Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Blatant Conflict Of Interest?

JJD's post on The Jobless Juris Doctor alerted me to this ABA article which includes the quote:
David N. Yellen, dean of Loyola University Chicago School of Law and chair of the ABA subcommittee that considers what consumer information law schools should be required to report, tells the Law Bulletin that law schools need to be more transparent about job prospects.

"I believe the time has come to mandate that law schools publicly disclose more information about job outcomes," Yellen is quoted saying.
My first reaction was "Good!  At least some law schools are starting to acknowledge their responsibility! Way to go, Yellen!"

However, my second reaction was - "Wait a minute.  This guy's the dean of a law school and he chairs the committee that sets the policy about what information law schools have to provide and how they will provide it to their consumers/students?  How is that not a blatant conflict of interest?"

That prompted me to do a little digging and what I found will most like stun you, horrify you, and explain why the ABA has not taken any action in this regard.  Brace yourself and see below.

The ABA Committee that Yellen heads is the Standards Review Committee.  Here is a link to the bios/roster of the members of the Standards Review Committee.  There are 14 members and I'll briefly review each one below:
  1. Donald J. Polden - Dean, Santa Clara University School of Law
  2. Margaret Martin Barry - Professor, The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law
  3.  Steven C. Bahls - President, Augustana College - previously dean of the Capital University Law School. Before joining Capital’s law program, Bahls was associate dean and professor at the University of Montana School of Law.
  4. N. Cornell Boggs III - Chief Responsibility and Ethics Officer, MillerCoors
  5. Catherine L. Carpenter - Professor, Southwestern Law School 
  6. Donald C. Dahlin - Professor, University of South Dakota 
  7. Allen K. Easley - Dean, University of La Verne College of Law 
  8. Thomas A. Edmonds -  previously dean and/or professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law the University of Richmond T.C. Williams School of Law, Florida State University College of Law,  the University of Pacific McGeorge School of Law and Duke University School of Law. 
  9. E. Christopher Johnson, Jr. - Director, Graduate Program in Corporate Law and Finance, Thomas M. Cooley Law School 
  10. Honorable Kiyo A. Matsumoto - United States Magistrate Judge, Eastern District of New York
  11. Lucy S. McGough - Professor and Dean Emeritus - Louisiana State University, Paul M. Hebert Law School
  12. Erica Moeser - President & CEO, National Conference of Bar Examiners
  13.  The Honorable Michael A. Wolff - Supreme Court of Missouri - Before joining the court, Judge Wolff was a professor at Saint Louis University School of Law from 1975 to 1998. 
  14. David N. Yellen - Dean, Loyola University Chicago School of Law 
Notice anything?

Of the 14 members of the committee, 11 are current or former Law School Deans and/or Professors. 
(I have bolded the 3 in the list above with no law school connection.)

Wow.  Frankly, I am stunned. The Committee is obviously dominated by law schools.  That seems very inappropriate.  More specifically, it seems like a direct financial and moral conflict of interest to allow people paid by a law school from funds that the law school collects from students to be able to make the rules about how law schools go about selling their product to students - and what the law schools have to disclose to students.  It is as if a manufacturer had its employees take control of the FTC's Consumer Protection Section and pass rules with regard to the manufacturer's products.  It appears blatantly wrong.

I thought that maybe the Committee might make rules beyond law schools, but from reviewing the Chair's Notes from the January 2010 meeting - nope, it looks like they pretty much just make rules for law schools.  Thus, my initial thought that maybe any member of the Committee could recuse themselves from a vote on an issue that had any impact on their school or its policies (and thus avoid a conflict of interest) appears to be a non-starter.  Instead, just about every subject that I see discussed in the Chair's Notes appears to have a direct financial impact on the law schools of each of the 11 Deans/professors identified above and thus represents a conflict of interest.

The law schools are basically making rules for themselves - rules that deprive potential law students of a full and fair opportunity to identify the costs and benefits of law school by depriving them of accurate, complete, and non-misleading information.  That's not right.  That's ABSOLUTELY not right.  I'm stunned.  I'm horrified.  And I understand now why the ABA has allowed law schools to provide inaccurate information to law students - information that has resulted in 10s of thousands of law students being shackled with debt they have no realistic ability to repay - and is not dischargeable in bankruptcy - based on a false promise of a high-paying job.

This is not right and needs to be addressed.


  1. stunned yet not surprised. big business and government jerking each other off. same shit, different day.

  2. A prolific day for you MP!

    Your post reminds me of the only law school dean who's been honest about the problem, Richard Matasar of New York Law School. He wrote an essay titled, “Does the Current Economic Model of Legal Education Work for Law Schools, Law Firms (or Anyone Else)?” [link in my sig] for the New York State Bar Association's Journal in which he openly criticizes the ABA's performance as a regulator:

    "The American Bar Association regulatory regime has been built over many decades and includes many requirements that increase education cost, like requiring job security for faculty members, librarians, and deans; requiring a significant physical plant; requiring three years (give or take) of law school; requiring an undergraduate degree; or limiting the number of classes that can be taken online. Recent proposed changes that mandate law schools to announce, measure, and improve their outcomes and offer particular types of skills classes, while desirable, will not lower costs."

    Scambloggers hate him nonetheless, and while he's not bucking any trends, I think it's fair to listen to those arguing against their own interests. His essay is a very good read, and for extra credit, my thoughts on it are here: http://lawschooltuitionbubble.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/the-village-green-preservation-links%e2%80%94nyls-dean-writes-on-the-tuition-bubble/.

    PS Your "Evil" tag cracks me up.

  3. Hi LSTB,
    Indeed somewhat prolific today. My outrage energized me!

    I read the Matasar piece - interesting! I note that he also mentions the role of the federal government in restricting law school loans. Overall, it's quite good. I do have a quibble, though, when he mentions that law firms don't pay a premium for skills training by law schools. I would disagree - it's just that law school efforts for skill training have not yet reached the point where they actually deliver. If they seriously taught skill training, then there would be value, but I have not yet seen any law school that actually produced a product with a significant advantage. A trial ad class is nice, but not a significant advantage. Conversely, a whole year spent cheek-and-jowl working with real lawyers on actual cases in a law firm environment is a significant advantage. It would provide a product that can be more billable, that the firm would be less worried about whether they would create liability, and the firm would have a lesser risk of "practice shock" when someone realizes 6 months in that they can't bill 2000. I seriously question whether law schools are prepared to offer this level of training, but if so, that would be very attractive.

    Your post is also very insightful.

    About the "Evil" tag - it is rarely used, but used when warranted!

  4. Wow.. and here I thought they were all Big Law. I wish someone would sue the ABA. On what grounds, I have no idea--but they are wrong in so many ways.

  5. Hi Angel,
    I appreciate your expression of anger toward the ABA, but I think that you may be able to have a more practical impact if it is focused more narrowly than the ABA as a whole. For example on the impropriety of law schools setting their own rules - of manipulating the accreditation process to provide financial benefits including tenure. It's a little out of my area to come up the specific counts, but it would seem to be worth investigation - give it a shot!

    Also, you may want to channel your anger into contacting the FTC. They would be a great agency to challenge the practices of the committee. Also, they recently sued the ABA with regard to the Red Flags law (and thankfully lost) - see link.


    However, they are on appeal and may be looking for a way to besmirch the ABA's good name. Now, I agree with the court's decision and I would hate to see it overturned, but I don't think that there is any real likelihood of that happening. However, knowing the personalities of most agency lawyers I encounter, they are most likely looking to strike back - and a narrowly-tailored lawsuit brought against a specific impropriety in a specific committee like this one seems like it might be winnable - especially if you have the credibility of the FTC. What do you think?