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Law school update

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Recent developments in the law school crisis and the reform movement addressing it:

(1) Valparaiso’s law school is apparently shutting down. Some readers will remember Noam Scheiber’s profile in the Times from last year, which painted an appropriately grim picture of what was happening to the school’s graduates.

What happened to the institution itself is pretty clear: when law school applications started collapsing a few years ago, Valparaiso radically slashed its entrance requirements in order to maintain class size. Between 2010 and 2013, the median LSAT score went from 150 to 143. ETA: That’s going from the 44th to the 20th percentile on the test, and more concretely, from a level that correlates with a fairly modest risk of failing the bar to one that correlates with a massive risk of doing so, if the student hasn’t failed out of law school first. A year ago last summer, the normally docile ABA got slapped hard by the Obama administration, which threatened to take away its license to accredit law schools if it didn’t start actually doing some regulating. So:

Valparaiso University Law School is not in danger of closing or losing its accreditation in wake of the American Bar Association’s public censure of the school for noncompliance with admissions practices, the school’s dean said Thursday.

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar posted the notice of public censure on Tuesday, writing in the notice that the ABA Accreditation Committee had found the northern Indiana law school had not demonstrated compliance with standards 501(a) and 501(b). Those standards require that “a law school shall maintain sound admission policies and practices” and “shall not admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.”

Andrea Lyon, dean of the law school, said the ABA conducts site visits and completes re-accreditation reports at law schools every seven years and last visited Valparaiso during the 2013-2014 school year. Thus, the censure is referencing the school’s admissions practices in the seven years leading up to its site visit, years when she was not the dean.

Instead, long-time Dean Jay Conison was at the helm of the school at that time. Although he had announced his plan to retire in May 2014, Conison instead accepted an offer to become the dean of the Charlotte School of Law, a position he still holds.

To Lyon’s and the central administration’s credit, they did raise admission standards at least back toward the general direction of where they were before the admissions crisis, but this led predictably to a cratering of the school’s class size. The first year class went from 211 in 2011 to 103 last year, and then fell to just 28 students this fall.

Valparaiso joins Whittier, Charlotte, Indiana Tech, and Hamline on the list of ABA approved law schools that have given up the ghost in the past two years.

(2) The ABA’s sudden conversion to the view that it ought to enforce its accreditation standards is affecting quite a few bottom feeding law schools. Not surprisingly, the nation’s second-highest ranked law school didn’t take the news lying down:

Yesterday, the ABA placed Thomas Jefferson on probation. Today, courtesy of Above the Law, we learned that Thomas Cooley has also been found non-compliant with ABA Standards. I wrote recently about Thomas Jefferson’s unethical decision to keep silent regarding the ABA’s May 19, 2017, letter informing the school about the ABA’s findings of non-compliance with several standards. By failing to inform its continuing and admitted students of their non-compliance, which was of a sufficiently severe nature that it was obvious that probation in the near future was a distinct possibility, Thomas Jefferson deprived those students of an opportunity to transfer to another school, or to matriculate elsewhere or not at all. Now Thomas Cooley has done Thomas Jefferson one better. Not only is Thomas Cooley trying to keep its current and prospective students in the dark, but Thomas Cooley actually filed suit against the ABA seeking an injunction against the ABA from posting the letter on its website, as required by federal regulations. Cooley’s rationale? The letter will do immediate and irreparable harm to Cooley’s reputation. More to the point, if prospective students become aware of the contents of the letter, they might choose not to attend Cooley.

Hopefully, this outrageous gambit to keep consumers in the dark will fail. As I wrote in my last column, I believe law schools have an ethical and legal obligation to disclose any letter from the ABA finding the school in non-compliance with an important Standard. In the meantime, for those wondering what is in this letter that Thomas Cooley is so afraid will get out, there is no need to wait for the outcome of the lawsuit to find out. It just so happens that Law School Transparency managed to obtain a copy of the letter from the ABA website before it was pulled, apparently in reaction to the lawsuit, so you can read it for yourself.

A legal academic friend writes:

I imagine you already feel pretty vindicated (even if way too many students had to suffer in the interim), but it seems like we’ve finally hit some kind of tipping point where almost everyone acknowledges the widely-resisted point you made six years ago – some law schools are scams that harm students and leave them worse off, and should be shut down. I guess it was similar to shouting about how we were in a real estate bubble in 2006…

Well yeah.

(3) For the first time in approximately forever, effective law school tuition is actually falling (although it’s still rising at the elite schools: annual cost of attendance at Columbia et. al. will hit $100,000 in the next year or two). I’ve just published an article outlining how this is happening, and suggesting the role Veblen effects and the law school reform movement have had on, respectively, sending tuition through the roof and slowly beginning to bring it down.

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