Monday, September 28, 2015

Do North Carolina's most recent bar passage results shed any light on declining pass rates nationally?

                                            (From Charlotte Law School's "official blog")

Last year, OTLSS published a two-post series by a former Charlotte Law School faculty member detailing the mistreatment of students and faculty by the school's mercenary InfiLaw owners. The guest poster stated that "Charlotte Law feeds on students who were not accepted into any other law schools." The poster added that, "Most of the students who scored at the bottom of the admitted pool lack basic reading and writing skills, and so are required to take a pre-1L program to make them able to participate in actual classes." This grim account of the need to spoon-feed academically disinclined law students finds strange corroboration in Charlotte Dean Jay Conison's alleged email blaming the laziness of Charlotte law students for their recent appalling bar exam results.

And, as noted, the poster's observations were published last year, comparative glory days for Charlotte, when it could still almost muster a 60% bar passage rate. On the most recent North Carolina exam (July, 2015), Charlotte’s passage rate sunk below 50%-- to 47.1% to be exact, which is a trifling 22.3% below the State average.  To be fair, the priceless graphic at the top of this post establishes that there is also under-reported good news out of Charlotte. I mean, why focus on Charlotte’s lousy overall bar passage rate when we could as easily celebrate the success of a small elite subsection of its bar-takers? 

Law school apologists have been thrashing around amusingly for some plausible explanation for tanking bar passage rates other than the unsayable one, the decline in academic quality of law school matriculates. Last year’s designated culprit was a software glitch. This year, we can blame the addition of civil procedure to MBE-tested subjects.

Some of these law school apologists have further explained that declining bar passage rates may not be due to a mere unrelated succession of changes or flukes. Rather, there may be a sinister plan by the testmasters at the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) to sabotage passage rates. For instance, University of Mississippi lawprof and recently-resigned Dean I. Richard Gershon has asserted that NCBE is pursuing an agenda of reducing the number of entrants to the legal profession by "purposely gaming the MBE." Likewise, but in even more inflammatory tones, Brooklyn blowhard Nicholas Allard has questioned the integrity and fairness of the bar exam itself, as well as the motives of NCBE Chief Erica Moeser. Richly, this former top D.C. corporate lobbyist for Patton Boggs, author of a scholarly masterpiece entitled "Lobbying is an Honorable Profession," and self-described "lobbyist for Brooklyn Law School" (See video interview at 11:05-11:08) has accused the NCBE of "acting. . . like a self-interested lobbying group." Oh, and blogging lawprof "BDG" has significantly elevated the debate by claiming to be a space alien doing the bidding of the Warsaw Pact. ("It could be true that scores were lower because the test-takers were not as able, but then I could also be a Martian or a Soviet spy").

I am wondering if the chart below offers some slight reason to impute a correlation between student academic credentials and bar passage. Just as a fun exercise, have a look at the chart and then rank the North Carolina law schools in order, one through seven, according to bar passage rate on the July 2015 exam. Then rank those same North Carolina law schools in order, one through seven, according to their 25th percentile LSAT score for 2012 (i.e., the year that most of the 2015 bar exam takers were admitted to law school). Lists look pretty similar, no? And by similar, I mean identical.

I grant that correlation is not proof of causation. It is logically possible that the reason bar passage rates are declining is entirely unrelated to declining student quality. And yet I do believe that the correlation provides grounds for suspicion in light of simple common sense. Imagine a formerly prestigious and tidy room where conditions are rapidly deteriorating. The cause of the room's ongoing destruction may be entirely unrelated to the fact that the room just happens to be occupied by a rampaging elephant named "Declining Standards" and by its inseparable companions, an enormous grunting pig named "Greed," and a braying jackass named "Excuses." But still, common sense provides basis to doubt the outraged protestations and denials of the elephant, even if the agitated beast is a former Rhodes scholar.

Bar Passage Rate, July ’15
25th percentile LSAT, 2012
UNC-Chapel Hill
Wake Forest
North Carolina Central


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Brooklyn Law School Dean Nicholas Allard writes smug and jokey law review article bragging about how he refused to allow a nine-year-old girl to have a pet dog.

Last November, if you recall, Brooklyn Law School [BLS] Dean Nicholas Allard wrote a letter to Erica Moeser, President of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, imperiously demanding that Moeser provide a "sincere apology" for her "not only surprisingly defensive, but offensive" comment that the decline in bar passage rates was attributable to less able law grads, and also demanding that Moeser provide a "complete explanation" of her motives and timing.
In his letter to Moeser, which he cc’d to every other law school Dean, Allard instructed Moeser that there had to be a problem with the integrity and fairness of the bar exam when "more than a small number" do not pass since "graduating from an ABA accredited law school requires intelligence and hard work." Allard did not mention, in his pompous rebuke, that the 25th percentile LSAT score of incoming Brooklyn law students has declined by nine points between 2010 and 2014, prima facie evidence from his own institution that Moeser’s assessment was correct.
At the time, Allard’s letter to Moeser struck me in tone and substance as a thuggish attempt to deflect well-deserved blame from himself and fellow law deans by trying to bully and humiliate Moeser for the crime of stating the very, very obvious. However, Allard has a gentler and more personable side, which he exhibits in his recent boosterish law review article "A Dean Grows in Brooklyn," 46 University of Toledo Law Review 273 (2015). This light-hearted article about his first couple of years as Dean is filled with cutesy witticisms and mildly self-deprecating little vignettes meant to depict BLS as an upbeat, diverse, and tight-knit community of "thinkers, doers, leaders, and motivated bright students." Dean Grows, at 275. See e.g. Id. at 277 ("While pizza may seem like the great unifying force at the Law School, there are other common factors: namely their pride in their law school."); Id. at 275 ("Law schools are places of unbridled energy, intellectual curiosity, and unwavering purpose, preparing leaders in law, government, commerce, and education"); Id., n.20 at 288 ("Oprah Winfrey once told me to stop my name-dropping").

Consider the following anecdote from the article in light of Allard’s conflict with Moeser. It seems that Allard and a law student were chatting in an elevator the day before the bar exam. The student said that there was still "so much I still don’t know," but that she would nonetheless "just handle it and wing it if need be." Id., n.9 at 279. Allard supposedly replied, "I could not be prouder of you if you knew all the material. You are ready!" Id. The student later effusively thanked Allard for giving her the confidence she needed. Id.
Granted, the day before the bar exam is a little late to say "You are doing it wrong," but did Allard really find her can-do attitude to be as praiseworthy as actually learning the law? I suppose if Allard had had an extra few seconds in that elevator he could have added some additional confidence-building bullshit, such as: "And if you fail the bar, I will personally admonish the chief bar examiner that the test she administers must be terribly flawed in that it did not reward your intrepid winging.

Allard's article drips with accolades for the quality and commitment of the BLS faculty, but I was drawn to the paragraph where Allard gently teases the lawprofs for throwing themselves drinking parties in the middle of the day. He states, "What other group of people will use words like oeuvre a half dozen times in a single faculty meeting, talking about a number of different agenda items? I never even knew that oeuvre was word you said out loud! And of all the different jobs I’ve had, I’ve never worked with anybody who throws an off-site going away party during the week at four in the afternoon!. . . Who has a party at 4 p.m.? You gotta love it!" Id. at 279.

Yes, you gotta. Nothing fills my heart with love like the thought of six-figure-salaried law faculty at a trap school with an appalling job placement record and a declining bar passage rate toasting their oeuvres and slurping down cocktails at off-site parties held during work hours.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Something Fishy at the University of Tulsa School of Law.

"Whether or not any of these "harpoons" find their marks in the students’ minds is a matter of some luck as well as skill (or so I tell myself). . ."-- University of Tulsa Law Prof. Tamara Piety.

Why should someone enroll at 82nd-ranked University of Tulsa School of Law, where students graduate with an average interest-accruing debt load of $100,000, not counting undergraduate debt? Because at Tulsa, as at no other law school, the law student will read a chapter from Herman Melville's classic Moby Dick in Civil Procedure class-- specifically Chapter 89, "Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish." This is due to the inspired pedagogy of University of Tulsa law professor Tamara Piety. Through Ishmael's brief discourse on aquatic fair game and imperialism, the Tulsa legal fledglings will learn one of the most profound secrets of our profession, namely that [lock the doors, draw the shades, send the children to their rooms, speak in shocked whispers] the law is often fashioned, interpreted, and applied to favor the powerful.

Naturally, Professor Piety wrote a law review article extolling the merits of her innovative class assignment. See Something Fishy: Or Why I Make My Students Read Fast Fish And Loose Fish, 29 VT. L. REV. 33 (2004). She also scored a trip to New York City to give a presentation on the article at a "Law, Culture & Humanities" conference. (See Piety's CV, Item No. 72 under "Presentations/Conferences). No wonder Professor Piety holds such a lofty opinion of "the utility of [legal] scholarship." (See here and here). Indeed, not only is this particular article useful, but its  fortunate readers, probably consisting mostly of other law professors, will surely take sympathetic enjoyment in the droll little wisecracks of a much put-upon legal scholar trying to drag her chowderheaded students into the light.

In the article, Piety mocks the stupidity of her students, noting that they often fail to realize that Melville meant "fast" in the sense of "fastened," rather than in the sense of "speedy." See e.g. Something Fishy at 37 ("Alas, the students come to us with little refinement in the use of their principal tool—the language. Thus, they greet this reading with the misconception that it has something to do with fish racing or racing fish."); Id. at 37 ("[A]lthough they might well think "racy fish" if they thought of yet another alternative for "fast" and "loose""). 

However, Piety does not mention that part of the problem might be that her institution, the University of Tulsa, accepts students with appallingly mediocre scores on the LSAT-- a test which, for all its faults, provides an assessment of reading comprehension and logic. Tulsa's most recent entering class had a median LSAT of 154 and a 25th percentile score of 151.

As well, Professor Piety uses the article as a platform to engage in some understandable bragging and name-dropping "by way of background" (Id. at 35) as to the intellectual road that led her to such unorthodoxy in the civil procedure classroom. The story can be summarized as follows: Piety went to Harvard for an LLM to help her get a job in legal academia after reluctantly embracing her professors' belief that she was well-suited to teach law.  At Harvard, she read Moby Dick after hearing it praised by her favorite professor, Cornell West, in a seminar that West co-taught with Roberto Unger. Maybe not the most compelling anecdote, but the Piety still managed to milk it for 2½ pages of her 17-page article.

In "Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish," Melville finds universal applicability in the whaler's code: "A fast fish belongs to the party fast to it. A loose fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it." Tamara Piety hopes, and so do I, that her students "may dimly begin to grasp the concepts therein and be enriched thereby." Id. at 34.

For instance, what is an idealistic but naive high school or college kid to a scamming law professor or law dean, but a loose fish? And what to that same scamming law professor or law dean is a class, even one filled with students of "little refinement," but fast fish-- or, shall I say, an all-you-can-eat fish fry?

Below are some quotes from the article, which was written in a style that was clearly intended to be jocular, tongue-in-cheeky, and reminiscent of the ornate prose favored by Melville and his contemporaries. I found it smug, affected, and deeply condescending. Alas, Dear Readers.


1. "After I’ve explained myself more fully in these pages, you, dear Reader, may also come to see my way of looking at it. After all, if clarity of purpose and intelligibility of the materials were the touchstones of "present-ability" of the readings we give to students, we should end by giving them nothing at all! Or so it often seems in reading legal materials (particularly late-twentieth-century statutes). So I am not surprised when I’m reading exams and I come across yet another illustration that some central piece of information in the course has slipped by the student almost in its entirety." Something Fishy at 34.

2. "Thus, one answer to the question, "Why do I make them read this chapter?", is "Because it’s good for them!" Besides, there is always the chance that one or two of them, or perhaps a whole crew, may dimly begin to grasp the concepts therein and be enriched thereby. At least that is my hope." Id.

3. "At any rate, I find there are several pedagogical purposes to be served by this reading, purposes which I set before you so you can judge for yourself. Whether or not any of these "harpoons" find their marks in the students’ minds is a matter of some luck as well as skill (or so I tell myself), so I cannot promise that your results will be any better than mine. But it will enliven the process of this Sisyphean task we call law teaching. At least I have found it so." Id. at 34-35.

4.  Still, when I am reading exams and I come across some reference to how such and such agrees with "the rule of fast fish and loose fish" or why Melville would "hold" such and such, I feel no special remorse that I’ve burdened them with some reading that they obviously didn’t understand. Such observations tend to join with many others of a similar ilk, drawn from the more traditional materials, in a veritable "school" of malapropisms and misstatements with which exams are generally filled."  Id. at 34.

5.  "It so happened that some years after graduating from law school I came around to the belief offered by my professors, and promptly ignored by me at the time (in the time-honored tradition of youth), that I might, after all, like teaching law. . . I took the plunge and found myself in amongst a school of young strivers known as Harvard Law School. What exhilaration! What terror! Yet despite the many moments of self-doubt and self-examination (which I discovered I shared with most of my young colleagues), it was thrilling. Just the tonic to blow the cobwebs from the brains and banish morbid thoughts! A bracing intellectual breeze blows there at all times and if you are standing in it you can’t help but be swept up. And I was. Gladly. One particular breeze, hurricane more like, was the venerable Cornell West, from whom I took a class called "American Democracy...In this course, West was wont to refer to Melville as the "greatest American author" and Moby Dick as a "masterpiece." Id. at 35-36.

6. "Alas, the students come to us with little refinement in the use of their principal tool—the language. Thus, they greet this reading with the misconception that it has something to do with fish racing or racing fish, (although they might well think "racy fish" if they thought of yet another alternative for "fast" and "loose"). Id. at 37.

7. "One of the first challenges for my students in grasping the meaning of this reading is a seemingly trivial one at first glance, but upon closer inspection is revealed as a harbinger of a key skill to be learned—the enlargement of one’s vocabulary and the necessity, in this pursuit, of looking things up!" Id. at 37.

8. "However, despite their general belief that the law professor’s job is to mystify not to clarify, I agree that I do want to shed light on the subject for my students. However, I also view it as my responsibility to challenge them, to push them to, and then past, what they previously thought were their intellectual limits."  Id. at 34.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Personal Story

It has been ten years since I graduated from law school and have been working in my "JD-Advantage" job.  I am nothing but grateful that I managed to stay employed during the Great Recession and its on-going aftermath, to be sure, given my seemingly precarious status as an early-40s Gen-Xer with the attendant responsibilities of a mortgage and family.  However, to point to law school as a ringing endorsement for my "success" is premature at best, and largely in spite of law school at the worst.  Of course, by going to a quad-T law school I did myself in to some degree, but those shiny brochures and smiling ScamDeans certainly told another tale about student outcomes even then, as we all know.

If you have followed my posts, you know that I used to be an engineer prior to law school.  I was school-debt-free, and making around $50k back on-or-about 1995, with reasonable yearly raises.  As you will see, my law school education dumped on a lot of debt with no real uptick in my starting salary, and there is nothing to suggest that my progression in my old career would have been worse.  If nothing else, I would still be education-debt-free, at a very reasonable salary, with no missed opportunity costs.

When I was hired into my JD-Advantage job, after extensive networking, researching, and informational interviews, I stared out at (wait for it) $55k.  In 2005.  While $55k is nothing to sneeze at given the deplorable outcomes for many JD graduates, my law degree did not catapult me forward as the ScamDeans and shiny brochures would fact, it slammed my butt back ten years to 1995, plus debt.  I thought that shiny JD was supposed to be remunerative and versatile...?  

Anyway, when I graduated in 2005, my law school debt stood approximately as follows (more below the fold):

Federal: $71,000.00 at 2.65%, 30 yr. graduated
Private 1: $16,000.00 at 4.82%, 15 yr.
Private 2: $5,000.00         at 2.33%, 12 yr.
Private 3: $42,500.00 at 3.00% (approx.), 15 yr.

Total $134,500.00

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Indiana Tech can't even be given away

Indiana Tech Law School had great expectations. Two years ago, before the fateful opening of its doors, it confidently charged a $50 application fee, which it generously reduced to $25 for those single-minded centurions who signed up for its binding "early admissions" scheme. In the sugar-plum visions of soon-to-be-former founding dean Alexander, that glorious Harvard on the Wabash would open with a hundred students and a median LSAT score placing it third among the Hoosier State's five law schools.

Alas! not even thirty students showed up, and their median LSAT score came in ten calamitous points lower than Alexander's pie-in-the-sky prognostication. Changes were in order. Out went the application fee. In came numbers-based "scholarships" advertised by spam. Out went the dean. In came a series of specialties, among them "global leadership", for the best damn law students in Allen County.

In year 2, under the masterly interim leadership of André Douglas Pond Cummings (who during a Mormon mission reportedly rechristened himself "Dougie Fresh", with or without the capital letters), Indiana Tech drew roughly the same number of incoming students. It nonetheless soldiered on, confident of getting accreditation.

But, woe! this time the ABA withheld its seal (rubber stamp?) of approval. Now those intrepid centurions of Indiana Tech's inaugural class, resplendent in their rented orange-yellow polyester caps and gowns, may not even be allowed to write the bar exams in Indiana, never mind any other jurisdiction. And who is going to pay $30k per year in tuition for a school that couldn't even get provisional accreditation?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And the raffling off of a "scholarship" to someone who had not even applied was not nearly desperate enough. With a new scam-dean to open year 3, Indiana Tech proved its vaunted innovative spirit by eliminating tuition. Yes, this year anyone enterprising enough to attend Indiana Tech won't spend a sou for the intellectual fellowship of such godlike figures as Dougie Fresh and Lamparello!

Indiana Tech was hoping to draw in twenty first-year students this year. How many people actually enrolled?


Ladies and gentlemen, you may have the dubious honor of beholding the first stillborn law school of our time. Indiana Tech can't even give itself away. Even if the ABA gives in and accredits Indiana Tech (as it may well do), the toilet's reputation will be indelibly tarnished. Accreditation at this point would be a damp squib. The jilted, passed-over back number of Fort Wayne will never recover.

And, yes, Indiana Tech, we told you so.