Update on News in the Law School World

There were a bunch of articles I couldn’t get around to this past week, and they’re worth consolidating into one post.

(1)  Law School Lawsuits

New York Law School fights class-action suit over job rates,” Thompson Reuters.

NYLS’s attorney states:

“The allegations are not only baseless, but also belied by the plaintiffs’ own complaint, which demonstrates this case has nothing to do with New York Law School and everything to do with a crusade against the entire law school industry.”

The graduates’ attorney says:

“The fact remains that when our clients paid the annual tuition of over $40,000 to attend New York Law School, they did so based on New York Law School’s misleading representation that they had an over 90 percent chance of getting a job, and that those jobs paid certain salaries,” [Jesse] Strauss said. “That representation is demonstrably false.”

We’ll see how this plays out.

(2)  University of Baltimore Law School

Karen Sloan, “Following dean’s resignation, Baltimore relents on law school money,” National Law Journal.

Debra Cassens Weiss, “U of Baltimore Law School to Retain More Money After Outgoing Dean’s Protest,” ABA Journal.

Sam Favate, “Law Schools Recover Lost Cash, As Grads Seek Tuition Refunds,” Wall Street Journal.

A few months ago, U Baltimore asked Phillip Closius to resign after he blew the whistle on the university for allegedly over-taxing the law school to pay for other university programs.

“Under the new funding agreement, an estimated 90% of the funds generated by the law school will return to it, [Baltimore Law Professor] Meyerson said. The arrangement ensures that law student tuition will not increase next year. Students were informed by e-mail that the administration would try to minimize future tuition increases.”

A year without tuition increases is good, but whether they will occur is indisputable.

(3)  Irate Senators

Coburn, Boxer Call for Department of Education to Examine Questions of Law School Transparency,” Office of Senator Barbara Boxer.

Senators Barbara Boxer’s and Tom Coburn’s joint press release opens with, “To help better inform Congress as it prepares to reform the Higher Education Act…” Reform the HEA? What’s on the table here? This is the first I’ve heard of planned HEA reform. Returning to the lawsuits:

The New York Times found the same school [NYLS] is ranked in the bottom third of all law schools in the country and has tuition and fees set at $47,800 a year but reported to prospective students median starting salaries rivaling graduates of the best schools in the nation “even though most of its graduates, in fact, find work at less than half that amount.”

Ouch. Even if NYLS wins its motion to dismiss, it’ll still have to convince legislators that it’s not doing anything wrong.

Other reports question whether or not law schools are properly disclosing their graduation rates to prospective students.

Graduation rates? I’ve never heard of law schools concealing their graduation rates.

The senators then ask the Department of Education to provide them with the following things:

1. The current enrollments, as well as the historical growth of enrollments, at American law schools – in the aggregate, and also by sector (i.e., private, public, for-profit).

2. Current tuition and fee rates, as well as the historical growth of tuition and fees, at American law schools – in the aggregate, and also by sector (i.e., private, public, for-profit).

3. The percentage of law school revenue generated that is retained to administer legal education, operate law school facilities, and the percentage and dollar amount used for other, non-legal educational purposes by the broader university system. If possible, please provide specific examples of what activities and expenses law school revenues are being used to support if such revenue does not support legal education directly.

4. The amount of federal and private educational loan debt legal students carried upon graduation, again in the aggregate and across sectors.

5. The current bar passage rates and graduation rates of students at American law schools, again in the aggregate and across sectors.

6. The job placement rates of American law school graduates; indicating whether such jobs are full- or part-time positions, whether they require a law degree, and whether they were maintained a year after employment.

Enrollments and tuition are publicly available, though it may require dumpster-diving into paper editions of the Official Guide to go back ten years (1. & 2.). Revenue will be in universities’ hands (3.). I’ll publish federal and private debt data very soon (4.). Graduation and bar passage rates are mostly available in the Official Guide. I use “mostly” because bar exam data are published in calendar years while graduation rates are in school years, and not all graduates immediately take the bar exam (5.). Job placement rates? Good luck prying that from the law schools or NALP. The primary difficulty with legal education reform via self-reported employment data by law school is that it’s trying to gather the highest-hanging fruit to reform the system when BLS data already tell us there’s a structural overproduction of juris doctors (6.).

(4)  Can law schools save themselves?

Kyle McEntee & Patrick J. Lynch (“LST”), “Do law schools defraud students?New York Post.

Brian Tamanaha, “The Depth and Breadth of Misleading Employment Numbers by Law Schools (And How to Solve It),” Balkinization.

These two pieces bring up some subtle points worth my editorializing. First, the LST editorial refers to prospective law students as “consumers,” a term I dislike not because it hints of mindless consumerism, but because it tries to take a neutral view of the Direct Loan Program. For instance:

This year, ABA-approved law schools will get at least $4 billion in taxpayer support, thanks to the government’s decision in 2010 to directly lend to students. But when graduates can’t find jobs that allow full loan repayment, they either default or sign up for hardship programs. The taxpayers are on the hook for the lost interest income and unpaid loan principal.

So isn’t the Direct Loan Program the bigger problem rather than law school employment data? It’s not the law schools’ fault that the bank is knowingly loaning money to students whom it knows will not work as attorneys according to its own employment projections. Maybe the government shouldn’t nationalize credit markets and then guarantee the loans to itself.

There are a few more points I disagreed with in the editorial, but I didn’t start this blog to criticize transparency advocates when they’re not the ones profiting from the current system. The important line, though, is towards the end:

Whether tuition drops because consumers finally receive the real employment statistics, or because the government stops lending essentially unlimited amounts of money to students, schools will need to either reimagine the kind of education they provide or close down.

Okay, I give LST credit for putting Direct Loan reform on the table, but there are two false dilemmas in this passage. One, the choice is not between transparency and student debt reform. Both are necessary. Two, LST is offering the legal academy a Biblical ultimatum: Reform or close, which assumes there’s a face-saving option for law schools. There is none. Law schools will close, regardless of what reforms they choose to implement and especially if they essentially admit to the public that they are nonperforming institutions wasting Direct Loan dollars, or worse, wasting Direct Loan dollars and redirecting them to other university programs.

Contrast LST’s internal reform belief with Brian Tamanaha’s suggested transparency proposal:

The law school funny number problem is out of control. And it won’t stop on its own. Anyone who thinks the fix will come from the current ABA efforts to provide greater transparency is deluded.

There is only one possible solution in the short run. The deans at the top 20 law schools must sit together in a room, agree on the standards, and personally guarantee the veracity of what they report. All the other law schools will follow (or be embarrassed by continuing to post ridiculously implausible salary numbers). This must be done soon, before the next cycle of numbers comes around.

Tamanaha’s solution is realistic, but it comes with two costs. One, he knows full well that the transparency trickle-down effect will wipe out the unranked law schools because no one will take U.S. News’s rankings seriously if the Ivy League law schools all suddenly dropped into the middle hundred. Second, look at who’s in charge here. The most reputable law schools potentially have more power than the ABA Section of Legal Education, which is nominally superior to them. It would be quite a rebuke of the Section indeed.

Tamanaha’s proposal, though, is the limit of what some law schools can do to save themselves. Mandating or shaming law schools into disclosing that their graduates have poor career prospects is all but asking them to commit suicide as well as potentially open themselves up to more lawsuits.

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2 Responses

  1. “To help better inform Congress as it prepares to reform the Higher Education Act…”

    I noticed this statement as well when I read Boxer’s letter. I thought I was being too much of a lawyer by reading into it…..HOWEVER, you caught onto it as well. I think something big is coming. My only issue with that letter is that it mentions a ten year window. The investigation should go back further because the problem (law schools gaming the rankings) has persisted for years. When I went to law school 15 years ago, there was no internet or scambloggers. I only relied on US News and World Report when I applied. Turns out the market was flooded when I went to law school. The only evidence I had that this was the case was when during my second year I saw the movie, “The Devil’s Advocate” with Al Pacino. In that movie he mentioned that there were more law student then lawyers. Granted, this movie was fiction but I looked up the stats and asked questions, his statement was true even then.

  2. I can only hope that this means the government will be more judicious when issuing student loans.

    It’d be better if Federal student loans would disappear altogether.

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