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.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What will robot lawyers mean for human legal education?

Though the story has been covered throughout the legal blogosphere, a few readers have emailed to request an OTLSS post on BakerHostetler's hotshot new bankruptcy attorney, a robot called “ROSS.”

I know that some specialists dispute the concept of machine intelligence, but this robot was smart enough to land a plum entry-level job in the profession without attending law school or incurring educational debt.

According to the Ross Intelligence, Inc. website: 
"ROSS is an artificially intelligent attorney to help you power through legal research. ROSS improves upon existing alternatives by actually understanding your questions in natural sentences like - "Can a bankrupt company still conduct business?"   ROSS then provides you an instant answer with citations and suggests highly topical readings from a variety of content sources..  . . So what can ROSS do?  [It can] [p]rovide you a highly relevant answer, not 1000s of results, to your question posed in natural language. . . [and] [m]onitor the law for changes that can positively/negatively affect your case.  . ."
The advent of the robot lawyer might not be so delightful for those of the flesh-and-blood variety. ROSS’s skill set overlaps significantly with the job complexes of many junior corporate law firm associates and public sector research attorneys. Lawyers are said to devote, on average, nearly a fifth of their working hours to legal research and law firms spend $9.6 billion on research annually. That is a lot of remunerative work that will potentially be lost to our mechanical colleagues, and it does not even include the impact that predictive coding will have on document review.

Sputnik News has an appropriately sarcastic write-up (along with a very funny illustration of a robot lawyer), entitled "Law School Scam? $200,000 in Student Debt, Replaced by Job-Killing Robot."
"We are not even speaking about a profession that requires the completion of at least seven years of college, followed by an expensive test and an invasive background check, just for the benefit of staring down the barrel of a 15.5 percent unemployment rate and roughly $200,000 in non-dischargeable student debt. . . 
Instead, we are talking about the latest and greatest idea among the old-timers. . .who have already won the legal profession lottery, allowing them to seize an upper-middle class lifestyle after matriculating from law schools referred to as ‘third-tier toilets,’ or attending bastions of prestigious opportunity, like Harvard and Yale. . . 
The world’s first "artificial-intelligence attorney," touted as the newest member of white-shoe law firm BakerHostetler, threatens to spark a job-killing trend in a vocation where career prospects already frighten a terrorized workforce. BakerHostetler says will save time for lawyers who have to master a huge, growing body of legal literature.  The firm does not mention that nearly all of their 900 attorneys are paid for their time on an hourly basis, a pay basis on which BakerHostetler has generously offered to relieve them of."
Will law schools be forthright in acknowledging that the impending automation of a staggering amount of revenue-generating legal work almost certainly means less income and fewer stable jobs for lawyers, thus further devaluing a J.D. degree? Or will they instead peddle a fantasy that tech-savvy young law students, with the proper law school training, will be situated to take lucrative advantage of vast and exciting new opportunities as e-law providers, notwithstanding that few will possess true technical expertise? 

Consider the following quote from Andrew Perlman, the recently-appointed Dean of Suffolk Law School, whose bottom-rung atrocity of a school [1] generated much favorable publicity when it created an "Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation," along with a "Legal Technology and Innovation" concentration for its students.
"We want law students to think like entrepreneurs. . . There is tremendous potential for law graduates to fill new niches in the legal industry, such as founding an e-discovery company or creating a software process that makes law firms more efficient and effective. . . . New law-related jobs are emerging in which having a J.D. is a distinct advantage, such as jobs at companies and firms that engage in project management, e-discovery and automated document assembly. . . . We’re trying to give students an edge when seeking these kinds of positions as well as more traditional jobs."
Perlman and fellow high-profile law-tech enthusiast Indiana Univ. Law Prof. William Henderson draw on the work of British law and technology writer Richard Susskind, a champion of IT-based "delawyering" and "alternative sourcing." Indeed, Henderson relies so heavily on Susskind that I wonder whether he is a clunky robot prototype programmed for spouting Susskind, as well as for self-promotion.

Perlman and Henderson tend to depict the likely effect of disruptive or emerging technologies on our profession in suspiciously boosterish terms. They do not emphasize Susskind's more discouraging pronouncements, such as that he does "not see much of a future (beyond 2020) for most small firms." [2] Or that "law firms are likely to recruit young and aspiring lawyers in smaller numbers." [3]

And I certainly have not heard either propose applying Susskindian strategies to the legal academy, for instance by recommending that law schools disaggregate, alternative source, digitize, or robotize components of law professor jobs. [4] I mean, arguably all of law school could be replaced by some cool interactive learning apps, virtual reality simulations, and guided online discussion groups, all accessible from the comfort of home.  

It would be fine if more law students started thinking like entrepreneurs. It would be even better if more law deans stopped behaving like snake oil salesman. The new niches in the legal industry, and many of the old ones too, will be filled by ROSS and its robotic progeny. However, I suspect that it will be some time before we see the introduction of robot law school deans. The niche of getting rich by deceiving vulnerable kids is a distinctly human preserve.


[1] The overall 10-month-out employment rate for the graduating class of 2015 showed a minuscule improvement over 2014, despite a reduction in demand for entry-level lawyers, as a result of a significant year-over-year decline in the number of graduates. No improvement at Suffolk though. Rather, Suffolk's 10-month-out bar-required full-time placement rate declined from 46.2% to 43.3%, placing it among the bottom 20% of law schools.

Suffolk's 25th percentile LSAT is a scandalous 145, which is lower than all but 27 schools, and which prompts the unkind thought that its grads might not be bright enough to found e-discovery companies and so forth, even if the words "technology" and "innovation" appear on their law diplomas.

[2] Susskind, Richard (2013-01-10). Tomorrow's Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future (p. 57). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[3]  Susskind at p. 142

[4] For instance, Henderson opposes weakening tenure for law professors, notwithstanding considerations of efficiency, flexibility, and what Susskind refers to as "The More-for-Less Challenge." (Susskind at p. 4-5) (As you may surmise, the "less" part implicitly includes compensation for professionals).

Indeed, during a "Legal Visionary" webinar, the "Most Influential Person in Legal Education" addressed tenure in his typical blustery, obfuscatory, and self-serving  manner:
"So I know that one of the most popular things is ending tenure, and I actually don’t think that’s a good place to start because it’s kind of a take-away mentality that doesn’t put people in a good mood to innovate, and really innovation is what we need. . . . I think the right way to do it is through visionary leadership, getting people excited about the good things that flow from adopting a change initiative and widely publicizing, you know, bright spots or examples of success. I just think we need to do it from a point of view of the possibilities and making the world a better place and making the industry better, rather than kind of take-aways."
Legal Visionaries webinar, "The Disruption and Transformation of Legal Education and Services" (March 2014) at 24:32-24:50, 25:49-26:15 (copious stutters, uhhhhs, and ahhhhs omitted). 
In other words, creative destruction and race-to-the-bottom economics for thee, but not for me. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Gee, Wally, that's swell: Indiana Tech produces graduates

You heard it here first. Long before Alexander's ragtime (or hip-hop?) band opened the first and only law skule to disgrace greater metropolitan Fort Wayne, we the Cassandras of OTLSS warned of what would happen. And indeed Indiana Tech's law skule has failed to thrive. The ill-laid schemes of Indiana Tech's mice (any men there?) gaed agley. Grandiose plans that supposedly warranted the expense of a curated art collection remain unfulfilled. Indeed, Indiana Tech this past year had to drop tuition to zero in order to attract students, and still only fifteen swallowed the bait.

Unfortunately, Indiana Tech has survived long enough to shit out a graduating class. On Saturday, May 14, 2016, all of 21 lemmings collected a JD from Fort Wayne's center of juridical excellence. If, like me, you missed the ceremony (which was open to the public at no charge, although parking cost $5), be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy it on the Internet (

Now, of course the law skule could not have held its own graduation ceremony; after all, buying chocolate-chip cookies for 21 graduates and their guests might have driven the institution into insolvency. That could have spelled the end of the exciting and vital new field of law & hip-hop. To prevent that calamity, the university held one big ceremony for all departments, from Fashion Marketing & Management to Global Leadership (PhD).

As a journalist covering the law-school scam, I probably should have watched the whole damn thing. But I don't get paid for this stuff, and anyway that sort of torture might have justified calling in the union steward. So I took the liberty of skipping the first fifteen minutes or so, a procession featuring a brass band's unprepossessing rendition of Elgar. After some blowhard praised the trustees and the faculty, he introduced the keynote speaker, Jerry Mathers.

Certainly that name is familiar to me, but it may not be to a generation that has never encountered black-and-white television, so I'd better explain: as a child, Jerry Mathers played the lead role (that of Theodore "the Beaver" Cleaver) in a dull, white-bread 1950s sit-com called Leave It to Beaver. A typical episode centers on a tempest in a teapot arising from the Beaver's foibles and naïveté. Elder brother Wally lectures the Beaver ("You're in trouble now!"), but the improbably wise and forbearing father forgives all, and maybe Mom utters a word or two if she's not too busy with baking and sewing. It's a perfect little white suburban world where no voice is ever raised, no unkind word ever uttered. Women are marginalized, and racialized people are conspicuous by their absence. Tune in next week for another fun-filled episode of strait-laced McCarthy-era Americana.

Mathers was eminently qualified to address Indiana Tech's graduating class of 2016. Presumably through parental connections and geographic circumstance, he stumbled into acting for the boob tube at age 2. Whatever that early gig was, he parlayed it into Leave It to Beaver, which ran until Wally and the Beaver were simply too old to carry on the boyish farce. Since then, he has done … well, nothing, really. According to the introduction given at the ceremony, he worked at a bank for a time and also sold real estate. He seems to have had a few minor acting gigs over the past 40 years or so. That's it.

So why exactly was this actor manqué selected as keynote speaker? Well, the baby boomers who chose him must have looked with nostalgic admiration upon their childhood hero, even though most of the graduates probably hadn't heard of him. In addition, he must have been cheap. More prominent celebrities have exacted six-figure honoraria—too expensive for Indiana Tech, whose coffers have been depleted by a certain failed law school that shall go unnamed. And that is how Indiana Tech came to hire this flash in the pan.

But surely after 65 years in show business Mathers must be able to deliver one hell of a speech. Right? Wrong. It was the least inspired and least inspiring speech that I've heard since I last judged a moot. Mathers read from a script without even pausing at changes of paragraph. His few attempts at humor fell flat. He filled almost twenty painful minutes with platitudes: be yourself; do what you want to do; you're hot shit; you've succeeded against all odds; you're destined for great things. Even the audience tried to cut his speech short by applauding long before he was finished, but he was too daft to take the hint. Apparently he couldn't even wind the dreadful speech up ex tempore.

In Ward Cleaver's absence, Old Guy will have to conclude tonight's episode with a few moralizing words: If even a kid from Los Angeles whose parents get him into the starring role on a major television program can amount to nothing, don't think that your jive ass from Bluffton, Indiana, will get anywhere with a bullshit JD from Indiana mother-fucking Tech.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

LSAC Analysis for 2015-2016, OTLSS-style

Well, we have just reached LSAC's 92% applicant point for this application cycle, so I thought it was time to take a look at where trends have gone thus far.

Earlier this cycle, it appeared that applications were were clocking in about 5 times the amount of applicants, which was a significant departure from prior years.  Over time however, that curve began to straighten and fall in at 6.5 applications per applicant.  So far, so normal, although one can see that the trend was off to a slow start before "catching up" for 2016.

As LSAC only presents the most recent three years of data along with a highly-compressed axis,  it is easy to forget overall trends and think things are largely unchanged for the last several years.  Included below are applicant-over-time trends for 2012, 2014, and this current cycle.  Readers of this blog may recall that my earlier data is based on interpolation of large blow-up charts while later data is taken from LSACs posts, which is why the curves for 2012 an 2014 are super-smooth while 2016 looks all googly-moogly by comparison.  Interestingly, 4th-order polynomials seem to model these curves exceptionally well, although I attach no physical significance to the model other than "it works."  But even these three curves demonstrate a significant downward trend in applicants, and 2016 is struggling to rise from all-time lows.

Many have mentioned that applicants seem to have delayed applying until later and later into the application cycle, but I don't know that I have seen any particular analysis on that point.  Blowing the dust off the old college calculus textbook, however, we see that the derivatives of these curves reveal a lengthening of the application cycle:

In 2012 and 2014, the application rate maxed-out at about two months into the cycle.  Where 2012 topped out at about 3,400 applicants/week, 2014 barely crested 2,500 applicants/week at the same time in the cycle.  In 2016 however, not only was the maximum rate still lower, it occurred some six weeks later by comparison.

All of this suggests that while LSAC is proud of their 1% increase in applications over last year, digging deeper demonstrates that potential students are still hearing the message and thinking twice about taking the plunge.  The overall enthusiasm for law school is anemic at best, and hopefully will continue to be so as we continue to do our part in showing the scam for what it is.  Congratulations, everyone, and let's keep the pressure on.       


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

University of Maryland School of Law Director of Admissions Katrin Hussman Schroll declares that law school admissions offices have fallen in love with applicants from community colleges

Advice for the lawlorn. It is always gratifying when somebody professes to love you, especially if you are not considered conventionally desirable. Your suitor looks so attractive and speaks so charmingly and seductively of your blissful future together. How can you resist being overwhelmed by fantasies of advantage and fulfillment? 

I am not so cynical as to say that true love can never blossom between a law school admissions committee and a community college student. But if your educational mate really loves you for you, in all your humble uniqueness, how do you explain the salacious gaze it keeps casting at your student loan eligibility? Or its promiscuous offers of tuition favors to anybody wearing a semi-high LSAT score? Or its tawdry reputation for jilting lovers at the employment line?

The linked law school recruitment video was posted at the DiscoverLaw site (a LSAC-funded law school recruitment project targeting marginalized communities and the very young), and also on You Tube.  It is entitled  "Law Schools Community College Students." (Yes, with a mash-note valentine representing the verb "love").  On the video, University of Maryland School of Law Director of Admissions Katrin Hussman Schroll declares that admissions committees have been been made to "fall in love" with with community college applicants, beguiled by their tales of hardships overcome and lessons learned. 
"In reviewing files, I have personally seen how students who have attended community colleges around the country are able to highlight how they have faced unique hardships and how they overcame these hardships, and more importantly what they learned from it. And in the process of telling their story, they have made us admissions offices [sic] around the country fall in love with those applicants to the point that we want to bring those experiences to the classroom because we consider those experiences an asset to the type of voices that you bring to law school classes around the country."
(Video at 0:09-0:49) 
I leave it to you to watch the video and evaluate Katrin Hussman Schroll's sincerity. Take her triple repetition of a seemingly unnecessary phrase -- "around the country." Is that a paraverbal indication of scamming or is it a heartfelt way of emphasizing the vast geographical scope of affection flowing to prospective community college applicants from their smitten law school admirers? And what about her eye-rolling, which seems so inconsistent with her earnest tone? Is that an endearing physical manifestation of her infatuation with the community college students of her dreams or might it just possibly be an unconscious gesture of contempt?