Tuesday, February 28, 2017

According to Some LawProfs, Politically-Motivated Ethics Complaints are Misguided

Even LawProfs Can Have the Occasional Character Flaw...

The Scamblogs have been accused more than once of being "unethical" as regards their position that Law School is, well, a scam for many, many, many, many well-intentioned people.  This has certainly raised the ire of some, as, frankly, who likes being called out on their own, ah, ahem, "deplorable" behavior?  Thank goodness that some LawProfs like Stephen Lubet, who actually study ethics, are willing to confront his fellow LawProfs: 

As a liberal Democrat, I have no sympathy for Conway’s habitual disregard for truth. As a professor of legal ethics, however, I think this [ethics] complaint is dangerously misguided and has the potential to set a terrible precedent...[f]irst, the complaint keys in on two specific statements, neither of which had any connection to Conway’s law license...it might be different if she had been acting in an official capacity, which could be construed broadly as related to the practice of law, but she is a political adviser to Trump with no governmental responsibility. Political debate is protected by the First Amendment, even when it strays into questionable territory, and it should not be the job of the bar authorities to police the exaggerations and misstatements of politicians just because they happen to be lawyers.

While I hardly want to draw a comparison between the scamblogs and Kellyanne Conway, or frankly just about any politician of any stripe, Lubet cuts through the tangle to the heart of the issue.  Nor would I consider the means and methods scamblogs employ as "exaggerations and misstatements" - we may use humor, or sarcasm, or stinging rebukes, but we are not in the business of hucksterism.  We do get accused of bending the truth, which is rather funny considering all the truth-bending engaged in by the academy - but I digress.

But the worst outcome would occur if the professors’ complaint were actually to succeed. Imposing discipline on Conway—even the mildest slap on the wrist—would inevitably lead to a slew of new complaints against attorneys involved in public debate. Lawyer-candidates in the 2016 election cycle included Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, and Martin O’Malley, with many others in Senate and House races...[e]ach of these candidates presumably could have been subject to a bar complaint by a disgruntled adversary...[e]very statement by a candidate or spokesperson [would then be] potential fodder for a politically motivated disciplinary complaint.

Luckily, the politically-motivated ethics complaint against one of our own was dismissed for more-or-less the same analysis.  And we are not politicians at the national stage, though we hope our message has some degree of national effect.  It is indeed unfortunate that many within the academy apparently don't have the discipline to refrain from such tactics those criticized by Lubet.  Moving on:     

The professors recognize that bar complaints about public speech can "lead to mischief and worse" but argue that Conway, as counselor to the president, has a "higher obligation" than other lawyers to avoid dishonest statements. I think this gets it exactly backward. Speech is most strongly protected when it is part of a robust political debate...Justice Louis Brandeis once said that the remedy for bad speech is more speech. Likewise, the best remedy for alternative facts should be real facts.

Wouldn't it be interesting if scambloggers lodged ethics complaints against ScamDeans and LawProfs for concealing material information, issuing misleading statements, and the like?  Wouldn't that raise it's own kind of pearl-clutching condemnation of "mischief and worse"?  Apparently it's ethics for thee, but not for me, when it comes to some members of the academy.  And if one thing has been clearly demonstrated by the scamblogs over the years, Law Schools in particular are tremendous fans of their own pet "alternative facts," especially where employment outcomes and job projections are concerned.  Thank goodness that the right of free-speech is being upheld by the academy, even when some facts are not to their liking, because vigorous debate is a cornerstone of our democracy, or something.  I mean, who would want to engage in speech-chilling behavior, just to protect their own egos, amirite?

Yes, indeed.  Onward into 2017, friends!  Your comments and support are part of what brings the truth to light, and we appreciate your involvement.  Here's hoping more and more continue to listen in the months and years ahead.


Monday, February 20, 2017

What's Next For the Scamblog Movement?

Indiana Tech has closed and the Charlotte School of Law is in its death throes. Over the next 10 years, it is reasonable to expect other schools to shut down. The main causes for shutdowns will be bad student outcomes leading to low enrollment or poor financial performance. When this movement started, the law school industrial complex felt invincible and acted with undeserved arrogance; the schools are now on the ropes. What's next for the scamblog movement? What further impact can we make? Are there other structural changes that now deserve our focus?

My personal checklist of things that still need to happen:

The power of the law schools to police themselves is taken away
The ABA is a puppet organization that rubber stamps and answers to the whims of its law school constituency. Since the ABA's founding in 1878, it has done little to help law students. In its early days, the ABA helped eliminate apprenticeship style programss in favor of the current method used to teach law. More recently, the ABA accredited or provisionally accredited schools like Indiana Tech and the Charlotte School of Law. These schools were woefully unprepared to offers results in line with the tuition they charged. The ABA did nothing. Instead, we had to wait until the Indiana Tech Board of Trustees and the Department of Education stepped in to stop the bleeding. The ABA was the body that should have policed the debacles at these schools. Instead, they stood by while students had their money stolen by these subpar institutions. They have no right to continue in a role as a steward for legal education.

Student loans need to be tied to job-related benchmarks
Most people go to law school to get a job. Period. Administrators and professors who claim that students go to law school to learn how to think are out of touch with reality. They should be ignored. The way we can corral costs for law school is to hit them where it hurts: the pocketbook. If law schools continue to provide a useless education to students, then they shouldn't be compensated for it. Instead of allowing places like the Charlotte School of Law to charge $60k to each of their students without any consequences, claw back $50k of that money if enough of their students don't get a job that requires a law degree. Law school administrators will say that would be unfair because people with law degrees have so may different career options. To that I say: BS. Very few people go to law school to become a contracts administrator. They want to become attorneys. If your law school fails to help students become attorneys, then the school and its faculty are abject failures. That is not something to be rewarded. I would prefer that educational debt be dischargeable in bankruptcy, but that may send us down a slippery slope that many people in higher education will fight to the death.

Institute an apprenticeship or trade school model as an option for students
The current model of law school is broken. Do you really think that someone going to Charlotte School of Law will ever find themselves in a negotiation hinging upon an international treaty or some arcane area of law? No. They will likely be handling criminal defense, family law, or traffic; these are areas of law that affect normal people. There is nothing wrong with pursuing a career in these areas of law. But the crippling debt placed on these students preclude them from helping normal people. Getting paid $100 to fix a traffic ticket won't make much of a dent in the average $194,000 cost of attendance. Giving students who don't want to get into Biglaw or elite practice another route is essential. Students should have the option to read the law once again. If they do read the law, then the testing for such students should also be different. Don't make them sit through a two day bar exam, covering areas of law they may not have studied or want to study. Instead, allow them to take a more practical exam, akin to a supersized version of the MPT. The thing that may cause objection is that contributes to the bifurcation of society into haves and have nots. That's a structural problem that goes much deeper than law school; we just need to help students who want to practice law and help others.

We haven't won yet. Not until the cost of law school tuition approaches rationality and we don't have large numbers of law grads roaming the streets unable to work in the field they trained in. For me, this wasn't about sticking it to the law schools (OK, maybe a little bit). My personal goal was more focused on curbing the avarice of the law schools at the expense of their students.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Applicants Down 1.5% or Up 20.5%, Depending on How You Do the Math

Now that we are roughly ten weeks into the 2017 applicant cycle, I thought it was time to discuss the latest round of numbers from LSAC.  Looking through the analysis, though, it is not good news, so far as supporters of the scamblog movement are concerned.

LSAC started this cycle reporting a five percent decline in applicants over 2016, which has slowly been shrinking to the -1.5% mark.  So far, not so controversial - as time goes by and more and more applicants surface, the delta tends to improve rather than get worse.  However, if you take the LSAC data and plot it on a chart that is actually legible for once, you start to notice something odd: applicants appear to be tracking the 2014 data, which is significantly more than 2016.

Which leads to the obvious question: how can LSAC be showing declining numbers, when the plots show an improvement over 2016?  That's when apples-to-apples comparisons become critical.  Long story short, I believe I discovered the issue: LSAC appears to be going off pure spreadsheet numbers, but not paying close attention to which data they are comparing to what.  The summary is below:

When dealing with LSAC, is it difficult to line up their "start dates" as they tend to fluctuate a bit from year to year.  For example, I have to take LSAC's word that after week "1", applicants were down 5%.  However, when comparing weeks "2" and "3" with the same period last year, you will see that we are off to a good start on agreement: -4.7% and -4.2% respectively. 

However, starting with week "6", things start to diverge.  Apparently instead of comparing 2016's "Week 6" to 2017's "Week 6", LSAC did the math on 2016's "Week 6" and 2017's "Week 5."  While that comparison does yield -3.7% (per LSAC) in applicants year-over-year, the reality is that actual Week-6-to-6 (in red) shows in increase of 8.04%.

Similarly, there is a variance in Weeks 7, 8, and 10.  Each time, one can calculate and arrive at LSAC's % Difference calculation, but each time it appears to be wrong.  They are just going down the spreadsheet, and not comparing apples-to-apples.  Comparing Week 7-to-Week 7, (Green), Week 8-to-Week 8 (Orange) and Week 10-to-Week 10 (red), the actual percentages are actually up over 2016. 

When looking at the graphical data, one can see this as well.  Looking at Week 10, Applicant Data shows that that 2017 is much higher that the same time in 2016.  We appear to be back at 2014 levels.

Is it possible that the OTLSS analysis is off by one week, i.e. that the 2017 curve needs to be shifted to the left one week?  It's possible, as again LSAC is not clear from their charting about when they start - but even then the 2017 curve would still appear to trend higher than 2016, perhaps even by a larger percentage.  As LSAC does not report every week but instead skips some weeks randomly from year to year, this only adds to the potential confusion.

Unfortunately, even allowing for some fluctuation it would appear that students are somewhat changing their minds and ignoring the warnings about law school.   With Indiana Tech and Charlotte and others in the news, with their blatant, craven treatment of students as nothing more than loan conduits, it boggles the mind that students would be considering law school in greater numbers, even at more highly ranked schools.  Maybe they feel they have no other options.  Maybe they think they can beat the odds.  Maybe they are independently wealthy and a $175k price tag for a law degree means nothing to them.  Who knows.

All the more reason for the scamblog community to stand firm.  While a potential increase in the student crop this year is music to the ears of ScamDeans and LawPrawfs, we also know that it is a disastrous outcome for many once the student has been through the Law School Gristmill.  While not everyone will heed our warnings, some do and that is the best result anyone can hope for. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Winding up a law school: the case of Indiana Tech

Indiana Tech's law school will shut down after this semester, and Charlotte's cannot be long for this world. What will happen to their assets?

Soon after last autumn's announcement of Indiana Tech's impending closure, Eric Welch of Muncie, Indiana, demanded that that glorious Harvard on the Wabash (as I called it in a previous article) return the $20k that he had put up to endow a scholarship:


Unlike me, Welch is "very disappointed" by the shuttering of Indiana Tech. He established the scholarship in order "to help a law student with a well-rounded body of work, extracurricular activities and classroom studies". Generous though his donation indubitably was, it would not have helped a law student very much: a base of $20k invested at 5% would have supported a scholarship of only $1k per year, nothing like the $30k that Indiana Tech originally charged (but admittedly more than the $0 that Indiana Tech charged in its penultimate year). And I'm not convinced that a single deserving student could be found at Indiana Tech. Hell, only one member of the first year's graduating class passed the bar exam (and another got in on appeal).

Nonetheless, Welch endowed a scholarship in perpetuity, and he certainly didn't expect Indiana Tech to shut up shop in less than four years. His purpose has been thwarted by the very recipient of his largesse. Why shouldn't he get his money back?

Shambaugh Kast Beck & Williams LLP of Fort Wayne apparently donated $25k for a scholarship. Rather than seeking a refund, it plans to let Indiana Tech put the money towards some other program. But Welch doesn't want his money to support the bachelor's program in recreation therapy or the infamous PhD in global leadership (for which Fort Wayne is an internationally recognized center of excellence). And why should he? The university may have a legal claim to those funds but not a moral claim. It should give the money back to Welch or at least transfer it to a law school of his choice.

But the contention at Indiana Tech goes well beyond scholarships. Washington-based lawyer Christopher Mackaronis represents thirteen students and two faculty members of soon-to-be-defunct Indiana Tech. He is "looking into misrepresentation and fraud", as Indiana Tech allegedly duped students and staff alike into moving to Fort Wayne (not exactly the Côte d'Azur) and forgoing other opportunities.

And what about the art collection that Indiana Tech touted even before it opened? Is the university simply going to absorb that collection? Has the artwork already been sold off to make up part of the law skule's eight-figure losses?

These concerns apply in spades to the Charlotte School of Law. Although Harlotte doesn't have a parent university that can absorb its assets, it is owned by the notorious InfiLaw chain of scam schools. Does InfiLaw have the right to absorb any endowments that donors may have set up for scholarships at Harlotte? Would it be appropriate, morally or legally, to move those funds from Harlotte to Horrida Coastal or Arizona Scum Pit?

Two law schools are on their death bed, and others are likely to follow. We shall see what happens to their estates, so to speak. For now, anyone wishing to endow a scholarship should consider using an independent foundation rather than putting the law school in control of the funds.