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Posts Tagged ‘law school transparency’

Recent news out of Ohio concerning debt-ridden new lawyers underscores the difference between a mandatory membership bar association and a voluntary one. Ohio is one of 18 states where lawyers can practice without being forced to join their trade association.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/37/Bury_your_head_in_the_sand.jpg/160px-Bury_your_head_in_the_sand.jpg

In states where lawyers are forced to join a mandatory membership bar association as a precondition to practice, there are bar leaders with heads in the sand who act as though the crashing tides of debt drenching young lawyers were nonexistent.

But in voluntary states like Ohio, bar leaders have at last started examining the “unprecedented burdens faced by new lawyers.” Ten years past the “law school tuition bubble,” they may be a tad late — but in contrast to mandatory bars in Nevada and Arizona — at least they’re now considering potential solutions to the astronomical six-figure debt service new lawyers get along with their diplomas.

Futures Commission.

Tasked with researching and developing long-term solutions and “first action steps,” the Ohio State Bar Association established a 29-member Futures Commission more than one year ago to look at new lawyer burdens and “the need for acquisition of knowledge and the skills necessary to develop and carry on a successful practice; the lack of regulation for new legal service delivery options; and the widening access to justice gap.” In July, the Commission released its preliminary report.

Unlike mandatory bars that too often act below-the-radar through top-down mandates, the Ohio Bar sought input from members through town hall style meetings held in each of its 18 districts and supplemented these with input from its 2017 Leadership Academy class of new lawyers.

In Ohio, bar leaders believe “member satisfaction” is one of their association’s “core values” driving the stated goal of making “membership in the Ohio State Bar Association indispensable to Ohio lawyers.” 

It’s one thing to force lawyers to join an organization in order to earn a living in their chosen profession. But it’s another matter entirely when lawyers choose membership because the value proposition is so strong that membership is “indispensable.”

 

So much debt.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f9/Tin_Woodman.png/105px-Tin_Woodman.pngIt’s not like mandatory bars haven’t heard about the unprecedented tuition debt incurred by today’s young lawyers. More likely, they can’t relate to it. Many graduated from law school when women had big hair to the skies and fashion meant shoulder pads, parachute pants and Members Only jackets. Tuition then was a fraction of today’s troubles. Unsurprisingly, these bar leaders are tin-eared about the problem.

According to Law School Transparency (LST)  “legal education inflation far exceeds the inflation rate.

“In 1985, the average private school tuition was $7,526 (1985 dollars), which would now cost a student $16,294 (2013 dollars). Instead, the average tuition is $41,985 (2013 dollars). In other words, private law school is now 2.6 times as expensive as it was in 1985 after adjusting for inflation. Public school (for residents) is now about 5.5 times as expensive.”

As reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer in July, “Ohio law school grads face debt of nearly $100,000 and few job prospects, report says,” the Commission’s report finds that the average 2015 Ohio law school graduate has approximately $98,475 in law school debt. Worse yet, “Only approximately 58 percent of 2015 Ohio law school graduates are employed in jobs requiring bar passage.”

And it’s only getting worse. For entering 2017 students, Ohio’s Law School Transparency (LST) numbers are even higher — well north of $150,000 on average.

In Arizona, LST projects even more sobering statistics for wanna-be lawyers starting law school in the Grand Canyon State this year. They should expect a “full price projected debt” for their J.D. degree of $175,084 if they are state residents graduating from Arizona State University. If they’re residents and start and finish at the University of Arizona, the number is $173,280.

At Arizona Summit Law School, one of the nation’s most expensive law schools, the “full price projected debt” is an astounding $252,571. This averages out to $200,978 among the three Arizona schools. It breaks out to an average debt service headache over 10 years of $2290 per month.

In Nevada, LST reports that students matriculating in 2017 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the state’s only law school, can anticipate a “full price projected debt” of $175,310 and a $2000 per month nut over 10 years.

‘What me worry?’

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/Happiness.gif/209px-Happiness.gifThe root problem is that mandatory bars like those in Nevada and Arizona aspire to serve competing interests — those of the legal profession and those of the public. But it can’t be done because these interests often conflict.

Instead of alleviating practice burdens, for instance, mandatory bars constantly tinker with their bureaucratic spigots to open ever increasing cost, time and stress pressures on members. This is because they’re not necessarily looking out for the interests of lawyers.

In mandatory bar Nevada, for example, there’s a bar study group looking at the supposed merits of forcing all the state’s lawyers to buy professional liability insurance. If the model is mandatory bar Oregon, currently the only jurisdiction mandating professional liability insurance, expect only one blessed provider.

Moreover, the cost will be substantial. In 2017, Oregon lawyers ponied up a whopping $3,500 apiece for bare minimum coverage of $300,000 per incident and $300,000 aggregate. And Oregon has almost twice as many lawyers as Nevada.

Voluntary bars look out for the interests of members.

In closing, here’s what the Ohio Bar’s Futures Commission looked at:

•  How to ensure new lawyers enter the profession practice ready and without the crushing burden of student debt;
•  How busy lawyers at all stages of their careers can get the most out of their required continuing legal education credits;
•  The appropriate role of online legal service providers, limited multidisciplinary practice, fee-splitting and other emerging new business models in the delivery of legal services and if they can they help lawyers better serve clients and stay true to the values of the profession;
•  And with the real and perceived expense of legal services, how to ensure access to justice for all, regardless of income.

Besides supporting cost reducing law school initiatives, the Commission also took a departure from the latest gambit being promoted by mandatory bars: the licensing of non-lawyers to practice law. “Believing firmly that any provision of legal services should be done under the direction of a licensed attorney,” the Commission pronounced its opposition to “any effort to establish new categories of non-lawyer legal service providers (NLP) in Ohio and instead, support the development of programs or actions that would connect the unrepresented with available attorneys.”

So before state bars go all in and eliminate unauthorized practice of law rules to allow non-lawyers to directly compete with lawyers, something ought to be done to level the field. Stem the tide of unconscionable tuition debt from overpriced law schools.

But as they bang away on their Access to Justice drums, don’t expect a pronouncement like Ohio’s from mandatory bars in Washington, Utah and Arizona to name just three where non-lawyers already compete for business with lawyers.

Unfortunately, mandatory bar leaders aren’t listening. When they’re not holding expensive annual convention boondoggles like the Nevada Bar in Hawaii (2016), Texas (2017) and Illinois (2018), they’re busy finding new ways to make it harder for lawyers to earn a living. 

The Futures Commission Report is available here

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Credits: Bury your head in the sand, by Sander van der Wel at Wikimedia Commons;Tin Woodman, by William Wallace Denslow at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Life user Manual, by Unuplusunu at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Smug by IburiedPaul at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution;3D Shackled Debt by Chris Potter  at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Second Band Drummer 5 Mono, by Dave Shaver, at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

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https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/b/BishopPatterdale/01/l/1388869659h90om.jpgAlthough still not a Twitter fan boy, I confess there’s something to the immediacy of firing off 140 character tournedos of untenderized thought. Admittedly, there are drawbacks to expelling every rashly considered impulsivity into the ether. My dogs will disagree but some itches are best left unscratched.

Compared to tweeting, however, ruminations posted on a blog necessitate more marination. This hopefully translates into less likelihood of inflicted harm. Unfortunately, this means the windows of currency to comment on what’s topical a given day or week are soon closed.

Instead of one longer post, here are random notes — albeit longer than 140 characters.

From the SMH File

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/38/See_No_Evil%2C_Hear_No_Evil%2C_Speak_No_Evil.jpg/320px-See_No_Evil%2C_Hear_No_Evil%2C_Speak_No_Evil.jpgNot long after the ABA House of Delegates voted against a proposal that to meet accreditation standards, 75 percent of an ABA-accredited law school’s graduates must pass a bar exam within a two-year period — the ABA put Arizona Summit Law in Phoenix on probation for low bar-passage rates. Bar passage rates have dropped to 25 percent at Arizona Summit for first-time bar exam takers, which obviously meant that the studiously unaware ABA was finally forced to take action against one of the nation’s most expensive law schools.

In a bit of unintentional understatement following the probation announcement, the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit legal education policy and watchdog organization, declared “the decision highlights the A.B.A.’s increasing courage in holding schools accountable.” With apologies to Polonius, if this be courage let there be method in it. See “For-Profit Law School in Arizona Is Put on Probation.”

More from the SMH File

File:Noaa-walrus31.jpgOne only has to read this year’s candidates’ statements to appreciate the continuing conflated confusion of lawyer thinking that results from the State Bar of Arizona’s conflicted regulator and trade association mission. Is the State Bar of Arizona a regulator protecting the public interest? Or is it a trade association serving and protecting members’ interests? It can’t be both — not without a walrus-sized conflict of interest.

And what about its court-mandated raison d’être “to serve and protect the public with respect to the provision of legal services and access to justice”?

But as the following excerpts demonstrate, virtually every candidate believes that running for a seat on the Arizona Bar’s Board of Governors means they’ll be acting on behalf of members’ interests. With elections coming up in two counties, candidates are asking either for “the opportunity to serve my fellow lawyers” or to be “a voice for solo and young lawyers” or that “the needs of our members are voiced and heard” or pledging to “make sure the Bar is here to help attorneys, not hurt them.” And of course there are the usual vague variations on the tried-and-tested trade association theme of serving “to ensure the Bar is working for its members” or that it “performs more services for the membership.”

Promises promises.

Also from the SMH File

Almost 7 years to the day after New Jersey said a so-called “virtual office” did not qualify as a bona fide office, a New Jersey lawyer also licensed in New York and also without benefit and burden of a bricks and mortar office in New York has filed a U.S. Supreme Court petition to overturn the New York rule that prohibits her from practicing in New York without said bricks and mortar office in the state. New Jersey didn’t change its anti-virtual office rule until 2013.

New Jersey used to have the same bona fide office restriction, i.e., “a bona fide office is a place where clients are met, files are kept, the telephone is answered, mail is received and the attorney or a responsible person acting on the attorney’s behalf can be reached in person and by telephone during normal business hours to answer questions posed by the courts,clients or adversaries and to ensure that competent advice from the attorney can be obtained within a reasonable period of time.” 

For more about lawyer Ekaterina Schoenefeld’s 9-year bona fide office battle, see Catherine Elefant’s always timely My Shingle post at “Solo Seeks To Challenge Archaic Bonafide Office Rules at the Supremes.”

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Photo credits: The three monkeys: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, by John Snape at Wikimedia Commons, the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License; Odobenus rosmarus at Wikimedia Commons, public domain; frustrated gif at giphy.com;SMH at http://gph.is/1WqoSOE at giphy.com.

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Grape eating contest | by denverkid

Proponents also speciously called the whole thing an “authorization” to increase dues and not a dues increase. And a “kick me” sign is not an inducement for a foot to the backside.

So citing oaths, obligations, and the special snowflake status of lawyers, the petitioners hoped to add Florida to the list of jurisdictions such as Minnesota and Wisconsin where as a condition to practice, state supreme courts tax lawyers to fund civil legal services. The other states that impose mandatory civil legal aid assessments are Indiana, Illinois, Texas, Missouri and Pennsylvania. And not to be outdone, at a $100 Florida’s tax would have been the highest.

"Peel Me a Grape" | by basykesIn December, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments on the petition. Noteworthy was this scriptural riposte courtesy of Justice James Perry, “To much who is given, much is expected.”  Of course the easiest burdens to bear are somebody else’s.

‘Don’t worry about the mule going blind, keep loading the wagon.’

https://i0.wp.com/www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Earnings-of-solo-practitioners.png

Speaking, then, of the noble obligations of the so-called privileged, just last month I read about the falling average earnings of solo legal practitioners. Solos and small firms generally represent two-thirds of most U.S. lawyers.

In the last 25 years, average solo pay has fallen from $75,000 to $50,000 according to data compiled by University of Tennessee Law School Professor Benjamin Barton and cited in Professor Paul Campos’ post, The Collapsing Economics of Solo Legal Practice. Professor Barton’s new book, Glass Half Full: The Decline and Rebirth of the American Legal Profession was published last month.

And no matter that lawyer unemployment remains a problem in Florida or that 44% of all respondents to the Florida Bar’s last lawyer economics and law office management survey reported their business/profitability had decreased the past two years. In the same survey, almost 40% said they didn’t expect things to get better in the near future.

And then there’s this. According to Law School Transparency, nearly 85 percent of law graduates financed law school through student loans. The average debt incurred for 2010 law graduates was $77,364 at public law schools and $112,007 at private institutions. See “Burdened With Debt, Law School Graduates Struggle in Job Market.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware that legal aid programs across the country are in continual budgetary crisis. And I’m not quibbling with the need, the rationale, or the petitioners’ parade of horribles. My objection is over the means. When did fixing a longstanding societal problem become the sole obligation of lawyers? By comparison, are physicians and dentists as a condition of practicing their professions likewise required to pony up for indigent healthcare services?

Fortunately for Florida lawyers — but not so much for legal aid advocates, petition opponents prevailed. Stating that the “issue requires further study and a more comprehensive approach,” the Florida Supremes declined to adopt the proposed amendment.”

Hat tip to The Legal Watchdog  for passing along the latest moves afoot in Florida.

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Photo Credits: “grape eating contest,” by denverkid at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; “peel me a grape,” by Bev Sykes at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.

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I once knew a sales guy who was such a shucking and jiving backslapping ‘B.S.er’ that some of his customers called him “the laughing, lying one.” Most of them knew better than to take his salesman’s patter seriously. Still, I thought the description deliciously apt.

Now it turns out that in an entirely different context, that ‘laughing, lying’ moniker might also fit those B.S.-spewing law schools hungry to garner favorable ratings to continue attracting gullible student enrollees. However, in their case, the law schools’ “customers” are starting to take matters more seriously. And they aren’t laughing at saleman’s puffery.

For example, Anna Alaburda, a 2008 honors graduate of San Diego, California’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law (TJSL), is the lead plaintiff in a class action suit filed May 26, 2011 in state court against her alma mater. The Complaint, which can be accessed here seeks $50 million in compensatory damages on behalf of the class, which could number as many as 2,300.

Causes of Action.

The suit has 5 causes of action, mostly for various alleged violations of California’s Business & Professions Code § 17200 et seq, including alleged material misrepresentations and acts of concealment by TJSL. The plaintiffs deem these acts “unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices prohibited by UCL [California’s Unfair Competition Law].”

Additionally, Alaburda and the class contend TJSL violated the False Advertising Act by purportedly disseminating “false and misleading statements in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools” publication, on its website, and in its marketing brochures.”

The Complaint further states that “These misleading statements concerned post-graduation employment statistics, among others. These false and misleading statements were made with the intent to induce the general public, including Plaintiff and the Class, to enroll at TJSL”

File:Vermont state fair barker bw.jpgThe third cause of action sounds in fraud. Alaburda and the class allege the school has a “fraudulent marketing program.”

The fourth cause of action is for alleged violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which “prohibits unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices undertaken by any person in a transaction intended to result or which results in the sale of goods and services.” The underlying basis of the violation complains that TJSL misrepresented its post-graduation employment rates.

And the fifth and final cause of action alleges negligent misrepresentation.

The news of the class action comes courtesy of the website, Law School Transparency, “a Tennessee non-profit dedicated to encouraging and facilitating the transparent flow of law school consumer information.” Law School Transparency has a terrific recap on the dispute, which it posted on Friday, May 27, 2011. Also see Law.com‘s report at Law school sued over ‘false’ employment statistics.”

Given the theories raised by Alaburda and the class against TJSL and the recently widely reported law schools’ fudging of graduate post-employment numbers, it’s logical to anticipate that this suit will be closely watched by the law school industry.

Will more lawsuits follow?

But more ominously, since the theories underpinning Alaburda’s Complaint could just as easily be raised against many other law schools, i.e., the inflating of post-graduation employment numbers to induce enrollment and reputation, it’s easy to foresee similar suits to follow. In her Complaint, Alaburda makes note of the recent media reports about fudged job numbers, e.g., “Is Law School a Losing Game?” – NYTimes.com Also see, “Law schools award a degree ofBS.”

However, as much as Alaburda’s case engenders a plaintiff’s lawyer’s sympathies, it appears to me that like the foreclosure defense suits brought by underwater homeowners against predatory lenders, lawsuits against law schools may not find a lot of support from regular folks still making mortgage payments and otherwise fulfilling their obligations. Regular folks, as I have found from my own conversations, put more stock in personal responsibility. And surprisingly, they’re quicker to blame the defaulting homeowners and not the predatory mortgage industry or the quick-buck realtors or the greedy Wall Street investment firms.

Buying an unaffordably overpriced law degree by cluelessly betting on a non-existent job market is analogous to deceptively financing an unaffordably overpriced home based on a ludicrous expectation that a hyper-inflated real estate market would exist in perpetuity.

No matter that law graduates have been suckered or that their anger at law school disassembling is justified. Which side has the stronger legal and especially, the moral equities? Is it the law graduates who fell down on adequate due diligence and now have buyer’s remorse? Or is it the “laughing, lying” law schools?

And since budding lawyers freshly-sprouted from law school don’t fall neatly into what my UCC Professor often explained were “the idiot consumers the law seeks to protect,” will this ultimately be a ‘you made your bed, now sleep in it‘ argument? Or as one of my favorite thinkers, Thomas Merton, more elegantly said, “In the last analysis, the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for “finding himself.” If he persists in shifting his responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence.”

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