February 20, 2017
We noted awhile back Syracuse's impressive results on the July 2016 New York bar exam--a pass rate of 89%, fourth highest in the state, behind only Columbia, Cornell, and NYU, and ahead of Fordham, Cardozo, Brooklyn, Buffalo and others. I recently visited Syracuse, and talked with Professor Christian Day about the changes they made to achieve these results. He kindly gave me a written version to share; I'm sure this will be of interest to many schools. Professor Day writes:
In the later 1990s and early 2000s Syracuse had a terrible bar pass rate. One year it was dead last among the 15 New York law schools. A faculty ad hoc committee was created and it developed a program over several years.
Under Dean Hannah Arterian’s leadership the faculty adopted 1L and upper-class curves. The curves are centered on a low B (2.9-3.0) and approximately 8% of the 1L class is dismissed. Before the implementation of the curve, most of the students who were dismissed were re-admitted and placed on probation. But only 10% of that group passed the bar for the first time. With the new curve, a much smaller group of students is re-admitted and placed on probation. The Structured Curriculum, described below, and a comprehensive bar success program, which includes a staff member dedicated to the bar success effort have provided a foundation for achievement. We also inaugurated a comprehensive third year bar prep program. That program was mandatory for those on probation and voluntary for the balance of the student body.
A consultant worked with the College and confirmed that bar exam success was correlated to 1L class rank AND the number of so-called “bar courses” students had taken. Syracuse had a 90% pass rate for students in the upper 75-80% of the 1L class who had taken most of the bar courses for grade. Students who failed the exam took around four of those courses, often on a pass/fail basis. The faculty adopted the Structured Curriculum that requires all students on probation and those below a 2.50 average at the conclusion of the first year to take the following courses for grade: Commercial Transactions, New York Civil Procedure, Business Associations, Constitutional Criminal Procedure—Investigation and Adjudication, Wills and Trusts, Family Law, Evidence, and Foundational Skills for Professional Licensing (a bar prep course taught by faculty or staff that emphasizes exam prep and writing).
The efforts have borne fruit. In 2014 Syracuse and St. John’s tied for fourth place among the New York law schools. In 2016, with the adoption of the Uniform Bar Exam, Syracuse was again in fourth place behind NYU, Columbia and Cornell.
December 01, 2016
November 25, 2016
October 04, 2016
A clever and charming welcome to our new law students, with lots of good advice too!
July 18, 2016
July 12, 2016
June 21, 2016
June 18, 2016
New York Times reporter Noam Scheiber was kind enough to respond to my open letter and ask if I could point to anything specifically factually wrong with his story. My response is below.
Thanks so much for responding. Yes, there are at least 6 factual errors in the article, and several misleading statements.
I’ll start with my interview with Acosta from earlier today, and then we can discuss empirics. Here’s what Acosta said:
"There’s no way I could pay back my student loans under a 10-year standard payment plan. With my current income, I can support myself and my family, but I need to keep my loan payments low for now. I’ve been practicing law since May, and I’m on track to make $40,000 this year. I think my income will go up over time, but I don’t know if it will be enough for me to pay back my loans without debt forgiveness after 20 years. What happens is up in the air. I’m optimistic that I can make this work and pay my student loans. I view the glass now as half full.
Valparaiso did not mislead me about employment prospects. I had done my research. I knew the job market was competitive going in. I knew what debt I was walking into. I think very few Americans don’t have debt, but for me it was an investment. I saw the debt as an investment in my career, my future, and my family.
Valparaiso gave a guy like me, a non-traditional student a shot at becoming a lawyer. Most law schools say they take a holistic approach, but they don’t really do it. I had to work hard to overcome adversity, and they gave me a shot to go to law school and to succeed. They gave me a shot at something that I wanted to do where most law schools wouldn’t.
My situation might be different from other law students who start law school right out of college. I was older and I have a family to support."
On to empirics.
The story states that:
“While demand for other white-collar jobs has rebounded since the recession, law firms and corporations are finding that they can make do with far fewer full-time lawyers than before.”
This is incorrect.
First, the number of jobs for lawyers has increased beyond pre-recession levels (2007 or earlier), both in absolute terms and relative to growth in overall employment. (error #1)
Focusing only on lawyers working full-time in law firms or for businesses (I’m not sure why you exclude those working in government), there are more full-time corporate and law firm lawyers in 2014 according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS)—870,000—than in 2007—786,000. There have been more full-time corporate and law firm lawyers in every year from 2009 on than there were in 2007 and earlier.
You were looking at NALP or ABA data, which is measured at a single point in time—9 or 10 months after graduation—and is therefore much less representative of outcomes for law graduates—even recent law graduates—than Census data. Indeed, many law graduates who will eventually gain admission to a state bar will not have done so as of the date when NALP collects data. NALP and the ABA also use different definitions from the Census, so you cannot readily use their data to compare law graduates to others.
The trend of growth in lawyer jobs holds true for other cuts of the data (all lawyers; all full time lawyers) using other data sources—U.S. Census or Department of Labor (BLS OES) data.[i]
This is in spite of large declines in law school enrollments, which would be expected to reduce the number of working lawyers.
Second, employment has not rebounded to pre-recession (2007 or earlier) levels outside of law. (error #2)
May 11, 2016
Sarah Lawsky's entry-level hiring report for 2015-16--plus the percentage of successful job seekers from each school
Professor Lawsky (currently UC Irvine, moving this fall to Northwestern) has produced her annual, informative report on rookie hiring this year. As she notes, it reflects only those who accepted tenure-track jobs, not tenure-track offers. (This matters for Chicago this year, since two alumni turned down tenure-track offers for personal reasons; as I noted earlier, 75% of our JD and LLM candidates on the market received tenure-track offers.)
Here are the statistics based on the percentage of JD, LLM and SJD (or Law PhD) seekers from each school who accepted a tenure-track position this year (I excluded clinical and LRW jobs, since that market operates differently from the market for "doctrinal" faculty--there were 80 of the latter, as I had estimated--a 20% uptick from recent years, but still about half of the pre-recession numbers); only schools that placed at least two candidates and which had at least nine job seekers* are listed:
1. University of Chicago (58%: 7 of 12)
2. Yale University (50%: 21 of 42)
3. Stanford University (42%: 8 of 19)
4. Columbia University (29%: 6 of 21)
5. Harvard University (27%: 12 of 45)
6. New York University (24%: 7 of 29)
7. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (22%: 2 of 9)
8. University of California, Berkeley (19%: 3 of 16)
9. University of Virginia (17%: 2 of 12)
UCLA had just five job seekers, but two (40%) got tenure-track jobs.
*I used 9 rather than 10 is the cut-off, since Michigan was just under ten, but still had enough candidates to make the figure somewhat meaningful.
April 22, 2016
Professor Paula Franzese of Seton Hall law school is something of a patron saint of law students. Widely known for her upbeat energy, kindness, and tendency to break into song for the sake of helping students remember a particularly challenging point of law, Paula has literally helped hundreds of thousands of lawyers pass the bar exam through her video taped Property lectures for BarBri.
Paula is such a gifted teacher that she won teacher of the year almost ever year until Seton Hall implemented a rule to give others a chance: no professor can win teacher of the year more than two years in a row. Since the rule was implemented, Paula wins every other year. She’s also incredibly generous, leading seminars and workshops to help her colleagues improve their teaching.
Paula recently wrote a book encouraging law students to have a productive, upbeat happy, and grateful outlook on life (A short & happy guide to being a law school student).
Paula’s well-intentioned book has rather bizarrely been attacked by scambloggers as “dehumanizing”, “vain”, “untrustworthy” and “insidious.” The scambloggers are not happy people, and reacted as if burned by Paula’s sunshine. They worry that Paula’s thesis implies that “their failure must be due to their unwillingness to think happy and thankful thoughts.”
Happiness and success tend to go together. Some people assume that success leads to happiness. But an increasing number of psychological studies suggest that happiness causes success. (here and here) Happiness often precedes and predicts success, and happiness appears to be strongly influenced by genetic factors.
Leaving aside the question of how much people can change their baseline level of happiness, being happier—or at least outwardly appearing to be happier—probably does contribute to success, and being unhappy probably is a professional and personal liability.
People like working with happy people. They don’t like working with people who are unhappy or unpleasant. This does not mean that people who are unhappy are to blame for their unhappiness, any more than people who are born with disabilities are to blame for being deaf or blind.
But it does raise serious questions about whether studies of law graduates’ levels of happiness are measuring causation or selection. We would not assume that differences between the height of law graduates and the rest of the population were caused by law school attendance, and we probably should not assume that law school affects happiness very much either.