Michael Schill

You’ve given a lot to your law school. There was that dumpload of tuition, of course. There was the immediate boost you gave their U.S. News Ranking when they got to count you as employed within nine months of graduation. And there’s the fact that you don’t reach through the phone and strangle them when they call asking for even more money every week.

Isn’t it time the law school gave something back? In addition to that J.D. that’s rapidly diminishing in value, I mean.

It’s the holiday season and one law school decided to get into the Christmas spirit and sent its alums an email with the subject line, “A Gift from the Law School.”

No more waiting, let’s tear off the wrapping paper and see what some law school generously gave its alums…

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Reasonable minds can disagree on how to reform law school, but here’s one thing that almost everyone can agree upon: the tuition is too darn high. In an ideal world, legal education would be much more affordable. Not everyone has wealthy parents who insist on paying for college and graduate school.

Alas, we’re probably not going to see major change on that front anytime soon. As long as the federal government keeps the loan money flowing, law schools have little incentive to lower tuition.

So, at least for now, we’ll have to settle for more modest measures at controlling cost. For example, law schools can and should devote greater resources to scholarships, which lower the effective price tag of a J.D. degree.

One leading law school just received a gigantic gift — which it’s putting towards scholarships, to its credit. Which law school is on the receiving end of this largesse, and how much is it getting?

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In the latest U.S. News law school rankings, which just came out, Columbia Law School and the University of Chicago Law School maintained their respective spots of #4 and #5. This is the third year in a row that both schools have held steady, as you can see from the historical rankings data at Top Law Schools. (Back in 2009, Columbia was #4 and Chicago was #6, with NYU at #5.)

The schools in the so-called “CCN” band — Columbia, Chicago, and NYU — do battle with one another on several fronts. They compete for admitted students, especially ones with high LSATs and GPAs. They compete in job placement, in terms of getting their grads jobs with top law firms or coveted judicial clerkships.

And they compete with each other for attracting star faculty. The University of Chicago just hired away one of Columbia’s top young law professors — a legal academic who has appeared before in these pages….

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How hard is it to write an exam for a course you’ve taught all semester? Seriously, tell me, how hard is it? On a scale of one to ten — ten involving programing a rocket ship, one somewhere around putting on pants in the morning — where does formulating a law school exam rate? A two? Maybe three if you are teaching the course for the first time?

It cannot possibly be so hard that you have to use the same exam over and over again, in the digital age. We’re not talking about something as complicated as the wheel. A law school exam can be reinvented, every year, with subtle and simple changes.

Using the exact same exam is just lazy. There’s no other word for it. LAZY. The high cost of law school is largely attributed to the hefty salaries of law school faculty. The least these people can do is write a novel exam each and every semester that they teach.

And yet during this finals period alone, we’ve got students from three law schools, including two law schools in the top ten, alleging that their professors couldn’t be bothered to come up with fresh exams for this year’s students….

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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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It’s almost Thanksgiving, an entire American holiday centered around gluttony and based upon the kindness of people we later tried to exterminate.

And football.

And pie. Lots of pie.

Now, normally pie is an unqualified good (unless you are on a diet, which I never am). It’s hard to see how this all-American treat could be overcomplicated. But leave it to a group of law students to ruin pie….

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Drums please.

The U.S. News law school rankings for 2012 are here, y’all. Time to pay tribute to that which is more important to legal educators in this country than anything else.

As is customary here at Above the Law, we will be posting a series of open threads, running through at least the top 100 law schools. These open threads offer you a chance to compare and contrast different schools, praise (or condemn) your alma mater, and talk trash about rival law schools.

We’re not sure what we’ll do with the formerly “tier 3″ schools that have now been graced with numerical rankings by U.S. News. And we have no clue how we’ll handle the formerly “tier 4″ schools, which are now being classified as “tier 2″ schools — but I’ll be a monkey’s uncle before I quietly accept U.S. News’s misleading attempt to recharacterize these schools as “second tier”….

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Numerous applicants to law school claim that they want to become lawyers in order to serve the public interest — and some of them are telling the truth. Alas, after burdening themselves with six figures of law school debt, they find it difficult to follow through on their public-interest dreams. The path of least resistance, or at least the path to the fastest repayment of loans, is working for a large law firm.

Working for a prominent law firm is great — lucrative, prestigious, honorable work — provided that it’s actually what you want to be doing (as opposed to, say, public interest work in Nepal). Unfortunately, many who toil in Biglaw do so primarily for the debt-dispelling powers of the paycheck.

Well, if you go to the University of Chicago Law School, you might be able to have your cake and eat it too — i.e., obtain an amazing legal education, work in the public interest, and not find yourself trying to invoke the “undue hardship” exception in bankruptcy.

Let’s learn about some changes that Chicago Law just announced to its LRAP, or Loan Repayment Assistance Program (those wonky Chicago types love their acronyms)….

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We have a message for law school deans and administrators everywhere. To paraphrase Chris Crocker, “Leave… the grades… alone!”

Stories about changes to law school grading schemes aren’t much fun for us to write. But every time you deans tinker ever so slightly with your law school’s curve, we here at Above the Law get flooded by angry emails from law student readers, demanding that we call attention to whatever completely inscrutable change (or non-change) you have made (or not made) to your grading policy. In order to save us from having to write these stories, please cease and desist immediately from further amendment of your grading schemes.

Notwithstanding the views of the guy who posted his grades on Facebook, law school grades aren’t very interesting (except to their recipients). We’d much rather immerse ourselves in the law firm bonus horse race, for example. Compared to law school grading stories, the associate bonus watch is as riveting as the Oscars competition (or the Super Bowl, if you’re into that sort of thing).

Honestly, and with all due respect to our law student readers, we don’t particularly care about law school grades — and neither will you, in just a few short years. Right now you might be obsessed with your grades. And yes, they matter more than before, thanks to the tough legal job market. But you will forget your law school GPA sooner than you think. In the words of Professor Orin Kerr, “[o]nce you’re out of school for a bit, people care whether you are a good attorney, not your law school GPA.”

In this post, we’re going to cover controversies over grading at three law schools: the University of Chicago Law School, Cornell Law School, and the University of Buffalo Law School.

And then, God willing, we hope to avoid writing another story about law school grades until May or June (when the spring semester ends and students start talking about transfer applications)….

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