Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lewis & Clark Law School Welcomes its First Visiting International Scholar of Animal Law.

Bottom of the kennel Lewis & Clark Law School's Center for Animal Law Studies has earned a congratulatory meow, and some hearty woof-woof-woofs, as it proudly welcomes its very first Visiting International Scholar of Animal Law. This is good news for the two well-groomed critters depicted above, particularly the legal prodigy from Zurich (the one on the left, unfortunately). Maybe it is good news for our four-legged, finned, and feathered friends generally. But is it good news for law students, those biped donkeys who must foot (or shall I say hoof?) the bill?  

Lewis & Clark Law School touts itself as the premier animal law law school, the top dog in the field. And with a bar-required nonfunded job placement rate of 47%, there is no reason to doubt the school’s beastliness.

Lewis & Bark (sorry) offers 33 courses in animal law--- including "animal legal philosophy & development," "animal rights law & jurisprudence," and "comparative international animal law." A law student who takes a sufficient number of these courses can obtain an Animal Law Certificate, thereby distinguishing him or herself from the pack. ("Earning an Animal Law Certificate shows future employers a deep knowledge and strong commitment to the field of Animal Law"). The school also hosts the "Animal Law Review." [1] In addition, it sponsors an annual inter-law school animal law competition-- actually three separate competitions, including a mock lobbying tournament. It even offers what it describes as "hands-on" and "clinical" experiences —such as a two-week long "Legal Project" trip to Kenya to meet with various wildlife and conservation officials, and working with a nonprofit to save the chimpanzees of Cameroon.

On its website, Lewis & Clark Law promises "growth" and "opportunities"-- pleasant-sounding lures that an animal behaviorist might classify as aggressive mimicry:
"Animal law is growing every year, and with this growth comes increased opportunities to specialize in the field. Exposure via animal law courses, animal law internships or clinicals provide an excellent means of targeting potential areas in which to develop an expertise. The various animal law opportunities available at Lewis & Clark allow students discover how they are best suited to work in the animal law field."
The website also helpfully notes that "Some may incorporate animal law into their practice on a pro bono basis or as a sole focus." Got that, struggling solos? You can practice animal law either pro bono or exclusively. You can even do both, I suppose. If that isn’t a sound way to build a nest egg, I don't know what is. And don’t say that it is too late simply because you have already graduated. Lewis & Clark offers an Animal Law LLM.  

Look, opposing animal abuse is a worthy cause. But do not imagine that a Certificate of Animal Law or an Animal Law LLM will allow you to blend heartfelt ideals with well-compensated professional career. What you will be doing is subsidizing, with borrowed money, the well-compensated professional careers of others, namely entitled and well-connected scholarly jet-setters. Whose own lofty objective to defend the vulnerable decidedly excludes you, their debt-ridden student. Yes, law school, not just Lewis & Clark, is guaranteed to offer an unforgettable lesson about animal behavior—about predators and prey, about jackals and lemmings.


Animal law is a hot topic among law school pedagogues. According to a synopsis of a symposium article published in Animal Law two years ago entitled Critical Animal Studies and Animal Law:
"It is truly impressive that animal issues in the law have become so prominent throughout the legal education system. With this increased exposure to posthumanist critiques of the legal system and its status for and treatment of animals, an increasing number of those involved in legal education are rethinking the law’s species-based hierarchy that places humans at the apex. . .  .Integrating such insight into the analysis of animal issues in the law will rectify the speciesist and otherwise exclusionary formulations of the socially constructed differences between various species, which have so far been unquestioned assumptions."
I agree, but note an astonishing example of institutional exclusionary humanormativity perpetrated by those very individuals involved in legal education-- namely, the failure of most law schools to select nonhuman animals to serve as deans. Well, a few have-- such as Case Western Reserve, which was led for two years by an old goat named Lawrence Mitchell, Brooklyn Law School, which is currently helmed by a braying jackass, and the InfiLaw Consortium of Zoos, which will only hire corporate parrots. Regretably, however, law schools have yet to avail themselves of the keen minds and obvious leadership qualities of the following:

Newsflash - Indiana Tech appoints new dean

Just a quick update:

Many might shake their heads in utter amazement at the news that Indiana Tech Law School has appointed Charles P. Cercone as its new dean.  Charles was at the helm of none other than Cooley Law during its most shameful exploitation of students, 2003 until the present time, overseeing not just its disgraceful expansion but also its inability to adapt, leading to the closure of its Ann Arbor campus.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that the appointment of a dean truly gives insight into the future direction and values of any particular institution.  With their heads still buried deep in the sand, Indiana Tech has made another extraordinary blunder, showing once again that their enterprise lacks any real nexus to its lofty (and clearly false) facade of educating the next generation of lawyers, and is little more than a front for scamming students out of their student loan money with little regard for employment outcomes.  In that sense, Indiana Tech has picked the perfect dean - if rapid, uncontrolled expansion and maximum profit at the expense of students is what Indiana Tech is seeking (and it is, because its model is unsustainable in any other form), then they've picked the right guy.

Unless (fingers crossed) Charles has been brought in as one of the few deans with real world expertise in how to shut down a failing law school.  In that sense, he'd be the right guy too.

More soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Getting Infilawled: Florida Coastal School of Law

There are three main whipping schools of the "Scamblog movement" which, solely by themselves, demonstrate that the Scamblog movement is correct in its criticisms and supported reforms.

First is the most obvious: Cooley.  It is almost hard to believe that a law school like Thomas Cooley School of Law, excuse me: The Western Michigan University School of Law, exists.  Not only does it feature the standbys of expensive, private, low-ranked law schools (high tuition, terrible employment prospects, and poor bar pass rates), but it created its own "law school rankings" system called "Judging the Law Schools."  It is a complete farce: factors such as "law library square footage" and "student body size" are weighed as equally as LSAT and UGPA scores.

Second is Thomas Jefferson School of Law.  TJSL has the prestigious distinction of being the law school with the highest average graduate debt.  Unbelievably, TJSL also has the prestigious distinction of featuring bar passage rates (50.3% in 2013) that can only be described as horrendous, and ranks dead last among California's ABA-accredited law schools.  I'm certain with the steep fall in bar pass rates this cycle will push TJSL at least into the 40's.  Check out this link for a genuine expose on how rocky TJSL's finances are by the OTLSS team.

Third, and last of the most common whipping boys is The Infilaw System.  This for-profit law school enterprise stems from a Chicago private equity company, and currently encompasses three low-ranked, expensive, private law schools: Arizona Summit School of Law (recently renamed from Phoenix School of Law), Charlotte School of Law, and Florida Coastal School of Law (FCSL), the subject of today's post (it is currently trying to acquire another low-ranked, expensive, private law school).  Infilaw schools, like Cooley, and other low-ranked, expensive, private law schools, hide behind the convenient cloaks of "diversity" and "practice-ready" in order to justify the end-result: thousands of academically weak Americans graduate each year with high debt loads, poor bar pass rates, and worse employment outcomes, with the aforementioned institutions reaping hundreds of millions in subprime taxpayer-backed student loans.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

LSAT Scores Do Not And Cannot Predict Bar Exam Scores

In a lot of the commentary about declining LSATs and declining bar examination scores this past summer, there is, shall we say, a lack of the sort of rigor that normally attaches itself to peer-reviewed publications.

For recent examples of this, please see the work of Derek Muller (Pepperdine) and Jerry Organ (St. Thomas), both somewhat supporting the "damn you, MBE!" thesis advanced by Brooklyn Dean Nicholas Allard.  (more recent nonsense here).

Simple foundational statistics and healthy skepticism can do much to completely demolish these ideas.  For example, here's Organ:
[A] comparison of the LSAT profile of the Class of 2014 with the LSAT profile of the Class of 2013 would suggest that one could have anticipated a modest drop in the MBE Mean Scaled Score of perhaps .5 to 1.0.  The modest decrease in the LSAT profile of the Class of 2014 when compared with the Class of 2013, by itself, does not explain the historic drop of 2.8 reported in the MBE Mean Scaled Score between July 2013 and July 2014
And here's Muller making a similar claim:
[W]e see a fairly significant correlation between my extremely rough approximation of a projected MBE score based on the LSAT scores of the matriculating classes, and the actual MBE scores, with one exception: this cycle. 
Just one problem with all of this:  LSAT year-over-year comparisons are more or less baseless and have no predictive value by themselves.

About the LSAT

To learn why, we need to try to understand where LSAT scores come from, and understand that they have little connection to objective reality.  An LSAT score is derived from the raw number of questions on the LSAT that one correctly answers.  The administrators of the LSAT then "scale" the scores from 120 - 180 depending on the difficulty of the test, which is pre-determined using a metric that is based on prior recent LSAT administrations (LSAC uses what is called "Item Response Theory" to model the test to individual performance on questions instead of assuming all questions equal as your 7th grade math teacher probably did).  They "normalize" or "equate" the test to to even things out over administrations.  It's not entirely transparent (if it is somewhere in clear fashion, please point it out and I will correct anything erroneous herein), but it's fairly clear that the median over several administrations is around the 150 mark by design.

The idea is that students who take a "hard" LSAT should not be punished relative to students who take an "easier" LSAT, and therefore the former will have a more forgiving curve.  The "curve" is set in advance because the questions are "pretested" by previous examination takers, so LSAC "knows" how hard that particular test is.

It should be obvious that this approach makes what might be a serious mistake, and certainly an assumption that invalidates its extrinsic utility:  it assumes that the students taking each administration of the LSAT are roughly equivalent in aptitude on a year-over-year, aggregate basis.

In statistical terms, they assume any given set of administrations is a fairly representative sample of a fairly constant population of pre-law students.  This would seem to severely undercut any idea that the LSAT has any sort of non-relative value; after all, if item response theory evaluates prior responses to questions, and the prior students were either significantly brighter or significantly dumber than the current group taking the test, how can the test possibly have any year-over-year validity outside of a comparison relative to one's class?

A simple hypothetical:

In year 1, 60,000 separate students take the LSAT.  The economy was especially brutal for straight-out-of-college hires, and so a large cluster of elite students decide to try law school.  The median IQ of the group in 115, and there are a spate of applicants from the Ivy League and comparable schools.  An IQ of 105 would roughly put someone in only the 25th percentile.

In year 2, the economy is moving much better, the elite graduates have found something else to do, and the median IQ of 60,000 LSAT takers is 105.  In this group, a 115 IQ puts one in the 75th percentile.

Going strictly by the three-year percentile charts, in year 1, the student with the 115 IQ is going to score in the low 150s.  In group 2, the 115 IQ is going to be in the high 150s, gaining 6 or 7 points just by being with a dumber group overall.  In group 1, the 105 IQ scores in the mid-140s.  In group 2, that same student shoots up into the low 150s.  In the world of bar predictors, this same low-scorer just greatly increased his bar exam probability by simply sitting down a second time at a later point.

You can claim that the certain tests will be above or below the percentile mean because of the variances in item response theory and "equating" working themselves out over the administrations, but when the overall mean is set at 150 and there's a nice bell curve around it, the conclusion is inescapable that a 150 in 2009 will not necessarily equal a 150 in 2014.  A 150 in 2009 could be a 142 or a 163 in 2014 depending on who else has taken the test recently and who else is in the room.

  • There is no inherent connection between IQ/reasoning ability/brainpower and one's LSAT score.
  • The raw number of LSAT high scorers is dependent almost strictly on the number of people who take the LSAT within a certain timeframe.  A school's declining LSAT numbers is more of an indication that there are fewer fish in the pool overall, and really nothing more.  In an alternative universe, it is possible that a school's LSAT percentiles would drop and their bar passage rates actually increased.  LSAT scores are dropping almost everywhere outside the top rank of schools.  This, by itself, should make us question any extrinsic value that the test may have.
  • No matter how dumb a large cohort is (say, a series of years where going to law school is a ridiculous idea), a certain percentage (2-3%) of students are going to inevitably score over 170, at a minimum because the test will at some point self-correct for the "difficulty" of the test, and LSAC apparently aims for a 150 median over time.  That does not mean they all have equal abilities in terms of navigating law school and the bar examination, or in subsequent law practice.  In a few years, I expect to see "new associates aren't as sharp as they used to be" writings from law partners who have had their heads in the sand.
  • There is no true transparency anywhere in this industry, not even on something as basic as an entrance examination based on what appear to be otherwise-sound mathematical models. 
  • It is entirely possibly to have a four-year period where there is a steady decline in the quality of students taking the examination, but only a slight or modest decline in LSAT scores.  This is basic math.
Historically, there may have been a vague correlation between LSAT scores and bar exam performance because classes were relatively stable in their distributions, and thus LSAT scores more or less mimicked a generalized measure of intelligence for relatively consistent sample populations of potential law students.

After 2008, and in wake of the most recent bar results, those bets have to be called off.  To put it bluntly, it's entirely possible the law schools slowly started enrolling collectively dumber students, and we really have no way of knowing that from LSAT medians.

It is absurd for any serious claim or inquiry about one cohort's abilities to be based on the LSAT where the LSAT has no real connection to actual real-world aptitude beyond providing a relative measurement against one's peers.  It does not - and cannot - answer the question of whether one's peers are abnormally bright, normal, or abnormally dim.  Because of that fatal flaw, LSAT scores have no predictive value whatsoever when it comes to a slightly different population taking an unrelated test that has separate controls for year-over-year validity.

As a concluding point, here's a daily koan for you:  why do Allard and friends not go back in time and ask about how the LSAT got scored? 

Assuming Unknowns and Constants

Another fundamental flaw in the analysis provided by Organ, Muller, and others is even considering the 25th, 50th, or 75th percentile LSAT scores as usable in determining anything about how a portion of that group will do on a subsequent examination where the differences are significant at much smaller levels than 25 percentage points (such as bar exam pass rates).  The numbers between those guide posts can be highly variable, and the statistics manipulators are basically assuming there's some constancy or uniformity in the unknown numbers in drawing their conclusions.

Consider a law school entering class of 10 students.

Class A:  161, 161, 161, 156, 156, 156, 156, 154, 147, 140
Class B:  160, 160, 160, 155, 155, 155, 155, 153, 153, 153

Now, which group has the higher LSAT scores and will likely be ranked higher in the magazines?  Now, which group would you bet on to have the higher bar passage rate, if all ten students take the bar?

Multiply this little exercise by hundreds and you can quickly see where not knowing what's at the tail end of the curve (or the middle portions of the curve) is a huge problem.  We (and that includes Muller, Organ, and their peers) have no way of gauging just how terrible the bottom-tier students are at these institutions, notwithstanding any issues with the LSAT itself.  130?  125?

What about the allowance for people who haven't even taken the LSAT? 

There are, of course, other variables the MBE critics are ignoring.  One is students who drop out or transfer (in or out).  If students with median LSATs drop out because law school is a losing bet, the school's bar pass rate is more likely to drop than not.  Similarly, if a year has abnormally high transfers, either an exodus from lower-ranked schools by high-scoring students or an influx of lower-scoring students at higher-ranked schools (both are possible), it's going to throw off any correlation between the LSAT and bar pass rates.

There's far too many variables that cannot be accounted for by law professor statistics.


The admissions-department heuristic that LSAT scores can predict future bar exam success is misplaced in an act of statistical misunderstanding similar to the classic "correlation, not causation" mistake from Stats 101.  Allard, Muller, Organ, et. al see historical correlation, assume causation, and then cry foul when a "predicted" result doesn't happen (and, in a surely-unrelated aside, it hurts their institutions).

Out of all the measurements we have available, the bar exam is probably the most consistent in terms of measuring raw aptitude on a year-over-year basis given that they're looking for a minimum competence bar and not a "hey, let's get snowflake into law school" motivation.

It's likely not the problem; it's almost certainly the students these law schools are enrolling, and no manipulation of statistics and empty claims of MBE chicanery can alter that.  There may be a problem with the test, but given that other, more simple explanations seem more likely and there is no reliable proof of an error, I don't think it's much of a credible thesis.

Ultimately, this is - yet again - number manipulation by the law schools and their friends, this time to support the idea that their open admissions policies should have as little repercussions as possible (it's basically a salvo in the coming battle over bar passage numbers the lowest-ranked schools may have with the ABA).  As a concerned member of the bar, I oppose their efforts, and I oppose any effort to make the bar exam essentially match percentages with the LSAT, as all that does is ensure that a set percentage of each class WILL pass the bar no matter how dumb the cohort or three-year cohort or whatever.  We can talk about the bar exam's utility elsewhere, but if we're going to have it, it needs to mean something beyond what the law school deans want it to mean.

They have no way of supporting any claim that the class of 2011 was just as bright as previous classes, and most available evidence suggests the opposite (for one, they went to law school in fall 2011), but the schools will be damned before they let what is likely the sorry truth get in the way of blaming someone else for the mess they've ultimately created.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Memo to Law School Deans - This Beast is of Your Own Making, so Stop Trying to Pawn it Off

UPDATE:  Oops, looks like a lot of this has been covered recently by AdamB.  My 2 cents follows. 

"Less Able."
With these words, internecine warfare has begun within the Law School Cartel.
Not only have there been declining LSAT test-takers and declining application counts for years now, but there have also been declining bar passage rates.  Somebody is to blame for this radical turn of events.  But who?
Why, its the stupid NCBE and their stupid "bar exam" of course!  What else could possibly explain the poor performance of students and this strange turn of events?  Stupid test writers, I'll bet they are not even tenured Law Professors!
The NCBE, not one to take this lying down, fires back:

Dybbuk catalogued the latest decline in median LSAT scores and GPA stats for incoming classes, and the results have been discouraging.  As described, Law Schools have clearly been choosing their preferred method for dealing with declining applications:
Strategy Two: Lower admissions standards, with not-so-long-term disastrous implications for the school’s reputation, the profession itself, and for the poorly qualified matriculants,  aka lemmings of average and below average intelligence, who are less likely than brainier members of their cohort to bounce back after taking the plunge.    
It would appear that the NCBE is on target with their critique.
But wait!  Dean Allard rides to the rescue, to chasten and rebuke.  It is not the students, who have been insulted, it's the test (that has been around for decades) this is the problem!  There has been "no transparency."  There is no evidence the students are "less able" (just, the, um, scores themselves, but who cares), just mere assertion!  Getting a JD is "hard work" and requires "intelligence."
The coup-de-grace, per Allard?
It is strange that after completing, at great expense, such intense studies, the first thing law graduates must do is pay a lot of money, once again, to prepare for a test that will enable them to practice law.  This defies common sense.
Why, yes it does, yes it does.  Welcome the to the scamblog camp, Dean Allard.
Friends, "open enrollment" is starting to have its effect, and the Law Schools are scrambling for cover.  It would be entertaining to feast upon all this discord (and I do admit to grabbing some popcorn laced with a heavy dose of schadenfreude), but the real tragedy here lies with recent students and graduates who are getting scammed.  While the various camps within the Cartel blame each other, disclaim contributory negligence, and lob their wordy hand-grenades, real people with real debt are the casualties.  No one within the Cartel seems to actually care about their federal student loan conduits, and they are more interested in passing the hot potato to someone else rather than rendering sober judgment unto themselves.
0ls, non-trads, these are the kind of people trying to entice you into Law School.  See how they act.  See how they dodge and weave.  Run for the hills, now, before the entire structure collapses and you get caught up in the collateral damage.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Keep Your Kids Off Cooley.

The good news is that bottom-of-the-barrel Thomas Cooley Law School has a free Saturday program for elementary and secondary school youth in Pontiac, Michigan. This "pipeline program" [1] boasts the child-friendly title "Cooley Collaborative for a Certainty of Opportunity," or CCCO.

According to its program profile (below), CCCO "uses small and large group mentoring programs involving both students and their parents to build character and increase academic success." It aims to warn kids away from the temptations and "destructive influences" they will face as they mature— things like teen pregnancy, "kid crime," and substance abuse. Cooley has taken a lot of flack from scamblogs, but surely one can forgive a lousy law school its 22.9% nine-month-out bar required job placement rate if it can keep area adolescents from getting knocked up and/ or becoming gangster dope fiends. 

The bad news, of course, is that Cooley Law School does not warn kids off the temptation or destructive influence of itself. 

One of the highlights of CCCO is the free 'Success on Saturdays' program held every other Saturday at a Pontiac high school. Success on Saturdays helps kids focus on getting organized, on test taking strategies, and on study habits. Accordingly, program services provided include "[s]tudy skills,""tutoring and academic support," and "[m]entoring/advising service." And, needless to say, the organizers will not neglect to gift the children with all-important "Law school and career information."

What can you say about a pipeline program like this? I hope, and think it is possible, that the program does some good, even though it is sponsored by an outfit with dubious ulterior motives. Perhaps a fair analogy would be to an after-school or weekend program for children run by a fundamentalist religious organization. The kids arguably benefit from the fellowship, group outings, and some of the moral and practical lessons. But one also hopes that a parent, or some other trusted adult influencer, would quietly take each kid aside and say: "Look, I am glad the activities are fun and that you are making friends, but there are aspects of the organizers' outlook and what they want for you that you should regard with deep skepticism."

Or this being the USA, perhaps the most effective way to reach our vulnerable youth is a through a slickly produced and bluntly worded televised public relations campaign. I envision something like this: An actor or celebrity displays a sheet of fine linen paper on which attractive calligraphic print is visible, and declares: “This is your resume.” Next, he drops the paper into a clogged toilet, and then retrieves it using a plunger and medical gloves. He holds the now soggy and repulsive page close to the camera. "This is your resume on Cooley. Or, rather, Cooley on your resume. Any questions?"


[1] "Law school pipeline programs across the country attempt to make interventions early along this stream on the theory that these interventions will widen the flow of students later in the application stage." Michelle J. Anderson, Legal Education Reform, Diversity, and Access to Justice, 61 Rutgers Law Review 1011, 1029 (2009).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bar Exam Scores Decline

It has been a long time since my last post.  I have not been investigating the scam as frequently, so I have not had much new information to contribute.  Fortunately, one of our best posters came back recently from The Phantom Zone.

I just thought that I'd repost something that is making the rounds.  Apparently -- gasp -- it is true that law schools have been admitting students with even less aptitude.  For example, Dybbuk has hammered home the truth about open admissions at some of the worst T4 schools.

Overall, the classes that started in 2010 - 2011 have MBE bar exam pass rates far lower than previous classes.  Of course, Scam Dean Nick Allard of Brooklyn Law School has tried to fight back against the truth revealed by these numbers (apparently, he thinks that bad scoring is to blame).

Friday, November 7, 2014

"Yes," "No," or "John Adams": How do you think Albany Law Prof. Mary Lynch answered the question: "Do we need [so many] new lawyers every year?"

How would you answer the question: "Do we need so many new lawyers every year?"

It seems like a yes-no question, doesn’t it? So you could answer, if you are sufficiently delusional: Yes, there is a significant unmet need for legal services, and even though few of these potential clients can afford to actually pay a lawyer, surely the government and private foundations will step in with sufficient funding. The New New Deal is just around the corner.

Or you could answer: No, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that, nationwide, fewer than 50% of new lawyers will obtain law jobs through 2022.

But there is yet another way to answer this yes-no question, the evasive scammer way. For instance, you could respond by noting that it is a really good question, and then spout a torrent of enthusiastic and empty verbiage about the civic virtue of the law. You could reach all the way back to the early years of our republic in order to name-check John Adams and then zip forward to the "globalized, digitalized world" of the near future. You could carefully deploy the phrase "the question is. . ." or "really the question is. . ." or "that, I think, is the real question." Maybe the questioner and audience will get so disoriented by this gaseous fog of words that they will imagine that the initial question has been answered in a highly sophisticated way, which in a way it has been.

Albany Law Professor Mary Lynch, the Director of her school's "Center for Excellence in Law Teaching," chose the third option in an interview broadcast on WYNT television on August 22, 2013. Interviewer Phil Bayly asked: "Before we even get to their education, you know what people are asking their television right now. Do we need [so many] new lawyers every year?" Lynch responded as follows:
"I think that’s a really good question, and I think the question is what is it that lawyers can do for society. And if we really think about, law is a civic profession. Our country was founded on law. John Adams. You think of all the people that founded our country. So what are lawyers? Lawyers are involved in industry. Many of our Presidents, our senators, you know, government, not-for-profit. So really the question is what kind of lawyers do we want to be? Are they going to be effective problem solvers as we go into the 21st century, and into a globalized, digitalized world? And that I think is the real question. Are we equipping them with the kind of skills that make them the kind of folks that we want helping us solve the problems of the world."  
[This comment appears about one minute into the nine-and-a-half minute long interview]
I must say that this nonsense disappointed me given that it came from a Professor with a genuine, though not recent, background in practice, consisting of four years as a district attorney (1985-1989). Imagine if Lynch, in her long-ago role as a prosecutor, had posed the original question to a witness, and the witness had responded by commending her "really good question," and then launched into a stream of gibberish pertaining to what she deemed the "real question"? Wouldn't Lynch have said "Objection, nonresponsive" or "Objection, please direct the witness to answer the question"? Wouldn’t the witness have been sternly admonished by the court to answer the question posed? Wouldn’t the jury have snickered at the fool on the witness stand?

Lynch purports an interest and involvement in legal educational reform and clinical education. I don’t dismiss this completely. For instance, Lynch ran her school's clemency clinic, which is absolutely a worthy project. (Preparing clemency petitions is unlikely to lead to actual jobs for grads, but it is a genuine unmet need, something that benefits society). But I want to tout one additional reform that law professors can undertake, on their own, that could make a significant difference: Listen respectfully to your recent grads, and tell truth about job prospects, especially to your students. Or, if that is too tall an order, simply avoid the temptation to shill your lousy law schools.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Will Bottom of the Barrel Thomas Jefferson School of Law Further Reduce Its Faculty, Staff, Bar Prep, and Parking?

On March 21, 2014, a remarkable conference call was held between a high level team at financially-beset Thomas Jefferson School of Law (TJSL) and representatives of the bondholders who unwisely financed TJSL's chevron-topped vanity project to the tune of 130 million dollars. To its credit, the TJSL side decided to record the call and make it available on the internet on grounds that the bondholders were so numerous that a recording was the only way to effectively communicate with all, rather than a select group. 

The majority of the conference call consisted of Dean Thomas Guernsey narrating a slide show (which unfortunately is not available) about the school’s operations, programs, constraints, and revenue projections. The audio file of the call can by accessed by going to this web address and following instructions:

On October 29, 2014, just over seven months after the call, TJSL reached a last-minute debt restructuring agreement with the bondholders. Under the agreement, the school becomes a mere tenant in its own lavish eight story cathedral of legal learning, aka Hasl's "Mammoth" Folly. However, on its website, TJSL reassures readers that "students should not see any change in the operation of the law school caused by the restructuring" and that "We do not anticipate a reduction in the number of staff as a result of the restructuring."

What follows are a few highlights of what Dean Guernsey told the bondholders, during the March 21st conference call, about recent and projected budget cuts at the school. Potential law students and their influencers may wish to consider Guernsey’s comments as they evaluate whether TJSL is likely to provide, as TJSL promises on its website, "a learning environment in which all of our students can more effectively acquire the academic and non-academic skills that they need to thrive in a rapidly changing legal profession." They might recall that, even pre-budget-cuts, the school's bar-required job placement rate for recent grads was among the worst in the country and that its bar passage rate is dismal. How the school will improve its performance with a reduced and demoralized staff is not clear. Perhaps magic.


* "As we’ve reported before, the school has taken dramatic cuts since 2012. The number of employees at the school declined from 139 to 102. We have reduced spending by 22% and believe the result is that we have a bare bones budget for the operation of the law school." (Conference call, at 32:50-33:10)

* "We are projecting a significant decline in the number of full-time faculty that the law school will employ as the number of students declines and then levels off." (32:24-34:40) 

* "We are projecting further personnel reductions planned over the next three years. . .We have assumed that benefits and salaries for those who work at the law school will not increase over the next four years, but that after that there will be a 2.5 percent annual growth. At some point, the continued inability to give salary increases is going to have obviously a negative impact on our ability to retain people." (33:28-34:05) 

 * "A number of expenses we have reduced, these are just the ones that are $50,000 or more. Professional fees by more than $560,000. Student recruitment by more than $430,000. Library continuations by $125,000. Security by $89,000." (39:22-39:38)

 * "We are looking for other ways to improve. . . [A] bar preparation course [for] which we pay about $600,000 a year ends in 2016. We have no intention of renewing that. That leads to a $285,000 reduction in 2017." (39:47-40:13)   

 * "We have worked hard to reduce our parking expenses, which should be about $115,000 less in 2015.  We are currently renting 400 parking spaces, and we’ve  negotiated a reduction in that number to 150 spaces at $85 per month." (40:15-40:39)

* "As we’ve talked before, the law school has made significant budget cuts lately. We have reduced the overall FTE headcount by over 21% in the past year alone. As I’ve indicated, we have further reductions projected over the next three years. Significant salary and benefit concessions have been implemented. We froze salaries and wages since 2012. In August, soon after my arrival, we made a 5% across the board cut in salaries, with an additional 3% cut for the faculty. We eliminated the 401K matching, which was up to 3% of salary and that became effective on January, 2014. And we have eliminated paid sabbaticals." (38:26-39:14)