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16 posts from March 2012

March 30, 2012

Allen & Overy's New Partner Class Is 40 Percent Women

Girlw:Brit Flag© Yuri Arcurs - Fotolia.comMuch of the news stories I deliver about women are downers. I admit it, and I'm sorry. So let me try to even the score with some hopeful news. This bit of cheer comes from our friends across the pond.

Allen & Overy just announced its new partners, and there are nine women among the 23 new partners—almost 40 percent! Not too shabby for a Magic Circle firm.

Legal Week  reports that this is "a significant increase on the two female promotions [out of 21] the firm made last year." According to the firm's press release, the majority (73 percent) of new partners  are based outside London. Judging by their locations and last names, these newbie partners are quite diverse. Definitely not the same old Anglo stuff shirt.

You might recall that Allen & Overy made a lot of noise when it initiated its part-time policy for equity partners almost two years ago. The firm said that the goal was to retain women in its ranks. That policy allows partners to work a four-day week, or full-time but with the addition of 52 days of vacation every year on top of the 30 days they already have. And yes, the firm already had part-time policies for associates and staff in place.

At the time, I wasn't that sold on it as being more than a nice PR move. And it's still hard to say whether that part-time policy made a difference. (We are waiting to hear from the firm on that issue.) In any case, though, I suppose those work/life balance goodies didn't hurt.

With these recent elevations, A&O seems to be giving Slaughter and May, which has had the highest percentage of women partners (18 percent at last count) among the Magic Circle firms, a run for its money. (We'll tabulate who's ahead in a later post.)

Most big British firms, though, aren't doing so well on the women front. Like their American counterparts, British women equity partners seem stuck in that notorious 15–16 percent rut.

But according to Laurence Simons, a U.K.–based recruiting firm, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are paradigms of progress for female lawyers compared to the rest of Europe. Both countries have 16 percent women partners, says Simons, while Spain has the lowest proportion of female partners (6.3 percent). Germany, despite having a woman at the helm, is not much better (9.6 percent female partners), while Italy and France have around 13 percent women.

Okay, so the news about female lawyers still isn't great in Europe or the U.S. But we'll take what morsels of progress we can get.

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March 29, 2012

Who's Got Erotic Capital? Litigators or Corporate Lawyers?

Legs.Fotolia_13816448_XSAre litigators hotter than other lawyers? I know that seems like a set up for a bad joke, but indulge me for now.

Let's compare the rock stars of legaldom. On the litigation side, David Boies and Ted Olson spring to mind. For corporate lawyers, I'd go with Marty Lipton and H. Rodgin Cohen. (Pity that female lawyers don't come to mind—but that's a post for another day.)

Of these two groups, which one would you vote for? According to Catherine Hakim, a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies and a former faculty member at the London School of Economics, there's no doubt that the litigators would win hands-down.

The author of Erotic Capital, a book that explores "the power of attraction in the boardroom and the bedroom," Hakim chatted with me recently about how sex appeal can be deployed in a lawyer's career.

You write that  lawyers with above-average looks earned 10–12 percent more than those with below-average looks. How did you come up with that?
It was based on a study of graduates of a top law school in America, who were a well-fed, good-looking lot to begin with. But the better-looking ones earned even more over time.

Frankly, I can think of some homely lawyers who are mega successes. Hasn't law always given refuge to the not-so-beautiful? I mean, don't high grades trump attractiveness, personality, etc.? 
Appearance matters [because] lawyering involves public performance. Lawyers have to get clients—unlike shopkeepers, who just wait for people to come into the store.

And the ultimate public performers in your book seem to be litigators. Do you really think they are the most attractive of the lot?
Yes. If you go to court, and you are attractive, you're more likely to be believed by the jury. The most attractive lawyers go into litigation, where erotic capital yields the highest returns.

What is erotic capital?
It's both physical and social attraction. Most people with physical attraction have good social skills too. The world smiles at them, and they smile back. It pervades all social classes.

If you're smart but not good-looking, are you doomed to fail in a profession like law?
Being charming will still get you ahead. Most people are not born great beauties. But you need to make a serious effort [at being attractive].

"Serious effort" sounds like a lot of work. Do you think the standard for appearance has gone up these days?
All the professions are attracting more attractive people, and people are making more effort than ever to be attractive. During the recession, one industry in Britain that did not suffer was cosmetic surgery. 

Isn't it kind of extreme to get cosmetic surgery to get ahead in a career like law or finance?
In Brazil, investment in cosmetic surgery is regarded as just as rational as investing in educational qualifications. . . . You can't change your C.V., but you can improve your appearance.

But how far would you go? Would you advise women to get breast augmentation to further their careers?
I doubt that breast augmentation has career benefits, except in a very narrow range of occupations.

And I assume law is not within that range. At the same time, though, you seem to advocate that women shouldn't be shy about deploying their sex appeal. So should they dress more provocatively? Maybe show some cleavage?
I think that would be a mistake. Short skirts, cleavage would not be appropriate for women in banking, finance, or law. You have to take your cues from the men. If the men wouldn't wear [a comparable style], you shouldn't either.

Speaking of taking cues from men, what do you think of the current vogue for Maggie Thatcher, who seems to epitomize the masculine, desexed power look?
Oh, I don't think she was mannish at all! It astonishes me that the American view is that she dressed in a masculine fashion. Her male colleagues thought of her as very sexy. She flirted with her colleagues, and men were very attracted to her. Thatcher knew how to use her erotic capital—she wore pearls, carried a handbag, and wore pussycat bows.

It's fascinating that you think Thatcher has tons of erotic capital, and that you disapprove of cleavage and minis in the office. You're much more conservative than what the book led me to believe. Are you equally appalled about extremely high heels? Are women risking looking like streetwalkers if they strut around in five- or six-inch heels?
I have no problem with high heels. Either you can walk in them or you can't.

Readers, cast your vote: who is the fairest of them all? Set on left—David Boies and Marty Lipton; on right—Ted Olson and H. Rodgin Cohen.

Boies_Lipton Olson_Cohen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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March 28, 2012

Nine Law Schools to Avoid

Piggy©zimmytws-Fotolia.comListen up, aspiring law students and nagging parents. Before you send in your application fee or deposit check, make sure these law schools aren't on your list.

I'm not just talking about the obvious—poorly ranked law schools  (or schools so dubious that their rankings are not published—"RNPs"). The ones that should be avoided like STDs have another trait: They are also ridiculously expensive to boot. So here's the ultimate don't-go-to list, courtesy of U.S. News & World Report

Law School                 
Tuition & Fees   
Average Debt   
US News Rank
John Marshall (IL) $38,100 $165,178 129
California Western $42,600 $153,145 RNP
Thomas Jefferson $41,000 $153,006 RNP
American $45,096 $151,318 49
New York Law School $47,800 $146,230 135
Phoenix $37,764 $145,357 RNP
Southwestern $42,200 $142,606 129
Catholic $41,830 $142,222 82
 
Pace $40,730 $139,007 142

The list of “ten law schools that lead to the most debt” in U.S. News also includes Northwestern University Law School. But I think you'll agree we should give Northwestern a pass because it ranks in the top ten, and its grads do well in the job market. (Arguably, it's also unfair to lump American University Law School in this group because it did make the top 50—barely.)

To keep it all in perspective, remember that students overall graduated with an average debt of $100,584. But in this list, the average debt burden was $147,717!

As for the "good value" law schools, where the average debt is around $38,000, U.S. News offers these choices:

Law School                   
Tuition & Fees   
Average Debt   
US News Rank
Georgia State $14,770 $19,971 58
Southern $10,124 $22,138 RNP
Rutgers-Camden $25,464 $27,423 99
Texas Southern $16,262 $32,449 RNP
Drexel $36,051 $33,562 119
Barry $33,630 $41,190 RNP
Kansas $16,460 $41,574 89
Nebraska $13,887 $52,396 89
SUNY-Buffalo $20,718 $52,447 82
BYU $10,600 $54,766 39

Low-ranking schools dominate this "value" list as well (only Brigham Young hit the top 50), which, to me, means you might as well blow your money on lottery tickets.  I realize, however, that I'm making a gross generalization, and that I'm too New York-centric about the legal market. So if you really want to be a lawyer and you didn't get into a top school, the schools above serve their purpose (although I can't in good conscience advise anyone to go to an unrated school). At least you won't feel totally ripped off if you do go.

U.S. News also offers a list of schools that delivers both value and financial rewards upon graduation, based on median private-sector salary to debt ratio in 2010. Of all the law school data that U.S. News offers, I find this list highly dubious. For instance, number one on this coveted list is unranked Southern University Law Center , which claims a median salary $100,000 for its graduates. Also on the list are eighty-fourth-ranked Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey—Camden School of Law ($115,000 median salary); sixty-fifth-ranked University of Cincinnati College of Law ($115,000 median salary); and 143rd-ranked Loyola University New Orleans School of Law ($84,500 median salary).

Bottom-ranking law schools where the median salary is six figures? Yeah, sure.

I hate to sound like a naysayer (which you know I am) about the legal academic industrial complex, but let me give you my rule of thumb: Believe the negative stuff but don't buy anything that sounds too good to be true.

Hat tip: Wall Street Journal Law Blog and TaxProf Blog.

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March 27, 2012

Neon in the Workplace: Blinding or Beautiful?

Jcrew_ItalianBallet

After that wimpy winter, the change of seasons was barely noticeable. So in case you missed it, it's officially spring. That means it’s high time you peel off the opaque stockings, slap on the sunless tanner, and embrace spring fashion. 

For lawyers, doing so always takes some tinkering. Clothes rarely make a seamless transition from the runway to the law firm hallway, and this season’s ride may be especially bumpy. One peek in a J. Crew window will tell you why (and possibly scald your retinas). Neon is back. Think fluorescent pinks, electric blues, lime greens, and canary yellows. Your inner '80s rocker may be rejoicing, but finding a way to mix trendy neon tones with your current closet of neutrals might be less cause for celebration.

These bold hues are intimidating for even non–law office dwellers. Searching online for “how to wear neon” results in a bevy of encouraging tutorials, like this one from Refinery29. But while the suggestion of a tangerine pleated skirt or aqua-on-aqua outfit might be suitable for a Friday night or Sunday afternoon, it might be bit blinding in artificial office lighting among a sea of black and navy and pinstripes.

But have no fear, trendy lawyers. There are, of course, ways to sample from the neon color wheel without becoming a Big Bird look-a-like.

Cue Susan Scafidi, a professor at Fordham School of Law and director of its Fashion Law Institute. Scafidi says that neon can add an unexpected pop of color in a business wardrobe but is best in brief flashes. She suggests small touches of these bright hues, like “a hot pink zipper on a grey or black clutch, a scattering of fluorescent yellow crystals in a necklace, or an electric blue shoe,” and warns against more than one neon shade per outfit. “Even an attorney in a creative field like entertainment doesn't want to be wearing enough neon to light up Broadway,” she says.

Lawyers advising corporate clients or making court appearances should take an even more conservative approach, she says. For those lawyers, "a taste for lime green can be limited to socks or even just lingerie—after all, there's a psychic glow that comes from being lit from within."

I am all in favor of neon accessories. Who doesn't love a flashy shoe? But should neon in the workplace really be limited to such minor details and embellishments? Is a tasteful hot pink blouse or a chartreuse necktie really too much? 

You tell me. Can you bare the bolder side of your color palette at work, or would any flicker of fluorescence be frowned upon? 

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March 25, 2012

French Women More Successful at Lawyering Too?

Paris©Isaxar-FotoliacomSo much chatter about how European women—particularly the French—have it so much better. As everyone knows, they get generous maternity leaves, job security, and subsidized, high-quality child care. Not to mention they get to consume gobs of butter, cream, and cheese—without ever getting fat! Now, the word is out that French women are better parents too, raising impeccably adorable, polite children—or so says a new book, Bringing Up Bébé.

They've got societal support, savoir faire, and innate chic. So why shouldn't French women be making greater strides in their careers too?

In fact, they've passed a notable milestone in the legal arena. According to The Lawyer, there are now more French women than men in the Paris bar. In fact, "over half of all female lawyers in Paris (52.7 per cent) are associates in large firms, compared to 31.4 per cent of men," says The Lawyer, reporting on a recent study by the Paris bar.

So women lawyers in France must be way ahead of their soeurs américaines, non? Pas du tout.

Sadly, it's a familiar story: lots of women in the junior ranks, but few in partnership—except that the gap seems even worse in France. Reports The Lawyer:

In 2005 12.6 percent of female lawyers in Paris were partners in a large firm, compared to 29.6 percent of male lawyers. By 2011 15.6 percent of women were partners, but the proportion of men who were partners had also risen, to 36 percent.

That female equity partner figure is just as pathetic as the one in the United States (in the U.S., women also make up around 16 percent of equity partners in big firms, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers). But the difference is that American female lawyers still constitute less than half (about 45 percent) of big-firm associates.

Like their American sisters, female French lawyers are also making less money than their male counterparts. According to a recent study by the Paris bar, "the average salary or profits for female lawyers in Paris was €57,818  ($76,308) compared to an average salary of €96,536  ($127,409) for men," reports The Lawyer. "The median salary for women was €42,000 ($55,320), compared to a median salary of €69,000 ($91,066) for men."

What accounts for this gap? The study says it's partially "due to the fact that male lawyers are collectively older than their female counterparts," reports  The Lawyer. Also, "more female lawyers are associates and tend to work in less lucrative practice areas."

Basically, you can imagine the same explanations we've been hearing for the money/power gap between male and female lawyers in the United States: It's a pipeline issue. It's work/life balance difficulty. It's the glass ceiling.

In other words: Who knows? 

Related post: Les Femmes Fatiguées

 

 

March 22, 2012

Smart Enough to be Dumb

Kid©Temych - Fotolia.comSo you just got into law school. Congrats. That should get your parents off your back for the summer.

But before you send in your deposit, repeat after me: Caveat emptor. You probably know what it means: "Buyer beware." You'll hear that term a lot in contracts class. But I'd get a head start on absorbing the meaning now.

Because if you go to law school (especially a low-ranking one, which, in this market, means most schools not in the top 20 list of US. World News & Report), incur a fat student debt, and then find yourself with few viable job options at graduation, you won't have anyone to blame but yourself. I've shouted that warning before

Now I have another reason to sound the alarm: A judge just threw out the lawsuit filed by graduates of New York Law School who claimed they were misled to attend the school by its allegedly inflated jobs data. Reports Karen Sloan of The National Law Journal about New York supreme court judge Melvin Schweitzer's March 21 ruling:

"The court does not view these postgraduate employment statistics to be misleading in a material way for a reasonable consumer acting reasonably," he wrote. "By anyone's definition, reasonable consumers—college graduates—seriously considering law school are a sophisticated subset of education consumers, capable of sifting through data and weighing alternatives before making a decision regarding their postcollege options, such as applying for professional school."

Schweitzer also noted that the market conditions changed from the time the plaintiffs entered law school and the time of their graduation, and that plaintiff were seeking redress for their "disappointment and angst." The NLJ reports that the plaintiffs sought damages of $225 million—"the difference between the amount the students paid in tuition and the true value of their law degrees." Schweitzer wrote that plaintiffs' method of damage calculation was "speculative."

Frankly, I would have fallen off my chair if the ruling came out the other way. I am sympathetic to the plaintiffs (and just about all jobless law grads), but I don't really disagree with the judge.

These grads were not babes in the woods. Before plunking down $150,000 or so for a law degree at a mediocre law school (New York Law School has been a bottom-ranking law school since the dawn of time), did they not realize it was an iffy investment? Even in a good market, the value of a NYLS degree is dubious. It doesn't take a genius to see which grads would be the most vulnerable in a down market.

For now, the plaintiffs in the NYLS case say they will appeal. There are still over a dozen similar suits against law schools around the country, and more are expected to follow. So far, a suit against Thomas Jefferson School of Law in California has survived an earlier motion to dismiss.

It's possible that the judge in California will be more lenient than the New York judge. But I wouldn't hold my breath. In any case, it's not a good career strategy to rely on a legal solution to correct your career bloopers.

So repeat after me again: Caveat emptor.

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March 21, 2012

How to Snag a Mentor (and Maybe a Job)

 © AVAVA - Fotolia.comToday's guest blogger is Michael Maslanka, managing partner of the Dallas office of Constangy, Brooks & Smith. The following post is adapted from a version that appeared in Texas Lawyer.

5 Tips on Getting a Mentor

by Michael Maslanka

During three decades of practice, I’ve won and lost a lot of cases and have been on both sides of the desk, as an employee and a boss. I see a lot of resumes as managing partner of my firm’s Dallas office. I’m a member of the American Inns of Court, a group that devotes time to mentoring. I spend a fair amount of time with 3Ls and new lawyers seeking counsel on their careers. I get e-mails lots of them—from the future-lawyers cohort. They ask if I can help them. Some of them are looking for advice, and some are looking for help finding a job.

Here are five things a new lawyer or lawyer-to-be should do when approaching another attorney for guidance.

1.  Be humble—but don't beg for a job. If someone asks to meet me as if he is setting up a job interview, I politely decline. No one wants to be treated as an item on a checklist or a mere means to an end. What works? Humility. Before seeking a meeting, ask yourself why you’re interested in the veteran lawyer’s practice area—be specific. Then, explain why you're seeking the senior attorney's help and ask to meet for coffee. The primary goal of the meeting should be information, not a job offer.

2. Be armed with questions. When I give an opening statement, I tell the jury that their time is valuable and I will not waste it. The same thing is true of a meeting.

You should come prepared with questions—specific, pertinent questions. A few months ago, I met with a 3L who was ready with a list of questions: What do you know about these law firms? Should I have one resume or several? Can you look at my resume and tell me what you think? She had it all outlined on a sheet of paper. I told her at the end she could use my name when she contacted other attorneys. Had she come unprepared, I would not have been so forthcoming.

3. Don't pull a Sarah Palin. If you're meeting with a senior lawyer in a specific practice area, show your interest by discussing the latest developments in the field; you might mention some relevant blogs and articles that interest you. In other words, be engaged.

Recall Katie Couric's interview with Sarah Palin during the elections? When Couric asked what Palin read, the governor drew a blank. I mention this not as a political statement but as a practical one: Be prepared.

4. Create contact capital. Here is a universal truth for job-seekers: The first person you approach likely will not be hiring. But that person’s law school pal may know someone, who knows someone else, who does have a position open. Getting a job is, at least initially, not about interviews but about creating “contact capital.”

As Steve Jobs said in Wired magazine in 1996, “Creativity is just connecting things. . . . A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.”

Same with looking for a job: Contacts are the dots. Sooner or later, enough dots will
lead to sufficient connections and trigger critical mass.

5. Keep in touch. It is nice to get a thank-you note or an e-mail after an informational interview. But do more than that: Send a holiday card. Follow the lawyer on Twitter. E-mail a link to an article that may interest him. Why is this important? Practicing lawyers meet many new faces and will forget them in the absence of continuing contact.

Maintaining contact is your job—not mine. Doing so pays off. One lawyer I met over breakfast started a blog and sends me links from time to time. Another follows me on Twitter and re-tweets some of my posts. Who do I remember? I have already sent some business to the first and hope to do so to the second.

If you're prepared to do the above, you need not hesitate to contact a senior lawyer for advice. As a  lawyer in Dallas, I know Texans expect no more from others than they expect of themselves. But I also think this approach is universal because it taps to some of our deepest need to pay back a karmic debt we owe others.

So plug away even if you live in cities with less collegial reputations, like New York or L.A. Geography can be trumped.

 Related posts: "When Your Mentor Is Not Into You"; "Where's My Mentor?"

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March 19, 2012

Right Resume, Wrong Attitude

Snit©Rados&#322Updated: 8:00, March 20, 2012.

The debate is raging about whether graduates of elite law schools are lagging behind their more humble colleagues in climbing the Big Law ladder. I sparked that discussion with my recent post about how graduates of lower-tier law schools are knocking out grads of top law schools in the partnership race ("Too Good for Big Law").

Of course, William Henderson, professor of law at Indiana University, dived immediately into the discussion. After all, he's the one who inspired my post in the first place when he told me about his tinkerings with The National Law Journal's job data. In The Legal Whiteboard, Henderson expounds on his theory about why elite grads lack the stuff to make it in Big Law. Here are some of them:

1. Law practice is really boring. "Does anyone really believe that the 75 percent of Stanford, Penn, or Harvard grads who start their careers in Big Law have a burning passion to do technical, oftentimes repetitive legal work for the Fortune 500?" Interpretation: If you went to a fancy undergraduate school (as most grads of top law schools do) and studied art and literature, how could you possibly find law practice fascinating?

2. They were born wealthier. Graduates of top law schools come from more affluent families, says Henderson: "When mom and dad are both lawyers, and grandpa owned a factory, maybe it's time to focus on art and travel." Again, exposure to finer things in life may make you unfit for lawyering.

3. LSATs hold too much sway. "Over the last 20 years, admissions committees have focused more and more on LSAT and UGPA; conversely, personal statements, letters of reference, and career histories hold very little sway." The result, he says, is that the pool of associates "are (excessively?) academic and lack significant brushes with real-world adversity—not ideal grooming for a high-stress professional service job."

So basically grads of top law schools are a bunch of spoiled dilettantes who score exceptionally well on standardized tests but don't want to do any heavy (document) lifting. Much wiser then to hire someone who worked through State U., majored in some dreadful subject like accounting (obviously more practical for practice than knowing ancient Greek), then managed to go to Gonzaga Law School and graduate in the top 5 percent. Talk about class warfare!

Yes, I'm exaggerating—as Henderson undoubtedly knows. (Henderson’s explanations are much more technical and nuanced than I let on. It's worth reading his more systematic treatment of the topic in his Legal Whiteboard post: Too Good for Big Law: The Statistician Edition.)

But I think we're basically on the same page. In fact, other commentators who have weighed in on the subject seem to come to the same conclusion—namely, that many elite grads don't really have the stuff for partnership. (Bruce MacEwen at Adam Smith Esq. offers a terrific, easy to read chart on this theory; Christopher Zorn at Empirical Legal Studies offers yet another chart and more theories; and David Lat at Above the Law gives his take on the subject—Lat, a former Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz associate, says he used to "hate the term 'Big Law washout,' which I viewed as an insult. But now I’m fine with it— because, well, there’s some truth to it.") 

So does that mean that hiring partners will think twice about recruiting some spacey Yale Law student over a kid who's in the top of the class at the University of Buffalo Law School? Henderson seems hopeful: "Perhaps it is time we focused on the skills and attributes of successful law graduates rather than the name of the law school on their diplomas."

Do I believe that will happen? What are you smoking?

For a counterview, see post ("Northwestern empirists weigh in") by Northwestern law professor Dan Rodriguez. Henderson also has a response to that: "A Reply to the Empirists at NWU".

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March 15, 2012

Titans' Wrath—Columbia and NYU Strike Back

© GooDAura - Fotolia.comTwo bigwigs of legal education—Columbia and NYU law schools—are not taking recent criticism about their graduates' job prospects lying down.

Yesterday, I blogged about how both schools produced questionable job figures about their graduates, and asked whether any school's placement record can be trusted. My piece was based on an article in the New York Post, which noted discrepancies in the number of big-firm jobs that the two schools claimed graduates landed and what was reported in The National Law Journal.

Both schools are speaking up. Essentially, they take issue with how the NLJ gathered its data and the way the Post wrote the article. Specifically, they argue that the NLJ's data was incomplete because some firms do not report their hiring to that publication.

But that's where the similarity between the two schools ends. While Columbia's response was fairly short and concise, NYU kind of went to town, lambasting the NLJ and the Post for being inaccurate if not unfair. More curious, though, is NYU's personal attack on University of Colorado Law School professor Paul Campos, who was quoted in the Post. NYU titled the press release (is that what it is?) "Lies, damned lies, and (law school) statistics," with the subheads "Professor Paul Campos and his tainted numbers" and "Inaccuracy wrapped in innuendo inside omission: The New York Post weighs in."

Much more colorful than your average press release, but kind of over the top. It certainly seems like a lot of internecine score settling. (Is NYU particularly angry that Campos, in one of his posts, mentioned that the law school's 40 percent placement rate with big firms is not worth the cost of its tuition, which he says is "realistically pushing $250K?")

I find that the indignation and sarcasm of NYU's statement distract from the arguments that it's trying to make. Frankly, it didn't help that NYU started its tirade with sanctimony that's almost worthy of parody (in italics, no less!), "Truth can be hard to pin down . . . so it is with the many statistics that journalists and others are offering up these days about law schools." Oy.

Of course, Campos is now firing back at the two schools (click here for his retort). And the NLJ's editor-in-chief, David Brown, says, "We stand by our reporting." He adds, "During our reporting process, we contacted each law school with the potential to qualify for the list and provided them with the opportunity to refute the results—and, in the event of a major discrepancy, to provide us with information that might back up their claims. Many did, and we investigated. NYU declined this invitation."

Yes, Brown and I work for the same company, but I'm also a graduate of NYU School of Law, so my loyalties are divided here.

In the end, though, I think it's all a confusing mess. The fundamental questions remain unanswered: Are law schools fibbing about their placement record? Or are the discrepancies the result of misunderstandings (or loopholes)?

In any case, it's interesting how even the sacred cows of legal education—namely, the top schools—are being questioned about their veracity. Also fascinating is how these schools are feeling defensive as a result. All in all, that's not a bad thing.

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March 14, 2012

Columbia and NYU's Dubious Job Stats

© iQoncept - Fotolia.comAre they all lying? Or just careless—conveniently so?

Maybe we've all been too snobby, assuming that only low-ranking law schools cook their employment data to reel in gullible students. So far, at least, it's the lower-tier schools like New York Law School and Cooley Law School that are getting hit with class action suits by former students for promulgating false job data.

But here's the shocker: Even top schools like Columbia and NYU (number four and number six, respectively, in the latest U.S. News and World Report) may be playing fast and loose with their job numbers. Both schools had to "revise" their stats after The New York Post asked them for detailed information.

Reports The New York Post:

After an inquiry by the Post, Columbia Law School last week published a spate of new data detailing its employment rate, which dropped from a previously reported National Association for Law Placement’s 98.6 percent level to 96.5 percent.

That "new data" seems like stuff that should have been included in the first place, such as information about the number of jobs that "require bar admission, the percentage of students reporting salary information, and that all the jobs reported are full-time positions." Moreover, Columbia failed to provide a breakdown about school-funded jobs—a device other schools use, notes the Post, "to temporarily boost the percentage of students employed for the ABA survey."

NYU had similar lapses :

NYU Law School—which also revised its numbers after the Post contacted it—revealed that 38 students in the class of 2010 counted as employed held temporary positions paid by the school. Students earned $2,000 a month, and the positions lasted between three and six months.

I understand mistakes happen, but mislabeling 38 students?

University of Colorado Law School professor Paul Campos, the blogger behind Inside the Law School Scam, also tells the Post that he noticed major "discrepancies between the number of students reported by Columbia to have gotten Big Law jobs . . . and those counted in a corresponding report by The National Law Journal." He says:

“According to Columbia, somewhere between 285 and 298 of its 2010 graduates were working for the top NLJ 250 firms. NLJ 250 firms reported only 239 of the 2010 Columbia grads working for such firms. This is not, needless to say, a trivial discrepancy,” he posted on his blog. Campos approximated a similar difference in the case of NYU.

New York's other major law school, Fordham (#29 in U.S. News), didn't get caught in quite the same way, though it won't get an award for transparency either: "Fordham Law School includes a footnote, in fine print, that 14.7 percent of its employment was comprised of school-funded jobs," writes the Post.

All of this left me wondering just how reliable employment data is from any law school—and whether that list of schools that's been sued by graduates for fraud might eventually include the top schools too. So let me ask you this: Do you think your law school "doctors" job data—or anything else?

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

 

About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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