Monday, June 29, 2015

A Great Time to be a Guinea Pig: The ABA Task Force on Financing Legal Education Endorses Law School Experimentation.

 
Last year, the ABA appointed 14 esteemed persons to address the cost of law school. This group could have chosen to call itself "Three Law School Deans, One InfiLaw National Policy Board Chairman, One Access Group President and CEO, One Lawprof, and an Assortment of Other Law or Legal Education Industry One-Percenters Hoping Their Equivocations and Banalities Sound Appropriately Thoughtful." Regrettably, it went with the more concise but less apt title of "The ABA Task Force on Financing Legal Education."
 
Well, that may be too harsh. On the plus side, the Report of the Task Force ("Report"), issued just a few days ago, provides some interesting statistical info on the increase in tuition, tuition discounting, and major categories of law school expenditure over the last 15 years or so. The Task Force recommended that the ABA collect and disseminate annual data on law school expenditures, revenues, and distribution of financial aid. Also, the Task Force strongly endorsed the retention of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), which is threatened with evisceration. I am with the Task Force there.
 
On the minus side, however, is the Task Force’s boundless enthusiasm for the alleged promise of law school "experimentation" (aka "innovation," aka "dynamic legal education environment"), by which the Task Force means experimentation as to cost, curriculum, and somewhat ominously, as to "new revenue streams." (Report, p.  42) (Couch potatoes beware: Within a few years, law schools will be running ads on daytime trash TV for certificate program in health law and mediation [1]). Some word search fun: The word "experiment" and its variants  get 19 mentions in the 62-page Report. The word "innovate" and its variants score 13. Six for "experiential" and three for "dynamic." The fine phrase "incubators of new directions" is used three times.

Indeed, the Task Force concludes that there is no need to endorse "fiscal tough love" proposals, such as two-year JDs or capping student loans or requiring law schools to be responsible for loan repayment in certain circumstances. (Report, p. 39) Why? Because, the Task Force anticipates that practical solutions and models will emerge as law schools test their "curricular and pedagogical innovations" on the market proving ground. (Report, p. 39)
 
Experiment-wise, the Task Force singles out several, mostly horrible, law schools for recognition and praise as the vanguard of the "incubators of new directions" (Report, p. 11-14), and its choices have a suspicious whiff of cronyism.

*  William Mitchell is recognized for its hybrid online/offline degree program. However, the Report does not mention that Mitchell’s hybrid program has received funding from the Access Group, the CEO of which is a member of the Task Force. [2]

*  Syracuse Law is recognized for a 3+3 agreement with a nearby college. However, the Report does not mention that Syracuse Law Dean Hannah Arterian is Chair of the Access Group Board of Directors.

*  Northeastern is recognized for being one of the schools that has built its curriculum around "what are now seen an innovations" (Report, p. 13)--  in Northeastern's case, individualized experiential learning co-ops. However, the Report does not mention that Task Force member Luke Bierman was Northeastern’s Associate Dean for Experiential Education a few years ago.

*   Elon Law School is lauded for its "full-time course connected residencies-in-practice as part of a highly experiential curriculum that is two-and-one-half years long and 20% less expensive than the average cost of a private law school." (Report, p. 12) And the Report does, indeed, appropriately note that Elon’s currently serving Dean, that same Luke Bierman, is a Task Force member. But the Report does not mention that Elon has announced its intention to significantly increase its class size [3], which any reasonable observer would have to deem irresponsible, or that Elon's full-time ten-month-out nonsolo legal placement rate for the Class of 2014 was an abysmal 37.5%, ranking 175th out of 203 law schools. [4]

Most troubling, the ABA Task Force apparently views the opening of new law schools as a benign development, consistent with the need for experimentation. Its Report states that "new schools with differing missions are still opening. For example, the new University of North Texas/ Dallas College of Law seeks to provide low-cost legal education geared to practice-ready competencies, with a teaching-focused faculty, and an emphasis on diversity. Belmont University. . . has a different vision for its new law school as part of a university that brings together the best of liberal arts and professional education in a Christian community of learning and service." (Report, p. 13) Words like these could have come straight from a recruitment brochure, and I fear that they reflect the outlook of the ABA.

The ABA has nixed the idea of allowing law schools to experiment with limiting tenure for full-time doctrinal faculty, but sky's the limit when it comes to experimenting with mission statements and gimmicks.

The Report states that "Moving forward, such experiments may well be the source of practical solutions and models, allowing others to see what can be done, how, and with what success. They can also show what may not work, and this is equally important." (p. 39) You know, John Kerry, pre-sellout, once asked a group of senators how they could ask a man to die for a mistake.  I wonder how many kids, or shall I say lab rats or guinea pigs, will have their futures destroyed while we wait for the results of several years of law school curricular experimentation, aka superficial and futile tinkering.
 
-----------------------------
Notes:

[1]  From the concurring statement of Task Force member Prof. Philip G. Schrag: "Law schools can provide a useful service by contributing to the training of . . . non-lawyer experts [such as Washington State's Limited License legal Technicians]. . . . [L]aw schools could offer a one-year or eighteen month Master of Legal Studies degree to help educate and credential limited-service professionals at a fraction of the cost of a full J.D. degree. Such programs would be. . . very consistent with the experimentation that this Task Force recommends."  (Report, p. 62)

[2]  Access Group President and CEO Christopher P. Chapman was a member of the Task Force. 

As a refresher: Access Group is a nonprofit comprised of 197 member law schools. In its heyday, only a few years ago, Access Group was the originator and servicer of 18 billion dollars in educational loans. Access Group got out of the student loan origination biz a few years ago, and its loans are now serviced by Xerox Educational Services, formerly known as ACS, an outfit which has elicited quite a list of complaints. According to its most recently available Form 990 (for Fiscal 2013), Access Group is sitting on $449,062,649 in net assets or fund balances, and employs 108 individuals. Christopher P. Chapman was compensated to the tune of $706,158 that year.

The Access Group's new philanthropic mission is law school advocacy and research. Access Group boasts that its regional representatives "provide a vital personal link between law school administrators and Access Group’s research, grants, and policy advocacy operations, operating as a two-way issue and information channel to ensure that the Company remains responsive to the needs of its Member Schools." Or, in slightly different words, "to make actionable data available to law school administrators and faculty, allowing them to demonstrate and improve the value of legal education. . . at a time when its significance is being questioned by prospective students, graduates, and policymakers alike."

Michael Simkovic, a law prof with a notably rosy view of the economic value of a legal education, received a $120,000 Access Group grant, and his work was cited several times in the Report.

[3] "From a business standpoint, Elon Law anticipates offsetting the loss of revenue from tuition reduction by gradually increasing the number of students joining the school each year, up from 112 this fall to about 130 within a number of years."

[4]   http://educatingtomorrowslawyers.du.edu/law-jobs/


 

20 comments:

  1. At least this Task Force! didn't include some passive-aggressive nonsense about assuming good faith. One must wonder: did they think the readers wouldn't need the admonishment, or did they dispense with the pretense entirely?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the obvious work that went into researching and writing this. I hope the media, particularly NY Times and WSJ, pick it up.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This people just don't stop... Keep this negative press coming. Hopefully one day this people will face responsibility for their shady behavior.

    ReplyDelete
  4. An a related note: This just in!

    Smoking is good for you!

    Signed,

    The Tobacco Companies

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I knew it!

      Insane Conspiracy Theories:1
      Regular Theories: A Billion.

      Delete
  5. Apparently they didn't even feel the need to ethically disclose their obvious conflicts of interest. I guess ethics are for the "little people," and members of ABA Task Forces are strangely exempt.

    Remember that, lemmings, when you sit thought your legal ethics class and obsess over minutiae. Do as I say, not as I do.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Buy Detroit Municipal Bonds!" - Dennis Archer, 1993.

    "Buy experimental law degrees!" - Dennis Archer, 2015.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good fucking catch man..

      These people are nothing more than self-serving Goons.

      Delete
  7. Thomas Jefferson is recognized for the fact that while it is a toilet, it keeps itself sparkling clean.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm still trying to figure out how to incubate a direction. Sounds kinky.

    "[T]he new University of North Texas/ Dallas College of Law seeks to provide low-cost legal education geared to practice-ready competencies, with a teaching-focused faculty, and an emphasis on diversity." Wasn't that the justification that was given for opening a law skule in Fort Wayne, Indiana?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, and apparently $30k a year is "low cost".

      But that the ABA lauds the opening of new schools shows they do not regard lawyer overproduction as a problem, at all. This gives a valuable insight into their mindset.

      Delete
    2. Allowing lawyers to self-regulate the entire legal profession is insane. The ABA is a bunch of criminals just running a con until the shit hits the fan and it blows up.

      Delete
  9. There is no need for a task force, s.w.a.t. team, think tank or bloodhounds to tell us something we already know. When I went to law school over twenty years ago, tuition was a little over $10k a year. Today, it is in the mid-forties. I understand inflation but to quadruple in price for a profession where salaries haven't quadrupled (in fact, many attorneys charge the same as twenty years ago or business will go elsewhere) is absurd. The reality is law school is too expensive, there isn't enough employment and whatever employment is available doesn't justify the cost!

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  10. This task force ignores an important question that one should always ask prior to writing any sort of paper or report: who cares? The answer is: not legal employers.

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  11. And hidden among all this meaningless fluff was nothing about actually addressing the cost of legal education?

    The emperor has clothes. Mad clothes!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nothing will change. Boomers gonna boom. They will take all their profits and socialize the losses. Criminals.

      Delete
    2. LOL, it's only the students trying to socialize their losses. Take away "public service" loan forgiveness, and you'll see another tumble in enrollment.

      Delete
  12. Bravo on the reporting here, dybbuk - you have come out firing with a vengeance since your return to the interwebs. keep up the good work. I hope that you are not just preaching to the choir and that this information can get in the hands of starry-eyed 22 year old college seniors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, much appreciated! Though it was not quite as complimentary, I also really appreciated the "wicked witch" comment by the Chair of the Board Trustees of LSAC. I took it as evidence that scambloggers are having an impact beyond the choir.

      Delete
  13. Step right up folks, get your law degree here. Everyone is a winner, nobody is turned away for lack of funds thanks to your Uncle Sam. Many exciting opportunities await you. Don't miss this chance of a lifetime!

    ReplyDelete