Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A little bit of Enron justice

According to this morning's news (see here), Lou Pai will pay $31.5 million to settle alleged insider trading charges.  Considering the size of the profits that Pai made from his sale of Enron stock, $31.5 million is a drop in the bucket; nonetheless, the $25.5 million that he'll actually pony up (the SEC is giving him a $6 million credit for the corporate insurance policy payout that he forfeited earlier) will be a welcome infusion for the fund for Enron shareholders.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Another "must read" by Bill Henderson

Cross-posted over at Legal Profession Blog (here) and at Empirical Legal Studies Blog (here), on how most law firms misapply the "Cravath system."  It's a follow-up to Bill's first post (here) on how the "Cravath system" created the bimodal distribution in starting salaries.

Why is this post, along with Bill's first post, a must-read?  For all of those law students choosing law schools because of the USNWR rankings (and incurring debt), one thing that they may not focus on is the starting salaries of most of any school's graduates.  USNWR doesn't report the average salary any more.  Most law grads don't make the astronomical starting salaries that the megafirms pay.  Most megafirms don't interview at most law schools, and most megafirms don't go very deep into the classes at most of the law schools at which they do interview.  Therefore, students may be making choices about law schools--and incurring (nondischargeable) debt--based on a misunderstanding of their likely earning power after law school.  See Andy Morriss and Bill Henderson's op-ed piece in the National Law Journal (here).  

As for employers, I've been very frustrated at their use of the USNWR rankings as a measure of quality of potential associates.  It's bad enough that schools are using grade cutoffs, rather than looking at students' full resumes, before deciding whom to interview.   (I've yet to see a client ask an associate to take an exam, but I have seen clients want students who can communicate well, research well, use emotional intelligence, and work in teams.)  But when employers use USNWR rankings to decide from which schools to select recruits, they're ignoring other relevant evidence that might help them choose valuable associates.  Why not take a look at where the firm's more valued current associates hail from?  Why not take a look at the regional law schools and the training that those schools give their graduates?  Why not spend a little more time interviewing the students on the front end, rather than hiring stellar resumes who won't fit in (and then bemoaning the costs of recruiting)?

Bravo to Andy and Bill for their continuing research in this area!


In memoriam: Randy Pausch

Never met him, of course, but his last lecture (here) and his book, The Last Lecture (with Jeffrey Zaslow) (here) really touched me.  May his memory be as a blessing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fun visuals for the weekend

Some fun visuals for the weekend:

1. As the time for fall semester marches inexorably closer: here.

2. Proving that I'm right about Spinal Tap and the rankings: here.

3. As I finish up a summer of traveling, talks, and PowerPoints: here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Thank you, Dean Gary Simson of Case Western!

According to this morning's WSJ Law Blog (here), Dean Gary J. Simson of Case Western's law school has suggested that deans say "dayenu" to the USNWR rankings.  Recognizing the insanity of tailoring an educational program to the whims of a news magazine, Dean Simson believes that law schools instead should use their own good judgment about how to allocate resources.  (After all, the race to the top of the rankings isn't a race that most law schools will win.)

Seems to me that any school with decent self-esteem doesn't need to be told where it ranks.  Take a look, for example, at Case Western itself (here).  Bravo, Dean Simson!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tail wags dog so furiously that dog falls off, leaving only tail

I was reading today's TaxProf Blog, as I do every morning, when I came across this post (here), in which Paul Caron pointed to a NLJ article (Deans dislike rankings proposals, here) about the proposed changes in the USNWR rankings.  Paul highlighted the following very, very scary quote:
The proposal is strongly opposed by deans at schools with part-time programs designed for students who are years past college graduation and often well into careers outside the law.  They warn that a school's place on the U.S. News list is so important that some schools would drop the part-time programs rather than list lower in the national rankings.
(Hat-tip to Paul for focusing us on this quote.)  But there's more.  In the very next paragraph of the article, Bill Treanor, the dean of Fordham Law School, clarifies how this change to the USNWR rankings would affect schools with part-time programs:
"If U.S. News starts combining the [LSAT and UGPA] scores of full-time and part-time students, the pressure to end evening schools will become overwhelming . . . ."
HOLY COW.  Has it come to this?  Have we really ceded educational policy to a weekly news magazine?  I completely understand Bill Treanor's point (oh, how I know!), because every single school with an evening program will face additional pressure to close that program unless its full-time students' median LSATs and UGPAs and its part-time students' median LSATs and UGPAs are identical.  (And the fact that they're often not identical is exactly why USNWR wants to factor the part-time scores in--schools have been gaming the rankings this way for years.)  Alumni, students, faculty members, and university administrators will be pressuring deans of schools with part-time programs to find work-arounds for the potential drop in the rankings.  

There are plenty of good reasons to have a part-time program, even though part-time programs are incredibly expensive to support.  Several urban schools have them as a way to help those people who can't afford to quit their jobs still pursue their dreams of becoming lawyers.  There are also good reasons for discontinuing part-time programs--declining enrollment, the disproportionate expense, a demographic shift.  Each faculty that's contemplating starting or stopping a part-time program must wrestle with these valid issues.  

But geez--the one reason that's not pedagogically valid is whether a news magazine is going to bump some school up five places or down five places due to the inclusion of the part-time students' median LSATs and UGPAs.  Are we so desperate for some sort of numerical validation of our place in this world that we are willing to cede our own sense of what type of educational program is appropriate for our mix of students?

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (see, e.g., here, esp. at p.361):  unless a school is in the tippety-top of the USNWR rankings (or in the very bottom, with a pass rate on the bar that is abysmal), there is precious little difference in even twenty or thirty places in the rankings.  The differences aren't significant.  The rankings just artificially spread out some insignificant differences among groups of tightly packed schools.  

If schools didn't take the USNWR rankings so damnably seriously, I could just point you to one of my two favorite scenes in This Is Spinal Tap (1984) (the other scene is the Stonehenge scene):
Nigel Tufnel:  The numbers all go to eleven.  Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven, and . . . .
Marty DiBergi:  Oh, I see.  And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel Tufnel:  Exactly.
Marty DiBergi:  Does that mean it's louder?  Is it any louder?
Nigel Tufnel:  Well, it's one louder, isn't it?  It's not ten.  You see, most blokes will be playing at ten.  You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar.  Where can you go from there?  Where?
Marty DiBergi:  I don't know.
Nigel Tufnel:  Nowhere.  Exactly.  What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty DiBergi:  Put it up to eleven.
Nigel Tufnel:  Eleven.  Exactly.  One louder.
Marty DiBergi:  Why don't you make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?
Nigel Tufnel:  [pause]  These go to eleven.
(Thanks to imdb.com for that quote.)  

My point is that we've fallen for the same trick:  USNWR has made us think that it's legitimate to let a news magazine dictate to us how we admit our students (by placing such a high premium on the inputs of LSATs and UGPAs) and how much we spend on publicizing our various accomplishments (because of those reputation surveys).  Even if the rankings "go to eleven," they don't make the quality of any single school any louder than it was before.  

Time to stop letting the tail wag the dog.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Also in this month's ABA Journal, more on flat fees for legal work

I'm telling you (again):  billable hours aren't going to be the future of the legal world forever.  See here.

Arnold Peter is featured in this month's ABA Journal

Arnold Peter, one of my all-time favorite lawyers, is featured in this month's ABA Journal (here).  Arnold's a founding partner of Raskin Peter Rubin & Simon (here) and one of the founding members of AMEC, the Association of Media and Entertainment Counsel (here).  He and I first met years ago, when we did some programs for ACCA (now ACC), the Association of Corporate Counsel (here).  I've found him to be a true visionary--very creative, and a ton of fun, to boot.  Enjoy!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

More on how to study for the bar exam

Ilya Somin's updated his post (here), and I agree with some of his points: (1) figure out your own, best way of studying and key your bar prep to that, (2) try not to overstress, (3) be disciplined in your studying, and (4) remember that failing the bar exam is not the end of the world. (Ilya, did I summarize these points fairly?)

Where he and I disagree is on how risk-averse the average law graduate should be when preparing for the bar. And, of course, everyone should determine his own level of risk-tolerance. When I took the California bar, a year after law school (after my clerkship ended), I took Bar/BRI, made flash cards, commiserated with my friends, and made it through the test relatively unscathed. Twenty years later, when I sat for the Nevada bar, I looked a lot more like Kevin Costner in Tin Cup. (Remember the scene where he's wearing every golf-swing gadget ever made?) I took Bar/BRI again, bought flash cards and old bar review books off eBay, did the computer-generated review tests, made outlines of my outlines of my outlines (I'm not kidding!), and basically worried myself into a tizzy, because I know how awful I am at memorizing things and how bad I am at taking multiple-choice tests.

The stakes were much higher for me the first time around. I had a law firm job and, even though the firm would have kept me around if I'd needed to take the bar exam a second time, my career would have been stalled for a bit during the extra time, and my stress level would have shot through the roof. I was a tenured full professor when I took the Nevada Bar and my life wouldn't have changed one whit had I not passed (although I probably would have lost some credibility with my students had I failed).

Here's what I think that Ilya and Jim Chen (his post here) and I are all saying (Jim, let me know if you agree): like Robin Williams's character in the movie Dead Again, it's important to know what you are.

In the movie, Williams plays a disbarred (or whatever you call a de-licensed doctor) shrink. Kenneth Branagh plays a detective who, among other things, may be trying to quit smoking. Williams tells Branagh that "[s]omeone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There's no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that. If you're a nonsmoker, you'll know."

So, when it comes to studying for the bar, you're either risk-averse or risk-taking. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that.

Good luck on this summer's bar exams--in every jurisdiction.