Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The AALS (Association of American Law Schools) publicizes a dubious claim that 3Ls contributed at least 81.8 million dollars worth of free legal services in 2017

On January 3, 2018, The Association of American Law Schools issued a press release crowing that 3L law students of the Class of 2017 provided 81.8 million dollars worth of pro bono legal services, or actually considerably more. 
"In November 2017, 94 law schools reported that 18,411 law students in the class of 2017 contributed more than 3.39 million hours in legal services as part of their legal education, an average of about 184 hours per student. Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization coalition, estimates the value of volunteer time to be $24.14 an hour. Using this number, the total value of the students' time. . . is estimated to be in excess of $81.8 million. . . Many schools indicated that some hours go uncounted or are difficult to track so actual contributions were probably higher. . . Law students contributed hours through a variety of efforts, including externships at legal aid and community organizations, law school clinics, and law student organization led projects . . . .Students received practical experience in law and communities received critical legal services."
AALS also posted a video of its Executive Director Judith Areen announcing this finding at the outfit's recent annual shindig in San Diego, to a round of spontaneous applause from the law profs in attendance. (Video at 11:10-12:16) Here, after all, was ego-bolstering evidence that law faculty are facilitators of tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars worth of "critical legal services." You know, as opposed to facilitators of a debt trap premised on scam, as many of their victims have cruelly asserted.  

The website published a story based on the AALS press release, as did the publication National Jurist, and both stories were arguably even more laudatory than the original press release. AALS then tweeted a link to the story. This tweet got a retweet from Barry Currier, ABA Managing Director of Accreditation & Legal Education. (above) I may be oversensitive here, but isn't it slightly disconcerting when a chief regulator retweets self-congratulatory public relations from a trade and lobbying group representing the very institutions that he is supposed to be policing? 

Due respect (or disrespect) to AALS and its flack-in-chief Judith Areen (who drew compensation of $518,859 for fiscal 2015, while refusing to pay her full-time law student intern a plug nickel), but I am dubious about her claim that 3L volunteer student labor equates to 81.8 million dollars worth of  legal services.

AALS's calculation is, as it notes, based on an estimate by Independent Sector ["IS"] that the value of an hour of nonspecialist volunteer time is $24.14 per hour. However, this estimate problematically derives from the average wage of non-management non-agricultural workers and is essentially propagandistic in nature.

IS is a nonprofit organization that exists to advocate for public policies on behalf of the charitable sector. IS acknowledges that the purpose of its estimate is to "show the immense value volunteers provide to an organization." Indeed, IS hopes that charitable organizations themselves "use the value of volunteer time for recognition events or communications to show the amount of community support an organization receives from its volunteers." 

What is more, IS acknowledges that the estimate generally cannot be used on financial statements.("The general rule to follow when determining if contributed services meet the [accounting] criteria for financial forms is to determine whether the organization would have purchased the services if they had not been donated.")  Thus, IS's $24.14/hr. estimate of the value of volunteer time is more suitable for self-congratulatory social media posts and tweets than for budgets and balance sheets. 

Is a law student intern or volunteer really contributing $24.14 per hour worth of labor? I mean, that sums to close to a $1,000 per week contribution for a full-time volunteer. Many public defenders do not earn $1,000 per week, despite being licensed to practice law, tasked with huge caseloads, and trained and experienced in trial and motion practice. So how is it possible that the work of a coffee-fetching or make-work-doing intern at that same public defender's office is valued more highly than the work of the public defender him or herself?

What is pro bono law student labor really worth to the lucky public interest organizations that receive this contribution? University of Georgia Law Professor Alex Scherr, a man with genuinely impressive credentials in experiential legal education,  did not mince words:
"You asked what the common consensus was among externship programs and field supervisors. I can't count the number of times I've heard externship supervisors say, "These students don't give me much. In fact, they are more trouble than they're worth if I'm thinking about it exclusively in terms of economic value. But I do it because I want to teach and I do it because I want to mentor."
(ABA Section on Legal Education, Public Hearing Re: Amendments to Standards, April 25, 2014, Transcript, p. 31)  
To pursue Scherr's logic, those 3.39 million donated law student hours do not represent an economic contribution to legal services organizations by law students. Rather, they represent a contribution by legal services organizations to the educational experience of law students-- a contribution that may even be deleterious to those organizations' core function of providing legal assistance to worthy individuals or causes.

I note that IS's $24.14/hr. estimate does not vary according to the educational achievements or specialized skill of the volunteer. Thus, by IS's measure, a law student doing volunteer work at a public interest law office is contributing no more to legal services than if the same work were to be done by a retiree, an undergraduate, or a high school student. Granted that 3.39 million hours is a lot, but theoretically you could get the same number of volunteer hours, and thus the same alleged 89.2 million dollar value, from the general population. Which means that law schools do not have to trap tens of thousands of kids per year in long-term debt slavery in order for legal aid organizations to receive the full benefits of volunteer labor.

Legal services organizations could also get an 89.2 million dollar boost if some vain member of the ultra-rich were persuaded to donate that amount in lieu of using the money to acquire naming rights to a law school. (Got that, Mr. Pritzker?) Something tells me that an 89.2 million cash donation would be considerably more welcome to legal services organizations and their clients than would 3.39 million hours of law student volunteer work. 

But let's say that all of the above is incorrect, and that law school student volunteers have made a massive, valuable, and irreplaceable contribution to legal services organizations. If so, then congratulations to law schools. However, if there is to be a calculation of the collateral economic benefits to society of law school attendance (e.g. those 3.39 million hours of uncompensated student labor on behalf of legal services) should there not be a counterbalancing calculation of the collateral costs to society of law school attendance?  

How much money is spent for health care, including mental health and substance abuse treatment, that is attributable, at least in in part, to the stress of staggering law school debt loads and stagnating opportunities in an oversatuturated profession? What is the loss to overall social stability when hundreds of thousands of law grads must tap their meager savings every month to cover near-extortionist interest rates on student loans rather than, say, using that money provide for their families, save for retirement, start businesses, or even make charitable donations to worthy legal services organization?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Finally, a minimum LSAT score—of sorts

North Carolina Central University may be the first institution to impose a minimum LSAT score for admissions. Aspirants to this toilet school will now have to score 142 or better. In other words, the bottom 18% of the pool of test-takers just isn't good enough for North Carolina Central.

This departure from the institution's "holistic approach to admissions", according to scam-dean Phyliss Craig-Taylor, results from a "communication from the ABA" about violations of various standards. Faced with loss of accreditation, North Carolina Central had to adopt "new strategies and approaches … to be achieve [sic] student success".

Any minimum is better than none, but 142 is so dreadfully low as to lose its significance. If the threshold were set at a reasonable level, such as 160, North Carolina Central and most other law schools would cease to exist.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Scambloggers Weren't Making Stuff Up, After All

Hard to believe, but it's true!

In a Gallup poll of over 4,000 American adults who earned a postgraduate degree between 2000 and 2015, just 23 percent of law school graduates said that their education was worth the cost and only 20 percent said that their schooling prepared them well for post-grad life...

"While both medical and law degrees are expensive, law degree holders may be less likely to say their degree was worth the cost because of the weak job market for those with a law degree in recent years," hypothesizes Gallup.

Well, it's a hard-knock life for the average law graduate, yes, but surely law school prepped these graduates for the road ahead...

Another reason that law school graduates have such a negative view of their education is their relationships — or lack thereof — with their professors. Just 24 percent of J.D. holders felt that their professors cared about them as a person and only 19 percent said they had a collegiate mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams.

These negative experiences were not consistent across other types of graduate students.

I'm sure career services has something more positive to add...

Law school admissions and career counselor Laura Hosid says students should consider the job market, their career goals and their ability to get into a top-tier program before they take the law school plunge.

"Yes, technically you can do anything with a law degree," she tells CNBC Make It. "But that doesn't mean you should."

Wait, what?  That's just scamblog crazy-talk!  What happened to public service?  Or JD-Advantage?  I thought law was all models and bottles!  Or so the deans said...!  Wait, let me dig back through the hundreds of posts here on OTLSS, I *know* they said it somewhere...

Never-mind folks, it looks like there has been a stunning reversal in the law school market.  Apparently the scambloggers were wrong all along, but it is only as of 2018 that there is vocal discontent among graduates and law schools are now counseling restraint against taking the plunge.  No one could have seen this coming, not even a bunch of debt-burdened, bar-licensed malcontents, I guess.

0Ls, pay heed.  Let this be fair warning.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Law School Applicants Update 2018

A quick update:  we are 12 weeks into the new application cycle, and according to LSAC applications are up approximately 10% from last year.  When you look at the data closely and compare "Week X" last year to "Week X" this year, however, it is closer to 1-2% by my review.  In fact, Week 12 is falling on essentially the same value for last year and for 2014 prior.  It is still not clear how LSAC is doing their supposed apples-to-apples comparison, but that will remain a mystery, I guess.

Because I am a self-professed data wonk, I also noticed that the applicant data tends to follow a very particularized curve very well, better than the polynomial functions I used previously (the logistic function, for anyone who is interested).  For example, when you look at 2017, it's pretty easy to get a near 1.0 r-squared value for "goodness of fit," and this makes experiential sense - applicant count starts off, accelerates for a while, and then tapers off later in the cycle.

The only reason this matters, in my book, is that I like to look at the rate of change of applicants in each cycle.  In my opinion, this is a proxy for "applicant enthusiasm", and is a better indicator that percent change from year to year.  If the rate of change spikes quickly and is sustained ("Applicant Velocity"), you get a high applicant count at the end of the cycle. (e.g. 2012).  If the rate of change is slow and lethargic (e.g. 2016), then people aren't applying in droves and the law schools are keeping the application window open longer to get the trickle of applicants to get up to prior-year levels.

I've included a prediction for 2018 based on the data so far, and it looks as though 2018 is basically shaping up to be 2017 all over again.  How this is 10% higher than last year is still not apparent, but "enthusiasm" seems to be back at 2014 levels.  We haven't seen 2011-2013 levels of applicants, or applicant rates, for several years now.  One can only hope that most people are getting the message, and only those who really, really, really, want to got to law school are doing so.  Anything to help correct the legal graduates market has to be a good thing, except perhaps for the law schools themselves.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

"Values" explain why law schools are still lobbying to eliminate the reporting distinction between actual jobs and law school-funded make-work.

Last year, the ABA decided to eliminate a significant feature of the annual recent graduate employment survey--namely the requirement that any school-funded position must be classified as "Employed – Law School/University Funded" rather than as "Employed – Bar Passage Required." 

Disgracefully, the ABA made its decision without providing an opportunity for notice and comment. In response to fierce criticism, the ABA subsequently postponed implementation of this change pending further discussion. In so doing, the ABA issued a hilariously brazen memo explaining that it had dispensed with its customary rulemaking procedures in good faith anticipation of "universal or near universal acclamation. . . as to both process and substance." 

Why consult the public in advance when you are sure that the public will approve anything you cram down its throat, all the more enthusiastically in that it comes as a complete surprise? Yes, this is the same ABA that purports to tutor the world in rule of law.  

Unfortunately, the proposal to merge the categories of "employed" and "employed/ law school funded" is far from dead. Indeed, it was the main item on the agenda of the ABA Section on Legal Education council meeting, which was held from February 8th through 10th in San Antonio. In anticipation of the meeting, 187 law professors signed a letter to the ABA in support of the proposal. William Treanor, long-time Dean of Georgetown Law, felt so strongly about the matter that he submitted his own letter. To quote from these delightful missives:
"The exclusion of school-funded public interest fellowships from the calculation of full-time, long term, bar passage required employment has had the direct and immediate effect of harming our students who aspire to careers in public interest law. The current reporting format punishes law schools by treating their year-long fellowships differently from other year-long opportunities, such as clerkships, and incentivizes decreased school support for such fellowships. . . . Why would the bar seek to chill schools who seek to encourage students to pursue public service? Why close off avenues to public service when the state courts, judges, and bar leaders urge that we redouble our efforts to provide legal representation to those who cannot afford it? The spirit of the current reporting format is directly contrary to the values that we, as legal educators, seek to instill in our students." -- signed by 187 values-instilling lawprofs.
* * * 
"An argument I often hear for distinguishing law-school funded positions from others is transparency. This argument is at odds with reality. Far from being a negative, our public interest fellowships are a selling point to prospective students. . . . We tout our partner fellows because they reflect our law center’s social justice mission and because students find them attractive. . .Far from hiding our program, we celebrate it. . . . Treating law-school funded public interest fellowships differently than other legal positions devalues public service and sends a signal to prospective law students that public interest fellowships are not as good as other types of positions. Such treatment undermines our profession’s core commitment to justice."  -- William Treanor, Dean and Executive Vice President, Georgetown Law School. 
These letters constitute discouraging evidence that law schools intend to chip away at transparency protections by aggressively lobbying an accomodating-to-the-point-of-regulatory-captured ABA.

A law school-funded position is a highly artificial creation in that it is supported by tuition money already paid by the recipient, a compensation structure more akin to a partial refund than to a salary or even a run-of-the-mill grant. So a clear distinction ought to be made between these make-work programs and real jobs.

I do not doubt that the many law professors who signed the first letter instill values as generously as mosquitos instill mosquito bites, but it is still a shame that they are so eager to conceal or obfuscate highly relevant information about employment outcomes from the very idealistic young people who have paid huge sums of money to prepare for a career in public service. It may be presumptuous to challenge law faculty in their expert domain of "values," but I seem to recall from kindergarten that honesty is a pretty important value. 

Interestingly, the ABA Law Student Division Council opposes changing the reporting requirement. These selfish souls are clearly in dire need of innovative remedial values instruction from their law professors. 

The professors complain that the reporting format unjustly "punish[es]" law schools that are seeking to do the right thing in offering fellowships. But the punishment, such as it is,  merely consists of preventing law schools from claiming unearned success in their placement stats or conveying a false impression of what the public sector/public interest job market is really like. (See e.g. Yale Law School Career Development webpage, updated Sept., 2017: "Getting a permanent public interest job is more challenging than getting a large firm job").

The related disincentivization argument advanced by the academics is especially galling in its hypocrisy. It is similar to some wealthy brute arguing that he would be disincentivized or chilled from throwing a few conscience-easing scraps to his victims if the public, including intended or potential future victims, were clearly informed about the number of persons in need of such charity.  

Maybe worse is Treanor's point that his school serves transparency by "celebrat[ing]" school-funded fellowships in promotional and recruitment material, making it unnecessary and counterproductive to tabulate these fellowships separately from actual jobs. Treanor  boasts in his faculty bio that he has been formally designated a "Champion" by the National Law Journal because of his commitment to the "core values" or the legal profession. One might have hoped that a values champion-- I mean Champion-- such as Treanor would have acknowledged the difference between public relations and transparency. 

But I suppose that simply looking at cold columns and rows of segmented data muffles the celebratory "signal" that law schools wish to transmit, the same deceptive signal that predators often convey to their prey. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A Game of Law Reviews

The candidates review their chances of being published in Braavos Law Review - what will the Essos News & World Report rankings show?  Stay tuned...!

I was not on law review - I didn't even try to write-on. 

"Why of course, that is why you are a scamblogging los3r rather than a models-and-bottles LawProf, yo," I hear some say. 

In some respects I'm guilty as charged, though that is not the point.  I agree that research and scholarly writing is the bread-and-butter of academia, and is the work product that hopefully drives other changes and advances in society. 
I did have to do a legal writing class in lieu of being on law review - I don't recall what it was about that much, but I remember thinking "hey, I did a decent job."  We also had to do a presentation based on our work, not unlike a seminar.  At the end, my legal writing professor complemented me on my work product, and said those oh-so-fateful words with twinkles in her eyes while looking off to the far horizon, as if a golden opportunity had just materialized:
"You should try to get this published!!!" 
Really?  I mean, thanks, I appreciate what you are trying to say and all, but come on.  This is not a barn-burner, nor is it introducing some supremely novel idea.  I was a law STUDENT, after all, at the time.  And this is not some sense of false-humility...the legal world will roll on, with or without my grand contribution.  I mean, really.
But then I recalled - what else do the majority of LawProfs do besides "teach?"  Publish.  Riiight...that is what it is all about.  Raises, promotions, preftige - all of it - based on how much you write, who blesses it, and how widely read it is, who invites you to speak about it, etc. etc. etc.
Yep, not my kind of game.  Major advances in a field do not come with production-line regularity on a semi-yearly basis, at least in my book.  But then again, my prior experience was in the engineering world, where you may only publish something after years and years of research, experimentation, and analysis. 
The real-world counterpart to LawProfs would be folks like Michael Cicchini, who is a full-time practicing attorney who also enjoys academic writing on the side.  His interest in law reviews comes down to the nuts-and-bolts of practice, and I find his view illuminating:

Monday, January 22, 2018

University of Kentucky Law Professor and filmmaker extraordinaire Brian L. Frye asserts that legal scholarship does not contribute to the cost of legal education

It is a relief to know that the cinematic arts are flourishing at law schools, along with the finest doctrinal instruction this side of a Gilbert’s outline and highly useful and enlightening scholarship that bears no causal relationship whatsoever to rising levels of student indebtedness.

One of the legal academy’s great auteur-scholars is University of Kentucky Law Professor Brian L. Frye. According to an endnote to one of his recent articles: "Brian L. Frye is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky College of Law. His scholarship focuses on intellectual property, charity law, and art law. He is also an essayist and artist of no particular distinction." And the self-effacing professor does not even mention his two one-year post-law school judicial clerkships or the 27 months he spent as a junior associate with Sullivan & Cromwell before becoming a law professor.

Frye may modestly downplay the quality of his work, as per his so-charming humblebrag, but not his fans at OTLSS. True, we can only anticipate the delights of his forthcoming article: The Athlete’s Two Bodies: Reflections on the Ontology of Celebrity. But cinephiles everywhere can celebrate the completed films that he has conceived, directed, and starred in. These include such works as Brian Frye Fails to Masturbate and Striptease. In an article in the Chicago Reader, a film nerd provides the following description of these paradigm-subverting avant garde masterpieces.
"The two-minute Brian Frye Fails to Masturbate shows the filmmaker fully clothed, sitting in a chair fidgeting, seemingly unsure what to do with his hands. Inspired by the joke that student performance artists just get up in front of the audience and masturbate, this film in one sense merely illustrates the stereotype: Frye makes his body the subject. But because he appears not to know how to sit and where to look, and because the film is not obviously artful (it's a single take not particularly well framed), his body becomes the locus of instability rather than a fetishized object. . .
Striptease might have been titled "Brian Frye Fails to Strip." We see Frye disrobe, but when he gets to his white undershorts, the roll ends in white flare-outs. There's also something strange about his movements, especially when he drops his shirt — because in fact he ran the camera in reverse while putting his clothes on."     
It is galling that the hoi polloi persist in trooping to the multiplex to watch Star Wars, Episode Whatever, when gems like Brian Frye Fails to Masturbate remain comparatively obscure. At the very least, a minimally decent society will not fail to lubricate a genius like Brian Frye with an undemanding academic job and a $123,628 annual public sector salary, the better to facilitate his scholarly, as well as his artistic, ejaculations. Which is precisely what a young public defender failed to understand, in a January 15, 2018 exchange on Twitter, when she rudely interrupted Frye's effusion of self-love with the less-than-enticing imagery of her $250,000 law school debt load.

Professor Frye explains to the insolent tweeter that legal scholarship bears no relationship whatsoever to law student debt, making the knock down point that he gets paid whether he writes or doesn't write. (A few quibbles about that below). Anyway, here is the Twitter exchange in all its naked glory: [N. I want to add that I do not know the identity of "Essential Employee." I stumbled on the exchange while researching another post]

But wait, Professor Frye, or shall I call you Mr. Pro Boner?: Isn’t "engaging in scholarship" a major reason why the ABA mandates that the majority of law school coursework be taught by full-time law professors instead of far more affordable part-time adjuncts who, you know, actually practice law? (See ABA Standards 403(a) and 404(a)(3)). Isn’t this requirement fiercely defended against proposed modifications by law professor lobbying organizations? Don’t lawprofs routinely receive five-figure "summer research stipends" to top off their six-figure salaries, money expressly provided to encourage scholarship? Isn’t tenure in the legal academy strongly linked to scholarly production, as opposed to service and teaching? And don’t all these things add significantly to the cost of a legal education?

These would be my questions– pardon me, my non sequiturs– though I would never presume to match wits with somebody clever enough to deceive the world into thinking he is doing a striptease when he is really just running the camera in reverse while getting dressed.

Actually, the thing that most troubles me is that Professor Frye has become so absorbed in legal scholarship this past year that he may be neglecting his filmmaking. While I doubt that he or anyone can rise to the level of Brian Frye Fails to Masturbate, I would like to suggest some exciting film concepts inspired by his Twitter exchange with the public defender and the title of his greatest masterpiece: Brian Frye Fails to Take Moral Responsibility; Brian Frye Fails to Argue Persuasively; Brian Frye Fails to Treat a Public Defender with Respect; and Brian Frye Fails to Pretend that he is not a Smug and Pretentious Entitled Narcissist.

See, for these films, he would not even have to run the camera in reverse.