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« What Federal Loans Do for Law Students and Law Schools | Main | Law Students to the ABA: Wake Up, Get off the Sidelines »

11/03/2011

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BL1Y

Thousands of lives and careers at stake = Laugh your way to the bank

Billions of dollars of law professor pay at stake = Maybe think about fixing things

BH

I don't understand why you are convinced that no law professors understand this. Why do you and others persist in painting yourselves as lonely voices crying in the wilderness? No one gets it but you. What constitutes doing something-- writing blogs? Be specific: what are law professors supposed to do besides making the kinds of changes you have suggested at other times. Already, a couple of people have posted information about the kinds of things they are doing at their schools to change their curricula in response to calls for more practical training along with doctrinal training.Those things did not happen overnight, meaning law professors must have been thinking about how to implement those changes. I know personally of schools that have been changing their focus, too. Have schools been surveyed to see what they are doing to meet the challenges ahead? If not, how can the blanket charge be made that no one is thinking about this but you and Brian Tamanaha? Just because people aren't on the Internet talking about this does not mean they don't exist. And being on the Internet is not necessarily doing something. What is up with the Cassandra act?

BL1Y

BH: I doubt Mr. Henderson thinks "no" professors know about this. But, it's easy to find professors who have no idea what's going on.

"Susan Westerberg Prager, executive director of the Association of American Law Schools, said in an interview Wednesday that she had not studied the proposal of the Law School Transparency group enough to know whether it was a good one." http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/10/06/plans_announced_to_sue_15_law_schools_over_placement_data

Extremely well publicized proposal to improve job placement data, had been around for more than a year, but the AALS couldn't be bothered to study it?

A professor from Brooklyn Law recently mistakenly said on the Prawfs Blawg that law grads didn't have to pay back their loans until they met some sort of minimum income threshold.

A professors from American/Washington Law posted on Volokh that he had no idea how student loan securitization works. He teaches securitization, but this is the first time he's gotten curious about how his own industry is funded.

Finding professors expressing ignorance about the problems with law schools is easy, finding professors saying what they're doing to make things better is hard.

Lavandula

BH, I have seen a lot of plans to improve legal education coming from inside the academy, and many of them are wonderful, worthwhile things. But until the money issue is resolved, providing a better legal education is shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Even if law schools are graduating the best-prepared students in the world, if those students are unable to find employment that will allow them to use those skills and knowledge and repay the money they borrowed to acquire those skills and knowledge, it doesn't matter. What I haven't seen a lot of from inside the academy are plans to reduce the costs of legal education and make it affordable so that students who aren't wealthy can attend without racking up life-altering debt.

Brian Tamanaha

BH,

I don't paint myself a "lone wolf crying in the wilderness," nor does Bill, in my view. I agree with you that lots of professors are now aware, but we are still not fully informed.

My posts are aimed at providing essential information about the situation. I doubt that many law professors knew about the debt information laid out in my post, or about the detail on how few graduates obtained jobs as lawyers (it took work on my part to get this information).

I'm not sure why you would dismiss the value of blog posts that increase our collective knowledge of the situation, but I agree with you that blog posts won't amount to anything on their own.

The next stage, I hope, is for every faculty to sit down a take a serious look at the economics of the situation. Start with average debt and average income of the students, and see whether the numbers work. If not, chart a course of change--which must begin with reducing faculty expenses. That's a start. Without that, I agree with you, it's all hot air.

But Bill is right to suggest that if we don't do something, Congress likely will, and then it will be change we don't control.

BH

Prof. Tamanaha,

You are right. I will back down from the implication that writing blog posts is not doing something. But that was said in the context of headlines and hectoring tones suggesting that people who write blogs about this inevitably care more about this subject-- and are doing more-- than people who do not write blogs, but may be doing concrete things at their schools that no one has bothered to find out about. The posters are awake, everyone else is asleep.

@ BL1Y, There is something about the Blogosphere that makes us overvalue the information and conversations that go on here. Because a couple of profs write in comments saying they don't understand the law school debt situation, that means that law professors as a group are clueless about this. We have to keep a sense of proportion about how many people are actually keyed into sites like this-- it's a minuscule number of folks. I'm here. But I am in the decided minority of my friends and colleagues. And there is nothing wrong with that. Not everyone has to be on the Internet. It does not make us superior, or automatically more knowledgeable, because we are here. I'm just at this moment procrastinating, for which I will pay mightily later on today.
@ Lavandale- It may be, I'm sure it is, that engagements about the cost of law school would be more likely to gain traction in discussions at law schools and their professional organizations, or other venues where people actually meet face to face. Talking about this on the Internet is important, but if that venue is not the place to move things, you have to move somewhere else.

Yes, Prof. Tamanaha, Congress may do something. But Congress is going to do what Congress is going to do. Even if we "do something" (and again, what exactly is that magic thing?) Congress may still do something. Prof. Henderson rightly said in another post, that law schools need to act in the areas that are in their control (at least I think he said that). Trying to fake out or anticipate what politicians may feel inclined to do is not likely the best road to take.

BL1Y

BH, Blog posts get overvalued because it's all most of us have to gauge what's going on in the law schools.

If law schools want people to know that they're working to improve things, they need to figure out a good way to communicate that. And, some real, tangible evidence would go a long way, not merely an assure that it's being looked in to.

To answer your question about what law schools can do, how about this: Cut law professor pay by an average of $2000 (less for writing instructors, more for the $200k+ club). Take the $34 million in savings, and use it to open a nationwide network of free or low cost legal clinics, putting 750-1000 young lawyers to work, giving them the skills and experience to make them more valuable to employers down the road, and giving legal aid to under-serviced communities.

Maybe I'm missing a piece of the equation, but I'm seeing a ton of good coming from a mere 1% paycut to professors.

BH

@BL1Y-- if we are focusing on what law schools are doing to try to address the issues we are talking about, the evidence will (or will not) be there for the people at the law schools-- the students, the teachers who have a stake in the institution. You can't be surprised, or upset, when you are on the Internet demanding that people who do not know you or have any stake in you don't jump when you say jump. Again this is back to the sense of faux power and self-importance that Internet blogging, and commenting, foster.

Jon

Unfortunately, as a current 3L I have not seen evidence of change from within my school. If it is happening it is not being communicated to me and I do not have serious input on the process, which seems strange if one is serious about changing the model of education. I have, on the other hand, seen annual tuition increases of between $1,000 and $2,000 during my tenure.

BL1Y

Sorry, Jon. Law schools don't have a stake in folks like us.

Z32

For what they're worth to this conversation, I'll revisit a few of my earlier comments on Brian's 10/31 post:

As a 2008 grad with $130k loan debt, now entering the legal academy as a teaching fellow on IBR, I have been following with interest all of the blog conversations about the role/complicity of law faculty in the problems of contemporary legal education, financing, and job prospects. There is a vast generation gulf between my perspective and financial situation and that of my older colleagues. And thus far, I haven’t seen much in the blogosphere about the fact the academy will soon be seeing a wave of young faculty members with similar profiles to mine.

Although my choice of law school was worth it career-wise, if not “economically,” my take on the legal education project has been radically informed by the professional and financial napalming of recent law graduates. My loyalties are never going to lie with the perpetuation of a bloated legal academy at the expense of my students. How could they, after my experience watching the 2008/09 guillotine take down the careers of countless equally qualified peers, “managing” my own mortgage-sized debt (including through a period of recession-based unemployment), and now seeing from the inside the obliviousness of older law professors to the realities of what their students face? I don’t doubt that many aspiring academics will have resilient senses of exceptionalism, entitlement, and loyalty to hierarchy and the systems of production that formed them. But, plenty of us will be closer and more sympathetic to our students’ situation than the old guard yet realizes.

BH

@ Jon and BL1Y-- "Law schools", meaning all 200 as some sort of constructed community, do not have the stake that your particular law school has in you. Having this discussion on the Internet with people you don't even know, is not likely to be a useful way to get the kind of change that is needed. That has been my main point.

BL1Y

BH, My school doesn't have a stake in me either. I'm not likely to be mentioned as a notable alumnus, and I won't be donating a pile of money.

That has a lot to do with what's at the core of the problems with law school. Aside from the top 5-10% graduates, law schools have little reason to care what happens their students or whether the education is working for them.

Jon

BH- You assume I haven't had this discussion with folks at my law school. I've attended town hall meetings. I've filled out evaluations stating very precisely the things I think professors could improve upon. I'm sorry, but there is no way to change this system from a student's perspective. I will be voting with my dollars by not contributing any money to my law school beginning with the class gift and will tell them very honestly why I refuse to donate, but other than that there is very little I can do.

Brian Tamanaha

Z32,

Your are seeing it first hand from the inside. It's hard for us to face up to it because we don't want to believe that we are contributing to (or benefiting from) a terrible situation. And because it is too good and comfortable to change.

Patrick J. Lynch

To Jon in your last post: There may be more you can do by organizing with others who share your frustration. See for example the various attempts by student leaders to organize around the specific issue of employment disclosure, including the draft bill circulated by last year's student bar association president at Boston College Law School and the participation at this year's ABA annual meeting of the current student bar president of North Carolina Central University School of Law. I do believe there are opportunities for student leaders to share their experiences and continue finding ways to make schools more consumer-focused, but it's going to take work and in all likelihood the results will only benefit future students. Then there are the many recent graduates from across the spectrum who are now seeking representation to file lawsuits along the lines of the complaints currently facing Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Cooley, and New York Law School.

To BH generally: the effectiveness of public discourse on the internet is limited to be sure, but the reality is that - touching on what Profs Henderson and Tamanaha are arguing, and again focusing on the specific issue of employment stats - many faculty are completely unaware of how their own admissions offices advertise the job market in recruiting new students. This is true even for the faculty who understand what the job market looks like for their students and are genuinely invested in assisting students in the job market. Further, there are still many deans who have not taken the time to evaluate how their school goes about recruiting new students. We've had direct conversations with committee chairs within the Section of Legal Education who argue that deans do not actually know the tactics employed by the admissions (and to a lesser extent, career services) offices at their own schools. Part of this may be a conscious attempt to stick their heads in the sand, but another reason may simply be that they are too busy handling the many other managerial aspects of running a law school. Faculty tend to stick with what they're good at (scholarship, teaching, theoretical discourse) and tend to avoid crunching the numbers like Professor Tamanaha is doing. This is particularly true where the exercise may make them feel culpable in their complicity, something Professor Campos has been exploring in detail. Once faculty and deans are truly aware of the potential frauds being committed at their schools, and the potentially lasting harms not only to students but to their own reputations, more leaders in academia may take a stand and call for significant reform. BL1Y's commentary in particular does a good job at cutting to the root of the problem, which is important both for uninitiated faculty and the uninitiated in general.

For these reasons I think the increased awareness that can come from a discussion like this one between various stakeholders holds enormous promise insofar as faculty are listening. And if they choose not to listen, they will have more to worry about than people criticizing them on the internet.

BH

@PL I understand what you are saying. The question still turns on the most likely forum for getting this message across. This is like standing on a street corner in one part of the country and saying the same thing over and over, and getting progressively more frustrated because no one beyond your corner knows what you are saying. You can be as right as you want to be, but the effort is going to be too limiting. I understand why former students have to resort to blogs to try to deal with this.They have been talking about this for years. Law professors are piggy-backing on what they have been saying.
You are speculating about people's motives in the absence of any real effort to find out what people's thoughts are about this.

BL1Y

BH, Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Patrick's organization has contacted every ABA accredited law school. That's a bit more like standing on every street corner.

LST's efforts gained a lot of attention, and the response from the legal academy basically ran from "Pish-tosh" to "Too long, didn't read."

(And, I think it's extremely unfair to say to someone who's contact every school that he's made no real effort to find out their thoughts.)

the other Jon

Contributing to law professors' inaction is the question of what straightforward steps are available to them to reduce costs. Brian's analysis suggests that TJLS should simply vote to disband, but human beings are not going to do that. In terms of smaller steps: If my law school reduced all professors' salaries by $20,000/year, two things would happen. First, the central university administration (which takes almost all of our revenue, and then gives us some of the money back in the budgeting process) would maintain the current tuition and pocket the savings. Second, other law schools paying higher salaries would hire the new faculty we're trying to recruit. (Salaries are high in large part because the market -- bigger than any one law school -- sets them, and the sort of people who can get entry-level law professor jobs are highly credentialed and can command high salaries.) It would help with the second problem if the ABA/AALS directed *all* law schools to cut salaries, along the lines of BL1Y's suggestion, but they can't do that -- it would be an antitrust violation. Congress could impose something like that; it may be that folks here should be rooting for Congressional action, to solve the collective action problems.

Patrick J. Lynch

BH, I agree pursuing just one strategy (like blogging to hopefully establish a discourse) is too limited of an approach. That's why we've sought direct engagement with law school deans, career services directors, the ABA Section of Legal Education, state bar associations, Congress, and the press.

For the purposes of this particular forum, it will be enough if a few deans in key positions start reexamining the services their school offers in terms of real costs to the student, as well as how those services are advertised.

Going back to an earlier point, the professors participating in this forum may not be the only ones working on these issues, but they probably do represent the majority of scholars who are actually examining legal education in their scholarship. We aren't aware of many others who are focusing their scholarship on legal ed reform; if you happen to know of some I'd appreciate hearing from you.

Brian Tamanaha

Z32,

Would it be okay if I posted your 10/31 comment on Balkinization? Email me at btamanaha @ wulaw.wustl.com if you would like to discuss.

BH,

It appears that nothing any of us can do will satisfy you--we are either hectoring, piggy backing, or just blogging, and all for naught.

It's fine that you assume the stance of a skeptic taking shots. We should be reminded of our limitations. Yes, we are powerless, and blog posts are just blog posts.

But there is more going on than you realize. Owing to the blog posts, I have been invited to speak at a number of law faculties about these issues. That suggests not only that the posts are having some small impact, but furthermore that law faculties are taking these issues seriously.

I have no doubt that my posts have irritated colleagues (several have responded with unhappy emails so I know this first hand). After all, the information I am putting out does not make legal educators look good. Believe it or not, I do not relish writing these posts.

But what some people (like you) perceive as hectoring, others receive as useful information that helps them think about how best to grapple with the problems (I get appreciative emails as well).

I could say more about actions behind the scene that have a chance of producing something concrete, but will leave it at that.

I guess the best response I can offer you in the end is that, in the face of a very bad situation, it is better to do something than nothing, even if that something doesn't amount to much.

BH

You are misunderstanding my points. I have never thought that law professors are powerless. I am not "taking shots" in the sense of being nihilistic. I am just suggesting approaching this as an exercise in recrimination deflects energy, and will not likely be productive with the people you most need to bring on board.

Concerned Reader

I'm in hundreds of thousands of dollars of law school student loan debt (interest is a b*tch) and I haven't paid a penny of it back. I just fill out deferment and IBR forms, honestly state my pathetic income, and *poof* the loan payments disappear.

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Jermaine

I wonder why so much money is WASTED on 'area, enithc, cultural, and gender studies'?What is and where is the pracitical value of such questionable studies? Federal government? Politically correct state, county, and city governments?Tim Cavanaugh over at reason in his notes: "As the U.S. economy's other vital systems continue to shut down, the college diploma system still seems to be going strong. But a closer look indicates that higher ed may be heading into its final series of convulsions.Student loan defaults are up. Graduate performance in the job market is down. Bankrupt states are unable to keep public university employees in the style to which they've grown accustomed. Harvard's endowment got wiped out by future White House economic advisor Larry Summers"...

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About the Blog

  • Rising tuition. Misleading employment statistics. Inadequate skills training. Law schools have faced plenty of criticism for their role in the struggles of young lawyers today. The National Law Journal has assembled a panel of legal educators and law graduates to discuss whether law schools are facing a crisis, and how they should respond to their mounting problems.

Law School Review Contributors

  • Brian Tamanaha
    A professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law who writes about law schools on the blog Balkinization
  • Erwin Chemerinsky
    Founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law
  • John F. O’Brien
    Dean of the New England Law, Boston and chairman of the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
  • Kyle McEntee
    A 2011 graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School and the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit group advocating for legal education reform
  • Lucille Jewel
    Professor at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School who has written about the problems faced by recent law school graduates
  • Michael A. Olivas
    A professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the current president of the Association of American Law Schools
  • William Henderson
    Professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law—Bloomington who studies the legal profession

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