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Book excerpt

[ 4 ] November 9, 2012 |

The current issue of the National Jurist includes an excerpt from Don’t Go to Law School (Unless), which explains how federal loan forgiveness programs exacerbate an out of control and wildly inefficient cost structure.

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A matter of discretion

[ 90 ] November 8, 2012 |

I have a piece in Salon on the Obama administration’s pending decision regarding what to do about the fact that Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana.

In my view the importance of the fact that two states — one of them much more mauve than blue — decided to begin to implement something resembling a rational drug policy, has been somewhat lost in all the tumult regarding everything else that happened Tuesday.

This is a key moment in the fight not only against the preposterous war on (some people who use some) drugs, but against a central element of the entire prison-industrial complex — an issue that got essentially no attention during the presidential campaign.

It’s also the opposite of a plea for the president to unleash his Green Lantern powers or to employ the BULLY PULPIT. What he has to do is nothing. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Embarrassing vote confessional thread

[ 136 ] November 6, 2012 |

knack

Everybody makes mistakes. Maybe you signed your best friend’s high school yearbook with Teddy R’s In the Arena speech, or bought the Knack’s first album on eight track, or married a charming sociopath with a drug problem, or ordered the invasion of a Middle Eastern country on the basis of a pack of transparent lies. Hey that’s why pencils have erasers . . .

Anyway almost everyone has at least one vote they’ve cast that is similarly cringe-worthy. I’ll start:

1980 presidential election. My college roommate voted for Barry Commoner (he is now a subscriber to the National Review). I voted for Ed Clark. What can I say, I was young and stupid. I’m glad to report I’m no longer young.

The great question of our time

[ 28 ] November 5, 2012 |

nigel

On this day when LGM seems obsessed with trivialities such as the historical meaning of the Obama presidency and how to construct a viable progressive political movement, I would prefer to discuss a more important issue: What is happening to my computer?

The screen for my laptop (four year old Dell) was black all weekend — none more black, even though the computer seemed to all external appearances to be otherwise working normally (obviously I couldn’t actually do anything on it since I couldn’t see what was on the screen, but all the lights were on and it made the appropriate noises when I hunted around with the cursor like a blind man).

So this morning when I plugged it into my work station at my office the screen magically lit up again. Any ideas as to what could be going on? (I’m getting a new computer in a few weeks but am trying to figure out if I need to get a loaner in the interim).

Signs of progress

[ 17 ] November 2, 2012 |

(1) The Washington Post Magazine has a good story on the law school crisis, full of statistics which will be familiar to many LGM readers, but remain too-little known or understood by prospective law students. Among other things the story highlights the mind-boggling absurdity that is UC-Irvine’s new law school (I would give roughly even odds on what is essentially a combination of vanity project for its dean and a cash grab by the UCI central administration continuing to exist ten years from now).

There are days when it’s easy to feel pessimistic about how much progress has actually been made toward cleaning up the mess that legal education in this country has become, but I will say this: If people tried to launch a new hyper-expensive law school with “top 20” aspirations in the midst of the tire fire that is the southern California legal market today, they wouldn’t be able to get such a project off the ground.

(2) Speaking of law schools going out of business, I’ve heard from a reliable source that a certain Midwestern law school that sits — or at present wobbles — a considerable distance from the bottom of the ABA-accredited hierarchy has unilaterally slashed its entire faculty’s salary by a non-trivial percentage. (Hopefully not too many of them decide to become partners at Davis Polk in fits of pique).

(3) In recent days I’ve seen signs of real progress at the institutional level, as faculty and administrators grapple with the latest debt and employment numbers. At some point, in a crisis of this type, the numbers become so disturbing that complacency begins to give way to engagement, and there’s evidence, both at my school and others, that that inflection point is approaching.

(4) The movement toward genuine reform will accelerate rapidly as soon as even a handful of ABA law schools go out of business. This, I believe, is likely to happen over the course of the next few years. It won’t take many such events to bring about a sea change: given the intensely risk averse character of so many people in legal academia, the sight of a couple of hundred suddenly unemployed former law faculty will, I expect, have a most beneficial effect on institutional deliberations all across the land.

It was a dark and stormy campaign

[ 108 ] November 1, 2012 |

Bulwer Lytton

Earlier this week some wiseacre professor at the Columbia School of Journalism held a George Will parody contest for his students in a seminar on the making of the modern punditocracy. The assignment required writing the lede for one of Will’s columns. The only ground rule was that references to baseball and Edmund Burke were strictly prohibited. Here’s the entry that garnered second place:

Energetic in body but indolent in mind, Barack Obama in his frenetic campaigning for a second term is promising to replicate his first term, although simply apologizing would be appropriate. His long campaign’s bilious tone — scurrilities about Mitt Romney as a monster of, at best, callous indifference; adolescent japes about “Romnesia” — is discordant coming from someone who has favorably compared his achievements to those of “any president” since Lincoln, with the “possible” exceptions of Lincoln, LBJ and FDR. Obama’s oceanic self-esteem — no deficit there — may explain why he seems to smolder with resentment that he must actually ask for a second term.

Math class is tough

[ 96 ] October 31, 2012 |

mathleteics

Silver’s gold.

Halloween Eve, Asbury Park

[ 38 ] October 29, 2012 |

A song from Springsteen’s best album seems especially appropriate today:

How can this record be 40 years old? (Any other boomers feel like a decade got lost in there somewhere — that the early 80s were actually 20 years ago, etc?).

Right-wing psychosexual obsessions, Nate Silver edition

[ 114 ] October 27, 2012 |

I don’t even . . .

Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice that sounds almost exactly like the “Mr. New Castrati” voice used by Rush Limbaugh on his program. In fact, Silver could easily be the poster child for the New Castrati in both image and sound. Nate Silver, like most liberal and leftist celebrities and favorites, might be of average intelligence but is surely not the genius he’s made out to be. His political analyses are average at best and his projections, at least this year, are extremely biased in favor of the Democrats.

I actually saw the New Castrati open for the Pet Shop Boys back in 1986. (Shortly afterwards they discovered there was already a band in the West End called the New Castrati, so they became the New New Castrati, or NNC to their fans).

…[SL] If I had projections showing Mittens winning Oregon, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Minnesota (and 53 Senate Republicans!), I’d rather discuss my bizarre sexual obsessions than polling methodology too.

Gated communitarians

[ 50 ] October 25, 2012 |

One thing that has been driven home to me with extreme prejudice in the course of examining the current economic structure of legal education is that law schools are run primarily for the benefit of their tenure-track faculties. This observation, which will strike almost all law students outside the 1L bubble — let us not even speak of our graduates — as blindingly obvious, will, from my experience, be treated as a horrible heresy by large portions of those very faculties, for reasons that are equally obvious. (I will not comment here on the extent to which these observations are applicable to higher education in general, other than to note that law schools are hardly unique in this respect).

Yet — again in my inevitably limited experience — whenever law school faculties discuss anything that involves their interests, it would be an understatement to say those interests trump all other possible considerations, and most particularly considerations of whether what we’re proposing to do is actually in the interest of our students and graduates.

Last week the CU faculty met to vote on whether to reauthorize and greatly expand our LLM program, which was started three years ago on an explicitly experimental basis. In a cursory memo, the administration laid out its justification for expanding the program from its current average of six students per year to a projected 26 per year by 2014. The memo featured no data regarding whether our program or similar programs are likely to be worth it for people who enroll. Instead it would be fair to say that its argument consisted of pointing out that, at least with appropriately aggressive promotion on the part of the school, there will be a “market” for enrolling 26 LLM students per year, who will collectively generate nearly a million dollars in annual revenue for the school.

When the motion was presented for discussion, I laid out a series of concerns regarding the potential this expanded program would have to exploit the desperation of current law students and recent graduates — the groups which the memo revealed would be primary targets for our greatly enhanced marketing efforts — given the dismal employment market for new law graduates in general.

Naturally I didn’t think there was any real possibility of blocking the expansion, let alone the re-authorization, of the program, given the overwhelming short-term economic incentives at work. What I did expect, in retrospect naively, is that there would be some discussion of the merits of the proposal. At a minimum, I expected something in the form of an argument from the supporters of the proposal, as to why we ought to aggressively market $36,000 LLMs to current law students, in effect representing to them that it would be, under present circumstances, a good idea for them to extend law school from three years to four, and to spend another $55,000 or so on their legal educations.

What happened was that, after I had voiced my concerns and extracted some predictably awkward revelations regarding exactly where the LLM tuition money was actually going, nobody said anything. There was literally no discussion of the proposal, and after about thirty seconds of even more awkward silence, the motion passed by a vote of approximately 30 to 1.

In retrospect, it’s easy enough to see why no one was willing to speak in favor of (let alone to oppose) the proposal. After all the most plausible, and indeed perhaps the only, justification for the decision would, I suppose, have to be an appeal to the crudest form of economic self interest, i.e., “if people are willing to give us a million dollars per year for quite possibly useless LLM degrees who are we to say no?” In addition, if we actually engaged in some sort of discussion regarding the potential justification of the LLM program from the perspective of the interests of our students who knows where such a discussion might lead?

Given that law school faculties are full of gated communitarians, who are to put it mildly not interested in exploring whether their institutional behavior can be reconciled in any way with their putative political commitments, it shouldn’t have surprised me that no discussion at all took place.

This is real

[ 99 ] October 24, 2012 |

Or perhaps I should say “real.”

. . . and to cleanse the palate:

The disposition matrix

[ 211 ] October 24, 2012 |

Pursuant to LGM’s official policy* of not criticizing the administration until after the election, I’ll merely link to this article rather than comment on it.

*Joke#

#Sort of^

^Yes Romney would no doubt be just as bad on the issue of targeted “disposition.” (I almost reflexively wrote “even worse,” but what would “even worse” look like?).

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