David Segal

The battle for greater law school transparency, for more accurate and complete information from law schools regarding the jobs obtained (or not obtained) by their graduates, has many fronts. Some advocates for transparency work through organizations, such as the Tennessee non-profit Law School Transparency. Some have turned to the political process, where the issue of transparency has attracted the attention of several United States senators. And some have looked to litigation, suing law schools for providing allegedly misleading data about post-graduate employment outcomes.

Here’s an interesting idea: what if law schools just started posting comprehensive, accurate employment data on their websites? On a voluntary basis — not compelled by politicians, lawsuits, or the American Bar Association (ABA)?

Wouldn’t that be great? And wouldn’t it be helpful to prospective law students trying to decide whether it’s worth investing three years of their lives, and a large amount of (often borrowed) money, to pursue a law degree at the school in question?

Take a look at what they’re now doing at the University of Chicago Law School. Could it perhaps serve as the model for law school reporting of employment data?

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[T]he dislike [for legal academics] is a result of law professors being too much in the world. You see, law professors — and I should disclose here that I am one — very nearly run the world, or at least certain parts of the U.S. government. When you include Justice Anthony Kennedy, who taught nights, they make up the majority of the Supreme Court.

– Professor Noah Feldman, in an interesting and provocative Bloomberg opinion piece (via Overlawyered), responding in part to David Segal’s latest New York Times piece criticizing legal education.

(Additional excerpts and discussion, after the jump.)

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How screwed up is legal education these days? One mainstream publication recently published an article suggesting law students should be paid to not go to law school, while the paper of record noted that nobody learns how to be a lawyer in law school anyway.

That’s what it’s come to, folks. Can you imagine Slate, which is owned by the Washington Post, publishing an article suggesting that we should pay M.B.A. candidates to stop going to business school? Can you imagine the New York Times publishing a feature article about how medical students don’t learn anything in medical school?

Welcome to law school, the red-headed stepchild of American professional schools….

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Let a thousand law schools bloom?

Critics of the current legal-education model, including my colleague Elie Mystal, have accused the American Bar Association of failing to uphold sufficiently stringent accreditation standards. ABA-accredited law schools proliferate, even though thousands of law school graduates find themselves unemployed or underemployed.

The ABA was recently chided by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity for various alleged deficiencies in the ABA’s exercise of its accreditation power (for example, failure to consider student-loan default rates in assessing programs). Politicians such as Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have also raised questions about whether there are too many law schools and law school graduates, especially in light of the still-challenging legal job market.

In light of this debate, I was eager to attend a panel at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention on the subject of law school accreditation….

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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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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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Over the weekend, you may have noticed that the New York Times suddenly figured out that law schools are cash cows despite offering dubious value to the students attending law school. We pulled out a fun quote from the article on Sunday.

You know the game: we talk about the danger of going to law school a lot, but because the New York Times is talking about it now we all have to talk about it again.

If you haven’t been paying attention to how law schools operate, the Times article is very, very good. It should be required reading that they send to you when you sign up with LSAC. But even if you have been paying attention, you should still read it. The article, by David Segal, contains a brilliant case study of just how New York Law School goes about generating cash. It’ll make good people sick to their stomachs.

But while the Times takes a critical look at law school deans and university presidents and even U.S. News, one constituency escapes the NYT’s glare: law students themselves…

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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.

After the 1L money runs out....

That’s the question essentially posed in a long and interesting New York Times article, Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win (which we previously mentioned on Saturday; yes, we do post on weekends). The piece is by David Segal, who also wrote a big and buzzy piece back in January, Is Law School a Losing Game?

Segal’s latest article is more interesting than the January one. His January piece, while well-crafted and solidly (if imperfectly) reported, covered ground that had already been covered by many other outlets. Readers of Above the Law, other legal industry publications, or the numerous “scamblogs” already knew that the value proposition of going to law school was very much open to question (to put it mildly).

This weekend’s piece focuses on a less familiar aspect of the law school process, namely, merit scholarships. You might think that these grants, which help law students pay for their education in an age of ever-growing debt loads and skyrocketing tuition, are undoubtedly a good thing.

Well, think again….

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It isn’t easy to wring a correction out of the New York Times. The Gray Lady is notoriously stingy when it comes to confessing error. [FN1]

But David Segal’s very interesting and widely read article about the perils of going to law school — which still sits at the top of the NYT’s list of most-emailed articles, several days after it first came online — now bears a notable correction…

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