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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Prof. Bush on Grading

University of Houston Law Center Law Prof. Darren Bush has a new post on the UH Law Prof Blog, On Grading. Some highlights:

The difficulty with grading is not with the administering of the final exam, but rather how students and faculty perceive the discourse on grades. The discussions about grades can frequently be confrontational and accusatory. I once had to take a physically defensive stance when an undergraduate student, seeking to get in to business school, became physically threatening over an A-. Another student, at a different law school, called me a name that rhymes with “stick.” These weren’t professional discussions, they were accusations that I was an evil professor who was gravely mistaken about the quality of the exam answer they had put forth.

These conversations are almost never productive if one enters them with the idea that you are somehow going to convince the professor to change your grade. Unless a mistake has been made in the math, it’s going to stick. It is worth asking how you might improve – some professors give better advice on this than others.

Students probably have come to suspect that professors do not all grade alike. I believe that is entirely true. But that does not mean the grading is arbitrary. All professors, like your future bosses in law firms and elsewhere, have different experiences and priorities.

Professor ought to communicate to you what we expect on the exam prior to your taking it. Professors should make clear what they expect in an exam answer before the exam takes place. Some like to have issue spotting questions. Others like depth of analysis. Others stick to multiple choice. My chosen exam technique mirrors how my areas of law are practiced We professors are looking for the same things in different ways: That you understand what facts are relevant, what law is relevant, and the policies behind the law. The implementation differs, but our goals are the same.

One particular phenomena I’ve noted in law school exams – if you walk out thinking you’ve aced it, it’s just as likely you haven’t. Easy exams mean compressed curves and you would do well to distrust them. Law school exams are about ‘outrunning the bear’ – you don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than the guy next to you. You would be surprised how fast that guy turns out to be when there’s a bear chasing you.

Bryan Garner’s Interviews with Judges on the Art of (legal) Writing

I came across a treasure trove of interviews done by legal writing guru Bryan Garner with top judges across the country On The Art of Writing

Library of Videos

Forbes: The Great College Hoax; Ignoring the Obvious Solutions?

Forbes’ cover story, The Great College Hoax, is making the rounds in legal circles. The poster children for the article’s thesis are a pair of lawyers who recently divorced under the weight of crippling student debt despite both having the six-figure jobs they went to school for.

As steadily as ivy creeps up the walls of its well-groomed campuses, the education industrial complex has cultivated the image of college as a sure-fire path to a life of social and economic privilege.

Joel Kellum says he’s living proof that the claim is a lie. A 40-year-old Los Angeles resident, Kellum did everything he was supposed to do to get ahead in life. He worked hard as a high schooler, got into the University of Virginia and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history.

Accepted into the California Western School of Law, a private San Diego institution, Kellum couldn’t swing the $36,000 in annual tuition with financial aid and part-time work. So he did what friends and professors said was the smart move and took out $60,000 in student loans.

Kellum’s law school sweetheart, Jennifer Coultas, did much the same. By the time they graduated in 1995, the couple was $194,000 in debt. They eventually married and each landed a six-figure job. Yet even with Kellum moonlighting, they had to scrounge to come up with $145,000 in loan payments. With interest accruing at up to 12% a year, that whittled away only $21,000 in principal. Their remaining bill: $173,000 and counting.

Kellum and Coultas divorced last year. Each cites their struggle with law school debt as a major source of stress on their marriage. “Two people with this much debt just shouldn’t be together,” Kellum says.

The two disillusioned attorneys were victims of an unfolding education hoax on the middle class that’s just as insidious, and nearly as sweeping, as the housing debacle. The ingredients are strikingly similar, too: Misguided easy-money policies that are encouraging the masses to go into debt; a self-serving establishment trading in half-truths that exaggerate the value of its product; plus a Wall Street money machine dabbling in outright fraud as it foists unaffordable debt on the most vulnerable marks.

A WSJ article Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers made similar waves by illustrating the debt trap but described the catch as the inability of many newly minted law grads to land the high-paying positions they had anticipated. Kellum’s situation is more chilling because the debt trap came despite landing a six-figure income.

Forbes lays out the numbers, but seems to approach the problem in a very binary, black and white manner:

While the premium that college grads earn over high schoolers has remained relatively constant over the past five years, the cost of acquiring a degree has risen at twice the rate of inflation, dramatically undermining any value a sheepskin adds.

and not only is the cost going up, the cost of the cost is going up:

Warped as the numbers are, they don’t begin to account for the hidden cost of higher education: financing it. Borrowing has doubled over the past decade, to roughly $85 billion in new student loans in the 2007–08 academic year, bringing total student debt owed to well over half a trillion dollars. The average borrower went $19,200 into debt for a diploma in 2004, a 58% increase after inflation since 1993, according to the Project on Student Debt.

So the basic thesis seems to be this: the cost of college now outweighs its benefits for a large number of people; therefore those people shouldn’t go to college.

Another way to skin this cat…

One of the main reasons that college is so expensive relative to the short term income potential is that it’s tuition cost on top of opportunity cost: If you spend 20 a year on tuition and 20 a year to live but you could have made 30 if you were working you’re down 40 instead of being up 10. College costs you 50 a year, not 20. But what if you go to college (-20), live (-20) AND work (+30)? You’re down 10 and most of your free time, but it’s doable. It’s what I did for undergrad and now law school.

I would be the first to tell someone thinking about law school to question the hype, but if you want to be a lawyer, there are ways to make it happen.

Law School Briefs…

The Shark asks is law school a more formative experience than undergrad? – kegs vs. more kegs. I disagree; law school is far more formative.

Patrick at Nuts and Boalts accused of a smartphone faux-pas, defends his Crackberry agaisnt the iPhone-igentsia

Prof. Orin Kerr interprets the tea leaves in Thoughts on First-Year Law School Grades at Volokh Conspiracy.

Recent grad Peanut Butter Burrito had her first trial (an asylum hearing) and won.

Red Shoe Ramblings posts Law School Lessons. Looks about right.

Luis Villa’s hypothetical grandchild asks him “grandpa, where were you when Obama was sworn in?” – jury duty, it turns out; I’m oddly jealous. They never pick me.

The War of All Against All remarks on the Doe Eyed Enthusiasm of 1Ls.

No. 634 is excited about a fifth-year associate in the D.C. office of Jenner & Block, who just had her very first oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court; I would be more excited if I had my first oral argument (in any court) before my fifth year as an associate.

To Catch a (Joke) Thief: Professors Study Intellectual Property Norms in Stand-up Comedy

Chris Sprigman and Dotan Oliar saw the video of Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia arguing on stage over Mencia’s purported theft of other comedian’s material. I laughed and went on to the next video of a cat chasing yarn. Sprigman and Oliar wrote an insightful law review article on how comedians use and enforce intellectual property rights in jokes. Life Lesson: watch more Youtube.

Warning: NSFLS (language)

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