law school

Is there any better morning than Monday’s to start an argument?

That’s why I wonder if you read an op-ed piece in last week’s New York Times. There, in “Too Many Law Students, Too Few Legal Jobs,” attorney Steven J. Harper assesses what he sees as the continued sorry state of the economics underlying legal education.

NYT Harper essay on law schools illustration by Kevin Lucbert 08-25-15

Illustration by Kevin Lucbert in New York Times

Where do you stand on legal education? Is it still on a troubling path? Or has it located useful solutions? (If you don’t think there was a problem in the first place, well, I don’t know what to say to you.)

He opens with predictably dire statistics regarding the employment picture of law grads. Given all that, and a national wellspring of hand-wringing, the profession must have developed strategies to right the ship. Right?

Not quite, says Harper. Quite the opposite, in fact:

“Amazingly (and perversely), law schools have been able to continue to raise tuition while producing nearly twice as many graduates as the job market has been able to absorb. How is this possible? Why hasn’t the market corrected itself? The answer is that, for a given school, the availability of federal loans for law students has no connection to their poor post-graduation employment outcomes.”

He goes on to spread his critiques liberally. He has little good to say about an ABA task force charged with examining the pr­­oblem. At the end of the day, he says, the task force “dodged the issues that should have been the focus of its work.” And he draws a line between the task force’s mild-mannered assessment of the industry and the man who headed the committee: former ABA President Dennis Archer, “the former mayor of Detroit, who is also head of the national policy board of Infilaw, a private equity-owned consortium of three for-profit law schools—Arizona Summit, Charlotte and Florida Coastal. These schools are examples of the larger problem.”

OK, he’s called out one of the three Arizona law schools, so I imagine I’ll hear some grumbling now.

Before writing me in anger or joy, read Harper’s complete piece here. And tell me what you think.

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Reviewed in the June 2015 Arizona Attorney Magazine: Magna Carta by Dan Jones

Reviewed in the June 2015 Arizona Attorney Magazine: Magna Carta by Dan Jones

Yesterday, I got to CLE Snippet.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know what I mean. I got to have a taped conversation with the author of an upcoming Arizona Attorney article.

The result is a brief-ish video for sale by the CLE Department. I say brief-ish because, though we’ve been told we may speak for as little as 15 minutes, our past dialogues have rambled two to four times beyond that.

What can I say? Our authors are fascinating people, and I get to select the authors and topics I want to sit down with.

Yesterday’s Snippet was with Judge George Anagnost. He is the Presiding Judge of the Peoria Municipal Court. And at the magazine, he’s one of our resident historians and a book-reviewer par excellence.

I have written about his approach to book reviews here.

Our topic this week was Magna Carta. Our jumping-off point was a book the judge reviewed, by Dan Jones. But the conversation ranged farther than that.

Continuing our sort-of tradition, a selfie with the author was a pleasure, snapped this month by my Bar colleague Jenn Sonier. (Thanks!)

Judge George Anagnost (left) and his shorter interlocutor.

Judge George Anagnost (left) and his shorter interlocutor.

When the video and June article are available, I hope you read and watch in tandem. More information, as always, will be on the Bar’s website.

cle snippets teaser logo. This teaser signifies a new and innovative way to combine magazine content with online learning.How enjoyable a snippet can be.

No need to be mysterious. I’m talking about CLE Snippets, those brief-ish video conversations I’ve been having with Arizona Attorney authors. (Read more about them here.)

Last month, I interviewed Ken Motolenich-Salas about his topic: the Washington Redskins trademark cancellations. (You can read his article here.) Fascinating and timely.

Just as fascinating and timely, though, was my dialogue with Anthony Tsontakis yesterday. Fascinating – OK. But timely? That seems surprising, considering Anthony’s topic: a battle over the 1912 judicial nomination of Judge Richard Sloan.

Indeed, our dialogue was timely. Anthony’s article and our conversation focused on how the nomination battle could lead a commentator to say, “No uglier fight was ever made against a man.” Our dialogue reveals just how little we’ve changed in a century. Not a bad lesson to learn in a bruising election season.

I’ll provide links to the videos with Ken and Anthony as soon as I have them.

Anthony Tsontakis (right) and I take a moment before videotaping our conversation about a 1912 nomination battle.

Anthony Tsontakis (right) and I take a moment before videotaping our conversation about a 1912 nomination battle.

old classroom photo students: Over the years, we students of legal education have changed. Have the teachers changed?

Over the years, we students of legal education have changed. Have the teachers changed?

Yesterday, I mentioned a terrific educational program that explored recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Assuming it’s offered again next year, I would recommend you attend.

I tend not to immerse myself in the mechanics of event planning. After all, what I don’t know about that topic is a lot, and those issues may not be of great interest to attorney and other legal readers.

But on this Change of Venue Friday, I do pass on a few notions that implicate the quality and attractiveness of programs.

One of those suggestions I heard from multiple attendees, and it boiled down to: If attorneys have to forego a day of work to attend a 9:30 to 3:00 seminar, couldn’t it be extended slightly so six or so hours of CLE would be available? Traveling to a location (whether in Peoria or in Scottsdale) to get four hours makes the decision to attend a tough one.

I know CLE staff heard that suggestion too, so I leave that to them to consider.

The second issue is a bit touchier, but it is a topic that has struck me at numerous educational events, whether hosted by the State bar or anyone else: Where is the diversity on the speaker panel? Wednesday’s event had none. (In fairness, the keynote speaker is from Pinal County, so there was that geographic diversity.)

I anticipate and acknowledge the fact that in past years, this particular program had some gender and geographic diversity.

So my remarks here are not aimed at one program, but they frame a general question:

As we attend seminars that touch upon virtually all areas of life’s experience, and those programs have non-diverse faculty, how is our educational experience not harmed?

Every one of us has sat through CLEs that touch on all elements of the human condition. The Supreme Court itself regularly passes on the constitutionality of laws that disparately affect significant portions of the population. Can all of those topics be discussed comprehensively by a faculty lacking in diversity—whether gender, race, ethinicity, geography, or anything else.

The State Bar has a real commitment to diversity; it’s even in its core values. And it faces a challenge to effectuate that mission. But for all associations, the pace needs to accelerate. We often are reminded that all associations are in a battle for relevancy, and relevancy is related to accurate and cutting-edge industry information. Our industry is legal, and we count on education that explores cases, laws and policies in a robust, vibrant and diverse way. Anything less is short shrift.

To suggest the seriousness of the issue, I point to a Twitter stream I recently followed as the annual meeting of the Online News Association occurred. As that meeting progressed, I was intrigued by a dialogue that sprang up there.

Megan Finnerty, an Arizona Republic reporter, was tweeting about the ONA meeting, and she retweeted the following about feminist writer Jessica Valenti:

.@jmfbrooks: #ONA13 MT @NABJDigital: .@JessicaValenti & others refuse all-white panels. Individual actions make a difference #mediadiversity

— Megan Finnerty (@MeganMFinnerty) October 19, 2013

So here was a national speaker who indicated a panel’s diversity—or lack thereof—could be a deal-killer for her. She apparently would decline to sit on panels that did not represent the organization’s makeup.

I’m sure some readers will note that the original post was made via the Twitter feed of the National Association of Black Journalists (who are here and here), and it was re-posted by a feminist writer. So doubters may pooh pooh the importance of this whole issue and say, Consider the source. But they’d be mistaken.

I have heard similar critiques from Arizona lawyers—and not just those from the “sister bars.” More and more, non-diverse panels are an arresting vision, ones that attendees connect to a tone-deaf and declining viewpoint.

This week, a colleague shared with me a great article that touches on this topic. It was written by Jan L. Jacobowitz, Director of The Ethics and Professional Responsibility Program Center for Ethics and Public Service at the University of Miami School of Law. And she wisely connects two things that many would keep separate: professionalism and cultural competency.

You can read her whole article here, but it contributes to a conversation about how the quality of education is connected to diversity. And we must wonder: Can we ever achieve (or even approach) cultural competency if multiple viewpoints are not welcomed as participants?

What is your view? Does a diverse panel add value to the information you receive?

Have a great—and diverse—weekend.

There may be no profession that does as much self-examination as legal education. And given the massive challenges it faces, who can begrudge them some navel-gazing?

Another introspective opportunity occurs this Wednesday, March 27, at the University of Arizona Law School. That is when an annual distinguished lecture will be delivered by Larry Kramer, President of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Previously, he served as Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School.

The title for his lecture? “The Past, Present, and Future of Legal Education” (he had me at future)

Larry Kramer will speak Wednesday on The Future of Legal Education (the past and present too)

Larry Kramer will speak Wednesday on The Future of Legal Education (the past and present too) (Photo by Norbert von der Groeben )

The lecture will be delivered on Wednesday, at 12:15 in the Ares Auditorium, Room 164.

The event is free, but pre-registration is required. When I checked the link Monday evening, there were still seats available. But don’t delay. Register here.

His bona fides for offering an educational prognosis are wide and deep. Here is how the school describes the speaker:

“Before joining the Foundation, Mr. Kramer served from 2004 to 2012 as Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School. During his tenure, he spearheaded significant educational reforms, pioneering a new model of multidisciplinary legal studies. He also enlarged the clinical education program to promote reflective lawyering, an approach that seeks to integrate theory and practice as well as encourage self-reflection, and revamped programs to foster a public service ethos. He further developed the international law program to support a growing emphasis on globalization in legal practice. His teaching and scholarly interests include American legal history, constitutional law, federalism, separation of powers, the federal courts, conflict of laws, and civil procedure.”

I would very much like to know what Dean Kramer has to say. Unfortunately, I will be Phoenix-bound that day. Therefore, if there is a lawyer or law student attending who would like to write a bylined story for the blog, let me know. It doesn’t have to be long—200 to 500 words could do the trick. But feel free to let your insight as a lawyer or law student shine. Let us especially know about that third part of his lecture: regarding the future.

Interested? Comment below, or write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

law-schoolHere’s a great way to start off a week: by trying to make a difference to the legal profession.

The American Bar Association is seeking comment on the best practices law schools should be adopting. This is an opportunity to sound off on the legal training ground.

The initiative is part of the strategy of the ABA’s Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession.

As the ABA describes it:

“The Task Force on the Future of Legal Education was created in summer 2012, and charged with making recommendations to the American Bar Association on how law schools, the ABA, and other groups and organizations can take concrete steps to address issues concerning the economics of legal education and its delivery. The need for the Task Force, and for recommendations as to action, results from rapid and substantial changes in the legal profession, legal services, the national and global economy, and markets affecting legal education.”

“The Task Force is working through two subcommittees, one dealing with the economics of legal education, and the other dealing with the delivery of legal education and its regulation.”

For more information about the specific questions the subcommittees are addressing, read this ABA Journal article by Mark Hansen.

Dean Douglas Sylvester

As lawyers, judges and a legal community, are we pleased with law-school education? Simply put: Are law schools doing their job?

That’s a question we’ll drill into in an upcoming issue, when we publish our Q&A with ASU Law School Dean Doug Sylvester in an upcoming Arizona Attorney Magazine.

I sit down for my interview with the Dean later this week. And to get ready for it, I’d love to know: What do you think I should ask Dean Sylvester?

Are you a recent law school grad (from ASU or from anywhere else)? If so, do you believe you received a good education? And were you prepared to enter the legal job market?

Or are you a legal employer who has hired recent graduates? Were the applicants’ skills and other important traits up to the task? Have you seen those skills improve or worsen over the years?

Part of the difficulty we have answering my first question above is that we as a legal community can’t seem to decide what the primary mission of law school is. High-level conferences are held around the country about every six months, all aiming to tease out “the state of law schools.”

What do you think that role is? Purely and simply to generate graduates who can slide into associate or other first-year jobs, causing law firms as little bother (and training) as possible? Or is law school supposed to be preparation-plus? Should it involve heightened intellectual rigor befitting a Doctor of Laws sheepskin?

Let me know your suggested questions and comments by commenting below. Or, if you’d rather the Dean and the rest of the world not see what you wrote, send me an email at arizona.attorney@azbar.org. I would appreciate all of your thoughts. You may even see your questions get asked in print!