Monday, September 16, 2019

The Zen of Scam: Suffolk Law Prof. Shailini George promotes mindfulness training as a "core concept in the legal curriculum."

Suffolk University School of Law students have a lot to worry about. The non-discounted interest-accruing cost of attendance at this school is $264,394, or about $30,000 above the median. However, Suffolk Law's placement result for its most recent crop of grads was in the bottom quintile of law schools in the country, with a mere 52.9% obtaining a non-solo full-time law job within nine months of graduation. A few years ago, the University offered a buy-out to all law school faculty (whether with or without tenure), an apparently unprecedented cost-cutting move by a law school, and an extremely public indication that the University is less than vigorous in its commitment to the law school’s future.

Thankfully, Suffolk law professor Shailini George has scholarly balm with which to soothe the troubled law student soul, in the healing guise of a 30-page law review article which promotes the teaching of "mindfulness” in law school classrooms. See George, Shailini, The Cure for the Distracted Mind: Why Law Schools Should Teach Mindfulness53 Duquesne L. Rev. 215 (2015) (hereafter: "Cure"). 

Prof. George opens her article with a fictional vignette about "Ian the Intern" who is stressed out because he does not have job, has no way of paying his law school student debts, and the supervisor of his internship thinks he is a clueless nitwit.
“Ian the intern is working on answers to interrogatories. The supervising attorney asked him to get these done as soon as possible. This particular attorney makes him nervous, in fact, Ian gets a stomachache whenever the attorney comes into his cubicle. The attorney has never been happy with anything Ian has done. Ian is not sure if what the attorney wants him to say is accurate and he does not know what to do. No law school class prepared him for this! Ian spins the answer around and around, when ding!: he receives a text message from his roommate reminding him to upload his resume to the law school career center for an upcoming interview. He logs in and sees two rejection letters from the last interviews. His heart sinks. How will he repay his loans without a high paying job? Then he notices an email from the attorney, subject: “are you done yet????” and the stomachache is back. He knows his supervisor won’t be happy.”
          Cure at 216.

According to Professor George, law schools have the means to rescue Ian the Intern from his terrible predicament. By allowing Ian to turn in his JD in exchange for a tuition refund?  Well, no. What Ian's law school can offer him is training in "mindfulness." See Cure at 216 ("If Ian had learned mindfulness techniques allowing him to focus, concentrate, and deal with this stress and anxiety, he may have avoided this scenario. . . . By making mindfulness training a core concept in the law school curriculum, law schools will enable and empower their students to better handle the pressures of working in a distracted society where complex situations are the norm").

Prof. George's law review article does not really describe what mindfulness meditation training involves-- something about breathing properly, and learning, through interludes of quiet contemplation, to be emotionally present in the here-and-now. But the article is emphatic about its enormous benefits-- indeed most of the article is devoted to describing these benefits, and how they have been recognized by this-and-that study and by this-and-that organization. 

Here are only some of the benefits she mentions: lower anxiety, reduced depression, reduced anger, reduced fatigue, improved attention skills, empathy, creativity, equanimity, self-compassion, a deeper understanding of oneself, others, and of the nature of reality, development of emotional intelligence competencies, ability to stay connected to one’s sense of humor and one's deepest ethical and professional ideals, and "spiritual enlightenment or just lightening up." So even if trapped in the typically toxic environment of a law office, Ian and his lowly fellows can journey at will to an inner Shangi-La.
The article even asserts that mindfulness meditation can even improve your favorite basketball team’s zone defense."The Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers basketball teams use mindfulness to improve focus and work on the team aspect of the game." Cure at 237-238. (n. I do not follow professional basketball closely, but haven't the Bulls and Lakers performed miserably the last few seasons?)

Though but a humble law intern, and not a Chicago Bull, mindfulness proves to be a slam dunk success for fictional Ian the legal intern, to whom George returns at the end of her article.  
Ian takes a deep breath after the supervising attorney leaves his office before he begins to work on the answers to interrogatories. He notes the time and contemplates what he was asked to do. As he breathes, he reminds himself that this attorney can be brusque but that this attitude is not directed at Ian. Ian must only do what he was asked to the best of his ability. He begins reviewing the file in order to draft the answers. He hears his phone: ding! But he does not take it out of his desk or look at it. He knows it can wait the half an hour it will take him to work on this discovery. Ian is not sure what the attorney wants him to say is accurate, so he does his best to work with what the client said and what he knows the attorney wants. In half an hour, the attorney calls to ask if the answer is done, and Ian is happy to respond that it is. While he knows the attorney may not be completely pleased with the answer, Ian is satisfied that he did the best he could. He hands the work off to the attorney, and checks his phone. Time to work on his resume before anyone asks for him! Ian is thankful that he learned to focus his attention in a law school class that prepared him for such situations. 
Cure at 244. 
 George promotes the benefits of mindfulness so enthusiastically that she reminds me of a cult member or even a faith healer. See e.g. Cure at 230 ("Mindfulness training may benefit people suffering from a variety of ailments, including chronic pain, fibromyalgia, cancer, heart disease, anxiety, binge eating disorder, psoriasis, borderline personality disorder, major depressive disorder, and stress.") 

Troublingly, and unlike what I hope she is teaching her legal writing students, George does not hint at the existence of skeptics, even for the purpose of countering their arguments. The skeptics are out there, however, and not only among disappointed Bulls fans. See Farias, M., & Wikholm, C. (2016). Has the science of mindfulness lost its mind?, BJPsych Bulletin, 40(6), 329 ("Academic articles describe weak results as ‘encouraging’ and ‘exciting’. . .The replacement of orange-robed gurus by white-collared academics who speak of the benefits of ‘being in the present moment’ is a powerful social phenomenon, which is probably rooted in our culture's desire for quick fixes and its attraction to spiritual ideas divested of supernatural elements.") 

While I am in favor of anything that helps law students, quick fix or not, perhaps law school professors would do better to stick to providing instruction in legal practice, which is what they are being overpaid to do. I mean, interested law school students could pick up mindfulness techniques from a local yoga teacher or spiritual healer. Or perhaps mindfulness training could be offered by the University's counseling center, as opposed to making it a "core concept in the law school curriculum." Cure, at 216.

There is nothing wrong with adopting a mental habit or routine of concentrating on the present moment and to avoid dwelling on the traumas of the past or what the future may hold. This is a good goal, a good lesson. But what if the enlightened pedagogues who offer this wisdom are the very persons responsible for traumatizing you by scamming you into massive debt and wasting three years of your time? What if they have destroyed your future and enriched themselves by doing so? Even if their advice is anodyne, it is still tainted with odious hypocrisy and chutzpah.  
Moreover, there are limits to the benefits of mindfulness, limits imposed by objective reality. Even in Prof. George's second fictional vignette, Ian the Intern does not have a job, just good breathing techniques, improved time-management skills, and a better attitude. Maybe mindfulness is a stress-reliever for some, but it will not make a law grad's educational debt disappear or feed and house his or her family, nor will it provide fulfillment within a very difficult profession, which is undergoing structural change that is curtailing opportunities at every level, but especially the entry level. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

"Being a Law Firm Partner Was Once a Job for Life. That Culture Is All but Dead."



An interesting article from the Wall Street Journal, from August 9, 2019.  This headline will surprise virtually no one except K-JD gunners, but it still bears reading for those who still think law school is a done-deal.  It also echoes many, many prior comments on this blog alone from seasoned practitioners that warn that the Law School sugar-plum-fairy pipedreams of Big Law (or Mid-Law, or Small Law) should not be taken without copious amounts of salt.

Being named a partner once meant joining a band of lawyers who jointly tended to longtime clients and took home comfortable, and roughly equal, paychecks. Job security was virtually guaranteed and partners rarely jumped ship. 

That model, and the culture that grew up around it, is all but dead. Law firms are now often partnerships in name only. Full-time chief executives, some without law degrees, have replaced the senior partner running human resources and accounting. Law firm names have trended toward the shorter and snappier, more befitting a tote bag than a law library.

Many firms have expanded rapidly to mirror the growth of their corporate clients, with hundreds of partners spread around the world. The largest, Dentons, recently hit 10,000 lawyers in 78 countries, around a third of them partners.

“Can you be partners with someone you don’t even know?” said legal consultant Aric Press.

In the new paradigm, lawyers are expendable, and partners may jump to a competitor for the right amount of money, taking as many clients as possible with them on the way out.


One criticism I have is the discussion of top partners making $1.75 million to $15 million, while the lower-caste partners "only" make $800,000.00 at someplace like a Kirkland & Ellis.  All too many gunners and Law School Deans alike look at that and say, "well, that's a problem I'd like to have, ha ha," which completely misconstrues the point:


As firms compete to keep profits rising for those at the top, lawyers further down the ladder are sometimes getting left behind. Promising associates who could once expect to be named a partner within seven or eight years are waiting 10 years or more.

Firms have created new steppingstones along the way to appease them—and keep them grinding.

One newly promoted partner at a big firm said he was shocked to learn he would have to spend a year as counsel, an increasingly popular interim title. The firm told him it was to prepare him for the bigger change of being partner. “I wouldn’t be a cynical lawyer if I didn’t think there were other profit-motive reasons,” he said.

Another popular stop-off is “non-equity partner,” the title held by those 560 Kirkland lawyers not invited to the California retreat. They earn a salary rather than sharing firm profits.


And, of course, the model has changed since the 80s (or 70s, or 60s):

Making partner doesn’t just take longer. It takes hustle. A few decades ago, partner titles were handed out largely on the basis of being technically proficient. Now, being a business generator is a crucial component.

Janice Mac Avoy, a Fried Frank partner, said when she earned the partner title 23 years ago, the business model was “wait for the phone to ring” and do a good job for the client on the other end.

When a partner suggested a lawyer being considered for promotion had great contacts and could generate new business, she recalls a fellow partner saying, “You know that’s not an appropriate consideration.”

Those who do make the cut encounter a new set of stressors. Bureaucratic tasks pile on top of the same billable-hour expectations. New partners face pressure to bring in enough new business to cover their own salary, plus those beneath them.

Kevin Smith went to law school in the early 2000s because he had lawyers in his family and wasn’t sure what else to do. After graduating, he clerked for two federal judges then joined an international law firm.

Making partner five years later was one of the best days of his life, he says. He soon realized the new title “makes all the bad things worse” about working in a law firm. “There’s more email, more of the blame if anything goes wrong, just more stress in general,” he said. 

After 6½ years, he quit the partnership to travel abroad while working part time for the firm. 

Of course, the Law School Cartel mentions none of this.  Often, it is these same attorneys who leave these same realities in order to become Law School Professors, thereby indirectly encouraging others to make the same errors they made.  But no one really talks about this except the scamblogs, who are largely comprised of people who know.

So, yes, back in the "halcyon" days of law practice (if there ever truly was such a thing), working for a large firm was likely the correct way to go, and if you can somehow manage to get the Golden Ticket, perhaps even now.  That is rarely the case today, and as indicated above has little to do with being technically proficient and "waiting for the phone to ring", or in some cases even being able to generate some business.  As is the case with many things, a few get spectacular results, more get good but profoundly difficult results, and many, many more are shown the door.  Like many things in life it is a numbers game, and when a firm has thousands of lawyers with a multiple-caste system, the odds are not good.

0Ls, pay heed to this.  The Cartel wants you to sign on the dotted line, and they are loathe to talk about the realities on the ground because the same realities would give any reasonable person pause, especially when the alternative is hanging a shingle Day One.  The world has changed a bit since 1960 or 1980, yet the Cartel pretends that everything is the same as it ever was.



Monday, July 29, 2019

"America's $70,000/Year Liberal Arts Colleges Are Like Headless Zombies That Just Won't Die"

With a title like that, you have to have an image to go with the story.

Image result for zombies

Small liberal arts colleges in the U.S. simply refuse to die, despite a torrent of bad news about the U.S. higher education marketplace and the increasing uselessness of their degrees.

Bennington College in Vermont is one such example, according to Bloomberg. It sports famous alumni like Donna Tartt and Bret Easton Ellis and charges $73,000 per year for admission. Located at the foot of Vermont's green mountains, it nearly went out of business in the 1990's and was still under duress at the beginning of this decade.

But the school - and its 700 undergraduates - have hung on. It's a microcosm of how these types of schools continue to defy the odds nationwide.  Massachusetts’ Hampshire College was another institution known for its artisiness than has somehow still hung on.

So, what does that have to do with the law school scam?  Perhaps nothing directly - except it is pointing out the continued pressure on higher-education as the weather gauge continues to drift, along with answering "why do the scamblogs keep complaining about law school when so few in particular have closed?"  As indicated, many schools are fighting to survive, and are pulling out the stops to stay afloat.  Law Schools, in many respects, are no different on the whole.

Though, while I have enjoyed the skewering of "liberal artists," often by other liberal artists, concerning the utility of law school over the years (RIP, JDUnderground), I do have to say that I hate to see such degrees being described with "increasing uselessness."  Cynical as I am, and even as an ex-STEMer myself, I do believe a liberal arts education has value, assuming one is taught critical thinking, rhetoric, logic, and composition  skills (what law school got away with for so long lumping together as "analysis").   Plus, a strong alumni network never hurts.

These skills are increasingly critical in every field, even now in this "AI-does-scut-work" world, and have never really "gone away" - it does no good to be the smartest coder, engineer, historian, curator, business person (or even lawyer) in the world, but unable to communicate your findings effectively to others, argue for a position in a principled fashion, or be adaptable - y'know, the things that tend to be uniquely human.

Perhaps those sound like platitudes, and it is all too easy to pick on the stories where people spent $300k on the proverbial underwater basket-weaving degree.  But I think readers of this blog understand what I am talking about.  The issue is (1) so many institutions don't actually deliver on these ideals (hello, most law schools), and (2) they charge way too damn much money for something that shouldn't cost NEAR what is being charged.  I mean, come on, really.

I would be all for more liberal arts education (and, heck, other kinds, too) for a reasonable price. That would solve multiple problems simultaneously - having an "educated" populace (what people say they want until cost comes up), a not-buried-by-debt populace, and a leaner education system that "delivers" to its graduates.  There is more impetus for growth when people aren't crushed.

As it stands, all you have to do is look at Law School as an example for how it can go off the rails. The "problem" is other schools are following suit, perhaps to our greater detriment in the short-term. The only good news is that the market can't be ignored when it is allowed to operate properly in the long-term, and even higher-education may have to finally be competitive in ways it never had to be before.    

Anyway.  TL;DR is - 0Ls, think twice.






Thursday, July 11, 2019

Teacher's Union Sues the Department of Education over PSLF Denials

Image result for bait switch

In a development that surprises absolutely no one who is a follower of the scamblogs:

For 10 years, Baker, who was a public school teacher in Tulsa, Okla., checked in with loan servicing companies and was told she was on track...[b]ut it turns out that her $76,000 in student loans didn't get forgiven. Baker was finally told she was in the wrong type of loan. If she'd known that at the beginning, she could have switched loans and ended up qualifying. But she says nobody ever told her.

Whelp, it looks like a lot of people don't get told a lot of things, be they teachers, police offices, or even lawyers, for that matter (unfortunately, the plight of attorneys involved in public service jobs did not seem to figure into the story, probably due to the fact that teachers, fire-fighters, and police officers probably garner more sympathy).  And $76,000 is no small sum of money, let alone the six-figures many law graduates carry. I wonder if the courts will consider public school teachers "sophisticated consumers" as well in the ongoing litigation.

The teachers union lawsuit alleges that the Department of Education "knows of — but completely disregards — repeated misrepresentations made by [student loan] servicers to borrowers who are attempting to qualify ... resulting in unwarranted denials of loan forgiveness."  In other words, people like Baker aren't given the right information or advice, and many end up in the wrong types of loans or repayment plans and get unfairly disqualified...Navient, one of the nation's largest loan servicer companies, is not commenting on the lawsuit. But the company said in a statement to NPR, "We understand the frustration borrowers face in navigating a complex federal loan program, which is why we consistently advocate for policy reforms to simplify the system."

And so the finger-pointing begins in earnest between bureaucratic government agencies and their quasi-governmental-sub-contractors.  If only people had known that PSLF was not a "done deal" at the time it was instituted, perhaps warned others to not bank on this in making their decisions to attend higher education...

Oh, wait.  Our own Antiro at the time was bringing up this issue and the other sources that were commenting on it, back in 2014, a good five years before PSLF was to "come due":

Hilariously, the WSJ reports that the Dean of Georgetown Law, Bill Traenor, says that the government's forgiveness programs are not influencing G-town's tuition, which is approximately $50,000 (don't forget the high CoL that comes along with living in Washington D.C.).  Georgetown once proclaimed that "public interest borrowers might not pay a single penny on their loans—ever!", on their website.  According to the WSJ, G-Town has been "steering" its graduates into public-service jobs "as part of its Jesuit mission."  We have data on how many people are in G-Town's public-interest program: 432, up 60% from 2 years ago.

Yep.  This was just one of many examples of the Law School Cartel handing out PSLF pipe-dreams like candy.  Don't worry about the debt, kids, Uncle Sam will take care of all that for you (somehow, someway...), especially when there is liberty and justice that needs doing!   Now, sign here.

Here's hoping that this suit will finally bring attention to these programs, and, as Navient so graciously stated, help "simplify the system."  Because nothing says loan forgiveness is here for you like having to sue to properly administer and enforce the program.

Snake oil that the Cartel was more than happy to advertise at the time, so long as it brought people in. Odd that the Cartel does not appear to be falling all over itself to help fix this issue.  As teachers and others are now learning what law grads learned the hard way, the attitude is "Let the graduates make their claims and chase a broken system, we got ours."  

0Ls, pay heed.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Trojan horse of "diversity": scamsters win, racialized people lose

Not so long ago, many law schools would not admit racialized people at all. Texas Southern University was hastily founded in 1946 as the "Texas State University for Negroes" so as to create a pretense of a "separate but equal" university for Black people alongside the white University of Texas (see Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950)). The Supreme Court unanimously saw through the ruse and refused to countenance it. (Today, incidentally, Texas Southern still has not strayed far from its Jim Crow roots: most of the class is Black, only 10% is white, the median LSAT score for last year's entering class was an appalling 144, and for the past two years the law school has been subject to the ABA's censure and directives for remedial action.)

Long after formal segregation was abolished, many law schools showed little interest in racialized people. But the spate of toilet law schools over the past decade has changed that. Nowadays scamsters from toilet law schools today portray themselves as champions of "diversity". They would have us believe that the toilet schools' abysmal, if not non-existent, standards of admission afford racialized people an opportunity to enter the legal profession. That so-called opportunity, however, comes with a poor chance of passing the bar exams, dreadfully low rates of employment, and a whopping price tag.

A Black lawyer with a JD from Michigan lifts the lid on the scamsters' invocation of "diversity" as grounds for lowering the passing score on California's bar exam. As he says, any sincere effort to increase the diversity of the legal profession must start with analysis of the causes of the problem and the best ways to address it, not with scam-fostering proposals such as "Let's lower the passing score!".

It's true that the bar is insufficiently diverse in terms of race and certain other criteria. But that does not imply that the passing score is too high. The whiteness of the bar stems from systemic inequalities and racial injustice—the same factors that have led to the monstrous racialization of the prisons and many other manifestations of racial oppression. Address it by correcting those inequalities, not by persuading the authorities in California to license more toileteers of whatsoever race.

Nor is it appropriate to lower the passing score on the test just because few people taking the test are passing. The score should be set at an appropriate level, and anyone arguing to lower it bears the burden of giving sound reasons. The scamsters seem to "argue" that the various Black people upon whom they have been preying should be admitted to the bar just because they are there. But that's no argument at all. The very purpose of the bar exam is to protect the public by ensuring a minimum level of competence. There may be nothing wrong with the passing score even if every single candidate fails.

Nor should California be played against other states. That's the child's tactic of going to Daddy in hope of a "yes" after Mommy said "no". Why should it matter that West Virginia or Missouri has a lower score? Perhaps California is the only state with a proper standard. Or perhaps even California's score is too low.

White scamsters are cynically perverting "diversity" for their own profit (figurative and literal). Racialized people, don't fall for their ploy.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

On Student Loan Journalism, the Warren/Sanders Proposals, and the LSTC's Private Hell

We know what has caused the student loan problem: college (and, as relevant here, law school) tuition costs have increased dramatically faster than indicated by CPI, post-degree wage growth, or any other comparable measure of inflation; the federal government carelessly writes loans without realistic underwriting criteria; and consumers have been stripped of bankruptcy as an option for a poor financial decision.

Given that reality, the best political solution we've come up with is income-based repayment, which is basically a softened Chapter 13-style repayment plan for one debt in that you pay what you can and the remainder is eventually discharged.  A better solution might be simply restoring bankruptcy rights as people have suggested for some time.  Another prospective solution might be to either regulate loan origination by limiting tuition increases or by removing the government entirely and letting the free market scoff at paying ludicrous tuition rates for lackluster degrees.

(The LSTC would also propose retroactively recalculating due student loan balances based on CPI, issuing credits and taxing educational endowments for the deficiencies, but that would be, one suspects, politically unfeasible.)

I was all set to rip on Elizabeth Warren's unnecessarily convoluted and weirdly devoid of rational justice plan when, this morning, Bernie Sanders went whole hog and suggested a freaking student debt jubilee.

Lord, what did we do to deserve this fresh hell?

Do I want student debt relief?  Yes, and I would benefit to varying degrees under either plan (tax issues aside for a second), but what the hell?  The system as it exists needs rational, forward-looking, cohesive reform, not ludicrous, empty headed hip-thrusts at vacuous Millennial populism by elder statespersons who should know better.

We need bankruptcy rights.  We need IBR free of any tax bombs.  We need lower interest rates.  We need credit bureaus and financial institutions to feel security that the full amount isn't going to ever come due because Congress changed its mind.  We need an out when the government's been paid its fair share.  We need educational institutions to bear the systemic costs of what we all know but the law can't say was fraud...

At the same time, Warren and Sanders are just playing the hands dealt to them.  The arguments around student loans have become so polarized that the second any kind of reform idea emerges forth, one of two results invariably happens:
  • Some jackass who owes like $15k won't shut up about how oppressive their student loans are and cheers wildly; and/or
  • Some jackass whines that money borrowed has to be repaid, students knew what they were doing, the taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook, "but I ate canned soup for 5 years to pay mine ASAP," etc.
My private hell is populated with nothing but people from both camps and then I spend eternity trying to reason with them while "Come On Eileen" and "You Can Call Me Al" play on constant loop. 

As with many issues, our journalism about the student debt crisis blows.  When they focus on the debtor side, it's almost invariably Boomer-triggering anecdotes, often with gaudy headlines that bury the lede.  Then there's the pie-in-the-sky solution subgenre and the ubiquitous live-at-home-and-give-up-coffee subgenre.

Screw these people.

The problem with all of these sub-styles of journalism is that they take what we know is a systemic problem caused by the intersection of well-meaning policies creating a bad outcome and transform it - or reduce it - to a personalized, dig-your-own-hole, bootstraps, etc. problem.  Journalists, both educated and amateur, often deliberately seek the personalization, the pathos, the Dickensian aspect or whatever. This situation calls for more, or, at least something different.  At a minimum, journalism should've learned from the housing crisis how to report on broken financial systems that incentivize bad consumer behavior. 

That financial crisis wasn't about Raynette buying a 500k home in Vegas with no income any more than this one is about Raynette's kid spending $300k on a social work degree.

There are decent deep dives out there, but too often they seem to get bogged down in partisan politics or pandering to the audience; e.g., the WSJ article I just linked has the following paragraph:
The Obama administration also heavily promoted income-based repayment programs...This severed the link between the value of students’ education and how much they could borrow, providing a huge incentive for schools to raise tuition, since taxpayers would pick up more of the tab. Enrollment in these programs is one big reason that the government’s costs for student loans are exploding.
Yeah, Bub....this is an political issue, for starters.  That link between value and borrowing was already severed and schools don't care about repayment because they get the money upfront.  Enrollment in IBR-style programs is irrelevant to the government's costs (which are dynamic projections, anyway, that change if current outlays on tuition were brought down or income to people in repayment would increase...as it often does over time) because the alternative, generally, is default, which means higher administrative costs being thrown at debts that would likely go uncollected - the funds simply aren't there.  If these idiots think IBR "costs" the government any money, someone should actually report on what the default rate would look like if IBR went away.

Anyone want to report on that?  Anyone?  

The real frustration, of course, is that the Dickensian portraits, when they come, are only one-sided, like reading Great Expectations with half the subplots missing.  Only rarely do these articles actually go after that group of antagonists, the policy-makers and the school administrators, many of whom absolutely knew what they were doing. 

Because despite saddling millions of people with funny-money debts, no one wants to even suggest the f-word outside of those few truly awful for-profit colleges.  It's a shame, because the real story of student debt isn't that Johnny carries $250k - it's that an American college or two had the audacity to charge Johnny $250k and he's not licensed to perform niche surgery.

Why don't the anecdote articles ever call out the schools that bilked the subject sucker?  Why don't the "I gave up utilities to pay my loans" pieces not typically mention the institution partly responsible for lowering the standard of living of alumni?  Why are people proud of paying off student debt like it's a race, anyway, and why are those articles newsworthy?  Why, when the federal government took over loans, did it not heavily regulate the costs of attendance or the marketing of admissions materials? 

Oh, and here's one:  How can Bernie call out Wall Street while proposing what is, in effect, a massive bail-out of Big Education's malfeasance and, in many cases, fraud on the federal taxpayer?

It's regrettable that Warren and Sanders go straight to these bandage-style post-hoc debt forgiveness solutions that play directly into the well-worn "personal responsibility, ddddderp!" narrative so easy for journalists and editors to exploit for hits and social interaction.  They could lead in awareness regarding the root of the problem in the event "free college" doesn't pan out (and it won't).  

But successful politicians also need a partner in the media and it would sure be nice if the press high and low quit leading readers down a primrose path of reinforcing the lazy readers' preconceived notions.  When framed correctly, there is a lot we could agree on (like if you owe $20k and make $60k+, get bent), just as with the underlying issues of the housing crisis, but it means we need journalistic skepticism towards not only the weary debtor but the institutions that created the debt, and loud enough for the butthurt ramen-eaters to hear.

You would hope that good journalism wouldn't even be necessary to stop the nonsense and discuss real, plausible solutions that Republicans may get behind - things like qualified Ch. 13 bankruptcy or making all student loan interest tax deductible - but we live in the world we've created and damn it I think I hear "It's Raining Men" and it's kinda hot, now that I think about it.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Thomas Jefferson School of Law loses accreditation

Today the ABA revoked the accreditation of Thomas Jefferson School of Law. The notorious über-toilet had long been in the throes of death. More than half of its graduates last year were unemployed ten months after graduation, and another sixth or so were marginally or tenuously employed. Enrollment of first-year students plummeted last year to 59, an unsustainably low level. Students paid $50k per year in tuition, but only a quarter of those taking the bar exam last year passed. The school had even lost its financial stability, thanks to declining enrollment and such foolish decisions as the construction several years ago of a ridiculous $90M building that it had to vacate last year in favor of cheap rented office space.

The ABA has demanded a "teach-out" plan whereby those few students still at Thomas Jefferson may complete their degrees. Reportedly Thomas Jefferson intends to appeal against the decision. By doing so, it may be able to defer the submission of a "teach-out" plan. The appellate process could extend into the autumn.

Nonetheless, Thomas Jefferson is done for. It would not have been viable even with another class of 59 first-year students, and now presumably most of those few people who may have been admitted for the coming academic year will look elsewhere rather than gambling on the highly improbable survival of a toilet law school that has lost its accreditation on multiple grounds. Thomas Jefferson has apparently obtained accreditation from the state of California, but that is far less attractive than ABA accreditation. A state-accredited (or unaccredited) Thomas Jefferson would probably attract even fewer students and would certainly have to lower tuition dramatically from the current sky-high level of $50k per year, in part because its students would have less access to student loans or other financial aid. Thus Thomas Jefferson has little hope, with or without ABA accreditation. Count it dead.

I expect Thomas Jefferson to cancel the entering class à la Arizona Summit. Then it will quietly close, whether it carries on with the threatened appeal or not.

Which law school will be the next to die? I'm betting on the Western State College of Law, but Florida Coastal and Appalachian are other strong contenders.

The real Thomas Jefferson was a fan of French wine. Old Guy is going to open a bottle of good Bordeaux tonight in celebration of the demise of another über-toilet law school. My colleagues in the anti-scam movement are welcome to come over for a glass.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Why tiny law schools cannot survive—and what that means for many an über-toilet

A law school needs a certain minimum level of enrollment. One study of the feasibility of a law school in Alaska (kudos to Law School Truth Center for the reference) cited an estimate of 75 students per year, which was more than twice as many as any law school in Alaska would attract.

Indeed, 75 is probably close to the minimum for any law school pursuing or maintaining ABA accreditation. A law school of that size might bring in $6M or $7M per year and would probably spend that much or more. Without a hefty subsidy (possible for a public law school), large donations (unlikely), or an unusual source of income (bake sale, anyone?), it could not operate for long with substantially lower enrollment.

Quite a few law schools enrolled fewer than 75 new students last year:

Appalachian, 50
Ohio Northern, 51
Concordia, 59
Faulkner, 59
Thomas Jefferson, 59
Florida Coastal, 60
North Dakota, 62
District of Columbia, 64
South Dakota, 71
Liberty, 72

(In addition, Penn State Dickinson and Southern Illinois each enrolled 76.)

Of the ten law schools listed above, all are toilets: nine are in Tier 6, by Old Guy's standard, and the other (Liberty) is in Tier 5. Seven of them have seen enrollment plummet from more than 100 new students per year earlier in the decade. Just a few years ago, therefore, all of them should have been financially viable; a few were even big profit centers, such as Florida Coastal, with 808 students in 2010, and Thomas Jefferson, with 422. Today, however, they are all marginal at best, and some of them are known to dip deep into the red ink.

The three law schools that have not suffered sharp declines from manageably high levels of enrollment all have special circumstances. North Dakota and South Dakota receive subsidies from their respective states. Concordia was established only in 2012 and never has had more than 75 students. Its parent university expected much higher enrollment. Perhaps the governments of the Dakotas will continue to waste money on their respective über-toilet law schools, but Concordia University cannot afford to sustain its über-toilet at a loss for many more years.

To consider the viability of these tiny law schools, let's look at an example. At Appalachian in 2017, total revenue was only $3.5M, with 128 students. Tuition that year brought in $2.3M; the rest came from gifts, grants, contracts, and investments. Expenditures, however, stood at $5.4M, which is more than half again as much as income. That spells bad news, particularly in light of Appalachian's endowment, which was only $4.23M at the end of fiscal 2015 (down 7.55% from the previous year).

How can Appalachian make up an annual shortfall that two years ago came to $1.9M? Consider that the average tuition paid was only $18k per student, although the nominal rate was over $30k. It would thus take well over 100 additional students, or some 35 per class, to save Appalachian. That represents a sudden 70% increase in enrollment. Even with that dramatic and unrealistic increase, Appalachian would not be in the black for three years to come.

Appalachian could instead increase tuition by 70%—to more than $60k, a level surpassed by only a dozen law schools of the Harvard, Columbia, Michigan, and Cornell variety. That strategy too seems unrealistic, although Cooley, charging $53k per year (and most students pay full fare), seems to be getting away with it.

How about borrowing the money? No creditor would lend it when Appalachian obviously could not pay it back.

Can Appalachian sell assets, such as its campus? After all, it does have a pretty brick building, complete with billiard tables in the basement. I haven't bothered to investigate the title to that land, but anyway I find it hard to see who would buy it. What, after all, could be done with it? It's located in tiny Grundy, Virginia, four hours' drive from even a small city such as Asheville, North Carolina. And if a buyer were found, the law school would need new quarters, which would also cost money—and entail a costly an inconvenient move, almost certainly out of the area.

Is there any other way to come up with $1.9M? Selling souvenirs at the bookstore can hardly bring in that much. Appalachian might pray for a donation, but its relatively unaccomplished alumni might not have much money and in any event might be disinclined to give much to their dying über-toilet law school. Might the state give privately held Appalachian a grant? I doubt it. Appalachian appears to be controlled largely by the McGlothlin family, one of whose members is the dean. It would be a poor, and suspicious, recipient of public funding.

Would any institution take Appalachian over? Appalachian has made overtures to various obscure colleges. But why should they want a failed law school that loses a couple of million dollars a year?

I conclude that Appalachian has one foot in the grave. Only a miracle could save it. I doubt whether it can last even two more years.

And much the same is true of most of the other schools on that list. Florida Coastal and Thomas Jefferson have shown signs of imminent shuttering, and some of the others must not be far behind. Liberty, with 72 1Ls last year, may appear to be an outlier on this list; however, it actually brings in very little money: 12% of the students get free tuition (some are even paid to attend!), 74% get discounts of 50% or more, and most of the rest also get a discount. Even by very generous estimates (using discounts of 50% and 10%, respectively, and ignoring the payments made to some students), revenue from tuition cannot exceed $1.3M per year for the entering class, or about $3.9M for all students. That does not cover payroll and benefits for a dean, 23 other full-time professors, 9 adjuncts, and the rest of the staff, never mind Liberty's other expenses.

North Dakota and South Dakota can last indefinitely, if their respective state governments are willing to sustain them at a loss. Better would be to admit that neither of those two large, sparsely populated states needs a law school of its own. Merge them and call them Dakota Law School. Build the school to straddle the border if necessary, perhaps between Ellendale, North Dakota, and Frederick, South Dakota; then each state can lay claim to it. Better yet, close both law schools down and cut a deal with the government of Minnesota so that students from the Dakotas can get their tuition their subsidized by their respective states. The law school at the U of Minnesota also depends on subsidies that the state is tired of paying, so this sort of deal might benefit all three states.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Here's Your Feasibility Study, Shreveport

To make up for posting to the wrong blog yesterday, I'm now going to rip on the idea of a law school in a third-tier metro area, which is somehow an idea people are still discussing in 2019.

As Old Guy mentioned earlier this month, Shreveport, Louisiana, is actively exploring getting a new law school, or maybe a branch of Southern, whatever, who cares.  Earlier this week, the Louisiana House voted - 98-0 - for the Board of Regents to study the viability of a law school in Shreveport.

In other words, for now at least, they're seeking a feasibility study. Well, why can't we do that here and simply save the legislature some money?

As we know from the Indiana Tech experience, feasibility studies can be rigged by white collar salespeople desperate for a law school, leading well-meaning idiots down a path of disastrous idiocy.  Okay ideas go 50-48.  Atrocious ones, 98-0.

In contrast, consider this well-reasoned feasibility study for a potential law school in Alaska from 2004, which found that the entire state would only produce about 56 qualified law school applicants each year, not all of whom would necessarily want to attend law school in Alaska since Harvard is still in Massachusetts and people still want to go to places like USC.

Rounding up for convenience, Alaska has approximately 740,000 people.  At the 2000 census, it had 630,000, so it is gaining about 6k a year and the estimated population in 2004 would be around 654,000.  Using crude math, that means one qualified applicant for every 11,500 residents or so.  Nationwide, incidentally, there's currently about one admitted law student for every 8,000 or so people in the general population.  As we all know, however, there's too many darn people going to law school, so that number is probably high.

In any event, using the 75-student minimum number cited by the Alaska report, to support a law school, there would need to be an untapped population of 600,000 at an absolute minimum (this is approximately Wyoming's population, and it barely supports a law school dedicated to one single state) and more like 850,000 to a million.

Do we have that in Shreveport?  Nope.  The metro population for Shreveport, Louisiana, is around 450,000.  To get into the range of even minimum law school demand, you have to expand the population radius to include places like Longview, Texas (65 mi., 45k) or Texarkana (70 mi, 40k).

But neither of those places will really feed directly into a new 5th-tier school in Shreveport.  Longview residents can get in-state tuition at Texas public schools and Dallas (a two-hour drive away) fills most law school demand by itself with Southern Methodist, Texas A&M, and - now - UNT-Dallas (which was built in 2009, in part, to serve this area!). Texarkana is similar but on the Arkansas side it is just two hours to a state school that is more established and in a better location.

No one is moving from a nicer city to attend law school in freaking Shreveport and no one is fretting about driving two hours to law school instead of one.  It's not keeping a single person from going to law school currently, so building a law school in Shreveport would suck demand from schools like UNT-Dallas, UA-Little Rock, Southern U., Loyola-New Orleans, Mississippi COL, and similar places.

It's particularly egregious when you look at the in-state competition's admission scores.  In 2018, LSU's hypothetical 25th percentile student is at a 150 LSAT/3.16 GPA. Loyola's is at 148/2.89.  Southern's is at an offensive 142/2.55.  If there's anyone in Shreveport (or Monroe or Alexandria) with the chops for law school, they can currently get more than enough in scholarship money to make attending one of these places worthwhile and that's before we consider the Texas schools.  At a minimum, these paltry scores tell us there's no qualified in-state candidates being rejected or anything; that teat is milked..
 "If you look at points south between Baton Rouge and Shreveport and west between Dallas and Shreveport and north between Little Rock and Shreveport and east between Jackson and Shreveport we have one of the largest geographic regions in the country without a law school," Glover said.
Good God. Alaska (663 sq. mi.) has no law school.  There's no law school anywhere in eastern Montana or northern Wyoming.  There's no law school in northern Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota.  There's no law school in Nevada outside of the very southern tip. A large swath of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas is completely devoid of any law school.  Western Texas has no law schoolat all.

Yet El Paso survives, same as Reno/Carson City, Mobile/Pensacola,  and - yes - Shreveport.  Colorado and Wisconsin - these are sizable states with more than 5 million people each, okay? - do just fine with two law schools. Arizona, at 7 million, should have only two.  Louisiana doesn't even have five million and it's already got four law schools, two of which objectively suck and a two of which are weak sisters to their southern peers.

Shreveport?  Shritttttt.  The city's not really growing and if it's made it this long 2019 is not the time to build.  If you come up with a feasibility study that says otherwise as to organic law school demand, the countdown to an Indiana Tech-like fate is on, because you're boarding a cruise speeding towards an iceberg even faster than the one boarded by the sophisticated consumers enrolling at Loyola or Southern with a 145 LSAT.

So I'm looking forward to this feasibility report and its exorbitant price tag, because it's either going to take 30 pages to repeat the above or be an incredibly, stupendously expensive lie.  And you know, that's sorta fun either way.

Friday, May 17, 2019

ABA trivially raises standard for accreditation; toilet law schools wage war against bar exams

Overriding strident opposition from its scamster-dominated House of Delegates, the ABA has finally forced through a namby-pamby amendment to its Standard 316. The former standard provided various means by which a law school could retain accreditation, notoriously among them "having at least 70% of its graduates pass the bar at a rate within 15 percentage points of the average first-time bar pass rate for ABA-approved law school graduates in the same jurisdiction for three out of the five most recently completed calendar years". Under the revised standard, at least 75% of those of a law school's graduates who take a bar exam must pass within two years. A law school that fails this standard has two years in which to come into compliance.

The new standard takes effect immediately.

This weak change may perhaps drive a few schools to stop scraping the bottom of the barrel for students. But it has already sparked reactionary struggle. Yesterday, presumably in anticipation of today's revision of Standard 316, various high officials from the following 13 ABA-accredited law schools wrote to ask the ABA to "convene a task force to work toward an appropriate outcome standard to determine fitness for the practice of law" and to offer to serve on the task force themselves:

Cincinnati
Cooley
District of Columbia
Elon
Irvine
North Carolina Central
Northern Kentucky
Oregon
South Dakota
Southern University Law Center
Texas Southern University
Thomas Jefferson
Western New England

The list reads like a veritable Who's Who of toilets and über-toilets. What do these exalted scamsters propose? They assure us that they "express no consensus view on an appropriate standard or outcome". Yet they add the following:

The precipitous decline in bar pass rates of graduates of ABA-accredited law schools in almost every state in the last ten years signals that the exams, themselves, may be faulty, that scoring may be improperly designed, or that other methods of determining fitness for the practice of law should be studied. We think an examination of how best to determine fitness for the practice of law will be fittingly complemented by the work of the NCBE Testing Task Force that is looking at the bar exam itself to determine whether it is “keeping pace with the changing legal profession.” While decline in bar pass rates might be addressed through a modified bar exam, additional solutions can be identified through an ABA task force studying the broader issue of an appropriate standard to determine fitness for the practice of law.

And there we have it. They blame the bar exams themselves for that "precipitous decline", and they propose to identify "an appropriate standard"—apparently the modification or outright replacement of the bar exams. Never do they suggest that the law schools could be responsible for any part of the decline. Well, the bar exams haven't changed much over the past decade, but the quality of the students at many an über-toilet has indeed declined precipitously. Consider the following illustrative data, which show for each year the LSAT scores (at the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles) and the rate of success on the state's bar exam for those graduates who took it in the year in question:

Cooley
2010: 144/146/151; 84.5%
2017: 139/142/146; 58.8%

Elon
2010: 153/155/159; 79.3%
2017: 145/148/150; 46.9%

Thomas Jefferson
2010: 149/151/153; 55.9%
2017: 142/144/147; 26.5%

On the other extreme, we have the following very different results:

Columbia
2010: 170/172/175; 97.7%
2017: 169/171/173; 97.7%

Harvard
2010: 171/173/176; 98.0%
2017: 170/173/175; 100.0%

Yale
2010: 171/173/176; 97.1% (New York, not Connecticut)
2017: 170/173/175; 98.3%

These data, admittedly not exhaustive, suggest a correlation over time between a school's LSAT scores and its rates of success on the relevant bar exam. If it be objected that the two groups of schools represent different states and therefore different bar exams, I can happily substitute the U of Michigan (same state as Cooley), Duke (same state as Elon), and Stanford (same state as Thomas Jefferson): the results are similar. And they offer no support for the groundless allegation of "faulty" bar exams or "improperly designed" scoring.

Now, it is true that correlation does not imply causation. But the data above give at least grounds for suspicion. Any serious investigation would look at the cohorts themselves and ask whether the well-established decline in the quality of the students at many lousy law schools had anything to do with the plummeting of those cohorts' rates of success on the bar exams. Common sense suggests that it did, and the data back that up. But of course the scamsters who live large off toilet law schools won't do anything that might jeopardize their fancily paid sinecures. Instead, they want to abolish the exams that expose their schools' utter lousiness—all while purporting to act in the public interest.

Appointing a "task force" packed with a baker's dozen of toilet law schools would be tantamount to setting foxes to guard the henhouse. With at most three exceptions, those schools are utter disasters. Why the hell should they get to decide on "an appropriate standard"? They have no meaningful standards! They certainly should not be able to springboard themselves into compliance with Standard 316 by supplanting the bar exams with some low threshold that even their sub-marginal cohorts might be able to cross.

While they scheme to neutralize requirements for maintaining accreditation, the über-toilets have almost three years to bring their graduates' rates of passing up to the 75% mark. Some of them might succeed by imposing a minimum LSAT score of 150 or more. That, however, would entail reducing enrollment to a small fraction of the current level, and many über-toilets could not survive so drastic a reduction. I therefore anticipate open warfare against bar exams, the LSAT, and other objective standards that lay bare the irremediable shittiness of many dozens of toilet law schools.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Louisiana and Texas may each be getting another unneeded über-toilet law school

During the past three years, eight law schools have announced their closure: Indiana Tech, Whittier, Charlotte, a campus of Cooley, Savannah, Hamline, Arizona Summit, and Valpo. Three more closures appear to be imminent: those of Western State (no longer receiving money from student loans; embroiled in trouble over the disappearance of millions of dollars in federal funds; barely escaped sudden closure in the middle of the semester that just ended), Thomas Jefferson (only 59 first-year students enrolled last year; did not admit students this spring; big financial problems; operating in reportedly non-functional office space), and Florida Coastal (only 60 first-year students; out of its building; the last of the InfiLaw chain of über-toilets). Many others, from Appalachian to Concordia, may be standing on the brink of the grave.

The states of Louisiana and Texas are not deterred. Just this week they announced plans to consider a new branch of Southern University Law Center to be built in Shreveport and a law school for the Río Grande Valley.

Louisiana already has four law schools, none of them worthy of the name. Southern University Law Center, located in Baton Rouge, is one of the foulest über-toilets, second only to Cooley in the department of low LSAT scores (though admittedly Appalachian, Texas Southern, and others are not far behind). If another law school were needed in Louisiana, Southern University Law Center would be totally unfit to operate it.

The proposed law school for the Río Grande Valley is supposedly justified because the region "has been neglected for decades when it comes to educational opportunities", according to Rep. Armando Martínez, who appears to be the project's chief proponent. The state would require a "feasibility study". Perhaps the scamsters behind this dumb proposal should dust off the one for Indiana Tech and recycle it mutatis mutandis. In the meantime, they have already estimated a few of the costs of opening their über-toilet, including more than $50 million for a building and $800k for a dean and three support workers in the first year. All that for a school that, in their pie-in-the-sky dreams, would attract a hundred students in its first year. Indiana Tech too thought that it would get that many, but only about thirty enrolled.

At least the state of Tennessee had the sense to reject a proposal to let Middle Tennessee State University acquire Valpo: even the price tag of $0 was correctly deemed too high. Let's hope that similar sanity will nip in the bud the patently foolish proposals to create law schools in Louisiana and Texas.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Analysis of 2018 Bar Passage Rates

H/t to David Frakt:

While there is a tendency to assume that law schools with bad bar pass rates are "bad law schools" in the sense of having bad teachers, or having an insufficiently rigorous curriculum, or having inadequate academic support and bar preparation programs, this is not necessarily the case.  Rather, the primary factor is the school's admissions policies, not the quality of legal education offered by the school.  As you can see on the table, with the exception of four California law schools, University of San Francisco, Southwestern, McGeorge and Cal Western, every law school on the bottom 25 list had very high risk admissions policies in place for their fall entering class of 2015 (when most of the 2018 first-time bar takers matriculated into law school).  By very high risk, I mean that at least 25% of the students that matriculated were at very high risk of failure, and at least 50% were at high risk of failure, based on the LSAT Risk Bands table I first published in 2014, and which has been repeatedly validates since.  I have argued that admitting any significant percentage of extremely high and very high risk students is unethical, irresponsible and violates ABA Standard 501.  At the very least, it is a recipe for disastrous bar passage rates.  Perhaps not surprisingly, as the chart also depicts, many of the schools on the list have either gone out of business, been placed on probation, or been sanctioned or had some form of remedial measures imposed upon them by the ABA at some point since 2015 (although some schools were later found back in compliance).  

This pretty much says it all, although there is a nice summary chart below the fold.  Is it any wonder that Whitter, Valpo, and Arizona Summit are closed/closing?  That Appalachian, Golden Gate, Cooley (sorry, Western Michigan) and Texas Southern have been sanctioned?