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Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Changing the Face of Legal Research
In the world of higher education, the appearance of prestige is almost as important as prestige itself. The Ivies, and other universities with well-regarded stature also immediately have access to other important things-good faculty, wealthy students, and, wealthy alumni. This isn't to say that auspicious learning institutions aren't actually of higher quality than their counterparts. Still, perception is reality.
This is nowhere truer than in the law school arena in the United States. The American Bar Association is the governing body which accredits and oversees the nation's schools. All of the top schools are ABA accredited. There are a constellation of requirements that schools must meet in order to merit accreditation. One of them has to do with the size and scope of the school's law library. With the growth of on-line research libraries, this component is arguably becoming a more dated metric.
Which is why I was encouraged to find a recent story about a Harvard Law graduate, who is also the head of a start-up company Ravel Law. The graduate-Romeen Sheth-and his alma mater have recently partnered on a $10 million project to digitize Harvard's entire law library, making it accessible to—gasp-the public.
Symbolically, this is a big deal. Unaccredited law schools often remain that way solely because they lack a bricks and mortar library. New legal practitioners pay top dollar for access to databases like Lexis-Nexis. Non-legal professionals have long struggled to find public access to all but lengthy troves of actual statutes.
Digitizing actual libraries suddenly means that institutions like Harvard can no longer keep a golden lock on the doors of their research libraries. It isn't clear what kind of price tag companies like Ravel intend to attach to the digital information, but it does mean that one need not be a Harvard student to have access to its annals of knowledge.
Will members of the public clamor for this digital library? Maybe not. Arcane case law isn't for everyone. But in theory, access to it should be. I, for one, would like this to cause a shift in a very old tide of thought.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Social Media Creating New Hurdle for Law Students?
Across the U.S. there are two components to bar admission for every attorney in the country. A law exam, and a moral exam. The vetting process can take months or even years, depending on the particular state. The central regulating body-the National Conference of Bar Examiners-promises aspiring attorneys that they may be waiting 3-4 months for the results of the background checks.
The fitness exams run the gamut and will look into everything from criminal history to professional misconduct. Some states require law students to list speeding tickets. Areas such as mental health and substance abuse can get particularly sticky; such investigations can run afoul of privacy concerns proscribed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and substance abuse history is arguably not a barrier to practice for attorneys in recovery. Still, the character exams leave few stones unturned.
Which is why it should come as little surprise that investigators may turn to social media accounts of applicants during the vetting process. What better way to uncover a person's moral fitness to practice law than by checking their Facebook page? I write this with only a whiff of sarcasm. While it seems unlikely that a sordid tweet may preclude an otherwise squeaky-clean candidate from bar admission, unsavory online behavior could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back. (Unless you're the President-Elect).
Take the case of Otion Gjini, a Maryland bar applicant whose appeal of his admission denial was affirmed, based mostly on an undisclosed criminal history. But in the course of their review, the regulating body found a series of sexist and homophobic rants on Gjini's Facebook page, which, they claimed, would tend to "breed disrespect for the courts and for the legal profession".
Should all law students rush to scrub their social media profiles? As a matter of professional practice, it isn't a bad idea, but with a looming character and fitness exam, it may just be common sense.
Monday, December 12, 2016
Women Still Lagging Behind Men in Legal Profession
For many years, one of the most apparently gender-equitable spaces in American society could be found in a rather unlikely place: college campuses. Since the early 1970s, the gap in attendance between men and women has been narrowing. Around the turn of the millennium, women pulled ahead; today, between 55-57% of college students are women.
Unfortunately, this trend hasn't translated well in the working world. Perhaps that depends upon who you ask, but well-aerated statistics indicate that women continue to earn less than 80 cents to a man's dollar. There are 23 female CEOs in the entire Fortune 500. Senior partners in U.S. law firms are overwhelmingly male.
A recent analysis of demographic data within U.S. law schools has also revealed some unwelcome news. While it may not sound bad, just 50% of law school students are women; this means that somewhere between college and law school, women's chances of admission deteriorate. The report notes that there are more women than men obtaining master's and doctoral degrees-why the difference in law school?
Another problem? Law schools accept fewer women than men. And women who do make it into law school tend to be accepted to less prestigious institutions. Anyone working in the legal profession knows just how much pedigree matters.
Like any statistical analysis, drawing conclusions require evaluation of multiple variables. Neither the report nor this post can presume to answer the question of "why", although. Asking it, however, is as important as ever.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
The Rising Costs of College Admission
Let me start by saying one thing: this post won't be about the rising costs of actual college attendance. That's not because college tuition costs aren't going up (they are). Instead, I'm talking about the long-game. The cost of preparing kids for college.
It starts at preschool.
I'm not being alarmist. I also don't believe kids are actually tracked at age three. What is arguable is that socioeconomic class starts to inform educational trajectory from very early on. With some exceptions, the kids whose parents can afford to send them to preschool will begin kindergarten with many social and some academic advantages.
With some exceptions, kids who attend private elementary, middle and high schools will also have a leg up on their public school counterparts. This is in no way a swipe at public education. It's just that it can't compete with the funding of private institutions, which will offer wealthier children opportunities that poor children will simply never see.
By high school, most kids already have a sense of whether or not college is on the horizon. Private schools-with smaller student to teacher ratios and bigger coffers for paying staff-will undoubtedly be able to support students through the college application process in a more meaningful way. Some public school guidance school counselors are assigned to hundreds of kids at a time.
With a new presidential administration promising to divert federal and state funds away from public schools, the cost of schooling may become even further out of the reach of many American families. This trend is likely to be complicated by slashing the funding of vital early education programs designed to help lower income families. The face of college admissions may be changing, and with it, the demographics of the country's college graduates.
Monday, December 5, 2016
Time for “Tracking” in Post-Secondary Education?
How do politics affect post-secondary education in the United States? Are they truly a meritocracy, or is the system rigged? Will we ever be able to bridge the wealth gap in college education?
These are just some of the questions now on the front burner as we await a Trump Administration. Obama's tenure can be best described as an era focused on college completion. His administration pushed for transparency in the fiscal value of college degrees. He worked with philanthropic organizations to create post-secondary credentials that had meaning and value in the workplace. And in recent years, the Obama administration made great strides for community colleges.
The Trump administration's position on higher education is still not abundantly clear, but it may end up being eclipsed by a focus on creating jobs. Ironically, the creation of jobs and support for four-year education are things that-in American culture-are often mutually exclusive. Trump has promised a $1 trillion infrastructure improvement program; most of the jobs created by such an endeavor would only require a high school diploma.
Which raises the issue of "tracking"-a system common in parts of Europe which typically causes Americans to bristle. Such a system tracks students early on, recognizing that some students will become doctors and some will become plumbers, and that it is equally important to prepare students for both.
This system acknowledges that all students are different, but goes against the grain of the American bootstrap mythology that anyone can reach the mountain top if they just work hard enough. History has proven this to mostly be untrue.
So while a Trump administration will likely (and intentionally) unravel much of the education policy crafted under his predecessor, he may in fact create a professional environment meeting many of the same goals.
It just may be that "success" no longer includes a four-year degree.
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