Dean Michael Hunter Schwartz has announced he will step down as the Dean of the University of Arkansas - Little Rock law school at the end of the school year. He joined UALR as dean in July 2013.
According to one source, he is being forced out for political reasons, because of an email he sent to students after the election offering counseling to those upset by the results. A colleague of Schwartz's, Robert Steinbuch, who previously tussled with Schwartz over diversity in admissions, explained to Heatstreet:
If you tell people every time they lose they’re entitled to counseling, you elevate the perceived level of wrong beyond what it is. Most assuredly, Democrats are disappointed a Republican won. I recall when the Democratic Party won the Presidency twice each of the previous two elections. I knew plenty of people who were disappointed at that time, but I didn’t know anybody that needed grief counseling. I think when we tell people that they need some form of grief counseling we are normalizing hysteria and suggesting there’s something immoral or wrong about our democratic process.
The ABA announcement is here. The school will close June 30, 2017. It would have been difficult to imagine a tougher time for Indiana Tech to have started a new law school. Now the school will be required to implement a "teach-out" plan. A news story is here. The school's Q&A is here.
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.
In my last post, I discussed the need to consider both sides of the ratio when examining bar passage rates. Looking only at a particular law school’s passage without examining the overall bar passage numbers can lead to incorrect conclusions. In this post, I am going to challenge the belief that law schools can easily predict which students will do well in law school and the bar. This is based partially on my years of experience being on the Admissions Committee for my school (not a current assignment, fortunately, as it is a really hard job) and on the statistics that have been developed about applicants.
When an individual applies to be admitted to a law school, a collection of objective and subjective information is provided to the admissions committee from which a decision can be made. The key objective information is the undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) and the LSAT score. The subjective information includes letters of recommendation, essays, c.v., and even the student’s transcript. The admissions committee and staff stir this information around and offer some students a seat. It seems that much of the discussion about admissions standards revolves around the objective indicators, so the focus of this post will be with those.
Without a doubt, the objective information drives the process at most schools. The subjective information is used, too, but UGPA/LSAT control most of the decision-making. Typically, an applicant must be defined objective standards first before any subjective information is considered. Indeed, much of the current debate about appropriate admissions standards rests on this assumption and focuses fairly exclusively on law school’s alleged failure to accord these objective measurements their driving force. The essence of the argument is that some students with low objective indicators should never (or at least hardly ever) be admitted to law school. See David Frakt’s LSAT Score Risk Bands. The major problem with this argument is that it ignores what the statistics tells us about the LSAT and UGPA.
According to the LSAC (the publishers of the LSAT), each of the objective data points are correlated with first-year law school performance. See LSAT Scores as Predictors of Law School Performance. For the LSAT, calculated on a school-by-school basis, the relationship correlates at between .19 and .56; for UGPA it is between .06 and .43.
Looking first at UGPA, at the bottom end, a correlation of .06 is statistically meaningless unless there are at least 1,000 students in the data set. See Table of critical values for Pearson correlation. According to the ABA, the largest admitted class last year (2016 data has not yet been released) was 576 at Georgetown. See ABA 2015 1L Data. The only other school above 500 was Harvard. See id. For these two schools, the correlation needs to be greater than .07 to have any validity; for the rest of us, a much higher correlation is needed. For my school, U.Mass., with an entering class in 2015 of 71, the correlation must be above about .19 to be valid. Even the highest correlation found, .43, is considered to be a statistically weak relationship. See How to Interpret a Correlation Coefficient r.
The correlation between LSAT and the first year’s performance is stronger than the one for UGPA; indeed, the highest correlation found, .56, is considered a moderately strong correlation. Further, with the lowest correlation at .19, schools with more than about 70 matriculates (all but seven ABA schools) would have a statistically valid result, although that correlation is considered weak.
There is a problem with these relationships, however. If a law school is supposed to recognize which students will ultimately pass the bar examination based on pre-admission data (and thus not be a “bottom feeder”), it must have data that predicts bar passage. Neither of these objective values do this.
To begin with, the relationship tested by LSAC is between UGPA/LSAT and first-year law school performance, not between the indicators and bar passage. The LSAC is not measuring the relationship with graduating law school or with passing the bar examination. Measuring either of these is challenging. If, for example, an individual drops out of law school or transfers to a different school, does that mean that he/she flunked the bar?
More importantly, the power of prediction of the objective measures is, even at their best, weak. Statistically, to obtain an estimate of the proportion of influence the correlated value has, you calculate the coefficient of determination. See Coefficient of Determination. This allows you to approximate the percentage effect that the correlate has. It is a simple calculation as all you have to do is square the correlation obtained. Thus, for UGPA, the coefficient runs from 0.4% to 18.5%, with a median of 6.8%. Likewise for LSAT, the coefficient ranges from 3.6% to 31.4% with a median of 14.4%. In other words, for the median school, the LSAT captures about 15% and UGPA captures about 7% of the student’s ultimate probability of succeeding in their first year of law school, leaving about 80% to other factors. My favorite example here is a student from years ago who had an UGPA of 2.00 but graduated near the top of our class. When I asked him about it, he indicated that he had specialized in a different kind of bar in college and was now on the wagon.
The conclusion that has to be reached is that there is no simple way to identify a potential student as one who should absolutely not be admitted to law school. LSAT and UGPA can not be ignored in the process, but their use is of limited value. A school with a low LSAT or UGPA spread in its entering class might be admitting anyone with a pulse or they might be successfully using the other 80% to find a valid class. To find a “bottom feeder” — particularly one who is in violation of ABA Standard 501(b) — a full analysis is needed that examines how the admission decision is being made and by whom, what factors are being considered in the decision-making, and how well the school is educating its class including its students’ attrition rate and success with the bar. To do less that the full analysis is unsupported by the statistics.
In light of the sad news about Daniel Bernstine's recent passing, Sarah Krinsky - chair of the LSAC Board of Trustees - has appointed Thorny Steele as the LSAC Interim President. He served as Chair of the LSAC Board of Trustees from 2013 to 2015, and previously served as Dean of both Nova Southeastern Law and Capital University Law.
For most states, you must graduate from an ABA accredited law school to be eligible to take the bar exam at all. As Florida has been the main topic of conversation in the current discussion, I will use it as an example. Unless an applicant has been in practice for ten years in another jurisdiction, all applicants for the Florida bar must attend an ABA school. See Florida Rules of the Supreme Court Relating to Admissions to the Bar 4-13.1(a) & 4-13.2. The out-of-state practitioner rule seems to be new as passage rates in this category only exist since 2015.
Florida had a 68.2% success rate on the bar last July. SeeFlorida Results. (The success rate for practitioners is just slightly better at 68.9%). All of the non-practitioners—and probably most of the practitioners, too—are graduates from ABA schools.
It is not possible for all ABA schools to achieve an 85% (or even 75%) pass rate in Florida. Despite what is said on A Prairie Home Companion, all of our children cannot be above average. The reality is that if one ABA school gets a passage rate that is above the state average, another one will be below it.
Further, the passage rate trend on the Florida bar raises an important question. As the table and chart of July pass rates below indicates, the pass rate on the Florida bar has been declining fairly dramatically over the last eight years:
This declining passage rate can have two sources. One contributing factor, as much of the discussion about bar passage rates have assumed to be the sole factor, is that the quality of the people taking the bar exam has declined. The other possible factor that the discussion has ignored is that the bar exam itself has become more difficult.
There is some support for this second factor being important in the percentage of practitioners who pass. There is not a significant difference between that rate and the overall rate. All of the practitioners presumably graduated from law school at least a decade ago and before the current shrinkage of the law student applicant pool occurred. If the current admission practices of law schools is causing the bar passage decline, how do we explain that practitioners are doing no better?
In my last post, I talked about how Barry and St. Thomas Law Schools “bombed” the Florida Bar in 2016. But in a sense, their graduates didn’t bomb the test at all. In reality, they performed exactly as expected on the bar given their aptitude.
In this column, I want to compare the performance of these schools with what many would consider to be a peer or competitor school in Florida, Nova Southeastern University. Nova Southeastern grads, compared to these two schools, did very well on the 2016 Florida Bar exams, passing at a 64.7% rate. It is important to understand why.
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.”
The presser is here. Dean Leonard Baynes of the University of Houston Law worries about brand confusion here. The ABA Journal tacitly accepts US News as the official law school ranking organization in its headline here.
The LSAC is now reporting that "As of 06/10/16, there are 339,711 applications submitted by 53,429 applicants for the 2016–2017 academic year. Applicants are up 1.4% and applications are up 1.9% from 2015–2016. Last year at this time, we had 95% of the preliminary final applicant count." The last post in this series is here.
Eric Mitnick, who has been serving as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, has been appointed Interim Dean at U.Mass. Law starting July 1. From the official announcement:
Professor Mitnick received his A.B. from Cornell University; his J.D., cum laude, from the University of Michigan; and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University in the fields of Public Law, Political Theory, and American Politics. He also practiced law from 1991-1995, a fact extremely important to the School of Law as it seeks to fulfill the goal of producing graduates who are ready for the practice of law. Professor Mitnick is an accomplished scholar in the areas of constitutional law, rights, socio-legal and multicultural theory and is author of the book, Rights, Groups, and Self-Invention: Group-Differentiated Rights in Liberal Theory (2006).
The LSAC is now reporting that "As of 06/03/16, there are 338,649 applications submitted by 53,167 applicants for the 2016–2017 academic year. Applicants are up 1.4% and applications are up 1.9% from 2015–2016. Last year at this time, we had 94% of the preliminary final applicant count." The last post in this series is here. The next post in this series is here.
The LSAC is now reporting that "As of 05/27/16, there are 336,777 applications submitted by 52,647 applicants for the 2016–2017 academic year. Applicants are up 1.3% and applications are up 1.7% from 2015–2016. Last year at this time, we had 93% of the preliminary final applicant count." The last post in this series is here.
For some time now, I have been warning of the catastrophic consequences of admitting students with very poor LSAT scores and correspondingly low grades because such students are at very high risk of failing the bar even if they manage to make it through law school. The plummeting bar passage statistics from the last several administrations of the bar exam have borne out these warnings.
The Law Schools engaged in these irresponsible admission practices have offered a variety of explanations for admitting significant numbers of students with very low indicators. These explanations of what are really exploitative admission practices typically fall into three general categories or themes, which I call the “Magic Formula Myth” the “Miracle Worker Myth” and the “Fairness Through Failure Myth.” Often, predatory law schools will use these themes in combination.
The LSAC is now reporting that "As of 05/20/16, there are 335,605 applications submitted by 52,363 applicants for the 2016–2017 academic year. Applicants are up 1.2% and applications are up 1.7% from 2015–2016. Last year at this time, we had 93% of the preliminary final applicant count." The last post in this series is here. The next post in this series is here.
The LSAC is now reporting that "As of 04/22/16, there are 328,011 applications submitted by 50,537 applicants for the 2016–2017 academic year. Applicants are up 1.4% and applications are up 1.7% from 2015–2016. Last year at this time, we had 90% of the preliminary final applicant count."
The LSAC is now reporting that "As of 04/15/16, there are 325,833 applications submitted by 50,130 applicants for the 2016–2017 academic year. Applicants are up 1.4% and applications are up 1.6% from 2015–2016. Last year at this time, we had 89% of the preliminary final applicant count." Now that we're past mid April I guess we can pretty confidently predict that we're hit bottom on the number of applications. We'll have about the same number of applicants as last year, maybe slightly more people. This fits with what I'd predicted last July. We'll not know for months how many of these applicants will end up in law school, of course.
CUNY Law School has announced two of the four finalists in its dean search. They are Dr. Lolita Buckner Inniss (Professor, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law) and Justice Fern Fisher (Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts). The bios for these two finalists are here. CUNY has not yet announced the other two finalists.