American Bar Association / ABA

Former constitutional law professor and current President of the United States, Barack Obama, has decided to wade into the great law school debate by offering his “thoughts” on the length of law programs. On Friday, Obama said that he thought law school should just be two years instead of three.

Great. It’s nice to know what the President thinks. Too bad those thoughts aren’t backed up with the very simple actions necessary to make his dreams come true.

Obama’s thoughts touched off a weekend debate about the value of the third year of law school. I think I’m clearly on record saying the third year of law school is completely useless. There is no educational value to the thing, but law schools certainly make a lot of money off of it. David Lat and I will be discussing this in more depth on CNBC’s Power Lunch this afternoon around 1:00 p.m. EDT. Check it out.

Regardless of what you think about the value of the 3L year, the timing of Obama’s announcement is certainly curious. In June, Obama’s own Department of Education rubber-stamped ABA oversight over law school regulation and accreditation for another three years. Since the ABA is the organization most responsible for keeping law school at three years and preventing schools from experimenting with shorter programs, I can only assume that Obama’s statement was timed to be as useless as humanly possible…

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* Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is definitely one of our favorite judicial divas. When asked if she thought the Supreme Court’s work was art or theater, she mused, “It’s both, with a healthy dose of real life mixed in.” [New York Times]

* According to the Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group report on the first half of the year, the legal industry should count itself lucky if it manages to meet last year’s single-digit profit growth. This “new normal” thing sucks. [Am Law Daily]

* Howrey going to celebrate these “monumental” settlements with Baker & Hostetler and Citibank? The failed firm’s trustee might throw a party when he’s finally able to file a liquidation plan. [Am Law Daily]

* Uncommon law marriage? A man stuck in an inheritance battle who lived with his late partner since 1995 now asks the District of Columbia to declare him common-law husband. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar proposed a major overhaul to its accreditation standards. Action, of course, likely won’t be taken until next year. [National Law Journal]

* Despite the fact that these measures could help struggling graduates, law deans are at odds over the ABA’s proposed changes to tenure requirements for professors. [Capital Business / Washington Post]

* “Sooner or later you’ve got to make a choice, because you need enough revenue to cover what your expenses are.” Cooley will weather the storm by introducing a massive tuition hike. [Lansing State Journal]

* “How would you feel if you spent well over $100,000 on law school, only to have to spend an extra couple of thousand dollars on a course to get you to pass the bar?” You’d probably feel like everyone else. [CNBC]

* Requiring porn stars to wear condoms might not be sexy, but a federal judge says it’s constitutional. Don’t worry, unlike its actresses, the adult film industry won’t go down without a fight. [Los Angeles Times]

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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Amanda Bynes

* Dewey know which Biglaw firms and ex-partners were sued by the failed firm’s bankruptcy estate? Sadly, they must all be asking, “Howrey going to survive now that Allan Diamond is on the case?” [Am Law Daily]

* You’d probably love to work as an associate on a 9-5 schedule with billable requirements so low you’d get canned anywhere else. There’s just one catch: You’d have a “proportionately lower salary.” [Daily Report]

* “Law professors and law deans are paid too much,” so the ABA is reducing tenure requirements for law school accreditation, which will make it easier for them to be laid off. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* The ABA also decided to cut law schools some slack in terms of graduates’ employment data, and it’s likely due to the U.S. News rankings reckoning. Say hello to the 10-months-after graduation jobs statistic. [National Law Journal]

* Following the Windsor ruling, the Social Security Administration is paying claims for married gay couples living in states where same-sex marriage is recognized. As for the rest, better luck next time. [BuzzFeed]

* Would-be senator Cory Booker has taken annual payouts from his former firm, Trenk DiPasquale, since he left. You may remember that firm’s name from the C&D letter seen around the world. [New York Post]

* Author John Grisham was so pissed his books were banned at Guantánamo Bay that he took up the cause of prisoners wrongfully accused, detained for years, and released without apology. [New York Times]

* Almost as if to add insult to injury, Bernie Madoff was allegedly involved in a love triangle with one of his employees who’s about to go to trial. Apparently having dirty money is a desirable trait in a man. [Reuters]

* Amanda Bynes is still in the psych ward on a 5150, and her mother was granted a temporary conservatorship over her cray cray kid’s financial affairs. Way to follow in Britney Spears’s footsteps. [CNN]

The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines an “HBCU” as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.” Out of 105 current HBCUs, five of them operate law schools: Howard University, Texas Southern University, Southern University, Florida A&M University, and North Carolina Central University. The University of the District of Columbia also enrolls a predominantly black student body, and is home to a law school, but it is not considered an official HBCU by the Higher Education Act of 1965 because it was formed after 1964.

These schools purport to fulfill a noble mission: opening the doors to the legal profession once shut by generations of racial oppression. They offer not only a distinctive purpose in admissions but also a distinctive experience for their students and faculty. Providing access to legal education to historically — and often contemporarily — disenfranchised black men and women is a laudable goal.

Do you know what else is a laudable goal? Getting those same men and women to pass the bar exam so that they can actually practice law. And there’s the rub….

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Hope you enjoyed your small summer classes.

* “[J]ust because something is constitutional doesn’t mean it’s the best idea, or even a good one.” Perhaps we’ve given Chief Justice John Roberts a little too much to do. No wonder he’s gotten cranky. [Opinionator / New York Times]

* “It’s raining lawsuits.” As Justice Scalia predicted, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Windsor case, gay couples across the nation have banded together to challenge bans on same-sex marriage. [NBC News]

* The Fourth Circuit ruled that state authorities in Maryland can’t arrest and detain people just because they look like they might be illegal immigrants. They can only do that in Arizona. [Baltimore Sun]

* No more fun during sequestration, ever! Judges, get ready to kiss your “lavish accommodations” at judicial conferences goodbye, because Senator Tom Coburn is on the case. [National Law Journal]

* For all of the talk that Biglaw is in recovery, summer associate hiring just isn’t what it used to be. Summer class sizes shrank since last year. We’ll have more on this later today. [Am Law Daily]

* On Friday, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar will consider making changes to its law school accreditation standards. Yes, the ABA does have standards. [ABA Journal]

* Open wide and suck this down: A film on the life and times of porn star Linda Lovelace may be lost to the cutting room floor because Deep Throat’s rights holders are seeking an injunction. [The Guardian]

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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Law school’s epitaph?

* Hiring a Supreme Court clerk might not be worth a $500,000 gamble for some Biglaw firms. Some will take that sweet sign-on bonus and remove their golden handcuffs before a year is out. [Capital Comment / Washingtonian]

* Akin Gump partner and D.C. Circuit nominee Patricia Millett won approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee by a margin of 10-8 along party lines, and now her nomination will head to the full Senate for a vote. [Huffington Post]

* President Obama nominated Michelle Friedland and John Owens, two young Munger Tolles & Olson partners, for seats on the Ninth Circuit. If confirmed, that’ll make three partners from the same firm on the bench. [The Recorder]

* Sorry, law firms, but it’s no longer cool to inflate hourly billing rates for contract attorneys when you pay them substantially less. You can thank Ted Frank for this judicial revelation. [WSJ Law Blog]

* The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education thinks that just about everything having to do with law schools is “deeply flawed” and needs “serious re-engineering.” How comforting. [ABA Journal]

* Law School Transparency is willing to assist schools with the reporting of their ABA post-graduation job placement statistics, for a price. How much is integrity worth these days? [National Law Journal]

* For $25K, Casey Anthony’s bankruptcy trustee won’t make her sell the worldwide rights to her story — like her theory of the crime she was acquitted of, it “exists solely within [her] mind.” [Sun-Sentinel]

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