Monday, January 26, 2015

Albany Law School implements mandatory pasta marshmallow structure building to teach effective lawyering skills.

(Albany Law students posing with pasta-tive pride beside their mandatory marshmallow monolith).

Like many experienced practitioners, I have often reflected that the practice of law is much like building a tall pasta marshmallow structure. Eliciting and arranging the facts is a long and twisty process, like spaghetti. Legal principles and precedents are sticky, yet spongy, like marshmallows. You must be diligent and creative as you build your case, or your pasta marshmallow structure. But you must also proceed cautiously and with due care, because an insufficiently sturdy foundation, or even an ill-considered motion, can cause the whole thing to collapse.

That is why I am delighted that Albany Law School, at the behest of Alicia Ouelette, its then-acting and now full-blown Dean, has introduced pasta marshmallow construction as a mandatory facilitated collaborative skill-building exercise during law school orientation. Followed, of course, by law professor-led discussions about the appropriate legal lessons to be digested.

In these enlightening post-pasta discussion sessions, the Albany law professors and their students noodled such topics as "[W]hat might these exercises suggest about effective lawyering?"; "[W]hat was challenging about mandatory collaboration?"; and "[W]hat might they have done differently to more effectively collaborate?" Many students reflected on the "significant importance" of communication skills, particularly listening. Encouraged by faculty, the students discussed the gender confidence gap, time and resource management, and problem solving techniques. And, of course, "[s]tudents also pondered what kind of teams they might participate in their post-graduation future." (I wonder if any mentioned wait staff at an Italian restaurant).

In lauding the importance of this activity, Albany Law Professor Mary Lynch, the Director of her school's Center for Excellence in Law Teaching, displayed the exuberant eloquence noted once before on this blog:
"As graduates, these students will be participating in teams and in collaborative enterprises that we faculty probably cannot now envision.  However, it is our job to facilitate their acquisition of the kinds of skills and capacities and attitudes that will best serve them in the uncertain but potentially exciting future. . . . Happy Facilitating."
You know, as preposterous as this all sounds and is, it is not an incorrect application of alleged visionary Prof. William Henderson’s "competency-based" conception of legal education, wherein law school courses are designed to bolster personal habits (aka "competencies") that legal employers allegedly favor. Or, as Henderson puts it, "the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attributes of highly successful professionals," which include "for example, teamwork, communication skills, emotional self-control, problem-solving, and decision-making." William D. Henderson, A Blueprint for Change, 40 Pepp. L. Rev. 461, 496, 505 (2013).

Indeed, the Albany pasta pedagogues drew inspiration from a text favored by Henderson, a list of 26 extremely general qualities and habits that supposedly add up to an effective legal you. See Marjorie M. Shultz and Sheldon Zedeck, 26 Lawyering Effectiveness Factors. Among the Shultz/Zedeck factors are problem solving, creativity/innovation, and practical judgment. Unsurprisingly, "thinking outside the box" is mentioned, though Shultz and Zedeck do not specify whether it has to be a box of uncooked noodles.

What is happening, I think, is that law faculty are trying to serve up some tempting innovations in place of their repulsive standard pedagogical cuisine. And it is a worthy impulse, even if this particular innovation is, to be charitable, pretty weak sauce. [insert bad joke about watery pesto or marinara]. But for obvious reasons of self-interest, they cannot implement the innovations that are really needed--drastically lower tuition and class sizes, and a clinical/apprenticeship training model in place of Socratic hide-the-ball (or, shall I say, hide the meatball?) classroom bullying. The fairy tale pig who built his house of straw had a famously bad outcome. So too will law school deans who build their innovations out of macaroni.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Old Predictions Still (Unfortunately) Ring True

I was going back through my old lightly-read blog, and I came across a post dated January 28, 2013 that is as true now as it ever was.  At the risk of "phoning-it-in," please join me in a trip down scammery-lane:  "More and More Students are Avoiding Law School":

"Work Pro Bono!  Defend Liberty!  Pursue Justice!  Pay tuition! no attention to the employment statistics behind the curtain...!  Ignore the Dean and Professor salaries...!   Come back, you ungrateful wretches...!" 

Well, it was bound to happen.  You just can't have this level of bad outcomes and think no one is going to respond to it.  The invisible hand of the market works, even in academia.

And it was necessary.  Many, many sites have been calling attention to the ever-increasing rise of tuition, the bi-modal distribution of salaries, the less-than-frank employment statistics, and systemic JD overproduction.  Student loan totals kept going higher and higher, default rates increased, large law firms let go of thousands of attorneys.  The legal jobs market continues to be a cesspool of too many graduates chasing too few jobs.

The generalized response to these whistleblowers early on (as is always the case) was that jobless, debt-ridden graduates were entitled losers that needed to buck up and go get a job, for crissakes.   Go “network” or something.  Move to an “underserved” state, like Nebraska.  Be willing to work for free…no one is going to hand you a job on a silver platter (well, unless you know the right people at the start, of course).  You have to want it bad enough and be willing to make your own way. 

However, the truth could not be swept under the rug.  Then tactics changed…the deans and profs began to write multiple op-eds about how great an investment a law degree was, how “versatile” a law degree was.  The theme came back to being defenders of liberty and servants to the community.  How law was a long-term vocation that lead to a satisfying life.  Of course tuition couldn’t be reduced…you can’t train the next generation of legal saviors on the cheap, you know.   But, we’ll play games with LSAT scores, “scholarships,” and what-not to keep the students coming in.  Recently, Citi/Hildebrandt opined that structural changes in the legal world are here to stay, with significant downward pressure on firm profits for many years to come, but let’s not pay too much attention to that as it conflicts with the “valuable law degree” and “preparing leaders” worldview.  Keep outsourcing that doc review to India.

"Wait, so you're saying that 98% of your graduates have jobs requiring a JD, nine months after graduation.  At an average salary of $135k?"

However, it appears that declines in applications are down anywhere from 10 to 30 percent, depending on the school (we’ll leave the matching of the percent-decline to the school as an exercise for the reader).  Apparently, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, even prospective law students.  Professor Merritt (Ohio State) states that “I would be surprised to see applications go up again, unless there are major changes in the legal industry.” 

What the lol skool cartel can’t seem to understand, despite their tone-deaf attempts to deny the obvious, data-driven truth, is that this not a failure of the students – it is the failure of the entire model of legal education.  Upton Sinclair put it this way, in The Jungle:

They were of the triumphant and insolent possessors; they had a hall, and a fire, and food and clothing and money, and so they might preach to hungry men, and the hungry men must be humble and listen! They were trying to save their souls--and who but a fool could fail to see that all that was the matter with their souls was that they had not been able to get a decent existence for their bodies?

If a few people get great results, and the vast majority are consigned to debt-slavery, then you are a willing, complicit part of the problem, not the solution.  Until these “major changes” come along (don’t hold your breath), the only winning move is not to play.  Remember, all you “sophisticated consumers,” our learned court system has told us how to evaluate law school claims: caveat emptor.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

How low can they go? (Part 2): Tracking the decline of 25th percentile LSAT scores for incoming students, 2011 to 2014.

Cannon fodder. According to wikipedia, this term refers to "combatants who are regarded or treated as expendable in the face of enemy fire. The term is generally used in situations where combatants are forced to deliberately fight against hopeless odds with the foreknowledge that they will suffer extremely high casualties. . . . The term derives from fodder, as food for livestock."  

Similarly, one might use the term "law school fodder," to refer to kids with abysmal academic records and standardized test scores who are nonetheless recruited by lower-tier law schools, via sophisticated marketing techniques, into their fiendishly expensive JD programs, and then cast into an absurdly over-saturated profession that values prestige, cleverness, and influential contacts. Does anybody doubt that these are the kids who are much more likely to pay full or near-full tuition, to fail the bar exam, to be unable to obtain or hold law jobs, to lack a skill set that might yield a decent job in some non-law field or an ever-elusive JD-Advantage gig, or to provide ineffective assistance to their clients if they do become lawyers?

Count on the law school mongers, as well as some of the delusionally naive young tyros themselves, to criticize scambloggers for discouraging these kids’ dreams of lawyerly glory and to tout their handful of unexpected, against-all-odds, success stories while glossing over, or even outright denying, the plight of the multitudes left mangled and ruined on the battlefield.

The chart and lists that follow track the decline in LSAT scores at the 25th percentile of incoming students. [1]  Here is a link to a scaled score-to-percentile rank conversion chart. (And here is a link to  Part 1 of this post, tracking the decline in median LSAT scores). As with the earlier post, I got the 2011 LSAT scores from the Law School Transparency site (LST). The 2014 scores have not been posted at LST yet, so I obtained them directly from the 509 forms located at:

Law schools, of course, are now required to report 25th percentile scores on their annual Standard 509 disclosure forms. They are not required to report the scores at, say, the 5th or 10th percentile. One can only imagine.

Change in LSAT score at the 25th percentile of incoming students, 2011-2014.  [2]

25th percentile LSAT score up by 4 pts.
25th percentile LSAT up by 3 pts.
25th percentile LSAT up by 2 pts.
25th percentile LSAT up by 1 pt.
25th percentile LSAT unchanged.
25th percentile LSAT down by 1 pt.
25th percentile LSAT down by 2 pts.
25th percentile LSAT down by 3 pts.
25th percentile LSAT down by 4 pts.
25th percentile LSAT down by 5 pts.
25th percentile LSAT down by 6 pts.
25th percentile LSAT down by 7 pts.
25th percentile LSAT down by 8 pts.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Law school will not give you more career options

In most areas of business and life, there need to be several points of failure rather than just one. In my current field, systems redundancy is the name of the game. There always needs to be a Plan B in case someone leaves the company, goes on vacation or takes a new job. Law schools are very good at presenting an illusion of the law degree as one that creates more options for graduates' careers. As the last three years of this website has shown you, that is a horrible lie. Law school reduces your career choices to just one.

The "JD Advantage" is a myth and part of the illusion being peddled by law schools today. Law schools tell students that JD Advantage jobs include such luminous roles as corporate executive, politician, and of course, law professor. In fact, the University of Chicago has a whole page telling prospective students how they can join the ranks of Legal academia. The truth is not so rosy. Most solo attorneys are not solo by choice. Do you want to know why so many new grads go solo? It's because they can't even get hired as paralegals. With law professors content to teach only the most obscure and arcane areas of law, the new graduate is ill equipped to even handle a speeding ticket. But law professors will not stoop to teaching such base and simple procedures unless forced. As long as pompous law professors are prowling the halls of law schools, students will remain a audience for their egos and passion projects. There is simply no reward, just risk.

Law schools know that the education they provide reduce students' options, which is why they engage in as much chicanery as they can get away with. Even with the new ABA disclosure requirements, many schools still massage employment data to the extent that it is useless as a tool for making an informed decision. But law schools can see the writing on the wall. That's why practice ready curriculums are the hot new thing. Law professors have no desire to teach their students how to be actual lawyers. Changing law school to make students "practice ready" will strip away the allure and mystique of law schools and reveal the administrators and professors as the charlatans they are. Once students see that most law practice is little more than a trade, like plumbing, they will not tolerate being taught only impractical and useless nonsense. Let's all work together to make that day arrive sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How low can they go?: Charting the decline in LSAT scores for incoming law students, 2011-2014.

How low can they go? Surely, this is one of those many "all very complicated" questions that beset legal education and that defy easy heuristics, black box thinking, and the distorting effects of oversimplification, at least according to the obfuscating bullshit propounded by InfiLaw frontman Jay Conison.

Well, actually, no. By low, I refer to the ongoing law school spelunk to the cavernous depths of their application pools. And, properly posed, answers to this question can be expressed with numerical precision. How many law schools have lowered the median LSAT of their entering class, and by how much, between 2011 and 2014? Which schools specifically have lowered the median LSAT of their entering class by three points or more between 2011 and 2014? Which schools have lowered the 25th percentile LSAT scores of their incoming classes, and by how much, between 2011 and 2014? Which schools specifically have lowered their 25th percentile score by three points or more between 2011 and 2014? Which schools had the lowest 25th percentile LSAT scores in 2011 and 2014, and what were they?

But mind Jay Conison’s wise words of caution. "We can never fully understand and assess a school if we restrict our attention just to a few imperfect measures of what goes in and what goes out." Or, as Donald Rumsfeld famously explained when objective evidence supporting the justifications he gave for invading Iraq failed to materialize, "There are also unknown unknowns, the [things] we don’t know we don’t know."

What is as yet unknown, if not exactly unknown unknown, is how much damage the law school scam will inflict on law students and society as it stoops to recruit kids with mediocre to godawful academic records and standardized test scores, the cannon fodder in the law school blitzkrieg against the sustainability of our profession and their own integrity. Kids who are much more likely to pay full or near-full tuition, to fail the bar exam, to be unable to obtain or hold law jobs, to lack a skill set that might yield a decent job in some non-law field or an ever-elusive JD-Advantage gig, or to provide effective representation to their clients if they do, somehow, carve out a place for themselves in the legal profession.

Today’s post tracks the decline in median scores from 2011 to 2014. Friday’s post will track the (even steeper) decline at the 25th percentile break. I got the 2011 LSAT scores from the Law School Transparency site (LST). The 2014 scores have not been posted at LST yet, so I obtained them directly from the 509 forms located at:

Change in median LSAT score of incoming class between 2011 and 2014:

Median LSAT score up by 3 pts.
Median LSAT up by 2 pts.
Median LSAT up by 1 pt.
Median LSAT unchanged.
Median LSAT down by 1 pt.
Median LSAT down by 2 pts.
Median LSAT down by 3 pts.
Median LSAT down by 4 pts.
Median LSAT down by 5 pts.
Median LSAT down by 6 pts.
Median LSAT down by 7 pts.
Median LSAT down by 8 pts.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Odd Variations in LSAC Charts

I'm a charts-and-graphs kind of guy.  Always have been.  I like looking at data and trying to make sense of it.

For example, I watch the LSAC numbers with bated breath.  It's a sickness, I know.  But I do love the stories the data tell.  For instance, did you know that the average lemming files seven applications to law school?  I didn't either, till I did my own informal analysis of LSAC's data.

Yep, even with declining applicants, the slope is consistent (with R-squared values above 0.98), and 2015 appears to be right on track with prior years.  In fact, I don't know why "Applications" are tracked, other than it's just "another data point".  I'm more concerned with how many actual applicants there are, not how many applications they file.  Anybody with time to spare can apply to seven (or 9, or 12, or 3) law schools; what I want to know is how many souls are taking the plunge, and why.

This is why Matt Leichter is a man after my own heart.  He has been faithfully recording applicant and application data for years (as LSAC only ever shows the most recent three), doing data analysis of all kinds along the way, and in my book he's a hero for it.  Especially when applicants have been declining for several years running, to the point where LSAC publishes the following chart:

If I squint at this right, it would appear than even though applicants are down 9% compared to last year, the bottom has really come at last because the 2015 line is right on top of the 2014 line!  Amirite?  I don't think the line thickness respresents a 10% swing, but who cares?  This would imply that 2015 isn't actually worse than 2014, actual numbers be damned!  Number-crunching maniacs like Ted Seto, Ben Barros and Steve Diamond will be thrilled!

Thankfully, Leichter's chart is more precise:

Oh, there is that pesky little 9% decline over last year...!  Plain as day.  With seven prior-year's-worth of context.  There must have been an honest mistake in chart scaling over at LSAC, or something.

If this is any indication about chart scaling and truth in advertising (remember this one?), here's to another year of the Cartel hoping that lawyers and lawyer-wanna-bes can't do math.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dean Jay Conison Shills for Charlotte School of Law; Comedy Gold Ensues

As the title implies, Dean Conison went on the offensive recently, stating how Charlotte School of Law is poised to lead legal education into the 21st century, or something like that.  While we are certain that this was an attempt to make Infilaw proud and bring the scamblogs and other critics to their knees, weeping at the logical deductions and conclusions therein, the reception of the argumentation was, ah, shall we say, something else.

A bit of background for those who do not know: up until recently, Conison was dean at Valparaiso School of Law and he is on the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, cocerning law school accreditation, among other items.    Conison has also been a prolific writer in the mainstream media, and has penned pieces on law school tuition (not really the problem you might think), what to do with a JD (corporate VP, wealth manager, art gallery owner), and legal scholarship (not to be criticized).

On or about the same time in mid-2012, Conison took on the then-law-school-backlash in his letter to the alumni.  Only three pages are reproduced here, as the rest of the letter went on to detail the "accomplishments" of students and faculty and are not the thrust of the argument.

Not surprisingly, the scambloggers have it all wrong, according to Conison.  Disgruntled graduates consider themselves "consumers," and this is a novel concept.  In past decades, while law schools were indeed criticized for not providing skills(!) or not providing adequate professional responsibility training(!), the idea that Law Schools should be held accountable for their misleading statistics and representations is "novel."  Newly-minted JDs should just shut up, or something.  Further, who can expect law schools to self-monitor their admissions process, reduce tuition, or make changes to staff, anyway?  Those open-road narratives are expensive, you know.

During this time, Valparaiso's statistics slid.  When looking at Valpo's data over the last few years, LSAT scores have dropped significantly - the 50th percentile, for example, has gone from 150 to 143, yet the number of new admittees has stayed relatively constant at around 200/year.  Tuition has gone from $35k to almost $40k over the same time period.  Many graduates suffer from unemployment, and only about 40% of graduates have full-time, bar-passage-required jobs.  Those who are employed are not in BigLaw, but in small "firms."

Fast forward to today:  Over at The Faculty Lounge, Conison criticizes the "black box" approach to using falling LSAT scores as an idicator of law-school-worthiness, or for later bar passage predicitons, or for placement data.  One should not judge a law school based upon the applicant pool it accepts or the results it delivers, reasons Consion, because federal student loan dollars but on "educating students and transforming them into professionals."  "A law school is a complex educational enterprise delivering a wide range of educational services. Different schools have different strengths and weaknesses. Some are very strong in clinical education, others very strong in public policy. Some position themselves to provide opportunity; others position themselves to develop large firm lawyers. Some schools put much effort into developing professionalism and other non-academic competencies; others emphasize building scholarly competencies and future law professors. Understanding what law schools do inside the box is critical to understanding and evaluating them," reasons Conison.

Thankfully, the commenters are having none of this:

Is this guy really trying to convince us that the Charlotte School of Law produces graduates ready to...what? Practice law? What a joke. I'm in the trenches in this town and I promise you that very few CSL graduates show promise. The vast majority, 95%, shouldn't be lawyers. They don't even understand the basics - like showing up on time dressed in courtroom attire.

I'm embarrassed for the young man in a business suit with no socks on who shows up 30 minutes late with his I-phone in his hand wondering why the judge is pissed. Or the young lady in rubber flip flops. Or the guy who files a lawsuit at the last minute and then serves the defendant by first class mail, but can't afford malpractice insurance. Or the woman who insists to the point of hostility to an exasperated judge that she doesn't need a supporting affidavit in her Motion For Summary Judgment - in a lawsuit she filed against her client who is refusing to pay her because she's incompetent. I could go on.
One other thing - in addition to ruining the futures of these student victims, CSL is also destroying the small law firm business model, at least in Charlotte. Even if only half the 400 graduates a year pass the bar, nobody's hiring these people so they have no choice but to hang out a shingle and hope for the best. Our local legal directory is full of strange, ever-changing names with residence addresses or P.O. Box addresses and cellphone numbers only.
They've saturated this market to such a degree, and provide (shoddy) legal services for next to nothing, that the rest of the local Bar is feeling the pinch. Spare me your retorts about healthy competition. Can I handle a traffic ticket for $50? Not if I want to pay my staff. Is the minority or immigrant community served by this influx of lawyers who work for next to nothing? Not if they don't know what they're doing. State Bar grievance filings? Through the roof.
Graduates forever buried in debt. Clients with incompetent and uninsured lawyers. Experienced lawyers and firms with ever-increasing revenue shortfalls. Exasperated judges and court personnel. Overworked State Bar investigators. Everyone loses except Jay Conison and the vulture capitalists at Infilaw's parent hedge fund.
I agree with Paul Campos. If it can't go on, it won't go on. Conison's gibberish nothwithstanding, the real question is how much damage Infilaw will do before he and they leave town.
Our own Antiro notes the following:

There is some merit in the point that some of what law schools do is not appreciated due to the relentless focus on student debt, bar pass rates, and employment prospects.

But when it comes to law schools, the focus FIRST should be on student debt, bar pass rates, and employment prospects. When people are entrusting three years or more of their lives, you owe them the basics.
The basics are that they graduate from your institution, can pass the bar, and obtain a job requiring your degree that allows you to pay your debt and save some at a level that your financial straits have improved due to attending said school.
If you're not meeting the basics, Mr. Conison, you can't be charging a premium. According to a quick search, your school has a yearly cost of attendance of $41,000.
If your law school had good job prospects, good bar pass rates, and were giving students careers that were paying them well enough to manage the debt, save, and become contributing consumers, then we could seriously discuss what goes on in the "black box."
But such talk about black boxes when your graduates are faring so poorly is premature.

David Frakt fires back:

Dean Conison’s black box analogy brings to mind another kind of black box -- the flight data recorders that are recovered after an aircraft accident.  When Charlotte School of Law and its sister schools finally crash and burn, and InfiLaw is forced to reveal its internal data in response to the subsequent class action lawsuit, what will the data inside the black box say about the cause of InfiLaw’s downfall?  Based on Dean Conison’s posts on The Faculty Lounge, one factor that will be difficult to rule out is “pilot error.”

Priceless.  Read the comments, as they are hilarious and enlightening.  Supporters of the scamblog movement, let's take a moment to give thanks in the New Year that what once passed for serious discourse from the ScamDeans and Law School Cartel is now being called out for what it is: sheer, unabashed shillery.  What once was used as "evidence" to immediately mock law school critics is now instantly turned back on the purveyors.  While we have further to go, we have also come a long way at the same time.