After law schools threw a public tantrum over the U.S. News and World Report ranking, with several withholding key data required to create a credible list, the rankings are now out and… they have serious credibility problems. Missing data, important factors glossed over, and shady employment accounting from the schools result in a broken list. Congratulations boycotting schools! You’ve managed to make it all worse. Meanwhile, in Ohio a pregnant lawyer sought a continuance after being put on emergency bed rest and got denied by the state supreme court because screw your human frailties. Finally, Dechert joins the layoff trend with a 5 percent global cut. As always, we wonder if this has broader significance or not.
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Joe Patrice: Hello. Welcome to another edition of Thinking Like a Lawyer. I’m Joe Patrice from Above the Law. I am joined by my colleague Chris Williams. How are you?
Chris Williams: Pretty good. Pretty good.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. So, we are not joined by, I guess, this is technically small talk. We’re not joined by Kathryn Rubino, who as she mentioned on last week’s show was 39 and a half weeks pregnant. And if you can do math, it has worked out that she has had her baby and will not be with us for whatever maternity leave is in this state. So, congratulations, and we will soldier on without her talking about the law and interesting things that have happened in the past week. So, yeah. How’s the other side of the world?
Chris Williams: It’s worlding. It’s worlding. Looking forward to — I have another trip coming up. It won’t be affecting the work schedule, but – Oh! India.
Joe Patrice: Oh! There you go.
Chris Williams: I’m going to India for a bit.
Joe Patrice: Nice.
Chris Williams: Like a week. Kolkata. So I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to street vendors cooking with their hands. I see videos of it. It looks so foreign. I’m like, “Oh! My God, they’re not wearing gloves.” I’m like, “if they wash their hands functionally, the same thing.” So I guess it’s just like the culture shock of expectations.
Joe Patrice: I was informed by a prominent lawyer of Indian descent that I should not try to eat any of the street food. He told me that once, and he did not blame the sanitation on that front. He said that just the western stomachs are not really prepared for the water differences, and you can get kind of messed up on the water that gets used. So that was just his advice. You can brave it. I felt like he was pretty knowledgeable on the subject, so I took it to heart, but there you go.
Chris Williams: I mean, I have been in South Asia for, like, the last three months so maybe I have some –
Joe Patrice: That’s true. That’s true. Yeah, you built up a tolerance.
Chris Williams: Yeah and I had remembered actually a couple of months ago, I remember I told you I had, like, about a food poisoning.
Joe Patrice: You did.
Chris Williams: That was just an inoculation.
Joe Patrice: Yes, you might be ready.
Chris Williams: Actually, once I come back to the states and I have a sandwich from Arby’s, that’s when it’s going to –
Joe Patrice: That’s going to be the problem. All right, well, so that seems appropriately small talk. So let’s talk about the big news of the last week, and the biggest news of last week is that U.S. News & World Report. The news magazine that hasn’t really been a news magazine in several years because it’s really just a rankings company. I think ostensibly they do pretend to do news, but U.S. News released, after many delays, its law school rankings.
Chris Williams: Do you think it’s safe to say that U.S. News is basically like MTV for the prestigious, like, MTV hasn’t been doing music or television for years now but the names kind of stuck.
Joe Patrice: MTV, well, yeah. But did you see MTV News closed? That was last week.
Chris Williams: Really?
Joe Patrice: Yeah, they shut down? Yeah, no, for elder millennials, it was really rough. It was a whole slice of their life disappearing.
Chris Williams: I don’t know how you’ve been surviving it. Are you in that camp?
Joe Patrice: No, I’m an Exer (ph).
Chris Williams: Okay, good, yeah.
Joe Patrice: But I mean, as a young Exer, I kind of overlap a lot with the elder millennial mindset, but anyway.
Chris Williams: Well, I hope you’re doing okay, Joe.
Joe Patrice: I’ve survived. I haven’t watched MTV News in a long time. I mean, I feel like it was really a thing for a bit like the Kurt Loder, Tabitha Soren years. It was really a thing. I feel like to the extent it exists. It has existed over the last few years. It’s been kind of on the decline already, but it’s sad because a lot of people got their start there.
Chris Williams: I thought the last time MTV News was relevant, was when Video Killed the Radio Star was still on pop hits.
Joe Patrice: I mean, that was the first video on MTV. And no, MTV News was incredibly relevant, especially through the mid-90s, I would say. But, yeah, like, a lot of the coverage of the 92 election was huge. That was probably their high water point.
Anyway. the U.S. New which is not that and is not shut down because it still makes a bunch of money off of these rankings, has released its rankings after a lot of delays. There obviously has been a lot of controversy around it to the extent that multiple law schools, I believe, the final tally was somewhere around 63 law schools refused to participate.
Did not turn in their data to allow the rankings company to do an effective ranking, and then they were really upset with what the results looked like. So, you get what you active. Look, it’s the consequences of my own actions, as it were.
And ultimately, we had some people not participate who we thought were. Cornell said that they were going to continue to participate, but when the numbers came out, it appears as though they changed their mind and just didn’t tell anybody. So, that was weird. But what we ended up happening is we got a new top 14. They previewed the top 14, then they had to go in and change it because the same people who refused to hand over their data, complained about the data, and it got rearranged. Not in a huge way. There are basically eight schools — there’s eight places divided across the top 14 with a series of ties. It moved from having two three-way ties and a couple of two-way ties to having three two-way ties and one three-way tie, whatever. At the end of the day, the same thing basically comes across, which is that Stanford joins Yale at the top. Chicago and Penn come after that. Harvard, NYU and Duke are all tied at five. And yeah, it goes on down for there.
Of real note is this is now the second year since the existence of the rankings that Georgetown did not make the top 14. A few years ago, there was a whole hub when they fell out. This year they did again, UCLA makes it into the top 14 to the extent that 14 is a relevant marker of quality, which it really probably is not.
Chris Williams: My big takeaway from reading this is that now the top 14 has consolidated it to the top eight. Maybe WashU will finally be top 14.
Joe Patrice: That’s not how ties work, but I love your enthusiasm. Yeah, no. WashU, I did see — Where did it end up? I can’t remember. This is where you should know. This was like what you really should have been focusing on.
Chris Williams: Showed us the operative word here.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, so it showed up at 20th. 20th in a tie with Georgia.
Chris Williams: So I’m going to need the addresses of whoever made this ranking because I just want to have a nice, polite conversation.
Joe Patrice: Well, let’s see how far are you place wise from there? Georgetown is at 15. There’s a three way or four-way tie at 16, and then WashU and Georgia.
Chris Williams: Yeah. So that’s like, what? Eleven?
Joe Patrice: Yeah, if you counted ties that way, which you should not. I’m reminding people it’s not how ties get counted.
Chris Williams: Listen, we’re a bunch of lawyers, “it’s not about how things ought to work, it’s about how things work.”
Joe Patrice: Yeah, and how they work is the way that I’m describing.
Chris Williams: I don’t know. Have you been following the Thomas situation? It’s working.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, that has nothing to do with ties. Anyway, so the new rankings are out. Obviously, some people are still concerned about what happens and how the folks over at U.S. News tried to resolve the boycott issue. They concocted new plans. They gave a lot of concessions to the boycotters. Some of those concessions had some perverse impacts we learned. Among them, we learned that the new push, like, one of the knocks on the U.S. News rankings and in favor of the Above the Law rankings, which I will plug. Was that Above the Law always focused on outcomes more. The ability of the school to take somebody in and then get them to bar passage, get them to a job. Those sorts of things. The U.S. News situation has always been based on inputs.
What were the median grade point average of the undergrad grade point average of the applicants? What were their LSAT scores, et cetera? I did learn via social media someone pointed out that Belmont jumped a series of places largely based on a massively good bar passage score, but it was a massively good bar passage score that did not take into account that they had massive attrition among their 1L classes. So a lot of people showed up, which was being counted by U.S. News, and then those folks disappeared, and the school got a giant high percentage bar passage. And the formula appears to be counting it, as though all the kids who showed up in the first instance passed the bar, which is not what happened since there was a lot of attrition there. So that creates kind of perverse incentives to bring in large classes and then drive people out. It’s not good. And these are the sorts of problems that develop whenever you try to massively change a ranking system on a dime.
Anyway, the other issue, of course, is the employment figures. The big complaint to the boycotters is that they wanted more credit for school funded jobs. This, of course, is ridiculous because school funded jobs, while a nice way of saying, “Hey, we have all of these trustees, money, and we can pay for people to do pro bono work. Isn’t that great? Yeah, it’s sort of is, except the reason why the school is funding it. They’re not funding it forever and at the end of the day, these school funded positions. Maybe Yale isn’t using it to pad its numbers, but the existence of these and the calculation of these within the rankings has always been a way in which law schools with bad employment records will throw a few bucks at somebody, such that when the deadline comes around to prove that somebody who graduated got a real legal job. It counts that they’re working as a TA or something like that. And then they get cut loose on the back end. The school looks artificially better at their job, placing people in work, and the student or the graduate at this point is actually no better off. The complaint of the elite schools that more of these jobs should count will absolutely cause this negative impact down through the rankings. So it makes those less reliable for anybody not relying and not looking to the rankings for the purpose of whether or not they want to go to Yale versus Harvard.
So all around bang up job ruining one of the few things that is useful and I can’t even believe I’m defending the U.S. News rankings. I mean, these things are terrible and have always been, but at least there was a plan. At least there was some. You don’t take them as gospel or anything, but there were markers of quality within the rankings that you could rely upon. You could assume a few good things based on what was in there, and now you just got nothing.
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Joe Patrice: All right, so what’s going on? You had a story about Ohio?
Chris Williams: Yes. So before this story, there was a story where there was pros. Is it Proskauer? Proskauer. How do you say it?
Joe Patrice: Proskauer.
Chris Williams: Proskauer.
Joe Patrice: Yes.
Chris Williams: Okay. I’ve never heard somebody say it in conversation.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, Proskauer.
Chris Williams: It’s always been in text or, like, say, “this firm, blah, blah, blah but listen. The United States — Me and my friends don’t talk about Proskauer. We talk more about, I like your craft. Craft Praveen (ph) is a big name, anyway.
Joe Patrice: Oh! For God’s sake. All right, go. I’m probably saying that wrong too.
Chris Williams: Yes.
Joe Patrice: Anyway, Legal Law Firm, there was a counsel who was dealing with a case and a life happened. Partner was dealing with a pregnancy, and he said to his opposing counsel, “hey, basically need a bit of time just to get life in order.” Counsel then decided this is a good, prime opportunity to negotiate about the terms of what was happening in the case. There was a judge. He was like, “this is horrible.” Where she came in decency, blah, blah, blah. Got it. Great. Props to the judge. Ohio not the same deal. So there was a woman who was basically the head of a case, and she then found out that because of some medical situation she was going to be out of –
She needed to be in the hospital for a bit of time. So she’s like, “hey, can I get an extra bit to recover or what have you? When I come back, it’ll still be within the statutorily accepted period with which justice can be served, so it will still be timely.” Supreme Court Justice of Ohio, five to two is like, nah. Which is horrible one because the person that will be left to operate in her place is not the head attorney there and she wouldn’t be able to really have any input on what was happening. And it was just kind of a shitty situation for somebody to have to deal with.
Chris Williams: Yeah. There were other issues involved here too, because the only person who was available to take over this case if they did go forward with it without the lead lawyer who was supposed to be on bedrest is hard of hearing Even though they understand all the issues involved, running the trial presents some degree of obstacles. So look, with all of these sorts of situations, you always have to wonder if you’ve got a situation where you have speedy trial issues in criminal cases and such like so on. And there is some reason to say that firms should be working around these sorts of especially when they’re somewhat predictable. They should be working around these to make sure that a criminal defendant is not put into trouble. But the weird thing is, as I was reading through your story, it seems as though the only argument anyone was making against this continuance request was some kind of victim’s rights argument, which I don’t even understand why a victim has any rights in this sort of situation. I mean, this is very much about whether or not the poor defendant has to keep going with this looming over their head, right?
Joe Patrice: Yeah. I didn’t really understand it either. It was lip service about the right to a speedy trial, but the counsel was like, “this is still within the statutory acceptable time period.”
Chris Williams: Yeah, which seems like the basic right.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Chris Williams: If they’re going to have rules, we should at least go all the way to the rules. We had this issue. This is a weird overarching issue with civility in the profession. We had a lot of people complaining when Morgan & Morgan made their stance in reaction to Florida’s new — we’re going to screw over slip and fall victims law. And Morgan & Morgan said, “look, we’re done giving out any courtesy extensions. We will do what we are required to by the law, but we’re not going to give you any more than that if you insurance carriers going to spend all your money trying to pass laws like this that make it impossible for us to do our jobs.” People complained about this and how this was violating the spirit of how collegiality works. But at the end of the day, it’s nice if everyone’s nicer to each other, but we also have legal limits for a reason. And so long as you have statutory deadlines, you should at least be able to push people to those, right?
Joe Patrice: You think?
Chris Williams: Yeah, anyway.
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Joe Patrice: All right, so now moving to the final big news of the week.
Male: Layoffs. Don’t talk about layoffs. Are you kidding me, layoffs?
Joe Patrice: So we’ve got more layoff news. Unfortunately, this time Dechert is laying off around 5% of their workforce. Obviously, Dechert is a large firm and so this 5% is not exactly putting them in a position where they’re completely going out of business or anything. But it is problematic to see more layoffs, especially as the economic news has continued to be favorable and we continue to see more hiring. We’ve seen inflation stabilize now for, I think, 10 months. Deal activity seems to be percolating back.
Why is it that these firms are continuing to lay people off? Given that scenario, and given that there’s every reason to believe that the second half of the year is going to see a pick-up in, deal activity is really problematic. We saw this a little bit with the Goodwin layoffs. Their argument at least was that they were over invested in practice areas that weren’t particularly productive going forward. It might not have been a great look for them to lay everybody off and then announce a massive lateral hiring move the next day, which they did. But they did that for a reason. They laid off people in a bunch of practice areas that they thought were cooling and then they brought in a massive team in order to shore up an area that they thought was going to be booming.
So we don’t know exactly what was going on with Dechert, if this is an over investment that they made, or whether or not this is something more systemic within the Dechert system, but it is another unfortunate layoff story at a time when things look like they were going to get a little bit better. And yeah, I keep saying, and this was part of my coverage, dating clear back to the Goodwin issue. Part of the issue, I fear, is that they don’t have the work to justify these salaries and pay these bills now, but they’re going to find themselves in a situation where they’re overburdened with all this stuff by the end of the year. Now, what happens when you end up there, right? Now, you’ve jettisoned all of the talent and expertise. Who’s prepared to handle that sort of work? Now, you scramble in the lateral market to try and get those folks back. You’ve burned a lot of bridges with the specific ones, so you’re probably not going to get them. You’re probably going to get new people, which requires new training. Just seems very short sighted. I understand clients don’t want to pay more Un-Billable Hours, but the argument could easily be “you didn’t give us any work for the first half of the year and we kept these people on.” And the reason why we have the expertise to help you now in the second half of the year is that those people. We had to cover their bills out-of-pocket for the whole first half of the year. So, you’re damn right you’re going to pay us an elevated hourly fee. But who knows if that’s how any of these folks are going to deal with this. So that’s where we sit.
So is there anything else on any of these stories?
Chris Williams: I just think the cycle of this happening is it is really odd. It’s one of those things where the consequences haven’t seen and just makes you wonder why people don’t learn from their mistakes.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, because we’ve done this before. Now granted, the great recession things were bad for a while, but they did ultimately have a situation where they found themselves with an expertise gap that they had to rapidly close. Now granted, maybe the argument was that in that instance, having keeping people around for two or three years was not feasible and so it was better to fill that gap on the back end. But Bar, I think we all have some doubts about whether or not the Federal Reserve is going to get its act together on this. But assuming and we also have a debt ceiling vote that could cause a bunch of economic chaos, but assuming things worked rationally based on indicators, then we’re not talking about keeping people on and underbilling for two or three years. We’re talking about doing it for two or three months. But it is something like you said, where you would think folks had learned from their mistakes.
Oh, well. So thanks everybody for listening. You should subscribe to the show to get new episodes when they come out. You should give reviews, stars, right things that always helps. You should be listening to other shows on the Legal Talk Network. I’m also the guest on the Legal Talk Week Journalist Roundtable. I would put in a pitch for the jabot, but my assumption is that there’s not going to be many new episodes of that for the next few weeks for the same reasons that we don’t have Kathryn, so we’ll push right by that one. You should read Above the Law to get these and other stories before we talk about them. You should follow us on social media. We’re still over at Twitter for now. The publication is @atlblog. We also have at Joseph Patrice and @writesforrent, which is writes the W like you’re writing with a 0pen and paper. I also, am Joe Patrice at BlueSky Now. I don’t know. Have you been playing with any of the alternates?
Chris Williams: Not yet.
Joe Patrice: Not yet, yeah. I created a Mastodon, but I couldn’t really get into it because I really feel like until there’s a TweetDeck equivalent, I can’t really use any of these other things. Not that there is for BlueSky yet, but BlueSky, when you get over there, it is questionably intellectual property issues. The user interface doesn’t just look like Twitter, it is Twitter from three years ago.
So with that I don’t know how that’s going to work, but it does suggest that if it is allowed to move forward that TweetDeck is something that somebody could easily build. So anyway. I think that’s everything. We will talk to you later.
Chris Williams: Peace.