Thursday, June 30, 2016

Look Upon Your Alma Mater's Works, ye (Valpo) Law Grads, and Despair

As an initial statement, it is probably unfair for any one law school to be held up as the poster-child for the ills of the industry.  Many, many schools could have been profiled in the aggregate, as many, many schools have been complicit in the scam.  But in the recent New York Times  article it appears that Valpo was the lucky winner, so we'll just go with that.

I am reminded of a prior OTLSS post concerning Jay Con-ison, the former Dean of Valpo Law and now proud dean of Charlotte School of Law, and the victory lap he undertook in defense of the Law School Cartel at the time.


My, how things have changed since 2012.  Change was already underway even then.  It's just that no one within the Cartel could afford to be honest about it, and it was cheaper and easier to throw barbs at the scambloggers and serve up misdirection rather than engage in honest introspection.  Many students had to run into the non-dischargable debt and poor-to-no job prospects gristmill in order to keep the machine going, as depicted in the NY Times article.  LSAT scores and bar passage rates apparently had to drop, in order to keep the music playing.

Most shocking (damning?) are the recent comments by Professor Rosalie Levinson and Former-Dean Berner:

“Maybe I was na├»ve, but I didn’t think it would be as stark,” said Rosalie Levinson, a longtime constitutional law professor at Valparaiso who recently headed a committee on restructuring the school. “The number of tenured faculty that would be leaving — not gradually but immediately — just personally, that was difficult.”

The committee agonized over whether it should accept fewer students or keep its class size roughly constant and admit weaker candidates. In the end, it opted for the latter, a decision Mr. Berner admits wasn’t entirely on the merits, since fewer students would have meant less revenue...“There was a lot of pressure, of course, from the central administration to keep the numbers up,” he said. Mr. Berner, for his part, feels a tinge of regret when he looks back on the years after the 2009 recession. “Everyone had good intentions,” he said. “If we could go back, I think we should have erred a little more on the side of turning people down.”


Really, Professor Levinson?  You can write well-respected scholarly papers on Constitutional Law issues, but you had no idea things could be this bad for your fellow faculty, to say nothing of the outcomes for students and the school overall?   Talk about oblivious lawprofs.  At least Berner can stutter out a "mistakes were made," admission after all this time - although he "got his" in spite of best intentions, I suppose.  And I'm sure it was only the mean, mean central university administration, and not innocent Valpo law, that forced the choices that were taken.  Teaching ain't cheap, yo.

And what is this ridiculous notion that companies like "We Buy Liens" are reasonable (JD-Advantage!) placement outcomes for law graduates, after an "investment" of $150k?  Good God, I can only hope there are Lutherans looking down from above and shaking their heads at this nonsense and that a special place is reserved for Valpo Law grads - they certainly aren't getting much in this life.  The fact that LawProfs can even bear to offer tripe like this with a straight face shows how far legal employment and the Cartel both have sunk.  If you want a career buying, selling and trading liens, fine, but you can probably get an education that is much less expensive to achieve the same result.  Be sure to get a second job over at the check-cashing place, because you will need both jobs to even make a dent in your IBR-ed loans.

In the final analysis, we, the scambloggers, ourselves victims of the scam, were right.  We had to take a lot of name-calling and flak for our humble position - that law school is not for everbody and is largely a bad idea for most, let alone at the rate of 40,000 graduates per year.  It took time.  You can't brush this kind of carnage under the rug and pretend that It Doesn't Exist.  At least not forever.  I congratulate the scambloggers, the commentators, the news media, and the Law Profs willing to speak the truth, although it feels like a Pyrrhic victory at this point.

I close with Jay Con-ison's ironically-hyperbolic-yet-prescient comments from 2012:

"If you read newspapers or pay attention to bloggers, you've heard this story about law schools: they are villains."

Right you are, Dean, right you are, and you knew the truth the whole time.  The evidence continues to speak for itself for those schools outside the, say, top 50 or so, if not higher.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

BREAKING NEWS: Department of Education committee rebukes the ABA

In the same meeting where the accreditation body that certified for-profit colleges like Corinthian Colleges was de-recognized, The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) " recommended that the department suspend the [ABA]'s ability to accredit new members for a year." The NACIQI censured the ABA for failing to meet its own student achievement standards. How the mighty have fallen.

What does this mean?
  • The scam movement has brought the predatory practices of law schools to light.
  • The Department of Education sees that allowing a lobbying group to certify new members in its industry is not a great idea.
  • If the legal industrial complex's history of intransigence continues, then the day that an ABA accredited law school closes may not be too far off.
What did the ABA have to say in response? Take it away, Barry Currier: 
"The council believes that it is operating in compliance with the recognition criteria," Currier said in a written statement, "but will make any changes to its accreditation standards and rules of procedures that are necessary to stay in good standing with NACIQI and the Department of Education."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

SALT law professor organization tries to derail important reform on minimum bar passage outcomes


"We write on behalf of the Society of American Law Teachers (SALT)" are words that should be preceded by a trigger warningCaution: America’s leading oh-so-progressive organization of wealthy law professors is about to violate your sense of personal decency by explaining that the economic interests of its members are identical to the access to justice needs of the marginalized and downtrodden.

The ABA recently circulated an unusually promising draft revision to its standard on bar passage rates (ABA Standard 316). If adopted, the revised Standard will impose a requirement that 75% of a law school’s graduates who sit for a bar exam must pass the exam within two years. The proposed revision would eliminate multiple alternate and less burdensome ways of establishing compliance. Perhaps as significantly, the revision eliminates the eight ways a law school can demonstrate good cause for its lack of compliance, which currently include the following rule-devouring catch-all: "Other factors, consistent with a law school’s demonstrated and sustained mission, which the school considers relevant in explaining its deficient bar passage results."

There are 709 words in existing ABA Standard 316, of which 398 are devoted to setting forth the good cause excuses. By contrast, the draft revision of Standard 316 is a model of beautiful clarity at 34 words. Well, perhaps not so beautiful if you are a law professor at a substandard school, like many of the law professors in the SALT organization.  

The co-presidents of SALT, Prof. Sara Rankin of Seattle Law and Prof. Denise Roy of Mitchell-Hamline, recently submitted a four-page long comment to the ABA expressing numerous "concerns" and "unanswered questions" (aka objections) as to the ABA proposal, and urging retention of all the "good cause" excuses for noncompliance in the event that the revised standard is adopted. Some excerpts from SALT’s letter:

"We are concerned as well, about the impact the proposed standard may have on law schools’ willingness to provide opportunities to students who perform less well on standardized tests such as the LSAT. . . . If the new standard is more difficult for schools to satisfy, or if schools worry that it will be more difficult to satisfy given declining bar passage rates, will schools rely even more heavily on LSAT scores in their admissions process? What impact will this have on the admission of students from diverse, economically disadvantaged, and non-traditional backgrounds? What impact will this proposed change have on the overall diversity of the bench and bar? These are important questions to address before making this change."
* * *  
"Will this new standard, which focuses on a 75% bar exam pass rate, have consequences with respect to what law schools teach and how they assess? . . . Will a strict 75% pass rate cause schools to focus on traditional outcomes tested by the bar exam, rather than to think expansively about learning outcomes related to skills development, access to justice, and cultural competence?"
 * * * 
"Whatever the Council decides with respect to the standard itself, we urge the retention of the list of factors that may be taken into account as "good cause" for extending the period the law school has to demonstrate compliance with the standard. . . . The lengthy list of factors in the current standard contains thoughtful and helpful suggestions for considering the complex reasons why a law school may be failing to meet the standard but nonetheless be on a path to compliance.
I more or less share SALT’s left-wing political orientation, and so am especially exasperated by the group's flair for making its crassly self-interested lobbying sound like progressive advocacy.

Are these pedagogues of the oppressed so cocooned in self-righteous obliviousness that they do not realize that staggering law school debt loads make bar passage a far greater imperative than mastering legal academia's jargon-drenched version of "cultural competence," or other such expansive learning outcomes, even for the most social justice-oriented law students? 

Are these academic champions of equality simply uninformed that their weaker-credentialed "diverse, economically disadvantaged, and non-traditional" students are massively subsidizing the tuitions of their more privileged students, an allocation of burdens  regressive enough to make the ghosts of Reagan and Thatcher rise up and dance a foxtrot to the tune of "Ain't We Got Fun"? 

The growing segment of law grads who cannot pass the bar exam will provide zero diversity to the legal profession, though I fear plenty to unemployment lines and mental health facilities. 

SALT is critical of the destructive social consequences of market economics, and that is where they and I share immense common ground. I am sure that SALT would be outraged if, for instance, firearms manufacturers and dealers lobbied against a proposed regulation to make it more difficult for at-risk individuals to obtain their dangerous product. Or if a polluter asserted its self-evident good faith as justification for failure to comply with environmental laws. Or if a tobacco corporation created a marketing or "pipeline" program to generate future demand for its product among schoolchildren. Or if a sweatshop owner publicly fretted that workplace safety rules could hinder his or her ability to provide opportunities. Or if a subprime mortgage lender, circa 2006, proudly touted the diversity of its customers.

Along with SALT, my fist is raised in solidarity with the activists who protest the harmful activities and inadequate regulation of private industry. Unlike SALT, however, my fist is not lowered when attention turns to the lucrative nonprofit law school industry. I do not care how frequently or sincerely law faculty blab about justice or its trendy seven-syllable synonym "intersectionality"-- law schools with weak employment and bar passage rates are exploiting the people they claim to serve. Whatever their rhetorical commitments to the public interest, law schools are self-interested entities that enrich their managerial class while creating vast negative externalities, just like corporate predators.

Consumer disclosure is not enough to end the scam. Rigorous minimum outcome standards, such as Revised ABA Standard 316, must be imposed and schools that fail to meet them should flunk out of accreditation.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

LSAC: Not seeing the forest for the trees

Over the past few months, I have been trying to convince a guy at my work not to apply to law school. He's what you think of when you think of an aimless liberal arts graduate:
  • He has no real plan for the future
  • Law school seems like it will lead to a more secure future
  • He has vague hopes to "help people"
  • His parents are pressuring him to go to law school and "make something of himself"
Each week, I've been giving him tidbits about the things we discuss on this site. I was stonewalled at first.  The most distressing thing he told me: He was going to apply to Arizona Summit because he wanted to move somewhere warm, and then would try to transfer to a school in Miami after his first year. But, it turns out I didn't need to talk to him at all.

A couple of weeks ago, the guy came to me in a huff. He had already paid $500 to Kaplan for a LSAT course. He had paid $175 for the LSAT. He was now being asked to pay another $200 to LSAC to have the privilege to apply to law school. The guy applied for a waiver from LSAC; it was summarily rejected. He didn't have the money or the inclination to keep feeding the gaping maw of the legal industrial complex. So, he gave up the dream in frustration.

Let's review:
  • This guy was going to law school.
  • He didn't have outstanding academic credentials, which means he was going to likely pay full price.
  • Had he been let in, an ABA school would have received at least $120,000 in federally guaranteed tuition money.
  • LSAC decided that a $200 fee was more important than getting almost 600 times that amount to a member of its law school cartel.
Once again, the powers in charge of the train slowly barreling toward the cliff of irrelevance show that they are as short sighted as ever. If they keep acting like this, we may see the first closure of an ABA accredited school sooner rather than later.

Note: edited for clarity

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ABA to Finally Audit Law School Employment Reporting

Better late than never, eh?

The ABA has announced that through a third party firm it is (has been) conducting random audits on the Class of 2015 employment numbers reported by law schools. If you are a glutton for this sort of thing, the standards are outlined in full here.

In the article, however, Barry Currier lets slip what I think are two important "fine print" type details:
Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, says the audits began when the schools reported their data.
...
If audits over the next few years find law schools are doing a good job, the ABA may change to a system of less intensive audits, Currier says. The hope, he tells the ABA Journal, is that the audit results will confirm that schools are doing a good job of reporting, giving the public more confidence in the reliability of the data.
The ABA doing audits is somewhat revolutionary and, superficially, worthy of praise for actually giving the appearance of effort.  Slowly but surely, the consensus over the last decade has moved from naively trusting self-published law school employment numbers to a broad acknowledgement that there was (and probably still is) funny business afoot in how graduate outcomes are counted.  Legally not fraud, of course, but perfectly legal puffery funny business.  Creative accounting.

For several years now, critics have asked for audits.  Instead, we got some modified standards and suddenly the employment rates - as opposed to the singular numbers boasted about in the advertising literature of yore - moved to more accurately reflect the reality in which most of us live.

Still, audits would represent an important check upon the accuracy of the information now being advertised by law schools.  In that respect, the ABA is taking what should be an essential step in regulating such things.

But then Currier says that these audits actually started when the data was received, which was a few months ago if I'm not mistaken.  One has to wonder why the ABA had not announced this when the audits started - or even before as a deterrent mechanism against chicanery (it's not like next year will benefit from the audits being a surprise, after all).

My hunch is that the ABA didn't want to announce audits and then have them be an unmitigated disaster.  Instead, start doing them, get at least some positive feedback, and then announce them; had there been only negative feedback, I suppose the ABA has someone who can delete a press release.

This hunch is somewhat confirmed by the last line of the article.
Currier says the audit results with regard to specific schools won’t be publicly released, unless problems lead to a public sanction.
Can you see the transparency?  All the ABA has to do now is effortlessly announce that no sanctions will be handed down and the audits - maybe even the identity of the schools audited - will remain a secret, even if they would reveal potentially damning evidence, so long as the ABA - the same organization that accredited Indiana Tech - doesn't find the behavior worthy of a reprimand.

One has to wonder how such a system can actually "giv[e] the public more confidence in the reliability of the data" when it appears that nothing will be made public other than the ABA - the single body most responsible for shooting down the public's confidence in law school data across the board - saying it's all okay.  Besides, don't we want to know if a Tier 2 school was audited and the numbers were pitch-perfect under ABA guidelines, as compared to their peers, who fudged things a bit in a non-sanctionable way?  Surely that would help consumers of legal education.

Worse still is Currier's suggestion that the audits may not be needed if the ABA decides that the schools aren't doing enough to get sanctioned.  Audits are not merely designed to catch wrongdoing; they are also designed to deter wrongdoing.  If the IRS were to slack of audits when taxpayers are "doing a good job," our taxation system would somehow find itself in even more dire straits.  Lax regulation and you get a Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.  Or, a law school bubble.

Overall, it's about time that the ABA audited this stuff, but it's a decade late and key feature (some degree of consumer transparency) short.  It's hard not to see this move as lip service designed to produce results that permit a devoid-of-detail "Law Schools Doing Great in Reporting" article later this summer.  And it will be truly meaningless in preventing the nonsense of the past if the ABA changes to a "less intensive" (read: what it was in 2008) auditing system after a few exercises in confirmation bias.

Because, I suppose, if the ABA stands for one institutional operative, it's doing acts that sell to the mainstream media and the headline-reading lawyer-elite, but in truth do remarkably little for most lawyers or prospective law students.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

JD-Disadvantage, Part VII: No, really, this time, "It's Different"

As a non-trad living the JD-Advantage dream, I have taken it upon myself to be the one, lone contrarian and cautionary tale (to hear the Cartel say it) for all those who would be tempted to believe there are back-up options to the JD.  After all, if the partnership at BigLaw seems tedious in the final analysis, you can always be CEO of a Fortune-500, an art collector/dealer, or the director of a non-profit that speaks to you.  See below for examples:


Excluding the three law schools in Puerto Rico, 3,772 fewer people graduated from ABA-accredited law schools in 2015, an 8.7 percent decline from 2014. Somewhat surprisingly, the number of graduates with jobs requiring a law degree fell by nearly 2,000, equivalent to more than half the difference in graduates between the two years...[l]eft unexplained, however, is why more graduates didn't find work in non-law fields. Declines in graduate hiring in JD-advantage jobs, professional jobs, and non-professional jobs equaled 18.8 percent of the 3,772-graduate drop, 13.1 percent of which belong to the JD-advantage category. Shouldn't graduates who don't find work as lawyers or with their law schools have better luck with employers who value them for their legal educations?


Wait, did I just misread Leichter's article?  Almost 20% if the decline in graduates were in the combined JD-Advantage/Other Professional category?  In light of rhetorical questions such as these, it is "strange" that the prognostications of ScamDeans and Career Services Offices would not hold water, then.  What could be going on here...?


One possible explanation is that many unemployed graduates are unwilling to settle for non-law jobs. It may appear admirable for graduates to hold out for work they've been trained to do, but it also indicates a reluctance to treat their legal educations as a sunk cost...[a]lternatively, employers might be unwilling to hire graduates from some law schools no matter what their industry is...[t]hese schools may simply be selling a JD that isn't at all versatile.


Well, sure, some people may just not "get the message," but, but, but, smokin' bucket full of awesome test, right?  Right.


For their part, JD-advantage careers might take a different track from lawyer jobs starting at graduation day. Graduates established in such careers might forgo lawyer work completely. However, "JD-advantage" has always been a dubious term that includes jobs that may not benefit substantially from a law school education. The definitions for the ABA's employment categories even identify a handful of JD-advantage career paths that bear only a slight relationship to law school: FBI agents, accountants, human resources, journalists, and teachers. Many candidates for JD-advantage positions would be better off seeking different training for these careers than law degrees.


Well, there is is again, folks, very succinctly stated.  The amazing career choices touted by the Cartel, if they ever happen at all to JDs, happen (1) after years in the actual white-shoe "law" category, with (2) solid connections from those years in law, and (3) more than likely, a top-tier diploma with significant signaling value greasing the wheels.  Please, please, please, do not go to law school thinking you have "options" Day One, if ever, as that is what the Cartel desperately wants you to believe.  


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Does the student handbook of InfiLaw's Arizona Summit Law School require students to "actively support" the brand, image, and business interests of InfiLaw?

I do not want to shock you, but sometimes a consumer buys a product or service, does not like it, and flat out says so. Or the consumer may actually like the product or service, but publicly disapprove of some aspect of its brand or image. Or the consumer may be happy with the product or service and the way it is marketed, but nonetheless express an opinion that the product’s manufacturer, merchant, or investors regard as detrimental to their business interests. And, or course, because word of mouth is such a powerful influencer, these business interests would be happier if satisfied customers were active, rather than passive, in their approval.

Fortunately, for-profit Arizona Summit Law School [ASLS], one of InfiLaw Consortium's three bottom-of-the-barrel law schools, is able to ensure an impressive 100% rate of active student support for its mission, culture, brand, image, values, educational processes, and business interests and practices, through the effective persuasive technique of compulsion. 

From Arizona Summit's student handbook (p. 24):
"Right of Dissent. ASLS supports the academic freedom of all members of its community and does not seek conformity, but insists that persons who choose to associate with ASLS actively support its mission, culture, and business purposes and not engage in activities or conduct that are detrimental to the brand, image, or values of InfiLaw or ASLS or the investment that students have made in obtaining their legal education from ASLS. Any expression of dissent must be made by legitimate means in accord with established governance processes. The exercise of the freedom to dissent does not include the right to interfere with the rights of others or the business interests and educational processes of either InfiLaw or ASLS." 
Arizona Summit's most recent 10-month-out bar-required full-time job placement rate was 35.4%, placing among the bottom 20 of the 200 or so ABA-approved law schools. Moreover, its most recent bar passage rates were 26.4% (July 2015 exam) and 28.4% (February 2016 exam), surely among the lowest in the country, and well under half of the pass rate achieved by the two other law schools in Arizona, the ones that have not tried to elevate their brand image by changing their names to a synonym of "mountain peak." (Incidentally, Arizona Summit is located in Phoenix, and thus lower even in actual physical elevation than the other two Arizona law schools, located respectively in Tempe and Tuscon). 

And yet under the strict limitations set forth in the school's "right to dissent" policy, Arizona Summit students are arguably prohibited from publicizing these bare facts, even without overtly negative commentary or opinion.  Aren't these facts detrimental to the law school's image?  Don't they call into doubt its declared mission of establishing a "benchmark of inclusive excellence in professional education"? 

What is more, the act of publicizing these facts is almost certainly detrimental to InfiLaw’s business interests in encouraging enrollment, i.e. corralling ambulatory bags of money called "students" in sufficient quantities to facilitate the overarching mission and values of Sterling Partners, the private equity firm that owns InfiLaw. Which, according to the firm's profile, includes "generating extraordinary returns for our investors" and "driving value to our portfolios companies." (See Sterling Partners' firm profile at p. 5 of this link). 

As well, I note that students are not permitted to engage in activities detrimental to the school's "brand." This rule can be reasonably interpreted to prohibit snickering at the name "Summit." 

Interestingly, Arizona Summit students are expressly forbidden from engaging in conduct detrimental to the image and business interests of InfiLaw, not just Arizona Summit Law School. So Summit students are arguably subject to discipline, even if they provide groupie-level enthusiastic approval of their own school, if they undermine the "image" of either of the other two InfiLaw schools, Charlotte and Florida Coastal, or either of InfiLaw's two portfolio companies.

Notably, the Arizona Summit policy states, indeed "insist[s]," that students must provide active support for InfiLaw's "mission, culture, and business purposes." You know, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un won 100% of the votes in his recent victorious election campaign, but the reported voter turnout rate was only 99.97%. This indicates a troublingly non-unanimous level of active support among the North Korean electorate. By contrast, each and every Arizona Summit student is required to provide active support for their Dear Leader, I mean for their Dear Consortium of Law Schools and Portfolio Companies. Perhaps the North Korean government should commission some InfiLaw consultants to help it fine tune its policies on dissent so as to eliminate its pesky 0.03% margin of mere passive supporters.

Of course, persons who are not Arizona Summit students, such as documentary filmmakers, are regrettably unbound by a code of conduct requiring them to support Infilaw's brand, image, and business interests, either actively or passively. These persons, in reliance on "distorted facts and data" such as the placement and bar passage rates noted, may be tempted to pursue a "false agenda" of "attacking law school admissions and career advancement policies." Fortunately, InfiLaw has retained zealous legal counsel to warn such potential subversives that [rest of sentence deleted out fear].  Certainly, InfiLaw is entirely reasonable in requesting the opportunity to review any references to it or its affiliate schools prior to public dissemination. 

With the appropriate mix of student discipline and proactive threats of expensive speech-chilling litigation, perhaps we will witness that joyous day when private equity investors need not fear hurtful criticism as they actualize their idealistic and enriching vision of legal education by extracting the maximum amount of borrowed tuition dollars from the maximum number of student debt slaves. Ave, InfiLaw, morituri te salutant.