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April 18, 2005

homework for law school applicants

Filed under: — David Giacalone @ 3:09 pm

follow-up (Jan. 10, 2011): See the New York Times article “Is Law School a Losing Game?” by David Segal (Jan. 8, 2011).  According to Prof. William Henderson of Indiana University, “Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm,” as law schools lure students with questionable post-degree employment data, and many graduates have no way to earn enough to pay off their enormous and non-dischargeable debt.  [See our prior discussion of law-school debt, such as here, and there.]  The NYT article points to several so-called “law school scam” weblogs: Shilling Me Softly, Subprime JD, Rose Colored Glasses, and Third Tier Reality.

Suffolk Law School Professor Andrew Perlman sent me off on quite
a tangent last week, with his guest posting at Legal Ethics Forum
on “Misleading Law School Promotional Materials” (April 13, 2005)
So, I thought I better at least get a posting out of it.
It seems Andy is worried that shady law school promotional tactics are
misleading and unfairly enticing the nation’s law school applicants. To avoid
hypocrisy and unpleasantly surprised students or graduates, Andy wants to apply
the same “strict” advertising criteria to schools that are applied to lawyers (although
he thinks the restrictions should be lifted from lawyers).  I wasn’t sure that the
crisis was as big as Andy suggested, or that we should worry too much about
law school applicants (since they can and should protect themselves); check out

black envelope After doing a bit of research and reflection, I came to the following conclusions:
tiny check Naturally, it’s absolutely improper for law schools to be using deceptive
tactics in the admissions process  [unless used to weed out particularly credulous
or lazy applicants!]
adequately deal with the issue of misleading promotional practices.
Chapter 5 Admissions is most relevant — generally with Standard
501 and more specifically through Standard 509:
Standard 501. Admissions.
(a) A law school’s admission policies shall be consistent with
the objectives of its educational program and the resources
available for implementing those objectives.
(b) A law school shall not admit applicants who do not appear
capable of satisfactorily completing its educational program
and being admitted to the bar.
Standard 509. Basic Consumer Information
A law school shall publish basic consumer information. The
information shall be published in a fair and accurate manner
reflective of actual practice.
Moreover, under Interpretation 509-1: “The following categories of consumer
information are considered basic: (1) admission data; (2) tuition, fees, living costs,
financial aid, and refunds; (3) enrollment data and graduation rates; (4) composition and number of faculty and administrators; (5) curricular offerings; (6) library resources; (7) physical facilities; and (8) placement rates and bar passage data.
Interpretations 509-2 and 509-3 help ensure compliance through publication
requirements (and, if the school uses its own publication, distribution to each applicant), and by making clear that the fair and accurate standard applies “whenever and wherever that information is reported or published . . . in other places or for other purposes.”
As a result, a wide array of information, in uniform and easily-understood formats (with avdanced search accessibility) is available for free to law school applicants and other interested persons.  For example:
The LSAC Guide for each school has lots of data on topics that concerned Prof. Perlman, including attritition rates (from year to year, academic and other), annual expenses and the median size of financial aid, employment and bar passage rates, and even the number of clinical classes and available seats.  For example, see  the LSAC guide for the University of Akron School of Law.
tiny check Given the existence and accessibility of this information, the importance of the decisions, and the kinds of skills and attitudes a good lawyer needs, I cannot agree with Andy Perlman that we should feel a lot of sympathy for “naive” or ignorant law school applicants-turned-student.
Andy is, for example, perturbed because some law schools boast that many of their
graduates go on to public interest jobs without reminding applicants (on the same page, I guess) that huge school debt might make it impractical or impossible to pursue a public interest dream.   Andy’s complaint posits a degree of infantile obliviousness (or irresponsibility) on the part of applicants and overweening nannyism on the part of schools and regulators that is beyond my ability to comprehend, embrace or justify.
For the sake of their future clients, I expect better of law school applicants.  Do your homework! When an issue or topic is important to you (like Perlman’s example of the availability of touted clinical programs), look into the details, ask questions, be diligent and zealous. A big part of law school education should be helping the student to spot material issues, to persevere in seeking answers, and to do the right thing despite the avarice and hypocrisy that is everywhere in the profession and society.   The wise law school applicant, however, should be practicing and demonstrating those skills in the application and selection process.  Don’t let the law schools off the hook — but don’t for a moment believe that you can rely on “the other side” to give you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

admissions week —

two fat envelopes

and two thin ones

A few parting thoughts:
  • Prof. Eric Goldman‘s observation may be correct that better
    information is unlikely to lead many applicants to make better decisions. Show him he’s wrong, kids.
  • According to the Site Visit page of the ABA Legal Education
    Committee, Complaints or Comments about a school’s compliance with the applicable Standards should be sent to the Deputy Consultant on Legal Education to the American Bar Association, 321 N. Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60610.
  • Be warned:. Law schools are being fed the magic potion of “branding” for “Selling your Law School in a Buyer’s Market” (Jan. 2005 AALS Convention — see “Strategic Identity and the Branding of Law Schools,” Jon M. Garon, Hamline University School of Law.  If there is substance behind the “strategic identity,” branding can be a useful tool.  The job of
    the applicant is to make sure it’s not smoke and mirrors.
  • As I stated at LEF (in a world-class run-on sentence): “In a world
    where law school applicants have ready access to information that can easily counter law school promotional hype or spin, AND in which law schools are already subjected to Standard 509’s requirement of full disclosure that is fair and accurate (a test that I believe is more

    restrictive than the current Model Rule 7.1 for lawyers), I believe the legal community should be using its efforts to convert more states to the ABA’s Model Rule 7.1 approach for lawyer advertising, rather than attempting to counter hypothetical injury to law school applicants that can be avoided with a little diligence and a reasonable amount of common sense on their part.”

p.s. (April 23, 2005):  Got time?  Here’s a little more homework (via jd2b):  There’s a recent Washington Post Career Track column that is a must-read for college students thinking about going to law school and their parents.   In a review of the book Should You Really Be a Lawyer?, by D. Schneider and G. Belsky (2004), Mary Ellen Slayter lists some of the most common traps that applicants fall into as they march mindlessly toward law schools without figuring out their own motivations, adding up the true cost, assessing realistic job options if saddled with large debt, or seeking out unbiased and experienced opinions about law practice. “First, Make a Case: Is Law School for You?” (Wash. Post, April 17, 2005)

admissions week —
two fat envelopes
and two skinny ones

prairie twilight…
the glow of the cattleman’s
branding iron
Ed Markowski
during discussion
on the meaning of life . . . the crunch
of a student’s apple
George Swede
from Almost Unseen
pencil shavings
the student’s tongue
curls and uncurls
DeVar Dahl
from A New Resonance 3
first posted as law school applicants need homework April 18, 2005

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