Today, the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar announced it is placing Charlotte Law School on probation for non-compliance with ABA Standards 301(a), 501(a), and 501(b). The remedial steps ordered include:
The Law School shall, by December 15, 2016, supply to the Committee its admissions data and admissions methodology, which includes the Law School’s admissions practices and policies, for the fall 2017 entering class. Where factors other than grade point average and LSAT are used to support an admissions decision, the Law School shall report those factors, explain how they are determined and applied in the review of applicant files, and report on any analyses that have been done or are contemplated to review the outcomes of admissions decisions based on these factors.
Until the Law School is determined by the Accreditation Committee or the Council to be operating in compliance with Standards 301(a), 501(a), and 501(b), each semester, within 30 days of the completion of the assignment and distribution of semester grades for the Law School’s students, the Law School shall advise each Law School student, in writing, of the following, in the same communication: (a) the North and South Carolina first-time bar examination passage rates, by class quartiles, for Law School graduates sitting for the North and South Carolina bar examinations over the six administrations preceding the semester for which results are known; and (b) the class quartile into which the student then falls. The Law School shall provide evidence to the Managing Director’s office, within five days of its distribution to students, that the required information has been appropriately and timely communicated.
At the same time, the ABA Committee censured Valparaiso Law for non-compliance with Standards 501(a) and 501(b). The notice is here. The remedial steps ordered for Valpo were similar.
In response to several straight poor results on bar examinations, which (although Dean DeVito doesn’t directly admit this) were the direct result of dropping admission standards starting in 2011, Dean DeVito announced that the school will be raising its admission standards back to 2010 levels, aiming for a median LSAT of 150 or higher, and a 25% percentile of 147. The letter indicates that Florida Coastal has already raised their incoming LSAT requirements by 5 points (for 2015, they were at 148/144/141) and states that the school plans to raise LSAT quartiles by two more points in the next admissions cycle. He suggests that this change should result in a return to bar passage rates in the mid 70s, noting that Florida Coastal’s first-time pass rate was consistently in the mid 70s prior to 2010 when their median LSAT was 150.
Dean DeVito should be heartily commended for finally putting a stop to the exploitation of hundreds of students with poor aptitude for the study of law. But it is clear that he has done so very grudgingly, and that he is not happy about it. In fact, he says he is “incredibly frustrated” at having to raise standards because the more pressing crisis, in his view, is diversity in the profession, not declining bar passage rates. He does not acknowledge in any way that Florida Coastal erred by lowering its standards in the first place, but rather bemoans the fact that raising admissions standards to the levels required to produce an acceptable bar pass rate will (in his opinion) result in decreased diversity because of an insufficient pool of minority students with LSAT scores close to the median. (Incidentally, the actual median is between 151 and 152, not 150.) While I do not doubt Dean DeVito’s sincere commitment to increasing diversity in the profession, he is not fooling anyone if he is suggesting that Florida Coastal’s decision to dramatically lower its admission standards was driven by a desire to increase diversity. Florida Coastal’s irresponsible and unethical admission policies, like those of its sister schools Charlotte and Arizona Summit, were driven by InfiLaw’s corporate policy of profit-maximization (aka greed). While these schools have touted their high rates of diversity, what they have failed to mention is that a disproportionate share of the enormous revenues they have generated in recent years came from minority students who were (quite predictably) unable to complete their degrees or pass the bar.
Back in April 2014, when I gave my infamous Dean candidate presentation to Florida Coastal School of Law, (see also here) I predicted that the class that had just been admitted for the fall of 2014 would surely have less than a 50% bar pass rate in 2017. The numbers for the entering class of 2014: LSAT 147/143/140 and UGPA 3.20/2.93/2.63, were down across the board from 2013 when they were already appallingly low. I also predicted, correctly, that Florida Coastal's bar pass rate would drop below 60% that summer. Well, the 2016 Florida bar exam results are out, and Florida Coastal has underperformed even my low expectations by dropping below 50% a year early, at least in Florida, where most Florida Coastal grads take the bar. Here's the numbers: 16 of 49 Florida Coastal first-time takers passed the February 2016 Florida bar; 83 out of 160 passed the July 2016 Florida bar. The combined total for 2016 is 99 of 209, or 47.4%.
Now, in fairness to Florida Coastal, they were not the worst performing school in Florida this year. Both Barry (where I used to teach, but not since Fall semester 2011, so don’t blame me) and St. Thomas had a 45% combined first-time bar pass rate in Florida this year, with 98 of 217 Barry first-time takers passing (45.2%), compared to 81 of 180 for St. Thomas (45.0%).
In March, the ABA Section of Legal Education's Council approved for notice and comment revisions to the ABA Standards 316 and 501 related to stricter bar passage rate requirements, admissions and attrition. Here are the key provisions:
Standard 316. BAR PASSAGE At least 75 percent of a law school’s graduates in a calendar year who sat for a bar examination must have passed a bar examination administered within two years of their date of graduation.
Standard 501. ADMISSION (a) A law school shall adopt, publish, and adhere to sound admission policies and practices consistent with the Standards, its mission, and the objectives of its program of legal education. (b) A law school shall admit only applicants who appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.
Interpretation 501-3. ATTRITION A law school having a non-transfer attrition rate above 20% percent bears the burden of demonstrating that it is in compliance with the Standard.
(For those wanting more detail, a marked up copy of the Standards (showing a comparison of the old rule and the proposed new rule) and the comments submitted regarding the proposal are available here.) Several thoughtful comments have been submitted related to these proposed standards, but this post is devoted to a comment submitted by Don LeDuc, the President and Dean of the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. Mr. LeDuc has written to express his vociferous opposition to the proposed changes to ABA Standard 501 and 316.
It should not be at all surprising that Mr. LeDuc opposes any tightening of the rules regarding admissions given that he presides over the law school that admitted the statistically weakest law school entering class in history in 2015. What is surprising are his outlandish claims that it is an “unproven assertion” that bar results are tied to admission factors, and it is a “flawed premise” “that factors involved in law school admission decisions can be used to predict bar examination success.”
Standard 501 of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools 2015-2016 states that “a school shall not admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.”
The ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is responsible for enforcing this standard. Unfortunately, for the past five years while law school admissions standards have plummeted, the Council has shown no willingness to use to this standard for its intended purpose -- to protect unqualified applicants from being admitted to law school when they have extremely poor prospects of actually becoming a lawyer.
The ABA Standard 509 reports came out a few weeks ago, and there are many alarming statistics in them, but none quite so disturbing as the admissions information from Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The class that Cooley admitted in 2015 is statistically the worst entering class of law students in the history of American legal education at an ABA-Accredited law school, and that is saying something.
Just last year, Cooley, for many years the easiest law school to get into in America, was winning praise for not following many of its competitor schools and dramatically lowering their admission standards. (Continued below the fold)
I've posted a lot of words and numbers about LSAT scores and bar passage rates. What should we do with all of this information? Here's what I suggest:
First, LSAT scores are indicators. Few admissions officers (I hope) base their decisions solely on LSAT scores, but most rely on the score as an important factor in an applicant's file.
In a similar way, an overall pattern of LSAT scores--especially when combined with bar passage rates--may suggest that a law school may be violating ABA Standard 501(b). That standard, remember, provides that "A law school shall not admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar." Consider this combination of four indicators:
A school's 25th percentile LSAT drops into the range in which scores are associated with a very high risk of bar failure (i.e., the 25th percentile falls below 145);
The school does not have a demonstrated history of bar success by students admitted with those credentials;
Other indicia (such as UGPA scores) have not risen in compensation; and
These changes occur after a substantial drop in applications.
To me, this combination of indicators suggests possible noncompliance with 501(b). The indicators don't prove noncompliance (just as an LSAT score can't guarantee success or failure), but they raise sufficient concern that the ABA should explore the school's admissions practices. More on this below.
Earlier this week, I discussed the challenges that professionals face when they attempt to honor their obligations to others. For those of us working at law schools, our professional obligations extend to students, their future clients, and society in general. We don't have to martyr ourselves to those interests, but our status as professionals depends upon recognizing them.
How does this apply to the ongoing debate about law school admissions? Some comments here and on other websites intimate that law schools should feel free to admit any student willing to pay tuition--perhaps with a bit of disclosure about risks of bar failure. That's how businesses act, but it's not how professionals function. More below the fold.
Law School Transparency’s recent report, the 2015 State of Legal Education, led to numerous articles in the national media about the trend of law schools admitting large numbers of poorly qualified applicants. This prompted the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) -- the organization responsible for the LSAT -- to issue a press release denouncing LST’s report and purporting to rebut certain factual assertions allegedly made by LST. The press release mischaracterizes the conclusions of the LST report.
The press release begins: “A report recently released by Law School Transparency (LST) has gained headlines by claiming that some ABA-approved law schools have been intentionally admitting “high risk” students who, based on their LSAT scores, do not have a reasonable chance of passing the bar.”
LST stands by the assertion that dozens of ABA-approved law schools know that they have admitted large numbers of students who, based on their low LSAT scores, coupled with commensurately low undergraduate GPAs, are at high risk of academic failure or failing the bar. Although LST’s risk band categories are delineated by LSAT scores, LST was very careful to explain that the risks of a low LSAT score could be offset by strong academic performance in college. LST analyzed the available data and determined that law schools were not offsetting lower LSAT scores with higher GPA requirements. Although many of these same law schools have been allocating more resources to internal and external academic success and bar prep programs, these efforts have not yet offset the overall decrease in student capability, resulting in a strong trend of decreasing bar passage rates at the high-risk category schools.
Law schools can analyze internal data about attrition and bar passage rates by LSAT score and UGPA to make reasonably accurate predictions of the likely success of applicants with similar credentials. Law School Transparency has urged (and continues to urge) law schools to make internal data publicly accessible. LST acknowledges that some law schools may be better at educating students with marginal predictors and helping to prepare them for the bar. LST stands by its assertion that law schools have a duty to the legal profession to share empirically validated findings.
LSAC specifically states that LST has made three false claims. The first alleged false claim is that “LSAT scores can be used to assign bar passage risk.” LSAC objects to LST’s labeling of students with certain LSAT scores as high risk, very high risk, and extremely high risk. Drawing from LST’s report, LSAC notes that students labeled “high risk” at one school had a first-time pass rate of 57 percent, while comparable students from another school had a pass rate of 23 percent. Based on this disparity, LSAC concludes: “Clearly, many factors significantly affect bar passage rates above and beyond LSAT scores.” LST agrees wholeheartedly with this statement and has never claimed otherwise. The LSAC statement concludes “The assertion that LSAT scores alone measure comparability is patently wrong.” Here Mr. Bernstine is arguing against an assertion that the LST report never made. Here is what the LST report actually says about assessing risk by LSAT score:
The [LSAT risk bank] framework represents only a starting point for assessing the risk of bar failure. A student with a low LSAT score but very high undergraduate GPA, for example, has less risk of failing the bar than a student with the same LSAT score and a very low UGPA. Some law schools have also been more successful than others in helping students with low LSAT scores succeed on the bar exam. Where the student takes the bar exam matters as well.
While LSAC may object to “labeling” law schools and law students, LSAC doesn’t dispute the underlying premise that there is a strong correlation between LSAT score and success in law school and on the bar exam. Mr. Bernstine does not because he cannot. LST believes that “high risk” is a fair characterization of both a 43% and 77% risk of failing the bar the first time, as reflected in the data from these two schools.
Dr. Sandeep Jauhar undermines his argument for physician-patient confidentiality by referring to an instance in which he accepted an envelope of white powder, presumably drugs, from a patient and “discarded” it to avoid discovery by the police.
Hiding evidence of a crime isn’t confidentiality; it’s obstruction of justice. There is nothing about one’s status as a physician — or a lawyer, for that matter — that requires or excuses the possession or concealment of contraband.
The critiques of ABA accredited law schools are well known. Now the LA Times is exploring the world of California unaccredited law schools. Turns out that that nearly 9 out of 10 students who enroll in one of California's 22 unaccredited law schools drop out - and only about 20% of those who do finish pass the bar. The good news? They're pretty cheap. Northwestern California University School of Law is running a celebration sale of $2850/year tuition for its four year online program. That's roughly the cost, all in, of beauty school. And good government types need not worry; students in the program are not eligible for Federal loans.
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.