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Online LL.M.s Gaining in Popularity

As reported by New York Lawyer, Vermont Law School is offering two new completely online programs starting in May: a master’s in environmental law and policy and an environmental law LL.M.—the “first all-online environmental law LL.M. in the United States.”

Several online LL.M. programs have launched this year, specifically at Southwestern Law, Florida Coastal Law, and Loyola University Chicago Law. NYU Law now offers its executive LL.M. in taxation fully online, and other schools including BU Law and Alabama Law have LL.M. offerings that can be mostly or totally attended online.

Vermont will keep classes to 15 students, with a total of 60 students per year for both courses together. Plus, the programs will be asynchronous, in that “students can attend classes whenever convenient for them.” There are no foreign students enrolled as of now, but that will probably change over time, as the programs will “help improve student access to the school.” 

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New LSAT Withdrawal Policy

The June LSAT is approaching, and many of you just don’t feel ready. Most Strongly Supported and LSAT Blog report some good news for you: LSAC has changed its withdrawal policy for the LSAT, effective June 2011.

Up until now, you had up to three weeks before the test date to cancel and get a partial refund. After that point, you could either not show up and be marked down for an absence, or take the test and cancel your score within six days.

The postponement deadline remains the same, but now LSAC offers a withdrawal option, in which you can withdraw up to the day before the test, and not have it on your record. The downside is you won’t get any refund for your registration fee. This new policy not only affords you more time to decide, but to study as well, and according to MSS, “MANY students see their biggest improvements in the last three weeks of studying. A lot of students who make the decision that early are doing themselves a disservice.” 

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Law School News Round Up

  • The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Program, now a nonprofit with student chapters at nine schools, began in 2008 by some devoted Yale Law students, New York Lawyer reports. This project “appears to be the only organization in the United States devoted to assisting Iraqis seeking to resettle in other countries.” Chapters have been established at Duke Law, Penn Law, Columbia Law, UC Irvine Law, Berkeley Law, Stanford Law, NYU Law, and the University of Jordan, and three more chapters are expected to form at Northeastern Law, USC Law, and Harvard Law. As of now, the project is a pro bono course at the schools, other than at Yale, where it’s offered as a seminar course, and the University of Jordan, where it’s offered as a clinic. The group is funded through grants, fellowships, and private donations.
  • As reported by New York Lawyer, Fordham University School of Law has promoted interim dean Michael Martin to dean. Martin has taught at the law school since 1972, served three times as associate dean, and headed the law school since last summer. He has also been the “lead faculty member of the committee planning the construction of a $250 million, 22-story building to house the law school and an undergraduate student residence at the Lincoln Center campus.” Projected completion of the building is by fall 2014.
  • For all those planning to go to law school, Most Strongly Supported urges you to consider how much time you should take off beforehand. Taking a break between college and law school is crucial, but the amount of time you take off should correlate to how you spend that time. For instance, taking off a year or more can help prevent school burnout, but it is still important to “keep your mind sharp” in the interim. Plus, doing something productive or valuable can reveal a “certain maturity that many admission committees [find] attractive.” If you’re taking off several months, make sure to relax and take advantage of that time, perhaps by traveling, which can only be conducive to your mental health before starting law school. Finally, if you only have a summer off between college and law school, MSS advises to “do something spontaneous” and ideally outdoors, in preparation for your imminent long, structured hours “under fluorescent lights.”
  • Paul Schiff Berman will be the new dean of George Washington University Law School, New York Lawyer reports. Berman has served as dean of Arizona State University Sandra Day O’ Connor College of Law since 2008, where he made news when he “unveiled a preliminary plan to eliminate the school’s dependence on state funding, which has been shrinking for some time.” Berman hopes to implement similar curriculum changes that he had made at ASU, which allow students more flexibility to specialize and take hands-on courses.
  • It looks like a congressional clerkship program may finally be in the works, according to New York Lawyer. Through the potential program, “young lawyers would spend a year researching and drafting laws before moving on to other legal endeavors.” The plan is to start out small, with a pilot program consisting of 12 clerks—six to the House and six to the Senate, and split between the parties. Then, “legislators and committee would compete for the clerks by offering the most attractive type of work. The clerks would choose where they want to spend their year.” If all goes well, the program will expand eventually, but keeping it small initially will create competition and potential prestige similar to federal court clerkships. However, it may be difficult to get the bill passed now while Congress is in “budget-cutting mode.” Meanwhile, Georgetown Law has taken matters into its own hands and will “independently finance two year-long congressional clerk positions for recent graduates at a cost of about $100,000.” Dean Treanor encourages other schools to follow his lead and fund congressional clerkships to bolster the objective of a more formalized program. 


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Law Grads in Record Amount of Debt

While at this point we are well aware of the financial constraints recent law grads are under, the Hartford Business Journal breaks down the numbers. The amount of law school applicants may have surged in 2009 and 2010, but they have decreased nationwide this year by 11.1 percent.

As the HBJ elaborates, “All modern economic recessions in this country have seen an initial surge in law school applications as people decide to make themselves more employable with advanced degrees, followed by a slump in applications as the legal job market became tougher.” Yet, “the wrinkle this time is the cost of law school has far outpaced the rate of inflation.”

According to the ABA, “the average amount borrowed annually by law students jumped 50 percent from 2001 to 2010.” The amount borrowed this past academic year was an average of $68,827 for public and $106,249 for private educations.

And to really put things in perspective, the HBJ notes that “law school debt essentially means a lawyer must make $200,000 or more above what the holder of a bachelor’s degree will make over a lifetime, to have the investment break even.

Above the Law’s snarky reaction: “people who have college degrees, three years of extra earning potential, and make $200,000 less over the course of their lives are just as well off as many lawyers—only they don’t have to practice law for a living. 

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Law School News Round Up

  • At least one law school is reaching out to its unemployed 3Ls. As reported by Above the Law, UVA Law will subsidize bar expenses for those 3Ls graduating without jobs lined up. Though commendable, UVA’s actions could also be in response to a number of protests by these 3Ls, including T-shirts and a model of the law building made out of rejection letters. Either way, as ATL put it, “Maybe it’s the least they can do, but there are so many schools that aren’t even doing this much.”
  • While it may seem obvious at first, the Most Strongly Supported blog urges law students to learn about practicing law. While you’ll inevitably learn about law in law school, practicing law is another thing entirely. Since finding a paying job the summer after your 1L year may be difficult, MSS suggests finding public interest work instead, especially if your school will help subsidize it. You can also work with lawyers you know, making sure to ask questions and learn from them. Taking clinics in school can help you gain experience as well, even if they’re in subjects you’re not as interested in. For, “this type of real-world thinking is what many fail to learn in law school and it’s exactly the type of thinking that you need to make sure you’re able to do when you graduate.”
  • The Law School Admission Council and the National Federation of the Blind have finally reached a settlement, The National Law Journal reports. The entire LSAC Web site will be made accessible to blind users—as opposed to now, where they must reach customer support over the phone during business hours in order to complete the forms. The NLJ elaborates that “the technology that the council has agreed to use converts the information on a computer screen into either Braille or synthesized speech, allowing blind users to read or interact with the content.” These changes will go into effect by September, “in time for the next cycle of law school admissions.”
  • Worried about the LSAC recalculating your GPA? Most Strongly Supported says most of you have nothing to worry about. Here are the circumstances that could affect you: On the upside, A+s on your transcript can raise your GPA. As for the downside, “every grade you received before your first Bachelor’s degree will count towards your GPA.” So junior college classes would count, and any post-grad would not. If you’ve retaken any classes through your school’s academic forgiveness program, it’s possible that both GPAs will factor into the recalculation. Withdrawals will only be factored in if they were punitive, yet all Ws will appear on your transcript.
  • It’s evident that the legal sector has gone through drastic changes in the last few years—for a breakdown of post-grad employment figures, see the New York Law Journal. But, could we be heading toward a time in which the U.S. actually needs more lawyers? The WSJ Law Blog discusses a piece in the U.K.’s Guardian that predicts by 2012, “there could be 14% more traineeships than there are graduates eligible to fill them.” While we’re not nearly there yet in the U.S., with the recent drop in law school applications and LSAT test-takers, could there really be a “light at the end of this tunnel” or is it just wishful thinking?

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Starting a Law School is Not as Easy as it Seems

The University of Delaware has scrapped its plans to build a law school, Inside Higher Ed reports. While the law school was part of the “university’s strategic plan, published in 2008, to increase its prominence and reputation,” the expense proved to be too prohibitive. The demand may still remain for a public law school in Delaware (there is no public law school in the state and only one private, Widener University), but plans are shelved for the moment.

Other universities have also recently abandoned their plans to build law schools, including Husson College, the University of New Haven, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Wilkes University, “citing a tough fund-raising environment, high start-up costs, and less demand among potential students. While the decisions by a handful of universities won’t change the law school market overnight, they challenge the conventional wisdom that law schools are a relatively easy, profitable undertaking for universities.

Of course, there are always exceptions—the most notable being UC Irvine’s law school, which opened in 2009 with the help of a $20 million gift in addition to other endowments of hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to Charles Cannon, the assistant dean of development and external affairs, Irvine makes the process seem easy, but “that plan is probably not replicable for other universities without major windfalls or other fortuitous circumstances. 

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Law School Applicants: Beware of Merit Scholarships

The New York Times has exposed another case of “obtuseness” AKA lack of transparency in law school administration. This time, in “Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win,” David Segal sheds light on the risky business of merit scholarships. Essentially, a large—yet unpublicized—number of law students lose scholarships each year if they don’t meet the required academic stipulations. According to the ABA, in 2009 more than one in four law students were on merit scholarships. And the prevalence of these scholarships has increased tremendously in the past generation.

Segal attributes this rise to law schools’ obsession with U.S. News rankings: “Unlike undergraduate colleges, law schools share far more similarities than differences, particularly in the first-year curriculum. So a lot of schools regard the rankings as their best chance to establish a place in the educational hierarchy, which has implications for the quality of students that apply, the caliber of law firms that come to recruit, and more.” Since the algorithm used by U.S. News relies heavily on academic credentials—such as, GPA, LSAT score, and bar passage rate—schools are, according to Segal, “buying smarter students to enhance their cachet and rise in the rankings.

Whatever the motivations are, it seems that the larger issue lies yet again with the lack of clear information. Prospective law students may be told that their merit scholarships are contingent on maintaining a certain GPA, but they’re not fully aware of what that contingency entails. Most law schools grade on a curve, especially in the first year, practically ensuring that a number of students will not make the cut and lose their scholarships.

And as is explained in the WSJ Law Blog, “Students accuse some schools of a bait and switch by offering high-paying scholarships without fully informing prospects of the likelihood that they will be able to do well enough to keep the scholarships. […] If students lose their scholarships, of course, they are in a particularly difficult pickle, because they likely will have to shell out money to complete a degree at a school that they may not have attended but for the now phantom scholarship.” This leads to a crucial point not elaborated on in the NYT, that many law applicants specifically choose a lower-ranked school due to scholarships. Imagine the frustration when at the end of three years these grads not only owe thousands of dollars, but to a school with less prestige than others they had turned down.

This issue has created much debate over who really are the victims here. Above the Law explores both sides, as some argue that the “situation is a result of prospective law students failing to do their due diligence in researching the terms of their scholarship and the curve at their school,” while others feel the problem “has to do with expectations and a lack of disclosure.”

This lack of disclosure is being addressed by the ABA, which is “considering requiring schools to disclose the percentage of students who lose merit scholarships following their first year,” The National Law Journal reports.

And where does U.S. News stand in all of this? In his Morse Code blog, Robert Morse defends the magazine: “Law schools need to take far more direct responsibility for their policies instead of citing the oft-repeated claims that they are forced into these actions solely because U.S. News exerts so much power over law school behavior.Above the Law takes this response as a good sign: “The tide has turned; pretty much the only people who believe that it’s still cool to mislead prospective law students are people who work for law schools.” Now, if only they can come around…

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Legal Employment News: Not Very Encouraging

More discouraging employment news from the legal sector. According to The National Law Journal, NLJ 250 firms have lost about 10,000 attorneys since 2008: “In the 34 years The National Law Journal has been surveying large firms to gather headcount numbers, there have never been multiyear declines of this magnitude.” It’s still important to note that “firms reached record sizes in the two years prior to the recession,” and that the number of lawyers working at these firms now is still greater than the number in 2006.

Nevertheless, those considering law school should take these numbers into account, especially with the misinformation regarding post-grad employment gathered by the law schools themselves. Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado, breaks down the numbers in an article for The New Republic. He discusses the U.S. News figures and the numbers gathered by the NALP, which claim that 88.2% of all law school grads are “employed” nine months post-graduation.

Campos explored the numbers for one top-50 law school and discovered that once he excludes those doing non-legal work, in part-time jobs, or in temporary work, the number of employed grads drops to 45%. Plus, he noticed that grads may overstate their employment: “Perhaps some graduates exaggerate their employment status out of embarrassment, or for strategic reasons, but, whatever their reasons might be, this apparently not uncommon practice suggests that the true employment rate should be lowered even further”.

Consequently, Campos adds his plea for the dissemination of better information. He recognizes the potential negative impact on law schools, but argues, “if we assume that the point of academic work is to reveal the truth, rather than to engage in the defense of a professional cartel from which law professors benefit more than almost anyone else, then this work needs to be done. 

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Transactional Lawyering Meet a Success

Law students pursuing careers in litigation have their moot court competitions, but until recently those interested in transactional lawyering haven’t had the equivalent. Recognizing this need, Karl Okamoto, professor at Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law, created the Transactional Lawyering Meet last year. While 11 schools participated in its inaugural year, this year 29 schools from 14 states and Washington, D.C. came to Drexel to partake in the event, New York Lawyer reports.

As opposed to a moot court competition, at a transactional meet one has to “plan forward for events yet to come.” The two-day meet entailed two preliminary rounds, semifinal and final rounds. The teams also received “commentaries from a panel of judges, made up of practitioners from Am Law 200 law firms and financial firms, and general counsel offices in the region.”

With only one annual meet of this kind, thousands of law students are not easily afforded this opportunity, and Okamoto therefore hopes to work on a “Web-based version that would increase the frequency of the meet and make things easier time-wise on experts and judges.” Those who were fortunate enough to participate said they gained valuable experience and felt more confident at the prospect of encountering similar situations in the real world.  

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