Thursday, July 28, 2016

Arizona Summit SBA President Defends His Beloved School’s Fellowship Program From OTLSS "Malice"

This is an era of rampant and distressing cynicism and mistrust, especially among our nation's downwardly-mobile and debt-drenched youth. Therefore, we at OTLSS find it moving that there are still students who adhere to the upbeat perspective best expressed by the Beach Boys, circa 1963: "So be true to your school. Rah rah rah rah sis boom bah. Just like you would to your girl or guy." That the Beach Boys's lyrics did not specify law schools owned by rapacious private equity firms and featuring bottom-of-the-barrel bar passage and employment rates can only be attributed to faulty songwriting.

The commentary below was written by a person who identifies himself as Warren Bingham, President of the Arizona Summit Student Bar Association. It was submitted as a thread comment on on our last post, which is entitled "Is Arizona Summit's 2016 Legal Residency Fellowship Program designed to persuade law grads to delay taking the bar exam?"

Mr. Bingham’s comment deserves its own headline post. A blog like this should not be a mere echo chamber of negativity about law schools. True, we at OTLSS may not be completely comfortable with being deemed malicious, ignorant, immature, incomplete, or speaking about things that do not concern us. But we have thick skins, and besides, harsher things have been said about us by the legal academy's leading philosophers, econometricians, and film critics.

Our appreciation for Mr. Bingham’s contribution comes with a caveat. As revealed on this blog, the Arizona Summit (ASLS) student handbook requires that "persons who choose to associate with ASLS actively support its mission, culture, and business purposes and not engage in activities or conduct that are detrimental to the brand, image, or values of InfiLaw or ASLS." Free and lively debate remains the pride of our faltering democracy. However, an official who asserts the good intentions and noble practices of his dissent-squelching institution, even in an unfriendly forum, may be doing the duty of a shill rather than that of a citizen. 


If a student doesn't feel "ready" to take the bar, is it so negative to study for an extra few months before taking the exam? Is the extra support really an issue?

Based upon the author's biased article, I imagine that he would respond to my questions by saying something along the lines of, "they would be 'ready' if they didn't attend a TTTT school" or "those jobs are handouts."

The truth is, the school has low bar passage rates and is expensive. At this point, I think that's it's pretty safe to assume we all know this. Law school, in general, is not easy, nor is it cheap.

So with information as attainable as this, why would it be necessary to share these facts in an article about the Fellowship program? Why would the author choose to devalue the efforts of the school to help improve its bar passage rates? Why would the author choose to, potentially, harm the students that chose to extend study for a few months, with financial security, by making them feel as though they're not good enough?

From corner to corner, the program aids all parties involved. So why is it such a bad thing? All I can seem to find in this article is malice.

If a Summit student passes the Bar 6 months after she graduates, does that make her any less of a lawyer?

Sometimes I wonder what would possess people to act so ignorantly. More astonishingly, when speaking on things don't even concern them.

If attacking the school and its students makes you feel more complete, then by all means -- do so. Fill that void that you're missing in your life. But understand that there are some that may feel it's not the most mature use of your time.

Warren Bingham
SBA President of Arizona Summit Law

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Is Arizona Summit's 2016 Legal Residency Fellowship Program designed to persuade law grads to delay taking the bar exam?

In its viewbook, Infilaw’s Arizona Summit School of Law (ASLS) adopted the motto: "Raising the Bar in Legal Education." Unfortunately, ASLS’s version of "raising the bar" does not necessarily include actually passing the bar.

ASLS’s recent bar passage rate is among the lowest in the country, possibly rock bottom (or to put it less harshly, rock inverted summit). Its most recent bar passage rates were 26.4% (July 2015 exam) and 28.4% (February 2016 exam), or well under half the passage rates achieved by the other two law schools in Arizona, the ones that have not tried to elevate their brand image by changing their names to a synonym for "mountain peak."

A source has provided OTLSS with a document issued by ASLS’s "Center for Professional Development," announcing a remarkable one-year-long "ASLS 2016 Legal Residency Fellowship Program." (See below, or this link) The Fellowship program runs from August 1, 2016 to July 31, 2017, and is available to ASLS grads from ASLS's graduating classes of 2015 and 2016. It certainly looks like this program is designed to persuade recent grads to delay taking the bar exam. Our source thinks so. 

Under the program, law grads work for a "participating employer or an employer of their choice." The participant works "no more than 20 hours a week." ASLS pays the employer, who apparently pays the grad. ("ASLS will pay the employer for Participant’s hours worked each month, plus employer’s share of FICA. . .Participants will be paid a total of $3,000 per month for the duration of the program").

You know, the customary arrangement is for the employer to pay the employee for his or her time and labor. Here, however, the employer is being paid by a third party to provide its so-called employee with activities for a set number of hours per week, almost as though the "employee" were a child attending a summer camp or preschool, rather than a skilled professional reporting to his or her workplace.

Compensation-wise, the program is not bad until you realize that the school has just scammed these kids for three years plus $132,000 in tuition and fees in exchange for a degree at a joke school with  an abysmal law job placement rate.

What is interesting is that the program requirements become more burdensome just before and after the participant takes the bar exam.  First, though the wording is ambiguous, it appears that a grad enrolled in the fellowship program must take an uncompensated two month leave of absence prior to the bar exam. Second, after taking the bar exam, the participant earns "an hourly wage for up to 40 hours per week, not exceed $3,000 per month." So instead of working half-time or less to make a monthly salary of $3000, as he or she did before the bar exam, the post-exam-taking participant must work full-time for that same $3000. 

So it would seem to be in an ASLS’s grad’s interest to delay taking the bar until the conclusion of the fellowship program, so that he or she can earn an uninterrupted $3,000 per month for a work week that maxes out at 20 hours. As noted, the fellowship concludes on July 31, 2017. The first bar exam after that is in February, 2018. That is a substantial chunk of time to prepare for the exam, and no doubt ASLS is hoping to "raise the bar" on its bar passage rates from the obscene to the barely acceptable.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

No, Todd Henderson, Lawyer Salaries Aren't Skyrocketing

Although I'm on pseudo-vacation from the LSTC, I can't stay away from checking the news feed.  Today I saw Matt Leichter's post about libertarianism and the ABA "cartel." Sure enough, a click on the link reveals that Todd Henderson, University of Chicago law professor, has come back with more tone-deaf, dumb writing.  You might remember Professor Henderson from almost six years ago, when he infamously claimed that he wasn't making enough at $400k because keeping up with the Joneses means luxury goods become pre-discretionary necessities.

Despite the ubiquity of the internet and the fact that there are millions of lawyers, it's uncanny how the same names seem to emerge, and how the same arguments continue to crop out despite being thoroughly debunked.

This time, Professor Henderson claims that lawyer salaries are skyrocketing (false) because of complex regulations (false) and a cartel driven by the ABA (false).

Although Henderson's interest seems to be in regurgitating standard low-thought libertarian polemical talking points, it's both damaging and stupid to have such a piece in Forbes for a lazy society that generally reads only headlines.

First, lawyer salaries aren't "skyrocketing."  The standard $160k for top-line firms had been there since roughly 2007.  As the linked article notes, only 39% of the nation's 700+ attorney firms actually paid that amount.  Plus, it's a small minority who get these jobs, and it's smaller relatively than it was in 2007.  According to Law School Transparency, only 29 schools even put 20% of more of their graduates in firms of 100 or more.

So we're talking about a minority of a minority getting a 12-15% pay raise over a nine year period.  We're far from skyrocketing territory for even THOSE lawyers, much less the overwhelming majority of lawyers who have nothing to do with those firms and never will.

Second, this idea that complex regulations drive enhanced lawyer employment is completely unfounded and there's no actual evidence of it, much less evidence upon which to base policy preferences.  In any event, assuming it's true that regulations are more "complex," such a claim ignores areas of lawyering that have relatively dried up in the meantime (like tort reform movements).  Further, in the complex regulations field, the bulk of the work is compliance or transactional work that can be done by the slowly growing army of non-lawyer trainees who know more than a typical law grad and for whom $50k is often a decent wage rather than a crushing debt-burdened letdown.

Third, the ABA does not drive any cartel on lawyer production.  The ABA does have a sort of monopoly on domestic law school accreditation, but they've done nothing to limit overall lawyer production by individual schools or lawyer admission which is driven by 51 governmental units across the United States - in some cases not even limited to graduates endorsed by the ABA.

Moreover, the idea that some cartel or expanded regulation is what keeps lawyer fees or pay high is so easily debunkable I should not have to type this sentence; Leichter dismisses of this argument with appropriate brevity, but I'm going to dive more deeply because sometimes stupid arguments just don't bleed out on their own.

Large law firms charge exorbitant rates and pay exorbitant salaries because their clients are willing to pay for that level of business in what is often analogous to either a luxury service (like paying for a Mercedes or a five-star hotel) because you want "the best" or because they're the only places that can handle certain fields of specialized work (say, really large M&A transactions).  Libertarians always have this stupid idea that lawyer services are fungible like gasoline or white onions and that one factor can drive all lawyers salaries one way or the other. 

They simply are not fungible; lawyers at the top of the bimodal curve are their own marketplace, with a supply and demand separate from everyone else, and a price that is not driven by actual labor demand, but by credential, prestige cachet, and partnership potential.  There's minimal actual interest in work skill above competence because they can train and sort out who has a knack for it.  They simply need polished grunts that can work adequately who can be sold to their client pool as "the best and the brightest."  One need look no further than the rise of staff counsel positions, which pay market labor rates instead of the BigLaw associate rate to do largely the same work with a different title.  Why do you think that is?

In any event, large law firms are already pulling whatever they need, as there are boatloads of people who would instantly jump to fill any spot necessary to do the actual work (Leichter claims 5004 unemployed JDs and 5400 JD Advantage for the class of 2015 before considering the mass of small firm attorneys who would lateral instantly).  In the alternative, if lawyer salaries were truly "skyrocketing" because of "complex regulations," don't you think large corporations would simply invest in specialized in-house units for half the cost to learn the "complex regulations" for that specific industry?  Or for litigation, don't you think the largest companies would retain captive or shared counsel as the insurance companies do and pay lower rates on volume?  With the exception of really big deals or large, incredibly complex litigation, there are plenty of options besides using a large law firm and paying large law firm rates.  In other words, we could eradicate every shred of complexity, go to a one-page tax code and a one-page code of conduct for financial products and the large law firms would still be paying what they do.

What bugs me most about Henderson's nonsense is that there is (at least) one area where libertarian ideals would actually help the marketplace for legal services, and that is if we get the government out of law school funding and let the free market dictate individual investment in legal education.  There's a gross inefficiency in the system where the injection of government backing changes the behavior of law schools to increase tuition, increase the trimmings regardless of market demand, and consequently increase student debt.

Withdraw the government and you would still have private investment in students who have a strong chance at making those juicy $180k salaries.  Other students may only receive moderate investment interest and it would force law schools to either adapt to the true market demand for their education services or close altogether.  The end effect would be to make individual lawyer debt more appropriate to the level of actual individual lawyer return and allow the marketplace to adjust to meet the actual demand for lawyers rather than the perceived demand by self-interested gurus.

Of course, Prof. Henderson, being somewhat a beneficiary of the government-infused market inefficiency, would likely resist going down that road, instead spouting about cartels and regulation.  He also likely resists any analysis that would reduce his career path to anything other than a representation of pure meritocratic skill, because if left to this particular piece without resort to authoritative credentials, one is left with little more than a frothy libertarian analysis more resembling a thoughtless Facebook rant from some meth-shooting libertarian second cousin. 

Someone with his pedigree either knows better, and is therefore a partisan shill with no integrity, or doesn't, and is a walking indictment of the whole prestige-based system.  For our purposes, though, it matters not:  lawyer salaries are only going up for a small minority, and even then only because large law firms operate on their own terms in setting associate salaries that may as well exist on Mars for the heft majority of law school applicants and graduates. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Department of Education proposes rule that could help grads escape law school debt

Over the years, law schools have used a clever assortment of tricks and schemes to separate students from around $120,000 a piece. If you've read this site over the past three years, you know that most law schools are a scam. The law school administrators and professors get comfortable upper middle class lives; their students get trapped in debt slavery for at least 25 years after graduating. For students, there may be a reprieve on the horizon.

The Department of Education has proposed expanding debt forgiveness in a very expansive way. the rule, called "borrower defense to repayment", allows Federal student loans to be discharged if "that school committed fraud by doing something or failing to do something, misrepresented its services, or otherwise violated applicable state law related to your loans or the educational services you paid for." If someone can prove that their law school did in fact defraud them, the Federal loans may be forgiven. I am not certain if this forgiven debt is treated as taxable income like with IBR, but it is unlikely. There are also the public policy considerations of allowing the taxpayers to get saddled with this toxic debt; I personally would like to see the Department of Education work with the Department of Justice to recover the forgiven money from the law schools. Shams like TJSL and Cooley will probably close soon if the aforementioned scenario ever occurs. In addition, it may be possible to recover monies from formerly respectable schools that have drastically lowered their standards and trade on their name recognition to peddle worthless degrees to grads (e.g. George Washington) Only time will tell.

This rule is not a slam dunk for law school graduates. It has been well documented how resistant the judiciary is to ruling against law schools in suits brought by aggrieved graduates. In the same vein, I doubt that the Department of Education will be eager to forgive law school debts on a grand scale. However, as this Buzzfeed News article states, "lawsuits could provide significant fodder for law school students in their defense to repayment claims." 

Friends, I would like to think that the tide is finally turning against law schools. We need to keep the pressure on until only the truly reputable institutions remain and the supply of law grads is decreased to an acceptable level.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

LSAC boasts that it is holding its annual conference for law school admissions professionals at Disney World because "[w]e make law school applicants' dreams come true."

                             when you wish upon a star                 when you wish upon a scam

Consider the following heartwarming, if imaginary, law school success stories, inspired by America’s renowned corporate provider of saccharine-flavored folklore and wholesome uplift, Disney Inc. 

The Beast—A royal shmuck laden with the heavy curse of a hideous LSAT score is redeemed by the loving embrace of a law school willing to look beyond superficial credentials and see the handsome legal prince within. 

Lampwick (Pinnochio)— A career dead-ender is recruited to prestigious Pleasure Island School of Law, where he undergoes a transformative educational experience, leading to secure life-long employment.

Aladdin —A young vagrant achieves astonishing upward mobility after stumbling upon  an  enlightening professional degree program, which holds within it a wondrous spirit of immense power and versatility. 

It is well-established, in spite of ill-informed propaganda from the New York Times, that a law degree is a better outcome-enhancer than even the most profligate fairy godmother. True, that which children, in their wide-eyed naïvete, call "magic" is known to those of us of more sophisticated years as "perfectly sound, albeit industry-funded, econometric studies." But the point is that third and fourth tier pumpkins really do turn into million-dollar carriages. 

That is why both I and the Law School Admissions Council agree that it was so "fitting" to hold the annual Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) conference for law school admissions professionals at Disney World. It is Disney that taught us that young and seemingly unpromising elephants can learn to fly-- provided, of course, they receive training and development assistance from a kind and supportive rodent coach. Similarly, we can anticipate that many apparent dumbos will soar to incredible professional heights in law or elsewhere, so long as they are recruited to a lower-tier circus by a caring admissions rodent, I mean professional. 

The semi-annual LSAC newsletter has the enchanting details about the then-upcoming conference. I note that LSAC, with the modesty of a comatose princess, restricts its self-praise for making law students' "dreams come true" to a mere three mentions in the first paragraph, not counting the heading.  


We make law school applicants’ dreams come true, so it is fitting for us to hold our annual gathering at the official headquarters for making dreams come true—Disney World. LSAC’s 2016 Annual Meeting and Educational Conference will be held June 1–4 at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, located in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The theme—“Making Dreams Come True: Inspiring the Next Generation of Law Students”—derives from the magical venue for this year’s meeting. The Planning Work Group, with Michael Donnelly-Boylen as its chair, created a compelling schedule that includes options for the many and varied interests of LSAC members—from nuts-and-bolts mini-sessions to a special LLM track to meaty panels about the changing recruitment landscape.

Of course, there will be plenary speakers who will inspire us to dream big: Elizabeth Slavitt, vice president of learner strategy and operations at Khan Academy; Dennis Snow, an expert in customer service, employee development, and leadership training (who honed his skills over 20 years with the Walt Disney Company); and Vernā Myers, founder and president of the Verna Myers Company, which helps organizations in the for-profit, nonprofit, academic, and government arenas create and sustain inclusive environments where traditionally underrepresented groups can thrive.

In addition to the many networking opportunities built into the program, there will be an orientation for first-time attendees, a mentoring program, and the popular Learning Lounge staffed by team members from Law School Support Services.

The Diversity Matters Award celebrates a law school that has demonstrated the highest level of outreach to racially and ethnically diverse students.  The Award Ceremony will be a highlight of the Welcome Dinner on Wednesday. 

No annual meeting is ALL business and learning—there will be plenty of time to enjoy the comfort and luxury offered by Disney’s Beach Club Resort, with its pools, lagoons, and spas; water activities; and Epcot® Center close by. Disney’s Hollywood Studios® are just a short boat ride away. There is no place like Walt Disney World® Resort, and there is no meeting like LSAC’s Annual Meeting and Educational Conference!