September 3, 2014

Is your University short of cash? Just increase law school tuition.

Let’s say you’re the dean of a law school on the East Coast with just four years as dean under your belt. As your accomplishments, you can list the following:

  • Increasing the school’s US News Ranking from 170 to 117
  • Higher bar passage than when hired
  • A new building almost completed
  • Securing a donor willing to plunk down enough cash to put his name on the school.

What’s the result? How about a call from the president of the university to ask for your resignation?

That’s what has happened to University of Baltimore Dean Phil Closius.

Yep. Because he complained that the law students shouldn’t be subsidizing the rest of the university.

Heck, not even that. He just complained that the School of Law should not subsidize the rest of the University as much as it was. Over the last year, University of Baltimore School of Law revenues have increased $1,455,650, but the law school’s budget itself has only increased $80,774. For those of you, like myself, who attended law school because math was not their strong suit, that’s a difference of $1,374,876.

Where is all that extra law school tuition going? Not the law school. Not for more professors and smaller classes. Not for more law school scholarships, building improvements, clinics, workshops, internships, or career training (which is sadly lacking in most law schools). Nope. It’s going to elsewhere in the University of Baltimore.

Rather than increasing tuition so that the School of Law can better prepare its students to compete in a ho-hum legal market, the University is fleecing them. In other words, law students are going to graduate with an average of $90,000 in debt because the University was greedy.

And Phil Closius had the gall to speak out against it. From his resignation letter:

Every seven years, the ABA inspects law schools for renewal of their accreditation. The law faculty drafted a self study in the spring of 2010 as part of our ABA reinspection process. The percentage of law revenue retained by the University was emphasized as a significant concern of the faculty in that document. I believe a law school dean has a continuing responsibility to share accurate data regarding the law school and its operations. In the past year, I distributed the financial data I had to the faculty and the Dean’s Advisory Board in order to inform them about the increasing scope of the problem. Both bodies were concerned about the continued ability of the law school to reach its potential without sufficient funding and the inequity of charging law students increasingly high tuition and fees if a significant percentage of those funds were not directly benefitting the law school. Both the faculty and the alumni insisted that I continue in my efforts to obtain more financial data and a University agreement to decrease its retention percentage over time. I was criticized by the central administration for sharing the financial data with the faculty and my advisory board. University officials also stated that providing funding for the continued improvement of the School of Law was not a high priority for the University.

Awkward…especially when the ABA came back and said that it ought to be a high priority for the University.

We were inspected this last academic year and the University and I received the final report of the ABA Accreditation Committee on July 27. The report generally praised the condition of the law school but indicated a concern, among others, about the substantial amount of money the law school contributes to the University and the lack of a University explanation of a rationale by which the money retained by the University is determined. The ABA Committee requested that the University President and Dean submit a report by March 12, 2012 which provides in part a rationale for the School of Law’s share of costs for non-law school activities and central administration services and information about any agreement between the Law School and the University regarding a fair process by which the Law School’s contribution to the University for direct and indirect costs will be determined. The day after receipt of the ABA report, I was asked to resign.

I hope US News is reading this, and that it slaps the University of Baltimore back down to 170 and the subsequent drop in law school applications. Perhaps when U of B is hit where it obviously needs help–in its wallet–its Harvard educated President will start investing in law school, and thereby the students, rather than ripping them off and limiting their career opportunities with a mountain load of debt.

(See also “Law School Economics: Ka-ching” in the New York Times on how law school tuition has increased four times the rate of undergraduate tuition, but without any corresponding increase in post-JD compensation…all while we’ve got the biggest recession in legal employment in our history going on).

(h/t Above the Law)

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thinking about law school? Better check the ROI.

(Gavel Bang: TheBestColleges via Above the Law)

That’s a lot of weed…

L.O.L of the day is brought to you by the Namby Pamby:

Attorney: According to our office manager, you are $5,000 short for the retainer payment.

Client: But I already paid you five! Do you know how much weed I had to sell to get that??!?

This is why you want to become a lawyer.

via Don’t tell me that « The Namby Pamby.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Sad Truth: Why We Went to Law School

No more “third-tier toilet” for you to worry about?

With the release of U.S. News law school rankings comes a new style of ranking. No longer will school lower than 100 be grouped and unranked together.

Yup, that’s right: say goodbye to the term “TTT,” or “third-tier toilet.” Now these schools get individual numerical ratings, instead of being lumped into an undifferentiated “third tier.” And now Justice Clarence Thomas won’t have to defend his law clerks against allegations of TTT-hood.

If you’re not sure what exactly a TTT is, you might check here.

Not that it’ll make a difference. If you’re not in the top of the top tier, you’re better looking for  regional school in the area you want to work post graduation, and for that, ranking won’t really help you that much, anyway.

Even then, as I’ve noted in previous posts, in contrast to what law schools are marketing, there’s no guarantee that law school will be the road to wealth and prestige that you thought it was, let alone pay off your student loans before your kids get out of college and start paying down their own student loans.

(h/t  Above the Law: A Legal Tabloid – News and Colorful Commentary on Law Firms and the Legal Profession).

IT’S ABOUT TIME: U.S. News Encourages Law Schools To ‘Fess Up on Employment Rates – Law Blog – WSJ

NEWTON - MAY 22:  Law students take part in Bo...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The rest of the legal world, and the legions of recent law grads that are unemployed and underemployed, already know this: law schools lie.

Not directly, mind you. They just fudge the numbers. Now, finally, U.S. News, the leading source for the all important law school rankings, will  “encourage” law schools to come clean on the real numbers.

It appears that the magazine is going to take a closer look at law schools’ real success at landing jobs for graduates in ranking schools. On Thursday, Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News, noted in this blog post that the magazine will alter how it calculates employment rates in its rankings to more accurately capture the “current state of legal employment.”

And it’s about time they did.

How big a problem is it? Or rather, how big a problem is it getting to be? Check out this graph by Paul Caron and posted by Bill Henderson and Andrew Morriss at Legal Profession Blog:

See how the increase in schools not reporting starts to spike in 2010? I’d speculate that’s because it’s getting harder for schools to prove to applicants that they can count on a job right after graduation, this all while increasing tuition. There are just too many disgruntled lawyers out there. (I recently participated in mock interviews at my alma mater, and every single student noted dramatically higher tuition over the previous year and fears about their ability to pay).

Why aren’t law schools reporting the numbers? Because they lack the incentive. They’re focused on getting highly qualified students, the people who are paying tuition, not on making sure they send out highly employed lawyers. The ABA checks on bar passage rates, not on employment rates.

Hear it from Henderson and Morriss:

We would like to suggest to our colleagues in the legal academy that we are approaching an endgame.  Here is the reality:  prospective students are not being given an accurate picture of their future employment prospects.  Why? Because we are all focused on filling next year’s class with as many high credential students as possible, thereby protecting our school’s place in the pecking order.  Our focus is so shockingly narrow that, from the outside looking in, it appears that our intent is to deceive incoming students.  Brian Kelly’s letter to the deans essentially makes that point–law schools fall short on candor and ethical behavior.

A stinging indictment, but all too correct. Think it’ll make a difference, though? Will the law schools listen when their rankings take a hit from a change in the calculus?

I have a proposal to shift the incentive back to the law schools: start requiring them to assist in in the financing of their student’s legal education. I don’t mean scholarships or grants–I mean financing. Make them borrow the money, and make students borrow the money–if that’s what a student is going to do–from the law school.

The result? Rather than force students to go out and get education loans to pay upfront–from the government, from banks, from their parents– requiring law schools to carry the loans would have the students pay them back to the schools. Suddenly, the school has a very real interest in making sure they are finding jobs, not taking on more students than they can help to employment, are gearing their education towards employment, and are vested in the employment prospects of their students.

A little radical, you say? Maybe so. But right now, the cards are all in the law schools’ hands, and they aren’t playing fair.  It’s time for  them to come clean on  law students’ prospects upon graduation.

via U.S. News Encourages Law Schools To ‘Fess Up on Employment Rates – Law Blog – WSJ.

Some Advice on Job Interviews

Bow Ties
Image by shindohd via Flickr

If you know me, you know that I occasionally sport a bow tie. I’ve even been introduced as “the bow tie guy.” However, when I showed up for the interview for my current employment, sporting a black suit and a colorful bow tie, I was tactfully told by my future boss that I was probably over-dressed. Just a tad.

Yeah. The bow tie was out. I wear khakis and a tie, now. And on Fridays, Levis.

But I still landed the job. You see, they liked me. Let me explain.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to take part in mock interviews up at the local law school as an interviewer for 1Ls just beginning their second semester of school. It was a surreal experience to find myself on the other side of the table, to remember my own similar experience just a few years ago, and to wonder how I presented myself at that time.

To be sure, I did not have a lot of opportunities to interview–when I finished my first semester of law school, the economy was slumping, and the law industry was about to enter one of its biggest slumps in years. On-campus interviewers were few, and I lost track of how many resumes I sent out and how many rejection letters I received back. “Bullets,” my dad called them, harking back to his own grad school experience of job applications, because they were like gun shots to the ego. For a while I kept them, like badges of honor, until I realized that they just took up space, and besides, I got a better job that had not required a letter, anyway.

Which brings me back to where I was going: the interview and why I landed a job. A few observations, both from my experience and from talking with the mock interviewees up at the SJ Quinney College of Law earlier this week. Each impressed me as articulate, accomplished, and intelligent. They’ll make good advocates for their clients someday.

1. First observation: few law students have a clue about what they can do with their law degree, or, for that matter, what they want to do with a JD, other than pay off their loans. As I spoke with these students, most of them gave vague answers about their plans in terms of wanting to work for themselves, or work ineither transactions or litigation. It was clear they had little awareness for how broad a world the law encompasses within those categories.

Ironically, I don’t think I knew much better when I showed up to my interview wearing that bow tie. However, when asked, I immediately answered that I wanted to be an effective attorney, and I left it at that, without frills or garnishment. And that’s all my boss was looking for–an attorney to lighten his work load, albeit one he could get along with.

2. Which leads to my second observation: interviewees should try to be interesting and also interested, too. If you are in an interview, you are on paper at least minimally sufficient for the job. The question becomes Would I want to spend a lot of time with this person? All of the students I interviewed were interesting, and I don’t think any of them were unlikeable. However, there were some that made me feel more relaxed than others, and those were the ones I would want to hire. They also asked questions, were curious about what I did, what the office was like, and what skills I used.  In the law, or out of it, you spend a lot of time working, maybe even more time than at home, and you might as well work with people you like.

3. Last observation: law students think about future income, a lot, maybe too much.  As law students, unless they have a ton of savings, a sugar daddy, or some other way to pay for law school, they’re taking on a lot of debt. I know that, and every interviewer, unless they’re completely disconnected from reality, knows that. Nevertheless, it was disconcerting when interviewees noted, sometimes at length, that they were most concerned about how much debt they would have.Its a valid concern, but I don’t think it conveys to the right thing in an interview. It says: I need a job, any job, not I am an asset to you, which is really what theinterviewee should be saying. My advice: leave off the salary talk until the topicis brought up by the interviewer, and even then, deflect it until you’ve landed the job. At that point, the firm/company has made their decision, and you can negotiate from a stronger position. It’s going to come up; just don’t bring it up in your first meeting.

To sum up: if you’re a law student, start thinking about what you can do with a law degree, be interesting and interested, and don’t talk about your debt or income needs. Evaluate your interests, go to breakfast or lunch with people doing what you want to do, and start planning for it. Opportunities usually come while making other plans, but you only find those opportunities when you are out making, and working, those plans. We are drawn to a person with a plan, interviewers included. It shows leadership and that elusive, amorphous “self-starter” junk that seems over-advertised and under-available (why else would just about every legal listing be asking for a “self-starter”).

On the other hand, if a recent article on KSL.com is any indication, law schools could do more to help. Some already do a lot.  I do recall a few lunch time events that brought in various practitioners to talk about things like how they got where they are, as well as a solo practice seminar during the summer.  There was also workshops on networking and resume building, and opportunities for lunches with the local legal community. However, many, if not all, of my professors had very little experience outside of the university, and what experience they did have was usually in consulting. There were a few glaring exceptions (Ralph Mabey, a bow tie guy like myself, Amos Guiora, and Daniel Medwed are among a few exceptions at Utah’s SJ Quinney College of Law), but for the most part, most professors seem to have little experience looking for work, looking for clients, or the hustling necessary to make a good legal practice fly (or even find a job outside of a strictly legal career). It’s hard to ask a professor for career advice when most of their career has been in the ivory tower (which, recently, has come under attack for ostensibly bad ideas).

What would it take to bring in a rain maker or two, perhaps an upper level executive or entrepreneur who happens to also have a law degree? Even an occasional lunch or evening seminar with such individuals would broaden and expand the scope of law student career aspirations and ideas. Students shouldn’t have to wait until the have passed the bar to start looking around to form career paths.

As for me and my bow tie, well, I still wear it, just not to the office. It was the interview that landed me the job, not my cloths or my GPA, either.