Monthly Archives: April 2017

Everything You Always Want to Know About the LSAT Debate

Abortion. Animal testing. Gun control. Climate change. The death penalty. Immigration. Euthanasia. Gay marriage. The LSAT? On the very long list of hotly debated topics, the LSAT may seem out of place. But the truth is that there’s a fierce battle raging right now over this notorious test — specifically regarding whether it still has value or if it’s time to kick it to the curb. Here’s a closer look at the discussion, along with arguments for and against this notorious test.

About the Debate

The LSAT has long been an integral part of the law school admission process in the US, Canada, and other countries throughout the world. Says the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), “It provides a standard measure of acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use as one of several factors in assessing applicants.”

In fact, by most accounts, LSAT scores are the single most important factor in determining law school admissions. Until now, that is. Harvard recently made news when it announced its intention to replace the LSAT requirement with the GRE. While Harvard wasn’t the first to make this move, it was the most buzz-worthy, and others are expected to follow in its example.

As would be expected, Harvard’s decision wasn’t a hasty one. Rather, it was based on a Harvard Law School study conducted last year which determined that the GRE was just as predictive of academic performance in law school as the LSAT.  And while many people are heralding the elimination of the LSAT as progressive, others argue that the move is likely to lead to more problems than it solves.

Which begs the question: What, exactly, are they supporting and objecting to? Read on for the breakdown.

The Case for the LSAT

While no one would say that the LSAT is perfect, many agree that it’s the best way to assess whether candidates are truly a good fit because it is the only standardized test that measures logic. The Logical Reasoning portion of the LSAT may be the bane of many a law school applicant, but many argue that there’s a reason why this section counts for half of the LSAT score: the skills it tests are essential.

Says LSAC, “Arguments are a fundamental part of the law, and analyzing arguments is a key element of legal analysis. Training in the law builds on a foundation of basic reasoning skills. Law students must draw on the skills of analyzing, evaluating, constructing, and refuting arguments. They need to be able to identify what information is relevant to an issue or argument and what impact further evidence might have. They need to be able to reconcile opposing positions and use arguments to persuade others.”

It is exactly these skills that the Logical Reasoning portion tests, and which are absent from the GRE, which is primarily a test of verbal, math and writing skills. Without it, some say, a critical piece of the predictive puzzle will be missing.

Those in favor of keeping the test also point out that it devotes more time to reading skills and less time to extraneous material, like math. Says Manhattan Prep, “Law school demands strong critical reading skills—being able to comprehend, analyze, and critique what you read, and to do so efficiently. Both tests measure these skills, the LSAT just devotes more real estate to them, to the extent that over a third of the GRE tests strictly math skills. Math is more or less irrelevant to law school, which is why there are jokes about how lawyers can’t do math! Viewed this way, the GRE includes two hours’ worth of reading and writing assessment compared to the LSAT’s three hours’ worth of the same.”

LSAT supporters further insist that the test doesn’t just benefit law school admissions committees, but also students, in the long run. How? Because it represents a much better picture of what law school is like, it helps weed out less-qualified applicants who are less likely to succeed in law school and law careers.

Some even suggest that dropping the LSAT is a desperate, financially-motivated strategy aimed at boosting declining law school enrollments. (An argument which does not apply to Harvard, where students are still clamoring to get in.)

The Case Against the LSAT

But what if the LSAT as really IS broken? For starters, detractors say, while many law schools claim to take a holistic approach to admissions, the reality is that the LSAT counts. A lot. Given data indicating that the test favors the privileged (after all, not all candidates have the liberty or luxury of investing time and money into preparing to the LSAT), anti-LSAT advocates proport that removing the test from the equation frees up law schools to truly look at candidates as “whole” people, not numbers.

Said Harvard Dean Martha Minow, “Harvard Law School is continually working to eliminate barriers as we search for the most talented candidates for law and leadership…All students benefit when we can diversify our community in terms of academic background, country of origin, and financial circumstances. Also, given the promise of the revolutions in biology, computer science, and engineering, law needs students with science, technology, engineering and math backgrounds. For these students, international students, multidisciplinary scholars, and joint-degree students, the GRE is a familiar and accessible test, and using it is a great way to reach candidates not only for law school, but for tackling the issues and opportunities society will be facing.”

In other words, it’s not just about opening the door to more diverse candidates, but also about potentially diversifying the field of law.

Now that you know the issues, where do you stand? Make your voice heard by adding your opinions and experiences in the comments section.

Joanna worked in higher education administratio

What All Students Need to Know about Disabled Rights

Approximately 15 percent of the world’s population — more than one billion people — have some form of disability, according to the World Health Organization(WHO). Unfortunately, many people with disabilities have unmet needs — making disability rights a highly relevant issue for today’s law students as future legal professionals. Not only that, but many law students have disabilities themselves and therefore face challenges of their own when navigating life in the law. Here’s a closer look at the issue of law students and disability rights.

The 411 on Law Students and Disabilities

In a Before the Bar blog addressing the hurdles faced by many disabled law students during their time in school, one student with a physical disability said, “It definitely seems like there are more and more students with disabilities who are going to law school, which is incredibly encouraging, but I’m not sure if they’re being accommodated any better than they used to be. Disability rights, in general, are becoming a bigger issue. It’s filtering into the law school environment, as well. Broadly speaking, law students are pretty good advocates for others—and themselves.”

If you are disabled, understanding your rights can help you successfully advocate for yourself while in law school. Specifically, you should be aware of two laws: Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects students from discrimination for “specific learning disabilities” at schools which receive federal financial assistance; and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which insists that all people with disabilities be granted reasonable accommodations.

In addition to applying to physical disabilities, these laws may also apply to those with certain learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, executive functioning disability, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Clarifies US News & World Report, “The purpose of such accommodations is not to give students with learning disabilities an advantage over their peers but rather to put them on a level playing field.”

While law schools are not allowed to discriminate against students with disabilities, the reality is that some are more accommodating than others. By researching in advance which accommodations are available along with how (and when — the sooner, the better) to request these accommodations, you can determine law schools which will best meet your needs while simultaneously laying the groundwork for success once you are there. Says US News & World Report, “Deciding where to commit may come down to which program has resources better suited to support your particular needs.”

Lastly, keep in mind that the decision to disclose a disability at the time of your application is up to you. (This information may be germane to your application if it helped lead you to choose to attend law school and/or was formative in another key way.) Whatever you choose, remember that your disability cannot be held against you.

If you aren’t sure of our rights, or if you are in need of additional assistance, the American Bar Association Commission on Disability Rights and the National Association of Law Students With Disabilities are useful resources.

Why Disability Rights Matter for All Law Students

While disability rights may be immediately pertinent to law students with disabilities, disability law is an important area of study — regardless of whether or not you are disabled.

For starters, due to the aging population and increase in chronic health conditions, disability rates are anticipated to continue to rise in the years ahead. Additionally, despite laws enacted to protect them, people with disabilities are frequently faced with challenges to their rights.

In an article published in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, “What’s Disability Studies Got to Do With It (Or an Introduction to Disability Legal Studies),” author Arlene Kanter asserts that a gap exists in this field. She writes, “While Disability Studies applies social, cultural, historical, philosophical, and humanities to the place of disability in society, Disability Legal Studies extends these perspectives to the particular role of disability within the legal system and legal studies. Although disability is central to many issues in law, it is generally absent from legal scholarship and classroom discussions.”

The New York Times, meanwhile, goes so far as to declare disability studies “a new normal.” Why? Because “disability is a porous state; anyone can enter or leave at any time. Live long enough and you will almost certainly enter it.”

In other words, at some point in their lives, nearly anyone could become disabled and therefore require the services of a lawyer trained in disability law. As a result, job prospects are many, with positions available everywhere from school districts, community service agencies and law firms to national policy or advocacy organizations, international human rights organizations, and federal, state and local government agencies.

While it’s true that laws exist to protect people with disabilities, it’s equally true that despite these laws, people with disabilities still represent a massive and disenfranchised minority group. Law students who train in this field — as well as those with first-hand experience managing the challenges of living with disabilities themselves — are uniquely positioned to play powerful, potentially life-changing roles in the lives of people very much in need of their expertise.

Can a Law School Handle the Law of Fair Sexual Harassment?

The popular crime drama program Law & Order: SVUmade headlines of its own earlier this year when it hit the rare and impressive 400th episode milestone. Now in its 18th season, the long-running show follows an elite squad of NYPD detectives and their legal colleagues during the investigation and prosecution of sexually base crimes.

While the show may be fictional, the stories it tells are often “ripped from the headlines.” And, unfortunately, it’s found ample fodder. SVU is one of the longest-running television series in history due in no small part to the fact that sex crimes happen in shocking multitude all over the globe every single day. And, as anyone who’s ever watched the show knows, lawyers play a significant role in bringing sex crime perpetrators to justice — often navigating the tricky ins and outs of the law in order to do so.

Here’s a closer look at the issue of sexual assault, along with why it’s an important area of study for law students.

The Reality of Sexual Assault

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, a study conducted by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the support of the National Institute of Justice and the Department of Defense, just under one out of every five women in the US — or 1.3 million American women every year — have been sexually assaulted.

And that’s just in the US. Research from the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council further reveals that violence against women, including sexual violence, is escalating to a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.”

The fall out of these assaults is profound. In addition to the risk of death and injury, WHO’s findings also identify other serious health impacts of sexual assault, including depression, alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy and abortion, and low birthweight babies.

Law Schools and Rape Law

Mere decades ago, rape law wasn’t part of the typical law school curriculum “because it wasn’t considered important or suited to the rational pedagogy of law-school classrooms,” wrote Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk Gersen in a 2014 New Yorker piece, “The Trouble with Teaching Rape Law.”  After the inherent sexism in rape law was exposed, she says, “The topic became a major part of most law schools’ mandatory criminal-law course. Today, nobody doubts its importance to law and society.”

And yet students and faculty members alike are reporting that law schools are now backing off from teaching rape law due to rising discomfort about the conversation. In an era of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” this is a contentious topic with some organizations arguing that the experience of taking a class on sexual assault can be a traumatic experience resulting in poor performance. And as attorney Stephanie Davidson explains, “All we are saying is that the statistics suggest that women in the room (and some men) have had personal experiences with that kind of violence, and since law school is no longer aimed solely at rich white men, we have to recognize who is in the classroom.”

However, others suggest that when fear of the conversation begins to stifle meaningful dialogue, we’re moving backward. In this sense, it is exactly this fear of the conversation which merits that “law students develop the ability to engage productively and analytically in conversations about sexual assault,” insists Gersen.

“A Terrible Reality”

In advocating for the rigorous teaching of rape law in law school classrooms to BuzzFeed, Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld highlights the elephant in the room: “Every topic taught in criminal law is a terrible reality.” Not only that, but it’s also a dynamic reality — meaning new topics are constantly arising which mandate informed legal perspectives and insights.

Take “stealthing,” for example. This new trend, during which men remove their condoms during consensual sex without the knowledge of their partners, may violate civil and criminal laws, but the territory is as yet uncharted. As Tampa Defense Attorney Hunter Chamberlain told WZZM 13, “As of yet, that statute does not exist. To change this from a legal behavior to an illegal behavior, the legislature or the courts are going to have to further define what consent means.”

Positioned to play major role in expanding laws to cover stealthing and other emerging sexual crimes? Legal professionals with a background in sex law.

And speaking of “terrible realities,” there’s yet another reason law students may feel particularly invested in sexual assault. Not only are women between the ages of 18-24 at elevated risk of sexual violence, but among graduate and professional students, 8.8 percent of women and 2.2 percent of men have experienced a rape or sexual assault themselves.  In other words, even on law school campuses, the topic hits very close to home.

4 General Legal Concerns and How to Overcome them

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This may be an apt observation of families, but we’re not sure it applies to law students. Because (while we’re not saying you’re unhappy) the reality is that many law students share overlapping worries. The good news? They’re not insurmountable. Read on for a roundup of four typical law school concerns, along with suggestions for overcoming them.

1. Bad grades

We challenge you to find a student who isn’t worried about grades. And it’s true: Law school grades matter a lot when it comes time to get interviews, clerkships, jobs and other opportunities which can make or break your career trajectory. Why? Because law firms rely heavily on both GPA and class rank, and if you’re not at least in the middle of the pack, you’re wind up with rejections — even if you attend a top tier law school.

If your grades aren’t where they need to be, your first step is to determine why. (Anything else is a bandaid not a cure.) Are your study habits lacking? Are you struggling with the material? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” fixes include establishing a more stringent study schedule, joining a study group, and/or getting a tutor.

You can also put additional effort into distinguishing yourself in other key ways, such as excelling on your LSATs, joining law review, or working in a legal clinic. While these activities won’t negate poor grades, they can be a mitigating factor.

2. Law school debt

The average law school grad heads out into the world with bright eyes, big plans and more than $110,000 of debt, according to U.S. News & World Report.

One of the simplest ways to keep debt low is to choose a school that costs less and/or offers more aid. You can also save big bucks by living at home, sharing housing, borrowing books, using all of the free resources available to you (check out the Internet Archive and the Gutenberg Project for starters), getting rid of your car, and getting a weekend job. While none of these things may be ideal, you’ll be glad you did when you owe less than your peers at graduation.

Making a budget and sticking with it is also a vital part of keeping expenses in check. Meals out and trips to the local pub are standard operating procedure for many law students, but these things quickly add up and can compound your financial troubles.

The good news is that you’re far from alone when it comes to the law school debt quagmire, so when you’re enjoying your next ramen noodle dinner, you can be pretty sure that many of your classmates are in the same boat.

3. Getting a job

The job market for law grads isn’t exactly sunny. In fact, the word “bleak” may be more appropriate.  Still, there are jobs out there — particularly with the right attitude in place. Says Tamesha Keel, Esq., CEO of international coaching and consulting firm LawPortunities, in a Huffington Post blog, “The real question law students should be asking isn’t ‘Will I find a job?’ but ‘How do I get a job?’”

Specifically, Keel recommends acquiring specialized, practical skills; developing advanced competencies beyond legal expertise, such as business development and project management; possessing an understanding of the evolving legal landscape (and where you fit into it); a focused plan and a specific strategy to go along with it; and a strong network of professional contacts. But don’t wait until graduation is looming to start, warns Keel. For optimal job outcomes, all of these things can and should be taking place during law school.

When your job hunt begins, meanwhile, there are still things you can do to increase our chances, such as applying for many job openings, being flexible geographically, and making sure your application materials are polished to perfection.

4. Managing relationships

Starting law school is a major life change. And while you can’t predict exactly how it will impact your relationships, you can expect there to be challenges along the way.

Whether you’re entering into a long-distance relationship or adding “law student” to the list of hats you wear alongside “mom”/”chef”/”chauffer”/”tutor”/and so on, one thing is sure: the more upfront you are about communicating your concerns, expectations and needs, the more prepared you’ll be to address rising issues. If you’re lucky — and why shouldn’t you be? — your loved ones will want you to succeed as much as you do, and will be delighted to support you however they can.

At the end of the day, managing relationships is about managing expectations: If you’re on the same page and make efforts to stay there, your relationships will be much better off for it.

Law school is hard enough on its own without adding to the load. By proactively identifying and addressing these four common worries, you can minimize stress and maximize success toward a productive, fulfilling and happy law school experience.