Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 6, 2014 in Unsolicited Commentary
One of the things I’ve been dabbling with during my most-recent extended absence from law:/dev/null has been the near-daily stream of news stories about police going totally bonkers while carrying out their once-upon-a-time mission to “serve and protect.”
It started out with a one-off rant on Facebook two Septembers ago, about Jonathan Farrell getting gunned down by Charlotte Police while going to them for help after a car accident.
Then, before the day was even out, there was a different news story about the NYPD shooting innocent bystanders while trying to take down a mentally ill man. I added as a joke (because a number of my FB friends are flaming liberals) that we needed cop control more than gun control.
That was it. Two news stories that happened to be on the same day, followed by some banter about whether or not I should be allowed to own my Smith & Wesson M&P9 with three fully loaded 17-round clips.
But then there was a toddler in Georgia.
And a professor in Arizona.
And a photographer in Texas.
Before I really noticed it I’d posted 72 of these stories, adopting a “Warrior Cops Gone Wild!” motif similar to the late-night ads for the college girl videos. Somehow on top of those 72 posts I’d still amassed a queue of 69 unposted entries, and kept getting new material all. the. time.
(See, e.g., the non-indictment of Mike Brown’s killer in Missouri, the non-indictment of Eric Garner’s killer in New York, or the LAPD gunning down a man last night amid dozens of tourists just two days after their own police chief admitted they like to use excessive force.)
It’s some disturbing sh*t that just gets more disturbing as time goes on.
And I’m not really sure what to do about it. I’m certainly not the first person to document that police brutality exists. I don’t have any special influence with any decision-makers who could change anything. I’m also not really the protest type.
But I am an attorney, and a constitutionalist, and a small government conservative who isn’t that big a fan of the police state we’re becoming — and damn sure not a fan of a police state freed of the shackles of due process.
I feel like I need to do something.
I’m open to suggestions. Because something has to change.
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 24, 2014 in Unsolicited Commentary
Earlier this week one of my good friends and occasional law:/dev/null commenter VA forwarded me a story out of Florida Coastal School of Law, which is apparently in the process of searching for a new dean.
The entry comes from Richard Gershon over at the “Law Deans on Legal Education Blog” in an entry titled “Florida Coastal Dean Search Raises Deeper Issues”. From the story it sounds like the faculty got to see presentations from the 7 finalists for the dean job, but cut one of those presentations short when their sensibilities got offended.
Here’s a snippet:
The disturbing part of the report involves a candidate who raised concerns about the school’s declining student credentials and bar pass rates. That candidate was asked to leave in the middle of the lunch presentation. The candidate resisted, but was told that security would be called to remove the candidate from campus. This all happened in the view of about 40 faculty and staff present at this presentation, which was being recorded so others who were teaching class could see it later.
Th concerns raised by the dean candidate are supported by publicly available information showing that the 2013 entering class at Coastal had the following 75/50/25 LSAT profile: (148/144/141). Reports indicate that the students who have placed seat deposits in 2014 have a virtually identical profile as the 2013 entering class.
The LSAT in 2008 and 2009 was (153/150/147). In 2010 the numbers were (152/149/146). The decline continued in the succeeding years (151/147/145) in 2011 and (151/146/143) in 2012.
As might have been predicted, the weaker entering class of 2010 had a low bar pass rate, 67% for first time takers on the July 2013 Florida bar. This was the first time in several years that Florida Coastal had dropped below 70%.
At first I thought there was no possible way the story could be accurate. To borrow VA’s words, “And it was to the FACULTY… it wasn’t like ‘Hey, students, you go to a crap school!'” — but after seeing the first comment on the blog entry, from a FCSL professor who doesn’t dispute the account of events but simply notes “The entire Florida Coastal Community works hard to help our students do well on the bar,” now I’m inclined to believe it.
I don’t know how that story reads to the folks in academia, but as a lawyer on the outside all I see is “We don’t want to be held accountable!” If FCSL’s student profile climbed, and bar passage rates didn’t climb accordingly, it would be painfully obvious the faculty are at least partly responsible for the failure; now though, by accepting students with “declining credentials,” the faculty can blame any shortcoming in the pass rate on the caliber of student they’re letting in.
Then to make it worse, after throwing a temper tantrum about now wanting to be held accountable, they threaten to have the person offending them escorted from the premises by security? Wow.
Evidently legal education is in more trouble than I thought…
From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 5, 2013 in Unsolicited Commentary
For reasons still unknown to me — I’m assuming the resumed trial (and yesterday’s conviction) of NC NAACP chairman Rev. William Barber II — I’ve gotten near-nonstop flak this week over my involvement defending some of the 900+ people arrested by the Government during the Moral Mondays protests at the North Carolina General Assembly.
Which normally wouldn’t be that annoying (I have strongly opinionated friends ), except that this go-round it’s been a bombardment from all over the political spectrum.
My conservative friends had long ago labeled me a pariah for defending “Commies, hippies, and other people who don’t bathe” as one person put it. The very first time I mentioned thinking about helping, one of my good friends from undergrad simply replied “oh you better not!”
But then this week I’ve also had several liberals asking me “who thought everyone getting arrested was a good idea?” and “what were they thinking?” and “tell me what this all accomplished?” — as if I played any role in the protests themselves or cared an iota about the movement’s success-or-lack-thereof.
A not-uncommon query this week
And there’ve even been what I’d consider the apolitical folks, who are just plain flummoxed that people can still be arrested (and convicted! ) for things like self-evident political speech, and more flummoxed still that similarly situated protestors could end up with totally different verdicts in their respective cases.
So when I got an email over the listserv earlier today from a well-respected attorney helping with the defense, pontificating over how best to advance the politics of the Moral Mondays protests, I did one of these and typed an almost-ALLCAPS rant in response…
…then I took a few deep breaths, removed the inflammatory stuff, and sent the following:
From: T Greg Doucette
To: MM Lawyers Listserv
Date: December 5, 2013 @ 11:21 AM
I’d respectfully argue that whether “a litigious approach [is] the best way” for “helping the advancement of the MM issues” is a minor side issue, because what’s going on with these cases long ago transcended the Moral Monday stuff and is now about the bedrock principles of a free society.
Now I’ll concede up-front that (1) I’m just a baby lawyer and (2) I’m an unabashed Republican who didn’t participate in the Moral Monday protests and agrees with very very (very) few of the items the group was promoting. So take this entire email with several grains of salt as each of you sees fit.
But the whole reason I agreed to take on any of these cases was because it seemed mind-bogglingly outrageous to me that North Carolina taxpayers could be arrested en masse for obvious political speech in the very legislative building paid for by those very taxpayers for the very purpose of hashing out political issues. Even if I wholly disagreed with the content of their speech, I’d never try to have someone locked up over it (if for no other reason than I’d like to have the option of protesting one day when the political pendulum inevitably swings in the other direction).
It’s the kind of shameless abuse of power I (naïvely) figured the government would have stopped doing a long time ago after taking ConLaw in law school. It’s outrageous regardless of which party’s in power. And the Judiciary, at some level, needs to weigh in and remind the Executive Branch that jailing dissidents isn’t how we do business in the United States of America.
Anyhow, please forgive the imperious rant — thanks to everyone for their work so far, keep it up, let me know where us baby lawyers can continue helping, and let’s all pray the judges come to their respective senses on the rest of these cases
That about sums up my thoughts on these prosecutions: they’re an abomination.
Not to mention an audacious choice for a State that every April 12th celebrates the adoption of the Halifax Resolves — the first official action of any of the colonies calling for independence from Britain (talk about a protest!).
And while the initial arrests were wrong, I’d argue the prosecutions are worse; unlike police, District Attorneys are lawyers who (at least theoretically) had to learn about the Constitution and the First Amendment in order to pass the bar exam.
With the guilty convictions racking up, it seems obvious the decisions have already been made at the meat-grinder/District Court level. I just hope the Superior Court — or the appellate courts if it comes to that — correct this particular abuse of power and as a result send a message about future abuses.
Because moreso than global warming or eeeevil 1%ers or any of the other boogeymen the political Left insists will lead to my demise, this is the type of thing that causes me to lose sleep at night.
From the law:/dev/null “Excellence in Government” archives:
From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 1, 2012 in Unsolicited Commentary
Good evening y’all!
One of the things I try to do every morning (before venturing out into the world with my bow and arrow) is running through the mini-feed of the NC SPICE Twitter account and looking for any useful or interesting stories that might be helpful to the solo and small practitioners we serve. It helps them out, and has the side benefit of keeping me informed about what’s going on in the world.
And every now and then I come across stories that just kinda make me scratch my head…
The good folks over at Solo Practice University had one of those tweets this morning:
Seemed like an innocuous-enough tweet so I clicked the link, and was taken to this press release from the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. It outlines the planned testimony earlier today of “Legal Trailblazer Gillian Hadfield,” a professor at the law school, who insists “the legal system’s regulatory approach needs to dramatically shift with less-expensive alternatives to attorneys[.]”
As part of her prepared remarks, the release claims:
“My main message for the Court is one rarely heard from the legal profession,” Hadfield said. “There is no way to generate the kind of legal help ordinary Americans need without fundamental change in the way the judiciary regulates the practice of law… We cannot possibly solve the access to justice problem without changes in our regulatory approach.”
Now I don’t know who Gillian Hadfield is; I’m sure she’s a great lady and a sage scholar of the law. And I’ll even go a step further and accept at face value the claim that her “message” of needed regulatory reform “is one rarely heard from the legal profession.”
But she teaches at USC Law.
A school with annual tuition and fee rates of $51,490.00 in 2012-2013.
The 6th most-expensive law school in the nation.
Take a minute to juxtapose Hadfield’s view promoting non-lawyer lawyers with the long-standing lamentation law schools flooded the market with too many graduates. I think those complaints are wrong — the problem isn’t too many lawyers, it’s too many lawyers trying to bill out $250+ an hour so they can repay student loan debts in excess of a quarter-million dollars apiece — but the contrast highlights how completely backwards the discussion over the legal market has gotten.
If you want to promote deregulation of the legal industry, say on the notion that more competition would induce more innovation and produce a better product, then go for it. At least that’s a plausible argument and frankly one I’d support.
But to promote deregulation on the mind-numbing theory there’s an undersupply of legal help available, all while enriching yourself via (and thus contributing to) one of the top drivers behind inflated legal rates, is beyond farcical.
The press release closes by noting Professor Hadfield’s valiant efforts to tame her employer:
She is part of a growing movement to reform legal education. Her mission is to teach law students to be problem solvers.
“Many law professors come to law school thinking that our job is to be the expert at the front of the class imparting information,” she said. “But one of the most important things we can do for our students is to get them actively engaged in problem-solving together to generate workable solutions to client problems. As I see it, my job as a professor is to design the materials and opportunities for them to do that and then to take myself out of center stage as much as possible.”
With due respect to the esteemed Professor Hadfield, if you really want to “take [yourself] out of center stage as much as possible” I’d suggest you encourage USC Law to lead by example and slash its tuition and fee rates.
Approach that objective with even a fraction of the zeal you’ve devoted to deregulating the entire legal profession, and I suspect you’d discover there is a “way to generate the kind of legal help ordinary Americans need”: producing lawyers ordinary Americans can actually afford to hire.
From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 9, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary
After more than 2 years of writing here at law:/dev/null, I’ve done a reasonably decent job of keeping the “real world” politics to a minimum — not because I’m averse to talking about those sorts of issues, but because law school is enough of a headache without me going into AN ALL-CAPS RAGE about the latest controversy du jour.
Even so, every now and then I feel a slight urge to rant
Earlier tonight I took a break from drowning in homework to visit Chapel Hill for “An Evening with Five Presidents”, an event put together by the UNC Board of Governors featuring a panel discussion with the 5 folks who have led the consolidated University of North Carolina since it was established in 1972. Former BOG members were asked to attend as “special friends” of the University — and since I’m more likely to find a job lead from one of these folks than anything my GPA will get me, I figured making the academic sacrifice was a rational choice
Anyhow, the wide-ranging discussion included more-than-a-few remarks about the proper way to fund the University and the totally absurd tuition increases being discussed behind closed doors (e.g. $4K+ increase at UNCCH for in-state undergrads over the next couple years ). Unfortunately those are the kinds of conversations that happen when newly-Republican-led state legislatures gore the higher education system and nuke $1 of every $7 overnight.
It’s obvious from the General Assembly’s actions that legislators have a dim view of the university system, I’m just thoroughly flummoxed as to why. It’s always made intuitive sense to me that the education sector is one of the few options that are a sensible and eminently capitalist choice for investing taxpayers’ money.
Yes, I just said “eminently capitalist.” Maybe I’m biased because of the modest upbringing and former dropout status, but consider two brief reasons:
The Social Network Effect:
Folks who’ve spent time in a computer science class have probably already heard of the “Metcalfe Effect”, named after Ethernet founder Robert Metcalfe. He argued that a critical mass of users was necessary to create any value in any particular network; for example, one person having a telephone is worthless, but as more people get telephones all current telephone users benefit. Economists refer to this as a positive network externality.
The Metcalfe Effect in computer science: for a network of (n) nodes, the total number of possible connections is (n * (n - 1)) / 2
You can see a visual depiction in the photo on the right. The Metcalfe Effect can actually be expressed as a mathematical formula — (n * (n-1)) / 2 — indicating the total number of possible connections between n nodes in a network. 2 nodes: 1 connection. 5 nodes: 10 connections. 12 nodes: 66 connections. And so on.
Universities are essentially big incubators for a human-centric Metcalfe Effect, creating what I’d describe as a Social Network Effect. Thousands of people voluntarily choose to come into a given geographic area, sharing a common institutional affiliation for 4 years at a stretch, and in the process inevitably form connections (their social network) with those around them.
Now is every one of N.C. State‘s 33,000+ students going to connect with the other 32,299+? Of course not. But in the aggregate, more connections are formed than would be otherwise.
I’ve seen this Social Network Effect get routinely derided by conservative pundits for years — “We’re supposed to be teaching kids to get jobs! Not to have fun!” blah blah blah rabble rabble rabble.
But the criticisms overlook basic realities of how economics works: information asymmetry is an impediment to maximum economic efficiency, and our personal networks help to distribute information and reduce that asymmetry as a result. This is the reason why the extent and quality of your personal network influences the resources you can obtain.
To make a long story short (these kinds of debates can get über-long), basically with the Social Network Effect at universities you get more people forging more numerous and economically higher-quality connections with more other people, producing a greater quantity and quality of economic interaction — better matches between employers and employees, producers and consumers, new business ventures, and so on.
The Foundational Knowledge Effect:
I couldn’t come up with a cool-sounding name for this one
One of my minors at N.C. State was in economics, and to get there we had to read a lot of different books / essays / writings / etc. Out of everything economics-related that I’ve read, economist William Easterly’s The Elusive Quest for Growth ranks among my Top 2 favorites.
A former economist with the World Bank, Easterly’s book discusses the various “panaceas” touted by the developed world for trying to improve third-world countries (things like debt forgiveness, building schools, and the like) and why most of them simply don’t work. While the book overall is excellent, what particularly jumped out to me in reading it was Easterly’s thorough exploration of the role of knowledge in the economy.
In a nutshell: knowledge is cumulative and builds off of itself.
This is why, if you look at the economic growth rates of various countries over the last century, countries tend to hit a certain point where their per capita GDP accelerates exponentially rather than just linearly — the “core” level of knowledge among the populace hits a threshold point where it can then take greater advantage of new advances and discoveries, accelerating growth further and leading to even more such discoveries.
As an example, you couldn’t simply teleport back to California in 1900, give someone the laptop you brought with you, and expect Silicon Valley to spring up decades ahead of time when the country hasn’t seen a radio or TV yet. Easterly discusses this reality in the context of African tribes cut off from the outside world, suddenly immersed in modern tech innovations when approached by missionaries: they pick up on it eventually, it just takes a long time when that foundational knowledge doesn’t exist.
Just like universities are great voluntary creches for nurturing social networks, so too are they among the most-effective means for building “core” knowledge in the populace. The widespread ubiquity of technology, access to the latest research, the exposure to knowledge that comes from building a social network in itself — all of this contributes to everyone’s foundation of knowledge, enabling a higher degree of economic growth at a faster pace than we’d have otherwise simply from mere exposure to it (and even more if it’s retained).
I have to cut this entry here because WordPress says I’ve already hit 1,300 words, but my main point is this: the Social Network Effect and the Foundational Knowledge Effect, taken together, lead to a situation where the economic loss that comes from taxing away private money and diverting it to a public purpose is recouped and then outweighed by the economic gain from reducing information asymmetry and increasing the scope and speed of innovation in the marketplace.
In other words, just looking at the economics alone and ignoring any other incidental benefits, funding the University of North Carolina is a net benefit for the State and its taxpayers.
The conservatives in the North Carolina General Assembly should take notice and give embodiment to the words written in Article IX, Section 9 of the State’s Constitution: “The General Assembly shall provide that the benefits of The University of North Carolina and other public institutions of higher education, as far as practicable, be extended to the people of the State free of expense.”
And I might be going out on a limb here, but I’d guess cutting 15% of the University’s budget and prompting 4-figure tuition increases don’t really mesh with that.
Have a good night y’all!
From the law:/dev/null Unsolicited Commentary archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 12, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary
Tonight’s entry was originally going to focus on some of the economic unpleasantness unfolding at NCCU Law courtesy of our state legislature’s emasculation of North Carolina’s university system.
But Twitter is temporarily sending me in a different direction
One of the highlights from attending the ABA’s Annual Meeting was finding out who are among the most prolific law Tweeters, most of whom used the #ABAannual hashtag to keep their followers updated on what was going on.
Is reasonable reliance on law school stats even possible in the Google era?
David Pardue of @georgiatriallaw is one of those folks, and he mentioned this story in the Wall Street Journal about a class action lawsuit filed against Cooley Law School (by its own graduates) over the school’s disclosed employment statistics.
I’ve posted our Twitter convo on the right so you’ve got an idea of where this entry is going
Now let me preface the rest of my commentary by saying I don’t disagree with anything David has tweeted. He’s right about the reasonableness of these students’ reliance on Cooley’s stats being a key issue in the case. I suspect/hope he’s also right about law schools being less inclined to screw with their numbers as a result of this lawsuit. And I agree that the court will be considering the circumstances as they existed at the time these students first enrolled, not as they exist today.
Let me also say here (just so I don’t have to repeat it later) that the response from Cooley Law’s general counsel Jim Thelen to blame the ABA is also shamelessly disingenuous. There’s nothing at all preventing any law school from collecting and releasing far more granular employment data on its graduates — they simply choose not to do so for fear of looking bad from the results.
But with those two caveats out of the way, this is another case of only focusing on the Big Bad Law Schools. I stand by the implication of my admittedly rhetorical question to David on Twitter: can any law school student who enrolled after the proliferation of Google really claim they reasonably relied on a law school’s employment statistics?
Ignore the fact that you can probably count on one hand the number of law students you know who actually based their decision to go to law school in any part on a given school’s stated employment statistics; even though I’ve never met one, I’m assuming arguendo that they do in fact exist. I’m also assuming, simply because they claimed it in the complaint they filed (h/t to Above the Law for this entry on the lawsuit), that the named plaintiffs in McDonald v. Cooley are among them.
Look at when these folks graduated though: 2 of the 4 graduated in 2010, meaning they began enrollment in either 2007 (if full-time) or 2006 (if part-time); the 3rd graduated in 2008, meaning enrollment in 2005 or 2004; and the 4th graduated in 2006, meaning she enrolled in 2003 or 2002.
Google, by contrast, began in 1996. Its world-famous PageRank search algorithm won patent protection in 2001. It already had 50%+ of the global marketshare for search engines by the time the earliest of the 4 named plaintiffs ever decided to attend Cooley Law, reaching such ubiquity that Merriam-Webster added the verb “to Google” to the dictionary in 2006.
And if through some miracle this well-educated class of plaintiffs had never heard of Google, they still could have used search engines on Yahoo!, or MSN, or AOL, or Lycos, or AltaVista, or Ask Jeeves, or…
…you get the point
It’s pretty safe to say the concept of internet search was already a widespread and well-ingrained phenomenon before any of these students enrolled, particularly among the well-educated, and has grown even more widespread and even more well-ingrained the later in time that enrollment choice was made.
“But TDot!” you exclaim, “Just because search engines were available doesn’t mean these students would have found anything of concern!”
Which brings me to the 2nd prong of this analysis: people have known law schools were juicing their employment statistics for most of the past decade.
With my own search on Google.com, I came across this 2007 piece from the Wall Street Journal on the imploding legal job market. Here’s a snippet, with emphases added by me:
Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers
Growth of Legal Sector Lags Broader Economy; Law Schools Proliferate
SEPTEMBER 24, 2007
By AMIR EFRATI
…Evidence of a squeezed market among the majority of private lawyers in the U.S., who work as sole practitioners or at small firms, is growing. A survey of about 650 Chicago lawyers published in the 2005 book “Urban Lawyers” found that between 1975 and 1995 the inflation-adjusted average income of the top 25% of earners, generally big-firm lawyers, grew by 22% — while income for the other 75% actually dropped.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, the inflation-adjusted average income of sole practitioners has been flat since the mid-1980s. A recent survey showed that out of nearly 600 lawyers at firms of 10 lawyers or fewer in Indiana, wages for the majority only kept pace with inflation or dropped in real terms over the past five years.
The news isn’t any better for the 14% of new lawyers who go into government or join public-interest firms. Inflation-adjusted starting salaries for graduates who go to work for public-interest firms or the government rose 4% and 8.6%, respectively, between 1994 and 2006, according to the National Association for Law Placement, which aggregates graduate surveys from law schools. That compares with at least an 11% jump in the median family income during the same period, according to the Census Bureau…
Sure this piece only talks about solos and government/public-interest attorneys. But I also found that in under 30 seconds earlier today. Just 30 seconds, despite 4 years’ worth of new websites and blogs and other data Google has indexed clogging up my 2011 search results.
In other words, had any of these students done a same or similar search in 2007 (or earlier), they could have found the exact same IRS / BLS / NALP data indicating a difficult legal job environment in the exact same amount of time (or less!) with a much better signal:noise ratio than I’m getting now.
And that’s not even getting into the “common sense” factor here: you know there’s a stagnant legal market if for no other reason than living in an economy barely recovering from the September 11th attacks (and ensuing diversion of resources to improve homeland security), and yet you really believe your law school had a 90%+ employment rate? While nearly every other law school in the country claimed 90%+ employment over the exact same time?
Now I’m not the type to categorically trash all graduates from a law school, so I have to assume this “I really didn’t know! I really did reasonably rely on this data even though contradictory information from more reputable sources was literally right at my fingertips! Really!” mentality is atypical of Cooley Law graduates.
But this particular argument requires the willing suspension of disbelief to be plausible — and like the other works from whence that phrase was derived, this lawsuit should be recognized for the fiction that it is
Have a great Friday night and an amazing weekend everybody!
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 6, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary
Good evening folks!
Day 3 of the ABA’s 2011 Annual Meeting features the “Assembly” portion of the ABA Law Student Division, where representatives from all the law schools in attendance convene legislature-style to debate and vote on various resolutions, along with the usual end-of-year awards and speeches as old officers retire and new officers begin their terms.
If memory serves me correctly, there were 174 delegates in attendance representing just 99 law schools — an unfortunate reminder of how many of the 199 law schools nationwide had -0- presence at this meeting.
While other resolutions certainly had more contentious debate — a proposal asking law schools to elicit more information from students claiming Native American heritage was adopted in a heavily-split vote — the item that bothered me was known as Resolution 111B, adopted by the ABA Young Lawyers Division in February and dubbed its “Truth in Law School Education” resolution.
You can read some of the details about the TILSE document in this February piece at the ABA Journal. Essentially the resolution demands that law school’s provide greater disclosure of the employment survey data they collect from recent graduates, so prospective students will have a more accurate gauge of their employment prospects before taking on six-figures’ worth of loan debt to get a law degree. The YLD then handed the resolution to the LSD to ask for the students’ endorsement.
Generally, good stuff…
…but it was readily apparent this particular agenda item was less about its content than it was about good ol’ fashioned logrolling. When the YLD representative gave his report on the topic, his first words weren’t about the resolution — he instead made sure to note that YLD was “standing behind you” on an unrelated resolution seeking to get voting power for the LSD representative to the ABA’s Board of Governors. One of the LSD delegates even tried various linguistic twists (contortions rivaling the very best yoga practitioners) to insist the resolution “doesn’t add any additional burdens on law schools” because “we can’t make demands, we can only make recommendations.”
Which is just as well, because the resolution’s contents as-written are woefully insufficient.
In typical American fashion, the YLD has taken a two-part equation and expended untold hours and vast sums of energy focusing on only one side of it: the Big Bad Law Schools and the games we all know those schools play with their employment statistics.
But a key contributor that enables law schools to play those games with statistics are the less-than-100% response rates from their newly minted (and likely newly licensed) law school graduates, who are often too busy to waste time with filling out a form they have -0- incentive to complete. When someone doesn’t return a survey, do they count as employed? Unemployed? Excluded from the dataset entirely? The methodologies relating to those questions are among the core issues underlying the skewed stats.
That problem is also compounded for HBCUs and other law schools where the bulk of students go into public interest professions. When following your passion barely lets you pay the bills, you can’t exactly take even more unpaid time from your daily schedule to fill out even more paperwork.
So in typical T. fashion, as an advocate for my law school I decided to raise an issue no one else seemed interested in bringing up. I submitted a page-long form to speak that contained the following innocuous statement:
The American Bar Association Law Students Division (ABA-LSD) embraces a “full spectrum” approach to improving Truth in Law School Education, including both greater data disclosure and more comprehensive data collection. To promote that objective, the ABA-LSD encourages the American Bar Association to petition state bars (or equivalent licensing agencies) to grant some form of Continuing Legal Education credit to graduates who complete and return post-graduation employment surveys.
CLE credit: a simple and easy solution.
Using North Carolina as an example, even a single Professional Responsibility credit would incentivize new lawyers to reply by letting them meet 1/12 of their annual CLE obligations, all at no cost beyond the time spent completing it.
Yet like every other group that frowns upon people rocking the boat, actually considering ideas that weren’t pre-vetted by the folks in charge was verboten — my attempted amendment was somehow ruled out of order by the presiding officer by citing some illusory “protocol” that decreed “we cannot amend another group’s resolution.” The unamended resolution was then passed by voice vote with only token opposition.
Regardless of the LSD’s take on the issue, however, the fact remains that the YLD is raising this great hue and cry over law school employment statistics without making a comprehensive effort to fix it. The ABA’s full House of Delegates will be taking this document up over the next few days, and will likely adopt it in its unaltered form — and we’ll all get to listen over the next few years as these new “reforms” still fail to fully address the problem.
Here’s hoping someone over there has the cajones to at least propose a full spectrum solution…
From the law:/dev/null ABA Annual Meeting-related archives:
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 29, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary
The first batch of 1L grades got posted Tuesday here at NCCU Law… in turn prompting the first batch of telephone calls from panicked 1Ls worried about their performance
Second, repeat after me: “My 1L grades don’t matter.”
Yeah I said it. Your 1L grades do. not. matter.
I’ve mentioned before that NCCU Law is one of the few law schools that still follows a strict-C median, and also academically dismisses any student who falls below a 2.0 at the end of any year (all the way up through 3L/4LE). Although I’m not a fan of the dismissal policy, my personal $.02 is that the low C-curve helps produce better-prepared attorneys; apparently I’m part of an “old school” worldview that looks at grades as providing feedback primarily to the student, not to the outside world.
Unfortunately the C curve also means folks who coasted through undergrad with no serious criticism and near-perfect GPAs (often thanks to B+ curves that are becoming the norm nationwide) are only now learning they can’t be superior at everything (cue the faces).
“But TDot, you don’t understand! I made the top 10%!”
Congratulations! I really, truly, seriously am proud of you (seriously)… and it still doesn’t matter Yes, you now get to grade on to law review without having to do these agonizing BlueBook exercises. But they don’t give out bonus points in 2L and 3L classes just because you did well as a 1L. The material you’ll be learning is more expansive, the training wheels are taken off, and in the electives you’ll be taking as a 2L you’re going to be held to the same standards as everyone else — including us 3Ls in class with you
“But TDot, you don’t understand! I’m only at [some number ≥2.0] and I will never get into BigLaw and my life is ruined and omg omg omg!”
A few points here: (1) it doesn’t matter; (2) 90% of us didn’t make the top 10% either (and are doing just fine might I add); and (3) if the blawgosphere is to be believed, there are Ivy League kids with perfect GPAs who still can’t get into BigLaw… yet we’ve got several classmates and graduates doing just that, including at least one out West whose 1L GPA was below mine. The position was advertised on the jobs board, she submitted her résumé and an impeccably-edited writing sample, snagged an interview and took it from there.
While some firms will ignore applicants below a certain threshold GPA, many provide interviews based on factors beyond raw metrics. If you really do want to work in BigLaw (I’m judging you for it, jsyk ) then your work experience over this summer, coupled with your willingness to network and prepare an immaculate writing sample, will play a bigger role in the 2L job hunt than your 1L GPA.
Oh, I forgot: you also have 2 more years to bring your GPA up
“But TDot, you don’t understand! I’m only at [some number <2.0] and I will never make it through law school and my life is ruined and omg omg omg!”
OK so in your case your 1L GPA will have a bit more of an impact, something I saw first-hand as most of my good friends during 1L year didn’t make it back for 2L year. But, if you still want to become an attorney and you’re dedicated to making it happen, these 1L grades still don’t matter.
First, figure out what happened; some of you had difficult personal or family situations that were beyond your control, some of you dug a hole in the Fall that was too deep to climb out of, some of you just had a bad day. Whatever the reason, use this upcoming year to get things squared away. Pick up your exams from your professors and see where things went wrong; if writing was a weakness, work with a writing coach. If it was something personal, do what you can to resolve the situation(s) or at least minimize the impact they’ll have on you in the future. Tie up loose ends. And generally position yourself to make a compelling case to the Admissions Committee when you appeal for readmission next year.
The main thing to remember, regardless of which of these categories you happen to be in, is that nothing is impossible. You’re reading a blog written by a guy who was booted from college as a sophomore, boasting a 1.x GPA and a $16K-ish debt to my future alma mater. I got back, got graduated, got into law school — and had an almost-criminal amount of fun along the way once I stopped fearing failure
And I still found a (well-paid) law job even after my 1L grades were safely below the Top 10%. Don’t believe me? Check my transcripts for yourself:
There’s nothing any of us can do to change any of our grades — so why stress about them? Instead of letting your grades run your life, do what needs to be done so you run your life.
Trust me: if I can do it you can too Good night y’all!
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jan 9, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary
By now I’m guessing all of you have heard about the horrific massacre that happened yesterday in Tuscon, Arizona. I was oblivious to what was going on until the NCSU-WFU basketball game I was watching got interrupted for a news alert.
The rush to be wrong first was nothing short of disgusting. Within minutes of me updating my Facebook status to express my bewilderment, wondering aloud if Mexican drug cartels were involved — what I thought was a rational question given Arizona’s immigration debates and Tuscon only being 60 miles from the border — a colleague felt the urge to explain that it was “a teabagger hit,” a refrain repeated across Twitter, Facebook and the media as shameless liberals seized on the tragedy moments after it happened to score political points and attack people they don’t like (while apparently forgetting they were often the exact same folks urging people not to jump to conclusions about the Ft. Hood terrorist attack last year).
Then someone somewhere stumbled across the psycho’s YouTube page and discovered he was a flag-burning atheist who listed among his favorite books Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto, not exactly common character traits and reading materials among the tea party set or the broader conservative/Republican bloc. Turns out that the guy is an utter fruitcake (as most rational people assumed) who defies political pigeonholing.
As one person commented on Twitter, “[b]oth sides miss the hypocrisy of their political gamesmanship in tying a mentally ill person to the other aisle’s politics.”
But the disgraceful hypocrisy of the political discourse created by the very people whining about the political discourse isn’t the reason I bring up that tragedy, so that’s all I’m gonna say on that particular aspect of it.
Later that same day, I found out that the Pennsylvania police discovered Sister of TDot wandering along the side of a highway. When they asked what in God’s name she was doing, she explained that everything in the house (that she shares with my parents) was radioactive and making her sick. She was committed to a psychiatric institution — but not before having thrown away everything in the house while my parents were out of town, from family photos and kitchen utensils all the way down to the food in the refrigerator.
Things can always be replaced and I’m thankful no one was physically hurt. I come from a family of limited means (hence why I had to drop out of college back in 2000) so I’m not sure what my parents are going to do, but they and my sister are all alive.
The bigger issue is that things shouldn’t have been allowed to get that far. My sister’s mental condition has been steadily deteriorating over at least the last 10 years. She’s intentionally broken things around the house. She’s threatened to kill my mother. She’s rummaged through my mom’s purse when mom was in surgery, reading her text messages in search of conspiracies while taking money to buy drugs. But while other family members (myself included) pointed out that things weren’t right, my parents and my brother have either been in denial or just unwilling to take serious action — Sister of TDot was involuntarily committed once before (after the death threat if memory serves me correctly), but because she’s over 18 she successfully petitioned to be released and within the week was off her meds and back living with my parents.
Now it’s déjà vu all over again, and I really don’t know what to think or feel about the situation.
We live in an overly-medicated society focused on avoiding personal responsibility at all costs, one where psychiatrists and doctors have developed a syndrome for almost every vice. Do poorly on a test? You must have ADHD. Drowning in credit card debt? You’re a compulsive shopaholic. Can’t keep your marriage vows and f*cking anything with two breasts and a vagina? Gotta be a sex addiction.
But when it comes to serious mental illness, the stuff that can get someone killed — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and so on — it seems folks are content ignoring it or making excuses for it or doing the bare minimum possible to avoid legal liability without actually fixing the problem. Just scroll back to that AZ shooter story for an example: the would-be assassin’s community college had him thrown out because he was mentally ill and the armed services rejected him for the same reason, yet no one reported him to any mental health authority to get help… and now at least a half-dozen people (including a 9-year-old girl) are dead because of it.
I’m sorry for the downbeat and dour entry tonight y’all, I’m just in a really despondent and “ugh” mood right now. If you think you or a loved one might have a mental illness, please talk to someone about it and try to get help before something happens and it’s too late.
And I’ll have something more chipper tomorrow, I promise
Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 14, 2010 in Unsolicited Commentary
Good evening y’all!
Yesterday I finally finished editing this entry on the monetary costs-vs-benefits of law school, which pulled together some easily-accessible data based on my own work history, ADA salaries in North Carolina, my tuition and fee payments for both N.C. State and NCCU Law, and so on.
Recognizing that it only took me about 2 hours for the data gathering / spreadsheet making / graphic creating / writing / editing, I didn’t tout it as a comprehensive panacea of analysis — even going so far as pointing out “[d]ata-driven analyses like this are, in a word, pointless. There are simply too many variables involved to produce anything useful[.]”
But that didn’t stop the comments on the post from being uniformly negative
All the commenters raised points worth considering though, so rather than limit discussion to the comments section of that particular thread I figured I’d do a copy/paste in a separate entry with my responses.
For clarity, I’m using the same snippet-by-snippet response style I ran with in deconstructing the Pope Center’s hit piece on me way back in March. If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to read yesterday’s entry and the comments yourself just so there are no concerns about me misrepresenting what was said
Here we go…
Aaron Massey: Since we’re both American, this might be completely anti-cultural, but I think you’re calculations are still significantly off because you’re not accounting for retirement savings plans. The head start on retirement that both the HS diploma and the BA/BS degree would have can make a big difference once you start factoring it in. A higher income is nice, but so is compound annual interest/stock appreciation.
I didn’t include any mention of retirement savings in my post, because it’s simply not relevant to the discussion
If you take a look at the “caveats” section of the entry, my only requirement is that any money earned during college or law school can’t go to defraying education expenses — done solely to artificially magnify the cost of that education for the purpose of the analysis.
The vast majority of college students work, which is why the common categorization of years in school as a true “opportunity cost” barely holds water (and retains even less). If a freshman wants to set up a 401(k) and put money into it from his side job, he wouldn’t run afoul of my analysis. Similarly, there’s nothing stopping a law student from taking a chunk of their financial aid refund or earnings from a summer associateship and socking that into a retirement plan as well.
Now in both cases they’d be better off financially by paying down their student loans, since their long-run net return on investments will likely be less than the 8% loan interest rate I’m using. But if they did that I couldn’t artificially inflate the student loan interest for the analysis
If we assume students can and do work (but simply don’t defray education costs), a corollary question may be “Will they be putting away as much as someone working full-time?” And the answer to that is “It depends.”
Unlike the full-time employee, typically students get to have their living expenses (rent, electricity, etc) rolled into their financial aid package; it’s why economic analyses typically show traditional college-aged students having the highest discretionary income of any age group. Under those circumstances, a student could easily put away a comparable amount for retirement if they had the inclination to do so.
Since planning for retirement isn’t precluded by my analysis and could easily be done by all three hypothetical students, I think for this particular analysis we’d lose more from the confusion inherent in tackling too many issues than we’d gain from discussing 401(k)s and related savings plans
Aaron Massey: Also, I also think you’re generic approach to the four year college degree is a little difficult to justify. Some degrees (like computer engineering) have starting salaries that average about $60,000. Others are almost half that.
Could some folks start out making more money? Of course. But similar to bringing in the discussion of retirement savings, expanding the analysis to include a litany of possible starting salaries for the BS/BA track adds a lot of noise without much signal.
For example, if we’re going to differentiate degrees like computer engineering to account for the higher salaries, it’d only be fair analytically to also differentiate the law track to rely on that expertise — an attorney doing IP-related litigation before the US Patent & Trademarks Office will be making far more than the ADA salaries I included
Synthetic Work-Life Earnings Estimates by Degree
The generic approach also has the benefit of its reasonableness being reviewable against aggregate data compiled by the government. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau produced this compilation titled “The Big Payoff” analyzing data on average salaries and synthetic work-life earnings by education level, gender, race, and so on.
Based on the government’s compilation, I’ve overestimated lifetime earnings of the diploma-only worker by ~$150K, underestimated the BS/BA earnings by only ~$53K, but underestimated professional degree earnings by ~$1,698K (aka $1.7M). The rhetoric about them being “difficult to justify” notwithstanding, my numbers are generally in line with the government’s except for the legal salary (that I’ve gratuitously underestimated).
So while a more-nuanced approach might provide a minimal amount of added clarity (at the expense of a lot more reading), I’ve already tilted the numbers so far in favor of the non-law school route that doing so isn’t particularly meaningful.
Aaron Massey: Still, the most important problem with this sort of raw calculation is that your disclaimers in the preliminaries are far more important than the rest of the post. “Worth it” is a question of happiness, which is often not at all about money. Sometimes, life happens and no amount of money will help.
I wholeheartedly agree, 110%. It’s why I linked to Jack Whittington’s entry on that very topic, and why the “I’d have more fun doing law” argument was central to my email to BL1Y.
But since Jack already covered the “Happiness is important” route, and BL1Y covered the “You’re not going to be happy” route, that left me with only the financials
Aaron Massey: Realistically, the best advice anyone considering law school can receive about whether it is “worth it” is this: “Don’t just think that you’re going to be better off financially; run some numbers using some potential scenarios, including one in which you abandon law altogether. Also, don’t just think that more money will actually make you happier; be honest about what your life goals really are.”
I agree with everything here except the first word — strike “Realistically” and replace it with “Ideally”
Realistically, almost no one’s going to do that level of analysis… which is why I did it for them
BL1Y: A lot of the trouble with students going in to law school is that they look at data like this and see law school as an investment. It’s not.
If you sit on the couch eating potato chips every day, your JD doesn’t bring in any money. If you go back to your old job, your JD typically won’t get you a raise (especially if compared against 3 lost years of seniority). A JD is merely a credential on your resume that may, or may not, make certain new job paths available to you.
What many law students don’t realize going in is how much work is then required. The JD doesn’t bring you any extra income, you do. You have to work for it.
I’m not entirely sure there’s a point here.
The same complaints you’re levying against a JD are also true of a BS/BA, but I don’t think that means we make the leap to saying folks should avoid giving up 4 years and various sums of $$$ to get a college degree.
BL1Y: And, for many people, the stress, boredom, long hours, and shitty atmosphere are not worth the increase in salary.
And, what makes law school a particularly shitty “investment” is that until you start working after graduation, you really have no idea whether you’ll like it or not.
This is a perfectly fair criticism, though I think you overstate the ability to figure out if someone would like law or not before going to law school.
There’s nothing preventing an aspiring law student from performing a little due diligence by trying to get a job in the legal arena and/or talking extensively with current practitioners. Is it going to be a perfectly accurate representation of actually living the life of a BigLaw associate? Not at all. But it should provide at least enough of an idea that it would remove “Am I going to be content / not hate my life?” as a concern before going in.
And once they’re in, if for some reason they haven’t done their research beforehand, at the very least they should learn whether or not they hate it through summer associateships or clinic work or something similar — hopefully in time to bail out before tacking on another 2 years of student loan debt.
If they haven’t done any due diligence at all before or in law school, or they have but pride stops them from getting out even though it’s not for them, they can’t then turn around and claim unfair surprise when they enter the job market and hate what they do for a living. As Professor Ks said last year, “Laziness is not a defense.”
BL1Y: The huge rates in depression, drug abuse, and suicide indicate a very high risk of being stuck in a job you hate. In fact, it’s probably easier to get a job in Big Law than to get an enjoyable one.
I concede I’ve got rose-colored glasses on this one, having already “enjoyed” the life of a homeless college dropout myself. I’d happily trade a sh*tty work environment that at least keeps bills paid over having to sleep in a shelter next to Bob the Crackhead and wondering if my personal effects will be pilfered by Methamphetamine Jane by the time I wake up
But, more broadly, concerns over work environment are applicable to the BS/BA folks and the diploma-only people too. That’s the nature of just about any marketplace.
My suspicion is that the higher incidents of the various pathologies you noted are more the result of higher reporting, since lawyers play higher up the socioeconomic ladder — it’s easier to be an addict when you’ve got the money to spare, and to hire a therapist to talk about your depression when you actually get health insurance benefits and vacation time that you can take without wondering how your rent’s going to get paid.
Va.: I was really looking forward to this post, but I’ve got to say I’m a little disappointed with the methodology.
It was a quick post by a current student cobbled together on ACC football Saturday — cut me some slack
Va.: I also think that your analysis doesn’t really capture the “worst case” scenario that I’m seeing play out among people I know. Your expectations of being able to obtain a job after law school are certainly reasonable (or at least they should be), and you seem to have no illusions (unlike many law students) about how easily $160k jobs are to come by. However, despite applying for any and every job they see (including ADA positions), many people I know aren’t employed. I know people who graduated in 2008 who are still doing temp attorney contract work. Some can’t even get that. A lot of people aren’t doing what they set out to do or have had to make geographic compromises that take them away from friends and family. Although I certainly hope you find a job before graduation or soon thereafter, being unemployed for 6 months to a year or more can start you off in a financial hole that can be pretty difficult to get yourself back out of. The uncertainty is stressful and “settling” for jobs you don’t want lowers your quality of life.
Unemployment is a legit point, and one I thought about when I was writing the entry.
But I opted to exclude it as the “worst case” scenario because the overwhelming majority of people still find jobs. Even acknowledging the games law schools play with their employment data, few schools have 6-month employment rates below 80%. It didn’t make sense (to me at least) to tailor the analysis toward the other 20%, particularly when the economy will likely be turned around by the time 2013 gets here.
If we want to factor in unemployment, though, it can be done fairly easily from an economics perspective by weighting the results. Essentially we’d take the projected work-life earnings and multiply by the percent probability of being employed, e.g. the $2.7M x 80% if we assume permanent 20% unemployment for the person’s entire work-life.
Doing comparable calculations for the other two columns makes law school less attractive from a marginal cost-benefit standpoint, but still a financially better option than just high school or just college even factoring in law school costs.
I’m less sympathetic on the “they’re not doing what they want yet” argument, but that’s also out of my own personal bias than any rational reason. My first job after dropping out of N.C. State was loading UPS trucks from 3am-8am Monday-Friday; it didn’t pay much and definitely wasn’t what I wanted to do, but it kept a (non-crackhead-containing) roof over my head and helped shore up my financial foundation while I looked for better work. The same principle applies to the law grads — I know it’s not much consolation to the people stuck in that situation, but where you start isn’t where you end up
Va.: And a good chunk of law schools are private and have much higher tuition than you do.
Very true… but a point that doesn’t necessarily change my conclusion
On the one hand, I concede that plopping in cost data for other law schools affects the lucrativeness when using my salary numbers.
On the other hand, students have a choice in what law school they attend as far as cost is concerned. Using me as an example, NCCU Law was my first choice because UNCCH Law charged twice as much despite similar bar passage rates and employment prospects in North Carolina (which is where I’d prefer to stay professionally).
And on the third hand, in many cases the more expensive schools also have better employment rates and salaries — a point you yourself made to me back in January
Va.: Anyway, I think your conclusion should probably be a bit more cautious in tone. If you don’t get the job you want, or any job at all (god forbid…), then the evaluation would certainly change.
This is probably true. But would any of y’all still read this blog if I wasn’t flippant most of the time?
Besides, if I don’t end up where I want maybe BL1Y will let me join him, Namby Pamby and Nando in the Cynics Club
So that’s my rebuttal y’all
Have any comments / criticisms / witticisms / thoughts of your own? Please post them below