ABA

3L year everywhere.

David Lat and I were on CNBC’s Power Lunch with Dan Rodriguez, Dean of Northwestern Law School, discussing whether law school should be two years. As I mentioned earlier today, this debate got started again when President Obama said that he thought law school should last only two years, at least in terms of classroom instruction. Please see my earlier post if you’d like to talk about why Obama’s thought bubble was literally the least useful thing he could have done to effectuate the change he desires.

Here, we’re going to talk about whether Obama’s idea is good in the first place. Should law school be two years long? Let me rephrase that question: is there any possible justification for forcing people to sit through a third year of law school if they don’t want to?

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I support radical reform of our nation’s drug laws not despite my conservative political views, but because of them. Decriminalization efforts support at least three values that mean much to me as a conservative. Decriminalization falls in line with the conservative (or at least libertarian-leaning conservative) emphasis on personal liberty and the rights of individuals to make choices about how they govern themselves, so long as their actions don’t directly harm others. Decriminalization makes good moral sense too, by not vilifying addicts and by not needlessly breaking up families through incarcerating non-violent offenders. Perhaps most significantly, radically reforming current drug laws avoids the economic irresponsibility of America’s failed war on drugs.

This week, of course, Attorney General Eric Holder announced new Justice Department policies for drug prosecutions, while addressing the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. In his speech, Holder proposed tinkering with the application of mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes; modifying the Justice Department’s charging policies “so that certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels will no longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences”; and “taking steps to identify and share best practices for enhancing the use of diversion programs – such as drug treatment and community service initiatives – that can serve as effective alternatives to incarceration.”

I commend Holder’s effort. But as a conservative considering the economics of the drug war, I’m concerned that this new policy neglects one of the most significant reasons why we need much more radical reform than this . . . .

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I didn’t go to Eric Holder’s big speech at the ABA annual meeting on Monday. I kind of halfheartedly tried to go, but there were a lot of people who wanted to see Holder say something they could’ve read about online hours earlier.

If the ABA had invited Secretary of Education Arne Duncan over to speak about the horrendous abuse of federal funds by purveyors of higher education, I’d have smashed my way in. But in the crush of people trying to get a look at the Attorney General trying to dismantle a big part of the United States “War On Drugs,” I was reminded that regulating legal education is a small part of what the ABA does — and a part that isn’t of great institutional importance to the organization. The ABA wants a seat at the policy table when it comes to big sexy issues of justice and legal services. Preventing member institutions from price-gouging young people doesn’t get its logo splashed across all the major news networks.

So, Eric Holder delivered a big policy address. And later, by which point I was on a plane, Hillary Clinton spoke about how she’ll be speaking about other things as she doesn’t run for president just yet. Holder! Hillary! Marvel at the ABA’s relevance in national policy debates!

Except, they’re not relevant. Holder did make an important speech on Monday, and he couldn’t have found a more supportive group for his take-down of mandatory minimums had he been speaking to potheads in Golden Gate Park. But really, the ABA isn’t going to be any more helpful when it comes to actually convincing Congress than a meeting of the 4:20 club…

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One of the biggest pieces of actual change coming out of the ABA annual meeting last week was the decision to move the reporting of employment statistics from nine months after graduation to ten months after graduation.

Think about that. We are living through a crisis in legal education. Tuition is skyrocketing, people can’t get jobs, law school applications are cratering. And here the regulating body for American legal education has responded by changing the reporting date for entry-level employment from February 15th to March 15th.

If you think that is a colossally dumb waste of everybody’s time, think about how much time and effort went into all the reports and debates leading up to this change. I mean, this is what the ABA has been fiddling with while legal education burns.

Moving the deadline seems like a classic ABA-type decision that doesn’t actually help anybody achieve anything. But, I can’t even get that angry about it because it’s such a waste of time….

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The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education released a 34-page draft report today about its findings. Essentially, the document says, “Wow, the scam blogs were totally right, we suck.”

Just kidding. I mean, it does finally get to the point of identifying a problem with legal education that law school reformers have been screaming about for years. But, in the immortal words of Sam Seaborn, “Let’s forget the fact that you’re coming a little late to the party and embrace the fact that you showed up at all.”

The top-line findings of the ABA draft report hit on pretty much all of the problems with legal education. But it’s still an open question whether the ABA will actually do anything about this report. I’ll tell you what I find out while I’m at their annual meeting next week, assuming I make it back alive…

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Does the amount of money a law school spends necessarily have an effect on the quality of its legal education?

Here at Above the Law, we say no. Our Law School Rankings take a look at the outcomes law schools provide for their graduates, not the inputs law schools cast into the pot.

But U.S. News still looks at many input factors in evaluating law schools. One of the most notorious factors U.S. News cares about is faculty resources. U.S. News rewards schools for spending a lot of money on the faculty per admitted student. You can kind of see the thought process there: good schools hire good professors and good professors command higher salaries.

Unfortunately, this U.S. News factor creates perverse incentives. Schools with unreasonably high tuition are rewarded for overpaying faculty, at the expense of the debt burden loaded upon their students and recent graduates. Ranking one school better than another because it engages in profligate spending is a cruel joke in this economy.

We don’t know if U.S. News will stop this madness, but yesterday the American Bar Association decided to stop asking schools to report the figure…

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Make it rain, law schools!

* With the Supreme Court’s term winding quickly to a close, it’s likely that conservative justices will write for the majority in some of the most closely watched and controversial cases. Uh oh. [Washington Post]

* Judge Edward Korman, the man who slapped around the FDA like it owed him money in a ruling over access to the morning-after pill, is actually a very soft-spoken, kind-hearted fellow. [New York Times]

* Wherein a Chicago Law professor and a Vedder Price partner argue that instead of cutting law school down to two years, financial aid should be given out like candy. Hey, whatever works. [Bloomberg]

* Brooklyn Law’s got a whole lot of drama these days: Their president is stepping down, their dean is apparently still a full-time partner at Patton Boggs, and a law professor is suing over alleged ABA violations. [New York Law Journal]

* That’s not the only New York-area law school awash in scandal. Chen Guangcheng has received the boot from NYU Law due to alleged harm done to the school’s relationship with China. [New York Times]

* When questioned about the need for his school, Indiana Tech’s dean says the lawyer oversupply and lack of jobs don’t matter. It’s about the quality of the graduate. Good luck with that! [Journal Gazette]

* This came too soon (that’s what she said). The alleged porn purveyors at Prenda Law will close up shop thanks to the costly litigation surrounding their copyright trolling. [Law & Disorder / Ars Technica]

* Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hassan won’t be allowed to use a “defense of others” strategy in his murder trial, because not only does it fail as a matter of law, but it’s also ridiculous. [Associated Press]

* Harvard Law grad Cate Edwards, daughter of disgraced pol John Edwards, took a dramatic step away from her father’s tabloid-esque pubic interests by opening her own public interest firm. [WJLA ABC 7]

* Judge Thomas Jackson, well-known for his antitrust ruling against Microsoft, RIP. [New York Times]

If it seems like a silly debate, it’s only because you haven’t been buttonholed by a law school dean who has had just about enough of your oh-so-funny jokes about his school.

Law deans, especially law deans of schools with underwhelming employment numbers, are convinced, convinced, that the “employed nine months after graduation” statistic vastly under-represents the value of their law degrees. Recent graduates of their schools who have been sitting around without jobs for nine months think that their law deans can go jump in a lake. But a small percentage of these grads will get jobs — mainly crappy, barely-legal jobs, which don’t begin to justify the massive investment they’ve made in legal education — between months nine and ten. This could make it easier for law deans to inflate their job statistics with a ten-month rule.

The law deans are few but powerful. The people aligned against law deans (recent graduates, independent third parties, pretty much everybody else) are vastly more numerous but lack real power to influence the rules.

Caught in the middle is the American Bar Association. Normally, you might expect the ABA to do whatever the law deans want, but here there are just too many arguments in favor of the basic consumer utility of the “nine months.”

And so the ABA has decided to delay making a decision until later this summer. What do you think they should do?

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Not impressed.

* A case of Supreme Court techciting gone wild: What happens when your book is cited in a SCOTUS opinion, but to express an opinion you’ve never endorsed before? A whole lot of irony. [New York Times]

* The Justice Department is dropping its appeal over a federal order that would allow promiscuous prosti-tots minors to access the morning-after pill. Hooray, over-the-counter emergency contraception for all! [CNN]

* The National Law Journal just released the most recent edition of the NLJ 350. As we saw in the Am Law 100 and 200, “economic wariness” was pervasive throughout Biglaw in 2012. [National Law Journal]

* More women are “bringing home the bacon,” but it’s the cheap store brand because they can’t afford better. It’s been 50 years since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, and women are still earning less money than men. [ABC News]

* When it came time for the ABA to change the time frame for law schools to submit jobs data, it pushed the decision back till August. Adopting the wait-and-see method already, huh? [ABA Journal]

* Jury selection has begun in the Trayvon Martin murder trial, where the verdict will hinge upon George Zimmerman’s credibility. It’s like we’re learning about trials for the first time, you guys. [Bloomberg]

It’s one of those Through the Wormhole moments when the camera pans back to reveal that Morgan Freeman is an insignificant spec on the Earth which is an insignificant spec in the galaxy, which itself is an insignificant point of light in the multi-verse. When you adopt the proper perspective, you see that there is an entire system at work here that dwarfs the concerns of any individual law school taking advantage of any particular class of prospective students.

Last Thursday, in totally unheralded news, a panel of regulators recommended that the Department of Education re-authorize the ABA’s accreditation authority for another three years. But hey, at least they asked a question…

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