See Disclaimer Below.

Posts Tagged ‘Law School’

Prospective Law Students Should Consider These Questions

In Law, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Teaching on June 5, 2019 at 6:45 am

An earlier version of this post appeared here at Faulkner University’s blog.

When you’re visiting law schools, remember to ask questions about the faculty and class size. Law school is more than just classrooms and libraries: It’s your home for three years, and you’ll be connected to your law school throughout your professional life.

To make sure you’re choosing the institution that’s right for you, be sure to ask these less common but crucial questions during your visit.

Does the law school offer scholarships after the first year?

Most law schools consider all new students for merit-based scholarships based on their LSAT scores, undergraduate GPAs, and other criteria such as demonstrated leadership and service. During your visit to a law school, admissions professionals will probably tell you about their merit-based scholarships and the amount you might expect to receive as an incoming student. But in most cases, those awards are guaranteed only for the first year of law school—so it’s important to ask whether similar scholarships are also available for the second and third year. At Faulkner Law, for instance, we review each student’s record at the end of the academic year to determine scholarship eligibility for the following year.

How does the law school help students secure internships or employment?

Getting into law school is an important achievement, but most people expect it to be just one more step on the path to securing the job they want. Having a J.D. after your name, however, doesn’t automatically open doors to employment; most law students secure internships while in school and rely on their law school’s career services to help them network and find employment.

At Faulkner Law, we place more than 200 students in internships every year. Our post-graduate employment rate is close to 90 percent and trending upward, and our employment rate for JD-required positions is 70 percent.

What’s it like to live here?

Most law students hope to enjoy cultural attractions, a vibrant restaurant scene, and a safe and friendly environment outside of school. Find out about the culture and community near the law school you’re considering. Consider what forms of entertainment will be available to you during the next three years when you’re not attending class or studying.

At Faulkner Law, we want our students to succeed, not just professionally but also personally and spiritually. The River Region is vibrant, and the revitalized downtown in Montgomery features several restaurants, minor-league baseball, parks, concerts, museums, historic landmarks, and tourist attractions. Many students relocate here to attend law school and then choose to make Montgomery their permanent home.

What is the law school’s vision for the future?

Law school is a choice for life, not just for three years. Faulkner Law equips students to become competent, reliable attorneys with a passion for learning and service. Our graduates dedicate their careers to solving problems, representing clients with vigor and diligence, improving lives and institutions, and cultivating an ethic of candor, civility, integrity, and professionalism.

Interview with the James G. Martin Center regarding English Departments, Higher Education, Marxism, and Legal Education

In Arts & Letters, Economics, higher education, History, Humane Economy, Humanities, Law, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy, liberal arts, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Scholarship, Western Philosophy on March 13, 2019 at 6:45 am

Qualifications of Judges and Law Professors: A Telling Mismatch

In Academia, Law, Law School, Pedagogy, Scholarship, Teaching on June 6, 2018 at 6:45 am

This piece originally appeared here in the Library of Law & Liberty. 

Late last year, President Donald Trump took heat for nominating allegedly unqualified lawyers to the federal bench. As of February 16, 2018, a majority, substantial majority, or minority of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Judiciary has rated several of his judicial nominees “not qualified.” These evaluations purportedly assess professional competence, integrity, and judicial temperament, but have been accused, rightly, of improper politicization.

Would that an impartial and non-political set of ratings could be applied to aspiring law professors. Because of their lack of practical experience, academic training, and teaching record, entry-level faculty hires at many American law schools tend to be, as a class, unqualified to teach. They have not gained on-the-ground, learned-by-doing knowledge of legal practices and processes, yet in their new roles they will be expected to serve as gatekeepers into the profession, a profession that many of them have only barely participated in.

These days extensive practice experience is a disadvantage, not an asset, for the prospective law professor. It signals to faculty hiring committees a late interest in teaching and research, and a turn to academic work because of a disenchantment with the everyday work of lawyers. Faculty are sensibly turned off by candidates who believe, or seem to believe, that life in the academy is free from stress and responsibility.

No one wants a colleague who views the professoriate as a breezy backup plan, or whose only animating desire is to trade in a life of hourly billables for the supposed tranquility of the Ivory Tower. Hating law-firm culture is not a good reason, by itself, to seek a job in a law school. The last thing law professors need to impart to young students facing a competitive job market is deep cynicism about the practice of law. These legitimate concerns, however, should not preclude faculty from admitting into their ranks those who are best able to familiarize students with the practice of law.

The conventional path to law teaching runs something like this: attend a prestigious law school (ideally, one ranked in the top 15 by the U.S. News and World Report), obtain a federal clerkship (one with the U.S. Supreme Court, if possible), and then apply for open faculty positions, either directly through a law school or through the recruiting conference of the American Association of Law Schools (aka “the meat market”). The chances of securing tenure-track positions diminish measurably the longer one waits to enter the meat market.

No step along this path to becoming a law professor involves teaching. The longer you go down the path, the more practical skills you acquire, but the less desirable you become as a candidate for teaching.

A law degree is not a reliable proxy for the suitable or successful characteristics of a good teacher. A federal clerkship does not necessarily cultivate the traits necessary to excel in classroom instruction. So why does the system disincentivize not only the acquisition of practical skills, which most students are hoping to learn, but also teaching skills, which law professors are expected to have?

One reason is that there’s little agreement about what makes a good law professor.

How do you even quantify the effectiveness of law professors? Vocational outcomes and earning differentials among graduates say more about a law school, in particular its career services office and market reputation, than they do about the aptitude of individual faculty members. Bar-passage rates correlate with admissions standards and selectivity and reflect, perhaps, the overall educational experience of the graduates.

But there’s no measurable connection between those figures and the instruction methods of individual professors. Student evaluations suffer from drawbacks and deficiencies in law schools (such as biases, unreliability, grade inflation to win popularity, etc.) just as they do elsewhere in universities.

Without pedagogical consensus (i.e., without widely agreed-upon teaching philosophies, practices, or methods) within the legal academy or established standards for law-teaching achievement, hiring committees in law schools look simply to narrative, subjective data (e.g., the prestige of a candidate’s alma mater and recent employer, the candidate’s fit with subject-matter needs, etc.) that do not demonstrate a commitment to teaching or an ability to teach. The assumption behind these hiring decisions is, I think, twofold: that individuals who have earned prestigious credentials can translate their accomplishments to the classroom and that the Socratic Method allows them to disguise their “greenness” by deflecting difficult questions back on students.

Most Ph.D. programs in humanities disciplines involve some degree of classroom training and pedagogical coursework. Law school, by contrast, does not equip students with teaching or introduce them to pedagogical schools and approaches. Teaching expectations for law professors remain ill-defined and unpublicized, in part because they vary from school to school. With rare exceptions, aspiring law professors possess no pedagogical preparedness when they begin teaching.

Law schools should not continue hiring faculty with little to no practical experience, little to no record of scholarship, and little to no teaching experience. The ideal faculty candidate should have a substantial record of success in at least one of those three areas. The fact that a candidate graduated from Harvard Law and clerked a year or two for a federal appellate court may suggest the promise of future scholarship, but it doesn’t demonstrate proven merit as a scholar or teacher. Nor is that clerkship alone sufficient to familiarize a lawyer with the ins and outs of legal practice.

An emphasis on the readiness and qualifications of judges should be matched with tangible benchmarks in law-faculty hiring. Analogizing the qualifications of law professors and judges is reasonable, even if their jobs differ: both have attained high offices that superintend the profession, both are involved in the administration of the legal system, both should understand the nexus between theory and practice, both should possess exemplary character and enjoy good standing in the community, both should model the conduct and professionalism expected of all lawyers, and both should be researchers and writers with deep knowledge about the history of the law.

Redirecting ire and scrutiny away from judicial nominees and toward law-school faculties may not fully resolve ambiguities about the proper, requisite experience for judges. But it may lead to a rethinking of the minimal qualifications of law faculty, raising questions about whether the standards governing judicial nominees should extend to the legal academy, which trains future judges.

The growing chasm between law professors and the practicing bench and bar is not a novel subject. Media restlessness about President Trump’s judicial nominees, however, provides a clarifying context for reconsidering the optimal qualifications of law professors. The ABA’s evaluations of judicial nominees may be flawed and nefariously politicized, but at least they value practical experience in a way that hiring committees in law schools by and large have not.

If a prospective law professor lacks extensive practical experience, he or she must have an extensive record of scholarship or teaching. We should expect as much from our law schools as we do from our federal judiciary.

Want to Go From R-2 to R-1? Don’t Look to Law Schools to Help

In Academia, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy on March 28, 2018 at 6:45 am

Say you’re an administrator at a university classified as a “doctoral university” by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions on Higher Education. You’re currently ranked in the R-2 category, meaning your school has a higher degree of research activity, but not enough to get you into that coveted R-1 spot for highest research activity. Your president and board of trustees have pushed you and other administrators to elevate your school’s ranking to R-1.  What should you do?  How can you accomplish a jump in rankings?

Here are four steps to get you started. However, there is one thing, historically, you should not do to move from R-2 to R-1: rely on your law school for a boost.

Professional degrees like a law degree (J.D.) do not count toward a school’s total number of research doctorates awarded according to the metrics used by Carnegie to classify universities. Law schools, at least in theory, teach legal doctrines and equip students with the professional skills necessary to practice law (whether law schools have succeeded in this mission is another matter). Yet law schools by and large do not train students to become scholars or to conduct scholarly research—hence the Carnegie “post-baccalaureate” designation.

Carnegie (which is now run out of Indiana University, not the Carnegie Foundation) treats law degrees as post-baccalaureate credentials, or professional-practice doctorates, but not as research degrees. For this reason, among others, Carnegie generally does not measure research and development expenditures in law schools. The fields Carnegie considers for these benchmarks are science and engineering (S&E), humanities, social science, STEM, business, education, public policy, and social work.

Universities report to the federal government the classification of their degrees (e.g., research or professional) by academic program. Data for this reporting are publicly available through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Law schools like the one at Berkeley, which offers a Ph.D. in jurisprudence and social policy, report degree credentials besides just the professional-practice doctorate (J.D.). The most recent available data come from the 2015-16 academic year, when Berkeley reported 332 professional-practice law degrees and 13 research-scholarship degrees. Thus, the law school at Berkeley probably contributed to that school’s R-1 status as a doctoral university with highest research activity.

University investment in law schools that do not offer research Ph.Ds. (or their equivalent, such as an S.J.D. or J.S.D.) is a reallocation of resources away from programs and departments that could help your school move from R-2 to R-1.

Before year’s end, Carnegie will have updated its classifications. The last time it updated its classifications was 2015. Carnegie has begun updating its classifications on a 5-year cycle rather than a 3-year cycle to, in its words, “better reflect the rapidly changing higher education landscape.”

The latest updates will change not only rankings but also how J.D.s are assessed. Law degrees “have previously not been considered as part of the Basic Classification methodology,” Carnegie states. But the revised methodology allegedly will account for law degrees in new ways. “We will soon release a proposal for this change and solicit feedback regarding our plans from the higher education community,” Carnegie submits.

The Carnegie rankings remain a point of pride and competition between universities. They are high priorities for university presidents and administrators because the United States Department of Education relies on them, they contribute to a university’s prestige, and they can affect a university’s eligibility for grant money.

Depending on the methodological revisions Carnegie adopts for its classifications, having a productive law school might, in the future, push a university from R-2 to R-1. Funding law faculty research potentially could yield significant returns in terms of Carnegie rankings—but probably not in 2018.

Much remains unknown about the future of the Carnegie rankings. It’s unlikely the J.D. will be reclassified as a research doctorate any time soon, if ever. And it’s thus unlikely research and development expenditures on law schools will help universities looking to move from R-2 to R-1. (To be classified as an R-1 doctoral university with highest research activity, your university must offer 20 research-based or scholarship-based degrees.)

In short, you should tell your university president and board of trustees to hold off on investing additional, substantial sums in law schools—at least for the purposes of moving from R-2 to R-1. It’s better to wait and see how the Carnegie changes play out and then to respond accordingly. Fortunately, the wait won’t be long. We’ll know more in the coming months.

 

The American Bar Association: An Economic Perspective

In Academia, America, American History, Economics, History, Humane Economy, Law, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Libertarianism on October 18, 2017 at 6:45 am

Making Legal Education Great Again

In America, Civics, Conservatism, History, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy, liberal arts, Liberalism, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Scholarship, Teaching, The Academy, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy on August 30, 2017 at 6:45 am

This piece originally appeared here and was published by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

Legal education has become a surprisingly regular topic of news media for several years now. Most of this commentary has focused on enrollment and matriculation problems, bar passage rates, accreditation standards, student debt, and the job market for recent graduates. These are pressing issues that raise vexing questions for law school administrators, and they warrant the attention they’ve received.

Little attention, however, has been paid to curriculum, except as it pertains to those issues. And not just curriculum, but subject matter within the curriculum.

There are certain subjects—let’s call them “the permanent things”—that always have and will interest scholars of the law because of their profound influence on legal norms and institutions: history, philosophy, literature, and theology. Whether they belong in law schools or some other department, whether they prepare students to become practice-ready or not, these topics will remain relevant to subsequent generations of jurists and legal scholars. There will be a place for them somewhere within the world of legal learning and letters.

Law school faculty and research centers have expanded over recent decades to include studies of these humanistic fields. As long as these fields populate law school, there’s a felt need for rigorous liberal education in them.

Ordered liberty in the United States has historically rested on a commitment to religious faith and pluralism, fidelity to the rule of law, and traditional liberties grounded in the conviction that all humans are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. These values characterize the American experiment. Our society is built on them, and its continued vitality depends upon maintaining and promoting our commitment to them.

Yet these values are ridiculed and attacked in universities across the country. When they’re taught, they’re often treated as products of a morally inferior era and thus as unworthy of our continued respect. And because these values aren’t seriously or rigorously taught, students lack working knowledge about them and are therefore unprepared for the kind of civic engagement that young people desire and demand.

A decline in civic education has caused misunderstanding and underappreciation of our foundational norms, laws, and liberties. Religious liberty is mischaracterized as license to harm and on that basis is marginalized. Economic freedom is mischaracterized as oppression and is regulated away. Well-positioned reformers with good but misguided intentions seek to fundamentally transform the American experiment from the ground up. They work to limit foundational freedoms and increase regulatory power.

Without well-educated lawyers and civil servants equipped to resist these reformers, the transformation of America will result in the destruction of the freedoms enabled by our founding generation. We cannot allow this to happen. The Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty at Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, for which I serve as executive director, therefore seeks to educate the legal community in such areas as natural law, natural rights, religious liberty, economic freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of association and assembly, and other liberties that find expression not just in the American but in the larger Western jurisprudential tradition.

I define “legal community” broadly to include law students, law professors, public policy institutes, political theorists, judges, and businesses in addition to practicing lawyers. Because my center is housed in a law school, it’s well positioned to instruct future lawyers while bringing together faculty from different disciplines who are steeped in liberal education.

Numerous organizations promote these values in the political arena, but few attempt to reconnect foundational values with the law. The Blackstone & Burke Center aims to fill this gap by bringing together scholars and students committed to American constitutional government and the common law foundations of our cherished liberties. Our target audience will include law students, judges, and civics groups.

For law students, we offer the Sir Edward Coke Fellowship. We’ve accepted our inaugural class of fellows, who, beginning this fall, will study formative texts in Western jurisprudence in monthly seminars that supplement their core coursework. Next semester, we’ll read and discuss works by Aristotle, Grotius, Hayek, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Robert P. George. The center will be a key networking opportunity for fellows seeking careers at foundations, think tanks, universities, and public policy organizations.

Fellows will also help to organize a judicial college for state jurists. Thanks to the Acton Institute, Atlas Network, and the Association for the Study of Free Institutions, the Blackstone & Burke Center possesses the grant money needed to host its first judicial college in October. Professor Eric Claeys of Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University will direct this event, the readings for which include selections from not only cases (old and recent) but also Aquinas, Locke, Blackstone, and Thomas Jefferson. The readings for judges are extensive, and the seminar sessions are meant to be intensive to ensure that judges get as much out of the experience as possible.

The center will also provide basic civics education to local communities. For several years, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute issued reports on the poor state of civic literacy in the United States. The National Association of Scholars recently issued a detailed report on the inadequacies and politicization of the “New Civics.” The current issue of Academic Questions, moreover, describes the sorry state of civics knowledge in the United States and the tendentious methods and institutions that teach political activism rather than deep learning.

Against these alarming trends, my center organized and hosted a reception featuring a U.S. Library of Congress interactive Magna Carta exhibit, which was displayed in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court for three weeks and now remains in the possession of the Alabama Supreme Court Law Library. The reception included prominent judges, business and university leaders, lawyers, and the general public.

For example, Chief Justice Lyn Stuart of the Alabama Supreme Court and Judge William “Bill” Pryor of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals delivered remarks about Magna Carta during the reception, and young people conversed casually with judges about the legal system, federalism, and the challenges and opportunities facing the legal profession in the 21st century. This fall, the center is cosponsoring an event with the Foundation for Economic Education on the campus of Auburn University to explore the relationship between law and markets, and I hope to see as many high-school students as college students in attendance.

Legal education is strikingly different today than it was when Thomas Jefferson apprenticed under George Wythe, or when Abraham Lincoln read law before receiving from a county circuit court certification of his good moral character, then a prerequisite to practicing law.

Nevertheless, legal education looks much the same as it did in the late nineteenth century, when Christopher Columbus Langdell, dean of Harvard Law School, instituted a curriculum, pedagogy, and case method that came to characterize “the law school experience.” If there’s been a paradigm shift, it’s been toward more practical aspects of legal education such as clinical programming. Yet many lawyers remain ignorant of the history and philosophical conventions that shaped their profession over centuries.

The Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty is a modest corrective in that it doesn’t seek to remake legal education or demolish longstanding practices and procedures in one fell swoop. Rather, it does what it can with the resources and tools available to strive to renew an America where freedom, opportunity, and civil society flourish. In the long run, I think, these reasonable efforts will have powerful effects and far-reaching benefits, both within the legal academy and beyond.

The Challenge Facing Law Schools

In Academia, Law, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy on May 10, 2017 at 6:45 am

This piece originally appeared in the February issue of The Addendum, a publication of the Alabama State Bar.

Many law school administrators have begun the new year anxious about the future. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the number of law-school applications and LSAT takers has plummeted, while tuition costs have continued to rise. Faced with the probability of heavy student-loan debt, a saturated legal market, and stagnant starting salaries for attorneys, some aspiring attorneys have decided that law school is simply too risky an investment and are looking elsewhere to begin their careers.

The decrease in applications for admission and low matriculation rates have hit lower-ranked law schools particularly hard. These schools have struggled to compete for applicants and have decreased the size of their classes to maintain competitive admissions data. Even Ivy League schools have been forced to find creative solutions to contracting enrollment. Harvard Law School, for instance, has accepted more transfer students—whose entering LSAT scores do not have to be reported to publications that rank law schools—presumably to make up for shrinking tuition revenues.

Law schools face a dual threat: the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Department of Education (DOE).  The DOE is cracking down on law schools for allegedly deceptive enrollment practices just years after a string of lawsuits across the country claimed that certain law schools misrepresented employment statistics for their recent graduates.

Last year, the DOE recommended that the ABA lose its accreditation powers for one year. Under pressure from the DOE, the ABA has grown more aggressive, demanding that law schools come into compliance with ABA admission standards or suffer potential reprimands, sanctions, probation, or worse. The ABA imposed a remedial plan on Ave Maria School of Law to improve the school’s admissions practices and bar-passage rates. Then, in November of 2016, the ABA publically censured Valparaiso University School of Law and placed Charlotte School of Law on probation.

Despite the fact that Charlotte School of Law remains accredited by the ABA, the DOE announced in December 2016 that it was terminating that school’s access to federal student aid. In response, students there have filed a federal class-action lawsuit alleging, among other things, that the school and InfiLaw—its parent company—misled them and misrepresented the scope and degree of the school’s problems.

The blogosphere abounds with rumors about law-school closings. Indiana Tech Law School is, in fact, shutting down this June, and in 2015 the William Mitchell College of Law merged with Hamline University School of Law to offset costs and avoid shutting their doors.

In light of the foregoing, law schools should be transparent about the condition they are in and the difficulties they face, lest they find themselves the target of lawsuits like the one filed against Charlotte School of Law. The future of law schools and the legal profession remains uncertain. We are in a transitional—and perhaps unprecedented—moment. How legal administrators deal with it may test not only their patience, courage, and leadership, but also the long-term viability of legal education as we know it today.

 

Why law schools should be transparent about their problems and prospective law students should exercise due diligence before they matriculate at law schools

In Academia, Law, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy on February 22, 2017 at 6:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

When I was in college, the common assumption was that students who couldn’t decide what to do after graduation enrolled in law school. The law was a fallback profession, the legal academy a repository for good but dithering students looking to find their way.

Things have changed. The blogosphere abounds with news about the crisis in legal education. The global financial recession brought about a decrease in law-school applications and LSAT takers while tuition rates continued rising. Undergraduates increasingly determined that law school was not worth the time or student-loan debt, in part because starting salaries for lawyers remained stagnant while the job market for legal positions remained saturated.

Law schools with struggling reputations (say, those which fall into the fourth tier of the U.S. News and World Report rankings) have experienced a decrease in applications and reduced matriculation rates. Forced to shrink the size of their classes to remain statistically competitive and satisfy American Bar Association (ABA) admissions standards, these schools have taken creative measures such as accepting more transfer students and developing non-J.D. courses and programming to counteract reduced tuition revenue.

Elite institutions are not immune from trouble. One study has shown that applications to Harvard Law School are down 18%. Applications to the University of Minnesota Law School are down 50%, forcing that school to scramble to save money. It reportedly has not only bought out faculty but also cut coffee in the faculty lounge. Dorothy Brown, a professor of tax law at Emory University School of Law, predicts the imminent closure of a top law school. Meanwhile, as these financial woes grow and spread, LSAT scores and bar passage rates continue to worsen at lower-ranked institutions.

The ABA and the Department of Education (DOE) are cracking down on law schools, the former in response to pressure from the latter.  The DOE, in 2016, proposed a one-year revocation of the ABA’s accreditation powers. Consequently, the ABA has more aggressively enforced compliance with its admissions standards, threatening law schools with, among other things, reprimands, probation, and sanctions. For example, the ABA instituted a remedial plan to reverse the negative trends of Ave Maria School of Law’s bar-passage rates and admissions data. Around three months ago, the ABA censured Valparaiso University School of Law and placed Charlotte School of Law on probation.

The ABA has not revoked Charlotte School of Law’s accreditation, but the DOE has nevertheless terminated this school’s access to federal student aid. Law students there have filed a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that Charlotte School of Law and its parent company, InfiLaw, misrepresented the extent of the problems they were confronting, thereby misleading students about the health of the institution in which they were enrolled. Speculation now circulates about whether the closure of Charlotte Law School is inevitable.

Indiana Tech Law School, known for its experimental pedagogical approaches, has announced that it is shutting down. Other law schools have turned to institutional consolidation to remain financially viable. The William Mitchell College of Law, for instance, merged with Hamline University School of Law in 2015. Thomas M. Cooley Law School affiliated with Western Michigan University in 2014, changing its name to Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. It closed its Ann Arbor campus that same year.

The good news for worried law school administrators is that the ABA House of Delegates has voted down proposed Resolution 110B, which would have required 75% of graduates from any law school to pass the bar exam within two years, a figure that would have resulted in the non-compliance of several schools with ABA standards.

In this climate of institutional contraction and uncertainty, law school administrators must remain transparent, lest they invite litigation of the kind facing Charlotte School of Law. On the other hand, prospective law students must complete their due diligence before enrolling in law school. Although the doctrine of caveat emptor has faded away, some residual form of it could benefit the wider culture. Absent any evidence of fraudulent misrepresentation or deceptive practices, law schools should not be liable for the poor matriculation decisions of starry-eyed students.

Prospective law students have a personal responsibility to make informed choices about their graduate education. They should examine closely a law school’s admissions data, including GPA and LSAT scores, and stay sober about their own qualifications and preparedness for law school. They should account for a law school’s employment records and bar-passage rates. And they should research the state of the legal job market in the geographical area surrounding different law schools, paying close attention to the hiring patterns of local firms and organizations.

Not everyone goes to law school for the same reason. Some wish to study at an institution with a religious affiliation; others attend schools that consistently secure for their graduates judicial clerkships or opportunities to work at prestigious law firms. It’s important that prospective law students know exactly what they want from law school—and that they refuse to “settle” on a law school that isn’t a good fit for them.

During this transitional period for legal education, law schools with a long history of recognized stability may not satisfy consumer demands as they once did. Law schools need students, and they’re recruiting them vigorously with mixed results. The days when law school was a prudent option for students who waffled about their profession or career are long gone. While law schools should be scrutinized for their marketing strategies and admissions and employment data, students, too, should be responsible for their poor decisions.

Accountability runs both ways. Law schools and prospective law students alike must equip themselves with knowledge of the legal job market—in addition to the costs and demands of legal education—and adjust their plans accordingly. Otherwise their future could be bleak.

Razing the Bar

In American History, History, Humane Economy, Law, Legal Education & Pedagogy, Liberalism on June 17, 2015 at 8:45 am

Allen 2

This piece originally appeared here in The Freeman.

The bar exam was designed and continues to operate as a mechanism for excluding the lower classes from participation in the legal services market. Elizabeth Olson of the New York Times reports that the bar exam as a professional standard “is facing a new round of scrutiny — not just from the test takers but from law school deans and some state legal establishments.”

This is a welcome development.

Testing what, exactly?

The dean of the University of San Diego School of Law, Stephen C. Ferrulo, complains to the Times that the bar exam “is an unpredictable and unacceptable impediment for accessibility to the legal profession.” Ferrulo is right: the bar exam is a barrier to entry, a form of occupational licensure that restricts access to a particular vocation and reduces market competition.

The bar exam tests the ability to take tests, not the ability to practice law. The best way to learn the legal profession is through tried experience and practical training, which, under our current system, are delayed for years, first by the requirement that would-be lawyers graduate from accredited law schools and second by the bar exam and its accompanying exam for professional fitness.

Freedom of contract

The 19th-century libertarian writer Lysander Spooner, himself a lawyer, opposed occupational licensure as a violation of the freedom of contract, arguing that, once memorialized, all agreements between mutually consenting parties “should not be subjects of legislative caprice or discretion.”

“Men may exercise at discretion their natural rights to enter into all contracts whatsoever that are in their nature obligatory,” he wrote, adding that this principle would prohibit all laws “forbidding men to make contracts by auction without license.”

In more recent decades, Milton Friedman disparaged occupational licensure as “another example of governmentally created and supported monopoly on the state level.” For Friedman, occupational licensure was no small matter. “The overthrow of the medieval guild system,” he said,

was an indispensable early step in the rise of freedom in the Western world. It was a sign of the triumph of liberal ideas.… In more recent decades, there has been a retrogression, an increasing tendency for particular occupations to be restricted to individuals licensed to practice them by the state.

The bar exam is one of the most notorious examples of this “increasing tendency.”

Protecting lawyers from the poor

The burden of the bar exam falls disproportionately on low-income earners and ethnic minorities who lack the ability to pay for law school or to assume heavy debts to earn a law degree. Passing a bar exam requires expensive bar-exam study courses and exam fees, to say nothing of the costly applications and paperwork that must be completed in order to be eligible to sit for the exam. The average student-loan debt for graduates of many American law schools now exceeds $150,000, while half of all lawyers make less than $62,000 per year, a significant drop since a decade ago.

Recent law-school graduates do not have the privilege of reducing this debt after they receive their diploma; they must first spend three to four months studying for a bar exam and then, having taken the exam, must wait another three to four months for their exam results. More than half a year is lost on spending and waiting rather than earning, or at least earning the salary of a licensed attorney (some graduates work under the direction of lawyers pending the results of their bar exam).

When an individual learns that he or she has passed the bar exam, the congratulations begin with an invitation to pay a licensing fee and, in some states, a fee for a mandatory legal-education course for newly admitted attorneys. These fees must be paid before the individual can begin practicing law.

The exam is working — but for whom?

What’s most disturbing about this system is that it works precisely as it was designed to operate.  State bar associations and bar exams are products of big-city politics during the Progressive Era. Such exams existed long before the Progressive Era — Delaware’s bar exam dates back to 1763 — but not until the Progressive Era were they increasingly formalized and institutionalized and backed by the enforcement power of various states.

Threatened by immigrant workers and entrepreneurs who were determined to earn their way out of poverty and obscurity, lawyers with connections to high-level government officials in their states sought to form guilds to prohibit advertising and contingency fees and other creative methods for gaining clients and driving down the costs of legal services. Establishment lawyers felt the entrepreneurial up-and-comers were demeaning the profession and degrading the reputation of lawyers by transforming the practice of law into a business industry that admitted ethnic minorities and others who lacked rank and class. Implementing the bar exam allowed these lawyers to keep allegedly unsavory people and practices out of the legal community and to maintain the high costs of fees and services.

Protecting the consumer

In light of this ugly history, the paternalistic response of Erica Moeser to the New York Times is particularly disheartening. Moeser is the president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners. She says that the bar exam is “a basic test of fundamentals” that is justified by “protecting the consumer.” But isn’t it the consumer above all who is harmed by the high costs of legal services that are a net result of the bar exam and other anticompetitive practices among lawyers? To ask the question is to answer it. It’s also unclear how memorizing often-archaic rules to prepare for standardized, high-stakes multiple-choice tests that are administered under stressful conditions will in any way improve one’s ability to competently practice law.

The legal community and consumers of legal services would be better served by the apprenticeship model that prevailed long before the rise of the bar exam. Under this model, an aspiring attorney was tutored by experienced lawyers until he or she mastered the basics and demonstrated his or her readiness to represent clients. The high cost of law school was not a precondition; young people spent their most energetic years doing real work and gaining practical knowledge. Developing attorneys had to establish a good reputation and keep their costs and fees to a minimum to attract clients, gain trust, and maintain a living.

The rise in technology and social connectivity in our present era also means that reputation markets have improved since the early 20th century, when consumers would have had a more difficult time learning by word-of-mouth and secondhand report that one lawyer or group of lawyers consistently failed their clients — or ripped them off. Today, with services like Amazon, eBay, Uber, and Airbnb, consumers are accustomed to evaluating products and service providers online and for wide audiences.  Learning about lawyers’ professional reputations should be quick and easy, a matter of a simple Internet search.  With no bar exam, the sheer ubiquity and immediacy of reputation markets could weed out the good lawyers from the bad, thereby transferring the mode of social control from the legal cartel to the consumers themselves.

Criticism of the high costs of legal bills has not gone away in recent years, despite the drop in lawyers’ salaries and the saturation of the legal market with too many attorneys. The quickest and easiest step toward reducing legal costs is to eliminate bar exams. The public would see no marked difference in the quality of legal services if the bar exam were eliminated, because, among other things, the bar exam doesn’t teach or test how to deliver those legal services effectively.

It will take more than just the grumbling of anxious, aspiring attorneys to end bar-exam hazing rituals. That law school deans are realizing the drawbacks of the bar exam is a step in the right direction. But it will require protests from outside the legal community — from the consumers of legal services — to effect any meaningful change.

Unraveling

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Creativity, Law, Literature, Writing on July 27, 2012 at 8:45 am

Rose Auslander is a partner at a Wall Street law firm and Poetry Editor of Folded Word Press. Co-editor of the Twitter anthology On A Narrow Windowsill, Rose has read her poems on NPR; her poem “For You Mothers” received a Pushcart nomination; “Oh My” received a Best of the Net nomination. She is a Regular Contributor to Referential Magazine, and her work appears in cur-ren-cy, Right Hand Pointing, Cyclamens and Swords, The Dead Mule, and Red Dirt Review. And she blogs!

The following excerpt, which first appeared here in The Mom Egg, is part of Rose’s upcoming memoir, A Pencil on the Ceiling, about surviving as a pregnant first-year law student nursing her way through her diploma

My infant, my daughter, my beautiful red-blond, blue-eyed child, lies in my arms, in my bed.  An unseasonably cold September afternoon, raining, chill, the chill that seeps into a person’s veins like formaldehyde.  My three-month-old daughter sleeps in my arms; my poor, embalmed arms feel nothing.

I wrap up in the afghan I crocheted for her, the yarn I worked into granny square by square, month after pregnant month, obsessively, mathematically, finding new permutations of pastel blue, pink, yellow and green to draw through into white, infinite borders of white.  I sit wrapped in yarn, unraveling.

How did I ever think I could start with yarn and crochet a garden of colors for a baby?

If only I could sleep, sleep . . .

No, study first. 

Law school.  How did I ever think I could get through law school with a baby at home?

A pile of case books rests on the pillow next to my infant daughter, next to markers of neon blue, pink, yellow and green, and pencils for thoughts, all for my numb hands to try to draw through into white, infinite pages of white.

Come on, just study. 

Or at least color:  Blue for facts (what happened in the world to cause the dispute), pink for procedural history (what happened with the case in the courts), yellow for the holding (what the court decided), green for what I can’t understand.

I drift off into National Business Lists, Inc. v. Dun & Bradstreet, Inc., 552 F. Supp. 89 (N.D. Ill. 1982), sleepily coloring in facts like:  “The customer does not itself receive much of the information contained in the computer data base.”  Feeling much like that customer, it takes me forever to get to the holding, and by that time, I’ve forgotten what the case was about.  I’m stranded somewhere in endless fields of green.

Hoping somehow to get through the hundreds of assigned pages, I try to read cases while holding baby Freddie, nursing her, even changing her.  But I swear, each time she nurses herself to sleep, she sucks more of my brain cells out with the milk.  And the milk/ammonia scent?  A knockout drug for those of us who’ve been staying up until 2 a.m. each night reading cases, and getting up again at 5 a.m. to nurse a baby-who-will-not-sleep.

Why won’t she let me sleep?

By 3 a.m., I put down the books, and close my eyes.  There are still endless unread pages of unintelligible heretofores, theretofores, therefors, and wherefores in every subject.  If I can’t get my brain back from wherever it has gone, I’ll never get to  my environmental law reading, where I’m already dangerously behind.

How did I ever think marking up cases in colors would somehow turn me into a lawyer?

%d bloggers like this: