: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Why is Admission Based on Anything but GPA and LSAT, “Gaming” Law School Admissions?

While I’ve been following the recent rumblings about changes in the U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of part-time or evening law school programs, Amir Efrati’s recent Wall Street Journal article Law School Rankings Reviewed to Deter ‘Gaming’, struck a nerve. It begins:

The most widely watched ranking of U.S. law schools may move to stop an increasingly popular practice: schools gaming the system by channeling lower-scoring applicants into part-time programs that don’t count in the rankings.

Note the implicit assumption, now apparently so firmly ingrained in our perception of law school culture as to be beyond questioning, is that the “score” – in this case the LSAT score, combined with undergrad GPA – is the only thing that should matter in law school admissions. There’s certain logic to this in many settings; standardization of testing is democratizing, allowing those outside the traditional sources of law students to prove their abilities on an arguably equal playing field. But of course neither life nor law practice is a standardized test, so its predictive power is limited. There will always be exceptions, those who under or over achieve their LSAT scores in law school; if it were otherwise, grading would be gratuitous and law firms could hire based on LSAT scores alone.

The corollary assumption is that if you’re a part-time student, perhaps you’re ‘getting away with something’ and that you’re not qualified to be there. Among the evening students I’ve come across in the couple of years I’ve been a the University of Houston Law Center – some are the part-time law program poster children – the FBI agents, police officers, doctors, professors, veterinarians, bankers, patent agents, Ph.D’s in things you hardly knew existed; others like myself are individuals without any particularly special background to distinguish ourselves, but who aren’t afraid to work late and hard and saw it as a way to create our own financial aid package, working to pay our way. I don’t intend to make this appear noble, it’s just necessity and if I didn’t have to do it I probably wouldn’t. I merely point out that there are, in fact, legitimate reasons for taking the part-time route through law school other than “gaming” the system. Unfortunately, they appear to have no place in Efrati’s calculus.

In Efrati’s world, law schools would never admit a student with a slightly lower LSAT or GPA than the institutional mean because that student has significant work experience or advanced education, or because their undergraduate GPA from 15 years ago has less indicative value than other indicators of their present abilities. No, the ONLY reason a law school might admit such a person is to “help their revenue by increasing their rosters of part-time students with lower entrance-exam scores and grade-point averages, without having to pay a price in the rankings.” This is of course an ‘open secret’ that needs to be ‘cracked down’ on.

Why not rank the evening programs on their own?

I’m not arguing that part-time legal education should get a pass or that the rankings are without any merit. The rankings are a crude and misleading indicator, but they are probably better than anything else I’ve seen in the vacuum of useful, reliable information provided by LSAC or the law schools themselves. The U.S. News and World Report rankings fail to account at all for many of the attributes in which part-time programs exceed their full-time counterparts – there’s no attempt to quantify the technical and industry expertise possessed by many part-time law students, nor do they tabulate the number of masters and Ph.D. degrees possessed. They also fail to account for the myriad ways in which various programs differ from each other. Georgetown Law was founded as an evening program in 1870. I doubt a recently-founded evening program such as SMU’s is as yet comparable. I arrived at the University of Houston with the promise but little verifiable information on whether or not I would really receive the same kind of rigorous instruction (I believe have), the same kind of access (yes) and opportunities (surprisingly, yes) as my full-time counterparts. Such an opportunity for comparison is important from both ends of the spectrum. To the extent that part-time programs are efforts to game the rankings, let them be subjected to that scrutiny, but allow legitimate programs to be analyzed on their own. If evening law programs must be subjected to the distorting light of the rankings, can it at the very least be done in a manner that might be useful for the prospective part-time students trying to make up their mind?

In 1896 and for over 20 years, United States Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan (the elder) would arrive at Columbian University in Washington, D.C. at 7pm to teach Constitutional Law to the assembled group of law students, most of whom worked as government clerks during the day. He also taught domestic relations, commercial law, evidence, torts, and property. (See Nowak, Justice Harlan’s Lecture’s at George Washington Law School) Justice Harlan was the lone dissent that year in the infamous case of Plessy v. Ferguson. I would imagine whatever he might have said about the case, just decided, would be somewhat restrained, but no less fascinating – could he have taught even the same day as he had written “in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens”? Is such an arrangement even conceivable today? Harlan considered his role as part-time law professor ‘the most interesting part’ of his life-work. (See Chapter 2 of Przybyszewski’s bio). In 1902, George Washington University joined the AALS and night classes were ended. The academicization of legal education has been historically hostile to part-time legal education, often for reasons that have nothing to do with learning. A hamfisted approach that treats part-time education as merely a flawed derivative is bound to repeat that history.

Elizabeth Warren on the link between Healthcare and Bankruptcy

Video of Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren discussing the statistical links between health care and bankruptcy. The most revealing statistic -

75% of the families who ended up in bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious medical problem had health insurance at the onset of the illness or accident that ultimately landed them in bankruptcy; they had health insurance – in other words they played by the rules in every possible way – got a good education, got a good job, bought a home, had health insurance and yet the system is so misdesigned in terms of how big the bills can be and how narrow the protection from health insurance is.

More at the Warren Reports Blog

Carnegie Council: The International Judge: An Introduction to the Men and Women Who Decide the World’s Cases

In the course of some research, I came across this very interesting introduction to the world of international judges from a Carnegie Council forum earlier this year. The International Judge: An Introduction to the Men and Women Who Decide the World’s Cases, Cesare P. R. Romano, Stephen M. Schwebel, Daniel Terris. Click the links below for the video and transcript. The entire presentation is a little over an hour long, with excerpts from YouTube below.

Moderating Blog Comments – A Word from Your Sponsor

Kevin O’Keefe at LexBlog brought up an excellent conversation on Moderating law blog comments : The New York Times protocol. Comments are just a part of life in the blogosphere and even a local cable access blog like this one gets its fair share. The comments range from the silent majority, to the regulars, an occasional troll and a legion of spammers. Those new to blogging are sometimes shocked at what passes for civilized discussion. The advice your mother used to give you – that if you had nothing nice to say, not to say anything at all – has no adherents on the web. If anything the opposite is the default rule – if you only have something nice to say, why bother?

Netiquette of Comment Moderation

Basic netiquette renders even a personal blog like this one something of a communal area; there’s a tacit agreement among readers and writers of blogs of transparency and intellectual honesty that most bloggers feel requires them to allow space for other points of view, no matter how misguided. Essentially, by providing a mechanism for comments at all, I’m inviting this kind of community participation – and if I censor it, I make myself the worst kind of netizen; if people are going to take the time to write something, the implied agreement is that I won’t kill it. As a result, I’ll pretty much approve anything that comes from a real person, even if that person is seriously deranged.

The Blawgraphy’s Rules of Comment Moderation

Generally I will not approve:

  1. Anything in another language – mostly because I’m a dumb American and can’t read it.
  2. Content that is nasty, impolite or slanderous of another person – I’ve pretty much made myself fair game to a certain extent, but others have not and I feel no obligation to assist in that kind of conduct.
  3. Commercial language or incentive of any kind – if I don’t take money from advertisers why would I give it to you for free? I reserve the right to kill your comment or just strip out your offending commercial speech and leave the rest – the most offensive version of this to me is something like “Hey! Great Site!” from “Personal Injury Lawyer” with a link to hiremeasyourpersonalinjurylawyer dot com.
  4. Something that seems like it was meant for yours truly alone; some people don’t make the connection that this is a public forum and post very personal information or put their e-mail address in the body of the comment message. I will protect these people from themselves by responding through another channel or stripping out info that could be used by spammers, etc.

Other blogs, generally by virtue of their status or sheer volume in comment traffic do more editorializing in their comments. Marci Alboher’s post Some Comments About Reader Comments, which builds on the wider policy statement in the NYT Frequently Asked Questions About Comments focuses on providing “substantive commentary” in the comments – essentially treating comments as mini-article submissions for which they are the editors. In contrast, the Houston Chronicle seems to have no such policy, at least not that I could find; as a result try not to read too many comments there, lest I lose total faith in humanity.

Darren Rowse discusses the NYT policy in Comment Moderation – How Do You Do It?. Typical of the blogosphere, it’s the comments that have the most interesting information on different takes. See his full comment policy here. Law blogs with huge comment followings such as David Lat’s Above the Law and the Volokh Conspiracy are more likely to have to actively manage comments in order to salvage the conversation. Unsurprisingly, the Volokh Conspiracy has the best comment policy I’ve seen so far – click here and scroll to the bottom of the screen. More surprisingly, the closest thing Above the Law comes to a comment policy is the rather lawyerly terms of service with nothing around the comment form itself. Given that Above the Law gets my ‘law blog most likely to result in a lawsuit award’ due to the nature of the content it deals with (often embarrassing situations) and the general emotional maturity level of the commenters (8th grade gym class).

Dealing with Trolls

Most law student bloggers are aware of the Autoadmit fiasco (if not read here, here, here, here) where the fallout from comments (NB: forum not blog) have derailed the lives and careers of all involved – admins, commenters and the victims of the posts. Although there is generally no 3rd-party liability for web hosts, any blogger should be aware of troll culture (see The Trolls Among Us) and be wary of allowing unmoderated comments.

Behold the Power of Comments

I would hate to scare anyone off through this discussion of what can go wrong in comments; on the whole, getting comments is one of the most enjoyable parts of blogging. I continue to be amazed at the connective power of the blogosphere and the contributions that come in to open up the discussion in ways you hadn’t anticipated.

Molecule Identification Technique Promises to Identify Presence of Drugs, Explosives in Fingerprints

International Herald Tribune’s Fingerprint test tells much more than identity portrays a future with tools CSI has never dreamed of. Desorption Electrospray Ionization, or “Desi” uses mass spectrometry to identify molecules at a previously unheard of level of specificity.

In Cooks’ method, a tiny spray of electrically charged liquid – either water or water and alcohol – is sprayed on a tiny bit of the fingerprint. The droplets dissolve compounds in the fingerprints and splashes them off the surface into the analyzer. The liquid evaporates, and the electrical charge is transferred to the fingerprint molecules, which are then identified through mass spectrometry.

Although most of the ultimate goals of the product lay in medicine, researchers are targeting crime scene forensics as an early market.

Because the spatial resolution is on the order of the width of a human hair, the Desi technique did not just detect the presence of, for instance, cocaine on the surface, but literally showed a pattern of cocaine in the shape of the fingerprint, leaving no doubt who had left the cocaine behind.

The ability to make such strong but ultimately ambiguous inference – possession of a molecular amount of contraband doesn’t say much of anything about knowing or intentional possession, for instance and the costs of implementing the equipment and training investigators and trial experts for its actual use in cases may mean it won’t be seen in courtrooms any time soon. Still the potential is mind boggling.

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