Monday, April 23, 2018

It's Future Shock All Over Again

"A Nickel ain't worth a Dime anymore..."

The problem isn't the way the legal industry has been historically handled over decades...the problem is, apparently, that it is now 2018 and the legal industry has failed to innovate:

It is no secret that the legal profession is not serving a large portion of society. However, the delivery of legal services is evolving rapidly to try and meet this need. Technology is providing new ways of communicating, collaborating, and organizing our work to better serve clients, the profession, and ourselves. Nowadays, many people seek legal representation in other ways besides the typical in-person model. Alternatives are readily available, fueled in large part by advanced technology. In addition, those without JDs increasingly operate in the space that previously was the exclusive province of lawyers.  (emphasis added)
There is a new normal in our profession. To adapt and thrive, we need to think like true innovators. Many are in agreement that the more efficient delivery of legal services is a win-win for everyone – lawyers and clients alike. How we get there is the topic of this critical industry conference.
In other words, legal services are too expensive.  We have heard the clarion call from the Law School Cartel for years now, and it is finding its way into the private sector also - many are underserved, there is not enough pro bono, other kinds of non-JD degrees need to be offered, etc. etc. etc.
The answer?  Gig the legal economy.  TaskRabbit-ize the already-stretched army of underemployed attorneys trying to scrape out a living.  Because the unaffordability of legal services is clearly the Lawyer's Fault(tm).
And the reason lawyers can't work for peanuts, in most cases, is due to the extreme cost of law school and the attendant student loans.  PSLF and other semi-loan-forgiveness programs like IBR are increasingly in the crosshairs due to growing rates of default and use of these programs.  Because no one saw this coming, even though the Higher Education Act was originally passed in 1965.
Part of the reason legal services are "too expensive," of course, has to do with stagnant wages for decades.  True, legal services have probably never been cheap on a relative-percentage basis compared to middle-class incomes.  Then again, I must have grown up on the wrong side of the tracks, because the only experience I had with the legal industry was when my folks set up a Living Will.  Never had any cause to retain legal counsel prior, but then again we were hardly Magnates of Industry or Descendants of Aristocracy, so maybe that's why.
Regardless, the "new normal" of the legal services industry has arrived, and it involves clients paying less due to a buyer's market.  According to the Georgetown Law(!), the Legal Executive Institute, and Peer Monitor's 2018 report, the legal industry is stagnant, law firm profits are on the decline, and clients can demand and do obtain significant reductions in price.  Legal outsourcing and contract legal work is on the rise as a consequence.  The charts and graphs in the attached report are worth a look in and of themselves.
Into this declining market, the Law School Cartel continues to manufacture twice as many graduates as the market requires while continuing to blithely raise tuition.   And the brunt of that will fall on you, the mid-range law graduate.  In years prior, law graduates did not have jobs because they did not "network" enough.  Today, law graduates do not have jobs because they failed to "innovate."  In either case, the "fault" lies with the party least able to institute major change in a declining market.  An amazing coincidence, to be sure.
Don't go to law school kids, unless you have excellent backing and "immediate connector" status.  Otherwise, the failure of the legal industry in general, and your declining paycheck in particular, will be All Your Fault for some reason. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Another Word of Warning from Someone Who Has Been Through the Gristmill

Look, I'm Just going to out-hustle my 100 other classmates at my 90th-ranked school, NBD.
Today we have a "guest post" that doesn't pull any punches.  OTLSS has laid this argument out on the line more than once concerning school rankings, but here is another poster from a year ago that puts it in no uncertain terms:
I go to a law school ranked 80-90 with about a 55% employment score. Do I think my quality of education is bad? No. However, I think the main difference between my school and a better school is the feel you have knowing that, out of any three students, one is going to get a good/decent job, one is getting a shitjob that won’t pay back their loans, and one isn’t get hired anywhere...everything matters because you know there’s way more falling bodies than trampolines to save them.
Also, remember that the employment score is likely bolstered by people who I call “immediate connectors.” These are people with serious connections that guarantee a job, not just the typical dude who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy he can send his resume to. These people bolster the employment score, but aren’t actually an indicator of the school’s ability to place its graduates. Just to toss some anecdotal examples out there, there’s a person in my class who transferred in from Charlotte School of Law. Her third time in the actual building, she went through OCIs and got swiped up by the biggest firm there. Come to find out, her dad is a bigshot partner there. The fix was in the whole time. Another person’s uncle is a damn US Senator and has a job locked up for that person in DC after law school. I can name at least 8 more in my 100ish-person law school class...I don’t blame these people for their connections (hell, I wish I had more), but you should understand what they mean. They’re sucking up a job that you honestly don’t have a chance of getting. It doesn’t matter how well you outline for Seagull Torts and write on for the International Dogbite Law Journal, the firm is looking to fill one spot and you aren’t beating out the partner’s kid. That’s less trampolines catching those falling bodies.
It’s frustrating especially because there are no solid criteria for what gets you a job, so you never get the feeling that you’re safe until your offer is in hand. The number one kid in the class is set, but I know the number five (with LR and a ton of mock trial stuff) kid is looking and can’t find shit. Number 3 kid is working as a state court clerk making as much as a dental hygienist but with much more debt. At the same time, there are some lower ranked kids with good job offers because they hustled their ass off...but it’s a rough correlation and a bunch of people who deserve it get left out in the cold.
What’s also shockingly noticeable are the people who are just refusing reality and are not hustling to get jobs even though it is 3L spring and that student loan hammer is just WAITING to crush them. I saw one dude in our class (probably in the top 10%, mind you) who said he put off looking for jobs pretty much all of January/February because he is the head of our school’s trial association and his time has been preoccupied organizing the school’s in-house trial competition...[y]ou see shit like that out of 3Ls all the time at this level and, honestly, the psychology is fascinating. Just straight-up denial of trying to find a job. You can tell they’ve never been put in that position before, where putting your head down and mumbling “I don’t know” isn’t an acceptable answer. These are people who have been smart and capable their entire lives and just aren’t computing that the transition from law school-to-work isn’t as smooth as the transition from undergrad-to-law school. There’s no magic standardized test score they can reach that will end with someone handing a job to them on a silver platter like there is with a really high LSAT score. It’s like someone put Valium in the water or something.
If this seems depressing, well, it is...[i]t seems crazy on most forums because all but a few 1Ls just can’t grasp it while their busting out all the cannons of construction for International Shoe. Realizing that you can do everything right and still lose is shocking to some people.  I’m a 3L and things “worked out” for me...[h]owever, I am aware that one misstep, one bad bounce and I’m back to being a falling body with no certain trampoline. So, would I recommend a school of this caliber to someone who isn’t an immediate connector (for those of you that are, it doesn’t matter which school so at least pick a cheap one in a nice location)? No. Absolutely not. It just isn’t worth it. But if someone insisted, I’d tell them to prepare for a fight.

We've said it before, and we will say it again - don't take our word for it, take it from someone who is unaffiliated with OTLSS.  You have nothing to lose, and perhaps your whole life to regain.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Savannah Law Prof Marc Roark rages at the announced closing of his bottom-of-the-barrel law school and implores social media to #SaveSavannahLaw

On his twitter feed, Professor Marc Lane Roark of doomed Savannah Law School (which is a branch of equally scammy John Marshall Law School of Atlanta) introduces himself modestly as a "Law Professor, sometimes poet, sometimes fiction writer, academic on homelessness, urban affairs, identity, literature, and the south."

As a poet, albeit just sometimes, Professor Roark may be more naturally perceptive than the norm, and therefore able to perceive meaning and beauty where others see only a dismal and toxic pit of scam. And, of course, he has a poet's ability to communicate meaning and beauty in vivid and compelling language. So I was moved by Roark's simultaneous social media elegy for his soon to be ex-law school, and last-ditch plea for its survival. Even if I must evaluate his eloquent words in the  skeptical and evidence-focused manner of a mere sometimes scamblogger and actual practicing lawyer. 

Roark: "Our bar passage rate was decent."  

Savannah Law's bar passage rate was 54.5% for July, 2017 and 33.3% for February, 2017-- outcomes that were respectively a whopping 23.9% and 20.6% below the Georgia state average. Indeed, Savannah was on track to violate the ABA's Standard 316(a)(2), which requires that a school's annual first-time bar passage rate be is no more than 15 points below the jurisdiction's average first-time bar passage rates for three of the last five years. 

Roark: "Our job numbers were outstanding." 

In so saying, Roark does not cite Savannah Law's overall job placement numbers, but rather its placement results within a very specific subcategory of employment outcomes, namely federal clerkships, of which Savannah grads snagged four in the last three years. This is a very run-of-the-mill performance, even for a fourth tier school. However, Savannah's unusually small class size lifts its federal clerkship rate to to 2.8%, or a smidgen above the median. (See this chart, listing federal clerkship rate for the graduating classes of 2014-2016, by law school). 

Unfortunately, Savannah's overall legal placement rate is more accurately characterized as "outrageous" than as "outstanding." For the Class of 2016, only 15 out of 36 graduates (41.6%) got full-time bar-required non-solo jobs within 10 months of graduation. This places Savannah in the bottom 30 among law schools, i.e. the bottom 15%.  

Roark: "Our scholarship was innovative and bountiful." 

Professor Roark has innovated unto the world a bountiful law review article entitled "Reading Mohammed in Charleston: Assessing the U.S. Courts Approach to the Convergence, of Law, Language, and Norms," 4 Widener L. Rev. 205 (2007). 

In the article, Roark summarized seven appellate court decisions where application of Saudi or Afghan law was requested by a party in a commercial context. Now any lawyer could have summarized these cases and their rulings, but only a law professor could supply the show-offy literary references and pretentious verbiage meant to convey, with as much circumlocution and puffery as possible, the obvious point that interpreting texts from different cultures can lead to distorted or unintended results. See Reading Mohammed at 212 ("As Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir about reading cultural epigraphs in an environment that would seem to challenge the norms and practice of that reading, so this article is an anthology of seven distinct instances in which American courts attempt to read Islamic law through their own cultural interpretive lenses. Instead of Austen, Nabokov, and Fitzgerald, our six memoirists struggle with the cultural norms of the Prophet and his law"). [ed: Roark means seven "memoirists," aka courts, not six. Widener Law Review members, circa 2007 were not paying close enough attention to the article during the editing process, though I can hardly fault them]

An earlier draft of this article (available for download at bepress) was entitled Reading Mohammed in Charleston: Assessing the U.S. Courts Approach to the Convergence of Law, Religion, and Commerce," So Roark replaced two of his three title convergers, swapping "religion" and "commerce" for "language" and "norms"-- though with little substantive alteration in the text of the article. See e.g. Reading Mohammed, bepress draft, p. 11 ("Like Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir about reading cultural epigraphs in an environment that would seem to challenge the norms and practice of that reading; so too, Reading Mohammed in Brooklyn [sic] is an anthology of six distinct instances in which American Court’s [sic] attempt to read Islamic law through its [sic] own cultural interpretive lens. Instead of Austen, Nabokov, and Fitzgerald, our six memoirists struggle with the cultural norms of the Prophet and his law").  

I pose this question: Do serious scholars write whole articles about the convergence of certain forces, then determine that it was actually entirely different forces that were doing the converging, but still find no need for substantive changes to the article, only to the title? Because a more critical person might conclude that such a move might more commonly be expected from a poseur or a dilettante or worse. 

Roark: "Our faculty had the 35th most downloads for law schools in SSRN." 

If Roark is going to brag about the total SSRN downloads of articles published by Savannah Law faculty, he ought to have fairly acknowledged that his championship team has lately been far off its game. In the last 12 months, Savannah Law has ranked 144th among U.S. law schools in new SSRN downloads with a total of 3,133, bested ever so slightly by top performer New York University School of Law, with 167,462 downloads.

But this elides the question: Why does Savannah Law's SSRN download stats deserve any more than negligible weight as to the issue of the school's moral right to exist? We are talking about law review articles, of which there is no shortage, and which rarely have any influence on actual legal practice or even on other academic disciplines. Roark, for instance, has posted 17 scholarly papers on SSSN, the vast majority of which are law review articles. These 17 articles have a cumulative citation total of one.

Roark's article "Reading Mohammed in Charleston: Assessing the U.S. Courts Approach to the Convergence of Law, Language, and Norms, discussed above,  has accumulated 121 SSRN downloads, or about 10 per year.  Its low total may suggest that genuine scholars of both Western and Islamic law are happily convergent in common allergy to pretentious bullshit. 

Roark: "Yet the owners of the law school decided that the real estate was too valuable for something like educating a group of radical, thoughtful, visionaries who would see (sic?) to do good in the world. . . . So today we learned they sold the building out from under the law school." 

I was touched by this heartfelt plaint. Not because I consider it valid, but because I had a strong sense that the aggrieved wording was a stand-in for the complainant's punctured ego. I mean, it has got to hurt when the interests who have been providing your comfortable livelihood make it clear that they believe the chair you are seated upon is objectively more valuable than that chair plus you. 

The LSAT score for the most recent entering class of Savannah Law was 144 at the 25th percentile and 147 at the median. Excluding the Puerto Rican law schools, only seven accredited law schools out of over 200 scored worse at the 25th percentile and only eight scored worse at the median. I hate to be unkind about this, but how likely is it that a group of persons who have earned the description of "radical thoughtful visionaries" have collectively scored close to rock bottom on a test that measures logic and reading comprehension? And if the students at Savannah Law do possess these sterling different drummer qualities, test results notwithstanding, is it not likely that they would contribute more to overall world goodness outside the frustrating constraints of the precedent-bound, procedure-bound, and credential-fixated realm of legal practice?

The capitalists in charge of this for-profit law school, subject now to Roark's public ire but not when he was anticipating uninterrupted salary checks, have asserted that "This hard decision resulted from Savannah Law School’s inability to attract a necessary applicant pool to ever achieve sustainable enrollment levels." Indeed, Savannah Law offered admission to 273 persons in 2017, but found only 38 enrollees among that number.  That is a pretty significant decline, both percentage and raw number -wise from 2015, when the school was able to secure 59 matriculates from 245 admittees. 

Perhaps Savannah Law's owners are not motivated by blind greed so much as by a sober assessment that their business plan had misfired in idealistically overestimating the pool of radical thoughtful visionaries. At least the special kind of visionary, whose imaginative wisdom leads him or her to pay $42,682 resident sticker per year to attend a school with job placement results and bar passage rates that are about as decent-to-outstanding as the cake that Marie Antoinette fed to famished French peasants. 

Roark: "At the end of the day, Savannah's legacy may simply be this: we never had a chance to show what we were capable of." 

These are poignant words indeed, until you actually think about them. 

First, Savannah did have a chance, in fact seven years' worth of chances since its establishment in 2011. Seven years in, and the school was only enrolling three or four dozen students per year, of whom a significant percentage were sub-145 LSAT scorers. I hate to side with the profit-hungry owners of the school but, again, were they not entitled to make some informed judgments about financial viability after seven years? 

Second, let us assume that Roark and his colleagues were hindered in their noble and ambitious goals by administrative incompetence and neglect and other circumstances beyond their control. Doesn't that simply put them in the category of nearly everybody? "I never had a chance to show what I was capable of" is something that could be fairly said by anybody whose talents and abilities were not given unlimited scope, funding, and encouragement. Welcome back to the real world, Savannah law professors, or shall I say soon-to-be-ex-law-professors, an often disappointing and frightening place where you do not typically get six figure salaries for a worklife of maximum autonomy, pampered ease, undue authority and respect, and the opportunity to show what you are capable of.

Roark: "Innovation centers have certain things in common -- one thing is-- they have law schools. Law schools bring smart people in contact with each other to create new synergies. If Savannah wants to be an innovation hub it needs a law school." 

But for the magnetic draw and adhesive quality of law schools, smart people rarely make contact, and certainly never join together to make beautiful synergies that bring enrichment to all. With no law school in the vicinity to draw then out of their shells, local smart people behave like autistic savants, each trapped inside of his or her own idiosyncratic and uncommunicative mentations. 

OK. To be less snide, I would like to note a somewhat boosterish, but still interesting recent article about how Pittsburgh became an "innovation hub." (Roark's exact phrase). The article is about the revival of the city's tech sector, with special focus on local developments in robotics. The article identifies Carnegie Mellon University as hub's hub, the place that drew funding for robotics projects, brought together scientists from various fields, and rapidly produced research that could be commercialized and productivized into the larger economy. 

Now, Carnegie Mellon does not even have a law school, but it still somehow managed to bring very smart people into contact with each other in a way that produced concrete innovation. Pittsburgh does have two middling law schools, the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne, but the article did not deign to mention either, let alone give them a starring role in innovation. (Not quite fairly as to Duquesne, which did innovate to the extent of offering law students quality ukulele lessons to compensate for a less than first-rate legal education). 

Perhaps true innovation involves creations more substantive than "synergies," a word whose primary usage these days is to try to create vaguely upbeat impressions about interactions and convergences. 

Actually, my sense is that the word "synergy" has been so overused by scammers that it tends to unintentionally alert sophisticated readers or listeners that the declarant is an obnoxious flack. So maybe we can recognize the new usage of the word "synergy" by applying it to the collective behavior of most law professors in producing puffed-up scholarshit, in reinforcing one another's unearned sense of accomplishment and entitlement, and in their striking aversion to responsibility. Hey law profs, you have ruined a lot of lives with your contemptible synergies.