The year the chickens came home to roost
During 2011, it became impossible for law schools to deny that they had real problems.
Lots of news broke out about legal education during the past year. Unfortunately for law schools, much of it was bad. Here are the top 10 law school stories of 2011.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that law schools feel pressure to admit students with good grades and high scores on the Law School Admission Test, since those metrics count heavily toward their U.S. News & World Report ranking. That pressure got the better of some administrators at Villanova University School of Law, who admitted in February to goosing the numbers reported to the American Bar Association and U.S. News for years. (Those involved, including a former dean, resigned or were fired). The University of Illinois College of Law was next; an investigation launched in August revealed that the school's admissions dean had reported falsely high credentials for incoming students since 2005. The Law School Admission Council — which maintains data on applicant tests scores and grades — now is considering whether to audit the figures law schools report, and the ABA is mulling tougher penalties for schools that lie.
Instead of asking alumni for money, maybe law schools should ask graduates to pledge not to sue them. 2011 will go down as the year law students got litigious — at least against their alma maters. An underemployed graduate of Thomas Jefferson School of Law got the ball rolling in May, when she filed suit alleging the school committed fraud by misrepresenting its employment statistics. In August, alumni sued both New York Law School and Thomas M. Cooley Law School, raising similar claims. Cooley fought back with its own defamation suit against the plaintiffs' lawyers as well as a series of anonymous Internet commentors who had blasted the school online. This could be the first sign of a litigation wave. The lawyers involved in the New York Law School and Cooley cases are looking for plaintiffs for class actions against another 15 schools.
Forget the fight over the debt ceiling or high unemployment. A number of U.S. senators this year zeroed in on the American Bar Association's oversight of law schools — or what they apparently see as a lack thereof. For months, senators including Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) fired off letters to the ABA expressing concern over the accuracy of the job information law schools release and requesting detailed information about student loan defaults, accreditation policies and more. The ABA insisted that it shares those concerns, but more often than not the senators were unsatisfied with its responses. Boxer and Coburn in October asked the U.S. Department of Education to compile a decade's worth of law school data. Rumors have been swirling that the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold hearings on law schools next year. Stay tuned.
It was bound to happen. Applications to American Bar Association-accredited law schools declined by 10 percent in 2011 after increasing during each of the previous two years as recent college graduates sought to ride out the dismal job market in law school.
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