Sunday, July 24, 2011

There You Go Again: NYTimes Letter

What follows in quotations is part of a letter to the NYTimes from Rick Matasar. The bracketed parts are my own comments. You may recall that Rick was more or less the target of an article in the Times last week. I am not picking on Rick because any dean I have known could have written this. And, for the record, after weeks of pounding on law schools it's clear that someone at the Times has a son or daughter who cannot get a job or into law school. Still the inability of Law Schools and their representatives to stop selling their stories continues.

" In my 11 years at New York Law School, which was highlighted in the article, the first-time bar exam passage rate improved to as high as 93 percent." [As high as 93 percent? What does this mean? Most likely that one time it reached 93%. As soon as I see "as high as" I know I am reading something that is biased or intended to make me believe something other than what is most relevant. For example "as high as 30 miles a gallon" or "as high as 50% off"]

"We have built an acclaimed student-centered facility and have instituted a practice-based curriculum, specialized research centers and an intensive first-year skills program." [I am sure that most other deans would claim to be in the process of doing the same. So does that mean the employment rate is higher?]

"Of 10 private metro New York City law schools, our tuition is lower than all but four." We have a flat-rate tuition and guarantee that the price won’t go up while a student is enrolled. [O.K. If my math is right, if there are ten and 4 four are less expensive, this puts you pretty much in the middle. Why say "all but" 4?

"In its rankings of law schools, U.S. News and World Report publishes median salaries for graduates, but those figures are nearly two years old. We give our students current, detailed job and salary information." [This one puzzles me. Students apply in the fall or early spring of the year they are admitted. Are they provided the data from the class that graduated 5 months earlier? Maybe, but why not say that. By the time the applicants begin school, the only statistics the schools themselves could have are a year old. But here he says the USNews numbers are "nearly two years old." What is nearly? I think that means less than 2 years old. How different can that be from the USNews data?

Some weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about the "not technically a lie" culture that exists at law schools. The idea is to tell the truth technically but to lead the reader to believe something that is not quite right. Rick's comments are so mild that I am not sure they fit into the "not technically a lie" examples I discussed in that post but they are representative of a culture and, to some extent, a profession, that has earned the distrust of most people.

Again, as I said before, I think Rick was a pretty good dean. (Since I wrote that some of my colleagues have let me know they disagree.) These comments are, in fact, just standard fare. On the other hand, wouldn't you love to take the deposition of one of these people? Makes me want to shove someone.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Economics negative 101

Over on facebook, I ran across this comment on a post about the economics of legal education:

"Legal education in the U.S. could be tweaked, sure. But the biggest problems I see are the absurd increases in number of law schools, class size, and tuition."

The writer is not a "friend" and I do not otherwise know him. I am not picking on him but I think his thoughts may be similar to that of others. That worries me because it seems so off course.

As I understand it the current pressing issue is that law school grads cannot find jobs. So, they invest thousands and end up with a great deal of debt and little or no return on that investment.

The question is whether the problem is more law schools, larger classes, and higher tuition. Unless the law schools are actively misleading investors, what is the connection between any of these and really bad decision making? In my town, there must be 50 people who have invested in selling pizza. If one of them folds, will the reason be that pizza making equipment was too expensive, or readily available? Makes no sense.

I cannot help but wonder if the recent "blaming" trend is the result of finally graduating an age group composed in large part of people who were always over affirmed, could never make mistakes and, thus, cannot handle the criticism the market is offering about their decision making.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Not Buying What You are Selling: Law School Economics

By now anyone reading this has probably read the piece in the Times on law school economics and featuring former UF law dean Rick Matasar. I though Rick was a good dean although deaning does seem to be a process that leads to a redefinition of what it means to be fair, honest, and ethical. I have not walked in those shoes and would like to think, but cannot know, if I too would "adjust." Probably I would as I have yet to discover any convincing evidence that I am sturdier morality-wise than the deans I have seen come and go.

I do not understand the expose-like nature of these articles when it comes to private schools. At this point anyone who does not know that law school does not mean a high paying job must be living in a bubble. And, at the tuition levels private schools often charge, I am sincerely puzzled. The same people would not pay $100,000 for a motor scooter; why do they become unstuck from reality when it comes to buying a legal education.

On the issue of public schools I feel differently. Supposedly public schools exist to provide something that would not be produced at sufficient levels in a market economy. They do this by forcing people other than the students to pay. There are two possibilities here:

1. More lawyers supposedly with the goal of forcing the cost of legal services down. If this is true, then the current rush to teach more skills makes sense. The problem with this goal, however, is that the market seems to be screaming "enough."

2. It could be that the "product" a more educated and analytic population. If this is the case, it seems like the skills courses, except for writing, should be deemphasized and law school should be more like graduate school with the whole operation greatly downsized. The problem here is that not too many people have the luxury of spending three years in school just to be more well rounded.

So, what is the current goal of public law schools? That actually is pretty easy. It is not about students or taxpayers. Right now it appears to be to preserve the institution, the jobs it provides for faculty, and the process of selling lottery tickets to students. If you think about it, many people still rode horses when they became obsolete. Many people refused to get a microwave oven. Unless public law schools figure out something to do, they may too be put out to pasture.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tenure: The Club

Recently Stanley Fish had a interesting op ed piece in the NYTimes. It was about tenure because he was commenting on a book that was questioning the need for tenure. His view, as I understood, was that tenure would make more sense if professors actually did what they once did -- open-minded research that may or may not reveal some inconvenient information.

I have a different take on tenure. It's just a club. How so? In law schools faculty have about 5 years to prove they are tenure worthy. A decision is made in the sixth year and if they are told no they have a year to fine another job. Law schools hire people and, I am estimating, grant tenure to about 90% of the people they hire. What that means is that the initial hiring committee turns out to be right about 90% of the time. Evidently, though, they are right 90% of the time only for their own schools.

What do I mean by that? In my 30 plus years of law teaching I have see a small handful of tenure turndowns, early departures, etc. In that same time I have seen a grand total of 5 faculty take jobs at higher ranked schools. One was Liz Warren now at Harvard. One is at Virginia and another at Vanderbilt. I am saying 5 because I probably missed a couple. One way to interpret this is that most law schools hire people who are just good enough for the school hiring them -- no better (otherwise more would leave for better schools) and no worse (otherwise they would not be granted tenure).

Is it really possible that on the bases of a resume and an interview that this near perfect matching occurs? I doubt it and you should too. What happens too often is that the incumbent faculty member makes friends, knows better than to rock the boat, and, if he or she generates a fan club, the rest of the faculty agree on tenure in hopes of reciprocation when one of their favs comes along. It's not hard to get a fan club because in all likelihood the new hire was hired because he or she was already part of the elite school, class, or family connection club that the faculty hiring him or were already in. When you think if it, not getting tenure is only a little more difficult that having it taken away which is actually close to impossible.

So, the debate about whether tenure is necessary strikes me as mostly theoretical. We do not need to worry about that until someone actually begins to grant tenure or not based on what is best for the school as opposed to the faculty. Don't hold your breath.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Who Pays for Nancy Grace

Went to my gym last night and got on the boring stair machine. It has a TV so I turned it on hoping for a distraction. The person before me was evidently watching Nancy Grace. I did not stay long on that channel but noticed that there is a clock on the screen counting down until the so-called Tot Mom is released. (It seems like that is supposed to be pegorative but I do not get it.)

I had a number of thoughts. Nancy Grace continues to wave a red flag in front of people already upset about the Casey Anthony verdict and she is making a bundle for herself and the network doing it. She may just push it hard enough that she gets someone killed. I am certain that she has already pushed it enough that there will be funds spent to keeping Casey safe. In short, Nancy is exploiting listeners for her own gain and you and I will pay the bill for the consequences. If you think about it, Nancy is asking me and you to subsidize her money-making efforts.

Why isn't Nancy like a polluting factory that is required to clean up or pay for the area it has polluted. I am all for Nancy speaking her mind and as long as she makes money doing it I am sure her shameless sponsors will be for it too. I'd just like Nancy to be around to clean up the mess when the dust settles.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chancey, Michelle, and Sarah

Remember Chancey from the movie "Being There." Actually that was not his name. He got it when he introduced himself as Chance, . . . the gardener. He is not very smart and does not read or write. Through a series of mishaps he becomes media celeb and Presidential advisor. Here is the dialogue from a scene with the President:

"Bobby": Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?[Long pause]
the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
"Bobby": In the garden.
the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
"Bobby": Spring and summer.
the Gardener: Yes.
"Bobby: Then fall and winter
the Gardener: Yes.
Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Rand: Hmm!
the Gardener: Hmm!
"Bobby": Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.
Benjamin Rand applauds.
"Bobby": I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.

People assumed he was special. A terrific little book -- The Drunkard's Walk (math talk for randomness) -- discusses the way that through luck people who are no more talented thousands of others become stars. And once they have that luck the assumption of expertise follows.
So, since somehow he has achieved a reputation as a genius, everything he says is interpreted to reinforce those expections.

That was alll supposed to be absurd but now with a few of today's politicians, the absurd has become the new normal.

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Trial

I did not keep up with the trial like many others. I caught a bit of the closing arguments and about 20 minutes of testimony. Most of my reasons are based on hearsay and news reports.

1.In my short exposure, the lawyer I would most like to fire would be the smirking prosecutor. He was entrusted with millions of taxpayers' dollars and, if it had been close, his wise ass behavior could have lost it.

2. There should have been a directed verdict at the end of the prosecution's case. I say that because when they ended there was reasonable doubt and the fantasy world painted by the defense did not damages the prosecution's case -- it was weak from the outset.

3. I fear that the defense attorney will be viewed now as having done a great job. In fact, I think he gets a C at best. Or, put differently, the defendant won despite the defense her attorney put on.

4. I believe there was reasonable doubt here and the jurors overcame personal feelings to get to the result. In the OJ case there may have been reasonable doubt but I do not think the jurors would have overcome their personal feelings to get a conviction if there had not been.

5. It was painful watch the State's Attorney on TV try to cover his butt after spending so much on so little.

6. Public reaction further convinces me that if it were not for the Bill of Rights we would live in a police state.