Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Mormon Work Ethic

From the Economist (UK).

NOBODY knows quite how the contagion that broke out in Wall Street will affect the rest of America, nor how deep or how long the likely recession will be. What is certain is that some places will suffer more than others. So far Utah, a state best-known for Mormonism and pretty rocks, is looking unusually healthy. “We’ve got a lot to be proud of,” says Jon Huntsman, the governor. “Certainly more than many of our neighbours.”
Indeed, Utah has more to be proud of than any other state in the West. In September its unemployment rate was just 3.5%—less than half of California’s and the second-lowest rate in the region after oil- and gas-rich Wyoming. Last month the Milken Institute declared Provo, a sprawling settlement south of Salt Lake City, America’s best-performing city for technology output and job and wage growth. Salt Lake City itself came third.

Hardly a month goes by without Utah announcing a corporate relocation or a new factory. The state has experienced a minor semiconductor boom in part because of its cheap, coal-fired power. Ogden, until recently a decaying railway town north of Salt Lake City, has quietly become the world centre of winter sports equipment. Mike Dowse, who oversees brands such as Atomic and Salomon for Amer Sports, gives three reasons: “the mountains, the mayor and the money”.
The mountains are the Rockies, which lure young workers who like to go skiing. The mayor is Matthew Godfrey, a business-minded man who has aggressively recruited several companies to Ogden (Mr Huntsman, a former chemicals executive, likes to work the phones, too). The money, which comes partly from the city and partly from the state, is a mixture of relocation grants and tax breaks tied to the creation of well-paying jobs.

Utah’s housing market is relatively healthy, largely because it did not heat up too much in the middle of this decade. In August its foreclosure rate was lower than the national average. Nevada, Utah’s neighbour to the west, had America’s highest rate of foreclosure filings, according to Realtytrac. California had the second-highest rate and Arizona the third. Colorado’s front range, which includes Denver, is also littered with abandoned houses. Such areas have suffered from sharply falling property prices, reduced consumer spending and job losses among construction workers.

Another, hidden, source of strength is Utah’s strange demography. Mormons tend to start families young: the average Utah woman marries at just 22. That means the “echo boom”—the peak of childbearing by baby boomers—took place not around 1990, as in the rest of America, but ten years earlier. One reason unemployment is rising across the West is that a wave of teenagers is crashing onto the job market. Utah, by contrast, has few teenagers and lots of productive people in their late twenties and early thirties. “The timing is pretty good for a recession,” says Pam Perlich of the University of Utah.
The “cultural thing”, as businessmen from out of state delicately refer to Mormonism, helps in other ways. Utah’s almost universal conservatism makes for stable, consensual politics. It took the state legislature just two days last month to plug a $272m hole in the budget. By contrast, California’s budget was 85 days late. Nevada’s politicians are preparing for a nasty fiscal fight next year.

Mormons do not come to work nursing hangovers, and they are inclined to stay put in the promised land rather than pursue better-paying jobs elsewhere. Matthew Donthnier, who is hiring for a new Procter & Gamble plant, has only one complaint about the local workforce: it can be a little difficult to persuade people to toil on Sundays.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Do Law Schools Only Care About the Numbers?

The Drift Toward Pure Numbers Admissions

Law schools are part of a production function for entry level lawyers. Therefore, if law schools alter their admissions practices, the character and complexion of the hiring pool can shift in significant ways.
On the input side, the data are crystal clear: over the last fifteen years, the rankings arms race has pushed U.S. law schools toward a pure numbers approach to admissions. The more interesting question, however, is whether prestige-conscious law firms are now, inadvertently, experiencing any fallout. First the data.

Law schools operate in an environment of supply and demand and are famously counter-cyclical. When Silicon Valley was booming in the late 90s, law school applicants plummeted. When the economy faltered in the early 90s or after 9/11, applicants spiked. Therefore, to examine how admissions practices have changed over time, it is important to pay attention to the underlying applicant pool. Below are trend lines for median LSAT scores by USNWR rank for 1994 and 2007, which reflect classes that entered in the fall of 1993 and 2006 respectively. During those two admissions cycles, the number of applicants was virtually identical: 89,600 (1994) and 88,700 (2007).

Obviously the blue line (2007) is higher than the orange line (1994). In fact, despite slightly fewer law school applicants, the average median LSAT increased by 2.18 points (std. dev. of 1.99). For the record, only three schools fell out of Tier 1 between 1994 and 2007. And it cannot be explained by the ABA policy shift that instructs law schools to no longer average LSATs for reporting 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile figures, thus slightly pumping up the volume of high LSAT scores. That change was not enacted until the summer of 2006.
Here is the same analysis for UGPA (1994 data came from the Princeton Review, 2007 from the ABA):
Although we might chock some of the higher UPGAs (avg. of +.17, std. dev. of +.12) on grade inflation between 1994 and 2007, it is likely that schools were also trying to maximize this number. When admissions officers are under constant pressure to beat last year's numbers, something has to give. I suspect it is students who took challenging majors but have LSAT scores slightly under the target. Or applicants with impressive work experience, evidence of leadership, or a history of overcoming major obstacles. Although LSAT and UGPA scores are strongly correlated within the applicant pool, they tend to be very weakly correlated (or sometimes negatively correlated) at individual law schools. Why? Because applicants who are above both medians tend to have admissions offers at higher ranked schools. After a school locks down its target LSAT and UGPA medians, the modest overlap between the two groups means there are precious few spots left. And often those spots are used to improve a school's diversity profile.
Over the years I have talked with many admissions officers. They corroborate the sea change. Further, many of the old hands argue that the current fixation on maximizing numbers is misguided--that, based on their experience, great candidates are being passed over for nondescript or unadventurous students with high numbers. In other words, a large portion of candidates with compelling resumes and personal statements are being systematically pushed down to lower ranked law schools.

At a law firm level, there is a certain irony at work. Many partners could not get admitted to their alma mater; yet, between 2005 and 2007, as NLJ 250 hiring increased rapidly, 53% of the new jobs went to students at USN Top 20 schools. Rigid adherence to the elite law school model drove the starting salary cost structure from $125,000 to $145,000 to $160,000--a legacy that is hard to swallow in a down market. But were these intangibles--now less prevalent at most law elite law schools--part of the firms' secret sauce? To my mind, this is an interesting question. Further, a recent Moneyball study by Kerma Partners suggests that the answer may be yes. Posted by Bill Henderson of Empirical Legal Studies.

Friday, October 17, 2008

GPA and School Rank Aren't the Best Predictors of Legal Success

Law school rank and grade point average aren’t the best predictors of success at large law firms, according to a study of more than 1,300 associates from one firm.
Law school rank and GPA were only moderately predictive of success, the study found. In general, one of the study’s authors, Ron Paquette, tells the ABA Journal, “The Harvard attorneys do not perform any better than those at the 30th-ranked law school.”
The study was conducted at a top 25 law firm trying to combat high associate attrition rates, according to a summary by the authors, consultants from Kerma Partners and Redwood, a unit of LexisNexis. The aim was to identify lawyer recruits who have the required educational credentials as well as the “stuff” to thrive at the law firm.
The study defined success as longer tenure at the firm, higher productivity, and being a good cultural fit, based on an evaluation by a human resources staffer.
The study identified 12 factors—Paquette wouldn't reveal them all—that are better predictors of success. Paquette, however, did identify one of them—participation in group hobbies and collegiate-level athletics. Another predictor of success, he said, was doing well in specific law school classes. He did not disclose the subjects.
The study also identified attributes that were detrimental to success, and some were “counterintuitive,” the study summary says. Paquette disclosed one of them—foreign language proficiency. He says the study recommended that the law firm should not give “extra credit” to those job-seekers who can speak another language.
Paquette and the other study author, James Bergin of Kerma Partners, couldn't go into details because of the proprietary nature of the study.
The study compared lawyers at the firm who had four or more of the success attributes with those who had three or less. Lawyers in the group with more success attributes were 15 percent more productive and stayed more than twice as long at the firm.
Paquette, who recently left his position at Redwood to join Dominion Digital, says he’s not surprised by the findings. Based on his experience in corporate America, he believes attributes such as an ability to adapt and get along with people contribute to success more than technical expertise.
“When you look at people skills, it really comes down to working well on a team,” he says. “In reality, the best performing teams are the ones that learn to get along and leverage each other's skills.”
Bergin told the ABA Journal that the success factors, when considered as a whole, indicate leadership qualities. "After we came up with this list of the attributes of interest, we tried to make sense of them as a whole," he says. "Generally we used the term 'leader' to summarize what all of these attributes put together."
Paquette cautions that the study examined the attributes of lawyers who were already “the cream of the crop.”
“There’s no one in here who got bad grades,” he says. The study simply showed that those with top grades aren't much more likely to succeed than those with simply good grades. “If someone got a 2.0, I still would not hire them,” he adds, because the low grades could indicate low motivation. By Debra Cassens Weiss of ABAJournal.

I guess then according to this article I'm going to be some kind of a Superstar attorney!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Court Finds That Mormonism Isn't Protestantism.

In Rownak v. Rownak, 2008 WL 4491823 (Ark. App. Oct. 8), a divorcing couple agreed "that the minor children be raised in the Protestant faith," which apparently meant to them that they weren't supposed to "promot[e] another religious belief system/faith to the minor children unless both parties should consent." The court accepted this agreement, and made it part of its divorce decree.
A couple of years later, the husband started promoting Mormonism to the children. The wife asked the court to find the husband in contempt, which the court did. A week ago, the Arkansas Court of Appeals refused to disturb the contempt finding.
The specific reasoning is clouded by the father's failure to appeal the order; he instead filed a motion for clarification or modification of the order, and appealed the denial of that motion. But my sense is that the heart of the court's reasoning is that if parties made a deal, they can be held to the terms of that deal, even if the deal involves a promise not to speak or not to engage in religious conduct. "[T]he injunction about which appellant complains has for its basis a valid contract between the parties and does not violate appellant's constitutional rights. The circuit court's order merely effectuated the parties' agreement ...." (Note that the contempt citation was for violating the decree, which embodied the parties' agreement; as I read it, the courts didn't find that the religious teaching was against the children's best interests, and thus didn't rest their reasoning on the children's best interests.)
This, it seems to me, raises three separate questions:
(1) Should such contracts not to speak (whether religiously or otherwise) be enforceable in some way, whether by damages or otherwise? The court said yes in Cohen v. Cowles Media (1991), and I think that's right.
(2) Should such contracts be enforceable by court order, via contempt penalties and not just damages awards? I'm inclined to say yes as well.
(3) When should such contracts nonetheless be unenforceable on the grounds that they require courts to make theological decisions, such as whether Mormonism is included within Christianity, whether Jews for Jesus is included within Judaism, whether Reconstructionist Judaism is included within Judaism, or whether Mormonism is included within Protestantism?
I think there are substantial limits on the enforceability of such contracts. The church property cases held that courts generally can't make theological decisions, such as which claimant's views are closer to orthodox (with a small "o") Presbyterianism; and I think the logic extends also to the interpretation of contracts, wills, and trusts that call for such decisions. Nor can courts avoid this constitutional barrier by trying to figure out what the majority of members of a religion thinks (hard to do reliably, plus it assumes the conclusion of who constitutes "members of a religion," and it privileges majority denominations within a religious group over minority denominations). And courts usually can't avoid the constitutional barrier, I think, by asking what the parties intended the term to mean — the best test of a word's intent is usually the word itself, and that is the very thing that calls for theological decisionmaking.
The question then is whether such contracts are categorically unenforceable, or whether there's some exception, for instance when there's seemingly overwhelming agreement about the question. For instance, the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints site expressly says that "we are not Protestants"; let's say this is largely uncontroversial among those Mormons who have an opinion on the subject. Can the court therefore conclude that it can say Mormonism is "another religious belief" than "the Protestant faith," even though it is forbidden from resolving more controversial questions? Or does the objection of even one person who expresses a different religious view — perhaps a party in this very case — create enough controversy that a secular court should refuse to enforce the parties' agreement? by Eugene Volokh.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Number of Attorneys in the United States by State

American Bar Association, National Lawyer Population by State
Compiled by: ABA Market Research Department


STATE 2006 2007

Alabama AL 12,625 12,936 102
Alaska AK 2,318 2,303 99
American Samoa1 AS 5 7 N/A
Arizona AZ 12,172 12,501 103
Arkansas AR 5,500 5,600 102
California CA 141,030 145,355 103
Colorado CO 18,449 18,376 100
Connecticut CT 18,578 18,823 101
Delaware DE 2,391 2,478 104
DC (Washington) 43,445 45,231 104
Florida2 FL 58,237 59,912 103
Georgia GA 25,632 26,459 103
Hawaii HI 4,016 4,138 103
Idaho ID 3,166 3,220 102
Illinois IL 61,130 60,805 99
Indiana IN 13,069 12,546 96
Iowa IA 6,896 6,957 101
Kansas KS 7,666 7,777 101
Kentucky KY 11,336 11,607 102
Louisiana LA 16,955 16,930 100
Maine ME 3,512 3,570 102
Maryland MD 20,510 20,999 102
Massachusetts 3 MA 49,837 39,616 79
Michigan MI 31,432 31,918 102
Minnesota MN 20,177 21,426 106
Mississippi MS 6,641 7,312 110
Missouri MO 21,688 22,238 103
Montana MT 2,706 2,728 101
Nebraska NE 5,037 5,069 101
Nevada NV 5,580 5,909 106
New Hampshire NH 3,245 3,307 102
New Jersey NJ 38,466 39,019 101
New Mexico NM 5,091 5,167 101
New York NY 144,599 147,096 102
North Carolina NC 17,717 18,339 104
North Dakota ND 1,368 1,328 97
North Mariana Islands MP 156 128 82
Ohio OH 34,421 36,892 107
Oklahoma OK 12,002 12,146 101
Oregon OR 10,887 11,140 102
Pennsylvania PA 45,415 45,968 101
Puerto Rico PR 11,767 12,142 103
Rhode Island RI 3,951 4,351 110
South Carolina SC 8,823 8,411 95
South Dakota SD 1,715 1,743 102
Tennessee TN 14,470 14,867 103
Texas TX 69,762 70,842 102
Utah UT 6,041 6,984 116
Vermont VT 2,229 2,280 102
Virgin Islands 4 VI 480 600 125
Virginia VA 21,391 21,722 102
Washington WA 22,678 23,151 102
West Virginia WV 4,497 4,572 102
Wisconsin WI 14,354 14,561 101
Wyoming WY 1,473 1,511 103
TOTAL 1,128,729 1,143,358 102
*Individual state bar associations or licensing agencies were asked to provide the number of resident, active attorneys as of December 31, 2006.
1 The territories of American Samoa and Guam are new to the survey in 2007.
2 According to the Florida Bar, Florida's number of resident and active lawyers was reported incorrectly in 2006 as 46,475.
The correct number was 58,237.
3 Prior to 2007, Massachusetts provided only the number of active lawyers in the state. In 2007 the number is reflective of all resident
and active lawyers, so the decrease is due to greater accuracy in counting.
4 The Virgin Islands provides their best estimate.

Fifteenth Annual Law and Religion Symposium being held at Brigham Young University.

The International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University will hold its fifteenth annual law and religion symposium, “International Protection of Religious Freedom: National Implementation,” at Brigham Young University on October 5-8, 2008.

This symposium will gather judges, government officials, and scholars from over 40 countries to address issues arising from attempts to implement international protections of religious freedom at a national level. Leading thinkers will address evolving international approaches and will present regional perspectives on emerging challenges to implementing religious freedom.

Because national implementation is where the most critical issues arise in providing practical guarantees for freedom of religion or belief, this topic is both timely and essential. National policy makers, judges, practitioners, and scholars will provide diverse perspectives on the successes and challenges faced by nations throughout the world in implementing this important right.

To register for this year’s symposium, please click here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Credit Crisis and Law Students

The WSJ reported that on Monday, in a move that left colleges scrambling, Wachovia said it was limiting the access of nearly 1,000 colleges to $9.3 billion the bank has held for them in a short-term investment fund.

So what’s next for loan-seeking law students? The NLJ reports that, while the credit crisis won’t eliminate the type of government-backed loans that many laws students rely on to finance their educations — presumably, those subsidized and unsubsidized government loans that, in our day, amounted to about $18,500 per year — the price of private loans is likely to go up.

Because banks are doling out less money to lenders, private loans are getting harder to come by, New York Law School Dean Richard Matasar, who is also chairman of the board of directors of Access Group, a non-profit graduate loan specialist, told the NLJ. “It’s a time for caution,” said Matasar, who also cited an uncertain 2009 job market. “It’s a time for students to plan well for how much debt they are taking on and how they will pay for it,” he said.

While the financial future may look a bit bleaker for some soon-to-be law school graduates, Matasar told the NLJ that increased enrollment in law schools overall could be a positive side effect of the slowing economy. Many people look to higher education as a way to wait out tough economic times and bad employment markets, he said.

Who wants to enter law school if they can't get enough money to live off of?