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

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Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

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.

In Defense of Just Hanging Out

A bunch of us from the old section got together last night at a local sushi joint. It was great to see everyone who made it out and of course it had been far too long since the last time we did it. Evening students in particular are acutely aware of the extravagance of ‘wasting’ time. We become time-hoarders, racing from work to class, waking up early, staying up late, holing up with our casebooks at lunch and turning our commutes in to sum and substance study sessions. As closely as we watch time, I’m nevertheless amazed to realize how quickly the past two years has gone by. A word, then, on what is worth spending time on, in my humble opinion.

Soon enough we’ll be thrust out into the wider marketplace. We’ll no longer run into each other in class or in the commons, we’ll have to be deliberate about making time to see each other or we simply won’t. I miss seeing these people when they’re not around. It’s silly, of course, to compare sections, but I feel lucky to have ended up in the one I did.

Avoiding the Debt Trap, Starting Salaries for Law Grads Not What You’ve Been Led to Believe

While some Texas firms are raising starting salaries to match the Coasts, the reality of starting out is much less lucrative than many law students have been led to believe. For the jobless JDs in a tough legal market, finding a job is hard enough. As noted in National Law Journal article About That Huge Salary: It’s a Long Shot, the picture isn’t as rosy in all aspects of the legal market.

…the eye-popping salaries are the reality for a small fraction of law school graduates, and all those stories of big money may be creating unrealistic hopes for the vast majority of law school students. Contributing to the situation is the effort by law schools to portray their employment numbers as robustly as possible to boost their ranking scores. The upshot means dashed expectations for lots of graduates, many of whom are saddled with high debt as they struggle to start their careers. “They do not have an accurate perception of the job market,” said Emily Spieler, dean of Northeastern University School of Law. “They have very restricted views.”

The Houston Chronicle’s Mary Flood takes a local view on the Legal Trade Blog in Lawyers who make the smaller bucks and in the Chronicle article Salary reality: Many lawyers don’t earn big bucks.

So what’s a JD candidate to do? Here’s one option -

Evening Law School, One Way to Avoid the Debt Trap

Money was the main factor in going the evening route. I spent a year trying to save up some money to do the traditional full-time route and had to concede that what I managed to save up wouldn’t even make a dent. In-state tuition at public schools has skyrocketed in the last decade. It’s cheaper than a private school, but it’s no longer the bargain it once was.

Evening Law Schools have had a long and varied history in the pantheon of legal education. Some notable institutions such as Georgetown started out exclusively offering evening classes.
Prior to the current rigorous accreditation regime enforced by the ABA however, many law schools operated in a laissez-faire environment and night schools in particular developed a reputation for being more interested in collecting tuition than teaching the law. The reputation of evening law schools has improved with an emphasis being placed on the equivalence of the education. At Houston, for instance, evening students have the same professors, the same opportunities for extracurricular activities and academic honors and the same degree at the end. Working and going to law school at the same time can be tough, but it may be worth the sacrifice to avoid the debt trap.

Phenomena Police (06E MUST SEE TV)

Court TV premieres an exciting new series this Tuesday on Halloween. Phenomena Police investigate paranomal activity in the Houston area. 06E peeps – one of our very own appears about half-way through the segment.


Reminder: General ELSA meeting, tomorrow in TUII 240

As posted previously, Mike Fletcher and Pat Yoder of Fletcher Yoder Law will be speaking on the practice of IP law and other matters. They will be joined by Dan Krueger of Conley Rose and Louis Iselin of Akin Gump.

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