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ASU Foundation Hitting Up Law School Grads Too Soon

About a week ago, I got a very disturbing phone call – from the ASU Foundation. They called me to ask for a donation.

I graduated less than six months ago. The average debt for ASU law grads is $89,000.  Some of my classmates don’t have to pay back their loans yet, and the school is asking us for donations. I was nearly speechless.

I suspect the ASU Foundation is trying to get donations based on the idea of reciprocity. In their eyes, they probably think that ASU gave me a great education so I should want to thank them by giving a donation. In my eyes, I bought a great education from ASU, and now they’re asking for more.

(cc) John M. Quick from Flickr

Part of philanthropy is building relationships with the people who want your money. I completely support ASU keeping in touch with its new alumni and cultivating relationships so it will be easier to ask for money in the future. Six months is too soon to ask.

If the ASU Foundation had taken the time to get to know me, it would have seen that I publicly said that I was so unhappy with the law school’s previous administration that I would not be a donor until changes occurred in the program.  The foundation would have known how frustrated I was that my tuition went up 32% during the three years I was a student and that it would have been in their best interests not to ask me for money at this time.

I do think it’s possible for ASU to redeem itself in the long run. I am very pleased with the decision to appoint Douglas Sylvester as the interim dean and some of the changes he’s made since taking over the school. It’s a good start, but I won’t be convinced to open my wallet until I see the new dean in action.

Unfortunately for the law school, the ASU Foundation is compounding an existing problem in the law school. This week, Dean Sylvester said that state funding cuts couples with a lack of alumni donations has required the law school to raise tuition for next year’s students. Many of the law school’s recent graduates were pissed off when they graduated. Asking us for money too soon is keeping us pissed off, and therefore the school has to work harder to get back into our good graces.

One of my classmates had a brilliant response to the call from the ASU Foundation. She said she’d donate as much money to ASU as ASU donated to her. (Bummer for ASU – they gave her nothing.)

Lawyers’ Bad Reputations Start with Arrogant Law Students

In every industry, there appear to be some people who cling to the old school ways and others who fully embrace innovation. Apparently in publishing, there is animosity between writers whose work is published by the Big Publishing Houses and writers who self-publish.  Allegedly some people who are represented by Big Publishing claim that people who are self-published do not qualify as authors because they didn’t go through the same process to publish their work. In the big picture, it doesn’t matter. All writers have the desire to communicate their work and have to work hard to cultivate a following — let alone put the words on the page.

Gavel | Andrew F. Scott: P6033675

Image by afsart via Flickr

In the Arizona legal community, one source of animosity is the law school from which one matriculated. Until recently, Arizona had only two law schools: Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Arizona (UofA). There is an ongoing rivalry between these school based on who is ranked higher. In 2004, a new law school entered the scene: Phoenix School of Law (PSL). This school is accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA); however it is not ranked in the top 100 law schools by the U.S. News. PSL has the reputation of being the school that people go to when they couldn’t get into ASU or UofA and that students hope to perform well enough during their 1L year so they can transfer to a better school.

I was not prepared for the hostility that some people have towards PSL graduates. Earlier this summer, an article was released that stated that 1/3 of 2010 law school graduates have jobs that do not require passing a bar exam. The responses from two of my classmates were appalling.

  • “This is why I hate…… PSL kids….. yes I’m going public with this comment and I don’t G.A.F.  If you want to be a lawyer, go to a real school and stop saturating the saturated market.  Was that too harsh? Whatever, I know everyone is thinking it.”
  • “I agree.  And the ABA could have a huge role to play by making law school accreditation more difficult. The problem is that there is a consent decree with the FTC which means that the ABA can’t refuse accreditation to more law schools or cut off accreditation to make fewer lawyers because it would be “anti-competitive.”  The problem now, of course, is that there’s too much competition and too many bottom-feeding, hungry lawyers.”

These comments were made by two people who had not yet taken the bar when they made these statements. My response: Who are they to judge? We all took the LSAT, got into a law school, passed our classes, and graduated. Everyone who passes a bar exam has the right to be a lawyer if they chose to be (and can find work), regardless of the road they took to get there.

These comments show the immaturity, insecurity, and enormity of their egos. During my 1L orientation, the then-dean of the law school encouraged us not to tell lawyer jokes because it perpetuated the image of the legal profession as being full of soulless, greedy, and unscrupulous ladder climbers. Unfortunately, this reputation is still earned by many lawyers now coming out of the gate.

My friend, Eric Mayer, is a brilliant criminal defense lawyer who says, “Good lawyers are not made by their law schools.” Law school is just the beginning of a legal career. A lawyer’s reputation should not be based on where they went to law school, but rather on their intelligence, competence, and ethics. I surprised an ASU law professor this week when I told her that I did not care about the future reputation of my law school because the body of my work will be more determinative of whether I’m a good lawyer.

If the legal profession wants to change its reputation, it should try to screen out these arrogant people when they apply to law school and continuously foster the idea that there’s a place for all types of people to be lawyers. More realistically, I suppose, schools should integrate elitist conversations into their classrooms and truly take the time to debate students who repeatedly demonstrate this type of arrogance. I hope comments like those enumerated by my classmates are not the norm for my class, my school, or the legal profession, but I have my doubts.

Having a different educational background does not make a person a bad lawyer. It just makes them different, and it’s this diversification that permits the profession to grow and remain relevant. Just as self-published writers may be looked down upon as being less credible, it is those who take a different path that are now spearheading certain areas of the industry. If you have a hang up about a person’s legal education, hire someone else.

Letter to the ASU Law Dean Search Committee

After much anticipation, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University announced the members of the committee in charge of selecting a new dean of the law school last week.  These 12 people have the somewhat daunting task of finding someone who is a good fit for the school and its future.

Music Auditorium ASU Tempe AZ 220398

Image via Wikipedia

I was incredibly pissed off at ASU when I graduated because I felt that Berman disrespected the law student body, and I disagreed with many decisions the school made under his administration.  I made the decision that ASU had had enough of my money and that I would not be a donor as an alumnus unless changes occurred in the school.

I’m actually quite invested in who the committee selects.  I sent the following letter to the members of the committee this week.

 

Dear Dean Selection Committee:

Congratulations on being appointed to the selection committee for the new dean of the law school at ASU. When I started law school at ASU, I was excited about being a Sun Devil and the opportunities that ASU had to offer. However, by the time I graduated, I felt like a commodity that the school could use at it pleased and not the consumer that the school was supposed to serve. I felt like I was expected to pay my money and say “thank you,” without any recourse when I was unhappy with the school.

I decided that the law school had received enough of my money. I made the commitment not to financially support the school unless there were significant changes. I couldn’t even donate my graduation regalia back to the school because it would count towards the class gift. I know that I’m not the only member of my class who has made the commitment not to donate money to the school until things change.

I would like to be a supporter of the law school again. There are some traits and policies that I would have to see from the new dean in order to feel comfortable financially supporting the school.

  1. Spokesperson: The dean will be the face and the voice of the law school. It is imperative that the new dean be eloquent, thoughtful, and have the ability to adjust their message to occasion. The new dean should also understand that less is more at most speaking engagements.
  2. Transparency: It is well known that ASU, like other law schools, manipulates its statistics to give the impression that more students are employed after graduation by counting people who are not employed in the legal profession or only have temporary employment. Regardless of whether the U.S. News changes its reporting requirements, the school should have accurate data available on its website to give prospective students an accurate depiction of post-graduate employment opportunities.
  3. Tuition Expectations: The average student debt was $51,000 when I started law school. By the time I graduated, the average debt was $89,000. This is unacceptable. The tuition per semester increased by 33% between my first semester and my last semester of law school. Students need to have some stability related to what they are expected to pay in tuition by being able to lock in their tuition or having a guarantee that their tuition will only increase by a set amount.
  4. Practical Professional Training: Although the law school has taken steps to expose students to job possibilities that go beyond big law firms and judicial clerkships, the school needs to do more to expand students’ views on the versatility of their law degrees. Moreover, the law school should require more practical skills training that will be immediately useful when they begin practicing law.
  5. Respect for Students: The new dean must have the utmost respect for students who are putting their trust and money in the school to prepare them for their professional futures. During the final year of the Berman administration, he announced that tuition would be increasing by at least $1,500 per student, and he had the audacity to publicly state that the increase was not significant. That was a huge increase! The new dean must open to the student experience, solicit and utilize feedback from them when decisions will be made that will affect their classroom experience or their tuition. Out of respect for students, the new dean should insist that the law school’s budget should be available online so students can see what monies are coming and how they are being spent.

I hope you have a wonderful selection of candidates to choose from in your search for the new dean. Please select the person who is right for the job and not someone who is merely good enough. Do not feel pressured to select someone by January if you have not found the right candidate by then.

Sincerely,
Ruth Carter
Class of 2011

 

I hope the committee understands that I did not intend my letter to be mean or a criticism of any members of the committee who are part of the law school’s administration. I only wanted to share my wish list for the new dean so that I can like my school again.

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ASU Law Must Think We’re Morons

When I was a 1L, the school told us that the copy center at the law school had class outlines for sale.  There were dozens of outlines created by previous students available.  For some classes they are a necessity, and for others, it’s just nice to have another person’s outline to compare to your own and to have another person’s take on the material.

Photo by Ryan Cassella, used with permission from WNPR

Mysteriously, these outlines have disappeared from the copy center this semester, except for two “professor-approved” outlines.  Apparently, Dean Berman didn’t like that an outline for his Civil Procedure class was available.  It was over 100 pages long, and according to an email he sent to his students, it was almost verbatim what he said during his lectures.  The rumor is he didn’t want this outline to be available because he thought students should create their own outlines.  There was also another rumor that a different professor didn’t want students to have an outline for her class that clearly explained concepts because she liked it when students suffered.

I think this is probably Berman’s mental logic: “I benefited from making my own outlines from scratch without outside help, so no one else should be able to have external help from others’ notes.”  It doesn’t matter what Berman likes or doesn’t like.  It’s about the students being able to learn the material.  If having another information source is helpful, especially if they’re willing to pay the school extra to have it, then so be it!  Just because the school doesn’t like it or encourage it in general, it doesn’t make it wrong.

Here’s the moronic part – outlines are widely available and easily passed from student to student.  Student clubs have their own outline banks that they freely share with their members.  Any student whose judgment is so bad as to assume a 50-page outline will substitute for an 800-page textbook and a semester’s worth of lectures, shouldn’t be in law school in the first place.  Such assumptions only reflect the lack of confidence Dean Berman has in his students’ intellect and judgment.  The only thing the school did was cut off a revenue stream.  Given how much the school has had to raise tuition and class size, this seems like a really stupid thing to do.

And to top all of this off, the school didn’t think to inform the student body about this change.  The outlines simply disappeared at the end of last semester.  This lack of transparency makes me question what else the school might be hiding from students, its consumers and future donors.

Let me be clear, this is not a post demanding that the outlines be reinstated because I believe it’s an entitlement afforded to all law students.  I simply mean to enumerate one more example of a poorly chosen policy and the law school’s consistent inability to effectively instate such overhauls.  Not to mention the school’s now predictable attitude toward communicating with its students, that of don’t ask don’t tell.

And since I’m on my soapbox, I don’t think Berman should be teaching class.  He has enough to do with raising money for the school.  According to this year’s students, he frequently cancelled class due to his other job duties and made them up with marathon classes.  I hear he’s actually a good teacher, but I don’t think he should be an instructor and an administrator.  If I was one of his students, I would have been pissed.

Special thanks to my anonymous co-writer this week.

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