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.
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.