ABA

What do you do with the dean of an unranked, fourth-tier law school, who gets made fun of in national newspapers for his enormous salary, tries to fire 35 to 40 percent of his faculty, and even makes taking a 25 percent pay cut look disingenuous and self-serving?

Well, if you are the American Bar Association, you give him an award. And not a sarcastic one like the one I suggested in the headline. I should give New England Law | Boston law dean John F. O’Brien an award for “Most Effective Troll Of His Own Students.” But the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is giving him a real award: the 2014 Robert J. Kutak Award. The award is given annually “to an individual who has contributed significantly toward increased cooperation among legal education, the practicing bar, and the judiciary.”

You know you are dealing with a cartel when it is so tone deaf that it starts giving awards to the members who seem to do the best job of exploiting non-members. Didn’t anybody tell them that handing out a “Pimp of the Year” award is supposed to be a joke?

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Recently, a solo practitioner somewhere in the Midwest posted on Facebook about her “incredible” annoyance at the fact that the ATL Law School Rankings do not count solos (and therefore her) as part of a school’s “employment score.”1

That’s unremarkable, of course. We don’t expect or intend that our approach will please everybody. Anyway, the resultant comment thread was, for the most part, a thoughtful discussion of the pros and cons of excluding solo practitioners in evaluating a particular law school school class’s employment outcomes. Again, all of this is unremarkable, and — especially considering the ATL rankings were published back in April — hardly worth noting now. But one particular commenter really, seriously disliked the ATL rankings methodology. Before you say “so what?” (or “me too”), consider the commenter is indisputably one of the most influential law school deans in the country. Not only that, this dean made a “suggestion” in the course of the discussion that, if it were adopted, would be a game changer for how law schools would share employment data….



1 It must be noted that the solo did not read or did not understand our methodology in the first place. Our employment scores measure the most recent class ten months after graduation. She only recently began her practice. Prior to that she worked for a couple years as a public defender, a job that would have been counted under our formula.

Promising answers to questions nobody is asking, the Buzzfeed-style personality quiz is the most virulent force in social media. Which Ryan Gosling Character Is Your Soulmate? What Type Of Chicken Tender Is Right For You? Are You Turning Into Your Mom? The silly online personality quizzes are sort of the idiot stepchildren of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, that test designed to distill human personality into abstract terms. (For some background on Myers-Briggs, see here.)

The MBTI and its progeny have long been used by government agencies and educational institutions, but it truly has a foothold in corporate America. The MBTI supposedly helps employers to identify potentially successful employees and job candidates to identify their strengths. From the employer’s perspective, these tools offer a chance to identify potential successful hires based on something more objective than hiring managers’ hunches and first impressions.

A recent New York Times Magazine piece detailed an ongoing movement to “revolutionize the human capital resource allocation market” through Moneyball-style, Big Data empiricism. Apparently, employers are becoming more cautious and deliberate in their interviewing processes (the average length of the interviewing period had doubled over the past five years), while at the same time employing work-force-analytics software that can make the process cheaper and more efficient. All in all, around 80% of the Fortune 500 companies practice data-driven assessment in their hiring processes.

Which brings us to the legal industry, an outlier in this “revolutionary,” data-driven recruitment landscape…

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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]

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