Paul L. Caron

Friday, December 29, 2017

Weekly Legal Education Roundup: The Best Legal Education Articles Of 2017

Because the week between Christmas and New Years is typically slow for legal education news, I am going to discuss the best legal education articles from 2017.  Several articles in the past year showed the effectiveness of new approaches to legal education.  There have also been several excellent articles this year on professional identity development.  Finally, measuring outcomes was an important area of research in 2017.

  • Jennifer M. Cooper (Tulane) & Regan A. R. Gerung (Wisconsin-Green Bay), Smarter Law Study Habits: An Empirical Analysis of Law Learning Strategies and Relationship with Law GPA.  "Both legal educators and law students need to incorporate testing and formative assessment as a study and learning strategy to learn each new topic, not just exam prep. Self-testing and formative assessment are not only critical for success in law school, but help students develop successful learning strategies for the bar exam and as lifelong learners in law practice."
  • Heather Field (Hastings), Fostering Ethical Professional Identity in Tax: Using the Traditional Tax Classroom.  Professor Heather Field has written an excellent article that explains how to help future tax lawyers develop their professional identities.
  • Neil W. Hamilton (St. Thomas), The Next Steps of a Formation-of-Student-Professional Identity Social Movement: Building Bridges Among the Three Key Stakeholders – Faculty and Staff, Students, and Legal Employers and Clients.  "The major challenge for this symposium on next steps for the formation-of-student-professional-identity social movement is how substantially to increase the number of law students nationally who experience required professional-identity curriculum."
  • Peter H. Huang (Colorado), Adventures in Higher Education, Happiness, and Mindfulness.  "This Article analyzes why law schools should teach law students about happiness and mindfulness. This Article discusses how to teach law students about happiness and mindfulness. Finally, this Article provides brief concluding thoughts about how law students can sustain happiness and mindfulness once they graduate from law school."
  • Benjamin V. Madison III and Larry O. Natt Gantt, II (Regent), Self-Directedness and Professional Formation: Connecting Two Critical Concepts in Legal Education.  "Students want meaningful employment. Nevertheless, many if not most have not recognized the need to make a plan to pursue such employment. Most students have not identified the areas of law that best match their strengths and values. Moreover, most students do not have an intentional plan for exploring roles in the legal profession that would match their strengths, values, and interests. . . The authors explore how law schools can help students in seeking their goal by cultivating self-direction and development of a plan to move toward their goal."
  • Deborah Jones Merritt, Ruth Colker, Ellen E. Deason, Monte Smith and Abigail B. Shoben, Formative Assessments: A Law School Case Study.   Students who chose formative feedback "achieved significantly higher grades on the final exam even though the assessment score did not factor into their course grade. Notably, students receiving this formative feedback also secured a significantly higher GPA in their other spring-semester classes. Both of these effects persisted after controlling for LSAT score, UGPA, gender, race, and fall-semester grades.
  • Louis N. Schulze Jr. (FIU), Using Science to Build Better Learners: One School's Successful Efforts to Raise Its Bar Passage Rates in an Era of Decline.  "In this essay, I discuss principles from the science of learning that law schools and students should embrace. In the context of the methods we have implemented at Florida International University College of Law, which had the highest bar passage rate in Florida for three consecutive exams, I detail the project of transforming the learning of law away from the ineffective methods of yore and towards effective strategies that can make a difference on student performance and bar passage."
  • William M. Sullivan (lead author of Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law), Professional Formation as Social Movement.  The Sullivan article may be the most important article on legal education I've read in the past few years.  Its thesis is revolutionary: Law schools not only need to include professional identity formation in the curriculum, they need to frame the curriculum around it.  This would indeed be a disruptive innovation, which would create a 21st-century approach to legal education.
  • David I.C. Thomson (Denver) and Stephen Daniels (American Bar Foundation), If You Build it, They Will Come: What Students Say About Experiential Learning.  "What we learned was that applicants chose Denver Law on several traditional factors (such as cost and location) but also strongly indicated that the experiential learning component was an important part of their decision."

Legal Education, Scott Fruehwald, Weekly Legal Ed Roundup | Permalink


This has to be parody. It’s just too stupid to be anything else. It actually reminds me of The Last Jedi – the part when Luke Skywalker says “Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong.” As such, and because this individual isn't even really trying to argue in good faith anymore, I’m not going to bother refuting each aspect of how s/he is wrong. For instance, I'm won't be getting into the nitty gritty of how, for instance, a single social science study (that has been oft-criticized) doesn’t conclusively *prove* anything. I mean, that’s just a basic tenet of academic & social science research.

“The median starting salary of law grads declined, but so did the earnings of young bachelor degree holders.”

“The average starting salary for a 2017 college grad is just a smidge under $50,000 ($49,785, to be exact), the study indicates. That’s up 3% from last year. After adjusting for inflation, the average pay for new college grads is 14% higher than it was for the graduating class of 2007” So the average real starting salary for four-year grads is up 14% since the Recession while the median starting salary is down >20% for law school graduates.

“The 10% unemployment rate is not bad”

This speaks for itself.

“Many students do not attend law school to become lawyers.”


“Students value this training to prepare for a variety of other fields.”

Yeah, I’m sure that HR Manager looking to fill an Accounts Receivable role will be so impressed by someone who took a bunch of random law school finals that s/he will overlook that the applicant didn’t once have an opportunity to use basic math or Excel over the last three years and give them $53k/year more salary than they would to the army of undergrad business majors applying to that job. It just seems so plausible! (this is all assuming, of course, that the law degree on the resume somehow got through the corporate resume-filtering software in the first place).

“The LSAT has no relevance to bar passage.”

The bar examiners disagree with you. “"If you have a low LSAT score, you are more likely to have a low MBE score when you emerge from law school and take the bar exam," says Erica Moeser, president and CEO of the National Conference of Bar Examiners.”

“Law is the most rigorous graduate legal education available.”

The Department of Redundant Departments would like a word with you. But given the plain intended meaning, well: Astrophysics? Computer Science? Mathematics? Literally any discipline where you have to create and defend a dissertation? Law school is, with the exception of non-quantitative MBA tracks, pretty objectively the easiest graduate education out there. Learning subject matter jurisdiction ain’t like getting a handle on the nature of six-dimensional Calabi-Yau manifolds.

“Law professors know a great deal about practicing law. They are experts in their area of study. Judges and practitioners rely on the scholarship of law professors for guidance.”

Let’s check in with the most powerful lawyer in the country, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts: “Pick up a copy of any law review that you see and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in. 18th-century Bulgaria, or something, which I'm sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn't of much help to the bar.” Sure sounds like he accords them high value! How about the most-cited judge? Oh right, Richard Posner recently wrote the book “Diverging Paths,” which discusses at length how irrelevant legal academia’s output has become to the federal judiciary. And it has been known for years that 43% of law review articles are so very influential that they are never cited by another article or by a court opinion.

For that matter, the fellow who wrote Million Dollar Degree has to be corrected constantly – on his objectively false, downright Charles Murray-esque contention that all law school depression is due to genetic predisposition because ipse dixit, the three-part Faculty Lounge critique back in January of his faulty ACS sampling in a recent piece on the purported value of US LLMs obtained by foreign students, his erroneous premises concerning the salaries of solo practitioners, the dress-down a Rhodes Scholar in Economics-holding NYT reporter gave him a year or two ago, etc., etc.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jan 2, 2018 12:29:48 PM

1) The median starting salary of law grads declined, but so did the earnings of young bachelor degree holders. Nevertheless, law grads still earn a substantial premium over those with only a terminal bachelor’s degree.

2) The 10% unemployment rate is not bad considering the decline in bar passage rates. That number would certainly be lower if fewer students were not studying for the bar exam.

3) Many students do not attend law school to become lawyers. As discussed in The Economic Value of a Law Degree, there is a disproportionate representation of law grads at the top of business and government indicative of decisions by many law grads to pursue careers in those fields. 23% of pre-law students said they wanted to use their JD to go into politics. 23% said they wanted to use their degree for business purposes. Law is the most rigorous graduate legal education available. Students value this training to prepare for a variety of other fields.

4) The LSAT has no relevance to bar passage. That is why so many schools are now accepting the GRE. The decline in bar passage rates coincided with reforms to make law grads “practice ready.”

5) As proven in The Economic Value of a Law Degree, the mean annual earnings premium of a law degree is about $53,000. Consumers also place a premium on legal services. Solos are earning a mean salary of about $100,000.

6) Law professors know a great deal about practicing law. They are experts in their area of study. Judges and practitioners rely on the scholarship of law professors for guidance.

Posted by: Nope | Jan 2, 2018 7:34:11 AM

UNE you are right, but you don't go far enough. Profs like UC are lazy. They teach one or two classes a semester and make six figures. A college prof usually teaches four classes per semester and makes a third as much. They have taught the same class in the same way for 20 years by asking questions with little or no class prep. Why should they change? They are the ones that are important not the students. So what if our students don't pass the bar? So what if our students aren't ready to practice? I still get paid.

Resistance to change is laziness.

Posted by: Alex | Dec 30, 2017 12:06:08 PM

Here we go again.

1) That “mid-60’s” median starting salary you tout was, in real dollars, the mid-80’s just nine years ago.

2) So what you are saying is that fresh law grads had a 10% unemployment rate at the same time the overall 18-34 demographic, of whom barely 4 in 10 have a college degree at all, sported a ~4.5% unemployment rate. And the *sheen* of “90% employment” is scarred even further when one takes a look at what, for instance, those in the doc review mills are making these days.

3) Not all law school grads become “lawyers” (only about 65% of them are landing FT/LT/license-required jobs), but your mendacious survivorship bias is noted. And as always, past performance does not guarantee future returns.

4) Bar pass rates declined because virtually all law schools dropped their admissions requirements to keep enrollment high enough for continued solvency (heck, the 25th percentile LSAT at Georgetown dropped from a 168 to a 161 in recent years). In my neck of the woods, Suffolk dropped its median LSAT from a 156 (67th percentile of test-takers) to a 146 (29th percentile of test-takers). That has consequences. Your alternative facts approach a Trumpian level of tortured mendacity.

5) “Employers demand the skills we teach law students.” Hence the 10% unemployment rate. And the continuing decline of entry-level lawyering jobs, from ~27k a few years ago to barely 23k last year, per the same source from where you got your mid-60’s median starting salary.

6) The whole comment reeks of fear of the law school curriculum changing to focusing on what the writer likely doesn’t know anything about – how to actually practice law.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 30, 2017 8:30:00 AM

The fall in bar pass rates coincides with the decline of admitted students' LSAT scores, and scholars, such as David Frakt, argue that low LSAT scores are a key sign of whether students will pass the bar. Compare the figures on the Law School Transparency website for bar passage and entering LSAT.

There has not been any evidence that law school reform has affected bar pass scores negatively. In fact, studies, including two I mention on my list (Cooper & Merritt), show that new educational approaches raise law school GPAs. The Schulze article goes further. His article shows how FIU scored highest on the July Florida bar for four consecutive years by using legal educational reform techniques.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Dec 29, 2017 2:36:46 PM

New approaches to legal education are unnecessary and could jeopardize the successful outcomes of our graduates. Last year, over 90% of law school graduates were employed or pursing advanced degrees. That number would have been higher had the bar passage rates not declined due to the recent trend toward producing “practice ready” graduates. Employed graduates had median salaries in the mid-$60,000 range. The median pay of all lawyers was about $120,000. Employers demand the skills we teach law students. We do not know how employers will react if we radically alter law school curriculum.

Posted by: Unintended Consequences | Dec 29, 2017 1:31:34 PM