Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Law: “Jealous Mistress” or Ignored Spouse?

Back in the Paper Chase era, law school deans would tell their incoming classes: “Look to your left, look to your right—one of you won’t be here next year.”  Along with this scare tactic came the now-famous warning that “the law is a jealous mistress,” and will require nearly all of a student’s time and attention if he or she hopes to graduate from law school.  Oh, how times have changed.  And for proof, look no further than the University of Texas Law School.    

Recent grads of UT Law—supposedly the 15th best law school in the country—passed the bar exam at a miserable rate of just 59 percent.  Although based on a small sample size of graduates, this was by far the worst percentage of the state’s nine law schools.  By way of comparison, graduates of Texas Tech—supposedly only the 107th best law school in the country—passed the bar at a 92 percent clip.

UT’s numbers raised eyebrows and caused some people to do some digging.  One possible explanation is that UT accepted grossly unqualified but politically connected applicants to its law school.  And because these applicants weren’t law school material, they eventually failed the bar exam.

The real story here, from a news standpoint, is probably whether there is cronyism in the law school admissions process at the lone star state’s flagship university.  (This UT scandal is also a nice follow-up to UT’s earlier scandal involving massive payouts to selected law school faculty members.)  But I’m more interested in this question: how did these students even get to take the bar exam?  That is, how did they graduate from law school? 

It’s one thing to admit unqualified but politically connected students (if that is the case here), but law profs typically use a blind grading system to ensure a fair distribution of grades.  In other words, there is virtually no way that these unqualified students received special treatment or consideration after they were admitted.  So how, then, did they graduate?

The answer is simple: legal education standards are much, much lower than they used to be.  And this is probably true across the board.  Today, nearly everyone who enrolls and remains semiconscious for three years will graduate from law school, regardless of whether they attend the 15th best law school or a fourth-tier law school on the verge of financial collapse.

Today, the law is less like a jealous mistress and more like an ignored spouse that will eagerly and happily accept whatever attention is thrown his or her way.

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