3

Back in the USA! :D

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 7, 2011 in The 3L Life

And with my slightly-late-but-safe arrival at JFK International Airport about 10 minutes ago, my first visit to a foreign country since before I could legally drive a car has come to a close! :D

The past five days at the 2011 ABA Annual Meeting have been a blast — definitely an eye-opening view into the (much) broader legal arena. I’m incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to be here, and I’m hoping to convince more Legal Eagles to attend next year beyond just our SBA President and ABA Representative. The sheer breadth of knowledge and people available at these events is truly incredible.

Yes, I'm claiming all of Canada off one visit to one part of one city. Because I can.

And the crazy part of this whole trip is… I have nothing bad to say about Toronto :surprised:

For just about every trip I’ve ever taken anywhere, there’s something substantive I viscerally don’t like to the point where I couldn’t imagine moving away from my spot in the middle of North Carolina.

Yet aside from some minor quirks ($1 and $2 coins, no Diet Mountain Dew) the place strikes me as a cleaner and more-relaxed version of New York City.  The people were friendly. The weather was amazing for five straight days. Even the knowledge that Toronto winters can be bitterly cold doesn’t really phase me anymore, since I discovered downtown-dwellers can go pretty much anywhere they need via the PATH without ever venturing outside.

Yes, I fully realize my glowing view of Toronto is probably naiveté on my part since I was only there for a few days. But second only to my son + Snowmageddon + football this past winter, this was without question the next-best trip I’ve ever taken. :spin:

I’m not to the point where I’d even remotely consider giving up barbecue, Diet Mountain Dew, Bojangles’ and all the accoutrements of North Carolina living1 to move elsewhere, but I suspect I’ll definitely be visiting Toronto again at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Off to go unpack, head to bed, then start whittling away at the pile of work that accumulated during my absence. Make sure to check out some of the previous law:/dev/null entries about this Toronto trip if you haven’t already, and have a great night y’all! :D

—===—

From the law:/dev/null ABA Annual Meeting-related archives:

  1. Yeah I know, I just listed three different food-related items :beatup:  I love the rest of North Carolina too! But, having gone almost a week without some of my typical culinary fare, I’m currently going through withdrawal — cut me some slack! :P []

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7

The YLD’s incomplete approach to law school transparency

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 6, 2011 in Unsolicited Commentary

Good evening folks! :D

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.1

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. :crack:

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. :roll: 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.”2

Which is just as well, because the resolution’s contents as-written are woefully insufficient.3

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. :angel: I submitted a page-long form to speak4 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.”5 :crack:  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:

  1. I also got to enjoy this beautiful Toronto weather and caught the tail end of a “Civil Rights in the 21st Century” CLE earlier in the day, where I inadvertently crossed paths with former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Henry Frye :spin: []
  2. This is the kind of semantic chicanery that makes everyday people despise lawyers. Either (a) you expect your recommendation to be enacted, in which case it adds an additional burden on law schools, or (b) you don’t expect your recommendation to be enacted, in which case you’re wasting everyone’s time “endorsing” a purely symbolic piece of paper. :roll: []
  3. As just one of many many many examples, a delegate from Washburn Law raised an excellent point: in addition to the stats YLD wants to collect, there should also be some kind of indicator of how much help the Career Services Office actually provided in a student getting a job. It makes no sense for a law school to tout a given graduate’s employment when that graduate had to do 100% of the work finding the opportunity and securing it. []
  4. A requirement mentioned nowhere in the Standing Rules of the LSD Assembly and completely foreign to the Robert’s Rules of Order said Assembly was using as its parliamentary authority. []
  5. Assuming arguendo such “protocol” exists, and ignoring the fact it doesn’t appear anywhere in the Assembly’s Standing Rules or in Robert’s Rules of Order, I wasn’t amending the resolution. I was attempting to amend the LSD Board of Governors’ main motion to endorse the resolution, from “We endorse this document” to “We endorse this document, but…”; hence why the amendment wasn’t in traditional “Whereas etc etc / Be it resolved etc etc” format common to resolutions. ;)  The abject failure to grasp this most basic of parliamentary concepts has exposed the notion of “professional parliamentarians” (which the LSD uses to help with presiding) as a complete and total fraud. But I digress… []

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Where are the HBCU advocates?

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 5, 2011 in The 3L Life

Today was Day 2 of the ABA’s 2011 Annual Meeting in Toronto Canada, and in the ABA Law Student Division that meant an opportunity to hear from candidates for a handful of LSD offices about their plans for the future and their responses to questions from us.1

One of the things I teach organizations as part of my T.I.D.E.S. leadership development presentations is that questions are usually the most potent weapon in any leader’s arsenal. So I came prepared with a pair of my own: (1) asking what, specifically, these folks will do to address the embarrassingly low volume of students seeking ABA leadership positions;2 and (2) with the ABA again considering an increase in the minimum bar-passage rates required for reaccreditation of law schools, how would they ensure those reforms don’t disproportionately harm the country’s 6 HBCU-based institutions?3

A couple things stuck out to me in asking that second question: apparently I was the only one interested in bringing it up,4 and almost no one knew anything at all about it.  :surprised:

If you’re not familiar with what the ABA is considering, take a look at this story on Law.com. Here’s a snippet:

ABA Faces Diversity Dilemma With Proposed Change to Law School Standards
The ABA is trying to reconcile the legal profession’s need for greater diversity with its desire to push law schools to better prepare students to pass the bar. For the second time in four years, it is considering raising the minimum bar-passage-rate requirement for law school accreditation.

By Karen Sloan (07-22-2011)

Nearly 70 percent of the entering class at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law was black in 1998. A decade later, that figure hovered at around 30 percent — the lowest percentage among the country’s six historically black law schools.

The catalyst for that shift was a 1999 letter from the American Bar Association urging the school to examine its admissions standards and low first-time bar-passage rates. The school responded by accepting students with higher credentials, but the percentage of black students began to decline as the average Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores rose.

That experience highlights the dilemma now confronting the ABA. The organization is trying to reconcile the legal profession’s need for greater diversity with its desire to push law schools to better prepare students to pass the bar. For the second time in four years, it is considering raising the minimum bar-passage-rate requirement as part of a comprehensive review of law school accreditation standards.

Definitely take some time to read the full article, there’s a lot more in there.

Three initial points I want to make on this:

  • I totally agree with some form of a “bright line” cutoff with bar passage rates and accreditation. While many of those advocating for the cutoff seem to hope it will lead to fewer accredited law schools and (theoretically) fewer new attorneys as a result,5 I’m of the more-economics-oriented belief that the simple existence of the cutoff will incentivize law schools to better serve their students. People respond to incentives, it’s as simple as that.
  • I also agree with The Chief’s quote in that article about other schools having a harder time complying with a heightened cutoff before HBCUs. NCCU Law in particular has enjoyed passage rates well above the state average for most of the past decade, even while joining FAMU Law and SULC in taking in the broadest array of students in the nation. The schools facing the biggest challenge will be those whose business model is based on being a diploma-mill, bringing in thousands of students a year just to get as much federal student aid $$$ as possible.6
  • But, while it’s true other non-HBCU law schools will have a steeper hill to climb, HBCUs will still face an acute challenge because of the timing of this proposal. It comes at a time that could be considered a “perfect” storm” for them: industry complaints of all law schools churning out too many incompetent students with JDs, prompting industry-wide reforms, while the economy has basically imploded with no hope of an immediate recovery. The publicly-funded HBCUs are facing substantial budget cuts7 and an inability to raise tuition at whim, while both public and private HBCUs face a steep drop in the alumni and corporate donations that enable institutions to improve things like their academic support services. Couple that with fewer paying jobs available for their students to raise $$ for bar prep courses while in school — prep courses apparently being the primary method for learning bar material at high-performing law schools — and you’ve got all the ingredients for a cow pie of a proposal.

I’ve gotta head to bed so I can get up for an SBA “Roundtable and Idea-Raiser” in the morning, but wanted to put that issue on the radar for my HBCU-attending colleagues who didn’t know what was coming down the pike.

Have a great night y’all! :D

—===—

From the law:/dev/null ABA Annual Meeting-related archives:

  1. I also took an opportunity to check out a “Hot Topics in Internet Law” CLE class with Ian Ballon and some other panelists, which was amazing and reminded me of my Privacy Technology, Policy & Law class in my last semester at N.C. State. I also got to meet two folks I’ve been talking with on Twitter: Monica Goyal of My Legal Briefcase, and Vanderbilt Law student Amy Sanders (who I serendipitously sat in front of without even realizing it) :D []
  2. Several of the ABA LSD Circuit Governors were either unopposed or chosen after floor nominations because no one filed for office. And the first candidate who responded to my question gave such a non-specific, mealy-mouthed response I couldn’t help but think of offering this in response. :roll: []
  3. For those who haven’t seen the acronym, “HBCU” stands for “Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” The overwhelming bulk of these long-lived institutions are in the Southeast, created as the only means for black students to receive a legal education during the de jure segregation era. See footnote 5 in this entry for some federal case law relating to the UNC system. []
  4. If you think a middle-aged white Republican being SBA President of a HBCU law school is odd enough, imagine that same middle-aged white Republican being the only person to proactively bring up an issue that could affect it and others — despite representatives of other HBCU law schools being in the same room :beatup: []
  5. Not to disparage any of these undoubtedly-kind folks, but I consider that analysis not only too self-interested to be a valid decision-making criterion, but also utterly Pollyanna-ish in assuming the remaining schools wouldn’t simply expand their own enrollments. []
  6. Here’s looking at you, Cooley Law. ;) []
  7. 14% at NCCU for the upcoming 2011-12 academic year, basically meaning $1 of every $7 has now disappeared. :crack: []

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3

First Impressions: ABA Annual Meeting, Day 1

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 4, 2011 in The 3L Life

Toronto

is

AWESOME!  :D

Today was the first “real” day for EIC and I to represent NCCU Law at the ABA’s annual meeting held in Toronto, Canada. We’ve both met a bunch of cool people from law schools across the country, and the passion of all these student leaders reminds me of UNCASG (in a good way) and has really amped up my some-would-say-already-slightly-excessive passion for student leadership.1 :spin:

I need to get to bed before an 8:30am meeting for SBA Presidents tomorrow morning, so I wanted to offer a quick rundown of some of my initial thoughts on Toronto.

I’ll start with the bad stuff, because I like ending on a positive note ;)

 

BAD THINGS ABOUT TORONTO ON DAY 1:

==> The internet: This is more of a “hotel where we’re staying” thing than a Canada-wide thing, but internet access thus far is driving me nuts. There are no wifi connections in our rooms, the wired Ethernet2 costs roughly $20 a day, and the signal quality for the “complimentary” wifi in the lobby is garbage. Normally that wouldn’t bother me — I can normally just use my phone as a mobile hotspot — but my mobile provider’s data charges in Canada are exorbitant even with the week-long “international travel” plan I added to my account. :beatup:

==> The exchange rate: This one’s also not really Canada’s fault. Courtesy of our shamelessly reckless Congress and their profligate spending habits over the past 4 years (something I’ve mentioned before), the U.S. dollar has been devalued to the point that paying for stuff here is absurd. $200 USD translated to $160 CAD when we got here, and most of the food as a result is far more expensive than a comparable meal back in the States.

==> The food: There’s no Diet Mountain Dew here :mad:  Plenty of ginger ale though…3

 

GOOD THINGS ABOUT TORONTO ON DAY 1:

==> The food: The lack of my soda of choice notwithstanding, I’m actually surprised at the quality of the food. I’m not the most adventurous with my culinary tastes, but in the couple of restaurants EIC and I have hit so far the food was doggone tasty. And they actually have delicious tomato-based BBQ that rivals anything I’ve had in North Carolina :eek:

==> The PATH: One of the most awesome-est things I have ever seen!  The first night at the hotel, we noticed what appeared to be shops in the basement. We checked it out… and it just kept going and going and going :crack: The next morning we walked several blocks down to the Toronto Metro Centre to register, decided to head to the subway just to say we took Canadian mass transit… and saw the same mall! :surprised:  After consulting the PATH Wikipedia entry when we got back, I found out it’s the largest underground mall in the world, and connects the vast majority of buildings in downtown Toronto. I’d love to have something like this in North Carolina to avoid the weather in the winter time…

==> The people: Most of you probably figured something like this was coming, but the people here have been the highlight of the trip so far. We took a cab from the airport with a pair of 3Ls from Syracuse Law, met folks from LSU Law the next morning at registration, and have connected with a bunch of folks in between. Of course there are the inevitable cliques that come from people who’ve been in/around the ABA Law Student Division for a year or more, but the vast majority of students I’ve met have been unpretentious and generally fun to be around :)

That’s it for tonight y’all, I’m off to bed — have a great night! :D

  1. Though it’s also contributed to me still not finishing that Civil Rights paper that was due today :beatup: []
  2. Who still uses wired ethernet?? :crack: []
  3. Which seemed curious to me… until I noticed the name of the brand :beatup: []

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Toronto bound!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 3, 2011 in The 3L Life

Hey y’all! :D

At this point you’re probably accustomed to it, but I’m sorry for yet another extended absence — this past 1.5 weeks has been crazy!

Some of it was of the less-than-pleasant variety,1 but the vast majority of it has been downright serendipitous: went to Greensboro for a friend’s birthday two Saturdays ago,2 had an awesome week at the internship last week,3 randomly came home after work on Monday instead of going straight to class,4 went to the Durham APS to see if they had any boxers to adopt,5 the list goes on.

The main reason for this post though is that I’m currently a few thousand feet above the air en route to Toronto, where the American Bar Association is having their 2011 Annual Meeting6 :D

It took a little longer than planned to get here7 but I’m totally thankful for the opportunity to meet law students, lawyers, and other law-related professionals from around the country!

And it’s also my first time traveling abroad since I was a teenager.8 I’m going to finally get my very first stamp in my very first passport :D

I’ll have more to write over the next few days, but first I have to knock out a paper for my Civil Rights class that’s due tomorrow  :oops:

If you’re a reader or blogger and will be in Toronto, send me an email (address at the bottom of our About page) or contact me on Twitter!

  1. The server hosting law:/dev/null had a mini-meltdown last week, so we lost some data that was only partially restored from backup :mad: []
  2. Where I somehow ran into another friend, in the same restaurant on the same day at the same time… who lives in Durham like me :crack: []
  3. Including a day-long series of meetings on a project I’ve been working on all summer :D []
  4. Where I pulled into the parking lot of my apartment at the same time as an incoming 1L at NCCU Law, moving into my same apartment building :surprised: []
  5. I adopted an adorable beagle named Samson — more about him soon! :spin: []
  6. I’ll refrain from commenting on the political wisdom of a group responsible for lobbying in Washington (and which only represents United States attorneys) deciding to have thousands of free-spending attorneys gather in a foreign country during a bad economy… []
  7. The plane departing from our layover in JFK was boarded, then de-boarded when unspecified “mechanical problems” were discovered mere moments before takeoff, then got re-boarded only to go through nausea-inducing turbulence en route :sick: []
  8. A loooooong time ago. To highlight, the trip was to Mexico and passports weren’t even required; all you need was an ID and a birth certificate… :beatup: []

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Greetings from Williamsburg!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 25, 2011 in The 2L Life

Good evening y’all! :D

I’m currently blogging from the confines of a hotel room here in Williamsburg Virginia,1 home to the William & Mary Law School that will be hosting the ABA Law Student Division Spring meeting for the 4th Circuit this weekend.2

I’ll be filling in for NCCU Law‘s SBA President, who is currently in Washington DC battling the lawyerly hordes as part of the Luke Charles Moore Invitational. It works out well for the both of us — he’s got the brains to do moot court, and after 2 tours as UNCASG President I’ve got the experience in sitting still in the same room from 8am-4pm listening to people :beatup:

Not sure if anyone from any of the 4th Circuit law schools happen to read law:/dev/null, but if you do and you know anyone coming to this meeting, let me know so I can introduce myself3 :)

More tomorrow. Until then, have a great night!

  1. Right smack in the middle of my birthplace in northern Virginia and my childhood home in Virginia Beach :spin: []
  2. I apologize in advance for linking you to the ABA’s new website. It’s prettier than the old one, but functionality-wise it’s one of the worst I’ve seen for a national organization…  :roll: []
  3. Or let them know so they can find me instead of thinking I’m a stalker ;) []

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1

Overestimating case outcomes

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 14, 2010 in Randomness

Via the ABA Journal Online:

I rarely check out the news stories that come through to my BlackBerry from the ABA Journal Online, but the headline for this one caught my eye: “Lawyers — Especially Men — May Be Too Optimistic About Case Outcomes, Survey Says”

A law professor at the University of California Irvine has co-authored a research paper into attorney predictions of success in their cases. From the research results, 44% of case outcomes were less successful than the “minimum goals” set by the attorney. More confident attorneys missed their goals more often than less confident ones. And male attorneys tend to overestimate results more than females.

The whole 25-page paper is a lot more detailed and definitely worth a read. It includes some interesting and counterintuitive findings (e.g. estimating results doesn’t seem to improve with years of experience).

But my question is this: although a majority of attorneys meet-or-exceed their minimum goals, how is that 44% able to stay in business? They apparently not only add and retain paying clients, but according to the paper also likely include a hefty chunk of senior partners and other high-ranking litigators. I’d think overestimating results would lead to some kind of economic and professional repercussions, not rising to senior partner status.

The paper concludes more research is needed to control for other factors, so maybe we’ll find out eventually. Until then it’s something interesting to chew on.

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4

Week 0 Retrospective Part II (or, “Good morning”)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 17, 2009 in The 1L Life

First day of real class was today; I’m saving a summary of the experience for later on though, otherwise I’ll never get through this look back on Week 1 :) I did have the ignominious honor of being the first student’s name to leave the lips of my Civil Procedure I professor this morning (thankfully for not adding the TWEN course section in a timely fashion instead of having to brief the main case I didn’t read).

Oh and I successfully got a parking ticket.  Which undoubtedly amuses those of you who knew my less-than-stellar parking habits at NC State.

Before I continue yesterday’s entry, let me know if you find any decent and quick intros to WordPress.  I dived into the whole blogging thing before bothering to learn the software, so I haven’t gotten around to things like tweaking up the CSS for this template or editing the blogroll.  And I’m borderline afraid to touch the “Plugins” section…

—===—

But back to orientation.

I’m sitting in the back of the student lounge, feeling slightly obnoxious being dressed to the nines, and thumbing through the documents I was given at registration.  I glance over the orientation schedule.  Look at a pamphlet from the American Bar Association.  Read up on some of the historical sites in Durham.  And notice one of the first letters in the orientation folder is from a Dr. Psyche, the law school’s psychiatrist.

Not the university’s psychiatrist, the law school‘s psychiatrist…

Dr. Psyche works full time just for the law school, offering a whole array of counseling services (with friend- and spouse-related options jumping out, along with a reference to suicide prevention).  Compounded with the agitating but not exactly law school-specific annoyances I had already dealt with that morning, it was at that point I started to wonder what exactly I was getting myself into.  I guess God sensed my nervousness and mild amusement that suicide prevention is necessary in law school, because mere moments later I’d be lucky enough to experience a faux pas that made me want to shoot myself.

I notice folks are leaving the lounge, and we all headed upstairs to our respective classrooms for the day’s schedule; I had Room 102, where I’ll be for the rest of the semester.  NC Central has a pretty impressive array of technology services in their new law school, courtesy of a multi-million dollar cash infusion by the North Carolina General Assembly after the ABA raised concerns about facilities during its reaccreditation review (and also coinciding with Rep. Mickey Michaux, a NCCU graduate, becoming a co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee).  So my room had a large screen in front, and projected onto it was a live video feed from Room 202 upstairs where everyone would be speaking for the day.

Let me preface this whole experience by noting I have a long history in Student Government and “real world” politics.  One of the favorite rhetorical devices of almost every politician, student or otherwise, is to greet his audience with “Good morning,” receive a tepid response, then say something to the effect of “Let me try that again: good morning!,” at which point people laugh and more of them say “Good morning” in response even louder than before.  It’s such a widely (ab)used tactic that student leaders and political operatives instinctually respond “Good morning” the first time, in the hopes the second time won’t be necessary.

You can probably guess where this is going.

The Chief (Dean of the law school), a charismatic guy who clearly enjoys his position “getting to walk around and ‘be dean-ly'” as he later put it, stands next to the podium in Room 202, looks to the audience of 1Ls before him, and starts:  “Good morning.”  And on instinct, the past 11 years of politics and SG experience goes on full display with an automatic “Good morning” from me in response… even though the Chief’s upstairs, and there’s no microphone turned on in Room 102 for him to hear me.  And I happened to be the only one out of the group of 40 or so 1Ls in my room to say anything.

No sooner do the words leave my lips than I notice the lapse in judgment, right as about 10 of those 40 heads turn back toward me wondering who the ignoramus was trying to talk to the video projection.  A bullet to the brain would have been the only cure for the embarrassment at that moment.  Not sure if I successfully played it off by staring intently at the screen as though no one had said a word; I could feel my cheeks burning, but folks turned back around pretty quick so hopefully they never figured it out.

I kept my mouth shut for the rest of the day.

—===—

That’s it for now, have a few cases to brief for Contracts I and Property I tomorrow.  I’ll pick up with the look back after class.  Have a great night everybody! :)

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3

Why a T4 law school was my 1st choice (Part II)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 15, 2009 in Background

Disclaimer for any of you who become regular readers:  any time I write that I’m going to do/say/explain something “tomorrow” or “soon” or “shortly” or any other chronologically-oriented word that would indicate a time horizon in the relatively near future, add at least a week or two to it.  I’m one of those folks you hear about who get distracted easily by shiny objects, except in my case the “shiny objects” are random occurrences in life that remind me of random earlier occurrences in life and consequently prompt a story.  Consider yourself forewarned, caveat emptor, etc etc etc :)

Moving on…

A couple days ago in this post I mentioned one of my new 1L colleagues who apparently flagellates himself as restitution for his social awkwardity.  Still don’t know the kid’s name because I skipped the past 2 days of orientation (more on that later… maybe), but he essentially tried to demonstrate his Alpha Male-ness by terrifying a young lady I was conversing with about law:/dev/null.  I noted in response to his asininity that the ABA requires all accredited law schools to teach essentially the same material to 1Ls regardless of their “tier,” so theoretically my experience helps inform this blog about as well as anyone else’s informs their own.  I closed the post by posing this question:

…[I]f everyone is learning substantially the same material, why would anyone bother attending a Tier 4 school in the first place when it would seem (at least statistically) that a top school would give someone better odds at passing the bar and landing a job?…

Computer scientists like binary and powers of 2, the fundamental “on” and “off” that governs electrical circuits and spreads out to all CSC constructs like Boolean algebra, memory sizes, and so on.  My figuring is that there are only 2 types of people who go to a T4 law school:  folks who aren’t qualified on paper to get in anywhere else, and folks who could (or did) get into a higher tier school but had at least one logical reason for sticking with a T4.

There’s not much to say regarding the first group, so consequently I won’t say much ;)  For the folks who don’t have the paper qualifications to get into a top school — bad LSAT score or bad GPA typically, since often these are the only 2 values that matter regardless of how many reams of experience one accrues in a legal-oriented field — the T4s are providing them with a rare opportunity to prove through their work ethic they have what it takes to become attorneys.  In that capacity T4s perform a huge public service, because many of the best attorneys are the ones who work hard, meet filing deadlines, and take care of their clients because they know they may not be the brightest and have to make up for their deficiencies (by contrast, at least in my experience, many of the worst attorneys are graduates of top schools who are lazier than a quadriplegic sloth in a drug-induced coma).

The second group is a more difficult nut to crack because many of them have different and varying reasons.  This also happens to be the category I fall into — I actually applied to only three law schools (a T1/”T14″, a T2/”T100″, and T4 NCCU) and had already mailed off my acceptance and deposit to NCCU before I even got my letters from the other two.  I was lucky to do exceptionally well on the LSAT despite taking it “cold” with -0- studying of any kind, combined with nearly a decade of experience in the legal field during my time as a college dropout and after (more on that in a later post).

So why did I decide to go to the North Carolina Central University School of Law, a historically black college in the bottom tier, when I had two other higher ranked options?  Here are my reasons (which conveniently happen to count out to a power of 2):

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(Before jumping in, I need to stipulate I’m ignoring the T14 school I applied to in these comments — I knew when I applied that I wasn’t going to attend because I didn’t want to move across the country :))

  1. Cost. In high school, I was one of only two students in my graduating class (so far as I know) who were actively recruited by MIT for their Computer Engineering program.  Instead I decided to attend NC State University in Raleigh because, even paying out-of-state tuition, it was a significantly less expensive proposition — MIT’s tuition and fees over a decade ago in 1998-99 was $6K+ more expensive than NCSU’s out-of-state tuition and fees *today* (let that marinate for a minute so you can fully grasp it).

    Cost of attendance was a similar motivator for picking NCCU.  My tuition and fees for the 2009-2010 academic year come out to $9,097.16, less than half of the T2 school I applied to up the street (I don’t compare total cost of attendance for law schools since there’s so much variability in the housing and retail markets, but it’s worth noting many T1s are in outrageously expensive cities).

  2. Competence. Folks who have worked with me in NCSU’s Student Government or the statewide UNC Association of Student Governments will tell you that I am a notorious micromanager, an unapologetic perfectionist and overly obsessive about details (“anal retentive” is the pejorative most often thrown).  When I filled out each of my applications for law school, I quite literally checked, re-checked, re-re-checked, and re-re-re-checked everything before either filing documents online or submitting materials in person. In the case of the T2, I even had a friend from the campus go with me to drop off the application and had him check everything for me. We both confirmed all of the required documents were in the packet I dropped off, including my form declaring North Carolina residency. Yet magically, 54 days after that packet was dropped off, I received an email that the residency form was missing and I’d have to shelve everything I was doing in my life (like trying to graduate) to re-send a duplicate copy.

    Compare that to the response of the T4. When the LSDAS didn’t send my transcripts because one of my letters of recommendation had not yet arrived, I got an email from NC Central only about two weeks after they received my application indicating the transcripts were missing… then got a second email a week later as a reminder (fortunately I had more than ample notice to get in touch with the errant professor and get my LOR squared away, so I didn’t receive any further notices). Not only did NCCU not lose any of my paperwork, they promptly notified me multiple times when they didn’t receive stuff in the first place. That’s a level of competence and attention-to-detail that can only come from a school recognizing its rank and striving to improve.

  3. Character. My time visiting the T2 in-person to gather more information was about what you’d anticipate from a school that loses paperwork and doesn’t notify people until two months later. Trying to meet with the Dean to ask questions was a fruitless endeavor, and the low-grade paper-pusher who finally graced me with her presence acted like it was a burden to talk with me — as though I had just taken her away from the positively riveting experience of playing Minesweeper all day.  And this was as a student with an LSAT score well above the institution’s top quartile.

    The T4 experience was completely different. The Chancellor of North Carolina Central University met with me for about an hour to answer my questions about the University. The Dean of the School of Law met with me for about 20 minutes to answer my questions as well, even telling me he wasn’t sure I was qualified to attend because “[t]here are students who genuinely want to attend NCCU as their 1st choice instead of wanting to go to Carolina and applying to us as their backup” (which, though I was mildly insulted, I considered an eminently reasonable response from a Dean of a law school). They graciously offered their time to speak with me, provided me with their email addresses if I had further questions, and responded to those emails when I contacted them later. It was a “students first” mentality that comes with trying to build a legacy by taking care of its customers.

  4. Culture. In line with my earlier reference about T4s providing a public service by accepting applicants who are “sub-standard” on paper, the culture at the North Carolina Central University School of Law is one where every student is expected to learn the material and excel. This is reflected in the institution’s bar passage rate (81.9% in 2007, +7.9% over the state average) which is actually comparable to several T1 institutions and most T2s. My impression is that the intensity of the student body stems from the knowledge they are “underdogs” in the legal arena, competing with law graduates coming from schools with bigger profiles, resources and legacies.

    Graduates from top schools, by contrast, seem to lack that same level of intensity. That sense was actually summarized best during my experience working with the North Carolina State Bar (our state agency responsible for licensing and regulating attorneys). I was a college dropout at the time and working as a low-level staff member in the Grievance Division. When I mentioned to one of the staff attorneys my interest in law school and wondering where I should apply, I got this as a response (inflection and hand gestures translated visually by me):

    • If you want to be a lawyer who knows the law, go to Campbell (another T4 in the Triangle)
    • If you want to be a judge who knows the law, go to Central
    • If you want to be a politician who “knows” the law, go to Carolina

    (one of the newer attorneys who was still paying down his student loans also chimed in with “If you want to know the law but be homeless, go to Duke” :))

    I simply mesh better with an environment where there’s a feeling of “us vs them” and people are willing to help uplift each other because we’re all essentially a family. There’s still competition of course, but all the “gunner” talk you see on other law-related blogs doesn’t seem to apply to NCCU.

***

And although it wasn’t an actual reason behind my decision, I thought it was fitting that NCCU’s school colors of maroon and gray were just a slightly darker shade than NC State’s red and white ;)

I realize the length of this post has reached ridiculous proportions, so I’ll clip it here for the evening. At some point over the next couple days I’ll actually get into my other experiences during orientation this week… some of which I’ll admit now were more than slightly embarrassing. Good night folks :)

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Why a T4 law school was my 1st choice (Part I)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 13, 2009 in Background

One thing I’ve learned when starting a new project is to keep it secret until you’ve got a fairly decent idea of how you want the project to turn out. Ask someone for their thoughts on a vaporous concept alone and you’re likely to get a critical response — and sometimes you don’t even have to ask.

That was the case today, my 2nd day of orientation at the North Carolina Central University School of Law.  During a mid-day break while talking with a prospective friend (I’m shy by nature so on those few occasions the opportunity for conversation is thrust upon me I hang on for dear life) I was asked about my undergraduate background, which in turn led to a discussion about studying Computer Science, which in turn led to a discussion about social networks / blogs / Twitter / etc… which in turn led to me mentioning law:/dev/null.

At that point a kid who I can only conclude has a raging inferiority complex jumped in with “You’re going to a Tier 4 law school, what on earth can you know about being a 1L to justify writing a blog?” (emphasis his).

So many things with that statement that merit ranting, so little time.  So I figured I’d hit the main one.

Most people by nature are braggarts, and lawyers more so than most.  An outgrowth of that reality is the constant pigeonholing of people based on the law school they attend.  US News & World Report kindly contributes to this foolishness by ranking all 184 law schools in the country and helpfully chunking them into roughly equal-sized Tiers.  Your top schools like Harvard, Stanford, Yale and so on go into Tier 1, while your non-top schools like Appalachian, Duquesne, Ave Maria and their counterparts go into Tier 4.

The statistics about each school generally determine their tiers.  Higher tiers tend to have “more selective” admissions, higher bar passage rates, and better job placement percentages; lower tiers have “more permissive” admissions and lower percentages on both bar passage and job placement.  Although rankings might be useful to the braggart class, they can create self-fulfilling prophecies that don’t accurately reflect the quality of what students are actually taught — for example, higher ranked schools get more attention in books like US News Top 100 Law Schools, therefore they get more applications for a fixed number of spots, therefore they become even more “more selective” when most of those folks get rejected, therefore their rankings are reinforced or improved the next time around, and so on ad inifinitum.

What on earth can a student at a Tier 4 law school know to justify producing a blog?  The same stuff as everyone else — almost all 1Ls get taught the exact same material, primarily because groups like the American Bar Association have certain basic standards that have to be met for a law school to get accredited.

But that fact begs the question:  if everyone is learning substantially the same material, why would anyone bother attending a Tier 4 school in the first place when it would seem (at least statistically) that a top school would give someone better odds at passing the bar and landing a job?

I’d tell you, but it’s just past midnight (as in 2+ hours past my bedtime).  Keep an eye out for my answer tomorrow :)

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