March 11, 2014

"Washington & Lee’s Experiential Learning Seems To Be A Flop."

Above the Law looks at Washington & Lee's horrible 17-step drop in the U.S. News law school rankings (which just came out this morning, as we've been talking about here):
Please remember this the next time a law professor or law school dean tries to sell you a load of bull about “revamping” 3L year. Washington & Lee did just that. The school changed its third-year program to focus on so-called “practice ready” skills.

Employers didn’t take the bait. As we explained this summer, Washington & Lee’s job numbers are really down. Then this fall, we told you that W&L had the most dramatic drop in class size. The class of 2016 at W&L is down just over 40 percent.

Now, U.S. News has come in with the hammer. W&L has dropped from #26 last year to #43 this year. When reached for comment, George Washington and Robert E. Lee said, “THE CENTER MUST HOLD! Wait, what are we talking about?”

Just remember, when legal academics try to sell you on “practice readiness,” they might not necessarily have any idea what they’re talking about.
1. If they dramatically dropped class size, they avoided even worse numbers on various factors (LSAT scores, GPA, and acceptance rate). Other schools did that too. Who knows what the ranking would be without all the strategies schools use to play the U.S. News game?

2. The Washington & Lee plunge will be used against proposals to turn law schools more toward the experiential learning approach, whether that explanation for the drop is correct or not.

3. Presumably, prospective students will be scared off of schools leaning too far into the "experiential" approach, leading to even more of a negative effect in the rankings for schools that go this route, which will further hamper efforts to radically reframe law school education.

16 comments:

gerry said...

I know Glen Reynolds has been following the law-school bubble blowout for months.

Too many attorneys + too much school debt = law school failures.

Ann Althouse said...

Prof. Reynolds's law school just dropped 11 steps in the ranking.

The Drill SGT said...

The wife's school is trying to brand itself with a focus in "Social Justice"

Not sure that is going to pay those student loans off.

The Drill SGT said...

Ann Althouse said...
Prof. Reynolds's law school just dropped 11 steps in the ranking.


Play nice. Magnanimous in victory, humble in defeat...

EDH said...

Looking at the USNews methodology, I really don't see the job placement factors (4%,14%) looming as large (as they probably should) compared the the subjective legal establishment "ass sniff" opinion at 40%, especially when counter balanced by the other factors influenced by the declining W&L class size that Althouse points out.

And graduates of the teaching schools by-in-large are the ones subjectively rating the schools, aren't they? Pretty incestuous, if you ask me.

Peer assessment score (0.25): In fall 2013, law school deans, deans of academic affairs, chairs of faculty appointments and the most recently tenured faculty members were asked to rate programs on a scale from marginal (1) to outstanding (5). Those individuals who did not know enough about a school to evaluate it fairly were asked to mark "don't know." A school's score is the average of all the respondents who rated it. Responses of "don't know" counted neither for nor against a school. About 66 percent of those surveyed responded.

More, could W&L job placement numbers be down because its "practice ready" program tracks graduates more accurately?

USNews Ranking Weights:

Quality assessment (0.40)
- Peer assessment score (0.25)
- Assessment score by lawyers/judges (0.15)

Selectivity (weighted by 0.25)
- Median LSAT scores (0.125)
- Median undergrad GPA (0.10)
- Acceptance rate (0.025)

Placement success (weighted by 0.20)
- @ Graduation (.04)
- @ Nine Months (.14)
- Bar passage rate (0.02)

Faculty resources (weighted by 0.15)
- Expenditures per student (.1013)
- Ave instruction, library and support services (0.0975)
- Other items, including financial aid (0.015)
- Student-faculty ratio (0.03)
- Library resources (0.0075)

Ann Althouse said...

"Play nice. Magnanimous in victory, humble in defeat.."

I did not intend that as a taunt of any kind. I'm genuinely interested in what he will say, given his concentration on the subject of the law school bubble.

I don't think he has addressed it yet.

And the U.S. News game is not something I at all feel victorious about. I have watched my school act aloof from the game for 3 decades. I wanted to pay attention to it from the start, and if we'd done that, we would be in the top 20, right alongside Minneapolis or Texas.

Steve said...

Meh, #26 and #43 are the same rank.

Not Top 14.

madAsHell said...

I thought law schools hired staff to game the USnews listing.

Tennessee dropping 11 steps in one year? Did they have turnover? Something here doesn't pass the sniff test!!

Portia said...

I believe US News is outa biz except for the school rankings. That, in itself, tells you something...what I don't know.

mccullough said...

Don't pay much for law school. It's not worth it. Too many intelligent young people with high debt and poor employment prospects. Any prospective student who is looking at law school rankings is a sucker. There are only two questions: how much will it cost and what are the median earnings of graduates.

The federal government should end all student loans for law school, or at least put a moratorium on them for 5 years. There are more than enough lawyers and, sadly, more than enough law school grads with high debt and poor short and long term earning potential.

The Republicans should be leading the charge on taking away federal loans for law school. This is low hanging fruit.

Beldar said...

IMHO Minnesota (#20, which I assume is what Prof. Althouse referenced above ) is overranked at #20.

The faculty at Texas would say they're underranked because the Legislature has traditionally maintained a larger class size than the faculty wanted; they believe they'd be in the top 10 if they could reduce their entering class size down to 300 or so. So I'm not sure the Texas faculty would agree with Prof. Althouse's suggestion that they're among those playing the "USN&WR game." But that said, I definitely agree that many law schools are playing that game, and that it's disturbing.

I emphatically oppose the notion that law schools should drop to two-year curricula. I don't oppose the notion that law schools should include "clinical" or "practice skills" courses, especially in the third year, but I do not believe they should do much more of that than they're already doing.

The problem I see extends beyond law schools to the subject of state-by-state licensing and the absences of a meaningful national board certification system comparable to what physicians have long employed.

After graduating from Texas Law School in 1980 and clerking a year on the Fifth Circuit, I spent the next half-dozen years doing what was, in effect, a litigation residency, plus a post-residency fellowship specifically in commercial litigation. Instead of my training being conducted by a med-school affiliated hospital, it was conducted in a BigLaw firm (Texas' oldest, Baker Botts). Others of my law school classmates who went to that firm had their "residencies" in other subjects, like tax or corporate, in much the same way that other post-MDs split between surgery, internal medicine, radiology, etc. (including those disciplines' respective subspecialities). Like a surgical resident, as a BigLaw associate I worked brutal hours for under-market pay throughout most of the 1980s -- for that was before the explosion in BigLaw associate salaries and bonuses. But the training I got equipped me superbly.

BigLaw and its practice areas aren't for every young lawyer, no more than surgery or internal medicine as practiced at top-flight teaching hospitals are for every doctor. Certainly a multi-year residency program isn't essential for the lawyer who wants to be the analog to "Marcus Welby" with a very general practice. Not just BigLaw, but small and mid-sized firms, along with state and federal prosecutors and public defenders, could participate meaningfully in organized post-graduate legal training: even a solo lawyer like myself could be a "preceptor" for an aspiring trial lawyer for a couple or three years, with benefits to us both as well as to our clients.

But for three reasons, I'm not optimistic about the legal profession's ability to move toward a meaningful post-graduate educational system with a meaningful national board certification regime comparable to physicians, any time in the near future:

(1) BigLaw is still working through its own disastrous economic convulsions, the aftermath of a hiring/salary bubble that's closely tied to the higher-education bubble in law schools that has produced a massive oversupply.

(2) Law schools are obsessively focused on these USN&WR rankings. Results like those reported here are likely to make them circle the wagons and play the ratings game harder, not to innovate.

And (3) state bar associations are inherently parochial, inclined to devour their own young before they'll cooperate with each other. Some states (including my own, Texas) started down the state-wide board certification path in the 1980s with some success, but those efforts have frankly stalled.

As a result, there's no credible national certificating authority, nor any credible movement toward creating one. And that's a damned shame.

Ann Althouse said...

"IMHO Minnesota (#20, which I assume is what Prof. Althouse referenced above ) is overranked at #20."

LOL. I called it Minneapolis.

Don't know what got into me.

Michael K said...

"I emphatically oppose the notion that law schools should drop to two-year curricula. I don't oppose the notion that law schools should include "clinical" or "practice skills" courses, especially in the third year, but I do not believe they should do much more of that than they're already doing."

I think they should go to apprenticeship training which is more analogous to surgery residency. My son has been doing a pretty successful litigation practice after graduating from a non-accredited law school in California where you don't even need to go to law school to pass the bar and be admitted.

Calvin Coolidge and Dwight Morrow were friends from Amherst. Coolidge did a clerkship. Morrow went to law school. Both did pretty well but Morrow had doubts about his choice of law school. He made his money in business, not law.

David said...

The high quality student pool seems to be shrinking.

That worm will turn again, but not for quite a while.

The Godfather said...

I entered law school in 1965, when "everyone" wanted to become an associate in a Wall Street firm. When I graduated in 1968 "everyone" wanted to go to Washington, which I did (I wouldn't have gone to Wall Street under any circumstances, for reasons not relevant to this discussion).

America, and DC in particular, was awash with high-paying jobs for lawyers in those days. I had a good career. I don't think the world is like that anymore.

My law school was good preparation for the kind of career I got. I don't know if law schools today are preparing students for the careers they are likely to have. I hope so.

Cal parent said...

As a parent of a W&L 2015 Law student I really feel the need to point out that the "40% drop in enrollment" that was reported & used in the ranking by US News occurred after one year in which the number of admitted students was bloated by an "administrative error" allowing 180 students to be admitted to the class of 2015 vs. the usual 130-140. W&L returned to admitting the usual number of 135 students for the class of 2016. It is very unfair to use that data and criteria in a ranking system that does not look at the overall picture. This is not to say that other issues need to be addressed such as jobs, bar passage etc. It just points out the fact that the data used for US News rankings can be very prone to providing an inaccurate view of any given school.