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December 04, 2014

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Former Editor

I'd actually argue that going to a lower ranked, practice oriented school does make economic sense if, and only if, (1) you are one of the students whose LSAT/GPA they are buying and your tuition is close to zero and (2) you are willing to bail/transfer up if you lose the scholarship or end up outside of the top ten percent or so of the class.

antiro

I'm only speculating, but what is there to stop any law school from focusing on practical skills, charging a reasonable tuition ($20,000 or less), and having a class size that is comparable to how many people can be expected to land entry level lawyer jobs?

Wouldn't such a law school find success, even if it ignored by US News? You could pay full-time faculty salaries starting at $50,000, and eventually cap them at $100,000, and draw local legal talent to fill in the gaps. Lawyers are not all the caricatures that many draw of them, and many would welcome a chance to adjunct.

I would even assume some would be willing to start at $50,000 as a full-time faculty teaching 3 classes a semester, as the position would offer other benefits not present in many private practices (much better average "client," no need to generate business, less adversarial). This of course is more realistic for a law school located outside of a major city with high-costs of living. Semi-related, One of my undergraduate professors said that making six figures in the low-cost area that I went to school was semi-equivalent to being a millionaire back in California where he was originally from.

Anyway, I've gone on too long. But if lower-ranked law schools focused to their strengths (faculty with more practice under their belts, often locations where lower cost-of-living) rather than aspiring to be Harvard, I think many of them would be better suited for the downturn AND would be providing their graduates a better deal.

Former Editor

antiro,

For existing law schools what stops them is fixed costs (e.g., tenured faculty, bonds on new buildings). Law schools are, for the most part, stuck with the faculties they have. Some of those faculty can teach practical skills, some of them cannot. All of them, at least as reported in the SALT survey, pay more than you are suggesting. Even a school that, on some level, wanted to go to the model you suggest wouldn't be able to just jettison all of its tenured faculty or reform all of its employment contracts with those faculty to cut pay by 50% or more.

I suppose a brand new school could do this, and it would not totally surprise me to see a state university attempt to open a new law school using a similar model. But, aside from that highly limited pool, what sane person or group would want to open a new law school in the current market? Also, what competent, successful professional would want to leave their current job to teach at a brand new school in the current market, knowing the school may not even be there by the time they are eligible for tenure?

antiro

FE,

I realize that what I suggested was essentially a joke due to faculty and schools not wanting to size themselves rightly. But it is an ideal that I think that someone should strive toward.

anon

What I find sort of distressing is a seemingly blatant misreporting in the required ABA disclosures that persists.

For example, check Law School A's website, to determine how many full time profs are listed there. Then, check out the school's ABA disclosure.

Invariably, it seems, the ABA disclosure indicates far fewer full time faculty.

Is there an obvious reason for this discrepancy I'm missing?

Note: Most schools list retired and part time faculty elsewhere ...

Just saying...

anon: I believe the ABA data on faculty is a snapshot of faculty teaching in a given semester, as required by the ABA annual questionnaire, so if some profs are on leave, visiting elsewhere, they would not be counted for ABA purposes, although they would still be on the school's website.

Also the ABA breaks full timers down in many categories: tenured, tenure track, long term contract, deans who teach, etc.

I doubt many law schools lie about this. After all, the ABA wants to see a low Student:faculty ratio, so you are not going to not count profs...

This data is also confirmed during a site visit, so if there was a recurring discrepancy, a site team would report that back to the ABA.

Anon

Another significant barrier to law school reform is the bar examination, particularly in states that test 10-20 subjects. Law schools have to spend substantial resources teaching many sections of these bar classes even though lawyers are almost never generalists anymore. This reality limits the number of skills courses that students can take.

anon

California tests 13 subjects:

Applicants taking the California Bar Examination may be required to answer questions involving
issues from all of the subjects listed below:
1. Business Associations
2. Civil Procedure
3. Community Property
4. Constitutional Law
5. Contracts
6. Criminal Law and Procedure
7. Evidence
8. Professional Responsibility
9. Real Property
10. Remedies
11. Torts
12. Trusts
13. Wills and Succession

New York tests 14 subjects, though, some are actually just contracts:

1) administrative law [effective with the February 2015 exam];
(2) business relationships, including agency, business corporations, limited liability companies,
partnerships and joint ventures;
(3) New York civil practice and procedure [effective with the February 2015 exam, Federal civil
practice and procedure will no longer be tested on the New York portion of the exam];
(4) conflict of laws;
(5) New York and federal constitutional law;
(6) contracts and contract remedies;
(7) criminal law and procedure;
(8) evidence;
(9) matrimonial and family law;
(10) professional responsibility;
(11) real property;
(12) torts and tort damages;
(13) trusts, wills and estates; and
(14) UCC Articles 2 and 9.

It is sort of hard to believe that a "law school" can't handle teaching these subjects, and that teaching these subjects could actually detract from preparing students for the practice of law.

WHat detracts from preparing students to practice or improve the legal system in other ways are courses like meditation, and mindfulness, and many others that have zero relevance to the practice of law (other than in the sense that some believe that law schools should offer classes designed not to teach law or legal systems, but classes designed to make a person healthy and content, in which case perhaps law schools should start hiring professors who are nurses and social workers).

Not every aspect of life is properly taught in a law school because that aspect of life somehow "intersects" with law. All aspects of life intersect with law. The notion that a law school is a very expensive citadel purposed to pamper the whims of idiosyncratic and sheltered members of an elite academy who don't like lawyers and didn't like the practice of law is the reason that law school admissions are plummeting.

Hiring those who know next to nothing about practice of law, and don't care to, is the reason that law schools are failing to prepare law students to join and reform the legal profession, not the bar exam.

Just saying...

"Hiring those who know next to nothing about practice of law, and don't care to, is the reason that law schools are failing to prepare law students to join and reform the legal profession, not the bar exam."

anon: Do we know this to be correct? Did law schools 20, 30, 50, 75 years ago hire practitioners?
I really do not know the answer to that question.What I think has changed is the increase in "Law and..." courses, as well as a decline in admission standard (now).

I know the school I taught at had a very high number of required (bar) courses and was criticized by the accreditation committee for it years ago. More light electives = lower bar pass rate.

Anon

Please tell me what percentage of law school class hours are spent in mindfulness and meditation? Quite low I am sure. More useless anecdotal venting by the scammers.

As for the more useful if repetitive discussion of practical experience versus a research orientation - it is a false division. The point of research is to have a practical impact - namely, changing the way we do things in the real world. Law students who are not exposed at least at some level to that kind of research process are the weaker for it and the market reflects that reality - it rewards research much more heavily than so-called "practical" experience.

Anon

Anon 8:28,

I think you might have misunderstood my point about the bar courses. Of course law schools can handle teaching bar courses. My point was that it takes a lot of resources to cover them all and students have to spend a significant part of their time in law school taking courses that prepare them for the bar.

I actually happen to think that mindfulness is a great course with a lot of data behind its utility! This course has cropped up as a direct response to frustrations about what lawyers would benefit from doing in practice. But no need to quibble about that because I think your broader point concerns law schools not providing students with courses directly related to how to practice. This is a really broad generalization. There are law schools out there with lots of skills courses and experiential learning opportunities. Also, there are plenty of professors with practice experience. Granted, the schools with these traits tend to fall more heavily on the lower end of the U.S. News rankings.

It will be interesting to see how this dichotomy plays out over the next few years: lower ranked schools that are more practice-oriented v. higher ranked schools that do not have such a focus. What would happen if U.S. News simply changed the high value it assigned to peer ranking (i.e. ranking other schools' scholarship) and assigned more value to practice-oriented preparation? I bet we would see a shift. Prospective students wanting to go to higher ranked schools would take these new ranks into consideration. And then average GPA and LSAT increases would further accelerate the rankings transformation. In short, the rankers' methodology could very quickly and drastically alter the law school landscape.

anon

ONe has to marvel at the entrenched values in legal academia.

"Higher ranked" law schools were the schools that ranked highest long before USNWR: and these schools are so ranked owing to a number of factors. These factors have been explored in detail, and some excellent research has been produced on what produced the pecking order.

The commenter who stated "the point of research is to have a practical impact - namely, changing the way we do things in the real world. Law students who are not exposed at least at some level to that kind of research process are the weaker for it and the market reflects that reality" is correct, of course. The type of "scholarship" that some blithely associate with "higher ranked" law schools is actually of little or no practical value to anyone. This observation is firmly established in the world of law, if not the legal academy.

As for the volume of courses like meditation and mindfulness, the cliché and expected response is based on the argument that it makes lawyers feel better to eat broccoli, practice meditation, etc. Sorry, but that is precisely the attitude that has ruined the law academy - top to bottom. And folks, if you think the top 100 law schools are immune from the stain, the one suspects some awakenings await.

As for the level of practice experience a generation ago, the fact that no one seems to know speaks volumes. Same for the nature of legal scholarship, about which we know a lot. And, we know a lot about how it has changed. THese are manifestations of hiring persons who never really practiced and don't much like the law, lawyers or the practice of law.

We see the result. A clueless academy with no notion about the reasons it is so dramatically failing in its principle mission.

twbb

"My point was that it takes a lot of resources to cover them all and students have to spend a significant part of their time in law school taking courses that prepare them for the bar."

Unless law schools have changed dramatically in the 8 years since I graduated, students by no mean have to spend a significant part of their time in law school taking courses like that.

I never took trusts, wills, family law, negotiable instruments, or state civil procedure and had no trouble passing two bar exams in two different states. After the first year all we had to do were electives, and a month of bar prep is all you really need to pass the bar.

Anon

Anon 12:47 - "The type of "scholarship" that some blithely associate with "higher ranked" law schools is actually of little or no practical value to anyone. This observation is firmly established in the world of law, if not the legal academy."

Ha Ha Ha...which is why folks like Jack Coffee, Richard Epstein and Joe Grundfest earn several times their law school salaries in consulting (an underestimate by an order of magnitude in some years I am sure) - because their ideas are worthless.

anon

Please tell me what percentage of law school professors earn several times their law school salaries consulting? Quite low I am sure. More useless anecdotal venting by the stubborn reactionaries in legal academia.

anon

Probably about as low as the percentage of people who aspire to play in the NBA end up playing in the NBA....so what?

That does not mean playing pick up ball in the 'hood is irrational.

anon

Ok. We've gotten to that point where the comments are not even comprehensible. Sort of like a law school class, but without the glamor and excitement.

MacK

Anon:

Jack Coffee is leading writer and legal authority on securities law and corporate governance, where there is potentially some expert opinion work available. Most of his work is in writing treatises aimed at general use, something that many academic lawyers eschew as too lacking in original thinking to be scholarship. Joe Grundfest is a former SEC Commissioner with decades of experience and an expert on capital markets; again he has something to offer in consulting.

The problem with your argument is that the consulting work that Coffee and Grundfest can secure have to do with their areas of practice and extensive experience and knowledge outside academia. They are quite different from the more common run of law professors.

Alfred L. Brophy

This is a question for Anon at 9:49. You ask what would happen if US News replaced its heavy reliance on peer assessment with a measure of practice-oriented preparation. Do you have a suggestion of how we might measure that?

I would have thought one good measure (although it gets at this somewhat obliquely) is employment outcome. Do you have a better measure?

Anon

Alfred,

I do think employment outcome is one measurement but I do not believe it's the whole picture. Smart students can obtain good employment even if they did not receive as much skills training as they would have liked in law school. Students from higher ranked schools also benefit from the signaling the school provides to prospective employers irrespective of actual course work. As a result, those signaling devices perpetuate the rankings without addressing the fundamentals of what law schools are actually teaching.

An additional measure could be some combination of 1) number of skills courses offered by a school, 2) average number of skills courses offered in a given year, and 3) average number of skills courses that students actually take per year.

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