April 17, 2014
Signs of the times, Oregon edition
A dispute at Oregon about whether to eliminate faculty raises, in order to use the money in other ways (appraently, to bolster the school's falling US New.com rank by funding more jobs for grads) has burst into public. I'm sure similarly unpleasant fights over scarce resources are going on at other schools. Although some sites linking to this are using it as an opportunity to attack Prof. Illig, there is no doubt he articulates concerns that many others probably share. (University of Oregon is chronically underfunded, and its salaries also lag that of other AAU schools, so that's part of the background here.)
April 16, 2014
Chemerinsky & Menkel-Meadow opine in yesterday's NY Times...
...that things aren't as awful as the various charlatans and other law-school haters claim, and, predictably (given the social psychology), the charlatans and haters go crazy. I won't link to the hysterical reactions (they are easy enough to find with Google), but they boil down to one complaint: Chemerinsky & Menkel-Meadow cited NALP data without treating it as bogus (e.g., that JD Advantage jobs are really jobs [actually many of them are, but never mind]). That's true, they linked to the NALP data, but they didn't spend the rest of their piece debunking that data based on speculation, skepticism, and occasionally other actual evidence. This has certainly been a standing problem in the debate about American legal education, as when serious data analysis showed that legal education was a sound economic investment for the vast majority of students, and critics refused to believe that was true, though without any contrary evidence or analysis. So we can all agree that we should be more careful about how we present data and its import.
That being said, my main disagreement with Chemerinsky & Menkel-Meadow is about the necessity of three years of legal education, as I've said before: two years could work, and work very well for many students. In reality, the biggest obstacle to reducing costs in legal education, however, is unnoted in their op-ed: it remains the lax tenure standards and the unwillingness of universities to terminate tenured faculty for cause, i.e., when they manifestly do not do their job.
Imagine, for example, a law school that pays a six figure salary (closing in on 200K) to someone with almost no legal experience and an M.A. in literature who teaches the same couple of substantive courses year in and year out, courses in which he has no experience, whose teaching evaluations are consistently below average, who hasn't written any serious legal scholarship in years, who is regarded as a joke by his colleagues at his own school and in the academy at large, and who mostly spends his time insulting, defaming, and blackmailing colleagues who do their jobs. It endangers the institution of tenure when universities do not initiate proceedings to terminate malevolent charlatans like this. Many law schools, as we've noted before, are offering financial inducements to "buy out" senior faculty, most of whom are not charlatans. Real cost reduction, however, will require universities to move against the charlatans and the de facto retired in their midst, even those who have tried to insulate themselves from termination for cause by setting up frivolous retaliation claims.
UPDATE: More thoughts on reforming legal education from Michael Madison (Pitt).
April 10, 2014
Lots of students are applying to law school late in the season
Anyone following Al Brophy's reports on the LSAC data will notice that, while applications are still down from last year, they are down a bit less with each subsequent report. That's consistent with anecdotal reports from colleagues who teach undergraduates who report being asked to write letters of recommendation later and later in the season than just a few years ago. One surmises that at least part of what is happening is that (1) students waivering about going to law school are realizing that they don't have other tangible professional plans, (2) students are realizing their chances of getting good admissions offers--either in terms of the caliber of the school and/or the cost--are much better this year than just a few years ago. Along with this indicator, I suspect the decline in applications is about to bottom out. It will still take a couple more years, though, for most law schools to begin hiring new faculty again given the dramatic decline in applications and enrollments of the last few years.
April 07, 2014
Lawyers, law professors and depression
A bracing series of posts by Charlotte Law's Brian Clarke: this is the third in the series, with links back to the earlier ones.
April 03, 2014
More signs of the times: 15% cut in tuition sticker price at Brooklyn
Story here. Whether that will represent an actual cut depends on how much discounting took place in the past, which we don't know.
April 02, 2014
The law clerk hiring process: an interview with Judge Ambro of the 3rd Circuit
March 25, 2014
Dean Rodriguez (Northwestern) on hysteria about law schools
He is obviously right. What is worse, in this instance, is that the "story" about Denver is complete fiction, but since "Above the Law" has no regard for facts, it's hardly surprising they would report such fiction as though it were factual.
March 21, 2014
More signs of the times
Appalachian cutting faculty. In addition, I recently spoke to a colleague at another law school--a strong, regional school but with a faculty with a national scholarly reputation--who reported the teaching load has been raised from 10 hours per year per faculty member to 12 hours. Twenty years ago, 12 hours was the norm at most law schools, except for the very top ones. Over the last twenty years, 10 hours/3 courses became increasingly common. For a school of this caliber to make the move back to 12 suggests that other schools are following or will soon follow suit.
March 20, 2014
Falsehood of the day: "U.S. News, for all of its faults, is how employers think of you"
Elie Mystal, one of the bloggers at "Above the Law," wrote this last week (a reader forwarded it to me). No evidence was offered, and that's not surprising: the statement is false in almost all cases. Employers, to be sure, have views about different law schools, but they are based on experience, in some cases, experience that stretches over decades. Actual lawyers and judges do not, in my experience, pay any attention to U.S. News at all. A couple of years ago, for example, I was speaking to a distinguished group of Northwestern University Law School alumni about the U.S. News rankings. There were about 125 to 150 lawyers (and a few judges) there. Many of the lawyers in attendance had been or were the current hiring partners at their firms. I asked a simple question: how many had looked at the recent U.S. news rankings of law schools? Maybe five hands went up in the entire room. To a person, all these lawyers and judges said they based their evaluations of law schools--where they recruit, how deep into the class they will go for new hires--on their past experience with the schools and their graduates. Full stop. No one was waiting for the U.S. News law school rankings to decide where to interview or whom to hire.
So if lawyers and judges don't care about them, who does care about the U.S. News rankings? Prospective students and journalists. Prospective students are very clearly influenced by them, in part because journalists hype them and report on them irresponsibily. And because of those two constituencies, law schools have to care as well: if, in fact, the students a school wants will go elsewhere because of a precipitous drop in the US News ranking, this will over a period of time affect how the employers that hire frm that school perceive it, not because they follow U.S. News, but because they will notice the change in the caliber of the student body.
March 17, 2014
ABA votes to retain tenure (good) and require 6 hours of experiential learning of ALL students (bad)
ADDENDUM: As a couple of readers noted, I have in the past expressed the view that tenure need not be an accreditation requirement, which is still my view. But given some of the administrative mischief afoot, and some of the reasons given for opposing tenure, I am happy to see the ABA leave it alone for now.