Monday, January 31, 2011

United States Code - Area 51

As Brian Huddleston, Senior Reference Librarian at Loyola New Orleans, points out, Congress has just added the 51st Title to the United States Code. Title 51 - National and Commercial Space Programs - was created by Public L. 111-314, signed into law by the President on December 18, 2010. Having more than 50 titles to the USC is an alien concept. As Brian aptly points out, "Now every legal research book is out of date and there's a lot of handouts to change."

So true. But, the creation of Title 51 is all part of the Office of Law Revision Counsel's plan for world domination, er, Positive Law Codification. In fact, we can look forward to Title 52 - Voting and Elections: Title 53 - Small Business: Title 54 - National Park System: and Title 55 - Environment. Since world domination is easier to explain than positive law codification this quote from the Law Revision Counsel's website will have to suffice for now:
Because many of the general and permanent laws that are required to be incorporated into the United States Code are inconsistent, redundant, and obsolete, the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the House of Representatives has been engaged in a continuing comprehensive project authorized by law to revise and codify, for enactment into positive law, each title of the Code. When this project is completed, all the titles of the Code will be legal evidence of the general and permanent laws and recourse to the numerous volumes of the United States Statutes at Large for this purpose will no longer be necessary.
Their nefarious plan is laid out here:
Positive law codification bills prepared by the Office do not change the meaning or legal effect of a statute being revised and restated. Rather, the purpose is to remove ambiguities, contradictions, and other imperfections from the law. For more information about the process of positive law codification generally, see the brochure Positive Law Codification in the United States Code.
Apparently PL 111-314 is only the latest in a long line of decisions designed to:
  1. Spread chaos throughout the law librarian universe.
  2. Force hapless legal research instructors to revise their PowerPoints, handouts, and lecture notes.
  3. Provide unlimited income for legal publishers who are now forced to sell law libraries new volumes of the USCA or USCS containing Title 51. And then, Titles 52, 53, 54, and 55...
Yes Brian, you may retire now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reality Check - LSAT Apps Down

Yes, applications to take the LSAT have decreased. Mark Giangrande, writing on the Law Librarian Blog, has made a post about the decrease here - LSAT Applications Down. He cites from the LSAC President's report here. Will this mean a better new lawyer to job ratio in three years making it easier for this potential crop of graduates to find jobs? Maybe. But as Giangrade points out, there will still be a glut of JD graduates.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lawsuit Loans - Regulation Required

In today's NY Times, Benyamin Appelbaum continues his brilliant series on lawsuit loans. Today's article - Lawsuit Loans Add New risk for the Injured - details abuses by this niche market industry. Readers of this blog will recall four previous posts here, here, here, and here.

Lenders argue that they should not be covered by existing lending laws because borrowers don't repay the loans unless they recover in their suits. Some states are fighting back. Colorado recently filed suit against two lenders - Oasis and LawCash. From the story -
“It looks like a loan and smells like a loan and we believe that these are, in fact, high-cost loans,” John W. Suthers, the state’s attorney general, said in a recent interview. “I can see a legitimate role for it, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be subject to regulation.”
"High-cost" is a real understatement. In fact, according to a survey by the Center for Public Integrity, some of these loans appear to accrue interest at the rate of 100% annually plus fees. The lenders, through their industry spokesman, argue that these are risky loans because the plaintiffs (the injured) may never recover. This is a disingenuous argument. As discussed in previous posts, these loans are carefully vetted by the lender (or investor if you will) before one dime is sent to the injured plaintiff.

How big is the market for these loans? Just consider that the industry has hired a spokesman. That's a pretty good indication that this market has reached critical mass and is ready for national regulation.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Need for Law Student Financial Counseling

Yet more fallout from the story last Sunday in the NY Times - Is Law School a Losing Game? - by David Segal.

The article highlights the sad story of one Michael Wallerstein. This student (with what Segal calls a "surfer dude" mentality) appears to have been more than slightly irresponsible in his excellent law school adventure. He attended a for profit stand alone law school that charges high tuition - Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. Here's the profile. The Top-Law-School profile shows that -
The average TJSL law student graduates with an overwhelming $131,800 in law-school-related debt, giving the school the honor of saddling its graduates the highest debt load in the nation. Thomas Jefferson School of Law does not offer its students a loan repayment assistance program.
Segal describes how Wallerstein chose this school -

WHEN he started in 2006, Michael Wallerstein knew little about the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, other than that it was in San Diego, which seemed like a fine place to spend three years.

“I looked at schools in Pennsylvania and Long Island,” he says, “but I thought, why not go somewhere I’ll enjoy?”

Segal goes on to detail some of the debt that Wallerstein proceeded to incur while a student. Apparently, Wallerstein was not in the mood for "austerity" during his education -

... Mr. Wallerstein rented a spacious apartment. He also spent a month studying in the South of France and a month in Prague — all on borrowed money. There were cost-of-living loans, and tuition of about $33,000 a year. Later came a $15,000 loan to cover months of studying for the bar.
In the end it appears that Wallerstein owes about $250,000 for his legal education. The figure is approximate because, as Wallerstein admits, “I’m not really good at keeping records.” Is this the kind of person you want planning your parent's estate?

But this student's attitude is only part of the problem. Apparently, the school in question failed to offer or require any form of financial counseling; not an uncommon situation in most law schools. So, is this the student's fault? Some may say so. The Subprime JD blog perceptively refers to this as a form of cognitive dissonance - delusional thinking on the part of the law student. And, the #Crasstalk blog calls this The least sympathetic 'I have lots of student debt" story ever.

But the larger fact is that many schools have no incentive to provide or require financial counseling or to put any kind of realistic constraints on the borrowing habits of their students. Private for-profit schools are especially under scrutiny right now. As mentioned Sunday, it may only be a matter of time before the ABA or the Department of Education begin to take a closer look at law schools.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Can You Get Your Law School Tuition Back?

Well. You can certainly ask for it. And that's exactly what one law student did. Readers of this blog will recall a recent post on this issue here. As mentioned in the story from Sunday's NY Times - Is Law School a Losing Game? - a BC law student asked the Dean of that school for his tuition back. The story was originally reported in a Times blog onNovember 8th - Tuition Reimbursements for Jobless Graduates. Here's a copy of the letter to Interim Dean Brown at Boston College Law School as posted in the student online newsletter the EagleiOnline. BC's response is here.

But this is not a new story. Read the Wall Street Journal article from September 24, 2007 about the increasingly difficult job market for law school graduates - Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers.

The story of the BC student went virtually viral in October of 2010. Here are links to the Boston Herald story, the CTI Career Search blog, the BrainTrack blog (Universities Colleges and Careers), the Consumerist blog (Shoppers Bite Back), the NECN New England cable news site (complete with video!), the Tax Prof Blog, and, of course Gawker (with humorous posed photograph). These are just a few of the dozens of posts.

More to come...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Is Law School a Losing Game?

Maybe. At least that's the premise behind this Sunday's article in the NY Times by David Segal. The lengthy article includes interviews with former students who don't know how they are going to pay off their student loans and educators who feel the need to change the system. The main culprit appears to be the U.S. News and World Report rankings -
"Enron-type accounting standards have become the norm,” says William Henderson of Indiana University, one of many exasperated law professors who are asking the American Bar Association to overhaul the way law schools assess themselves. “Every time I look at this data, I feel dirty.” It is an open secret, Professor Henderson and others say, that schools finesse survey information in dozens of ways. And the survey’s guidelines, which are established not by U.S. News but by the American Bar Association, in conjunction with an organization called the National Association for Law Placement, all but invite trimming.

A law grad, for instance, counts as “employed after nine months” even if he or she has a job that doesn’t require a law degree. Waiting tables at Applebee’s? You’re employed. Stocking aisles at Home Depot? You’re working, too.

Number-fudging games are endemic, professors and deans say, because the fortunes of law schools rise and fall on rankings, with reputations and huge sums of money hanging in the balance. You may think of law schools as training grounds for new lawyers, but that is just part of it.

The U.S. Department of Education recently proposed regulations that require certain kinds of for-profit schools to disclose post-graduation placement and employment statistics and to establish some kind of nexus between the school's curriculum and real-world employability. Here's a NY Times article that's on point. Maybe it's time to force law schools to follow suit.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Open Access Online Casebook Preview

At last - an open access legal text.

A preview of the first open access legal casebook is now available on the eLangdell site. The Legal Informatics Blog reports -
The preview — which consists of portions of Roger C. Park and Douglas D. McFarland’s Evidence for Civil Procedure Students — is available in several formats: ePub, mobi, PDF, and HTML, and is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.
This is a monumentally positive development for law students. The price of casebooks has reached dizzying heights in recent years. Open access casebooks and text will almost certainly be the norm in a few short years.

As a rule, unless a casebook reaches some kind of cult status, most academic authors are not particularly well paid. To produce and publish an open access casebook is akin to publishing an articles in a student edited journal. Thus, publishing open source becomes yet another way to achieve and maintain tenure while benefiting the primary casebook consumers - law students.

You can almost hear the shifting of the foundations of the casebook industry.