Enrollment

Linear extrapolations are widely suspected of being unreliable, but maybe not widely enough. Stated differently, it’s a category error to engage in static, not dynamic, analysis. Stated yet differently, the interesting challenge is almost never to ask, “What can we do to solve this problem?” but instead, “What happens after we take this approach to solving the problem?”

Here’s an example. A long-running contributor to structural disequilibrium in the metropolitan New York traffic congestion pattern is that bridges across the East River are toll-free, whereas almost all other bridges and tunnels in the area carry tolls as high as $12 one-way. Not surprisingly, the East River bridges are chronically congested and “over capacity.” (The experts’ knowing diagnosis that they’re “over capacity” always amuses me; drivers are paying in time, not money: The “capacity” of the bridges is what it always has been.) So periodically proposals are floated to impose tolls on these bridges, with seemingly reliable projections of how much revenue would be collected based on today’s vehicle traffic multiplied by the average toll.

This is a linear extrapolation, a static analysis, and it’s wrong. It overlooks the question, “How will people alter their behavior in light of the tolls?” Obviously, the answer is that some will carpool, some will take mass transit, some will telecommute more often, some will use different combinations of bridges and tunnels. Whatever happens, toll revenue will fall short of {[today's traffic volume] x [proposed toll]}.

Now, in law school land, we have a stunning example of market dynamics at work….

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Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He’s currently sharing some of his thoughts about legal education and other topics here on Above the Law.

I was recently befuddled about some information I had been given. That happens. I was inspired by my own momentary confusion to write this blog post. It made me realize how much raw data has to be sorted through to achieve transparency.

Perhaps the most important aspect of training in argumentation, which constitutes the bulk of the first year of law school, is learning how to frame issues. A skilled advocate comes to understand early on that the party who is able to define the question to be asked has already determined the answer that will be given. It is more than mere semantics.

Laypeople tend to regard lawyers as sophists, because they — the lawyers — are so concerned about accuracy and precision. Lawyers may even distinguish between “accuracy” and “precision.” Lawyers do not assume that everyone has exactly the same concepts in mind even if they are participating in a single conversation together, because the essential “meeting of the minds” is elusive. They also appreciate the consequences of sloppiness.

Allow me to offer an example…

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In this age of plummeting law school applications, many deans must make difficult choices. They must sacrifice one of two things they love dearly: tuition dollars or their U.S. News ranking. It’s the legal academy’s version of Sophie’s Choice.

As fewer people apply to law school, deans have basically two options: they can shrink the size of the entering class, which reduces tuition revenue, or they can keep the size of the entering class the same, which results in credential dilution — a student body with lower LSAT scores and GPAs. Credential dilution can lead to a tumble in the closely watched U.S. News rankings, which can further reduce applications, setting in motion a vicious cycle.

So far, most schools seem to have opted for shrinkage. Most deans would prefer to be able to claim that they are taking a “stand for quality,” as Dean Patrick Hobbs of Seton Hall recently stated.

(Yes, we recently covered one exception. But to paraphrase Chinatown, “Forget it, Jake — it’s Cooley.”)

Interestingly enough, however, one top law school seems to be going in the other direction. It’s actually increasing the size of its incoming class over last year, even if doing so might lead to credential dilution….

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Back in July, following the news of the possible purge of junior faculty at Seton Hall and the staff massacre at McGeorge, we wondered: “Which law school will be next?” With law school applications still in free fall, something, somewhere, had to give, and it certainly wasn’t going to be beautiful buildings, the price of tuition, the number of tenured professors, or their similarly splendid salaries.

No, the easiest way to save money — $4.4 million of it — is by dropping the unimportant human weight, and the most expendable souls seem to hail from the adjunct faculty and staff ranks at the latest law school to conduct layoffs. Which esteemed academy of legal education could it be?

We’ll give you a clue. The school is no stranger to controversy, seeing as it served as the origin of the very first law school lawsuit over deceptive employment statistics ever filed….

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* Chief Judge Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit, the judicial diva herself, will be stepping down from her role at the head of the bench earlier than expected, due to “family issues.” Perhaps she told someone to “shut up” too many times? [Tex Parte Blog]

* Apple asked U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to deny Samsung’s request that she bar all further communication with trial jurors, because the company claims it wants “equal access to information” (aka jury foreman Velvin Hogan). [Bloomberg]

* “[T]here’s no way to preserve the definition of marriage [as one man and one woman] other than by preserving the definition. It becomes somewhat circular.” That, and you rely on law from 1885. Argh! [BuzzFeed]

* ASU Law wants to move from Tempe to Phoenix, and to make it financially feasible, the school may increase enrollment and raise tuition. Sound like a good idea, prospective law students cash cows? [Arizona Republic]

* Now compare/contrast: Stanford Law had to dip into its coffers to come up with the cash to cover its financial aid promises this year, but the school isn’t cutting out a dime that’s owed to students. [National Law Journal]

* Massachusetts appealed the Michelle Kosilek sex-change ruling. The state claims it provided “adequate medical care,” but it’s questionable whether that was the case if the prisoner tried to castrate herself. [CNN]

* Tully Rinckey, a midsize firm, is planning to open an office in Buffalo, New York, so it sent out recruitment letters to 5,469 attorneys in the region. Unemployed law grads: open the letter, it’s not a bill! [Buffalo News]

We’ve talked a lot about the decline of people going to law school.

Wait, I need music when I say that.

Cool.

So, yeah, law school enrollment is down at law schools across the country. Top Law Schools has been crowdsourcing the class sizes of some notable law schools, and Tax Prof Blog put that into a helpful chart showing the decrease in matriculation, year-over-year, for about 40 law schools.

Let’s take a look a the schools that look like they’re about to be stabbed by Sephiroth….

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