Thursday, June 27, 2013

Let's Play Pretend: The Washington and Lee Practicum Fiasco.

Washington & Lee University School of Law (W&L) in Lexington, Virginia, has received much favorable publicity for its "experiential" third year curriculum. At W&L, the 3L year consists primarily of role-playing games, or in the more polished characterization of W&L law Professor James Moliterno, "elaborate simulation courses that we call practicums." (video at 1:15-1:18) Indiana University Law Professor William Henderson, a sometimes-law-school-critic, praised W&L's innovations so effusively that you would think that the Gem of the Slaveocracy had left every other law school choking on its dust and fumes. He said: "To use a simple metaphor, W&L is tooling around in a Model-T while the rest of us rely on horse and buggy."

Unfortunately, employers aren’t going along for the ride. The majority of W&L Law grads from the Class of 2012 failed to obtain full-time bar-required jobs within nine months of graduation. Indeed, if you rank schools by the percentage of the Class of '12 that obtained bar-required, full-time, long-term (one year or more, including clerkships) jobs that are non-solo and non-school-funded, W&L ranks in 119th, a shockingly bad outcome for a school that US News deems the 26th best.

Deborah Merritt recently published an important blog post at the Law School Café, which was excerpted at Tax Prof Blog, noting W&L’s disappointing results and proposing four possible explanations: (1) the connection between practical training and jobs is much smaller than practitioners assert; (2) employers may care less about practical training than they claim; (3) employers may care about experience, but want to see that experience in the area for which they’re hiring; and (4) the students may have developed higher or more specialized career ambitions than their peers at other schools.

My own explanation for W&L's failure is more straightforward: W&L’s version of experiential education is bullshit, and the practicing bar is not buying it. I strongly favor clinics and externships. But "elaborate simulations"? Building courses around role-play?

Consider Law 301P, the "Higher Education Practicum," which is described in W&L's course catalogue in these terms:
"The course will employ context based and integrative learning techniques as the educational format. Students will work in teams to represent students, faculty members, university trustees, university administrators, alumni student organizations, public interest groups, and other parties in a variety of hypothetical problems and exercises requiring strategic thinking, critical analysis of legal principles, and understanding of the cultural, political, and social traditions of American colleges and universities."
Moliterno elaborates: "In the higher education practicum, for example, the students will meet with somebody playing the role of the University President. They may meet with someone playing the role of a disgruntled trustee of the University. They may meet with community members who are concerned about activities at the University." (video at 3:33-3:50)  A student participant describes the role-playing fun:
""We want to sue! And we want to sue now! We need that $7 million donation! You are our lawyers, we need to do something," exclaimed the College’s President. I looked to my two colleagues. We all had that same look on our face: how were we supposed to tell the College President that suing the donor was a bad idea[?]. . .But all the cases in the world couldn’t prepare us for the look on the President’s face. I cleared my throat and delivered the news. I didn’t rely on the case law or complicated legal analysis. Instead, I told the President that taking this case to court would cost the College millions in litigation, it would upset donors and alumni, and it would kill the College’s reputation. . . He sat back, looking confused."
Doesn't the fluent academese of the course description alone trigger one's skepticism? How does "understanding the cultural, political, and social traditions of American colleges and universities" lead to true practice-readiness? Is it likely that the "variety of hypothetical problems and exercises" i.e., the role-playing scenario played out by clueless kids pretending to be lawyers, is anything more than a farcical simplification and distortion of actual legal practice? Will a real live employer be impressed that a 3L persuaded a fictional University President that suing a fictional donor would damage its fictional reputation?

Professor Moliterno, whose CV boasts of his "Leadership Role in 3L Experiential Education Curriculum," has evidently not practiced law since 1982, and has been a full-time legal academic ever since (earning a cool $289,377 in 2011). So Moliterno is not exactly speaking from personal experience when he yaps about "the mastery of the complex mental processes of sophisticated lawyers" and about "adopt[ing] the analytical practices of sophisticated lawyers." (See this post, comment by Jim Moliterno, at Jun 21, 2013 8:41:45 PM).

Practicum. This is not simply a mock trial-- where it is, indeed, possible to construct a reasonable facsimile of the real thing for training purposes. This is mock everything. As I read the course description of the Higher Education Practicum, my gut reaction, no kidding, is that I would rather take a law school course in 19th century German philosophers.

25 comments:

  1. sue the scammers...make them pay....

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  2. There is probably a way to do this that is less stomach-churning, but not when the tagline is "understanding of the cultural, political, and social traditions of American colleges and universities" and the clients are trustees and university presidents.

    Are the 3Ls becoming sociologists or academic historians? No(well, check that, given the job market). They want to be lawyers doing the actual things 99% of lawyers reasonably expect to do. Apparently LawProfs can't help themselves, even when they are trying to be "practical."

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    1. For any students out there not yet in law school, or not yet dissuaded, please re-read:

      "Professor Moliterno, whose CV boasts of his "Leadership Role in 3L Experiential Education Curriculum," has evidently not practiced law since 1982, and has been a full-time legal academic ever since (earning a cool $289,377 in 2011). So Moliterno is not exactly speaking from personal experience when he yaps about "the mastery of the complex mental processes of sophisticated lawyers" and about "adopt[ing] the analytical practices of sophisticated lawyers)."


      Yes, law school can pay off, sometimes *very* nicely indeed. Yes, it's a scam. Yes, those two statements can coexist.

      If you're in law school or are about to enter, consider that everything you've ever thought about education is, in a law school context, upside-down. Why? Because for the first time, you're supposed to be learning actual stuff, presumably by individuals who actually know what they're talking about.

      The dance is this: to pass the hurdle of law school (top xx% or top x% or top 0.x%, depending upon the school), you will need to please professors who quite literally don't know what they're talking about. At best you'll find someone who's actually good at the topic *and* who cares. Maybe. But, and here's the second of problems: even law professors know what "lawyerlike analysis" is. BUT . . . for you to actually accomplish this, you need to learn the law on your own. You won't learn it in a law classroom, especially not as they're now run. Neat, yes?

      So, in essence, you must make your way, salmon-like, upstream against a still-fierce competitive current (for any school that's worth attending); then survive a classroom environment that is almost completely divorced from anything resembling true legal thinking; then figure out, on your own, how to actually think like a lawyer, *and* how to put that down in a law exam; then how to butter up interviewers in the few OCI slots out there; then pass the bar (not too hard, actually, if you've done the above); then actually survive four decades of law practice (really hard, even if you've done the above).

      One more time: If you're not yet in school, read Con Law or a book like it (Campos, Tamanaha, Harper).

      If you're still on the train, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold (by me); or Planet Law School ("Falcon," for as long as it's still available, which won't be for long).

      Thane.

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  3. I wish Scott Bullock were still around to deconstruct this BS. His piece on Solo Practice University is legendary.

    The short story is biglaw prefers to hire from prestigious schools and train itself, and no one else is hiring noobs, trained or not.

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  4. They won't learn much in those courses, but it's not like they would learn much in the regular courses either. At least the practicum sounds less boring.

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  5. This school is like the T-1000 in Termnator 2: Judgment Day. After being blown into the vat of molten steel, the T-1000 thrashes around in its death throes, constantly changing its external appearance before finally kicking the bucket. The law schools are desperate and are willing to say or do anything ("but . . but . . . diversity!" "we need to make law school last two years" "our graduates are practice ready" etc) except acknowledge the obvious, e.g. that there are way too many law school grads and too few jobs, and many if not most law schools should be shut down.

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  6. I've seen it time and time again. These academic idiots will do just about anything to keep the money train rolling. Without a doubt, I find practical skills to be useful and I hope schools will continue to modify their curriculums. But these idiots seem to think that IF ONLY they add an immigration clinic or a sports law or bankruptcy clinic that this will lead a prospective student to believe that their future employment prospects are enhanced - THEY'RE NOT! I wrote my dean a few weeks ago after I discovered one of my former LS classmates had defaulted on his loans and the Fed. Gov. filed a lawsuit against him - hence how I found out how he was doing. I basically said to the dean that these schools (my school included) can talk until they're blue in the face about practical skills, practical skills, practical skills, we're different, blah, blah, blah ... but the undeniable truth is that there are too many lawyers being pumped out and too few jobs. That is the simple truth that these academic idiots want avoid at all costs, whether by obfuscation, outright lies, deception, enhanced marketing to lure in more suckers, adding an LLM program, adding online courses, trolling the bottom of the barrel for prospective students that should not be attending law school at all since they are either unqualified or lack the resources to succeed, etc. Ultimately this is not going to end well. And I can't wait to see the dominoes fall. /s/ an indebted and underemploed attorney /s/

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  7. It does not matter what you learn in law school.
    It does not matter what you learn in law school.
    IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT YOU LEARN IN LAW SCHOOL.

    Institutional employers hire on the basis of your school and your GPA. Small firms hire based on connections, networking, and working part-time for them during the year. There is no course of study, except an outplacement program where you spend a year practicing law, that will prepare you enough to make you valuable to a legal employer.

    Just look at Yale. A school where they don't even have grades during 1L. A school where students don't even know what a summary judgment motion is because they never cover it in CivPro. Do employers hire from Yale? You betcha!

    Law school is an arbitrary sorting mechanism to further refine the sorting that takes place during admissions. Nothing more.

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  8. http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2013/04/a-cleaner-ranking-of-schools-long-term-full-time-employment-minus-law-school-funded-jobs.html#more

    On April 10, 2013, Dan Filler posted a Faculty Lounge entry entitled “New Law School Rankings: Employment Data Cleaned Of School Funded Jobs” This article is based off of each diploma mill’s Class of 2012 ABA Employment Report. An anonymous poster furnished this link on my last profile. As the chart header makes clear, the figures pertain to JD Required positions that are full-time, long term - and exclude law school funded jobs. Under these measures, Washington and Lee University Sewer of Law is ranked 135th best in job placement. For $ome rea$on, Vagina Bob Morse has rated this commode as the 26th greatest law school in the nation.

    OLSS co-author dybbuk also provided a placement analysis, which also showed that Wa$hington and Lee Law had pathetic outcomes for its recent grads.

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  9. All of the other valid criticisms of the practicum aside....who is teaching these classes? If these classes are taught by adjuncts or practitioners, they MIGHT be useful, but it appears they are taught by career academics. I looked up the bio of the program director; he has 2 years of practice experience (from 1980-82) in prison legal aid and then decades of "teaching." How could he possibly have any current practical knowledge to impart to law students??

    I know the law profs at my similarly ranked school have virtually no practice experience. In fact, practice experience makes it MUCH harder to get tenure-track. My civ pro professor actually seemed proud to tell the class that he had never actually filed a motion.

    This practicum program is just another way for legal "scholars" to pretend they know something about what their students will encounter upon graduation.

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  10. On the Filler survey such top law schools as Faulkner, Touro, Elon, Liberty, Regent, Hofstra, Roger Williams, Texas Wesleyan, Charleston, Texas Southern, Texas Tech, and Nova had better placement figures than Washington & Lee. How is Washington & Lee a tier one school?

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    1. This is the result of the idiotic peer assessment score, a significant part of the USNWR ratings.

      Legal "academics" rate other law schools based on their reputation. This is hugely flawed, because there is no way these people know anything about any of the almost 200 ABA law schools unless they actually worked there. So this portion of the rankings is basically a proxy for how prestigious the name of the school sounds. Thus Princeton Law School would likely be ranked a Tier 1 even though no such school exists.

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  11. not sure if has been posted:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/25/opinion/big-laws-troubling-trajectory.html?_r=0

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  12. W & L has had poor placement for some time. The new ways of reporting just made it more obvious. Law firms don't think much of W & L grads.

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    1. I read Debra Merritt's post, and the comments. One was from a W&L professor who insisted that law firms take a long time to change their hiring models and practices and can't "turn on a dime." He confidently predicted that this make-believe program will pay off, in the form of better employment outcomes, in 3-5 years or more because it will take law firms that long to realize just how wonderful this program is. If that were true, what possible appeal could this program have to current students or those planning to enroll next year? After all, they will have their JD and be in the job market before law firms see the light.

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    2. 3 - 5 years or more, so perfect time to enroll in that law school right now and graduate just in time to benefit.

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  13. Considering how bad W & L did in 2012 job placement it should drop considerably in US News next year.

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  14. Most kids wanna play Doctor. The necessity of physical examination soon emerges, and oh, the fun they have. Even among adults, playing doctor can be an erotic role-playing game for adventurous couples seeking naughty fun.

    I can see role-playing fantasies inspired by the procedures of the examination table. The rubber gloves, the stethoscope. Somehow, similar antics in a Law Office leaves me cold.

    Client: "Help me, Mr. Lawyer. My neighbor came onto my property last night and took my potted plant! I'd like to sue him for $1 million and take my case to the Supreme Court but don't have the cash to even pay a filing fee. If you'll take my case for free, can I recover mental anguish damages?"

    Atty: "Well, if my recollection of Prosser on Torts serves me, you may possess a cause of action in tort that has its historical antecedents in the English common-law remedies of trover and assumpsit. I'd have to check if our jurisdiction recognizes trover and assumpsit. That'll take research. Does a state boundary line cross your property? If so, we have a good chance of suing in Federal Court under diversity of citizenship jurisdiction and any judgment entered could be enforced nationwide."

    Client: "Tell me more about entering judgment. I like big judgments and want a large one. I'm ready to have my claim stand up in court."

    Atty: "I must advise you that judgments, both large and small, must be fully supported by evidence in the trial record, and that unsupported judgments can be subject to remittitur and/or revision on remand to the originating court."

    Client: "WTF? Are you an aggressive trial lawyer who will grasp the thrust of my case, and forcefully drive your point home and make the other side beg for settlement --all while pushing on to a successful climax?"

    Atty: "We call that a verdict, a word that comes from the Latin for ...something. I've second-chaired one trial and..."

    Client: "Do you like to watch?"

    Atty: "My law school was the leader in simulated practice settings, so yes, I got a lot of time watching."

    Client: "Stimulated trial practice! Great. That's exactly why I came to you. I'm so ready for that recovery that I can taste it. Can we skip the discovery phase and can you enter your judgment, now?!"

    Atty: "This case will be subject to ordinary discovery deadlines in accordance with Local Rule 12.8(f) and the general order issued by the presiding judge that no one has a copy of."

    Client: "If I violate the deadlines, am I subject to sanctions. Severe sanctions, perhaps? As an an officer of the court, will you personally administer the punishment to me, and make me sorry I did it?"

    Atty: "My duties under the MPRE test are to zealously represent you. And my school's Dean says I should represent you for free, provided you're politically left-of-center. Can we talk retainer fees? I'm uncertain about me disciplining you."

    Client: "Look, I need a large judgment, and I need it from you NOW. I'm short of cash, but here.... I'm giving you my top and here's my ....

    Atty: "Hold on, there. I was only talking hypothetical problems and exercises requiring strategic thinking, critical analysis of legal principles, and understanding of the cultural, political, and social traditions of potted plants and property rights. I've only second chaired."

    Client: "I don't care if you can't soak the other side... I'M sopping wet now, and begging for that judgment. You've got my top, and here are my panties, and ... Just Do Me. All these hornbooks around just turn me on, big time."

    Atty: "Please don't stain my synthetic leather chair, and most of my books are Nutshells. I must tell you that I'm going to file a motion to withdraw."

    Client: "Did they have a Contracts Practicum at your school, where they taught Frustration of Purpose?"

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  15. I have to laugh whenever I see a top 10% graduate of a low-ranked law school think he is going to "show them all" and accomplish the impossible by beating out a middle-ranked Yale Law graduate. It happens, but it is unlikely.

    http://forgottenattorney.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/why-the-poor-student-of-a-top-law-school-will-have-better-job-prospects-than-you/

    As for "practical training", is that going to increase the number of available jobs? Employers are looking for someone smart and capable of bringing in business. I also wonder how national law schools like HYS will provide "practical training". The traditional law curriculum probably works for these schools because a lot of their grads will be clerking for judges afterwards.

    http://forgottenattorney.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/the-joke-of-law-school-practical-training/

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  16. Smoke screens. Too many schools. Too many jds. Too few jobs. Year after year. Everything else is a smoke screen.

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  17. I really do think the scamblogs are overall politically (or at least fiscially) leaning to the right, if not Conservative.

    I say Conservative because of the repeated condemnation of student lending as an unfair gravy train for the universities, and it is not too much of stretch to interpret all of that as bemoaning tax and spend Liberalism so as to benefit Academia, the majority of which is hard left.

    Tamanaha even seemed to express something along those lines not too long ago.

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    1. The law professors and deans who perpetuate this scam really are classic limousine liberals--claiming to stand for social justice, equal access to education, diversity, etc. but getting lavish salaries and benefits on the backs of financially struggling law school grads.

      It also illustrates the tendency of liberals to care more about the motives and intentions behind government programs designed to "help" people, as opposed to the actual results (actually making the problem worse, or having unintended consequences). E.g. the war on poverty, improving "access" to education via guaranteed student loans, guaranteeing mortgages for people who clearly cannot afford them ("promoting home ownership"), etc.

      The scamblogs are more libertarian than conservative. Conservatives (at least people who call themselves that today) do not hesitate to use government intervention and social engineering when it is to promote goals they value (an aggressive interventionist foreign policy, traditional marriage, abstinence education, etc.) Libertarians on the other hand believe that social engineering, whether to promote liberal or conservative values, often makes the problem worse, or has other unintended consequences. Then there is the libertarian belief that any government program involving spending will inevitably be corrupted through cronyism, self interest, etc. This all fits in with the scamblog movement.

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  18. OH FUCK ME!!!!!

    With SO MANY UNDERSERVED CLIENTS who are DESPERATE FOR ANY REPRESENTATION and who CANNOT PAY and who have relatively SIMPLE MATTERS, why on earth are these CUNT PROFESSORS making up BULLSHIT ROLE PLAYING SCENARIOS that they know nothing about?

    Why not just open up a fucking compulsory, full-time 3rd year clinic?

    That way, students would get supervision from real attorneys, working for a year on real matters, and the community benefits by helping those who can't afford a lawyer.

    IS IT THAT FUCKING HARD?????

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