Wednesday, January 17, 2018

University of Richmond Law Dean (and AALS President) Wendy Perdue asserts that the ABA-mandated employment survey hurts law students

According to the University of Richmond Law School's last five annual ABA-mandated 10-months-out employment surveys (2012-2016), the school has not once succeeded in placing as many as 100 graduates in full-time law jobs in a single year, even though the size of its graduating class has ranged from 145 to 159.
What accounts for persistently lackluster employment results at Richmond Law and elsewhere? Conventional thinkers keep citing a highly saturated legal job market and deteriorating admissions standards at  law schools. However, University of Richmond Law Dean and Association of American Law Schools (AALS) President Wendy Perdue has shrewdly identified an alternate culprit-- namely, the employment survey itself.

Think about it in terms of misdirected talent and lack of trust. Say that a law school employs a hotshot career services counselor. The counselor could be and should be using her mighty skills to conduct a virtuoso mock job interview for this 3L or to craft the perfect cover letter for that 3L, which in cumulative effect would send employment outcomes zooming high enough to knock Santa out of his sleigh. But instead the counselor must devote long hours to unproductive administrative drudgery in compliance with a burdensome ABA employment survey protocol. 

Imagine acquiring a cat for the express purpose of catching mice and then some bureaucrat comes along and insists that the cat spend two-thirds of her time between mid-January and mid-March documenting her past mousing results.

In a February 27, 2017 blogpost entitled "Ides of March," Dean Perdue provides the following explanation:
". . . But finding out where every graduate is employed is only half the job – the other half is documentation. Schools are expected to be meticulous because their records may be audited. So suppose a student tells the career office that she is employed at a particular firm, then what? If the information came by email, the email must be uploaded to the student’s file. If the information was communicated orally, the staff person must document that conversation and put that in the file. Suppose the graduate provides the employer’s name but not the address of the firm: The career office must have someone go to the web, find the address, take a screen shot that shows the address, and upload that to the student’s file. 
All of this takes a lot of time and staff resources. Between mid-January and mid-March, one of our full time career counselors spends about two-thirds of her time on data collection and reporting. This is for a graduating class of about 150. The time she spends on data and reporting is time she will not spend with our students and graduates helping them identify job opportunities, reviewing their resumes and cover letters, or preparing them for their interviews 
Of course, prospective students care about employment outcomes and should have reliable information about this. But the level of detail and documentation far exceeds the level of detail we must provide about any other aspect of our operation, and it is time to restore some balance."
A few skeptical points and questions from a typically balance-deficient scamblogger:

1. According to the University of Richmond's most recent available IRS Form 990, for fiscal year 2014, Dean Perdue's annual compensation is $412,401, an impressive take even by law dean standards. Could a pittance from Perdue's enormous pay package be re-allocated for the purpose of hiring a two-month temp to assist the Richmond Law Career Services office in its record keeping? With this additional administrative support, the beautifully-crafted cover letters could keep flowing, even during survey season. 

2. Consider the linked ABA protocol for conducting the employment survey as well as the ABA's answers to "frequently asked questions" concerning the protocol. What specific requirements of "detail" or "documentation" would Dean Perdue like to eliminate in her quest to "restore some balance"? And what exactly are the two quantities being balanced here? Reliable information versus scamming hype? Does Dean Perdue believe that too much of either is a bad thing, but that a harmonious balance should be achieved?  

3. Isn’t it alarming that a law dean finds it objectionable that she and her staff are "expected to be meticulous" in advancing claims about recent graduate employment? I mean, how many lawprofs have written articles righteously embracing their responsibility to cultivate professional values and behaviors in law students, or to guide law students towards a proper inter-disciplinary-informed appreciation of social justice? Shouldn't a law school model, as well as teach, ethical conduct? I wonder if Dean Perdue is similarly critical of a lawyer's professional obligation to be meticulous in, for instance, billing clients or in making factual representations in court.  

4. Will Dean Perdue, as President of the AALS, use her organization's considerable influence with the ABA to lobby for a weaker employment auditing regime or at least weaker enforcement?

5. If Dean Perdue is truly concerned with finding jobs for Richmond law grads, perhaps she should consider reducing class size to around 100, the approximate annual demand for Richmond law graduates, or actually a bit higher. Because otherwise one may reasonably suspect that Dean Perdue's criticism of the employment survey is not actually motivated by concern for the job prospects of her students, but by opposition to transparency and accountability, i.e. by scam.

From a scamblog perspective, there are indeed significant defects in the ABA's oversight of the employment survey and in the survey itself, but these defects are indicative of laxity rather than severity.

This blog has criticized the ABA for randomly auditing only 10 schools per year. This blog has criticized the ABA audit protocol for allowing law schools to submit "incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading" employment files for up to 5% of graduates even with a generous cooked-in "presumption" that each file is not deficient. This blog has criticized the ABA for refusing to name the five schools out of the ten randomly audited last year that violated the audit protocol by submitting an excessive number of deficient employment files (and even the two schools out of the ten audited that were found to engage in deceptive practices). This blog has criticized the ABA for declaring that a more comprehensive audit of these five law schools (or shall I say scofflaw schools?) to be discretionary rather than mandatory, in apparent defiance of its own protocol.

But the President of the Association of American Law Schools thinks that the ABA employment survey is too burdensome for law schools, a dispiriting hint that the weak reforms that have been implemented by the ABA may come under renewed attack.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Using the LSAT as a Predictor for Bar-Passage Rates, so as to Not Throw Eager Students into the Abyss

Recently, David Frakt asked the question again about LSAT scores being indicative of bar-passage rates in his post on the Infilaw Schools, and it reminded me of the kerfluffle that has occurred between various scamdeans on the one hand and the National Council of Bar Examiners not so long ago.
 
To recap: for scamdeans and other interested persons desperate to justify their existence, it's wrong to deny opportunities to law students, especially URMs, just based on an entrance test.  For the NCBE, a few intellectually-honest law profs, and even the ABA (if you read their often-not-enforced regulations, at least), it's wrong to allow students to pay $200k over three years to only pull the rug out at the end because they are unable to get their bar license.
 
At the core of the debate is the question as to whether or not (1) the LSAT actually predicts success on the bar exam, and (2) whether there is enough data to say so one way or the other.  While I am no Professor of Statistics by any means, it doesn't take much work, either, to come up with answers of (1) a qualified yes, and (2) a qualified yes.  This is based on three years of bar passage data for 200+ law schools that has been complied by Law School Transparency - which translates to approximately 600 data points.  The results are below:


Given the correlation of 0.51, there is arguably a trend here. To start off, the question of LSAT predictability is more complicated than a simple function box, and no one has ever seriously claimed otherwise.  This, after all, makes practical, experiential sense - the idea that only one variable (median LSAT) is the only factor that influences outcome (first-time bar passage percentage) is an oversimplification. However, to say that there is no correlation whatsoever and the LSAT should be thrown out is also self-serving Cartel-dishonesty, and takes us back to the feuds between the establishment deans and the NCBE over what this data means in the first place. Obviously, several factors would logically and likely apply here to give a better predictor for bar-exam performance, but what those factors are, and how to quantify them, are an ongoing matter of debate.
 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Is justice more accessible when 2,500 law professors get a free winter vacation? Thoughts about the annual Association of American Law School (AALS) conference and its "Access to Justice" theme.







Who, in these bleak midwinter days, would turn down an employer-paid vacation to someplace warm? Certainly not 2,500 jolly law professors and law school administrators, eagerly preparing for four days of boozing and shmoozing in the San Diego sun. It is time for the AALS (Association of American Law Schools) annual convention, set to run from January 3-6, 2018, at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina and Manchester Grand Hyatt.

With such a turnout, the conference panels will obviously be many, with some devoted to law school pedagogy, some to the intersection of law and this-or-that, and some to current events. I appreciate the hard work that law professors will invest to make them all a success, whether that means droning for several minutes about recent legislation and major appellate court decisions in their area of alleged academic expertise, pretending to be public intellectuals by sharing their so-important opinions about Trump and identity politics, sounding off about whatever trendy issues are getting people furious on Twitter, or discoursing about the best ways to force feed an appreciation of social justice to their drowning-in-debt students. Also there will be "more than 50 networking events and opportunities" because obviously law professor careers matter too.

For instance, there will be a law professor panel on "Fake News" moderated by Lyrissa Lidsky, the newly-appointed and $330,000-a-year-salaried dean of the University of Missouri School of Law. (As an amusing aside: check out the impressive "prior legal experience" section of Lidsky's CV-- six entries based a single one-year judicial clerkship, plus working summers during law school). Only a cynic would note that every annoying pundit and windbag has been yapping about so-called "fake news," for over a year, making it unlikely that the AALS panelists will provide new insights into the phenomenon.

According to William & Mary Law Professor Paul Marcus, the outgoing AALS President, there is a profoundly serious purpose to this vast hodgepodge of blather, as reflected by the theme he has chosen for the conference: "Access to Justice." In his message to attendees (See Program, p. 9), Prof. Marcus states that:
"For a long time many law schools recognized the importance of training students to work for this fundamental ideal [of equal justice]. . . The story of the admirable efforts by law faculty members and students to meet these great needs is not well publicized on the pages of major newspapers and on the Internet. But, our story, as members of the AALS, is all about dedicated students and faculty members across the United States who diligently pursue the goal of equal justice for all by providing sorely needed legal representation. It is an exciting story of the recent explosion, in number and variety, of legal clinics at our member schools . . . This larger story of what we as legal educators can do, and what we and our students are doing, to assure fairness in law for our less fortunate citizens is an exhilarating and uplifting story." 
These are admirable ideals, as one might expect from a public sector employee who draws a $270,500 annual salary. Although I would say that Marcus has slightly diminished his high-minded virtue by grousing that the media has failed to publicize "the larger story" about the socially valuable contributions that law schools make, a 'plaint reminiscent of what is often said by flacks representing organizations whose corrupt practices have elicited critical media coverage. 

I hate to deprecate the uplift, especially because I am a proponent of clinical legal education, but are these do-gooding clinics a fair tradeoff for saddling tens of thousands of young people per year with six-figures of non-dischargeable debt? Furthermore, don’t law school clinical courses often involve, in substantial part, assigning students to do unpaid intake or clerical work for independent or publicly-funded providers of legal services to the poor, such as the Innocence Project or legal aid offices-- a form of pedagogical outsourcing, even if law schools try to hog all the credit?

Take criminal law, which is Paul Marcus’s scholarly focus at William & Mary Law. I believe that each and every one of the 200+ accredited law schools has multiple full-time tenured or tenure-track six-figure-salaried professors who specialize in criminal law. (William & Mary, for instance, has eight). Let us very roughly estimate the collective salaries and benefits (including such perks as summer research stipends and travel and lodging expenses to AALS and SEALS conferences) of criminal law professors nationwide at 200 million dollars per year.

By comparison, how much money do law schools allocate to criminal law clinics? William & Mary Law's website lists only two criminal law clinics, and both draw significantly on non-law-school resources and expertise. One is an "Innocence Project Clinic" in which students assist the staff of the local Innocence Project in selecting viable cases, work that could arguably be done just as well by bright undergraduates or retirees. The other, an appellate clinic, is run by an attorney with the firm of Bailey Glasser LLP, who holds adjunct rank in the law school, meaning that he likely receives little compensation from the school or none at all.

William & Mary Law has no clinic devoted to helping prisoners prepare post-conviction and clemency petitions, a genuine area of drastic unmet need because there is no constitutional right to counsel on collateral filings. Though in a recent interview, Marcus bragged about how he and his students help ensure "a different form of access to justice" by conducting a "Literature and the Law" course at the regional jail. (Podcast, at 24:10-24:50))  So even if William & Mary law students do not provide the incarcerated with very much legal assistance, they at least offer a book club.

The problem is not existing clinics, of course, it is that they are embedded in an institutional structure of exploitation called law school. And law schools touts and apologists rely on these clinics as a source of puffery and self-congratulation beyond what any dignified person would deem appropriate. (See e.g. Marcus’s statement above, and his description of the development of clinical legal education in the U.S. as a "wonderful miracle." (Podcast, 20:34-20:37)) Problematically, law schools showcase their clinics for fundraising, for student recruitment, for media relations, and as the proffered moral basis of shindigs such as the AALS conference, as though the event has anything to do with access to justice. Access to self-indulgence is more like it.

Hey, AALS Conference Fake News panelists, please re-read Marcus's message. Does it signal the nature of the AALS's media relations strategy -- to hype law school clinics "on the pages of major newspapers and on the Internet" as "[t]he story" and "our story" and "the larger story," and "an exhilarating and uplifting story." You know, as opposed to such trivia as the ruination of tens of thousands of young lives per year via obscene admissions practices and tuition levels? Isn't that an especially topical and unexplored form of "fake news" worthy of your discussion?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Recapitulating 2017

The great Giordano Bruno wrote that in England "regna una costellazione di pedantesca ostinatissima ignoranza et presunzione: mista con una rustica incivilità che farebbe prevaricar la pazienza di Giobbe": "there reigns a constellation of pedantic and most stubborn ignorance and presumption, blended with a sort of boorish incivility that would try the patience of Job".

Imagine what he would have said about legal hackademia in the era of Leong, Dougie Fresh, Lamparello, McElroy, Adelson, Franzese, and Leiter.

The year 2017 may mark a turning point in the law-school scam. For the first time we have seen not just mergers and closures of single campuses, but outright and even immediate closures of entire law schools: Indiana Tech, Whittier, Charlotte. The ABA has finally set its rubber stamp of approval down long enough to take initial steps towards disciplinary proceedings against various toilets. The InfiLaw duo appear to be slated for collapse within the year, and other law schools too may not be long for this world.

Before moving into 2018, we should all thank Nando, whose important blog Third Tier Reality has offered important anti-scam commentary and agitation for more than eight years. This week Nando announced that he will no longer develop his blog. We wish him well and thank him again for his yeoman service to the noble cause of demolishing the law-school scam.

Also worthy of everyone's appreciation are authors such as Dybbuk, Duped Non-Traditional, Law School Truth Center, and OTLSS Team, as well as the many other commentators who regularly post here.

Unfortunately, the law-school scam may be experiencing a recrudescence. Lemmings, it seems, are taking a renewed interest in law school, and they're going for the toilety end. The failure of über-toilets Indiana Tech, Whittier, and Charlotte does not necessarily spell doom for the 190 or so other well-deserving candidates for closure; on the contrary, it may breathe new life into some of them. We shall therefore keep the anti-scam movement going, albeit perhaps at a lower pitch.

Happy new year to everyone (scamsters excepted).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Can scammers truly empathize with their dupes? A few skeptical thoughts about Seton Hall Law Prof. Paula Franzese's law review article, "The Power of Empathy in the Classroom."


Every kindergartener and first-grader should have a teacher like Paula Franzese— a hyper-engaging Pollyanna who fosters social skills and self-confidence in the classroom through her own cheery solicitude, plus sing-alongs, affirmations, and fun games, perhaps games loosely based on the format of her favorite televised game shows and reality shows. A facilitator who inspires ethical behavior via morally uplifting stories with happily-ever-after endings and platitudes about goodness and hope. A role model who expresses such confidence in each child’s profound abilities that they start to believe it, but who scrupulously reminds these nascent superheroes that their powers must be used for good. 

However, this pedagogical approach surely has an early use-by date, perhaps at around the age that a child stops believing in Santa Claus and magical ponies and wishing upon a star. When it shows up in a law school classroom, one has to wonder whether the students are receiving competent and effective professional education and training—even if it comes attractively packaged as "empathic teaching" and even if it is touted by its chief proponent in a law review article with 92 footnotes and god-knows-how-many uses of the trendy phrase "emotional intelligence" and close rewordings of same. See e.g. Franzese, Paula (2017) "The Power of Empathy in the Classroom," Seton Hall Law Review: Vol. 47 : Iss. 3, Article 2. (For more on Franzese’s remarkable approach to legal education, see this OTLSS profile of her book on positive thinking for law students.  See also this shameless recent editorial by Franzese, in which she encourages readers to defy the "naysayers and outliers" by attending law school and using the precious "aptitudes" provided there to become "justice's emissaries").    

In her new law review article, Franzese provides the following examples of how she practices "empathy in the classroom":
  • "On the way from my office to my classroom I summon up the reverence that I have for the law and the capacity of its practitioners to be givers of hope. I want my students, as lawyers-to-be, to appreciate the power that their emerging expertise will soon afford them to wrest people from cynicism and despair. I would like them to see that the relentless commitment to the good of others will make their own lives good. As a lawyer, I have had the privilege to watch as hope has sprung from the most desolate places. My life has never been the same. I want my students to know that soon, they too will get to be witnesses to the birth of hope."
  • "Once at the classroom door I pause, and before entering the room I summon gratitude for the privilege to teach and for the sacrifices of all who came before me to make this moment possible. I then ask that I be used to do whatever good needs to be done and to say whatever needs to be said. I ask for the guidance to see what needs to be seen. I remember that there is no day but this day and no moment but this moment."
  • "I remain mindful that my students’ perceptions of our profession, and of themselves as its fledgling members, will be formed in considerable measure by watching me and listening to my cues and feedback. . . [O]ur students rise (or fall) to our level of expectation for them. I give each of my students the benefit of every doubt and believe that each contains seeds of excellence waiting to be cultivated."
  • "Empathic pathways are activated when students re-enact or reimagine cases. For example, to enhance the capacity of the antiquated Pierson v. Post (the venerable Property case on the rule of capture) to resonate with the class, I ask a team of students to place that case into the more contemporary context of the popular television show The Amazing Race. On other occasions, I ask students to put cases into more journalistic settings, where for example one class member is assigned the role of reporter, another the role of producer, and others the roles of various litigants and litigators to elicit and recount what happened in the given dispute and their reactions to its resolution for an imagined CBS 60 Minutes segment. That exercise allows students to become the people behind the story, and the range of emotions typically displayed is vast and genuine, as the opportunity is presented for the "as if" to feel real."
  • "Play, through the use of in-class games such as Jeopardy (which readily lends itself to substantive review) and Family Feud (which fosters teamwork), and challenges aimed at helping students solve the puzzle of a given problem or contextual dilemma, brings an immediacy to the need to know the relevant material."
Again: Law school or kindergarten?  Well, no, it is not kindergarten. Kindergarteners do not typically commit themselves to hundreds of thousands of dollars in non-dischargeable debt.  Kindergarten teachers do not purport to offer technical training at the doctoral level. 

Can a vulnerable person be conspicuously empathized-with and heartlessly scammed by the very same party and at the very same time? Might a scammer’s empathetic mush and gush, and even her professions of humility, be a self-serving psychological device in disguise, meant to elevate the scammer's self-image to that of noble and generous benefactor? Could the practice of "empathic teaching" be cynically employed by a mercenary institutional scammer (for instance a second-tier law school that charges tuition of $53,046 per year and has a 25th percentile LSAT of 152) to appear innovative while dumbing down its instruction and making its ever-less sophisticated dupes feel cherished?

Why do consumers of motivational speeches and positive thinking literature fail to see the vicious Social Darwinist downside of all that can-do inspiration—namely, that if positive thinking leads to success and happiness, then their own failures, frustrations, and unhappiness are most readily explained by their own bad attitudes, and not by objective facts tending to prove that they have been exploited, misled, or scammed?

Remember the comical Walrus, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, who wept with sympathy and understanding for the very oysters whom he had deceptively befriended, entertained, and then systematically devoured? Alice judgmentally calls the Walrus an unpleasant character, but perhaps the Walrus’s main fault was in failing to gift the world of scholarship with a law review article entitled "The Power of Empathy in Devouring Your Prey."


Sunday, December 17, 2017

The ABA 509 reports are out

By last Friday, the law skules had to file their 509 reports for the year 2017–18 with the ABA. The reports can be found here.

While waiting for our friends at Law School Transparency to tabulate the key data in a more approachable form, I have read the reports from a few über-toilets. Some of these odious establishments cashed in, quite literally, on the closure of Indiana Tech, Whittier, and Charlotte: Appalachian grabbed up 16 transfer students from Charlotte and one from Indiana Tech, and Western State took one from Charlotte and 22 from Whittier. Even Cooley, still widely considered the poster child of shittiness despite hot competition and the notorious Cooley rankings (which several years ago placed the toilet second only to Harvard), managed to snatch up four dumb bunnies from Charlotte.

True to their word (for a change), the two remaining InfiLaw toilets managed to improve their LSAT scores considerably, from 141 to a still horrific 145 at the 25th percentile. This feat, however, accompanied a collapse in enrollment: Florida Coastal's entering class fell from 245 last year to 106, and Arizona Summit's fell from 143 to 49. Methinks InfiLaw's days are numbered. To my great disappointment, Appalachian nearly doubled its enrollment, from 38 students to 73. It would have grown even without the influx from Charlotte.

Failing out remains commonplace at the über-toilets. Rates of attrition of 1Ls for reasons other than transferring run well into the double-digit percentages at most of these institutions. Of the ones that I checked, Thomas Jefferson wins the—er, prize with a shocking rate of 37.2%. Remember the old commencement speaker's joke that either you or your neighbor to the right or the left will not be there in a year's time? At Thomas Jefferson, that's an understatement.

More news will follow. In the meantime, feel free to review the 509 reports yourself and post your own comments.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Reality is Incoming

What is everyone freaking out about...?  We'll just increase tuition another 4%, just like we've done for last couple of decades...
 

Cross-posted from PrawfsBlawg:
 
 
[As] a recent article from Inside Higher Ed points out, a more immediate problem for educational institutions and their students may be the Prosper Act's proposed annual lending limits. The bill would limit federal loans for non-medical graduate and professional students to $28,500 per academic year...
 
The GradPlus program does one thing really well--it makes graduate school accessible to students regardless of their family wealth. The federal government offers loans up to the full cost of attendance (defined to include both tuition and reasonably living expenses) for graduate and professional programs. Parents do not have to co-sign the loans. Combined with income-driven repayment plans that cap repayments at 10% to 15% percent of a graduate's income, it makes attending graduate school a low-risk proposition...
 
The Prosper Act would change all of that immediately...there would be an immediate crisis in funding law school--after all, the federal loans would barely cover the cost of living[.]  There would be little to nothing left over to cover tuition. Certainly, some students could rely on family contributions, and some may be able to lessen living expenses by living at home while attending law schools. But not all families are in a position to help, and the legal profession would suffer greatly if only the very privileged could join.  Private loans may step in to fill some of the gap...[but] private loans have decreased so much (declining by more than half) in the years after the introduction of GradPlus that I doubt private lenders could ramp up fast enough to avoid massive disruption in the short term. Finally, any such private loans would probably have more onerous terms[...]
 
 
We can sit here and debate where the various forms of concern-trolling are coming from - some say the Prosper Act is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt by conservatives to stab at the Heart of Darkness that is American Liberal Education and try to kill the beast.  Others will say that limousine-liberals are merely crying champagne tears for the underrepresented, when in reality all they care about is gettin' that next helping of thick-cut pork with extra gravy.  I don't doubt that some mix of both is going on, as human psychology is rarely, if ever, purely altruistic or unburdened by ulterior motives.
 
The practical, Aristotelian reality, however, is that if something can't go on forever, it will stop.   Long before the "law school scam," many have warned, argued and decried against the unbridled escalation of educational costs, of which law schools have become the poster-child.  Much hand-wringing took place, summits were held, people shook their heads sadly - but nothing substantive was done.
 
Well, folks, if you are unwilling to clean up your own mess, then you force someone else to clean it up for you.  See, for example, the Financial Crisis.  And you may not like how the cleaner-uppers choose to handle it, but by then it's Too Late.  And, as per usual, the brunt of it falls on the folks currently mired in the system - yet one way or another, it's coming.
 
All in all, this is why we can't have Nice Things.  Heckuvajob, lol skool cartel!  Mission Accomplished!