Paul L. Caron

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Whittier Law School Died Many Years Ago, When It Strayed From Its Founding Mission To Prepare Students To Pass The Bar And Succeed As Lawyers

WhittierFollowing up on my previous posts on the closure of Whittier Law School (links below):  Jill Switzer (J.D. 1976, Whittier; Blogger, Old Lady Lawyer), Requiem For My Law School:

I will leave it to others to report, examine, and dissect the upcoming demise aka closing of Whittier Law School.

This is a very personal memorial to a school that had really died some years ago, although it didn’t know it then.

I graduated as a member of Whittier’s first day class way back in dinosaur days in 1976. The graduating first day class had 50 students in it, as the school had flunked out two thirds of the class that it didn’t think could pass the California Bar exam. (“Look to the left, look to the right; two thirds of you won’t be here at graduation.”) 49 out of the remaining 50 of us passed the July 1976 bar exam on the first try. The one who had to retake it in February, 1977 passed then, and so, we had a 100 percent (not a typo) bar passage rate within a year after graduation. ...

The philosophy of Beverly College of Law was to provide legal educations for those working adults who wanted to change careers. While others may sniff on the focus of “teaching to the bar,” the fact remains that when Beverly Rubens and others were in charge, the school enjoyed enviable bar passage rates every year. I’ll stipulate that such didn’t translate into the ability to get jobs. Nope, the caste system was alive and well then, as it is now, and so no one wanted to hire anyone from Beverly, then Whittier.

We all made our own ways, without any help from anyone, thank you. We became prosecutors, public defenders, attorneys in private practice, be it in small firms or solos. We became judges, appellate justices, corporate counsel, and the whole panoply of other kinds of careers that law degrees can prepare you for. Some of my classmates were very entrepreneurial, going out on their own from Day 1, as it was all they ever wanted. Others established niche practices still extant. ...

There are many who disparage the practical approach to teaching law students not only the substantive law, but also how to prepare and pass the bar exam. Our instructors were almost all practicing attorneys, whose love of teaching prompted them into adjunct academia. They told us about how this concept or that concept operated in the real world, not in the rarefied academic world. They had real world examples and dilemmas to share with us, to teach us. While casebooks and hornbooks may present black letter law, the school’s philosophy was that practicing law was anything but black letter, that we all ought to learn that sooner, rather than later, and learn how to confront issues that arose daily in practice. It wasn’t on the job training, but the professors’ practical, real-life experiences were invaluable learning lessons.

So many legal educators, lawyers and others disparage the kind of education that we received back in those dinosaur days at an upstart little law school that wasn’t at all concerned with pedigree. We learned IRAC and wrote many exams; a passing grade was 73, not 70. The school was rigorous, concerned about turning out future members of the bar who knew the law, could pass the Bar exam, and generate careers for themselves.

The existential question is what is the purpose of a law school? Is it to educate and prepare people for future careers as lawyers? That’s what I thought it was for, but silly me. It seems like law professors spend more time and energy on their own agendas (writing, researching, consulting, and so on) than they spend on teaching. (This not the case just in law school academia.) Shouldn’t teaching be the first priority?

If you’ve never read Brian Tamanaha’s blistering indictment of law school education, Failing Law Schools (affiliate link), then you should. The Washington University law professor justifiably rips apart legal education for failing to do what it’s charged with doing. As I’ve said before, a revolution in legal education is overdue.

The appalling disregard for educating law students and getting them ready for practice is shameful. Students are on their own. As I saw Whittier’s bar results drop over the decades, I cringed and mourned the death of the kind of education I had received.

Whittier College made a business decision. Some think that it abandoned its law school by pulling the plug after looking at recent lousy bar results and equally lousy post bar employment rates. I think the law school abandoned its students.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Education | Permalink


Sinecures die hard. And that's what we are seeing. Faculty fighting hard to keep their sinecures. Whittier's continued existence is ostensibly indefensible..."the law school abandoned its students" indeed.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 30, 2017 11:21:21 AM

The demise started when a generation of professors doubled their own salaries and lightened their workloads. The dominos just fell from there.

Posted by: JM | Apr 30, 2017 12:30:27 PM

I like the gratitude. "Whittier law school gave me such a great education back in the day that its faculty and staff now all deserve to be out on the street."

This lady is every bit as classy as I would expect from someone who blogs on Above the Law.

Posted by: Gratitude | Apr 30, 2017 3:51:42 PM

Don't blame the professors. Blame the administrators who hired them, when those profs weren't the right people to teach in that law school and they weren't told how to teach students who weren't top-ten quality. There's room for all kinds of law schools--- but not if they all try to crowd into one niche.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Apr 30, 2017 4:33:15 PM

Sad. California and Beverly held the door open for smart kids who wanted to be lawyers. I graduated from UCLA nearly 40 years ago, but know several esteemed lawyers and judges who went to Whittier/Beverly. It indeed has lost its way, as have most law schools. I raise a glass to my Whittier colleagues, and to the last WSOL classes. The academicians lost the dream. You keep it!

Posted by: Lawyer | May 1, 2017 8:25:15 AM

What the author describes is not unique. The pursuit of higher national rankings has caused many/most law schools to abandon their core mission: to train lawyers to practice. I've watched it occur over thirty years at my own second-tier public school which no longer trains lawyers to practice in our state. New applicants to my firm have transcripts filled with esoteric fluff but cannot take a deposition or write a will or appear before a city zoning board. Yet, in spite of the complaints of alumni that graduates are significantly less prepared than we were thirty years ago, the administration persists in its current course of action hoping to move up a spot or two in next year's U.S. News list.

Then it wonders why the alumni refuse to give more money.

Posted by: RS | May 1, 2017 11:09:55 AM

Gratitude's unconscious projection of fear and apprehension is nigh palpable, isn't it?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 1, 2017 1:36:56 PM

I am not sure what she is proposing here. She states in her opening paragraphs that Beverly and then Whittier Law managed a high bar passage rate by failing out 2/3 of the students. I am sure that if Whittier used those same practices today, they would have a very acceptable bar passage score (up until this year, more than 1/3 of the students passed the bar. Even now, 22% did, which would be about a 66% pass rate assuming they kept all of the bar pass students). We could go back to the days of "look to your left, look to your right" law schools, but at what cost?

Posted by: notsure | May 1, 2017 1:45:18 PM


Such a tactic would be fine if law school cost what it did 50 years ago. However, a single year at Whittier presently costs over 75k in tuition and living expenses. Horrifically expensive schools should not be admitting and indebting people who do not appear capable of graduating and passing the bar.

Posted by: Lonnie | May 2, 2017 10:09:41 AM

Yeah, Gratitude. Shame on Dean Vik Amar for posting on ATL. Almost as bad as speaking at Cato...

Posted by: Oops | May 2, 2017 3:21:45 PM

"Horrifically expensive schools should not be admitting and indebting people who do not appear capable of graduating and passing the bar." Whatever happened to free enterprise?

Posted by: Publius Novus | May 3, 2017 6:55:22 AM

"What ever happened to free enterprise?"

I don't think most would argue that free enterprise principles encompass sub-prime mortgages, loan sharking, counterfeit goods, and other abusive economic endeavors such as those of certain law schools.

Posted by: Anon | May 3, 2017 10:37:35 AM

Yea I got beachfront property in Arizona to sell you if you seriously believe a system in which the vast majority of revenue comes directly through a federal government loan program is "free enterprise". Look up moral hazard (oh noez! A cato conspiracy) and get back to me. No bank on earth would lend unlimited credit to completely unworthy borrowers like the federal government.

Posted by: Bobby | May 3, 2017 1:42:01 PM

When the government got in the business of issuing no questions asked student loans which completely ignore the value of the degree and the student's aptitude, the 'free market' for college education was destroyed.

If legal education was a market free of government subsidies, tuition would be exponentially lower and the bad actor schools would be out of business or would never have been created in the first place.

Posted by: Lonnie | May 3, 2017 2:09:25 PM

@Lonnie and Bobby,

Uh, GradPLUS has only been around for a decade. Before that, the most one could borrow from the feds was about $20k per year, and tuition & living expenses at many private law schools cost comfortably more than twice that amount. Tuition also increased at roughly the same rate per year back then as it does in the GradPLUS era. So before you start blaming the feds for everything, take a gander at the free market of nondischargeable, securitized private student lending. Maybe take a look at the private student lender that is jointly owned by the ABA-accredited law schools, too. No one was getting turned down for full private financing back then, and there is little reason to think they would be turned down tomorrow, either.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 3, 2017 10:09:35 PM

"No one was getting turned down for full private financing back then, and there is little reason to think they would be turned down tomorrow, either."

Really, so in the 1990s and early 2000s, you could get a private law school loan with bad credit, no income, no collateral, and no cosigner?

I'd love to see some independent evidence of that. It's the definition of predatory lending.

Posted by: MM | May 4, 2017 1:43:02 PM

Fact 1: in the late 1990s and 2000s, law school enrollment swelled.

Fact 2: law school tuition at that time increased by about the same annual percentage as it does these days.

Fact 3: By the mid-2000s, private law school tuition and expenses routinely totaled $40k to $50k per year, and the most one could borrow from the feds was $20.5k in Graduate Staffords and maybe a few thousand in Perkins Loans if you had virtually no assets or income to speak of.

But yes, clearly the onus should be on me to show that thousands of would-be law school students couldn't finance their educations. This will be particularly tricky for me because there are no articles, stories, or citations that these mass refusals took place.

Hey, did I mention that the ABA-accredited law schools jointly owned a private student lender during the period in question?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 4, 2017 7:19:18 PM

Oh, I never expect to see any tangible evidence, since the question has been asked before and the gentleman making the claim whiffed three times in a row.

But extraordinary claims do require extraordinary evidence, and unqualified opinions just don't make pass the smell test.

Kind of odd that there are no examples of rate/term sheets to examine, what with all those law students who apparently took out predatory private loans for all those years. Strange indeed...

Posted by: MM | May 4, 2017 9:24:14 PM

Sigh. Let me hold your hand and walk you through the basics of student lending, even though of course you have presented no evidence of your extraordinary, bizarre claims that law students were getting turned down en masse for private financing of law school before GradPLUS came around. From a 2005 research paper on fixed income investments in SLABS:

"The private student loan area is the fastest growing portion of the student loan sector. According to the College Board, originations of private student loans in constant dollars grew from $1.3 billion in the 1995-96 academic year to $10.6 billion in the 2003-04 academic year... Despite the rising cost of education, the government has not increased FFELP loan limits since 1992.51 Thus the FFELP program has become increasingly inadequate at meeting students' needs, driving them to seek private loans."

" Access Group is a non-profit originator of private student loans through the Access Group Loan Program and an issuer of SLABS backed by private student loans. In 2004, Access Group originated $1.44 billion in private and federally reinsured student loans and issued approximately $2.3 billion of SLABS. At its inception in 1983, Access Group (known then as Law Access, Inc.) originated only federally reinsured loans to law school students. Since then, Access has expanded its program to include private loans for medical, dental, business and other graduate and professional school students. " [that's the lender owned by the ABA-accredited law schools, BTW]

Gosh oh golly, that's one lender extending ten figures of private loans in one year for people to attend graduate school. Sounds rigorous! (and it's a teeny-tiny fraction of what Sallie Mae was extending and securitizing back then; try $26 billion in SLABS in 2004 alone.

Also note Table 7: SLM expected a 5.5% default rate on its private law school loans, and Access a rather troubling 12% default rate. So much for that million dollar premium!

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 5, 2017 7:43:07 AM

"You have presented no evidence of your extraordinary, bizarre claims that law students were getting turned down en masse for private financing of law school."

Right, because anyone reading this thread would see that I made such an extraordinary claim. Not even close.

Wait, no, nothing above in my comments to that effect. Nothing even close, as I made no reference to rejection rates. Blatant dishonesty, boy, that puts you in Publius Nadler's category.

Whiffed again. Even in the court of public opinion, evidence does matter, if for no other reason to retain some credibility.

Why do you post around here, anyway?

Posted by: MM | May 5, 2017 3:09:34 PM

All this talk about the supposed "free market" being the ideal and anything else being a perversion is about as relevant to the real world as debates about whether Superman can beat up the Hulk.

The Military is a giant subsidy program for the engineering, technology, manufacturing and energy sectors. Medicare and Medicaid are giant subsidies for the healthcare industry. Federal and state housing policies, not to mention state and local zoning rules, are massive subsidies to the real estate industry. And basically anything having to do with financial services is backstopped by the Fed, the FDIC, the Treasury, PBGC, SIPC and other government agencies, whether it's mortgages or credit cards or student loans.

Everything you put in your mouth is affected by agricultural subsidies, tariffs, and (thankfully) food safety regulations.

Not to mention the outrageous tax subsidies enjoyed by Oil & Gas and Coal companies who've been funding this libertarian silliness since at least the 1970s because they want to pollute with impunity.

So if you want to whine about private student lenders having to compete by offering a better product than the government, go live on one of Peter Thiel's sea platforms with the other bond villains.

Posted by: Free Market Jihadis | May 6, 2017 4:28:54 PM