Legal Education

Ed. note: Welcome to the latest installment of The Dean’s Office, a series of posts on legal education by Dean David Yellen of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

The American Bar Association plays an important, but often misunderstood, role in legal education. Overall, I believe the ABA deserves mixed grades for its response to the current crisis. It did not cause the crisis, and it is implementing some valuable improvements. But its resistance to change stands in the way of a number of needed reforms.

First, some background. The Council and Accreditation Committee of the ABA Section of Legal Education, not the ABA itself, is authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit law schools. DOE rules require an accrediting agency to be separate and independent from a trade association, so the Section operates essentially autonomously from the main ABA. ABA accreditation is critical to law schools because all states authorize graduates of ABA accredited schools to take the bar examination. Recently, the President of the ABA itself created the Task Force on the Future of Legal Education (on which I serve). The Task Force is an advisory group, though, with no accreditation authority.

Two key features of the ABA process are voluntarism and self-regulation….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The Dean’s Office, a series of posts on legal education by Dean David Yellen of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. You can read the first post here.

The winds of change are swirling around legal education. Many of the critical challenges we are facing today involve the following three factors: capacity, cost, and quality. Are there too many law students, law schools, or both? Why is law school so expensive? Are law schools doing an adequate job of preparing students for their careers? (Note: I have explored these issues in a little more detail in recent posts at The Faculty Lounge.)

The first decade of this century was a boom time for law schools. From 2000 – 2010, first year law school enrollment increased around 20%, from 43,000 to 52,000. The number of ABA accredited schools went from 183 to 200. Jobs seemed plentiful in the first half of the decade, there were strategic advantages to growth and many universities felt it was prestigious to add a law school. Since 2010, the number of applicants has tumbled about 40%. First year enrollment dropped to 44,000 this year. In the fall of 2013, as few as 40,000 students will enroll, representing the smallest number since the 1970’s.

This decline in enrollment is a good thing, given the job market. Fewer than 60% of the class of 2011 had permanent, full-time jobs requiring a JD nine months after graduation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting around 22,000-25,000 lawyer jobs per year, counting growth and attrition.

These numbers are certainly not the whole story….

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I think if you can dye your hair or fix your nose, you can change your name.

Raoul Felder, the high-profile divorce lawyer, commenting on the trend of divorcées making up completely new names for themselves upon getting divorced.

(Continue reading for Felder’s harsh indictment of legal education.)

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Ed. note: Welcome to the first installment of The Dean’s Office, a series of posts on legal education by Dean David Yellen of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

Welcome to The Dean’s Office. I know that law school deans are not particularly popular on Above The Law, so what am I doing here? In January, I met Elie after he spoke about media and communications in the internet era at the annual conference of all the law schools. We had an interesting conversation (he’s much nicer in person than in print!) and he later asked me to write an occasional column about legal education topics from a dean’s perspective. So for now, I’ll be appearing here every other week.

I have been a law professor since 1988 and a dean (at two different schools) since 2001. In addition to my regular job, I have been involved in legal education reform. I recently served for six years as a volunteer member of the ABA Section of Legal Education’s Standards Review Committee (more on that in future columns) and currently serve on the ABA President’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education.

These are the most tumultuous times in legal education that many of us have ever seen. The elements of the current crisis are well known. The job market for our graduates has been very rough since the Great Recession. We have learned that law firm jobs were declining even before then, as the impact of changes in the profession, globalization, and technology began to be felt….

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* I didn’t make this list of the 25 most influential people in legal education. That pisses me off. I’m going to start writing about how people shouldn’t trust legal educators because law schools are only interested in profits and not the employment outcomes of their students. That’ll show ‘em! [Tax Prof Blog]

* … Of course, you know what else doesn’t make any list of influencing legal education? The truth. [Constitutional Daily]

* This has been a big day for our friends at Thomson Reuters and at LexisNexis. [3 Geeks and a Law Blog]

* Time Warner Cable is well within its rights to act like feckless cowards. [Huffington Post]

* I like watching the Feds try to roll rich people. I’ve got no horse in the race, I’m just there for the competition. [Dealbreaker]

* U.K. considers forcing fat people to lose weight in order to keep their benefits. I was going to make a “Britain, outsource, BBW” joke, which somehow led me to the Wikipedia page for BBW, a page that has really not at all what you’d expect the graphic on BBW to be. [Legal Blog Watch]

As we reach the end of the year, it’s time to step back and assess 2012 as it draws to a close. In the legal world, things have certainly changed from years past, but the one thing that remains constant is the focus on the state of our nation’s legal education. Something’s got to give, and while no one agrees exactly on what needs to change, many have influenced the way the discussion has developed with their insightful visions for the future.

At the end of the day, certain voices were more powerful than others. Whether through reducing class sizes or increasing the transparency of employment statistics, certain individuals have wrought substantial change in the way that law schools are currently operating — and have laid the groundwork for how law schools will be run in the future.

Whose words mattered most? Let’s take a look at this year’s most influential people in legal education….

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First, there are too many law students training for a J.D. in a market that is already saturated.

Frank Wu, Dean and Chancellor of UC Hastings College of the Law, in his letter to the American Bar Association’s “task force” on legal education.

(In his letter, Dean Wu outlines an eight-point plan for the ABA — so let’s take a look at the other seven points….)

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Yesterday, I reiterated the point that the third year of law school is largely useless. Such a position is not novel. Recently, NYU Law announced a big change to its 3L curriculum because, in part, the current use of the time is silly.

But even changes to the curriculum still contemplate making most students waste another year of tuition while they wait to take the bar and start their job search in earnest.

Out in Arizona (I’m still allowed to write about Arizona without having to prove my status, right?), some are pressuring the state supreme court to skip ahead and allow 3Ls to sit for the bar exam in February. They argue that the change will allow students to pass the bar before they graduate; that way they don’t have to wait until the fall to find out if they’ve passed the bar in a state where there aren’t a lot of jobs for students who have their bar passage “pending.”

Sounds like a great idea, so of course some people have a problem with it. You know, because then students will spend time caring about the bar during their third year, instead of reading Above the Law in class…

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I reported back in October that the New York Times had asked me to write an op-ed piece about the future of big law firms, but a Dealbook special unceremoniously preempted my piece.

I figured the editor at the NYT might think she owed me one, so I cranked out a replacement piece proposing to reform legal education. I’m pleased to report that this op-ed piece was not preempted! No, no, no: It was rejected on the merits. The editor said that my article made too many points and felt like a “report, rather than an opinion piece.”

But she was wrong. And, in any event, you should judge for yourself.

So here’s my recently rejected op-ed piece proposing how we should reform legal education. (I do believe this is the last in my short-lived series of “crap I wrote for the Times that the Times didn’t publish.” It’s an awful lot of work to produce 1,200-word pieces that become mere fodder for another column here at Inside Straight.) . . .

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Justice Antonin Scalia

Congress has its job and we have ours…. They can’t tell us to set aside rules of logic!

– Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking over the weekend at the National Lawyers Convention of the Federalist Society. He was responding to a question as to whether Congress could pass laws dictating how judges interpret the law.

(Additional highlights from Justice Scalia’s speech, after the jump.)

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