Law School Deans

I’d say that New England Law School Dean John F. O’Brien “should be ashamed of himself,” but really, the man has already proven that he is not capable of experiencing the human emotion of “shame.” This is a guy who would probably ask the Ghost of Christmas Future how much he gets paid for a good haunting.

O’Brien is well known around these parts for making $867,000 a year to run an unranked law school. No, that’s not a typo, and yes, I’ve sat in a diner with a New England law student and said, “If you give that nimrod $40,904 I’m gonna shoot him on general principles.”

Now, O’Brien is asking the other faculty at New England to take a buyout or work like employees at Initech…

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When you think about it, Snoop has a lot in common with Biglaw partners: no matter what they’re doing, they have their mind on their money and their money on their mind. Or maybe that’s what Snoop has in common with law school deans. In any event, what legal writing is sorely lacking is Snoop’s unique vernacular.

So when we discovered Gizoogle.net — a website that converts web pages into Snoop-speak — we couldn’t help but spend some time converting law school and law firm bios, SCOTUS decisions, and even one of Elie’s ATL articles.

I mean, any site that translates a Supreme Court decision to include, “It aint nuthin but tha nick nack patty wack, I still gots tha bigger sack,” is worth spending a few hours playing around with.

Fo shizzle…

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I don’t think we’ll be seeing Case Western Reserve School of Law Dean Lawrence Mitchell writing a New York Times op-ed about the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him. So I think the email he just sent to Case Western Law students will have to suffice as his official response — at least until he can figure out how to wrap “defending the dean from faculty allegations” into Case Western’s revamped curriculum.

I’m not surprised he said something about it. One thing that we’ve clearly seen from Mitchell’s time at Case Western is that he’s a media hound, so long as he doesn’t actually have to answer any questions from the media. He seems to be far more concerned with how he (and the school) is perceived than anything else. Oh, he was going to say something.

But since he can’t really talk about the case against him directly, his email was just reduced to (you guessed it) telling students how lucky they were to be going to Case Western! Of course they are, don’t you wish you could be going to a school where your dean is slowly becoming a national punchline?

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As we commit to bold action to reform legal education, we also should lay out the parameters within which we operate.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of my job as a law school dean is determining how to balance contradictory demands. Communities have multiple members who wish for different outcomes. Economist Kenneth Arrow won the Nobel Prize for showing it is logically impossible for a democracy to aggregate preferences in situations displaying any complexity. Even individuals desire particular outcomes without realizing all of the costs or the consequences. It turns out that it is not uncommon to believe we want something we couldn’t actually live with.

Take faculty compensation as an example. There are few professions of which I am aware that face vehement attacks on pay as law professors are encountering. While we’re at it, let’s add faculty productivity to the mix. Law professors also are criticized from all sides for the social utility of the undertaking that is the primary means by which they size up their own worth: writing books and articles.

Another framing stipulation. One of the important responsibilities of a law professor as a teacher is ensuring students understand the distinction between descriptive statements and normative arguments. The former are assertions about what is, the latter assertions about what should be. In some instances, classroom discussion — much like legal advice — concerns the black letter doctrine as it currently exists. In other instances, classroom discussion — also like legal advocacy — addresses potential reforms that could be implemented.

I would like to explain why people, especially students, likely don’t desire schools to reduce faculty compensation or cease being academic in orientation. Or at least they would not want any single school, the one with which they happen to be associated, to do so and suffer as a result. I would not mind being proven wrong in the descriptive, not normative, line of reasoning set forth below. For purposes of this analysis, I am looking at matters from the perspective of student self-interest…

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Dean Lawrence Mitchell

Dean Lawrence E. Mitchell of Case Western Reserve University School of Law is not your ordinary law school dean. How many other deans have been the subject of an ATL caption contest?

Case Western is a prominent and well-ranked law school, #68 in the latest U.S. News rankings. It didn’t make the ATL Law School rankings, which stop at the top 50, but Case Western alumni give their alma mater a solid B-plus, as you can see from the school’s ATL Career Center profile.

But Mitchell’s fame comes less from Case Western and more from his national profile as a defender of legal education. Last year, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, Law School Is Worth the Money, that went viral.

Critics of Mitchell’s piece, including my colleague Elie Mystal, accused the dean of screwing over his students. Case Western charges tuition of almost $50,000, but less than 50 percent of its graduates secure full-time, long-term employment as lawyers, according to Law School Transparency.

Today Dean Mitchell is back in the news. A lawsuit filed this morning alleges that he screws his students more literally….

(See the UPDATE added below for the university’s response to the complaint.)

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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 feel for our students. I mean that too — nowadays, people are so cynical that any expression of sentiment that isn’t ironic is assumed simply to be false or regarded as condescending.

Law school at its best is difficult. Even when the economy is great and individual career prospects seem assured, legal education has never been easy. Whether it is the skill of “issue spotting,” statutory construction, distinguishing precedent, the challenge of writing for those who will literally judge you, or the anxiety brought on by the Socratic dialogue, which remains the norm for classroom discussion, almost all students at some point suffer anxieties about their decision to enter the legal profession.

We should make it better. We are making it better…

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* Stay tuned after the credits of Captain Phillips to see the part where the crew accuses him of negligence and sues him for millions. [Findlaw]

* Graphs showing the extent of growth in the ten states with the most and least growth in attorneys over the last ten years. The Texas legal market is growing dangerously fast. I sure hope it doesn’t lead to massive layoffs and the shuttering of offices. Weil have to wait and see. [Associate's Mind]

* In Nevada, Heather can now have two (legal) mommies. [ABA Journal]

* The push for the federal government to overhaul the public defender system is gaining momentum. Too bad there’s still no “federal government” to speak of. [NPR]

* Senior lawyers editing their juniors should take it easy with the red pen. A lot of the time, seniors are not editing to improve the product, but to make it sound like they wrote it, and this is the wrong approach. Senior attorneys have a narcissism problem? Never! [At Counsel Table]

* A new blog featuring law school deans discussing legal education seeks bloggers. Which deans will walk into the spotlights to accept the public abuse? [Law Professor Blogs Network]

* The next time you use Tinder to find a hot date, you just might be treated to an advertisement for a plaintiff’s firm. Image after the jump…

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This law school has a healthy approach to slimming down.

Layoffs continue to march through law firms. We reported yet another layoff story earlier today.

But now we have some happy news to share, regarding potential layoffs that were averted. A law school that was contemplating junior-faculty layoffs fortunately won’t have to go through with the cuts it had been contemplating.

Which law school achieved this feat? And what lessons might it have to offer to other law schools that are attempting to rightsize themselves in this challenging environment for legal education?

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Law school rejection letters have been sent to even the best of us, and most are quick to pick up their bruised egos and call it a day. But there are others out there who are unable to move on with their lives. Their dreams have been crushed, and they want nothing more than to exact revenge against the admissions dean who destroyed their imagined future in the only way they know how: by pointing out the dean’s grammatical and typographical errors in the rejection letter itself, and in other academic works found online.

If you’re wondering what correspondence like that would look like, wonder no more, because we got our hands on it, and boy, is it entertaining…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Would-Be Law Student Responds To Rejection Letter As Only A Future Lawyer Can — By Being An Epic Tool”

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.

Everyone is urging law schools to make radical modifications to how they do business, if not demanding that they do so. Indeed law schools are obligated to rethink the basics of everything from the curriculum to the financing of the degree.

As we discuss much-needed reform of legal education, it might be useful for everyone to have information on where the money comes from to operate law schools. There are basically five sources of revenue for the 200 or so ABA-accredited institutions. Academic quality can be sustained only if the business model is viable.

First, law schools are what is called “tuition dependent.” With a handful of exceptions, the primary funding derives from students in the form of tuition that is paid. Almost all schools then return significant proportions of what they receive to financial aid.

But that’s just the first piece of the pie…

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