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Monday, November 27, 2017
Are Law Schools Seeing a “Trump Bump”?
This question was posed in a Huffington Post editorial this week by Ray Brescia, an Associate Professor of Law at Albany Law School in New York. Brescia built his premise, in part, on an apparent twenty-percent increase in LSAT takers for the December 2017 exam. The spike is notable given that the numbers of students taking the LSAT has been, for several years, in steady decline.
Brescia speculates that Trump's election may have galvanized young people on both sides of the political spectrum to increase their social involvement. Against the backdrop of a highly charged political environment, civic engagement does appear to be on the rise. Lawyers were instrumental in reversing most of the adverse effects of Trump's so-called travel ban last winter. Appellate court judges across the country have neutralized many high profile executive orders issued by Trump over the past twelve months.
If Trump's election has coaxed out social justice warriors, it has also emboldened conservative support for the administration's promise of policy changes. The visible victories of progressive lawyers may have the unintended side effect of inspiring a new wave of conservatives to pursue law degrees in order to fight back.
There are, of course, myriad reasons why LSAT numbers may be up. The country is recovering from the recession that scared so many students away from law school in the first place. This could be a statistical blip. But while Brescia's educated speculation may not unfurl as expected, it is an interesting social enquiry. The U.S. is certainly in unprecedented political territory at present. The current administration has made statements and movements that threaten to topple the constitutional democracy that has underpinned the Republic for 241 years.
If that isn't a good reason to go to law school, I'm not sure what is.
Monday, November 20, 2017
Diversity in the Legal World
A cursory glance at the American Bar Association's demographic report for 2016 reveals a handful of alarming statistics. Take gender parity, for example. While law school enrollment amongst the sexes is close to equal (52.2% men, 47.8% women), a full 64% of practicing attorneys are men. When it comes to race and ethnicity, however, the inequity is astonishing. Fewer than 5% of practicing attorneys are African-American; only 4% are Hispanic.
Statistics almost always require context, except perhaps, when they are this stark. African-Americans make up roughly 13.3% of the U.S. population, and a staggering 45% of the U.S. prison population. Hispanics account for 16.7% of the U.S. population. Though racial and ethnic classifications carry their own inherent biases, some statistics speak for themselves. The roots of these disparities go far too deep for a short blog, but a few salient points bear discussion.
Income inequality in the U.S. skews along racial lines, meaning that college and law school are out of financial reach for many students of color. Because classes and races are so geographically segregated in American society, people from low income areas also have dramatically reduced access to the many tools that make college feasible-good schools, guidance counselors, and money for college preparation. And those are just the measurable tangibles. The psychology of poverty and oppression is crushing, and defined in stark opposition to the privilege and entitlement afforded to white Americans.
For African-American students looking to study law in cultural and social comfort, the offerings are meager; only six HBCU law schools are accredited by the American Bar Association. Not one of those is in California, the most populous U.S. state, by a long shot. Texas, with a population of close to 28 million, is home to one.
Access to justice is a fundamental marker of success and power. Prestige is a hallmark of the legal profession. Until people of color are adequately represented in the legal realm, law will remain a microcosm of society’s larger issues with racism, sexism and privilege.
Labels: Diversity in the Legal World
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Is Life Coaching the New College Consulting?
Here's how it went a couple decades back when I was applying to colleges. You picked maybe half a dozen, tops. One reach, one safety, and a few in between. The applications were all on paper. Most schools asked for a single short essay. The top-tier private schools may have given you ten lined spaces to answer a question about the world you came from.
Change is, of course, a part of life. No young student is interested in an "in my day" review of how things used to be. But college has become wildly competitive, and technology has transformed expectations surrounding the admissions process. Everywhere you look, someone is selling college consulting services. There are hundreds of books about the process, the essay, and how-to-get-in. In order to distinguish themselves, college preparation businesses need to get creative.
Which is exactly what 22-year-old Chris Rim-a recent Yale graduate-has done. He shoe-horned his way into Yale with a 3.8 GPA and a non-profit he'd built from the ground up. Now, Mr. Rim charges up to $950 an hour to coach college hopefuls, and parents are paying it. What's different? He's not just helping with essays or tutoring-he's teaching students to build their own brand, starting early in high school. He knows that all the top schools turn down thousands of candidates with perfect SAT scores, a 4.0 and a bang-up essay.
Rim is already claiming a 96% success rate, and while critics worry that this kind of coaching simply cheapens the process with artifice, it may well be the wave of the future. Many students (and parents) are still more interested in prestige over "good fit". Rather than reframing the breathless process, they are likely to keep searching for a new edge. Mr. Rim has already found a way.
Monday, November 13, 2017
The Search for a Reasonable Bar Pass Rate
In 2014, the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law (UNT) opened its doors with a very unique mission statement. Their stated goal was to help at-risk students to gain law licenses. Translated loosely: UNT was willing to admit students with lower admission credentials and help them become attorneys in Texas. The problem? ABA accreditation. This is a blueprint that has been used many times before, to mixed results.
There are roughly 200 law schools in the country accredited by the American Bar Association. ABA approval is the standard stamp of validation that allows students of the various schools to sit the bar exam in their state. Only one state-California-has made a notable break from the system by creating their own accreditation system. Schools approved by the California Bar Association may sit for the California bar exam and become licensed attorneys in California. Those students may not be allowed to sit bar exams or practice in other states.
In 2016, UNT was denied accreditation by the ABA on the grounds that too many of its students had low LSAT scores, making it less probable that they would be able to pass the Texas bar exam. The school appealed the decision and was granted provisional accreditation in June 2017. The first graduating class took the exam this July with a 59% pass rate. Texas’ overall pass rate was 71%.
Whittier College of Law in California posted a pass rate of just 22% in the July 2016 exam; Whittier, an ABA accredited school, is shuttering its doors in 2019. Like UNT, Whittier prided itself on its diversity and commitment to educating non-traditional students.
While relevant, pass rates alone should not be a death sentence. The state average pass rate in California for the July 2016 bar exam was around 60%. Those quick to blame California's non-ABA accredited goals may want to look at the pass rates for many of the state's reputable law schools. Above The Law
In a system propped up on prestige, it is ironic that pass rates at all but the very top schools in the country post somewhat paltry numbers. It is unfortunate that the very schools that aim to diversify the profession are those most often taking a hit because of it.
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Are Full-Time MBA Programs Worth It?
For the third year in a row, full-time MBA programs in the U.S. have seen a steady decline. Experts are nonplussed; in a robust economy, fewer professionals are willing to forgo actual income to pursue a graduate degree. The problem, however, may be more complicated than that.
Like many law schools nationwide, most MBA programs come with a steep price tag of over $50,000 a year. That kind of investment is unlikely to lure the ranks of the gainfully employed back to the classroom. Attendance may also be derailed by the abundance of shorter, more affordable specialized degrees in areas like data analytics and accounting. Over the past decade, enrollment in those programs has nearly doubled.
Many business students rely on employers to fund MBA educations, but those are most often part-time or executive MBA programs. Taking two full years out of the work force and dropping six figures in tuition simply isn't prudent.
Another possibility likely to gather steam in the months ahead is socio-political in nature. Foreign students have long made up more than half of students in American MBA programs. The visa restrictions imposed and promised by the Trump administration, as well as the anti-immigration rhetoric, have served as a stark deterrent. This year, more than 75% of programs surveyed by the Graduate Management Admission Council reported enrollment declines for the 2017-2018 academic year.
Whether this is a precipitous trend or a shorter hiccup remains to be seen.
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Rethinking the LSAT in Law School Admissions
When it comes to standardized tests, everyone's got a lot of opinions. For decades, the LSAT has been a prerequisite for entry to law school. In recent years, however, it has-like many other aptitude exams-come under fire for being a less capable predictor of academic success than once thought. Results skew along socioeconomic lines, raising questions about access and diversity in higher education.
Still, when a handful of prominent law schools across the country-among them Harvard and Columbia-recently dropped the LSAT requirement for entering law students, people noticed. Like the SAT for undergraduates, a high LSAT score is a golden ticket to entry. Top scoring students are wooed by the best schools in the country. All things being equal, an LSAT score allows any student to know where they'll land in terms of admission.
Detangling the LSAT from law school admission will be a complicated process, but there are compelling reasons for doing so. Most significantly, numerous studies have indicated that the LSAT is not an accurate predictor of law school GPA or performance on the bar exam. This isn't to say that there isn't correlation in this data points, merely that they are not exhaustively probative.
Accepting the GRE instead, is sending a different message to potential law students. The GRE is the standard-bearer for entry to most graduate programs in the U.S., (aside only from law, business and medical school). Arguably, it is a friendlier test. Because it can be used to access such a broad range of graduate programs, law schools would potentially catch incoming students who might not otherwise have considered law as a field.
The LSAT, of course, also offers measurable structure. It gives students a strong sense of whether or not they are up to the substantial task of law school. But while it's possible that some law schools will follow Harvard's lead in making the LSAT optional, it will likely take years for this testing landscape to see major topographical changes.
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