Law School Deans

Yale Law School

Here at Above the Law, we’ve been discussing problems with the current law school model for quite some time now. My colleague Elie Mystal, for example, has railed against the high cost of law school, the crippling debt taken on by many law students, and the scarcity of jobs waiting for them on the other side.

By now we’re all aware of the problems. What about possible solutions?

In the wake of David Segal’s most recent New York Times exposé on law school shenanigans, the Times’s Room for Debate section solicited perspectives from a number of experts — including yours truly — on whether and how to reform legal education.

The responses are quite interesting. Let’s check them out, shall we?

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Today there’s good news and bad news coming out of Boalt Hall (aka Berkeley Law aka WGWAG School of Law).

Let’s start with the bad news. The bad news is that the Regents, who run the show for the University of California (UC) system, approved an increase in system-wide student fees for the coming year. It’s for a shade over $1,000 — $1,068, to be precise.

The good news: Berkeley Law, at the behest of Dean Christopher Edley Jr., is effectively reversing the fee hike for its students. Boalt Hall is issuing an immediate “scholarship” to each student, in the exact amount of the fee increase.

Let’s take a look at Dean Edley’s email — which explains the situation, and has a cute and clever closing — and explore what might be motivating the administration….

UPDATE (7/22/11): Also note the update at the end of this post regarding UCLA School of Law. (We have added the memo from Dean Rachel Moran.)

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And now comes the part in our story where law school administrations, stung by the criticism they just received in the New York Times, start spinning. Yes, yesterday the Times exposed the law school business model to a horrified public of non-lawyers. Today, law schools are obligated to say, “No, no, no, that’s not our business model.”

It’s a perfect response. Law students already believe that they are special and will somehow overcome various odds stacked against them, and so they are particularly susceptible to the argument that while other law schools might have problems, the school they picked is the honorable school standing apart from the disreputable actions of others.

It’s like when women say “I have the best husband in the world.” Sure, 90% of husbands hate chick flicks, wish there was a way to get a hot meal without listening to your BS, and would bone Angelina Jolie 30 times in a row before they even remembered your name, but you found the best husband evah! Because you are so damn smart and discerning.

A bunch of law schools have tried to distinguish themselves from New York Law School since this weekend’s article, but the most outstanding example of this kind of distancing comes from: New York Law School….

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In these materials and in our conversations with students and applicants, we explicitly tell them that most graduates find work in small to medium firms at salaries between $35,000 and $75,000.

Richard Matasar, outgoing dean of New York Law School, quoted in a lengthy New York Times article entitled Law School Economics: Ka-Ching!

(We’ll have more to say about the Times article — by David Segal, who has written a series of pieces about legal education — tomorrow.)

UPDATE (7/18/11): Here are Elie’s thoughts on the NYT article.

Well, it’s day three of Albany Law School Watch here at Above the Law. This school is definitely on the outskirts of our usual beat, but the craziness keeps rolling in, so we’re going with it.

If you haven’t been keeping up, it seems that Albany Law decided to replace almost all of its admissions office staff. Shortly after our initial story broke, the administration emailed students to inform them about the resignation of the law school’s assistant dean for admissions.

Our sources questioned whether that resignation was voluntary — and claimed that the admissions office staff members in question were escorted from the building by security, late last week.

It seems that alumni from the law school are upset, and some believe that our decision to run this story was premature because we didn’t have all of the facts. Interestingly enough, we’ve received information that provides another side to the story unfolding at Albany Law.

If you thought there was drama before, read on, because sh*t (on the rug) just got real….

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Yesterday we brought you a story about a law school from upstate New York. The pace is supposed to be a little slower and people’s lives are supposed to be a little less scandalous in that part of the state, at least compared to New York City. But all of that goes out the window when a law school apparently replaces almost all of its (well-respected) admissions staff, at a time when many members of the administration carry the word “interim” in their position titles.

Now some alumni are upset and threatening to withhold funds from the school (like they actually have any funds to withhold). You’re doing it wrong, Albany Law School.

When we reached out to David Singer, Albany Law’s Director of Communications & Marketing, he gave us a quick “no comment,” stating that the situation with the admissions office staff was “a personnel matter.” But our readers certainly weren’t short on comments, and we now believe we know more about what might have happened at the Albany Law School admissions office….

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Albany Law School seems to be having a rough go of it this year. The school’s long-time dean, Thomas Guernsey, announced that he would be stepping down from his position on June 30, 2011. Next, after a 20% drop in applications, the school decided to admit ten fewer students for the incoming class of 2014. The school then opted to cut 2% from its $32 million annual budget, amounting to a $600,000 reduction. Finally, just when the administration thought it would be able to name a new dean, the school’s deal with Judge Richard Wesley (2d Cir.) fell through.

When a law school is in the middle of making major cuts all around, you’d figure that the administration would want to keep some people on board who know the ropes — especially the people in charge of admitting new cash cows students. But, apparently, that is not the case in upstate New York….

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We told you on Friday that somebody was literally trolling around Craigslist looking for people to sue New York Law School, in the same way that Thomas Jefferson School of Law has been sued.

I don’t think that effort will amount to much, and so I don’t think it has anything to do with the decision of New York Law School’s longtime dean, Richard Matasar, to make his exit from NYLS. Matasar isn’t telling people where he is going just yet, but he did tell the students that his stewardship of NYLS has left him with a great opportunity he didn’t want to pass up.

Let’s hope there are lots of NYLS students who feel the same way….

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What is this, a law school for ants?

If the American Bar Association was serious about protecting its members, it’d be trying to do something to stop the influx of market-depressing new attorneys. America might need more lawyers willing to work for next to nothing to help those who can’t currently afford legal representation, but the last thing current attorneys need is even more law school graduates competing for the few paid positions available. Let the Obama administration start some kind of Americorps program for attorneys; the ABA should be concerned about keeping the supply of attorneys competing in the private market down around levels that come within shouting distance of demand.

(Of course, the ABA is still trying to figure out how to keep member institutions from lying to the ABA. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for the ABA to figure this one out.)

Instead, it looks like some law schools are starting to voluntarily reduce the sizes of their incoming classes. We reported on two schools, Albany Law and Touro, doing this back in March, and it seems that the trend is continuing.

I guess there are only so many disgruntled, unemployed graduates these schools want walking around griping about their legal education (or suing them over it)….

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Uga, did you eat the grades?

Well, it’s the middle of June, and it seems that some law students are still waiting for their grades. As we know from past discussion of the issue, this is a fairly common practice. The only problem with it is that it keeps law students fiending for their last grade like a crack addict searching frantically for his last rock.

The worst part of this situation is the fact that the grade delay may be keeping these law students from becoming gainfully employed. The legal job market may allegedly be on the rise, but when law students can’t do more than offer two-fifths of their updated transcripts to prospective employers, you can take a wild guess as to where their résumés will be headed.

So, while the professors are taking their sweet time grading their exams and possibly costing you a job, your classmates are banding together to try to figure out how to resolve the problem. First, they go to the Student Bar Assocation. Then, when they don’t like the answer they get from the SBA (“there’s a grading deadline, I’m sure we’ll get our grades soon”), they go straight to the source, the administration. Finally, when the administration’s response isn’t good enough (“it’ll be okay, you’ll get your grades when you get your grades”), they come to Above the Law. And we’re happy to help.

Hey, University of Georgia School of Law, we’re looking at you. Where are your grades?

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