Michigan Law

Lat here. Tomorrow is a big day. First, April 15 is Tax Day; we hope that you’ve filed your return — and that you haven’t been taken advantage of. Second, it’s the deposit deadline at various law schools. We hope that you’ve made up your mind — and that you haven’t been taken advantage of.

Just kidding. Here at Above the Law, where we are sometimes critical of the value proposition of legal education, I’m the designated defender of law schools. I write stories with titles like In Defense Of Going To Law School and Go To Law School: What Else Are You Going To Do With Yourself? I also compile and disseminate law school success stories. We are not uniformly opposed to law school here at ATL; we just want people to make informed decisions.

Helping people make informed decisions is the goal of our popular column called The Decision. We field queries from prospective law students choosing between different schools, offer them advice, and ask ATL readers to weigh in as well.

Now, on to today’s scenarios. We’ve titled them “Jersey Boys” and “The Book of Mormon,” for reasons that will soon become apparent….

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The most polarizing figure in the field of syndicated trivia programming watched over a microwaved TV dinner is Arthur Chu. Chu, a 30-year-old insurance analyst, has lit up his competition on Jeopardy since late January. Chu rejected the tried-and-true method of running categories from top to bottom — giving the viewer a pleasurable run of questions with an increasing level of difficulty — to employ game theory in a mad hunt for Daily Doubles. Some hated him. Some Jeopardy experts defended him. Most of us really didn’t care that much over the media-manufactured controversy.

For a bit it seemed the only things capable of halting his reign of terror were Jeopardy’s prescheduled tournaments, which did put the champ on ice for a few weeks.

But last night, a law student put Chu down. Sure, that’s impressive, but could she win the next ATL Trivia Night? (It will be in D.C. on Wednesday, April 2; RSVP here.)

So what law school boasts a Jeopardy champ?

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Next month, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. The case will look at the constitutionality of Michigan’s 2006 ballot initiative to ban affirmative action in public university decisions. I can’t wait for John Roberts to blithely declare an end to racial struggle in Michigan the same way he decided it was okay for North Carolina to be racist again, because racism is over in the South.

Not that Roberts cares about pesky things like facts, but the facts on the ground in Michigan since the state’s ballot initiative show that without affirmative action, minority enrollment has plummeted. At the University of Michigan, minority enrollment at the college and the law school is down 30 percent.

Now, I know a lot of conservatives will respond to that number with “so?” I get that there are entire swaths of America that could give a crap if minorities are going to public universities or not. I’m sure the hatred for “undeserving” minorities will be well expressed in the comments.

Those people aren’t running the University of Michigan, however. The people running Michigan would like to admit a diverse group of students, and the state’s ballot initiative has clearly hampered that effort. For that law school, it’s a very complicated problem, because as we’ve been reporting, law school applications are down across the board, and that includes minority applicants….

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“You are not just individuals. You are the Michigan Law School Class of 2016, and you will always be a member of that class. And it’s not just a class: It’s an idea, a tradition, a tie to something greater than you.”

Mark West, the new dean of the University of Michigan Law School

You can learn a lot about a law school by how they greet their incoming students. The famous Paper Chase quote — “Look to your left, look to your right, because one of you won’t be here by the end of the year” — pretty much tells you all you need to know about Harvard Law School, or at least how it would like to see itself. If Dean West’s prodigious statements appeal to you, Michigan Law might be more your cup of tea. West continued: “You are not here to get your degree, and not simply to learn to ‘think like a lawyer’ or even merely to learn how to be a lawyer. You are here — at Michigan — to develop a lifelong association with all that is here. There will never be another time like this for you.”

Conquering heroes all, no doubt. Champions of the West.

Other law schools don’t take themselves nearly so seriously, but they all think their entering class of 2016 is pretty special. And they are. These are the kids who decided to go to law school when, historically speaking, everybody told them it was a bad idea. The class of 2016 is either the most motivated in history or the people most resistant to information and statistics in a generation.

Let’s look at how their own law schools describe them….

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The law school brain drain is in full effect. Applications from Ivy League graduates are down, and applications are down in general. Last week, my colleague Elie Mystal described the troubling predicament like so: “[T]he students with the best ‘logical reasoning skills’ as measured by the LSAT are avoiding law school at a higher rate than people at shallow end of the LSAT pool.” That being the case, how have top law schools responded to the less than impressive talent pool? By doing the same thing they’ve always done.

Despite the fact that some of the most well-qualified students are fleeing the law school application game like rats from a sinking ship, T14 law schools are still attracting rather competitive applicants. Unlike the law schools that would reportedly consider admitting applicants with sub-145 LSAT scores, top schools would never deign to lower their elite standards — well, at least not by that much.

While it’s still difficult to get into a top law school, it’s not quite as difficult as it used to be before the bottom fell out from the entry-level employment market. What do top law schools’ LSAT scores look like now compared to three years ago? Let’s take a look…

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From earthquakes to power outages to going into labor, we’ve written about almost every kind of bar exam horror story that exists on this earth. But we’ve never seen or heard of one that has been motivated by alleged religious bias — until today.

Everyone knows that things like hats, hoods, scarves, and visors are not allowed to be worn during the bar exam. But religious headgear, like Sikh dastars and Jewish yarmulkes, is permitted, as long as special written approval has been obtained before the test from a state’s board of bar examiners.

When there’s a miscommunication somewhere along the line, things don’t always go as planned. Yesterday, a proctor in Massachusetts passed a distasteful note to a Michigan Law graduate of Muslim faith during the morning essay session. We have a copy of that note…

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LSATs are lower than in previous years. There’s been an arms race with LSATs and GPAs [among top law schools], but I think the shrunken pool has forced admissions officers to think about what we really need in our class, and it’s not just the LSAT. I think we are choosing substance over LSATs.

Sarah Zearfoss, dean of admissions at the University of Michigan Law School, explaining to The Careerist that with fewer applications, Michigan is starting to consider substance (implying that she doesn’t think the LSAT is substantive).

‘If they hadn’t done what I told them not to do, they’d be alive.’

It’s final exams time, which means it’s time to start our semi-annual series on law professors who are too busy to write novel exams for the students who pay their exorbitant salaries.

I really don’t understand how this happens every semester. You know how in children’s stories there’s often a key plot point that revolves around the child/hero being specifically told not to touch something or else horrible things will happen to them, but they touch it anyway because they’re just kids, but the “horrible thing” doesn’t kill them? That’s what this feels like.

Every semester we write stories about how one professor’s laziness in question usage screws up entire transcripts, and yet every next semester it happens again. Either writing exams is one of the hardest thing to do on the planet or there are way too many law professors who don’t care one iota about the careers of their charges.

I don’t know about you, but I’m leaning towards the latter….

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We resume our examination of professorial pay at the nation’s top public law schools (which generally have to make salary data public due to their status as state institutions). We’ve previously visited the East Coast, represented by UVA Law, and the West Coast, represented by Boalt Hall (Berkeley).

Now it’s time to head into the heartland. Let’s collect and analyze some compensation information for law professors at another elite institution, the University of Michigan Law School (#9 in the latest U.S. News rankings, and #12 in the recently released Above the Law rankings).

These salary numbers are strong. And remember that dollars go farther in Ann Arbor than they do on the coasts….

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Today, April 15, is Tax Day. But it’s an important day for another reason as well: it happens to be the day that some law schools want to hear back from applicants — and collect their deposit checks, of course.

Let’s close out our series of posts soliciting advice on picking a law school with three fact patterns. All of them involve at least two members of the so-called “T14,” the nation’s 14 leading law schools according to the U.S. News rankings….

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