Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Does the logo on your T-shirt reveal your aptitude for legal practice? Take the DiscoverLaw quiz.

I  am no fan of DiscoverLaw, which is the LSAC-funded (and, I think, created) organization  that coordinates so-called pipeline activities designed to direct or steer young people, including specifically high school and community college students, towards eventual law school attendance. [1], [2]

But I admit that if a kid is thinking about law school, he or she ought to go one step further and consider what practice area he or she would like to specialize in. To make this determination, it is advisable that the kid takes stock of his or her own values, concerns, and goals. 

So I was hopeful that the "Fields of Law" quiz on DiscoverLaw's website might prove a useful tool. A quiz-taker answers 18 multiple questions and then clicks the "find out" button to determine which practice area "just might be the field that’s right for you." The possibilities include civil rights, corporate and securities, criminal, entertainment, environmental and natural resources law, family and juvenile, health, intellectual property, international, sports, and tax. 


However, after reviewing the specific questions, I was not fully persuaded that this quiz really does reveal legal aptitudes. But judge for yourself:

1. My iPod is filled with ...
  • legally downloaded music
  • baseball highlight
  • sounds of nature
  • language lessons
2. My T-shirts usually feature ...
  • my favorite sports team
  • a brand name
  • my favorite band
  • something from nature
9. Man, do I hate ...
  • pollution
  • disease
  • plagiarism
  • bye weeks
12. With a law degree, I could ...
  • save the planet
  • fight crime
  • help children
  • work with celebrities
14.  The best first date would be ...
  • attending a murder mystery dinner theater
  • visiting an art museum
  • dinner at a French restaurant
  • volunteering at a Boys & Girls Club
17. I love movies ...
  • about heists and crime
  • with subtitles
  • that critique society
  • that have a celebrity cast

I do not care to speculate as to why the good people at DiscoverLaw regard "volunteering at a Boys & Girls Club" as one of four possibilities for an optimal first date. It is sufficiently disturbing that DiscoverLaw tells teenagers that the nature of their future successful and rewarding legal career can be revealed from their Netflix history or the logo on their casual wear. Or, really, from their fantasies. Whether one's dream is to be the trusted confidant of Hollywood movie stars or to save the Amazon river basin, a JD can make it happen.

(Although, looked at from a different perspective, DiscoverLaw has succeeded in designing a multiple choice test with no wrong answers-- you just have to remember to complete it. Perhaps that is a template for a redesigned multistate bar exam, one that would even satisfy the test's harshest critics, such as Brooklyn Dean Nicholas Allard, as well as those worthy strivers who have heretofore felt the sharpest sting of bar exam oppression, such as Infilaw's Arizona Summiteers).
Granted, at one place on its website, DiscoverLaw notes that the quiz is "not a foolproof diagnostic scientific tool" and even "just for fun." Elsewhere on the website, however, DiscoverLaw recommends the quiz with no such disclaimer. In a box labeled "Discover More," DiscoverLaw helpfully advises: "Not sure which field of law is right for you? Our Fields of Law Quiz might point you in the right direction!" Similarly, if a visitor clicks the "preparing for law school" tab at the top of the website, then the "make your next move" tab, and then checks "I am a high school student," he or she will receive the following advice: "Not sure which field of law is right for you? Take DiscoverLaw.org's quiz for ideas."
Before dismissing DiscoverLaw’s quiz, and its website generally, as childish and easily-recognizable hype, consider that DiscoverLaw: (1) targets kids from historically excluded groups, i.e. those who may not have a network that includes lawyers and non-practicing JDs to help them treat law school marketing with appropriate skepticism and (2) as noted, avowedly targets high school children, i.e. those have not yet achieved the status of "sophisticated. . . education consumer" that, it seems, automatically accompanies a bachelor’s degree. See e.g. Gomez-Jiminez v. New York Law Sch., 943 N.Y.S.2d 834, 843 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2012) ("By anyone's definition, reasonable consumers--college graduates--seriously considering law schools are a sophisticated subset of education consumers. . .")  [3]

I appreciate that the legal academy is slightly less scammy than a few years ago in certain respects. Most law schools have reduced class size, increased the availability of tuition discounts, and have been forced to become more transparent as to employment outcomes. However, in one major respect the scam is becoming dramatically worse– namely, the ever-increasing eagerness of law schools to recruit--I would even say entice--kids whose lack of academic credentials and social capital places them at severe risk of a disastrous outcome.


[1]  According to LSAC’s Form 990s (available at Charity Navigator) LSAC gave DiscoverLaw a grant of $54,731 in Fiscal 2013. LSAC gave  DiscoverLaw a grant of $84,896 in Fiscal 2012. LSAC gave DiscoverLaw a grant of $56,429 in Fiscal 2011. DiscoverLaw’s address is the same as LSAC’s– 662 Penn Street, Newtown, PA, 18940. 

[2] It is called DiscoverLaw-- there is no space between the "r" in "Discover" and the "L" in "Law." Credit to LSAC for making that extra effort to be obnoxious even when there is no apparent reason for it.

[3]   But at least high school kids can't actually apply to law school, right? Not so fast. The recently published Report of the ABA Task Force on Financing Legal Education praises various "innovations" and "experiments" as "the source of possible solutions and models" (which an unsympathetic critic could interpret as meaning creative new ways to bamboozle the vulnerable). One such innovation that the Task Force singles out for praise is the following:
"The program at the Sturm College of Law even includes an option allowing highly qualified high school seniors to apply for its three-plus-three program as they apply to the university for undergraduate admission." (Report, p. 12)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Washburn and the Solo Sub-Scam

Recently, I ran across this article, entitled "Washburn Law Grads Ready to Practice."  Normally, this is the sort of benign PR poop that one lets slip past the radar of eyebrow raising.

But it's hard to ignore some bold claims:
The law school ranked 24th nationally in employment in full-time, long-term jobs requiring bar passage, according to 2015 American Bar Association data — above all other law schools in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.

“We are pleased that our graduates are among the nation’s most successful in securing full-time, long-term jobs that require bar passage. This is the gold standard of jobs for lawyers,” said Washburn law school dean Thomas R. Romig.
Lest you think this is just puffed-up journalism, when I went to the school's website, I found this rather loud banner:

Twenty-fourth in the country sounds pretty impressive...until you look into the actual numbers.  Let's look at Washburn's 509 data for the Class of 2014 (copied from LST):

Solo 10 0 0 0 10
2-10 Attorneys 29 1 0 2 32
11-25 Attorneys 3 1 0 0 4
26-50 Attorneys 7 0 0 0 7
51-100 Attorneys 1 0 0 0 1
101-250 Attorneys 0 0 0 0 0
251-500 Attorneys 0 0 0 0 0
501+ Attorneys 3 0 0 0 3
Size Unknown 0 0 0 0 0
Business & Industry 12 0 0 0 12
Government 20 0 0 1 21
Public Interest 2 0 0 0 2
Federal Clerkships 0 0 0 0 0
State & Local Clerkships 3 0 0 0 3
Other Clerkships 0 0 0 0 0
Education 1 0 0 1 2
Employer Type Unknown 0 0 0 0 0
Employed Total 91 2 0 4 97

So... 10 of their 91 "employed full time" graduates went solo.  For their entire class of 112, that's almost 9% of their graduates.  That's high.  How high?

Fourth in the country high.  Check out this list:


Texas Southern University 17.14%
Lincoln Memorial University 15.56%
Willamette University 9.02%
Washburn University 8.93%
St. Mary's University 8.72%
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 8.64%
Faulkner University 8.43%
Southern University Law Center 7.27%
Florida International University 7.14%
John Marshall Law School - Atlanta 6.84%
University of Nebraska 6.84%
University of La Verne 6.82%
University of Toledo 6.50%
South Texas College of Law 6.41%
Texas A&M 6.03%
Mississippi College 5.71%
University of Arkansas - Little Rock 5.60%
Oklahoma City University 5.56%
Charlotte School of Law 5.33%
Liberty University 5.26%

I wonder if this is the esteemed company Washburn wants the public to see it associated with.

There are other problems with Washburn's claim regarding its stellar employment results, the most notable being that Washburn placed only 12.5% of its graduates in law firms of 11 or more attorneys, whereas Kansas placed 20.2%, Oklahoma placed 20.9%, Arkansas placed 21.7%, Colorado placed 24.2%, all in said categorization, and Texas placed 25.6% of its class in firms of 500 or more alone.

Under Law School Transparency's Employment Score method (which justifiably excludes solo practitioners), Washburn ranks 107th in the country. So it appears that Washburn is using its solo numbers to inflate its employment rate over clearly superior schools when calculating its "24th in the country!" claim.

Lately, law schools have been hiding behind the "our representations were technically true!" fortification - which is somehow abutting the "our representations were so absurd no one would believe them!" fortification - in response to the lawsuits that gained almost no traction.

But what is it when a school apparently counts solo practitioners as "employed" or in a "position," much less one that is long term?  Is that even technically true?  A solo practitioner isn't employed or holding a "position," and I would bet that most don't last more than a few years before doing something else.  A solo practitioner is an entrepreneur at an uncertain start-up, almost always carrying additional business debt and negative operating costs until business picks up and large up-front expenses can be paid down. To compare it to an associate position in a firm of 20+ attorneys is disingenuous, at a minimum.

The data is pretty clear that prospective law students generally don't want to be solo practitioners immediately if they have a choice, and solo practice for new graduates is likely a symptom of low employment prospects rather than any conscious expression of being "ready to practice."

The following chart shows the percentage of recent graduates going solo versus the median LSAT score of the school's most recent incoming class. (Lincoln Memorial and the Puerto Rican schools were excluded.)

 As you can see, as the median LSAT score increases, the percent of those graduates who wind up going solo out of law school would be expected to decrease.  The inferences here would be that 1) very few graduates are apparently turning down more stable, better-quality jobs to go solo; and 2) either lower-quality applicants are more inclined to go solo than higher-scoring peers or they're feeling more forced to do so out of economic necessity.  I'll let the reader choose one's own adventure on that riddle rather than baselessly speculate that it's the latter.

This is somewhat troubling, of course. Sometimes, law deans will celebrate students for going solo out of law school, even building programs to promote it, and indeed there are some who can manage it.  But they're a minority, and if anyone is going to go solo, the world would likely be better served if it were students with better incoming LSAT and GPA scores.  Does the eager 150 LSAT really understand the limits of his own ignorance, particularly when some gushing law dean has been pimping the idea? Can he become an expert practitioner on his own as easily as his rival with an in-house mentor?

Shouldn't law deans, particularly those who worry about bar passage rates, be discouraging most people from going solo out of school?  Instead, if schools are allowed to count solos as "long term employed" and get away with it, law schools have an incentive to pump as many of their recent graduates into solo set-ups as are willing to take the bait, whether those students are ready to start a business in a saturated market or not.

I don't mean to be down on solo practice, other than to say I think it's borderline insane for most recent graduates with very limited practical experience to jump into a mucky pond where twenty-year practitioners can struggle to get good clients.  If you can make it, good for you.  That means you had skill, money, and/or luck in some combination.  

But what I know is that solos aren't "employed" and such a path isn't what the overwhelming majority of law school applicants pictures as a good - or even viable - career option nine months after graduation.  For law schools to continue to lump those numbers into their employment figures and sell the school as being excellent at "placing" graduates anywhere is blatantly dishonest.

That seems like a sub-scam, friends.  Give these folks the slightest angle to turn poop into the 24th best placement rate and they're going to do it.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Who wants to be a lousy fiction writer?: A review of Drexel Law Prof. Lisa McElroy's new law school novel "Called On."

Last year, Drexel's celebrity law professor Lisa McElroy was harshly criticized for her snide and dismissive comments about the plight of recent law grads. More recently, there may have been a bit of unflattering commentary about McElroy's behavior in accidentally sending her students an email with a link to an anal beads sex video and then non-accidently publishing a self-righteous op-ed in the Washington Post suggesting that those students were blameworthy for having opened the link. I hate to pile on, but the fact is that McElroy's horrible new law school novel "Called On" has been seriously under-criticized, hopefully because few besides me were foolish enough to actually read the thing.

Seven reviews on Amazon as of this writing, and all seven gave "Called On" the highest possible rating of five stars (though at least three of the ratings are from McElroy’s fellow law professors). So perhaps I am all alone in my opinion that this book is crap. Scribblers like David Lodge and Francine Prose have written novels satirizing academia, but neither has scored anything close to unanimous five star ratings on Amazon. True, McElroy may not shine when it comes to crafting compelling narrative or memorable three-dimensional characters, but she is unparalleled in generating cutesy witticisms about (as one of the five star reviews puts it) "life, love, and the law." 

"Called On" is the story of an idealistic young One-L at elite Warren Law School named Libby Behl and her quest for love and legal wisdom.  It is also the story of Connie Shun, the brilliant, good-hearted, strong, perceptive, down-to-earth, endearing, and witty M&M-loving (that's M&M, not S&M) law professor who mentors and inspires Libby. (I wonder who Connie Shun could possibly have been based on).

Even though the author actually is a law professor, this novel is still badly misplaced. It should have been set instead in a high school or a summer camp. The story has a teen lit vibe, and all the characters speak and emote about "life, love, and the law" like angsty or stuck-up adolescents. 
Let’s start with Chapter 2. It is Libby's very first day of law school, indeed her very first class. The class is called Introduction to Legal Thinking, or ILT. Libby happens to sit down next to the ice-cold Quinn Everly, who is hogging all the electrical outlets. See if you can spot how McElroy sets up the subtle contrast between idealism and ambition:
"Um, hi. I’m Libby. Just wanted to plug in my laptop? Looks like we’re in for a long hour or so."  
The woman pushed her glasses up on her head.   
"Sorry. Need the plugs. Taping and typing, that’s my technique. Law review. Order of the Coif. Supreme Court clerkship. Every little bit helps. Early bird gets the worm and all that."  
Libby laughed. This woman couldn’t be serious. Law school was about saving the northern spotted owl (OK, so Libby was about two decades late for that one), standing up for marriage equality (and about a year late for that one, at least in part), and fighting for equal pay for women (never too late).  
                                                                   * * *  
Libby didn’t want to lose her cool. But seriously?   
"Yeah, so, don’t you think it’s fair for us all to be on the same playing field?"  
The woman put her glasses back on her nose. "We are. We can all get here early. And use the plugs we need. And those who don’t should just realize that they aren’t cut out to be federal appeals court judges."  
McElroy, Lisa (2015-09-18). Called On (Kindle Locations 160-165, 168-172). Quid Pro Books. Kindle Edition.
Looks seriously bad for poor idealistic Libby-- arrayed against such a ruthless competitor, like an overly-compassionate worm on the same playing field as an early bird. And things go from bad to mortifying when Libby spills a cup of coffee near the lectern, causing  Professor Connie Shun to slip and fall to the ground as soon as she walks into the classroom. Talk about a disastrous start to law school!

But the formidable professor keeps her composure. ("If Justice O’Connor had fallen in a pool of coffee, this is how she’d look. Together. In the least together situation ever.") Shun gets right back up on her feet and conducts a virtuoso class, even without her coffee-spoiled notes, using mistakes in sports officiating to illuminate how law and justice are not necessarily the same thing. Libby redeems herself too. She is "called on" in class, her worst fear realized, but meets the challenge with aplomb by out-arguing fellow student Anderson Kraft, the suave and handsome Harvard T-shirt-wearing guy with the cocky attitude, who turns out to be the villain of the novel.

Indeed, it is not long before the worthy underdog triumphs and the arrogant are humbled. Professor Connie Shun’s pedagogy, in its critical and humanistic depth,  guides students toward an understanding that law and justice, though different in nature, do not merely intersect or diverge, but can actually propel each other. Because Libby has a "calling" to use the law to do good, she is able to grasp this profound concept, which eludes the more self-centered or shallow students, one of whom ponders that, "Every ILT class was the same. They talked about law blah blah blah and justice blah blah blah and absolutely nothing that would ever help [him] do a deal or draw up a contract when he was a lawyer someday."
I vaguely recall that there were a whole bunch of core classes in the first year of law school, but these are barely referenced in the novel, so Connie Shun's Introduction to Legal Thinking course basically represents all of law school. And Connie’s ability to trigger student involvement in class discussion disproves the scamblogger critique:  
"Connie sat and watched. For all the crap law school had been taking in the media lately, this was the kind of class discussion that proved all the "law school is a scam" bloggers wrong. She didn’t have to do anything but get the students started with a provocative question. Then they took over."  
McElroy, Lisa (2015-09-18). Called On (Kindle Locations 322-324)
Libby may suffer from bouts of self-doubt, but perceptive Professor Shun almost immediately identifies her as a future legal star. "The best ones — the ones Connie took under her wing — were always about more than wanting a prestigious career and beaucoup bucks. They were about solving major problems in the world."

Monday, October 5, 2015

It's time for some more Donation Request Letters

Ah, the law school donation letter.  Even though the recipient generally has no idea who the person is writing the letter, the letter is so warm and chummy, as from an old friend, that one can't help but respond (or so they hope).  So, so "You're part of the club," if you will.  So, so anecdotal as well; it worked for me, so I KNOW it worked for you, too, right, because if a=b and b=c, then obviously a=c.  Regardless of the actual data of thousands of graduates.  Yet, it would be embarrassing not to donate, because clearly you are doing great, and if you're not...oh...well...oh, dear...awwwwkwarrrrrd.  Nothing like Victorian-style peer pressure to get one to part with a few bucks.

Names have been removed to protect the innocent, but note the reference to the class of '92, for starters.  Unless the author was a non-traditional student, this puts the author's birth date at 1967, plus or minus.  This person is early, early Gen-X if not a late, late Boomer, depending on where one chooses to draw the line.  In any event, a gulf of 23 years lies between this person's experience and that of someone today, and I think it is a relatively safe position to say that a few things happened in-between then and now.  Shills and/or trolls will beg to differ, just, well, because.

"I knew in 6th grade I wanted to be a lawyer."  One questions the wisdom of opening with an appeal to special-snowflake-syndrome, but perhaps this desire was genuinely true.  Sadly, it was also genuinely true for many, many others as well, whose careers fell apart or failed to launch.  Further, claiming that a previously-known-as-fourth-tier law school was an "easy choice" when planning one's career, even in the early 90s, tacitly nods to some highly personal and idiosyncratic circumstances that not all can lay claim to.

Moving on from generalized platitutes about from the greatness of the people, and the environment, and "exciting times," I am impressed that author actually goes there and briefly nods to "challenges" as well.  Garnering Top Students, when the smart-money is turning away from law school.  Competing for Outstanding Faculty, when many faculty and staff seem unconcerned about the plight of their students at best and shameless shills at worst.  "How to continue sending grads out into the world..." when the market is abysmal and signalling that it needs no more JDs at this time, thanks, due to steady over-production of JDs for decades.

Also, as we continue to hear again and again, tuition dollars don't cover everything.  The natural response is, "why not?"  Tuition has outpaced inflation at a two-to-three times percentage rate for decades.  The faculty needs yet additional "support?"  The curriculum has changed THAT much?  O Rly?  Law Review and Moot Court are more expensive all of a sudden?  What about previous endowments - do they not serve to smooth things out during lean times?  I guess learning to "think globally" isn't cheap, and requires a three-year degree on top of prior education, apparently, all borne by the student.

While it is indeed wonderful (truthfully, sarcasm /OFF) that the author has found that legal education has returned tremendous economic and psychic benefits, I would wager a substantial sum (sarcasm /ON) that there are other alumni who feel very differently.  While I cannot speak for all of them, and while I don't mean to pick on Valpo only (because this letter can easily serve as a proxy letter from law schools all across this country), the evidence from the economy, struggling graduates, recognized news media and scamblogs of all stripes indicate that many, many graduates are not receiving said benefits for their similar efforts.

All this would suggest that the "gift of whatever amount makes sense for you," in 2015 dollars for today's recent graduates, is easily answered:  zero.