Category Archives: Law School

Every Law Student (and Many Lawyers) Should Read This

Statistics Done Wrong: The woefully complete guide.

(Found via Cory)

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Just in Time for Halloween

Lawprofs sue over ‘satanic’ raise. Yes, really.

The AAUP Chapter at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the State of Ohio alleging that the law school retaliated against certain faculty in the award of merit raises in 2013 and 2014 because of their union activities. Faculty were placed in four merit raise bands — $5,000, $3,000, $666, and $0 — based on scholarship and scholarly influence (40%), teaching as measured by student evaluations (40%), and service (20%). The complaint alleges that eight AAUP organizers received raises of $0 or $666, despite “exemplary scholarship and teaching scores.” The complaint charges that the $666 raise in effect calls “AAUP’s organizers and AAUP Satan.” In a memo distributed to the central administration and copied to the entire faculty, one of the eight AAUP organizers alleges that:

[The $666 figure] is a universally understood symbol of the Antichrist or Devil — one of our culture’s most violent religious images. Implicitly, but unmistakably and obviously intentionally, [the Dean] used his powers to set faculty salaries as an occasion to brand his perceived opponents as the Antichrist.

The mind boggles. Although a $5000 merit band doesn’t sound bad at all in this economy.

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Good Speech for 1Ls (and Others) to Hear

Anthony Casey Addresses Entering Students at University of Chicago Law School is a fine introduction to what matters in law school.

A sample:

If you believe the op-ed pieces in newspapers and the blogs spread across the Internet, you may think you are here just to learn how to read law and to prepare to take the bar exam in three years. That view is a surefire way to waste your time here. People quite ignorant of what a good lawyer does will tell you that law school should be shorter, that law school should teach students how to pass the bar, that law students learn too much theory.

I am going to let you in on a secret. The bar exam is a memory test. You had the skills to take the bar exam when you were a freshman in high school. You certainly don’t need three years to prepare for it. That is true. But passing the bar does not make someone a good lawyer. It just makes them a lawyer. And if you think that is enough, I can direct you to a thousand websites and jokes about things that went wrong when “just lawyers” were trusted with important problems.

What differentiates good lawyers – graduates from this law school – is the ability to advise clients about what those laws and documents actually mean in the real world, how they affect human interaction, and most importantly, how those effects can be changed.

To prepare you for this – and we do prepare you for this – we will teach you to explore how rules, policy, and human behavior interact. It is precisely for this reason that law school is (more than any other area of study) so interdisciplinary. You cannot understand the rights that a lender will exercise against a bankrupt corporation without understanding finance, economics, psychology, political theory, and philosophy, to name a few.

All of that is to say that the world, or at least those who are most noisy on the Internet, misunderstand both the practice and the study of law. They will tell you that lawyers create chaos and academics don’t care about the real world. Do not be taken in by this.

Spotted via Leiter.

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This Is Fun

Law and Law School in Six Words from the Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog.

My favorites so far are:

  • “It depends” worked most days
  • For sale: law degree, no promises.
  • No better preparation for serving humanity.

It’s not as easy as it looks.

(spotted via WSJ Blog, Describing Law School in Six Words) which also has some including, “‘But I’m tenured!’ the professor replied.” and “The former dean pleaded not guilty.” –which I think tells us something about the WSJ.

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I Look Forward to Reading This Paper

Robert Condlin, ‘Practice Ready Graduates’: A Millennialist Fantasy”. Abstract:

The sky is falling on legal education say the pundits, and preparing “practice ready” graduates is the best strategy for surviving the fallout. This is a millennialist version of the argument for clinical legal education that dominated discussion in the law schools in the 1960s and 1970s. The circumstances are different now, as are the people calling for reform, but the two movements are alike in one respect: both view skills instruction as legal education’s primary purpose. Everything else is a frolic and detour, and a fatal frolic and detour in hard times such as the present.

No one would dispute that the United States legal system has a labor market problem, but law schools cannot revive the labor market, or improve the employment prospects of their graduates, by providing a different type of instruction. Placing students in jobs is a function of a school’s academic reputation, not its curriculum, and the legal labor market will rebound only after the market as a whole has rebounded (and perhaps not then). The cause of the present troubles is a lack of jobs, not a lack of graduates (of any kind), and producing more “practice ready” graduates will have no effect on the supply of jobs. The proposal is a spectacular non sequitur to the present troubles.

The concept of “practice ready” also is unintelligible and would be impossible to implement if it were not. There are as many different types of practice, for example, as there are levels of readiness for it and proponents of the proposal do not say which of these various possibilities (and combinations of possibilities), they have in mind. If the expression had a clear meaning, law schools still could not implement it because proficiency at practice depends upon dispositions (i.e., habits informed by reflection), and dispositions take longer than a law school course to develop. Like a lot of blog commentary, the “practice ready” proposal is more slogan than idea. Perhaps that is why it is so popular.

Not pulling any punches here, are we? Lest you think Prof. Condlin (whom I don’t know) is an Ivory tower guy or anti-clinic, here’s his official bio:

From 1969 to 1972, Professor Condlin was an assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He represented the Commonwealth in several major lawsuits in state and federal court, including Massachusetts v. Laird, an original action in the United States Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Vietnam War, Sturgis v. Quinn, the state court precursor to the Supreme Court decision in Baird v. Bellotti, upholding a woman’s right to birth control, and Board of Appeals of Concord v. Housing Appeals Committee of the Department of Community Affairs, the first defense of an anti-snob zoning statute in the United States. He left the Attorney General’s office in 1972 to establish the Urban Legal Laboratory, a full-semester clinical program for students of Boston College Law School, run jointly with the Boston Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. In 1974 he became a teaching fellow at Harvard Law School, where he taught and did graduate study in the field of clinical law. He left Harvard in 1976 to become associate professor of law at the University of Virginia, where he created that school’s clinical law program. He moved to Maryland in 1980. He has served as a consultant to the AALS Law Teachers Clinic and Clinical Teachers Training Conferences and to the Canadian Law Teachers Clinic and has taught at Indiana University Law School at Bloomington as a visiting professor

OK, a little ivory tower, maybe. But the paper sounds like it might be a useful corrective to certain over-enthusiasms.

Posted in Law School, Law: Practice | 3 Comments

Research Assistants Wanted

Apologies, but this announcement is for UM Law students only:

I have three open jobs for research assistants, all starting when classes begin, or as soon thereafter as is practical. These jobs are for the entire academic year, although I don’t expect you to work during exams or vacations.

Job #1: Academic Research

This job requires 10-15 hours per week. The RA’s job is to help me with my research, which is likely to be focused on privacy, and internet law more generally, but may also include some robotics or torts. It requires someone who can write clearly, is well-organized, and who is really good at finding things in libraries and on the Internet. If you happen to have some web or programming skills (some or all of HTML, WordPress, MySQL, Perl, Debian), that would be a very big plus but it is not in any way a requirement.

Job #2: Jotwell Student Editor

This job requires 7-10 hours per week, although it likely involves a bit more in the first week or two as you learn the ropes. This job involves helping me manage and edit JOTWELL, an online law journal (see jotwell.com). You are a combination of managing editor and substantive editor so the job requires excellent organizational skill plus editing skills; some talent for diplomacy in dealing with authors would also be of use. Jotwell uses WordPress to publish, but it is easy to learn, so no experience needed.

Job #3: ‘We Robot’ Conference Organizer/Researcher

I need to hire one or more law students to help manage a major conference on legal and policy issues relating to robotics, to be held at the law school on April 4 & 5, 2014. There is intellectual work to be done to set up the event, notably writing online summaries of all the accepted papers. There are also some administrative duties, although the law school staff will shoulder the bulk of those.

The job involves a smaller amount of work now, and a larger amount of work in the weeks leading up to the event. You would also be asked to attend and assist with the conference, for example, liaising with speakers, and summarizing events online, on Twitter, and other media.

++

In all three cases the hourly pay of $ 13 is set by the university, and is not as high as you deserve, but the work is sometimes interesting.

If you are interested, please e-mail the following to michael.froomkin@gmail.com with the words RESEARCH ASSISTANT (in all caps) followed by your name in the subject line:

1. A copy of your resume (c.v.),
2. A short writing sample (non-legal is preferred — in any case, please don’t send your LCOMM memo),
3. A transcript (need not be an official copy),
4. A cover note telling me
- which job or jobs you are applying for (if more than one, please state preferences if you have any)
- your phone number and email address.
- anything else about you that you would like me to know.
- if you are interested in the Robots job, whether in addition to variable duties before then you would be prepared to work up to 15-20 hours per week in March 2014 if necessary.

Saying you saw the notice here couldn’t hurt.

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Law School and Cash Crunches

In The Economic Value of a Law Degree: Correcting Misconceptions, Michael Simkovic responds to critics and commentaries. One of his (gentler) responses is directed here:

Michael Froomkin wonders if law degree holders will experience a cash crunch early in their careers when their incomes are lower and debt levels are higher. 

It is unlikely that a debt financed law degree would create a cash crunch.  Young bachelor’s degree holders also have lower incomes early in their careers.  The earnings premium associated with the law degree will typically exceed required debt service payments on law school debt, particularly in light of the availability of extended repayment, deferment, forbearance, and income based repayment plans.  Graduate degrees can readily be financed entirely with federal student loans.

The costs of delayed repayment (i.e., higher interest) are already taken into account in our present value calculation, because we discount back at the weighted average interest rate on law school debt.  We’re pretty conservative in this respect: we ignore the (likely) possibility that students will prepay their highest interest rate debts first.  Indeed, After the JD II found evidence of rapid pre-payment of law school debt.

Our results suggest that most young law degree holders most of the time likely have more positive cash flow—even after debt service payments—than they would likely have had with only a bachelor’s degree.

Because the economic value of a given level of education can generally be maximized by completing that level of education early—and thereby maximizing the number of years of subsequent work with the benefit of higher wages from the education earnings premium—delaying graduate school to try to time the market is a high-cost strategy. And timing the market three or four years in advance is difficult.

I think we are talking past each other here in two ways. First, Simkovic largely relies on aggregate data; I was talking about a specific sub-class: people with (1) high debt, (2) higher-than-average average interest rates, who find themselves (3) in low percentiles in relative earnings.

Second, I would include as problem cases many of those people who are forced to go into loan deferral. That will in the long run increase their interest expense; it means some predictions they made regarding debt service may turn out to be unduly optimistic.

It doesn’t really matter to me that the paper already took account of increased interest payment due to deferral in computing net present value because the paper’s calculation is a priori and my narrative is post hoc; we’re not talking about the same thing. The paper is asking whether a law degree tends to have a positive net present value at graduation, and finds it does even at the 25th percentile. I’m discussing the issue from the post hoc perspective of a subset of students. Thus, I am not disputing the claim that “[t]he earnings premium associated with the law degree will typically exceed required debt service payments on law school debt” (emphasis added) but rather pointing out that there may be a non-trivial number of so-called non-typical cases. This observation is not negated by Simkovic’s reply that, “most young law degree holders most of the time likely have more positive cash flow—even after debt service payments—than they would likely have had with only a bachelor’s degree” (emphasis added). On the contrary, the two claims seem to me to be entirely congruent: the JD has tended to be an economic win. But not for everyone.

Simkovic offers a chart in support of his assertion that cash flow is not much of an issue. Again, his assertion may work for the majority and may work at the median, but as this very chart shows, there’s a group – 10%? 15%? for whom things are not so great:

In terms of the over-all viability of the law school enterprise these indeed are fairly reassuring charts. But note that the left chart is for the median student. [UPDATE: Actually that chart is for the median student with debt, making it even more reassuring.] When discussing cash flow problems, I’m not primarily talking about the median student. I’m talking about the appreciable minority of people who are, assuming a normal distribution, about a standard deviation below the mean. This group likely substantially includes the 5+% with more than $100,000 still owning seven years post-graduation. They are not typical, but nor are they so rare that we should ignore their existence.

My point was, and remains, that even if we take on board the valuable insight from “The Economic Value of a Law Degree” — that most JDs have made economic sense for most recipients in recent history, and that there are credible grounds to believe this trend may continue — that doesn’t mean prospective students should not ask themselves hard questions about what their JD will be mean given their personal circumstances. For an appreciable minority — circa 10% even? — and especially those borrowing to pay full tuition at certain private T4 law schools on top of other debt, it is likely to be a bad bet.

I am tentatively persuaded that law school is a good lifetime economic bet for most students, barring a structural shift in service provision unique to lawyers. There is, to my eye, more evidence for the proposition that there is a shift than there is for the proposition that shift is unique to legal services. Thus, we might expect some sort of JD earnings premium to persist. If so, a JD at even a middle-ranked law school will be a good lifetime economic bet for most people, save for a small group disproportionately composed of those who carry the highest debt at graduation and who also enjoy (suffer) the least remunerative outcomes.

Note, however, how far we have gotten: a ‘good lifetime economic bet’ is a long way from the gravy train with giant starting salaries that too many students who matriculated only a few years ago routinely seemed to expect was practically their due. Even if the over-enthusiastic critiques of the value of a JD substantially corrected by ‘The Economic Value of a Law Degree’ may have been shown to reflect serious sampling bias, the entire debate reminds us how important it is to approach a legal career, or any career, with realistic expectations.

I invite Simkovic & McIntyre to include a 10th and a 5th percentile in their various tables if possible. It might help all this become clearer if we were working from more common ground.

[UPDATE: I should maybe also add that when I think of a 'cash flow problem' I don't just mean the sort that drive people to bankruptcy, but the sort that put them back in their parents' basements. Thus there can be people with severe cash flow problems in the sense I mean it while an economist would still find there is a positive cash flow since due to severe economies they are in fact earning more than enough to cover their debts.]

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