In the last week, the ABA made two accreditation decisions. Last week, after almost a year's delay, the ABA granted Concordia Law, in Boise, provisional accreditation. The ABA had previously deferred this decision, with the result that 55 of Concordia's students transferred to the University of Idaho. Now, the inaugural graduating class at Concordia numbers only 9 students - but these students will be able to sit for the bar.
Meanwhile, in Fort Wayne Indiana, Indiana Tech Law received the expected bad news that the ABA Council 0f the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar denied the school's application for provisional approval. Indiana Tech will reapply in the fall.
The texts for today’s homily are from Guys and Dolls and The Little Mermaid. Our first subject is Big Jule (alternatively pronounced, depending on the production, "jool" or "julie"), the enormous and imposing gangster from Chicago. Big Jule has come to town, flush, looking for a high-stakes crap game. Near the end of the musical, that game comes to a climax in the local sewer. After some unfortunate early losses, Big Jule has removed his coat and, with his revolver gleaming in plain view in his shoulder holster, pulls from his pocket his special “lucky dice.” These dice appear to everyone else to have blank faces because, Big Jule reveals, they have spots that only he can see. Miraculously, Big Jule’s luck turns, and he wins several big bets. When some of the other gamblers complain, Harry the Horse helpfully explains that “Big Jule cannot win if he plays with honest dice.”
Later that evening, disarmed and on the losing end of an unconventional bet with Sky Masterson, Big Jule finds himself obligated to attend a revival meeting at the Save A Soul Mission. Compelled by his bet to participate in the meeting and confess his sins, Big Jule makes a clean breast of it: “I used to be bad when I was a kid. But ever since then I gone straight, as I can prove by my record — 33 arrests and no convictions.” The prayer meeting is, improbably, a success; lovers are united; and everyone lives happily ever after. Big Jule presumably returns to Chicago to resume his blameless life.
I hope you’re smiling. Now I’m going to ruin everything by explaining why this wonderful story is funny. (A quick editorial aside before we begin: Guys and Dolls is not timeless in every respect, of course. It includes gender stereotyping and other cultural assumptions that, from our 21st-Century vantage, seem not-all-that-quaintly anachronistic. But the features of the story that I have excerpted above seem sufficiently salient to the matter at hand that I think we can make good use of them here.) Once again, the heavy lifting begins after the jump.
The ABA declined to approve Indiana Tech School of Law's initial application for provisional accreditation. The story is here. The school now will hustle to receive provisional accreditation prior to graduation of its inaugural class. We've seen what happens when new law schools struggle to get accredited.
When I wrote my most recent post in this series, I thought its subjects—“what [law-graduate] employment and earnings data ought generally to be presented, and whether the way such data are generally understood makes their presentation subject to misinterpretation”—were settled, and peripheral to the broader topic of the series. (Those keeping score at home will recall that the broader topic of the series is the importance and limitations of Mike Simkovic’s and Frank McIntyre’s recent scholarship on the value and purpose of legal education. The first post is here; the second and more recent one is here.) Unfortunately and surprisingly, my previous post has proved much more contentious than I anticipated, spawning dozens of Comments here and at least two posts on other blogs (Mike Simkovic on the Leiter blog here, and Brian Galle on Prawfsblawg here).
As is so often the case, the contention seems to spring from a few basic but important confusions. Actual common ground having proved too scarce to hope for, in the interest of mutual comprehension I attempt here to untangle the skeins that the combatants seem to be throwing past one another. I hope to clarify where and how we disagree, and why I hold the views I do. If you agree with me, that’s nice too. If you disagree, I invite you to explain clearly how and why.
Advance warning: This post is a bit longer than usual (around 2,800 words). The public discourse on these issues is so mixed up that it takes some doing to untangle it. I beg your indulgence, and thank those who make it to the end for their dedication and patience. The heavy lifting begins after the jump.
Two law professors at William Mitchell School of Law are suing in the aftermath of the announced merger between Mitchell and Hamline Law. The faculty members, Carl Moy and John Radsan, filed a complaint in state court Friday arguing that the school was changing its tenure guidelines to add merger as a basis for ending tenure. This, they argue, is a breach of contract.
The schools are awaiting ABA approval of the merger.
The full text of the complaint, plus revised tenure policy, are here.
The Board of Governors of Rutgers University approved the merger of its two law schools - in Newark and Camden - yesterday. The decision now awaits ABA approval. The merged schools will both remain open on their campuses. They will apparently use application but have two co-deans who will report to the their respective campus chancellors.
Today, Widener University has officially split its law school into two separate units. The ABA has approved the move. Widener's Wilmington, Delaware campus will be called Widener University Delaware Law School. Rodney Smolla, former law dean of the University of Richmond and Washington and Lee, and a visiting professor at Georgia Law, will lead this campus. The Harrisburg campus will now be called Widener University Commonwealth Law School. Christian Johnson, a professor at the University of Utah, will be its dean.
The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has posted a Notice and Comment for proposed changes to the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools. Details are here.
The examination includes both essay and multiple-choice questions and is administered in one day. Four hours is allocated for completing the four-essay question portion of the examination and three hours for one hundred multiple-choice questions. The subjects covered in this examination are: Contracts, Criminal Law, and Torts. An answer based upon legal theories and principles of general applicability is sufficient; detailed knowledge of California law is not required. The following provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code should be used where pertinent: a. All of Article l; b. All of Article 2.
For the June 2014 administration of the First Year Law Students' Examination (FYLSE), the first time pass rate was 27%. Here's something else I didn't realize -- that some ABA accredited schools require some students who have been disqualified for academic reasons to pass the FYLSE to gain re-admission. That explains why some students from ABA accredited schools are taking the FYLSE.
Unsurprisingly the subjects that the California bar tests on the FYLSE have an effect on what's taught in the first year. Here is Concord Law School's explanation of the preparation for the FYLSE, along with some revealing data about how performance at Concord correlates with performance on the FYLSE.
When I visited Florida Coastal last spring for my Dean interview, my prescription to turn the school around was drastic. I told them they should immediately rescind offers of admission and refund deposits and application fees for all students with an LSAT of 144 and below, and refuse to admit any more students at 144 and below. As readers of this blog well know, the response of the school’s president was to eject me from the campus.
With the release of the 2014 Standard 509 Information reports, it is now clear that my hope that InfiLaw might be willing to consider reversing their dramatic and utterly irresponsible downward admissions trajectory was a fantasy, because just when you thought they couldn’t possibly sink any lower, they have. As I have noted in previous posts, FCSL had gone from an acceptable 153/150/147 in 2008 and 2009 all the way to an appallingly low 148/144/141 in 2013. This year, they have dropped across the board and are now down to an abysmal 147/143/140 for the 424 students who matriculated in 2014. In five years, what used to be their 25th percentile (147) is now their 75th percentile. And for those who think a 7 point drop (from 147 to 140) doesn’t sound all that significant, trust me, it is. A 147 is in the 33rd percentile, whereas a 140 is in the 13th percentile, a 20 percentile drop. And just in case you might be thinking that FCSL is taking people with low LSAT’s but high grades, they aren’t. The GPAs are also very low, with a median of 2.93. For reference, in 2006, the average college GPA was 3.11 and that number has likely continued to rise.
If FCSL had heeded my advice, well over half of the students who enrolled this fall would not have been admitted. The school's profits would be down, and undoubtedly they would have had to lay off many staff and faculty, but at least they would have been on a path to sustainability, and maybe even respectability. Instead, they have done everything in their power to make themselves a national laughingstock.
The only good news for FCSL is that their numbers aren’t quite as atrocious as their sister school, Charlotte School of Law. Charlotte matriculated even more students than Florida Coastal in 2014, 446 of them, with even lower entrance credentials. At 146/142/138 with a median GPA of 2.83, Charlotte has now officially admitted the least capable law school class of any significant size at an ABA-accredited school in U.S. history. Charlotte's numbers dropped even more dramatically across the board from 2013 when they were 149/144/141. Their part-time division, which at 127 students is larger than their cellar-dweller rival Ave Maria’s entering class, is shockingly weak, with a group profile of 142/138/136. That means they have 35 students in the evening division who come from the bottom 7% of LSAT takers. This is absolutely unconscionable.
The third law school in InfiLaw’s stable, Arizona Summit, had slightly higher, but still atrocious numbers, matriculating at least 131 students with an LSAT of 144 or below in 2014.
As I and others have noted, many law schools have lowered their standards and there are several with historically weak classes this year, with numbers that would have been unthinkable just 3 or 4 years ago. Ave Maria, Western Michigan Thomas Cooley, Thomas Jefferson, Faulkner, Southern, Texas Southern, Western New England, and Barry (full disclosure - I was on the Barry faculty from 2010-2, but never had anything to do with admissions) all have entering classes where their 75% percentile is below 150. But among these, only InfiLaw is making huge profits off of totally unqualified students, and that puts InfiLaw in a class (low) by itself.
If InfiLaw's management believes that they are meeting ABA Standard 501(b) (“A law school shall not admit applicants who do not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its educational program and being admitted to the bar”) by admitting scores of students from the bottom 10% of LSAT takers, they are not only deceiving the students, they are deluding themselves. What seems far more likely is that they know quite well that these students have little chance of graduating (unless they also significantly lower their performance standards) and passing the bar.
InfiLaw should be promptly and thoroughly investigated not only by the ABA and Department of Education but by the Higher Education Commissions in the states where they operate and the Consumer Protection Divisions of the Florida, North Carolina and Arizona State Attorney Generals' Offices, and/or DoJ. They must not be permitted to continue to operate in this disgraceful manner.
This past weekend, the ABA's Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar decided to delay consideration of InfliLaw's application to buy Charleston School of Law until South Carolina's education regulators make a final decision on approving the sale. We have blogged about this deal repeatedly - our last installment of the saga, including with various links to the relevant background, is here.
This isn't good news for those Concordia students who hung around after the ABA declined to provisionally accredt the law school last summer: the ABA announced that it will take up the school's application in June, 2015 - after the first entering class was slated to graduate. Given that students must wait for ABA accreditation before graduating if they have any hope for taking the Idaho - or pretty much any other - bar exam, the law school is allowing students to stretch out their program to graduate later. Those students who didn't move to Idaho law this fall are surely bumming out.
UPDATE: Responding to popular demand, I have attached a sanitized version of the presentation I gave at Florida Coastal last spring here: Download FCSL sanitized I have removed proprietary data, such as information from FCSL's ABA Self-Study, in accordance with a non-disclosure agreement I signed with FCSL. The notes to the slides are not exact quotes from my actual presentation, but accurately reflect the content of my talk, at least up to the point that I was stopped by the President.
Back in April, the night before my my abortive Dean candidate talk at Florida Coastal School of Law, I had dinner with FCSL President Dennis Stone. Over dinner I expressed serious concern over the quality of recently admitted students at FCSL and their prospects for passing the bar. President Stone completely dismissed my concerns. In fact, he expressed great confidence that the school's bar pass rates was going to be just fine, and, even stated that he expected the rate to go up as a result of improvements to the curriculum and in-house bar prep programs.
I was unconvinced. When I expressed a decidedly different view of the school's trajectory the following day, President Stone responded by throwing me off the campus.
Before I departed, I predicted that the school was going to have a disastrous bar result in July. In fact, here is one of the bullets from one of the PowerPoint slides I used during the presentation:
◦ Bar Pass rate for summer 2014 will drop substantially, probably below 60%
The Florida Board of Bar Examiners recently released the July 2014 bar examination results by law school, and, lo and behold, Florida Coastal School of Law had a first-time bar pass rate of 58.0%. This woeful result placed FCSL second to last among Florida’s 12 ABA-Accredited law schools, just edging out perennially struggling Ave Maria.
Although I enjoy being proved right as much as the next guy, I can take no real pleasure in being proved right in this case, for there is a tremendous human toll when such a large school has such a poor result on the bar. There are 118 recent FCSL graduates who are suffering greatly right now because they failed the bar, and that is a tragedy. Indeed, it was precisely this kind of tragedy that I was hoping to avert by trying to persuade FCSL to change course.
How was I able to predict this drop with such accuracy? No magical powers were involved. All I had to do was look at FCSL’s entering student profiles to see that a bar pass rate train wreck was coming.
Although some seem loathe to admit it, there is a very strong correlation between LSAT scores and MBE scores (see, here and here). Let the LSAT scores of your admitted students drop, and three years later, the bar pass rate is bound to follow. Perhaps nowhere is this principle more clearly demonstrated than at FCSL.
Not long ago, FCSL’s bar pass numbers were perfectly respectable. In July 2012, FCSL was at 75.2%, within 5% of the state average of 80.2%. In July 2011, they had similar results: a first time passage rate of 74.6% compared to a 79.5.% state average. These consistent results were not surprising given that the entrance credentials at FCSL for the Fall 2008 and Fall 2009 entering classes were identical (153, 150, 147 at the 75th, 50th and 25th percentile in both years). But starting in 2010, the entrance credentials of FCSL’s students started to slip. That year, they went from 153, 150, 147 to 152, 149, 146, a one-point decrease across the board. As a direct result, in July 2013, FCSL’s July bar pass rate dropped below 70% for the first time in several years. At 67.4%, the 2013 rate was 10% below the state average of 77.2%. In 2011, FCSL dropped their standards even more dramatically, enrolling a class with LSATs of 151, 147, 145. Based on this drop in the aptitude of its entering students, coupled with a significant level of transfer attrition from the top of the class, it was easy to predict that there would be a significant drop in bar performance for FCSL’s July 2014 bar takers.
Unfortunately, the worst is undoubtedly yet to come from FCSL. The entering class of 2012 was substantially weaker by LSAT score (151, 146, 143) than the 2011 entering class, and the 2013 (148, 144, 141) and 2014 (unavailable at this time, but projected to be about the same) entering classes have drastically lower predictors. Unless FCSL substantially increases academic attrition from the bottom of the class, their bar pass rate will almost certainly drop below 50% in the coming years (assuming they stay in business). Even with significantly greater attrition they will still be hard-pressed to match this year’s dismal results.
Will these results finally cause InfiLaw to change their admission policies, and stop admitting huge numbers of high-risk students? One can always hope, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Perhaps the more salient question is: Will these recent results spur the ABA to take any action? The unfortunate answer is: probably not. Under ABA Standard 316(a)(2), a law school that is within 15% of the state average for first-time takers from all ABA law schools is deemed to have a sufficient bar passage rate. So, as far as the ABA is concerned, FCSL, at 14% below the state average, is still fully compliant. (Of course, if you remove FCSL’s students from the equation, the statewide first-time pass rate in Florida on the July bar would have been 73.2%, 15.2% higher than FCSL's average, but that is not how the ABA calculates things.) But even if FCSL is still meeting the ABA’s woefully inadequate bar pass standards now, it should be abundantly clear to anyone who understands the predictive value of LSAT scores that they are not going to be able to meet them in future administrations of the bar. How many more high-risk, poorly qualified students will InfiLaw be allowed to take advantage of before the ABA steps in?
In fairness to InfiLaw, FCSL is far from the only school to experience a drop in their bar passage rate. In fact, this year, Florida’s state average dropped sharply (-5.4%) to 71.8% overall. Florida’s numbers are consistent with what is happening in other states. According to this article, the majority of states to have reported their scores from July 2014 have reported drops of greater than four percentage points, with several reporting a double-digit drops in the first time bar passage rate. These numbers highlight one of the problems with ABA Standard 316(a)(2). When all law schools lower their admission standards, the overall bar pass rate may plummet, but even horribly performing law schools may still be able to stay within 15% of the state average. Florida is a perfect example of this. Florida’s worst-performing school this July, Ave Maria, at 57% (rounded up to the nearest whole percentage point) is still within 15% of Florida’s 72% statewide average, and thus, compliant, even though most people would agree (I hope) that 57% is unacceptably low. This example points to the need for the ABA to implement a minimum first time bar pass rate. Schools that drop below the minimum for a calendar year (combining the February and July bar) should automatically be placed on probation. If 75% is presumptively sufficient under ABA Standard 316 (a)(1), then more than 15% below that, under 60%, should be presumptively insufficient.
I understand very well the pressure on law school administrators to preserve the jobs of law school faculty and staff by trying to limit the decrease in the size of their entering classes by admitting weaker applicants. But it is highly ethically questionable to try to keep a law school afloat on the backs of students who have demonstrated poor aptitude for the study of law. It is even more ethically dubious when a law school is admitting large numbers of extremely high-risk students for the purpose of making a profit. Regrettably, that appears to be exactly what is going on at some ABA-accredited law schools. The ABA should put a stop to it.
It appears that the decision process on selling the for-profit Charleston School of Law to the for-profit Infliaw system is moving along. Charleston Law is seeking ABA approval of the sale and will make a presentation to the ABA on October 30. At the same time, a unanimous Charleston faculty, as well as one of the school's owners, are opposing the move. They want to turn the school into a non-profit.
As far as I can tell, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education has not yet decided whether it would approve the move in any case.
Last summer, Cooley Law - which was recently renamed Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School - announced that it would not matriculate any 1L students to its Ann Arbor campus this fall. (Cooley has five campuses.) Yesterday, the other shoe apparently dropped and Cooley posted an "Intent to Close" notice on its website. It will now be required to follow the ABA's teach-out provisions. In a sense, this is small news. (Indeed, the matter has thus far gotten trace coverage on the web other than the newsbreaking story over at ATL.) But I expect the news to gain traction over the next few days because it fits well into both the real story, and the media frame, surrounding the state of legal education.
As I've previously noted, the ABA has deferred a final call on Concordia Law's provisional accreditation pending a report from a new factfinder. Since the Idaho Supreme Court declined to give Concordia grads special permission to sit for the bar, irrespective of the ABA's decision, current 3L's are at risk of graduating from a school that has never been accredited. Most states allow students to sit for the bar only if they have graduated from a law school that was ABA accredited at some point during the time the student was enrolled. Given that the ABA might not reach a decision this school year, current 3L's are at risk of graduating from a school that was never accredited at any point in their tenure.
Thus the news story: half of all of Concordia Law's 3L's are taking time off this term, hoping that accreditation comes through while they are still students.
The ABA has apparently deferred a decision on Concordia Law's accreditation application. It appointed a factfinder to go to the Boise, Idaho campus to gather more information on the application. This is high stakes for the 45 Concordia students set to graduate this May. The school had sought a waiver from the Idaho Supreme Court allowing 2015 Concordia grads to sit for the Idaho bar, irrespective of ABA accreditation. The Court denied the request.
I don't know what is holding up the ABA's decision, but I understand from conversations with a Concoria administrator that the school does not extend tenure to faculty members. I wonder whether that could be an issue.
Yes, it is true. As the recent story in the Atlantic by Paul Campos accurately reports, I was the dean candidate who was asked to leave Florida Coastal School of Law by school President Dennis Stone in the middle of my presentation to the faculty. Since the story came out, I’ve been contacted by many law faculty members wanting to know the whole story. I’ve also seen a fair amount of uninformed speculation on the topic floating around the blogosphere. So, I have decided to write about what happened in the hopes that I can put all the speculation to rest and move on.
Let me start by saying that just because I appear in Paul Campos’ article does not mean that I endorse Paul Campos’ point of view about Florida Coastal School of Law, InfiLaw, for-profit law schools, or the “law school scam” theory in general. I believe Paul raises a lot of serious and important issues, and makes several valid points, but the views expressed in the article are his, not mine. Dan Filler has graciously offered me the opportunity to expand on my own views on legal education here at The Faculty Lounge, and I will do so in future posts. (And thank you for the kind introduction, Dan.)
I also want to make it clear at the outset that I do not agree with the view expressed by some commentators that Florida Coastal School of Law, Charlotte Law, or Arizona Summit School of Law are “diploma mills.” I believe that each of these schools provides a solid legal education, on par with many of their peer schools. The truth is that the faculty hiring market has become so competitive that all three of these schools have been able to hire many highly qualified and distinguished lawyers and scholars as faculty members. I have friends on the faculty of all three schools whom I know to be fine teachers and scholars who would be a credit to any law school faculty in the country. I have seen no evidence that the educational program at InfiLaw is any less rigorous than the typical J.D. program. There is no question that all three InfiLaw schools have produced many fine attorneys, a substantial majority of whom passed the bar on the first attempt. My concern about InfiLaw has primarily to do with its admissions policies over the last four years. During this time, InfiLaw schools have admitted hundreds of students with extremely low LSAT scores and mediocre GPAs. This clearly appears to be an administrative policy as the admission numbers look very similar at all three of their schools. I do not believe that InfiLaw has any special insight that would enable them to identify students with extremely low LSAT scores who have much greater aptitude for the study of law than their test scores and GPAs would indicate. Nor do I believe that InfiLaw schools have any magic formula for getting students of marginal aptitude to outperform their indicators. InfiLaw schools are not notably better or worse or different than the many other unranked law schools around the country, aside from their for-profit status.
In April, Dan wrote about the Florida Coastal dean search where the candidate was asked to leave in the middle of his job talk (under threat of a security escort out of the building) after his presentation turned a critical eye towards the school's admissions standards and bar passage rates.
Now Paul Campos fleshes out some of the details in this Atlantic piece, which he uses to launch a longer discussion about the Infilaw suite of schools and the crisis in higher education generally.