Law Schools

I like it when the mainstream media drops by to take a look at the student debt crisis. I’d like to think that, unlike the housing bubble, this impending crisis can be avoided with sensible government regulation and individual actors making smart decisions about their own financial futures.

The government regulation is, strangely, the easy part — Congress will care that younger Americans are being crushed under their own debt load, or it won’t. This seems to me like a non-partisan problem. So if our elected officials get a clue (a pretty big “if”), then perhaps something positive will happen.

Getting individual actors to behave in their own economic self-interest is the hard part. Trust me, I talk to students thinking about going to law school almost every day. These kids seem to be allergic to facts and figures. But maybe with enough media spotlight, families will actually start thinking about how their kids are going to pay off their debts, and behaving rationally.

There was a big article on MSNBC.com yesterday showing just how far we have to go, as a country, to get the student loan crisis under control…

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How much prestige does your school serve?

How far are we from getting real answers about the value proposition of going to law school? Pretty far, if you read the New York Times Week in Review. An article by Jacques Steinberg illustrates that researchers don’t even really know if receiving an elite undergraduate education is worth the price.

The Times asks: Is going to an elite college worth the cost? And it comes up with this answer: “It depends.” Thanks NYT. Is mainstream, old media publishing dying a slow death? It depends on how many people want to read articles like this on their Kindles.

Oh, I kid, Grey Lady. It’s not particularly satisfying, but the article provides support for believing whatever it is you believed before you read the article. Do you think that going to the most prestigious school that will accept you is the better long-term choice for your career? Great, you’re right. Do you think that, depending on your family situation, going to a cheaper state school is the right choice for you? Great, right again. Do you think that successful people will succeed? Awesome! The Times likes circles too.

Yay, everybody made the right decision. And since most of the research was done on people who made college choices ten years ago, the ridiculous inflation in the cost of education only makes it more obvious that people should do the right thing — whatever the hell that might be….

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One Dedman School of Law student may be a dead man. He may have picked the wrong person’s wife to have an affair with.

Here’s the set-up: a husband suspects that his wife, a student at SMU Law School, is cheating on him with another SMU Law student.

So the husband sets up a video camera in the SMU Law parking garage… and hilarity ensues.

Oh, and did I mention that the cuckolded husband apparently has cancer? And that his wife looks like a blond hottie? Yeah, this is EXACTLY the kind of thing you’d expect to happen in Texas.

Of course there’s video of the whole thing, which you MUST check out….

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This experience has been both profound and humbling. I have been able to reflect on my relationship with the universe and despite the physical incarceration of the past year, it has been incredibly emancipating for all other aspects of my being. Everything I have learned, seen, and lived I regard as invaluable in the journey of my life. I embrace this entire experience as a necessary one in the fulfillment of my future and destiny.

Kumari Fulbright, Arizona law student and beauty queen turned convicted felon, in a letter to Judge Michael Miller (who sentenced her last week).

Columbia professor David Epstein

I honestly can’t believe I have to do this, but apparently we need to argue about incest. Last week we told you about the Columbia political science (and adjunct law) professor, David Epstein, who is accused of having a sexual relationship with his 24-year-old daughter.

I’d hoped that most reasonable people would agree that incest is wrong and shouldn’t be allowed. But I’m dealing with lawyers and quite a few homophobes. I wasn’t exactly surprised that commenters made various Lawrence-based arguments and ridiculous connections between incest and gay sex.

And if the commenters are defending incest, you can best believe that Epstein’s lawyer is defending incest too…

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And we might have had a perfect score if it not for that pesky God character floating around.

In the past few weeks, we’ve brought you two stories about would-be lawyers trying to make critical life decisions. There was the first-year law student who was considering dropping out of law school after just one semester. And there was the prospective law student who wanted to take the LSAT instead of attending his grandmother’s funeral.

In the former case, the Above the Law readership overwhelmingly voted for the 1L to drop out of law school. In the later case, I strenuously argued that the person should go to the funeral and take the LSAT later.

We have updates on both people. It appears that Above the Law readers are more persuasive than I am…

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Last week, the people at the Law School Transparency project scored a major victory. They got U.S. News to agree to disclose all of the employment information the magazine collects about law schools, with the release of next year’s influential rankings.

According to stories around the blogosphere, U.S. News rankings guru Robert Morse is even giving the LST people credit for pushing the magazine in this direction. U.S. News, mind you, has more power over law schools than the freaking American Bar Association — but it was influenced by two young guys from Vanderbilt. Check out coverage from the ABA Journal, the WSJ Law Blog, and the National Law Journal (subscription). Major kudos to Team LST!

The changes are good, but they’re not the Holy Grail of law school transparency. U.S. News won’t be collecting any additional information. Schools will still be able to materially misrepresent some of their crucial employment statistics, and U.S. News is not increasing the weight given to outcome-oriented metrics in its rankings methodology.

It’s definitely progress, but as long as the ABA refuses to wield its regulatory power, there’s only so much a magazine can do…

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Next month I’ll be appearing on a panel at the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools. The subject of the panel: how to get good press for your law school.

One obvious answer: do good things for your students. Just like the University of Maryland School of Law.

Our coverage of UMB hasn’t always been kind. See, e.g., discussion of former Dean Karen Rothenberg’s controversial pay packages (here and here).

This time, though, Maryland Law is doing the right thing. In a time of strained state budgets, it has succeeded in holding the line on tuition increases (which, as we’ve discussed, are running rampant throughout the law schools). UMB law students won’t see their tuition go up next year, academic year 2011-12, even though students in other schools at the university will.

How did Maryland manage this feat? Let’s take a look — which might prove instructive for other law schools….

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There are plenty of attorneys in the major city offices who are not putting in enough hours and would love to be doing doc review versus the threat of being asked to look for another job. Wake up to what is happening out there in the real world!

Ann Israel, in her advice column on NYLawyer.com (subscription), to a Yale Law School graduate and current federal law clerk seeking advice on how to get out of document review when she goes to a law firm after her clerkship (gavel bang: ABA Journal).

When we last discussed Kumari Fulbright, the Arizona beauty queen and law student turned felon, we mentioned that she was going to be sentenced in early 2011 for her role in the kidnapping and torture of her ex-boyfriend. Well, it looks like Christmas came early for Kumari — her sentencing hearing took place yesterday.

Fulbright was sentenced to two years in prison and six years of probation. She also has to pay $15,000 in restitution. The sentence itself wasn’t a surprise, since it was consistent with the plea agreement we previously mentioned.

Far more shocking was the truly hideous hairstyle that Kumari sported at sentencing….

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