundation’s outstanding forgivable loan contracts. The Report recommends that the Foundation no longer extend forgivable loans directly to members of the Law School faculty—a recommendation with which we agree—but nonetheless recommends that outstanding loan agreements between the Foundation and faculty members be allowed to expire on their own terms. Report at 27.

According to the Report, all the Foundation’s existing forgivable loan agreements will expire within three years. Id. at 27 n.150. Given our conclusion that the Foundation’s forgivable loan program is legally problematic, it is difficult to also conclude that such an arrangement should nonetheless be allowed to continue years into the future.

Accordingly, we conclude that the more legally sound approach requires that the Foundation extinguish its existing loans and instead allow the Law School’s new executive management to establish a properly controlled compensation program governed by applicable University policies and procedures.

Finally, when the General Counsel’s Report is published, all affected parties will be on notice that there are significant legal and ethical issues surrounding the Foundation’s forgivable loan program. Given the parties’ awareness of the prior program’s flaws, extinguishing and replacing the outstanding forgivable loan agreements is the surest step toward eliminating the possibility of future legal liability. The Report correctly notes that such action would require the involvement of both parties to the loan agreements and should not be undertaken without the advice of counsel, including tax counsel for the Foundation and for the faculty members.

This rather plainly implies that the AG may, in fact, attempt to recoup the forgivable loans.  The AG, it's worth bearing in mind, is a loyal ally of the reactionary Texas Governor Rick Perry, one who has political ambitions of his own, and appears to share with Perry hostility towards the universities.  If the AG actually follows through on the ominous warning, I really fear for the future of the University of Texas School of Law as a leading academic institution.  I do wonder whether some of my former colleagues who stirred this particular pot are pleased with what they've accomplished.

ANOTHER:  A reader with experience in a state AG's office (not Texas) has a different take:

First, I take a different read of what the Texas AG letter is saying.  I read it as basically advising that the forgiveable loans are a big litigation risk because (1) everyone now knows that they are "legally problematic," and (2) they are going to be hanging out there for several years.  That's a big target for a disgruntled UT faculty member, or even maybe a crazy anti-tax or anti-government taxpayer-citizen off the street.  (With respect to the latter, it looks like the Foundation is set up to immunize it from a taxpayer suit, but that's going to depend on the specifics of Texas taxpayer standing rules and the Foundation's structure --and even if a lawsuit ultimately gets dismissed for lack of standing, it's still a huge hassle for everyone.)  Better to wind the outstanding loans up now.  And note that the letter acknowledges that "extinguishing" the loans will require both parties to agree, so I think it envisions something more like accelerating the forgiveness date in exchange for a promise to stay the required term or something along those lines (which admittedly would have tax consequences, which the letter also acknowledges).  I definitely don't read it as threatening to unilaterally seek to recoup the loans.

Posted by Brian Leiter on November 19, 2012 in Faculty News, Of Academic Interest, Rankings | Permalink