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 08, 2014
Law profs face off over discrimination against gay people, and the Supreme Court declines cert
The Supreme Court has denied the petition for certiorari in the much watched case of Elane Photography v. Willock, which began when a commercial wedding photography company in New Mexico refused to sell its services to a same-sex couple. Last August, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously found that the company's conduct violated the state public accommodations statute and that the company was not entitled to a special First Amendment exemption from that law. The Supreme Court has now declined to review the First Amendment portion of that ruling.
The plaintiff, Vanessa Willock, was represented throughout the appellate stages of the case by Tobias Barrington Wolff (Penn). Eugene Volokh (UCLA) and Dale Carpenter (Minnesota) joined with the Cato Institute in filing an amicus brief on the First Amendment issues before the New Mexico Supreme Court and again in support of the company's certiorari petition. (It's just like the 1960s, when you could count on libertarians to be friends of discrimination!) Thankfully, for the plaintiff and for fairness, Professor Wolff prevailed.
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.
March 26, 2014
What is REALLY going on at Denver (contrary to ATL's fabrications)
In typically irresponsible fashion, ATL yesterday posted factually inaccurate rumors about Denver (which they are slowly correcting). Here is what a tenured colleague at Denver wrote to me:
The truth is that we are reducing our tenure and tenure-track faculty by 10 over multiple years. This is consistent with a long-term plan to shrink the size of the school that began in 2007, prior to the economic downturn. At that point we had 380 students. Our ultimate goal was and is approximately 250 students. The school needs *at most* one person to retire or take a buyout this year to meet our budget for 2014-2015. In subsequent years the faculty who will be offered the option of buyouts will be exclusively tenured faculty who have held their positions for a minimum number of years. The buyouts will NOT include tenure-track faculty who are not yet tenured. That is, the ATL story is simply wrong when it says that untenured tenure-track faculty are being asked to leave. None has been asked to do so. In fact, Denver Law has recommended 4 tenure-track faculty for tenure this year. While tenure is not official until the summer, it is common knowledge that the Dean has recently assured those four faculty members that the planned buyouts will not affect their tenure process. Finally, ATL's unattributed claim that the Denver Law faculty is "quite displeased" with direction of the school is simply false. Of course there are outliers in every institution, but the overall faculty climate is collegial and the vast majority of faculty are pleased with Dean Katz's leadership during a difficult time for all law schools. Of course, it is never ideal for ATL to report facts that are patently false, particularly with respect to untenured faculty, and one would hope that they care enough about their credibility to print a correction.
I've heard the same about Dean Katz from other faculty at Denver as well. (I hope Blog Emperor Caron will learn a lesson from this incident, namely, not to reprint nonsense from ATL without independent verification.)
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 18, 2014
Buffalo offers retirement incentives to faculty over 55...
...and eight accept, bringing the size of the full-time faculty from 48 down to 40. The school is also shrinking its class size slightly. Seems like sensible responses to the current economic climate for legal education.
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.
February LSAT takers up very slightly from last year
A bit more than 1%. A first indication that applications and enrollments may be about to level off in the next year or so.