Saturday, December 30, 2017

Recapitulating 2017

The great Giordano Bruno wrote that in England "regna una costellazione di pedantesca ostinatissima ignoranza et presunzione: mista con una rustica incivilità che farebbe prevaricar la pazienza di Giobbe": "there reigns a constellation of pedantic and most stubborn ignorance and presumption, blended with a sort of boorish incivility that would try the patience of Job".

Imagine what he would have said about legal hackademia in the era of Leong, Dougie Fresh, Lamparello, McElroy, Adelson, Franzese, and Leiter.

The year 2017 may mark a turning point in the law-school scam. For the first time we have seen not just mergers and closures of single campuses, but outright and even immediate closures of entire law schools: Indiana Tech, Whittier, Charlotte. The ABA has finally set its rubber stamp of approval down long enough to take initial steps towards disciplinary proceedings against various toilets. The InfiLaw duo appear to be slated for collapse within the year, and other law schools too may not be long for this world.

Before moving into 2018, we should all thank Nando, whose important blog Third Tier Reality has offered important anti-scam commentary and agitation for more than eight years. This week Nando announced that he will no longer develop his blog. We wish him well and thank him again for his yeoman service to the noble cause of demolishing the law-school scam.

Also worthy of everyone's appreciation are authors such as Dybbuk, Duped Non-Traditional, Law School Truth Center, and OTLSS Team, as well as the many other commentators who regularly post here.

Unfortunately, the law-school scam may be experiencing a recrudescence. Lemmings, it seems, are taking a renewed interest in law school, and they're going for the toilety end. The failure of über-toilets Indiana Tech, Whittier, and Charlotte does not necessarily spell doom for the 190 or so other well-deserving candidates for closure; on the contrary, it may breathe new life into some of them. We shall therefore keep the anti-scam movement going, albeit perhaps at a lower pitch.

Happy new year to everyone (scamsters excepted).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Can scammers truly empathize with their dupes? A few skeptical thoughts about Seton Hall Law Prof. Paula Franzese's law review article, "The Power of Empathy in the Classroom."

Every kindergartener and first-grader should have a teacher like Paula Franzese— a hyper-engaging Pollyanna who fosters social skills and self-confidence in the classroom through her own cheery solicitude, plus sing-alongs, affirmations, and fun games, perhaps games loosely based on the format of her favorite televised game shows and reality shows. A facilitator who inspires ethical behavior via morally uplifting stories with happily-ever-after endings and platitudes about goodness and hope. A role model who expresses such confidence in each child’s profound abilities that they start to believe it, but who scrupulously reminds these nascent superheroes that their powers must be used for good. 

However, this pedagogical approach surely has an early use-by date, perhaps at around the age that a child stops believing in Santa Claus and magical ponies and wishing upon a star. When it shows up in a law school classroom, one has to wonder whether the students are receiving competent and effective professional education and training—even if it comes attractively packaged as "empathic teaching" and even if it is touted by its chief proponent in a law review article with 92 footnotes and god-knows-how-many uses of the trendy phrase "emotional intelligence" and close rewordings of same. See e.g. Franzese, Paula (2017) "The Power of Empathy in the Classroom," Seton Hall Law Review: Vol. 47 : Iss. 3, Article 2. (For more on Franzese’s remarkable approach to legal education, see this OTLSS profile of her book on positive thinking for law students.  See also this shameless recent editorial by Franzese, in which she encourages readers to defy the "naysayers and outliers" by attending law school and using the precious "aptitudes" provided there to become "justice's emissaries").    

In her new law review article, Franzese provides the following examples of how she practices "empathy in the classroom":
  • "On the way from my office to my classroom I summon up the reverence that I have for the law and the capacity of its practitioners to be givers of hope. I want my students, as lawyers-to-be, to appreciate the power that their emerging expertise will soon afford them to wrest people from cynicism and despair. I would like them to see that the relentless commitment to the good of others will make their own lives good. As a lawyer, I have had the privilege to watch as hope has sprung from the most desolate places. My life has never been the same. I want my students to know that soon, they too will get to be witnesses to the birth of hope."
  • "Once at the classroom door I pause, and before entering the room I summon gratitude for the privilege to teach and for the sacrifices of all who came before me to make this moment possible. I then ask that I be used to do whatever good needs to be done and to say whatever needs to be said. I ask for the guidance to see what needs to be seen. I remember that there is no day but this day and no moment but this moment."
  • "I remain mindful that my students’ perceptions of our profession, and of themselves as its fledgling members, will be formed in considerable measure by watching me and listening to my cues and feedback. . . [O]ur students rise (or fall) to our level of expectation for them. I give each of my students the benefit of every doubt and believe that each contains seeds of excellence waiting to be cultivated."
  • "Empathic pathways are activated when students re-enact or reimagine cases. For example, to enhance the capacity of the antiquated Pierson v. Post (the venerable Property case on the rule of capture) to resonate with the class, I ask a team of students to place that case into the more contemporary context of the popular television show The Amazing Race. On other occasions, I ask students to put cases into more journalistic settings, where for example one class member is assigned the role of reporter, another the role of producer, and others the roles of various litigants and litigators to elicit and recount what happened in the given dispute and their reactions to its resolution for an imagined CBS 60 Minutes segment. That exercise allows students to become the people behind the story, and the range of emotions typically displayed is vast and genuine, as the opportunity is presented for the "as if" to feel real."
  • "Play, through the use of in-class games such as Jeopardy (which readily lends itself to substantive review) and Family Feud (which fosters teamwork), and challenges aimed at helping students solve the puzzle of a given problem or contextual dilemma, brings an immediacy to the need to know the relevant material."
Again: Law school or kindergarten?  Well, no, it is not kindergarten. Kindergarteners do not typically commit themselves to hundreds of thousands of dollars in non-dischargeable debt.  Kindergarten teachers do not purport to offer technical training at the doctoral level. 

Can a vulnerable person be conspicuously empathized-with and heartlessly scammed by the very same party and at the very same time? Might a scammer’s empathetic mush and gush, and even her professions of humility, be a self-serving psychological device in disguise, meant to elevate the scammer's self-image to that of noble and generous benefactor? Could the practice of "empathic teaching" be cynically employed by a mercenary institutional scammer (for instance a second-tier law school that charges tuition of $53,046 per year and has a 25th percentile LSAT of 152) to appear innovative while dumbing down its instruction and making its ever-less sophisticated dupes feel cherished?

Why do consumers of motivational speeches and positive thinking literature fail to see the vicious Social Darwinist downside of all that can-do inspiration—namely, that if positive thinking leads to success and happiness, then their own failures, frustrations, and unhappiness are most readily explained by their own bad attitudes, and not by objective facts tending to prove that they have been exploited, misled, or scammed?

Remember the comical Walrus, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, who wept with sympathy and understanding for the very oysters whom he had deceptively befriended, entertained, and then systematically devoured? Alice judgmentally calls the Walrus an unpleasant character, but perhaps the Walrus’s main fault was in failing to gift the world of scholarship with a law review article entitled "The Power of Empathy in Devouring Your Prey."

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The ABA 509 reports are out

By last Friday, the law skules had to file their 509 reports for the year 2017–18 with the ABA. The reports can be found here.

While waiting for our friends at Law School Transparency to tabulate the key data in a more approachable form, I have read the reports from a few über-toilets. Some of these odious establishments cashed in, quite literally, on the closure of Indiana Tech, Whittier, and Charlotte: Appalachian grabbed up 16 transfer students from Charlotte and one from Indiana Tech, and Western State took one from Charlotte and 22 from Whittier. Even Cooley, still widely considered the poster child of shittiness despite hot competition and the notorious Cooley rankings (which several years ago placed the toilet second only to Harvard), managed to snatch up four dumb bunnies from Charlotte.

True to their word (for a change), the two remaining InfiLaw toilets managed to improve their LSAT scores considerably, from 141 to a still horrific 145 at the 25th percentile. This feat, however, accompanied a collapse in enrollment: Florida Coastal's entering class fell from 245 last year to 106, and Arizona Summit's fell from 143 to 49. Methinks InfiLaw's days are numbered. To my great disappointment, Appalachian nearly doubled its enrollment, from 38 students to 73. It would have grown even without the influx from Charlotte.

Failing out remains commonplace at the über-toilets. Rates of attrition of 1Ls for reasons other than transferring run well into the double-digit percentages at most of these institutions. Of the ones that I checked, Thomas Jefferson wins the—er, prize with a shocking rate of 37.2%. Remember the old commencement speaker's joke that either you or your neighbor to the right or the left will not be there in a year's time? At Thomas Jefferson, that's an understatement.

More news will follow. In the meantime, feel free to review the 509 reports yourself and post your own comments.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Reality is Incoming

What is everyone freaking out about...?  We'll just increase tuition another 4%, just like we've done for last couple of decades...

Cross-posted from PrawfsBlawg:
[As] a recent article from Inside Higher Ed points out, a more immediate problem for educational institutions and their students may be the Prosper Act's proposed annual lending limits. The bill would limit federal loans for non-medical graduate and professional students to $28,500 per academic year...
The GradPlus program does one thing really well--it makes graduate school accessible to students regardless of their family wealth. The federal government offers loans up to the full cost of attendance (defined to include both tuition and reasonably living expenses) for graduate and professional programs. Parents do not have to co-sign the loans. Combined with income-driven repayment plans that cap repayments at 10% to 15% percent of a graduate's income, it makes attending graduate school a low-risk proposition...
The Prosper Act would change all of that immediately...there would be an immediate crisis in funding law school--after all, the federal loans would barely cover the cost of living[.]  There would be little to nothing left over to cover tuition. Certainly, some students could rely on family contributions, and some may be able to lessen living expenses by living at home while attending law schools. But not all families are in a position to help, and the legal profession would suffer greatly if only the very privileged could join.  Private loans may step in to fill some of the gap...[but] private loans have decreased so much (declining by more than half) in the years after the introduction of GradPlus that I doubt private lenders could ramp up fast enough to avoid massive disruption in the short term. Finally, any such private loans would probably have more onerous terms[...]
We can sit here and debate where the various forms of concern-trolling are coming from - some say the Prosper Act is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt by conservatives to stab at the Heart of Darkness that is American Liberal Education and try to kill the beast.  Others will say that limousine-liberals are merely crying champagne tears for the underrepresented, when in reality all they care about is gettin' that next helping of thick-cut pork with extra gravy.  I don't doubt that some mix of both is going on, as human psychology is rarely, if ever, purely altruistic or unburdened by ulterior motives.
The practical, Aristotelian reality, however, is that if something can't go on forever, it will stop.   Long before the "law school scam," many have warned, argued and decried against the unbridled escalation of educational costs, of which law schools have become the poster-child.  Much hand-wringing took place, summits were held, people shook their heads sadly - but nothing substantive was done.
Well, folks, if you are unwilling to clean up your own mess, then you force someone else to clean it up for you.  See, for example, the Financial Crisis.  And you may not like how the cleaner-uppers choose to handle it, but by then it's Too Late.  And, as per usual, the brunt of it falls on the folks currently mired in the system - yet one way or another, it's coming.
All in all, this is why we can't have Nice Things.  Heckuvajob, lol skool cartel!  Mission Accomplished! 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Off to the Races with a New Year of Applications

It's that time of year again, where LSAC starts reporting the application and applicant tally for 2017-2018!  I, your humble wanna-be data wonk, have been diligently hitting the F5 key for the last several days, and LSAC has updated their website on  December 5, 2017.  Let's see what is going on:

As of 11/24/17, there are 81,877 applications submitted by 15,083 applicants for the 2018–2019 academic year. Applicants are up 14.2% and applications are up 17.1% from 2017–2018.
Strangely enough, there appears to be at least two data points on the graph, not one.  Comparing the new data to the older data I have been recording as LSAC publishes it, this time last year the first data point was 14,892 applicants, so I show an increase this year of 1.24%, not 14.2%.   Maybe they are representing a point with a small line, but this would indicate another data point we are not privy to, regardless.
Another small anomaly - for the past four years by my reckoning, LSAC always produces their first data point from "Week 48" of the calendar year.  This year, they produced it from "Week 47", which leads me to believe there is another data point out there.  "Who cares?" one may ask, but in the past it has been notoriously difficult to line up yearly data in an apples-to-apples fashion, so I personally believe that the 14.2% increase has to be taken with a grain of salt.  Perhaps it's correct, perhaps not.
In any event, expect the Diamonds and Simkovics of the world to declare Mission Accomplished, Problem Solved in the legal education arena.  What more evidence do you need, other than more dupes flooding through the doors?  Although, I do want to make special mention of Matt Leichter's analysis (who is already on our blogroll) - back in 2012-2013, when the Cartel was declaring that by 2016 "things would be different," it appears it is yet still more of the same on the job front. 
Happy Days are most decidedly not here again, but now that a handful of law schools have decided to call it quits, everyone must think all of the slack is out of the market.  Time will tell.