Thursday, August 27, 2015

More Accurate Infomation, Indeed

In my time monitoring the news reports regarding law schools, I occasionally feel like the entire discourse is an enormous ruse when I see an advocate make a claim that strikes me as strangely absurd. It's almost like Poe's Law for law school discussions - I come to have an honest confusion about whether the speaker is spilling eyebrow-raising earnestness or truly sophisticated parody.

For example, observe this purported quote from Seton Hall's Michael Simkovic:
Providing more accurate information to the public could benefit law schools, but the greatest beneficiaries would be the students whose lives law school can change for the better. For many college graduates, the $30,000 to $60,000 extra per year that they can typically earn with a law degree will mean the difference between living in a safe and clean neighborhood or one that is dangerous and polluted.
For the sake of brevity, I must resist the urge to focus on the premium numbers and the prompted imagery of all those BS/BA holders who are scrounging in the ghetto making what sounds like $20k a year while living out fantasies from The Wire.

It's curious that Simkovic would claim that law schools are somehow victims of public misinformation without an obvious indicator of sarcasm. Up until a few short years ago, law schools regularly profited mightily off media acquiescence and massive information asymmetries. Even now, in the "debate" over law school's general value, the institutional actors have far more media cachet than their struggling graduates, and hardly have clean hands when it comes to accurate public perceptions. Many of those same institutional actors have held postures somewhere between haughty ignorance and defensive criticism when it comes to legal education's most obvious problems. A few of them have aggressively gone after those who dare use their super-lawyer-premium justice-seeker skills against the legal academy.

The loudest voices about having "more accurate information" in legal education have invariably come from outside the academy. And accordingly, the "more accurate information" that has come out has decidedly not benefited the law schools, excepting, perhaps, Simkovic's own unimpeachable, relevant work. It's incredibly difficult to believe that "more accurate information" would, in any possible way, lead to more/higher-quality law school enrollees or else one would think the law schools would open the books with haste whether AALS was splurging on a Ministry of Propaganda or not.

Of course, the AALS could do far more than expend monies on "highly qualified communications professionals" to do "public outreach efforts" in a Fox News-style venture to bring "accurate, informed, and balanced news coverage" to the law school industry.

Instead, AALS could provide a blanket donation to Law School Transparency and pass a resolution that member schools must make their NALP reports pubic. Perhaps, even, the AALS could establish a standard for longitudinal reporting so that researchers like Simkovic would have superior data from which to conclude - for example - that law school is an outstanding investment regardless of any possible variables. Going further, the AALS could have member schools submit their numbers to a third-party audit to give the reporting an official sheen of authenticity for the likely future big firm partners, judges, and premium-savoring others who enroll at Seton Hall.

Or would that be too much publicly available accurate information?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

More LSAC Hi-jinks

First off, thank you to our contributors and our commentators for standing tall on the law school scam.  I normally try to pitch my hat in the ring two or three times a month here on OTLSS, and unfortunately work has prevented me from doing my part as much as I would like as of late.  It's a group volunteer effort, and I for one appreciate everyone's participation here during the summer, which can be a time of slow news days to begin with.

LSAC's latest numbers have come out, and they are showing a modest 1.9% drop in applicants for 2014-2015.  This has been heralded in some corners (mostly academic) as the end of the recession, the renewal of the legal profession, and other platitudes from those desperate to believe that needed changes have come.   Perhaps the rate of decline has indeed slowed or even stopped, but that didn't prevent LSAC from playing games with their reported data then and now.

Early this year, I lambasted LSAC for their questionable accounting and charting standards.  As we all know there have been declines in applicants for several years now, and the cartel was looking for any sign, anywhere, that the bleeding was staunched.  Below is my own view of the data, plotting applicants against applications for the last five years.  Amazingly, not only are the r-squared regression values damn near 1.0 each year, apparently you can count on about 6.75 applications per applicant without fail.

Which leads to the disturbing "bump" in the latest applicant chart from LSAC.  Thanks to the Internet Wayback Machine, you can see the same chart from the June 2015 timeframe without the bump.  Now, in August 2015, there is a strange bump in the applicant count for BOTH 2014 and 2015 where there was none before for 2014.  Furthermore, as we know the relationship between applicants and applications is linear, where is the consummate "bump" in applications?  Hmmm...nowhere to be seen, and the applications curves are as smooth as a baby's bum.

Or maybe there is a bump in the applications after all...?  I back-calculate approximately 4,500 students in the applicant "bump" that appeared between June and August, and if I use my 6.75x correlation on what appears to be a very small change in applications, I get around 2,200 students, or half of the recently-proclaimed bump.  Close enough?  No real change at all in applications, given the 0.99 correlation value between applicants and applications, so the disconnect between the two LSAC charts remains?  It's hard to tell just looking at the chart with its severely compressed scaling.

August 2015

June 2015

August 2015

In any event, LSAC has already demonstrated a propensity to game the numbers and their charts to suit their own view of the world, and this modest 1.9% decline is overall applicants is not to be trusted, bump or no bump.  LSATs taken continues to decline across the board, and to think that happy days are here again for the Cartel is dubious at best.

Athornia Steele, head of LSAC, described the scambloggers as "wicked witches of the west."  The truth can cut both ways, however.  I submit that anyone who values brains, heart, and courage will find common-cause with the (green-skinned) scambloggers long before joining LSAC's merry traipsing down the yellow-brick road that is no doubt paved with "good intentions"...and hefty, non-dischargable student loans.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Law firm hires exclusively from toilet schools

I have said before that only a dozen or so law schools in the whole US deserve consideration by those who are not independently wealthy ( I have warned that a degree from a bottom-end law school will effectively exclude its bearer from a decent career in law.

Well, I am wrong. At least one law firm not only hires but even prefers graduates of toilet schools—to the point of refusing to consider their counterparts from Harvard and Yale:

Adam Leitman Bailey proclaims, urbi et orbi, that his small New York law firm specializing in real estate will not hire "from the Ivy League [s]chools". (Apparently he uses the term "Ivy League" loosely.) Instead, it recruits "from the top of the classes of the second, third or fourth tier [sic] law schools". These worthies work half time during the semester (those coming from, say, Thomas Jefferson face a rather long commute) or full time during the summer. After graduation, some of them may return to full-time jobs, eventually even partnerships.

An exciting development! At least one employer covets the top-performing students at every Cooley from Maine to California. First "JD advantage", now "toilet advantage"!

Mr. Bailey "admire[s] the top ranking [sic] law schools". So why won't he hire their graduates? "First, the top students from these law schools have no interest in applying for a job at our firm." Ay, there's the rub. Do I taste the characteristic flavor of sour grapes?

Second, from the premise that "many of these law schools either fail to rank their students or do not even grade them at all", Mr. Bailey concludes that "[t]heir students typically have no incentive to get the best grades in their classes" or "to squeeze as much learning as possible out of the law school [sic] experience". It is true that some of the good (NB: not "the best") law schools, including my own, adopt that policy. But so do some toilets. And it does not follow that the students have no incentive to get high grades or to learn as much as they can. Nor does a high class rank from a Cooley, which may well use multiple-choice exams, attest to great learning.

Third, according to Mr. Bailey, "the statistics show that almost every large law firm offers all of the summer associates full time [sic] jobs. In order for the top law firms to attract the brightest students they must also show that in past years all of the candidates received job offers." Sorry, Rip Van Winkle, but none of that is true in 2015. Even at élite academies, many bright students struggle to find work anywhere. They would not idly reject an offer from a top firm just because it had declined to hire a few people back. And white-shoe law firms in recent years have rejected many a summer associate. Some have postponed their entire cohort, deferred or rescinded offers, and even reduced or eliminated their summer-associate program. Of course, former summer associates are also free to decline a job offer in order to work for Mr. Bailey's firm. So Mr. Bailey's argument does not support his refusal to consider students from the good law schools.

Fourth, those students focus their academic attentions on "political theory and international law and classes on capital punishment", whereas Mr. Bailey's firm needs "trial practice, corporations, tax, civil procedure and any real estate and litigation course offered". Really? Civil procedure is part of the curriculum everywhere. And most of the students at the good schools do take some of those other courses. Besides, the presence of a course on the transcript does not prove significant knowledge of the subject, nor does the absence of a course prove ignorance.

And do students at the toilet schools really opt for the meat and potatoes of Mr. Bailey's practice? Unconvinced, I had a look at Indiana Tech's offerings ( Real estate is limited to the single course Landlord Tenant Law. Taxation is represented by a single course, Federal Income Tax EPT, that pertains to the taxation of individuals only. On the other hand, Indiana Tech's students enjoy a sprawling smorgasbord of fluffy offerings, including Sports Law, Sexuality and the Law Seminar, numerous courses ostensibly pertaining to global leadership, and, most ridiculously (Dougie Fresh's fingerprints are all over this), Hip Hop and the American Constitution. Indiana Tech also requires six semesters of Foundations of Legal Analysis, at least the last four semesters of which are bar review. Similar candy-ass offerings typify toilets other than Fort Wayne's pride and joy.

To hire those "who have competed for three years for the top grades and at the same time who have learned topics relevant to our real estate [sic—learn to use the hyphen, for Christ's sake] practice", Mr. Bailey pursues the top graduates of toilet schools. Even on his own terms, however, that approach does not work. Top graduates of toilets have not necessarily had to compete: someone in a class full of underperformers will get first place, and outranking those who could not get into a good law school does not attest to a competitive spirit. Nor have those graduates necessarily learned anything relevant to real-estate practice or, for that matter, to legal practice of whatsoever kind. The best shit, after all, is still shit.

Concluding what is obviously a faux-contrarian bid for publicity rather than an appraisal of law schools and their graduates, Mr. Bailey vaunts his firm's "ability to hire the best candidates based purely on merit, not aristocracy". He is right about the largely aristocratic character of the Harvards and the Yales—something that I, one of the relatively few non-aristocrats to graduate from one of those universities, can corroborate. But selecting "purely on merit", however defined, is inconsistent with blanket exclusions—particularly of those graduates whose law schools, despite their faults, at least manage to people their classes with top performers by the measures of GPA and LSAT score. In any event, I would not look for "the best candidates" by scouring the top ranks of Charleston, Appalachian, and Arizona Summit.