law schools

Law schools should focus less on LSAT scores

The Law School Admission Council offers the Law School Admission Test four times per year to people who plan to attend law school.
The Law School Admission Council offers the Law School Admission Test four times per year to people who plan to attend law school.

On Monday, the Law School Admission Council released the scores for the September LSAT. I checked my email that evening to find my score and my percentile, and then began considering whether to retake the test and which law schools would realistically admit me. LSAT scores are worth a significant portion of a student's application, and this is ridiculous because the score a student earns on this test is so dependent on various factors that have no effect on whether this student will succeed in law school. On test day, students may be tired, have had an emotional week, have testing anxiety, or any number of things unrelated to their abilities, but these things could negatively affect their performance and cause their score to end up lower than their practice test scores.

The exam tests students on how quickly they can read a passage — because obviously, if you're a quick reader, you'll undoubtedly be a phenomenal lawyer — and answer questions about it. It tests students' abilities to weaken and strengthen arguments, which I think actually can partially indicate how effective of a lawyer a student will become, and the third section type is the logic games section — basically a more intense version of those elementary school math class games with instructional clues like "Bob works three days a week, and Jane works four. Bob can't work Tuesdays, Bill has to work the day after Jane and Joe must work Thursdays."

The test also includes an unscored writing section, which serves absolutely no purpose because most law schools don't even look at it, and an experimental section, because of course, 100 scored questions on each test four times per year aren't enough for LSAC to analyze, and requiring students to answer 25 extra questions that have no bearing on their score but huge effects on their levels of mental fatigue is just such a great idea.

The LSAT is one of many examples of the ineffectiveness of standardized tests. Education institutions tout their focuses on their student bodies' diversity and merit, but selecting students based largely on their performance on a test that's standardized to allow no creativity or diversity is hypocritical. Law school admissions officers should focus their considerations more on other parts of a candidate's application — GPA, personal statement, essays — and less on how well a student performs on a singular test.

Voeller is an associate editor.

Editor’s note: We will feature higher education bills filed for Texas’ 83rd legislative session, which begins Jan. 8, every day until the end of the semester.

A series of bills for the upcoming legislative session would facilitate the establishment of new schools and educational programs, including a proposed UT law school in the Rio Grande Valley.

State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, filed a bill that would grant the UT System Board of Regents the authority to establish and operate a law school in Cameron or Hidalgo counties, two border counties near the Gulf of Mexico.

Lucio’s legislative director Houston Tower said the region’s distance from law schools in Austin, San Antonio and Houston discourages residents from attending those schools.

“Most [residents who pursue a legal career] have to uproot themselves, which at their income level is not feasible,” Tower said.

He said the proposed school would combat a perceived shortage of lawyers in the region compared to other areas of the state.

Cameron County has one lawyer for every 768 residents and a population of 414,123, according to a study of attorney population density for 2011-2012 gathered by the State Bar of Texas. With a population of 797,810, Hidalgo County has one lawyer for every 832 residents.

In contrast, Travis County has one lawyer for every 115 residents and a population of more than 1 million, Bexar County has one lawyer for every 320 residents and a population of close to 2 million and Harris County has one lawyer for every 193 residents with a population of more than 4 million.

Lucio has introduced the bill during the past three legislative sessions, but it did not gain approval from the House Higher Education Committee.

Tower said the committee was concerned about the proposed school’s budgetary impact. He said the school would cost the state more than $80 million over a five-year period for construction costs, hiring faculty and operations.

“That tends to be the barrier that we face [in passing the bill],” Tower said.

The bill would direct the board to ask the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to conduct a feasibility study to determine what the System must do to seek accreditation for the law school before its establishment.

Another bill introduced by state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, would allow the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso to become an independent institution with the Texas Tech System rather than a branch of the Health Sciences Center based in Lubbock.

If the bill passes, the center would hire its own president and administration, have the authority to issue degrees and allow the Texas Tech Board of Regents to establish teaching hospitals affiliated with the campus.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, filed a bill that would allow the University of Houston’s College of Optometry to operate a summer optometry program.

Printed on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 as: Bills endorse new Texas schools

Last December, when my fellow law students and I were cramming for finals, we received news that our fearless leader, Dean Lawrence Sager, had been fired. This past month, once again cramming for finals, we received more welcome news: distinguished legal scholar Ward Farnsworth had been hired as the new dean. Dean Farnsworth brings an impressive list of accolades to UT, though some of us were already familiar with him as the author of our torts textbook.

In an introductory email to students, Dean Farnsworth invited us to give feedback on how the law school can perform better going forward. I’m sure many of my fellow students would like to see more flexible class schedules, fewer tuition increases or a return to the US News & World Report’s cherished “T-14.” However, I only have one request of the new Dean and his administration: above all else, never lie to us.

I don’t mean to imply that Dean Farnsworth, or any of the law school’s exceptional administrators would do such a thing. I have never had a negative experience with any member of the staff or administration. But recently their peers at other law schools have failed to uphold those ethical standards.

In the past year both the University of Illinois and Villanova University were publically embarrassed after they were caught fabricating admissions statistics in order to improve their positions in the law school rankings. More troubling is how some law schools have inflated their employment statistics, thereby misleading prospective and current students as to the likelihood they’ll be able to find employment. Last year 15 law schools were named in a class action by former students who alleged that the schools engaged in deceptive business practices by purposefully misleading prospective students. Those schools, which are all part of the “fourth-tier,” routinely reported post-grad employment rates well over 90 percent. Those numbers came despite the fact that the national employment rate for law graduates last year was only 85.6 percent, with only 65.4 percent of jobs requiring bar passage. The nation’s worst law schools were claiming that they were out-performing the national average.

The impact of those allegations of fraud have been compounded by a struggling legal industry. Rampant unemployment is coupled with the sky-rocketing cost of a legal education. The National Law Journal recently estimated the average debt for the class of 2015 will be $210,796 once cost-of-living is included. The result is a proverbial death trap where graduates are saddled with debt and can’t find employment to pay it off. It’s a familiar story, but the impact on law students has been especially hard.

UT Law hasn’t committed the kind of egregious misrepresentations that other law schools have engaged in, but the school can still do better when it comes to accurately presenting graduates’ employment statistics. For instance, the school’s 2011-12 Admissions Bulletin claims that, in an average year, 97 percent of graduates are employed within nine months of graduation. However, the past few years have not been “average” when it comes to finding employment. In 2008, the number of graduates employed within nine months was approximately 94.5 percent. In 2009, the number dropped to 92.8 percent. Last year it was 89 percent.

Furthermore, those numbers do not necessarily mean graduates are obtaining stable employment. The employment data for the class of 2011 includes graduates working positions that are short-term or part-time as part of the total number of “employed” graduates. Of this year’s 382 graduates, only 302 are actually employed in long-term, full-time positions.

Statistics such as the claim of 97 percent employment may technically be accurate, but they’re not a good faith attempt to inform prospective students about the realities of the current job market, which are bleak even at a law school with UT’s prestige.

That doesn’t mean that any members of the UT Law community have acted unethically or lack principle. The school’s leaders are always under enormous pressure to improve UT’s position in the extremely influential law school rankings. It’s a laudable goal as well. Improvements in the rankings help to bolster the law school’s reputation, and my classmates and I will soon be relying on that brand as we search for jobs.

But, we shouldn’t let our desire for a higher ranking compromise the school’s moral obligation to be truthful to its students. Giving up three years and nearly $100,000 is a life-changing decision that should only be undertaken after applicants have reviewed all of the facts. UT Law will best serve its students, alumni, and the constituents of this state by being forthright and honest about employment expectancy in today’s job market, even if other schools aren’t.

Dave Player is a second-year UT law student and a member of the Texas Student Media board.

The UT law school dropped back out of the prestigious top 14 law schools compiled by the U.S. News & World Rankings, but officials say the drop is not a result of controversial administrative decisions made last fall.

The firing of the former law dean Larry Sager in December did not influence the rankings since the U.S. News & World peer assessments were sent out in early October and were due in December.

Interim law dean Stefanie Lindquist said the key to the rankings is the school’s peer assessment scores that have remained consistently strong for years, but other factors influence the fluctuations.

U.S. News & World began the rankings in 1990, with the most importance placed on peer assessments from the top administrators and faculty of law schools, as well as a lesser portion by pre-selected lawyers and judges. Another portion of the rankings is based on selectivity factors and faculty resources.

“The rankings do not necessarily reflect the true quality of the law schools,” Lindquist said. “Given that we know the quality of the school has not changed, it seems artificial.”

President William Powers, Jr. fired the previous law dean, Sager, in December after several law professors filed an open records request that revealed compensation disparities among the faculty.

“The change in deanship here had no impact on the rankings,” Lindquist said. “The surveys were already in the seals.”

Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News & World, said the drop could be the result of small changes in a lot of factors and because the law schools that historically make up the top 14, such as Yale and Stanford, score consistently higher.

“It’s that UT-Austin’s profile is somewhat below them and they can’t raise it high enough to consistently be in that group,” Morse said.

Law student Joseph Keeney began at the UT School of Law last fall and said he does not worry about the rankings. He said students concerned with the rankings are looking for the prestige associated with the group.

“I’m still going to have the same job prospects that I had expected before I started,” Keeney said.

Keeney said the firing of Sager caused some distraction during finals, but he did not think it would greatly affect his education.

“I haven’t noticed any change at all,” Keeney said. “I think we’re in good hands.”

Lindquist said she does not think the issue of changing deans will hurt next year’s peer assessments because the law school has moved beyond it and if a new dean is hired, it could bring positive publicity to the school.

Printed on Friday, April 6, 2012 as: Rank drop not tied to firing, law school says

When you find yourself in a hole, you quit digging. When a public university is about to spend millions on an undertaking that won’t benefit Texans, it’s time for the metaphorical shovel to be put aside.

In this case, the hole belongs to the University of North Texas who for the last three years has been working to found a new law school at their satellite campus in downtown Dallas. The proposed school, which would be the 10th law school in the state, announced last week that U.S. District Court Judge Royal Furgeson could be serving as its first dean.

The school’s opening has already been significantly delayed. The inaugural class was originally slated to begin in the fall of 2011, but that date was postponed until fall 2012. That opening has since been pushed back another year to fall 2013. Given the current state of the legal market, coupled with cuts to funding for higher education, the school’s opening should continue to be delayed — if not scrapped altogether.

The current recession has hit the legal industry especially hard. Large law firms around the country have scaled back on hiring new associates and are downsizing internally, creating a surplus of unemployed lawyers. Recent graduates have been hard hit; according to the American Bar Association, only 68 percent of law school graduates from the class of 2010 were employed in jobs requiring bar passage. That statistic reflects a continued downward trend from 70 percent in 2009 and 74 percent in 2008.

Furthermore, hiring out of law schools is heavily based on a school’s reputation. Generally, newer law schools are ranked lower and subsequently have poorer employment statistics. Students at forth-tier law schools — the level of ranking by US News where the new UNT school would most likely start — have even lower employment averages.

Proponents of a UNT law school worked for a decade until getting approval from the state Legislature in 2009 to construct the school. But the legal market of the early 2000s was vastly different from today’s. The employment data in 1999 may have justified adding another law school to the DFW metroplex, but today that is just not the case.

In addition to the lack of employment opportunities is the enormous cost of a legal education; tuition at UT School of Law is currently $32,010 per year for in-state residents and $47,532 for non-residents and will most likely rise again next year.

And while Texas has fared better than most states during the recession, the state’s legal market is not robust enough to support an additional, new class of lawyers every year. Charles Cantu, the dean of St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio told San Antonio News-Express last year, “On the average, [Texas] licenses about 2,000 new lawyers every year, and all of our economic indicators at this point indicate the market is not absorbing all of those people.” Founding a new law school produces a catch-22 of sorts. To provide a quality legal education, it would be necessary for UNT to invest heavily to recruit quality professors and build an administrative infrastructure. Yet, to do so requires copious financial resources, which in turn spurs the extremely high tuition costs that are common at nearly every law school in the country.

Proponents of the potential law school have made its status as a public institution a major selling point. It’s true that public law schools offer a more affordable route for Texans. Currently, four of the nine law schools in Texas are public schools, and their average tuition is only $15,515 compared to $27,634 for private Texas law schools.

However, the fact that $15,000 is considered “affordable” simply highlights the outrageous costs of a legal education today. Perhaps UNT’s new school could offer a significantly lower tuition rate, thereby undercutting the bloated tuitions required by other Texas law schools. Yet doing so would handicap the new school’s ability to offer a high-quality education in return, thereby making it even more difficult for graduates to find jobs.

There’s no reason to think that the first crop of UNT Law graduates wouldn’t face the same circumstaces that their peers around the country are currently grappling with. The combination of poor job prospects, rising tuition costs, student loan debt and the continued proliferation of law schools — 17 new law schools have been accredited in the last decade — has made law school a losing bet for many Americans

Given those dire straits, now is not the time to experiment with a “budget” law school propped up by taxpayer monies.

UNT is a great school located in strong job market. But at a time when fiscal resources are scarce, it simply doesn’t make sense to invest so heavily in a project that promises so little a return on that investment. There are more worthy objectives, such as UNT’s mission to become the fourth Tier One research university in the state.

Another law school in the DFW metroplex may have been a good idea 10 years ago. Today it isn’t and should be tabled indefinitely. 

The number of students applying to law schools around the nation has decreased significantly since last year, according to data from the Law School Admissions Council. Since last year, the number of applicants has dipped 11.5 percent, although the figure may change since only about 90 percent of total anticipated applicants have already applied. For the fall 2010 semester, 87,500 students applied to attend law school, according to the Law School Admissions Council website. Although the number of UT School of Law applicants remains uncertain until the fall, there are significantly fewer applicants so far than the 5,815 students who applied for fall 2010, said assistant dean Monica Ingram. The law school cannot release the number of applicants so far, she said. Typically, the numbers of applicants rises and falls over several years, but this year the number is the lowest it has been in a decade, said Wendy Margolis, a spokeswoman for the Law School Admissions Council. Following the recession that officially began in December 2007, the number of applicants increased significantly. The poor job market at the time probably helped to contribute to the cycle that job markets generally experience called the Cobweb Cycle, said economics professor Daniel Hamermesh. “They boom and bust, so [the decrease] isn’t surprising,” he said. Law schools tend to flood the job market when it does well, causing a decrease in wages. As a result, fewer students apply and become somewhat of a scarcity when they graduate, causing wages to rise. This cycle continues every few years, Hamermesh said. The status of the job market tends to create different factors for students who may be considering law school or other graduate school. In many cases, students choose to attend law school if they do not feel ready to enter the workforce. For these students, particularly when the economy improves again, they are more likely to consider other options, Ingram said. Now that students have more job options to consider, fewer are applying to law school, she said. “I think students who were not as serious about law but who were looking at it as a safe haven for three years are now looking at other options,” Ingram said. “Individuals who are not as committed to the profession are taking a second look, and I think that’s important.” The decreasing percentage of law school applicants may actually help those who plan to attend law school next year, said advertising senior Brian Archabal, who plans to attend law school. “Because less people have applied this year, schools will dip into their waitlists deeper than they have in the past,” he said. “It definitely gave me some hope.”