Monday, July 27, 2015

SEALS 2015: Law Professor Vacation Scamaway at the Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton Resort and Club.


Did you know that Chief Justice John Roberts once explained his conception of judicial restraint with a baseball metaphor, saying that his job was to call balls and strikes, not to pitch or bat? Any educated American with an interest in history and government could probably come up with his or her own scorecard of reasons why that analogy may be apt, and some competing reasons why it may be evasive or historically dubious.
 
But an enlightened academy does not leave such important contemplation to minor league thinkers. Rather, it flies a whole bunch of professional law faculty to a luxury resort in Florida where they can flex their intellectual muscles for a couple of hours by batting around their various insights about Roberts’ comment and fielding each other’s questions about "how courts and commentators use baseball to explain a range of concepts."

 
Afterwards, these academic foul balls-- sorry, I mean best athletes-- can join several hundred faculty teammates in their well-appointed scholarly dugout, the Waldorf Astoria Boca Raton Resort and Club, for a week-long scampionship celebration, featuring swanky receptions, sponsored golf and tennis tournaments, boozing, shmoozing, pampering, and carefree fun in the sun.
 
Yes, it is time for the annual SEALS (Southeastern Association of Law Schools) extravaganza, where the Law Professors of Summer celebrate another triumphant season of victories over their hapless students, our profession, and whatever remains of their own integrity.

http://sealslawschools.org/submissions/program/programwp.asp
 
The lawprofs can attend a discussion of role-play and other innovations in teaching constitutional law. Then they can hobnob at the dozen or so receptions, galas, luncheons, and the, uh, teen pizza party. Some of these foodfests are sponsored by legal book publishing companies. (Explain again, law "prawfs" how there are important pedagogical reasons to assign $200 casebooks instead of instructing students to print out or read particular cases online). Lots of "sponsored breaks" too, not to mention "a myriad of unforgettable" on-site restaurants and bars, so no law prof need role-play constitutional history or articulate his or her baseball and the law insights on an empty tummy.
 
They can hear what Indiana Tech Law honcho and jet-setting party animal andre douglas pond cummings has to say about Ferguson. Then they can hit the links at either of the resort’s two exclusive 18-hole golf courses. (West Publishing is sponsoring a golf tournament).  
 
They can ponder whether Edward Snowden is a "Patriot, Traitor, Whistleblower, [or] Spy." Then they can rejuvenate at the 50,000 sq. ft. spa, rated No. 1 in the world by Conde Nast, and designed to look like the Nasridian royal digs in Granada, Spain, with  stone arches, cypress-lined gardens, and Moorish-style windows. I dread the day when the crisis in legal education has reached such proportions that lawprofs are forced to have their prestigious bods exfoliated at  a spa that does not resemble a medieval palace.
 
They can attend a panel on "International Comparative Inequality," or listen to the head of the oh-so-progressive SALT (Society of American Law Teachers) organization advise fellow law faculty on "navigating identity" and "finding your voice." Then they can pluck refreshments from the trays of silent low-wage immigrant caterers.

The resort boasts seven pools, four on the waterfront with personal butlers and cabanas. Granted, the lawprofs deserve a few moments of tranquility and ease after gifting a suffering planet with their advice on "International Crisis: Ebola, ISIS, and Late-Breaking Events." If only the personal poolside butlers were authorized to pass out Nobel Peace Prizes along with tropical-themed drinks.

There is a panel called "Innovations in Academic Support and Take-Aways for Law School Pedagogy." Isn’t that fine professorial wording? Much better than "Adjusting to the Fact that Our Students are a Lot Dumber than They Used to Be Because We Keep Lowering Admissions Standards to Keep the Money Flowing." Afterwards, the law professors can take resort shuttle boat transports to "half a mile of golden private beach."  Because the real "Take-Aways" of this event are callous self-indulgence and exploitation.

More seriously, there is a panel on law faculty suffering from mental illness, featuring a Charlotte Law Prof who has experienced major depression. I do not want to mock this, but it is fair to note that there is no panel on the psychological impact of spending six figures of borrowed money and three years of one's life to attend a poorly-regarded law school such as bottom-of-the-barrel Charlotte, only to realize too late that the degree and education may be worthless or worse-than-worthless. 

Barry Currier, the Managing Director of the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar will be at the SEALS shindig, and this fun-loving ex-dean of two lousy law schools will surely beam with delight when cocktail-emboldened fellow revelers offer some good-natured teasing about regulatory capture and revolving door access. 

Daniel Bernstine of LSAC will be there too, and this scam-bloated gent deserves some love, beyond his trifling $700,000 a year salary, for rescuing dolphins via the indirect method of funding law school pipeline projects that target children. The Boca Raton resort offers guests an Intracoastal Waterway cruise and ocean sail on a 55-ft. catamaran yacht, so perhaps the grateful sea creatures will have the opportunity to thank Bernstine in person.

Access Group’s President and CEO Christopher Chapman, that humanitarian prince among loan sharks, will not fail the feast, and who could deny him some well-deserved R&R, given that he runs an outfit responsible for 18 billion in student loan origination and still made time to serve on the ABA Panel for Financing a Legal Education.

To be fair, I will say that overall the scholarly presentations are not quite as frothy as in the two preceding years, a low bar indeed. But even generously granting, for argument’s sake, that some legal scholarship is better than dilettantish posturing or same-old same-old, it can surely be done without the perk of an expense-paid luxury vacation on top of those customary five-figure summer research stipends on top of law professors' best-in-academia baseline salaries.

I wonder if the law professors will raise a toast, even a boisterously insincere one, to their incoming students, whose misplaced trust and likely future misery  has made  the SEALS conference possible.  Scambloggers tend to refer to recklessly na├»ve law students as lemmings, but this event conjures up alternative animal imagery for the scam-doomed Law Class of 2018, that of clubbed seals.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Brooklyn Law to Offer Refund

Brooklyn Law has announced a new "Bridge to Success" program, which promises to refund 15% of paid tuition amounts to students who are still unemployed at 9 months.
"We have our ear to the ground," Brooklyn Law School President and Dean Nicholas Allard told CNNMoney. "Rather than continue to march over the cliff when a new direction is appropriate, we pay attention to what students want and need. The conventional legal education was passive and standardized. We've adopted a student-centric approach."

To qualify for the program, students must be working with career services and planning to take the bar exam. 
It's an interesting idea, although a skeptic would point out that 85% of an unmanageable shit-load of debt is still, alas, an unmanageable shit-load of debt.

According to the article, Brooklyn has a 90 percent "job placement" record and has budgeted for 10% of its students to take "advantage" of this offer.  But one has to wonder whether the presence of this program will change those output numbers.  Whatever intangible incentives law graduates have previously had to whitewash their job status, Brooklyn just gave them a tangible reason to either tell the truth or distort their answers downward.

Law graduates might be dumb, but they're not that dumb.  Just as people learn to game government programs, graduates who are unemployed at seven, eight months aren't going to snap up a $45k job and forgo, say, a $15k check if they can hold until the nine-month cliff.  Absent a juicy offer, anyone with half a brain is going to purposefully firebomb interviews or offer to delay start dates.  People do a lot of dumb things, but they rarely leave money on a table.

And whose definition of employment are we using?  BLS says 90%.  LST puts it at a 52.4% employment score.  What about the 9.7% school funded?  The ~20% who took JD Advantage/"Professional" jobs?  And what does it mean to "work[] with career services?" Are they going to argue with their own struggling graduates about these things?

Read the fine print, kids, and be patient.  Law schools keep sweetening the pot, but there's a long way to go before a school like Brooklyn makes economic sense again, partial refund or not.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Affordability and Sacrifice

The University of Illinois has a new law dean, Vikram Amar.  He understands the importance of affordability so much that he's making a most generous sacrifice.
[T]hose of us privileged to serve in our great law schools must be ever vigilant to keep these schools within the reach of all persons of ability, especially the younger generation’s gifted aspirants who come from modest backgrounds—the next generation’s Abe Lincolns* and Barack Obamas. That it one reason why I insisted, as a condition of my appointment, that my overall dean compensation be somewhat lower than the recent norm, both at Illinois and at other elite law schools.
As Business Insider points out, the previous dean made $326,651.  Amar allegedly agreed to a paltry $324,900 and declined a $25,000 summer stipend.  With an estimated 450-500 students, his sacrifice would result in a savings of around $50 on each student's annual tuition bill, which starts at $40k+ for in-state residents.  (Or $50 that goes straight into other expenses or school savings).

Neither of these articles points out the most significant factor in his sacrifice: cost of living.  According to the U. of California's wage database, Vikram Amar made $268,419 in total compensation at UC-Davis.  Using CNN's cost of living comparison tool, we learn that a comparable salary in Champaign-Urbana to making $270k in Sacramento would be around $238,000.

In other words, Amar demanded a pay cut to only be making about 35-40% more than his previous job when adjusted for cost of living.  Obviously, it's cheaply-bought publicity.  In the grand scheme of things, his reduction in pay won't do a damned thing.

That isn't to say his expressed intention is bad.  College and law school - particularly at a "public" school - should be affordable.  That an Illinois resident would have to pay $120k+ to study at the state's flagship is about as absurd as trying to pay back $120k working anywhere except the best firms in Chicago.

Problem is, it's patently insane to think a law dean making only $325k is a step towards a solution.  It's sort-of like when a morbidly obese person walks two blocks, eats only one bucket of greasy fried chicken for dinner, and claims they're on a weight loss plan.

The real problem here is that the University of Illinois offered this man so much that he felt the need to ask for a reduction.  According to the Daily Illini's Salary Guide, Illinois' College of Law has 19 employees who earn $200k or more, 52 total employees who earn $100k or more, and a whopping 99 total employees who earn above Champaign-Urbana's median household income of $46,000.  In the top two spots are the husband-wife tandem of Michael Moore and Heidi Hurd, who show a combined income of $611,497.00.  (Hurd, readers may recall, is the former dean who once called Paul Pless a "master-mind of numbers and a perfectly straight-forward guy in whom [she had] complete trust.")

That's a fat culture of hiring way too many people and seriously overpaying them, and it's not going to change with the law dean only making $325k.  If Dean Amar was serious, he'd lead by example and take far, far less, and he'd demand that people like Moore and Hurd follow his lead.  By accepting a $325k salary, he's tacitly endorsing the entire rotten pay structure regardless of what he says publicly.  That isn't admirable; quite the opposite.  The comparison shouldn't be to "the norm," but to what is "right."

Hopefully, Amar and his peers will take real steps to make law school affordable.  This really isn't one.

And what of his reasons for wanting affordability?   To say nothing of the ludicrous idea that Illinois is "elite," the idea that law school should especially be affordable for the Abraham Lincolns and Barack Obamas of the world is backwards and borderline delusional.  The Obamas and Lincolns of the world don't go to Illinois and often find their place regardless of finances or background.  The people who particularly need law school affordability are the run-of-the-mill blue-collar lawyers who didn't land BigLaw but keep the legal system afloat.  That, and the people who never got into the legal system because schools like Illinois have been pumping excess supply to enrich humble public servants.

Absolutely, law school should be affordable (not "more affordable."  "affordable").  But hollow, empty celebration is as foul as inaction.  That Dean Amar is conscious of this problem is a fair start.

That he finds it worthy of public mention to eat his metaphorical eight-scoop birthday sundae with only 99% of the toppings suggests we still have a long way to go to make this fatass industry healthy.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Alternative Summer Reading for Pre-Law Students

Over at The Washington Post, Professor Michael Krauss of George Mason has published a summer reading list for people who are enrolling in law school in the fall.
I suggest that newly minted law students spend the summer before their classes begin with the following nine works (roughly one a week) as preparation for entering what remains the noblest of professions. 
A "newly minted law student?"  Has there ever been a more unintentionally apt use of a tired adjectival phrase?  Something tells me we're in for trouble.

Of the twelve authors responsible for Krass's nine suggestions, only six have or had any serious legal training.  Those six can be broken down as follows:  an academic (Llewelyn), a founding father who had no intention to practice (Madison), a founding father who practiced/judged 200 years ago (Jay), a special snowflake whose career has a 0.001% chance of being similar to yours (Schiltz), and two special interest lawyers who wrote a fairly narrow-subject book (Goldstein/Meyer).

Only one of his recommendations has been written in the last decade.  Yet Krauss writes that "[c]ollectively they constitute an overview of the values and challenges of the legal profession," but he means not the legal profession as it exists, but the fantastical legal profession academics think about while touching themselves Socratically.

Not that you should be going to law school, but if you are, you might want to actually read more relevant items to your field.

Let's make an alternative list.  My own substitutions are below, but contributions in the comments are very much welcome.
Krauss Pick:  1.  Truman Capote, "In Cold Blood"
Read Instead:  1.  Robert Traver, "Anatomy of a Murder"
Capote's landmark work takes a fish-out-of-water setup and pulls the humanity out of the most inhumane acts.  It's a masterpiece of American literature.  You should have read it in college, and it has relatively little to do with the legal system.  Traver, meanwhile, is the pen name of John Voelker, a real lawyer/judge who tried actual cases.  He managed to write an equally-compelling fictional story with more realistic (albeit sensational) courtroom drama.
Krauss Pick:  2. Goldstein and Meyer, "Lawfare..."
Read Instead: 2. Anthony Lewis, "Gideon's Trumpet" or "Make No Law"
I'm not opposed to exploring free speech and Islamism - certainly they're important topics - but Anthony Lewis was a writer's writer who devoted much of his professional life to covering the law; he actually went to Harvard Law for a short time to become a better journalist.  "Gideon's Trumpet" and "Make No Law" are close-to-the-source historical chronicles of the right to counsel and First Amendment, respectively, that can provide insight into the minds of lawyers and judges while broadly examining ideas of liberty and justice.
Krauss Pick: 3.  Harper Lee, "To Kill a Mockingbird"
Read Instead: 3. Franz Kafka, "The Trial"
"Mockingbird" is a classic, but you've probably read it before, and it's no more relevant to your future legal career than "12 Angry Men" is to picking a jury.  They're both realist presentations written through idealist, dramatic glasses. Kafka's unfinished work is neither American nor realist, but was written by the continental European equivalent of a JD advantage worker who had, shall we say, a lack of faith in social justice.  Bonus points for anyone who quotes "It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves" at an appropriate time in a 1L class.
Krauss Pick:  4.  Karl Llewelyn, "The Bramble Bush"
Read Instead:  4.  Brian Tamanaha, "Failing Law Schools",  Paul Campos, "Don't Go to Law School (Unless)", or Charles Cooper/Thane Messinger, "Con Law..."
"The Bramble Bush" is what a legal academic thought was important for law students to hear in 1929.  Instead, read Tamanaha, Campos, and/or Cooper/Messinger, whose work actually deals with current reality.  Because if you've decided to go to law school, you either need to quickly rethink it (if "The Trial" didn't work to make you question law) and get a job bartending or - if you still think it's right for you - go in with your head up, instead of up your own ass.
Krauss Pick:  5. Herman Melville, "Billy Budd"
Read Instead: 5. John Grisham, "The Firm"
Both fiction.  One is engaging and was written by a sill-living lawyer with a decade of practice experience.  The other is dull and was written by a long-dead non-lawyer in the 19th century about maritime/military law.  We're not making an English syllabus, here.
Krauss Pick:  6.  "The Federalist Papers"
Read Instead:  6.  Antonin Scalia, "A Matter of Interpretation" and/or "Stephen Breyer, "Active Liberty"
It's apostasy to a certain pompous sect of America, but you don't need to read The Federalist Papers.  Much like British case law, there are excerpts of The Federalist Papers that have influenced modern American law and policy, but they're few and far between, and can be absorbed via excerpt or footnote.  If you absolutely must get into constitutional-ly thoughts, read through Scalia or Breyer's often-cited works, both of which are fairly short (<200 pages) and accessible.  Both men are still alive and actively affecting our nation's legal landscape.  Regardless of your political beliefs, you'll gain a leg up in constitutional law (as well as any class where they will be heavily read, like Crim Pro) and gain applicable insight into our current driving forces instead of the ones plaguing the nascent America 200+ years ago.
Krauss Pick:  7. Patrick Schiltz, "On Being a Happy..."
Read Instead:  7.  Steven Harper, "The Lawyer Bubble"
Now-Judge Schiltz's piece is good, but it's got two strikes against it.  First, it's sixteen years out of date; his discussion of student debt loads is comical at this point.  Second, it's a law review article.  Kids, you don't need to read law review articles.  Ever.  Harper's book has a slightly different angle, but it's current and speaks with 30 years of insight about the legal landscape, and is frankly more relevant to the legal sector as a whole.
Krauss Pick:  8.  B.F. Skinner, "Walden Two"
Read Instead:  8.  Charles Dickens, "Bleak House"
I find Krauss's selection here particularly bizarre.  "Walden Two" is a behavioral scientist's view of a speculative utopia based on outmoded mid-century science.  Krauss explains that Walden Two is "a scary description of the premises of social-legal planning."  Well...there's better books for that.  Directly on point would be "We" and "Brave New World."  Then we've got "1984", Vonnegut's "Player Piano", and, shit, even Plato's "Republic."  But in terms of outdated fiction, almost nothing can beat Charles Dickens' "Bleak House" for modern legal insight.  You don't need to read the whole thing, but his indictment of the probate process/court of chancery in England is a much better eye-opener about the pitfalls of human-constructed legal systems than some archaic utopian vision.
Krauss Pick:  9.  Barry Werth, "Damages"
Read Instead:  9.  Secondary articles about David Ball and Donald Keenan, "Reptile"
"Damages" is a solid, well-known work in examining tort law and insurance.  But it's a case study by a journalist that's now seventeen years old.  In terms of  understanding the relevant now to tort litigation, read commentary (law firm articles, bar magazine pieces) on Ball and Keenan's book "Reptile: the 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff's Revolution."  The original is dense, written for practitioners, and limited in availability.  But no recent book has more affected how lawyers on both sides think in tort litigation. "Reptile" presents cognitive science arguments about how jurors think and how plaintiffs' attorneys can exploit that science to generate higher damages awards.  Unless you take the right higher-level torts class with an adjunct, they won't teach this stuff in law school, but this stuff's been in vogue or the last few years (and it likely won't die out, much as evolve or become more subtle).  Even for non-lawyers, the secondary material is accessible evidence of the extreme lengths lawyers will go to gain a slight edge and fight for a few dollars more.

Of course, there are probably better things you could do in your summer before law school than read a bunch of crap.  For example, you could rethink your decision to enroll in law school.  You could take up a new drug habit; you can do literally anything as a recovering crack addict, and the "recovering crack addict advantage" is real, people.

And if you're headed to law school, you could, for example, study Strunk & White and take a harsh pen to everything you've ever written.  You could get plastic surgery and improve your odds at OCI.  You could socially network all summer in rich neighborhoods to build up the connections that actually land jobs.

In fact, if you're an introverted reader type, you should read every possible bit of available damn research and ask yourself what you're doing.  Law school may be for readers, but law practice is not.

In any event, I feel the above alternative list does a better job actually approaching "the values and challenges of the legal profession," assuming, of course, you actually want to learn such things instead of the fantasy version portrayed by legal elites who insist lawyering is still the "noblest of professions."

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Treasury of Idiotic Quotes About Legal Education, Vol. 5: Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman explains why "it may actually be a wonderful time to go to law school."

 
(Adding his two cents...or his nonsense?)
 
Law school deans, including those from truly bottom-feeding law schools,  typically draw enormous compensation and perks galore. One minor, though likely very gratifying, perk is that a law dean is listened to, and even taken seriously, when he or she spouts banalities about change, the future, and values.

Why do law deans so often speak and write like clueless gasbags even though, whatever one thinks of their behavior, they are obviously highly sophisticated executives? It is because theirs is a stupidity with a purpose-- for instance, to evade or shift responsibility, to sound profound or leaderly, or just to serve their scamming institutions via some good old-fashioned hustling--and their rhetoric and prescriptions may reflect these insufficiently-concealed motives.
 
Consider the following quote from Elon Law School Dean Luke Bierman, explaining why it "may actually be a wonderful time to go to law school." This quote comes from Bierman’s two-paragraph-long concurring statement to the 62-page report ("Report") that was recently issued by the American Bar Association's Task Force on Financing Legal Education:
"Law schools can’t fulfill their missions and be successful without students. And students are not going to matriculate to law school if the legal profession does not provide opportunity for a meaningful career. The academics, practitioners and judges who comprise the legal profession must recognize and embrace that we are passing through a moment in time defined by rapidly changing social, cultural and economic norms that present challenges to the continued vitality if not relevance of our profession. The pace of technological innovation alone creates legal uncertainties and controversies that we barely can distinguish let alone solve in real time. Our profession must honestly and creatively embrace the challenges attendant this transformative moment to identify and preserve values core to our role in society as the shepherds of the rule of law while concomitantly adapting to a new era. From this perspective, it may actually be a wonderful time to go to law school and join a generation that must forge new paths and new opportunities. It remains, then, for our profession to accomplish this reset in a forthright and productive manner, which will do more to help law schools than any prescriptions by any task force anywhere."
          Report, p. 56.

You would think that a Ph.D and former general counsel to the New York State comptroller could do better than that after several months of meta-deliberations about law school costs, which included consultation with 13 fellow ABA Task Force honchos, testimony and written comments from experts and stakeholders, access to information from the ABA that is not publicly available, and staff and research support from the ABA.  But, of course, Bierman's is a stupidity with a purpose.

Is Bierman saying anything of substance here? What is left, if anything, once you subtract the sententious guff about paths of opportunity, moments of transformation, and--my favorite--"shepherds of the rule of law"? What Bierman is saying (or, rather, what I think he is saying, it is written in Deanspeak) is simply that the practicing bar should hire more recent law grads (i.e. "provide opportunity for a meaningful career. . ."). You know, to show its adaptive relevance and vindicate the noble mission of law schools. But what if the practicing bar fails, nonetheless, to heed Bierman’s inspirational call? Well, in that case, you can hardly blame him, or any law school dean, for anything worse than being overly idealistic about lawyers.
 
Elon Law has indicated that it intends to expand the size of its entering class by 15%, which a non-clueless observer would have to regard as an extremely irresponsible move, especially for a law school that already has a notably awful placement record and a 148 median LSAT (which is down, by the way, from 153 only three years ago). But a law school Dean or a clueless gasbag could say that Elon is simply giving more kids a wonderful chance to join their generation in forging new opportunity paths.
 
Here is my free-form translation of Bierman’s quoted statement. I invite readers to provide their own translations in the comment thread.  
Predators can't fulfill their missions and be successful without prey. And the supply of prey is threatened when shepherds fail to cooperate with predators. As practitioners of a shepherding profession, we must embrace our responsibilities to the flock of recent law grads by heeding their plaintive bleats for meaningful sustenance. The vitality and relevance of shepherds have been celebrated for millennia, and yet the simple shepherds of yore lacked today’s transformative technologies to assist them in forging new paths to rich pastures of opportunity. From this perspective, it may actually be a wonderful time to go to law school and join a generation of sheep. It remains, then, for shepherds to accomplish a productive reset, which will be more helpful to predators than any Task Force of Wolves. No need to marvel at my eloquence, just pass me another enormous helping of lamb chops.