Law in Contemporary Society
Discussion page for improving law school. If interested, add your name, and add your ideas!

Interested People
Nona Farahnik
Devin McDougall?
Jessica Cohen
Christopher Crisman-Cox
Kalliope Kefallinos

Goal Suggestions
Devin - assembling signatures for a petition to withdraw from US New and World Report rankings
Jessica - possibly haggling about tuition; wants to see a line-item asset/liability sheet for the Law School
Chris - (1) lower tuition significantly if at all possible, (2) move to a pass/fail grading system, (3) provide honest information about career prospects
Wendy - hiring professors based on their ability to teach, not their popularity in the legal community; having a fall break; all legal methods classes should allow you to meet practitioners and get a sense of what real lawyers do (similar to what Bobbitt does with his class); if a professor is teaching a foundation course that he/she has never taught before or taught badly last year, he/she should be paired with a co-prof.

Strategy Planning Suggestions
. Clarify and find consensus on goals and strategies
. Obtain classwide support, as well as other years
. Discuss on the wiki
. Discuss with LCS classmates

You have my signature. The only problem as I see it is you offer no clear goal. In my estimation, whatever plan would have to get something like 2/3 1L class-wide participation (and preceding that, consensus).

Nona Farahnik

I think a feasible early goal could be assembling signatures for a petition requesting that CLS withdraw cooperation from the US News and World Report rankings. I have never personally met a defender of the validity of the US News and World Report rankings. This could get the ball rolling for a broader discussion about defining excellence in legal training.

-- DevinMcDougall - 10 Mar 2010

I'm in...but maybe we should talk about what we want? Maybe a bit of haggling about tuition is in order. I agree with Nona, but I also think that some sort of line-item asset/liability sheet for Columbia Law should be made public to us. I have similar feelings about tuition as I do about (not) bargaining with the clerk in Morton Williams - somehow the price has been rationally and fairly arrived at. I'd just like to see EXACTLY how.

Also - Devin, your idea about withdrawing from the rankings is interesting but I am very confident that the administration would oppose it. After all, it serves quite an Arnoldian power-enhancing purpose.

-- JessicaCohen - 10 March 2010

The main thing I would change is to switch from one end-of-term exam to a system with multiple assigns/ midterm/ final, whatever. I don't care if grades stay or change-- replacing letter grades with HP/P system is the same shit with a different name. I just want more feedback. I wouldn't prefer this, but I wouldn't mind if the intermediate feedback was by TAs, either. I also think asking for a tuition reduction is absurd.

-- KalliopeKefallinos - 10 March 2010

I think this is the one thing the entire grade can rally around. At least one midterm assignment (graded or not as the professor please) per class. The minimum that this requires is for a professor to post something on courseweb and to spend one lunchtime going over it. It would really just take a grade-wide mild insurgency before the next faculty meeting.


@Jessica: You say you are very confident that the administration would oppose withdrawing from the ranking. But isn't the point of something like this to force the administration to do things it would otherwise not want to do? I think you should say whether or not you personally think it is a good idea, and not focus on whether it is something the administration would naturally want to do.

@Kalliope: Why is asking for a tuition reduction absurd? Do you really think law school is worth $50,000 per year? I do not think so. Somehow, I feel we could learn the same amount for a fraction of the cost.

-- ChristopherCrismanCox - 10 Mar 2010

@Chris: you can learn the same amount for a fraction of the cost. What state are you from? I think law school is worth 50k per year because we are paying it, and however much we want to analyze the functioning of our market-based society, there is a market for law school. If you also factor in the sheer amount of stuff going on at the law school in addition to the actual earning value of our license, there is intellectual value out of the whole deal as well. Maybe you will feel better by comparing this cost to the $6k price tag to go to TED for a long weekend. I feel like we get TED every day. Just today, I unexpectedly attended a vigorous panel of 5 education experts on a subject I previously knew nothing about. Anyhow, I don't agree with Eben's blanket contentions about the value of our future licenses. We can make this experience and our future abilities worth more or less depending on our own level of engagement. Nona

I mean that it is absurd as a practical matter. I think we have to look at the psychology of the people we would be imploring and prioritize our goals based on how we think they would react. Asking for tuition would come off as immature dream-wishing, in turn destroying any credibility we might have. The admin can easily respond to a demand for lower tuition by explaining that it is "impossible" given the current surrounding economic reality. Financial aid and many other CU programs will have to be cut, they will say. You are only thinking short term, they will say. How will we pay the salary of Petal Modeste and others we just hired specifically to help you in this new "climate"? I could go on. I agree with you that we could learn the same if not more for a fraction of the cost, but that's not the point. I feel like I'm just applying what we've been learning thus far in class regarding prediction...

-- KalliopeKefallinos - 10 Mar 2010 Chris - You're right. I guess it wouldn't be the first thing I'd lobby for, though.

Kalliope - I meant forcing the administration to be held accountable for our tuition. The "haggling" would take the form of the asset/liability sheet - i.e. we're investors in our education, and have a right to know why the money is spent how it is.

All that said, I am also down for any positive change and agree with Moglen that the 3 bullet point strategy would be best.

-- JessicaCohen

@Christopher - Nona has stolen some of my thunder, but I agree with her comment and still think my comment will add something.

If you think law school isn't worth $50,000/year then boy do I have a solution for you! Drop out! Maybe you're on scholarship or get financial aid, in which case you probably shouldn't be complaining that law school costs $50,000, because it doesn't for you. Law schools have many pricing mechanisms that charge different students different prices. Most students here at Columbia have the option of paying anywhere from $0 - $50,000/year for law school depending on which school they choose to attend. Many students bargain with the schools and weigh offers based on how they value the education (or reputation or whatever they like about a school).

It’s hard for me to understand how someone who is here can say they don’t think it’s worth the money. If you really don’t think it’s worth the money then you would leave. My bet is that you could get a full-ride at a lower-tier law school starting tomorrow. I know there are many students who would be anxious to fill your spot because they believe a CLS education is worth a lot more than $50,000/year.


@Josh - I think you raise an interesting point, but that Leff would have a response to it. The issue is that of sunk cost. Chris (and the rest of us) have already paid ~$50,000 and put in six month's worth of time to law school. Even if it made economic sense to drop out, the chances are low that we would actually do so. It is quite difficult for a person to walk away from something once they've put a significant amount of money/time in, even if in a technical sense it makes sense to do so. And I am just talking about money/time, not intangibles like pride and reputation.

Another interesting point of view that didn't occur to me until college is the idea of buying a degree instead of buying an education. Ever since junior high school, I have enjoyed going to school quite a bit, so I haven't thought this way, but many people consider the time and money that they are spending at Columbia Law School as payments for a degree that will serve as a ticket. The goal is not to "learn" or be educated, but simply to get a $150,000 piece of paper that will open doors.

As I stated earlier, I am here for the education, but my ultimate goal is getting a license to practice law and a diploma. This is part of what I am paying for. Some of our classmates think that this is all they are paying for. And probably, many of the people who would be anxious to fill our spots think the CLS diploma, as opposed to the CLS education, are worth the $50,000/year. Overall, however, you raise some interesting points. This is just a bit of food for thought.

-- DavidGoldin

@David - Sunk cost can be either a fallacy or a legitimate reason that makes it economically viable to maintain a course of action. I'm not sure which one you are arguing here. If we're going to look at the sunk cost, I think it is a sunk cost fallacy at play. Christopher is staying here despite the fact that it is against his economic interests. That is why I am encouraging him to leave. If you think it's a fallacy wouldn't you encourage him to leave too? If you think the sunk cost has really made it economically viable for him to stay I would like to hear more about why, but considering he can transfer to another school for $0/year, his credits will transfer with him and he can remain in New York where the friends he's made here live, I have a hard time believing it is anything but a sunk cost fallacy.

Truth be told I think we are looking at something different here. It's what I like to call an Eben Fallacy. Christopher heard something Eben said in class and adopted it as his own view without really considering it. His actions are likely to tell us that he doesn't actually think Columbia law school isn't worth $50,000/year. I've noticed the Eben Fallacy rearing it's head quite a bit on this wiki and in our other classes. It's a fascinating phenomenon and one I enjoy studying.

(@Christopher - I'm not being fair to you here. I'm using your comments as examples of tendencies I've witnessed. You said very little in this thread and I've taken a lot out of it for illustrative purposes. I hope you understand.)


No matter what you think the cost of a Columbia education or license should be, there really is some truth to Wendy's assertion that professors should be hired and retained based on their ability to teach. I've had a total of two, maybe three professors who know how to teach after having spent about $100K so far. If you're in the same boat as me, we SHOULD demand eight such professors.

Those evaluation forms we fill out are such a huge waste of time - no one actually seem to act on them. They give us this false sense of power and participation, especially our 1L year. How about holding professors accountable for consistently bad ratings? Like, for example, how about putting them on probation or firing them? In any other scenario, if you don't do your job right, you don't, and probably shouldn't last very long there.

-- KrishnaSutaria - 13 Mar 2010

What about finding out how tenure is granted? And what connection it has with the professor review surveys? I know each of my suggestions has been about asking the administration how x functions but I do think that for some areas just being held accountable to the students would be powerful...

-- JessicaCohen - 16 Mar 2010

Like anyone else, I can easily come up with arguments for and against everyone's proposals. As has been mentioned elsewhere, more tests/feedback is only helpful if you care about doing well on your next test, so probably not that useful in the long run. Pulling out of the rankings is more complicated than just saying no thanks; I'm not sure CLS is prepared to take on the politics of NALP, at least by itself. Meeting practitioners during legal methods might not be the most useful time, given we have no idea what's going on yet; seeing the budget sheet seems highly unlikely, and also presumes we know how to run a law school, etc etc.

My ideas? 1) temporary tuition freeze, 2) changing the third year curriculum a la Washington & Lee (, although I would propose pushing NALP to move back recruiting and shift the paradigm from summer associate to fall externship, and 3) pass/fail for first semester.

But my real question: why are we bickering about what the 'three points' would be (and why are we blindly assuming that's the only way to do anything)? If people want to do this, shouldn't they focus on organizing people? I mean I understand you need a message and a goal, but this back and forth is getting you nowhere. My guess: people want to talk about it, but not really do it. Frankly I don't blame them- some people aren't even paying to go here, so why would they care (there are plenty of reasons but I'm not sure they would care about them), and most of these changes would not be put in place until after we're gone. I'm not trying to be a buzz-kill, just saying if it's going to happen someone or someones need to make it happen. But this is just a discussion page, so maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

-- RorySkaggs - 17 Mar 2010

There is a lot of psychological / behavioral literature that talks about the "Power of Three." I'm not going to link to any particular study as these studies are not terribly hard to find with google.

-- MatthewZorn - 22 Mar 2010

I originally wasn't going to revive this, but tonight's EIP introduction made it almost a moral imperative. If you were going to go through with this and actually come up with three bullet points, these are my suggestions. 1) Greater Transparency - For me, this means more numbers coming from CSO. The idea that Petal Modeste suggested we use Above the Law to find out about rescinded offers and deferred associates is a joke. I understand that their job isn't to get us, the current class, jobs but to get all current and future students employed. I also realize that if we all boycott a firm that seems to be offering a lot of illusory jobs, then it would look bad for the school and the firm. But tough shit. The CSO has the information, they must because the deferred students and those with rescinded offers are probably thumping on them pretty hard. Give it to us. Similarly, the idea of more transparency could go towards a general accounting of expenses - not quite Jessica's line item, but a budget nonetheless. 2)A Staff Lunchroom - Moglen has mentioned this before and it's a terrible sight. On the days of "Faculty Lunches", the support staff shifts from foot to foot waiting for the lunch to end so that they can go through the room and access the only fridge they are able to use. Conveniently, faculty lunches occur at lunch, so this means that the staff can't eat lunch during lunch. If Columbia wants to project itself as a community, it should consider the staff a part of that community and at least spring some cash to give them a fridge somewhere they can access. Also, as a cynical point, this would get public sentiment on our side - always important in a protest. 3) Free Parking - Since every protest should have one unreasonable demand, so that we can make concessions and each side can claim a victory.

-- StephenSevero - 22 Apr 2010



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r25 - 13 Jan 2012 - 23:26:29 - IanSullivan
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