Saturday, April 30, 2011

Law Students do NOT Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win

New York Times business writer David Segal is fast becoming journalism's expert on law students and law school. That's good, because we need one -- although I love David Lat, that blowhard Elie Mystal at Above the Law has been a pretty sorry oracle. Segal, in case you don't know him, is the author of January's excellent and on-point article entitled "Is Law School a Losing Game?" Over the weekend, he published another detailed piece entitled, "Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win."

This weekend's piece points out something that most lawyers and law students either know or intuit, which is that lower-ranked law schools attempt to boost their U.S. News & World Report rankings by using merit-based grants as a carrot to entice students with high LSAT/GPA's. In a typical arrangement, the student is allowed to keep a partial or full scholarship through all three years of law school, contingent on the student's ability to maintain, say, a 3.0 GPA. If the student fails to do so, the grant or scholarship goes away and the student begins paying the same price as his or her peers. Because schools know that the grade curve means not all of these students will be able to maintain the grades they need, the schools are able to offer more three-year scholarships than they will in fact pay for three years. In short, the thesis of Segal's article is this: students "lose the grant game" because although everyone who accepts a grant or scholarship enters law school expecting to graduate with a high GPA, not all do; law schools "win the grant game" by using students' irrational optimism about their own scholastic abilities to advance the school's status in the rankings. Although it is true that both sides are gambling (students on their grades, schools on the rate of grant-program attrition), in Segal's view the house (i.e., the school) generally has better odds because it both set the grade curve and holds crucial data, like the average number of students who lose their scholarships each year. As a result, the casual reader of the article comes away with the nagging feeling that students are victims, and that schools are engaging in what can only be called exploitation.

I don't buy it. I do buy that 'average' schools use this tactic to purchase entice 'above-average' students. And I do buy that some, perhaps many, grant-getters experience unexpected and genuine hardship when they start paying full tuition because they are unable to maintain their GPA's. What I don't buy is that these particular students are victims of their law schools.

Here is why. First, of what have these students been deprived? The ability to attend law school for free even though they are ultimately average law students? That hardly strikes me as an entitlement. Remember: students who fail to maintain their grades and lose their scholarships are no worse off than their peers. It means only that they will start paying the same price as everyone else. Put another way, a student's decision to accept this type of scholarship is really a risk-free bet on their own ability -- win, and get free money; lose and be no worse off than their non-betting peers. (You may say that a student who accepts a scholarship in return for going to the lower-ranked school gives up unique opportunities at the 'better' schools that likely accepted them. It's a fair point -- and not explored in the article -- but my suspicion is that a student who does not maintain a 3.0 at a lower-ranked school is unlikely to have benefitted from the marginal increase in value at a better-ranked school. That's harsh, I know, but it's also likely true.)

If you think that was harsh of me, wait until you hear my second observation: at some point, these students (who want to be lawyers -- i.e., represent other people's vital interests) need to read the fine print. A good time to start is when their own careers and tens of thousands of their own dollars are on the line. To be told "all you have to do for $80,000 in scholarships is maintain a 3.0" ought to make a prudent, college-educated person wonder, "exactly why are they willing to give me eighty grand?" or at the very least, "just how hard will it be to maintain a 3.0 at this place?"

So, there's my take on Segal's latest article. I think that in this case he's barking up the wrong tree. I do appreciate the attention he is paying to law schools and to the plight of law students who are currently being ground to pieces by the current, cruel shift in supply and demand in the market for young lawyers. Many law students are victims. Some are victims of schools' promises about employment. Some are victims of the great shrinking economy of the late 2000's. Some are victims of their own apathy ("well . . . might as well go to law school") or of their own inability to critically examine a dominant cultural message ("a law degree is versatile and will always have value"). But students who are offered free money to get good grades, and who lose that money because they end up without them, aren't victims at all. They're ordinary speculators who placed a risk-free bet on their ability to compete in an unfamiliar environment, lost, and ended up no worse than the rest of the pack. (Better, actually, because they got that first year for free.) I realize people will disagree with me. Or worse. That's okay. I do feel for students who made a prediction about their future, and even acted in financial reliance upon it, only to find themselves somewhere they never planned to be. But in my view that experience, however painful, doesn't necessarily mean they are victims of their law school.

Anyway, part of what I hope this post does is shed some light on whether students at Boalt feel our own school's financial aid practices are predatory. I have my own views on this (and in light of the above they may actually surprise you) but I hope to hear first from the anonymous masses. Fire away.


Straight from the Horse's Mouth: Spring 2011

In response to persistent requests, here is this is the Spring 2010 Professors Quotes thread. On behalf of the many folks who attend Boalt vicariously, by interacting with this blog, please: post away!


Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

This nation is being torn apart.  One the one side, you have the unabashed Royalists taking up precious space on DVRs across the country with hours upon hours of coverage of the fanfare and pageantry.  On the other, you have the, shall we say, Patrick Henrys.  You've seen their Facebook status updates, often drawing upon all sorts of historical references ranging from our Revolution to the Magna Carta.   

I find myself a bit torn on this.  I recognize the whole thing is rather silly.  It appears William does to, at least according to lip readers who claim he said "We're supposed to have a small, family affair" at the altar.  The silliness is compounded by an outlandish procession, paid for by the public purse (because really the Royals don't have too much wealth on their own).  But I also don't thinks that we Americans are that different than the British.  Are you telling me Americans are not obsessed with a family of do-nothings?  (Kardashians).  Are you telling me we don't have a distinct upper class elites who "dress for dinner" and use the word "summer" as a verb? (The Cabots, the Lodges, the Kennedys, the Walkers/Bushes, etc.).  Only difference is the target of the public's obsession in the UK is passed on by the rules of inheritance.  (Plus there's no employer in the US that would give anyone the day off to watch this nonsense). 

I wish the Duke and Duchess a happy marriage and the best in life.  Now, time to focus on more important things, like the NFL draft.    


Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Message From the Past

I want to remind everyone exactly what Boalt is all about. Luckily, I found this film in the archives. Enjoy!

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Please, Sir, May I View the Course Evalutations?

Some of you may have noticed that the rules have changed for course evaluations. If you don't do all of your evaluations, you no longer get to see any of the evaluations for any classes. Apparently the carrot of $50 Amazon gift cards wasn't working well enough and the administration had to get out the stick.

Now, usually this is the sort of thing that I don't even realize has occurred because I don't read emails from the administration unless they're from M*nd*, but so many of my peers have complained that I felt like it was at least worth discussing.

I understand, powers that be, that you want as much data available as possible. That makes sense, this information is helpful to us, we use it to choose classes and professors and I guess it helps make professors better teachers. I understand that you want us all to evaluate everyone. But, there are often reasons why people don't evaluate: maybe they forget to, maybe they don't care, maybe they feel like they'd be offensive to the prof if they were forced to. I cannot imagine that forcing individuals to fill out those forms is going to improve the quality of the teaching evaluations. Instead, you'll get lackluster or random responses from individuals who don't want to take the time, but feel forced to write something.

Also, let's be honest, it's a shitty way to treat a bunch of people who pay $42,000+ a year to take those classes. It's not a positive way to treat your students (and come on, let's be honest, we're paying customers and that's how the school, at the end of the day, views us).

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Bar & Bar Studying Overview Talk Today!

Hey guys,

Just a quick reminder about the bar talk going on today. I've been told it wasn't on the events calendar, but it is still happening today at 12:45 in Room 12. Hope you guys can make it, but no worries if finals and whatnot prevent you from doing so.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Message From a 3L: I've Got More Debt Than You. Seriously, I Win.

A 3L friend asked that I post this to encourage all of you to give as you graduate:

300k. By the time I pay it off, it'll be >600k. That's a house - my debt.

And, I'm giving $100 to the Death Penalty Clinic, because it can do better with $200 than I can. I give $100, and it becomes $200, because alumni double whatever 3Ls give to the Class Campaign. For this, I get a t-shirt, pint glass, key chain, and satisfaction that the kids in the DP clinic can buy a new printer (they really need one).

I'd have 400k of debt, but I got a ton of grants here. I worked with the center for law and technology to fund a conference on HIV and neglected disease technology platforms. When we wrote a letter and asked Edley to sign it and send it to dozens of Congresspersons and Senators, urging repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, he did it, and he took the lead in recruiting other deans to join him. MSVH let us listen to Aqua in class. Amy K introduced me to the Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases, a campus unit that later gave me a fellowship. T$lley brought donuts to Corp-Fin; B*mberg*r fed us chocolate and whitefish (in a sense); and Skl*nsk* challenged us to kill the felony murder rule.

The point is that our school, for all its flaws, educated and supported me, and it was able to do that because folks who came before us supported it. Our faculty are in demand - the ones who actually changed your life, they're not free.

Each one, teach one, and each one, support the thing that supported him. Some of us have complaints about financial aid (good, put your money where your mouth is); and others about LRAP (good, support the program, because Sacramento won't).

And, I'm going to the Unveiling Party.

See y'all in the next episode. It's been a blast.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Boalties in the News

The Ninth Circuit just handed down a precedential opinion affirming the preliminary injunction against several sections of SB 1070, the Arizona Immigration Law.  Judge Richard Paez, a Boalt alumnus and Judge John T. Noonan, a long-time Boalt professor formed the majority, while Judge Bea (Stanford!!!) dissented. 

The line that grabbed my attention was in Judge Noonan's concurrance:
That the movement of the people of one nation into the boundaries of another nation is a matter of national security is scarcely a doubtful or debatable matter. Almost everyone is familiar with how the movement of the Angles and the Saxons into Roman Britain transformed that country.
Touche.  It looks like barring a cert grant from the SCOTUS, the key parts of the AZ law are dead letter. 

Classes for the Masses

The course schedule is out for Fall 2011, so might as well get a thread going for discussion and questions. As usual, please throw in an asterisk in professor names so as to spare them from the googles. Example: I wish Neil L*vy taught more than torts because I miss him.

I'll get the ball rolling with a question of my own: among all the miserable bar courses that I don't want to take and still haven't taken (Crim Pro, Bus Ass, Estates and Trusts, CA Marital Property, Remedies, Conflict of Laws), which would be most difficult to teach myself in bar prep?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Being Smart With Federal Dollars" Now Equals "Regulation," Says Chairman of House Education and Workforce Committee

It is funny that when the administration wants to make certain federal programs more efficient, opponents decry this as an example of 'regulation' going to far, as if a poorly designed government is itself an entitlement for any person or enterprise seeking to profit from it.

I wonder what UC's and our private local counterparts think of the (hopefully forthcoming) regulations.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

D. Boon Cilled a Bar in Year 1760

Sara asks:
[W]ould someone create a thread for 3Ls with questions about BarBri, bar studying, and the bar exam? Thanks!
Here it is.

If Sara asked for the thread because she suspects that there is more than one way to "kill a bar," she's right. I have my own list of tips, thoughts, and soothing reminders to share, but I suspect they'll percolate through the comments on this post without much contribution from me. If there is a bottom line message to convey, it is this: no matter what it feels like, you'll be okay!

Update 04/06/11 (Patrick): Esteemed Boalt alums (and bar slayers) Steve Ullmer and Toney Jacobson will give a talk at Boalt on April 21st, from 12:45-1:45 p.m., on the bar, barbri, and how you can "utilize technology in studying to maximize efficiency and free time over the summer." (If that reads like a BTLJ thing, it is . . . so, the food should be great you may rest assured that you can text and email freely without annoying the speakers.)


Friday, April 01, 2011

Administration Announces Haas To Take Over New Addition

Add this to the list of Dean Edley's failures.

Because of the financial predicament that the law school is in, they've decided to lease the new addition to Haas in exchange for roughly $10M a year. Apparently this will be enough to keep tuition from rising above $50k/year in the near term.

In an email sent out to student leaders this afternoon, Edley stated:

I know times are tough and I realize students are concerned about rising tuition. In response to these concerns, we've worked out a deal with Haas where they will be taking over the addition and we'll move some classes back to the annex. Students should be prepared to be excluded from the new addition unless they're wearing sports coats and can verify they have paid employment upon graduation.

The Administration email continued with several other cost cutting measures including:

- Hiring unemployed 3Ls as library security guards in order to cut the amount we currently pay the security guards and to boost employment stats.
- LLM and transfer numbers will be increased by 100%. To support this, a quarter of Boalt classes will now be taught in French.
- Zeb Cafe will be turned into the bar, "Zeb After Dark," Thursday through Saturday from 10 - 2am in an attempt to draw some of the Greek business away from Kip's. Any law student over 25 will be turned away at the door.

So, after all of that, do we think these measures will even help? What about all of the money we've put into the new addition without even being able to use it?

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King of April Fool's

Google has done it again.  The whole thing had me cracking up, right down to the generic background music that's so typical of these corporate motivational videos.  The best line for me, "Our fingers are not designed to move independently.  We're graspers.  We're killers."

I still think the genericide joke from last year (posted below) is hard to top, but this is still great.