Law School Applications Down

Law School Applications Down

How far will law school applications fall?

Are potential law students scared finally thinking?

For the first time in many years, the number of applicants to law school fell.  We got a preview of this trend in January when LSAC reported a 10% drop in those taking the LSAT:

There were 42,096 test takers for the December 2010 administration. This figure is down 16.5% (8,348 test takers) from the December 2009 LSAT administration. Year-to-date (Jun-Dec), testing volume is 129,414.  While this figure is down 10.0% compared to last year, it is the second largest YTD testing volume (second only to last year).

And, now we hear that the number of law school applicants fell by 11.5% this year.  Good news, except that there are still way too many people applying. 

It seems that many potential students who thought that a law degree would be a golden meal ticket are figuring out that they will be lucky to find a modest paying job to repay the $100,000 in student loans that come with the degree.

The good news is that, with fewer applicants, your chance of being accepted into law school is the best since 2001.  The bad news is the students that you are competing with for law school seats are more informed than ever:

At Fordham University School of Law in New York, applications this year are down 15%, and those applying “appear to have analyzed the investment in law school closely and are serious about pursuing a career in law,” said Carrie Johnson, a school spokeswoman.

Kent Syverud, dean of the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, where applications this year declined more than 11%, said it was a good thing prospective students now were more “clear eyed” about the risks and rewards of a law degree.”The froth in the applicant pool—those who were just going to law school because they didn’t know what else to do and everyone told them it was a safe bet—is pretty well gone,” he said.

It remains to be seen what getting rid of people who were just chasing money or killing time will do to the quality of the competition in law school.  At first blush, you might think that competition would be harder because the class is filled with more motivated students.  But, that argument ignores the fact that we don’t know the caliber of the applicants who didn’t apply. 

 Only time will tell whether the reduction in applicants will translate into increased competition in the law school classes.  If so, everyone wins.

More Law School Grade Controversy

Stephen Colbert Defends Law SchoolLast summer Loyola Law School – Los Angeles, grabbed the national spotlight (with a little help from Stephen Colbert) when it decided to raise the grading curve and award all law students a .333 GPA boost.  It claimed to be keeping pace with UCLA and other California Law Schools, who had previously raised their curve. 

This week at the University of Chicago Law School rumors began to circulate that its grading policy for seminars was being changed retroactively.  Apparently, the law students thought that the curve would become enforceable on seminar classes.  It turns out though, that nothing has changed.  It seems that many students are generally unpleased with the university’s commitment to maintaining its curve, even if nothing has changed.  

Meanwhile, at Cornell Law School, students are upset because law professors now have the discretion to move set the curve from 3.2 to 3.5.  Before, there was a 3.35 curve.  It looks like most of the classes are moving to the 3.5 and 3L’s are not happy.  They think that the lower classmen now have an unfair GPA advantage. 

University at Buffalo Law School is also part of this week’s controversy.  Apparently, they have recently begun to report on law school class rank.  You would think this would be very beneficial, considering that all the law school grading changes have left employers with no other option than to compare class rank.  (For example which candidate is more impressive:  GPA = 3.78; Rank = 30%; or GPA = 3.63; Rank = 5%) .  The problem is that the 3L’s didn’t expect to have to reveal their class standing, which some argue influenced their choice of classes. 

Most of the controversy going forward could be minimized if all law schools were required to reveal their class rank.  It is the only way that employers can measure the competitveness of an applicant’s grades.  The curve at any given law school should not matter in the least. 

As far as the Buffalo law student’s complaints – I don’t sympathize.  Granted, some law students may have taken harder classes because class rank was undisclosed.  But, so what?  Law students are achievers.  Revealing Buffalo’s class rank does not penalize anyone who took a harder class and worked harder.  In fact, given the curve, you should have the same opportunity for mediocrity in hard law school classes as you do the easier classes.  The real people who are upset are those law students who thought they would be able to camouflage their mediocre performance.  To those students I say: Welcome to the Real World. 

As promised, here is Stephen Colbert’s take on law school grade inflation:

Colbert on Law School

Perspective on Law School Grades…

Law School Grades are like a marathon

Law School is a Marathon Not a Sprint

Of the potential law students who take the LSAT each year, only about 34% make it into law school (about 2% make a T14 school).  Given the hurdles that you overcame to get into law school, and the fact that you have always done well in school, your first semester grades probably disappointed you.  It’s understandable, you are used to being one of the smartest kids in the class—you have always been.  And we all like to think that this reality will continue, notwithstanding the talent that surrounds us in law school. 

Perhaps you identified the delusional gunners.  You know, the ones that had so much brilliance to add to class during the first semester, who now sit silently after their first semester performance.  You knew you would do better than those guys and you probably did.  I mean, you worked hard, you did what you were supposed to do,  and yet, you find yourself (for the first time in your life) outside the top 10% of the class.    

One of the greatest gifts of law school is the humbling realization that we must learn to derive our self esteem from something other than our accomplishments.  Not every student gets this gift during law school, but many do.  The law school exam is a snapshot of your performance on a given day on a given exam.  Your grade is not derived from how well you grasp the subject matter.  It comes from how well you grasp the subject matter in relation to those in your class; which you can influence, but never control.  Doing well depends on thinking within a narrow analytical realm.  Some people are too intellectually creative to ever do this, while others are too rigid.  Both of these students master the course material but are never rewarded on the exam.  Both of these students have the potential to be, and probably will be, great lawyers.  And, even if you never do well, it is helpful to remember what they call the person who graduates in the bottom 5% of their law class and barely passes the bar exam—A lawyer! 

All of that isn’t to say, however, that law school grades are not important.  Your grades will influence the type of work you will do at the beginning of your legal career and will follow you in certain fields.  If your grades are not where you want them, you need to evaluate your exam-taking skills and make efforts to improve them.  This website has some great tools for doing that.  But, if it doesn’t work out, you should remember that half of your law school class will graduate in the bottom 50%.

Consistently low grades ARE a predictor of how much difficulty you will have with the bar exam, and with finding a job.  If you are not happy with your grades, now is the time to do something.  If you want to learn the subtle distinctions that will take you to the top of the class, begin with the Exam Strategies we provide and be sure to download the Free 1L Law Student Guide to see how I went from top 25% of my 1L section to top 5% of my law school class.

Ohio Supreme Court Denies Law License for Grad with $170,000 in Student Loans.

Law School Tuition

Are Student Loans a Trap?

In a headline that looks like it could be strait from the Onion (except that lay-people wouldn’t get the joke) ABC News reported on the story of Hassan Jonathan Griffin who was recently denied permission to sit for the Ohio bar based on his student loan debt. 

So, can too much student loan debt keep you from being a lawyer?  Apparently, the answer is yes; if you don’t have a realistic plan to pay it back. (And, you were in My Cousin Vinny’s law class).   

I have been noticing a disturbing trend among several states’ bars.  In the last month, both Ohio and New Hampshire failed candidates on their character and fitness evaluation based—at least in part—on having too much student loan debt. 

Last year, New York refused to license a guy who finally passed the bar on his fourth try because his student loans were too big, and his efforts to repay them were too small.  He owed more than $400,000.  The New York appellate panel concluded:

“Applicant has not made any substantial payments on the loans. . .. [He] has not presently established the character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counselor-at-law.”

The Ohio Supreme Court (click here for the opinion) denied Hassan Jonathan Griffin because he didn’t have a plan to repay his $170,000 student loan.  The Court seemed to be offended by the fact that Griffin had maintained a part-time law job instead of taking full time work:

“We accept the board’s findings of fact and conclude that the applicant has neglected his personal financial obligations by electing to maintain his part-time employment with the Public Defender’s Office in the hope that it will lead to a full-time position upon passage of the bar exam, rather than seeking full-time employment, which he acknowledges would give him a better opportunity to pay his obligations and possibly qualify him for an additional deferment of his student-loan obligation.” 

Most recently, New Hampshire has joined the fray also considering student debt in a recent opinion that—as it turns out—is Onion worthy.  I’m serious.  You have to read about this guy (click here for the opinion).  The New Hampshire Supreme Court stated:

In concluding its report, the Committee stated, “[The applicant]’s inability to responsibly deal with his personal financial obligations, his inability to accept responsibility for his criminal conduct, and his practice of placing blame on other individuals or events for his conduct, are all indicative of his inability to responsibly deal with his own affairs.” With respect to his financial problems, the Committee stated that it “does not believe that [the applicant] has made any type of sincere attempt to find employment during the last 20 years that would allow him to make payments on this loan obligation.” Moreover, the Committee found that, “[r]egardless of which excuse [the applicant] puts forth for his conduct, it was clear to the Committee that [the applicant] does not accept  esponsibility for any of his criminal acts.”

We appreciate that the applicant, as his counsel recounts, has overcome mental and physical difficulties. However, taken as a whole, the record reflects an individual with a long history of evading his financial obligations, as well as failing to accept responsibility for the consequences of his poor judgment and criminal behavior. We see no evidence that, as an attorney, the applicant would conduct himself any differently.

While these three prospective lawyers are not the norm, you should take note and make sure to stay current on your monumental student debt, or you just may find yourself in their company.

Can Law School Be Fun?

Tips for 1L Law Students Law School Can Be a Rollercoaster Ride, Make Sure to Have Fun!

Your first year of law school will keep you perpetually busy.  If you have a moment you are sure to have something school-related that you can fit into the time.  There is always more you can do.  But, if you do not make time for yourself, you will experience burnout and your grades will suffer. 

One major key to maintaining your sanity in this obsessive and competitive environment is to learn to have some balance in your life.  Make yourself a schedule like you would have at work.  Between those hours, you “work.”  When you are off, make sure that you have a family and social life.

You should also consider joining one or more of your law school’s organizations or clubs.  Keep an eye out for the intro meetings.  Not only will you learn about each organization, they usually feed you.  Find a few of these organizations that you want to be part of.  Do not attempt to hold a leadership position as a 1L—it’s not worth the distraction. 

You will have opportunities to attend alcohol-filled-receptions and happy hours thrown by organizations or law firms.  These are an excellent opportunity for socializing, whether you drink or not.  Also be on the lookout for other types of parties and events.  Usually there will be plenty to choose from until about a month before exam time. 

If the student organizations don’t appeal to you, find something else.  Take a fitness class. Volunteer.  Do something.  The key is to having several activities that you balance with your “work” so that you don’t go crazy.

Sometimes your professors will get in on the fun.  Here is a set of hilarious exam instructions from an actual 1L law school class:  

Final Examination  – Con Law

3 Hours

Instructions

1.  This is a Final Examination — Very Serious Business indeed, which will undoubtedly affect your entire future.  That’s why I’ve put these Very Official Looking Directions on the front cover.

2.  Do not panic. Stay calm at all times.

3.  Go ahead, compromise your anonymity; why would I care? I grade blindly just to make the registrar happy.  Do you really think I’m sufficiently invested in your lives to play favorites?

4. This is an open book examination. Use whatever materials you want.  They won’t help you, but you know that.  Of course, flipping through 100-page outlines, treatises, Gilberts, and nutshells does help the time pass.  Have you tried cross-tabbing your outline during an exam yet?

5. Feel free to make up facts if you like — the screwier the better. Wacky abbreviations are fine, too, so long as they make me laugh.  Just do something, anything, to amuse me.  That said, be aware that nothing affects your final grade more adversely than jokes that make me cringe.

6. You can write or type. I’d really, really (with sugar on top) like it if you typed — so I can spot how silly your answers are without expending too much effort.  If you do write, however, and happen to have sloppy handwriting, I might give you credit for brilliance that your answer in fact lacks.  (How do you think I got to be a professor?  Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.)

7.  As Polonius said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” So do as he said (and not, please Dear God, as he did).

8.  Whatever you do, don’t bother to ask the proctor any questions about the exam. He’s just an undergraduate with a pulp novel who is, beneath his blank face, snickering at your misery.  I promise he’ll be of no help to you and will only waste your precious time.

9.  Any questions that arise during the examination must be asked of the proctor. Do not try to contact the instructor, as that could theoretically compromise your anonymity, which would prompt a nasty rebuke from the registrar, which is the thing your professor fears most in life.  But cf. Instruction #3, supra.

10.  I haven’t flunked anyone in a while. I’m about due, I think.  But that’s neither here nor there.  Cf. Instruction #2.

11.  Closing line. (*Circle your favorite*):    a) Good Luck! ;   b) Godspeed!;  c)  May the Force be With You!;  d)  Have a Nice Vacation!;  e) Hasta la Vista, Baby (Note:  This closing is nothing more than a pleasantry.  If everybody enjoyed good luck on the exam in this curved course, I’d be totally screwed.  But you knew that.)

12.  You haven’t wasted precious exam time reading these instructions, have you?

Is your Law School Committing Fraud?

So, we all know (or soon will ) that fraud is making a material misrepresentation of an existing fact that the bad guy knows if false—but the hapless victim does not—with the intent that bonehead will act on it, if bonehead actually acts on the statement and suffers damages.  

The New York Times just wrote an article called Is Law School a Losing Game that seriously questions the integrity of law school data reporting.  The article highlights the fact that graduating students are facing a nightmare job market, while at the same time law school data suggests that their prospects are better now than ever.  

One law school professor stated that “Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm.”  The professor has joined the ranks of other law professors who are asking the American Bar Association to re-think the way law schools measure their results.  “Every time I look at this data, I feel dirty.”

One way they manipulate the data is by counting any student that has a job (even as a waitress) as employed.  Can you say–Shady?  Also, some law schools will actually hire their students for a temp job so that they are working on the magic day that the ABA uses to decide if the new law grads are working.  The number-fudging games are widespread because the fortunes of law schools rise and fall on their rankings.  And, make no mistake, they are very profitable.      

So, it seems a little ironic that your law school states that its median starting salary is over $100,000 with over 90% of its students are working within nine months of graduation, when the same school requires law studentsto take Professional Responsibililty (a course on ethics and disclosure). 

One of the proposed solutions to this problem is to put a mandatory warning in front of prospective law students.  Like something off of a cigarette pack it would read “Law school tuition is expensive and here is what the actual cost will be, the job market is uncertain and you should carefully consider whether you want to pursue this degree.  If you sign up for X amount of debt, your l payment will be X in three years.”

So, if you haven’t joined the ranks of law students yet you might want to carefully consider your options before committing to an extra mortgage payment in the hopes that you will get a cush job making tons of money.  Or, you could just be a bonehead like many of us were…  

Get Used to It

If you are anything like me, you spent your 1L winter break obsessively hitting refresh button to see if your first semester law school grades had somehow miraculously posted in the ten minutes you had been distracted by the TV.  You start wondering what the right amount of time to give the professors to grade the 75+ exams from your class.  My initial guess was 2 weeks and 1 day.  The trail of logic that got me to that perfect figure involved complex math and variables such as reading speed, grading methods, and personal time.  A month later (after I had checked my math at least 20 times) my first grade posted:  B+.       

For me, waiting for grades was the worst part of law school.  Over time I learned that my grade-time equation needed a law school multiplier of 4.  By my 3L year, I was able to give the professors 4 whole weeks before I began the obsessive grade checking that dominated my first law school break.  I eventually managed to only check twice a day.   

Looking back I wish I had known that I would still be waiting for grades when the next semester started.  I also wish I had known that my first grade would be my lowest—maybe I wouldn’t have wasted so much time worrying.  As a lawyer with a little experience under my belt, I can’t help but thinking that law professors purposefully make law students wait for their grades.  Maybe they are just trying to help those of us who have grown up in an instant gratification world get ready for the realities of practicing law.  It took more than 3 months for me to get my bar results, and I am still waiting for an appellate opinion on a case that was submitted 11 months ago.

I wish I could tell you that things change… Now, please excuse me—I need to check the 14th Court of Appeals’ website to see if my case has posted.

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