Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TTT, Correspondence Schools, and “Read-Only”

There is a maxim I live by: good is good; bad is bad. As insipid as this sounds, it works. There is a naive mentality that believes that if a concert pianist practices on a lousy piano, he or she will be all that much better when playing a good piano. Wrong. It doesn’t work that way, and I shouldn’t have to explain this any further.
Same thing with law schools. If you have a really sharp legal mind, you can’t expect to go to a crappy college and be their star student. A crappy college usually holds the good people back (bad is bad).
Unfortunately, this does not hold in the legal world mentality with its LSAT exams and class rankings. The legal world tends to think of education as a humongous footrace. Once someone says “go," the fastest law student will always prevail. Unfortunately, this mentality causes more problems than it solves, as does any blunt, impatient philosophy that aspires toward meritocracy.
In all the blogging I’ve seen about how worthless TTT schools are, mostly in terms of how difficult it is to get a job upon graduation, the situation could be hashed out even further. I’ve also read on these blogs that the only law schools that will get you a good position are the T14 law schools (that is, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, U of Chicago, U of P, NYU, Virginia, Berkeley, U of M, Georgetown, and Northwestern--not necessarily in that order). This can’t be altogether true since some of the professors at my TTT were from these very schools (at least I assume they are not making big bucks teaching torts to 1Ls).
If you come from a family of lawyers, and they are going to get you a job upon passing the bar, attending a TTT will work fine for you--it might even be fun. If you are going cold turkey into law, as I did, even getting into Harvard won’t assure you that you are going to get placed into a lucrative position. Then again, I can’t imagine Harvard making some of the blatant errors that my own TTT has made--the good schools nurture themselves to the point where they analyze sophisticated problems in a sophisticated way (good is good).
Even if the college rankings done by US News & World Reports were accurate, there is still a big difference between getting into a school they rank in the teens and one ranked in the nineties. Going further down the line, among TTTs, you’ll even find that some are accredited by the ABA, while others are not. Some are only night schools. Some are only “correspondence” schools (that is, all of the course work is done over the Internet).
Before you start screaming “diploma mill” or something worse, these correspondence schools are recognized by at least some state bars as valid alternatives to preparing for the bar, even if they are not accredited by the ABA. State bars vary in their rules as to what schools they will recognize, but depending on what state you want to practice law in, you should visit its state bar Website and determine if a correspondence school might work for you.
You can get a correspondence school for less than $300 a month. Why on earth would you then take a chance with a TTT and keep racking up those $50K per annum bills?
Then there is the “read-only” method of preparation for the bar. This is truly the old-fashioned way of essentially working one-on-one with a judge or lawyer, who will in turn vouch for your progress in preparing for the bar. The rules in my state are that a judge prepares you in three years, while a lawyer will prepare you in four. The correspondence schools I’ve dealt with are essentially just extensions of this method anyway, since they have a judge on call who vouches for the progress of the matriculated students.
The problem then becomes finding a judge or lawyer who will do this for you. One judge I talked to was against the “read-only” method because she felt that the community you get in a school was important. Law school, she said, was more than preparing for the bar, it had to be something that instilled a legal philosophy.
Personally, I’ve had my one year of TTT and that was plenty. At the moment, the only thing I care about is finishing this thing in the cheapest possible way. If I can’t find a judge who will supervise by “read-only” preparation, I’ll take the correspondence school.
These are not only alternatives to becoming a practicing lawyer, but alternatives to framing the TTT problem and law schools in general. I still believe the root of the problem lies in the mentality of lawyers and businessmen who have allowed competition to intoxicate them way beyond what their bloated egos can comprehend. Life is not a football game, fellahs.
Until this is addressed, get to the bar through an alternative method. It’s cheaper.


  1. I agree with much of your assessment. I don't have any respect or admiration for the USN&WR rankings. (It is the ABA that allows such a ranking scheme, BTW.) In contrast, the American Dental Association does not allow USN&WR to rank dental schools.

    Anyway, the reality is that the law school you attend largely determines where you will work. Law is an industry that is very much prestige-oriented. If you attend a top school, you have a much better chance of landing a good-paying job, upon graduation - than those attending lower-ranked schools. If you attend a TTT or TTTT, you will only land Biglaw or a decent job if you graduate towards the very top of your class.

    I also think that one could learn law by apprenticeship - like the old days. You could literally learn how to draft contracts and wills, within a few months. You could study the state codes of crimininal and civil procedure (along with the local rules of court) by actually drafting motions and answers (or complaints). These would then be edited and reviewed by the lawyer or judge you are an apprentice for.

    You would make mistakes in the beginning - but that is no worse than the current situation. Currently, solo practitioners are making their mistakes and costing their clients money or jail time. They are learning at the expense of their clients. And the ABA is okay with this arrangement. That is sick.

    Do pilots learn how to fly from reading books on aviation and mechanics? Do dentists learn their trade by only studying charts of people's teeth? Imagine if physicians learned their profession by reading about medical procedures!!

    I hope you enjoy your program. Again, I am NOT a fan of the current rankings scheme. The reality is that law firms judge you by the school you went to - or your class rank. Of course, plenty of well-off kids attend TTTs and then work for their dad's firm.

  2. Interesting blog - thank you.

    Have you read Duncan Kennedy's article on legal education as training for hierarchy?


    The section on Student Evaluation, beginning at the bottom of page 9 of the PDF, is most interesting.

    Here is a critique of Kennedy's article which strips away some the critical legal theory but supports the same basic point - what law schools purport to teach and measure is useful and easy to learn, but is not really taught.


    It's pedagogically stupid and harmful to students to rank people based on the first semester, but it's useful to the corporate law industry.

    Douglas Litowitz, in his book The Destruction of Young Lawyers, states that the grading system is arbitrary, but he does not explain why. It would be interesting to know why he said that. He explains more when he calls the bar exam a hazing ritual.

    Litowitz's book is a good read, but he talks more about the destruction of associates in big law firms. Still, there is a relation to law school competition and hierarchy because most of the supposedly better students that pass through the gates of law school get churned and burned in the big firms as they struggle to pass through the next gate of partnership.

    I wish Kennedy and Litowitz would abstain from the critical or Marxist theorizing, as that limits the appeal of their description of the arbitrary nature of legal education and the legal profession.

    Would it be possible to format your blog posts with paragraphs? It would make them easier to read. Thank you.

  3. Here's a link to an interview with Litowitz:


    Here's what he says about law school grading:

    The teacher-student relationship is regressed to the high school level, and the students are overly competitive. The grading bears no relationship to reality but is simply a method of dividing the students so that the top layer can be picked off by the powerful law firms who use the school like a kennel.

    I applaud your decision to persevere and pursue alternatives to the bar. In retrospect, I wish I had investigated that option.

  4. Another good critique is V.R. Randall, "Legal Education: Competent Education?" I could not find it on-line, but it is summarized at p. 25-26 of this PDF article:


    Randall's criticisms include:

    "We evaluate students using a method (essay exams) that has been documented to lack reliability and validity."

    Thanks to this blog, discussing problems for older law students, for referring me to the above-linked article and the work of Pue/Tong and Randall.


  5. To Nando:

    Thanks for chiming in. I especially enjoyed your recent appearance on the the Nookular Option radio show. Blog celebrity is a reality of the 21st-century.

    Clearly law, like probably any field, hires those from the best schools, only for prestige. That one word “Harvard” is what law firms hire, since their clients don’t know any better either. It makes for a dysfunctional, even silly system, but also creates a breeding ground for genuine mavericks to blossom in.

    I’m rooting for the mavericks these days. Hope it catches on...

  6. To VincaMajor:

    Thanks so much for sharing these imposingly intellectual articles with me. It took me the better part of this morning, but I did make it through the two articles by Kennedy and Shain.

    Perhaps my first impression is to be nervous when lawyers start quoting philosophers and historians of abstract minutiae. Then again, I know that’s what always goes on in the upper echelons of universities, whatever the discipline. In all this discussion, I’m still staunchly behind the idea that law schools are still schools and should act like schools and answer to other schools. It is therefore normal to find lawyers with academic posts swimming in the advanced concepts of academia, even though these discussions are not intended or should be intended for the layperson.

    Just the same, it’s difficult to put a face on either position by Kennedy or Shain, although they claim to be arguing the politically left and right respectively. If Kennedy really is against the “hierarchies of the corporate welfare states” as he puts it, it’s unusual that he is so comfortable and accepting of the white middle-class norm he claims law professors fall into. By the way, during my first year at law school, only three of my ten courses were taught by men (two were Jewish, and the other was a mix of German and Spanish). I also had a Latina when I re-tested in torts. I think we’ve clearly outgrown Kennedy’s old school of white middle-class men, but it’s still interesting to think about it, since the mind set he describes as white and middle-class does still linger. I almost fainted when my Latina torts professor started spouting off about what a terrible car the Hyundai is compared to a Volvo. What could be more white middle-class than that idiotic opinion?

    I also pricked up my ears when Shain started quoting Quine (by the way, Quine used to teach philosophy at my alma mater). Quine has been much abused as a symbol of the politically right. Shain drops his name without much effect, in my opinion, although admittedly, I consider myself politically left, although I admire Quine greatly.

    On the whole, I’m glad this intellectual banter exists, but I’m not all swayed by it. They didn’t talk at all about being “culled” after the first year of law school like I was. The blog you directed me towards does address the problems of age discrimination, which I did encounter at my law school, but I think the larger problem is much deeper.

    When you ruthlessly cut people who don’t deserve it, you breed seething rebels. As I find myself becoming a genuine bad boy of law, I must advocate nothing less than a radical upheaval of the legal system as it exists now. That is a very destructive thing to do, but what alternatives do they leave me? This process has injured me and my family greatly, and they leave no safety nets.

    By the way, I would be very shocked if any of the other 1Ls at my school had even heard of Quine, although I’m sure they are bright and intelligent in their own promising ways. One could always argue that I significantly lack the “legal analysis” skills that Kennedy and Shain claim to be at the root of a complete legal education, but I will argue back that such things should never be overly mystified. I honestly think that the problem is much simpler than that: professors are narcissistic, especially at TTTs where they don’t receive nearly as much pressure for the rest of the academic community, and feel threatened by the outside world in a very cowardly way.

    I would love to hear your story sometime. You said you did not persevere. What did you do?

    Thanks very much again for your comments.

  7. This ended up being really long but I wrote it and am too lazy to edit much. I hope it makes some sense.

    1. I persevered because it never occurred to me not to. My law school didn't cut people, and we had a fuzzier grading system. It sounds like I went to a school with higher average LSAT scores, but I doubt that means much, because I'm not convinced that relatively quick apprehension of law school exam skills is a real measure of intelligence or ultimate aptitude as a lawyer. Like you, I didn't get it quickly, and I could have been you if I had gone to your school. I also suspect that either you or I, with the proper understanding and preparation, could have done better at higher ranked schools than I went to. As I hope to explain below, it is stupid, demoralizing, and dis-empowering to even think about this.

    2. I don't think I really learned those exam skills - which I agree are useful and necessary - until the bar review course. I think that is more a reflection of the absurdity of law school than of my lack of basic aptitude. VR Randall's JD Boot Camp shows how easy it would be to teach every student to quickly learn the skills, and suggests to me that law school could and should be done in one year.

    3. I was warned about law school by two law professors, one who specifically told me I should not go. I finally understand why - the grade game is a crap shoot, age can hurt even if you win at the grade game, and winning the grade and employment game is a booby prize for many that win it. I'm not saying that I deserved better or was treated unfairly relative to my competitors. I am saying that the game could be made more fair for everyone and could be played at much less societal and individual cost, while also increasing the readiness of students for real legal practice.

    4. I don't think I am a "loser," though some might say that. I'm happy with what I have done and have enjoyed a lot of it, but I have sacrificed a lot. I am a structuralist like Litowitz, and think that law school has been unnecessarily demoralizing, as I will explain below. Incidentally, I think psychology in general needs a structural and societal understanding, and think my long belief about this was validated by this book:


  8. 5. I think law school breeds a "false consciousness" of relative merit in both the winners and losers, and that it is hugely demoralizing, wasteful, and dysfunctional. I'm just borrowing the term from Marx, and not using it in the sense he did, though I think Marx was a brilliant descriptor and that there are oppressive effects and political functions served by the institution of law school. I'm talking about the falseness of the consciousness instilled by the excessive anointing of those that figure out the game quicker.

    6. It may be that those who do well quickly are those that would be better lawyers, but to really know, one would have to separate out the institutional and psychological reinforcements given to the "winners" both in law school and law practice, as well as look at the relative economic power of the clients that lawyers come to represent.

    7. Even if the "winners" are better lawyers, many are tremendously unhappy, even those that become partners. I think it was Litowitz that
    quoted a big firm partner as saying he had won the pie-eating contest, only to find out the prize was more pie.

    8. In relation to points 4-6, I'm not convinced that the quality of legal practice would be much different if students at particular schools were randomly assigned to "Big Law," middle law, small law, and government law. I'm also not convinced that random assignment from all law schools, from the bottom of the "toilet" to the Ivy-covered top, would make a real difference. Superficially, perhaps, but not in terms of
    real outcomes. Mixing Duncan Kennedy and Marshall McLuhan, and was with Marx not claiming to understand what they meant but just using their words, I think that "the hierarchy is the message."

    9. I'm not advocating this random assignment be done, and don't want to exaggerate this point. I've seen some excellent briefing that I could not do. It's hard not to take this personally, but it's not about me, and I hope what I am saying does not overly convey that.

    10. What is hugely stupid and wrong is to drag out law school for three years when the real purpose of law school has been effectuated after one year, three months. Your case only makes that clear, and many on these "scam" blogs would probably say you are lucky to have your losses cut early.

  9. 11. The following is absolutely not legal advice as to whether you do or don't have a case, not a proposed cause of action, and not a suggestion you should even consider legal action. I just want to raise a question of fairness and educational honesty and integrity. Looking at whether there was full disclosure in your case, is the academic disqualification rule that I'm sure your school disclosed up front really full
    disclosure? Did they tell you that something like Randall's "JD Boot Camp" would help you be in the top 2/3 first year? Did they tell you that your chances of passing the bar might be just as good even if you didn't figure out exam-writing skills until your second or third year, or even the summer after law school? Did they tell you that their business model, and perhaps the economics of the legal profession, included the early failure of one-third of the class? Did they tell you that you were going to be subjected to what is essentially disinformation and even hazing - the reading and briefing of old cases coerced by social pressure to not be embarrassed in class - and that your class preparation
    would actually hurt you? Did they tell you that even if the demanded skills were not mystified and clearly stated from the beginning, that the structure of the school and bar would still require that one-third of the class would still be "academically" disqualified even though most of those disqualified would now have the skills deemed essential, in the time deemed essential?

    On old cases and hazing, I think this guy has it right:


    It was interesting to read this case, but it did not serve either my education or economic interests to read it then.

    12. They didn't tell you all this, from wjat you wrote. But the professors must surely have understood this. Maybe they didn't, because of what Upton Sinclair said: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." They certainly should have the experience and empirical data at hand, and with their pretensions of being jack-of-all-discipline social scientists and educators, should have the academic curiousness and integrity to want to study it. Kennedy hints at the problem, but mystifies and politicizes it with his views of societal fairness, rather than empirically analyzing his own institution. Litowitz removes the fog, but still only asserts arbitrariness of law school grading without explanation and support.

    13. Law school should be one year since that is when its current purpose has been served. If 3 years is truly necessary, which I do not think is true, then maybe law firms should not be allowed access to the students until after the 2nd year. The law schools do not have to cooperate in a system which only serves a small percentage of students, and demoralizes the rest. This is institutional and psychological reinforcement of differences established early.

    14. If law school exams are truly a measure of the skills needed in practice, then what is wrong with explicitly teaching to the test with iterative testing and feedback? Near the bottom of the page, a California lawyer tells how to do well on exams,and it makes a lot of sense. Basically, he says to finesse class because it a distraction, learn the rules early, and practice writing exams the rest of the term. Why isn't this how law school is taught?


  10. 15. If legal article writing is truly necessary to legal training and useful for the legal profession, then does that really require 3 years?

    Those who pass the bar could be required to an article by their 3rd or 5th year of practice, by which time they might have something important to the citizenry to right, based on real experience. Proprietary database companies could as easily give free access during this period to those who passed the bar, and state universities could cover the difference. Legal academia could be separated into graduate law faculties as in Europe and Japan, though I don't think the undergraduate law major is such a good idea because I think we're better off with lawyers that studied the liberal arts and sciences. However it is done, it could be done quicker and cheaper.
    A tougher bar exam might be a good idea, along with different statuses of legal licenses. Not as exclusive as Brazil or Japan, but tougher.

    16. What's stupid is that people who have been stratified for their entire career by school and class rank, after only one year, continue on for two years, not earning and getting work experience, and then two years later are able to pass the bar in much higher percentages, with no attempt at stratification made. And they are able to pass the bar because of extra money and time in a bar review course that should have started 3 years earlier.

    17. Shorter law school and a tougher bar exam would be easier to walk away from with no stigma and fewer lost opportunities, because it would allow for protracted private study without being tied to the legal field.

    18. I will end with some gratuitous advice. You have the start of an interesting blog that could add much to understanding of a seriously
    dysfunctional system. I don't know about "evil," but "corrupt" is fair. Societal wasteful and personal economic and emotional harm to students and their families should be enough to drive change. My advice is to focus more on the timing issue and lack of teaching, and less on the school's failure to recognize your abilities, and especially not on speculations of intentional nefarious grading. I know from my own experience how hard that can be, and I'll admit to speculating about such things. The reality is most likely what it was with me - you didn't
    get the rules of the game, and the specific skills needed to play the game, in a timely fashion. It could be that your age and attendant knowledge, experience, and writing ability hurt you. The Pue/Tong article cited by Alice Marie beard cited some research to that effect. So my advice is to focus on the systemic unfairness and educational dysfunction, and accept that you did not have the necessary skills at that time. We know there is a degree of arbitrariness in grading, so perhaps it should have been someone else that got screwed. The point is that no one should have been screwed. Your sting will drive deeper if you can do this, and I can already tell from your response that you can. I hope I added something with all this verbiage.


    Those who pass the bar could be required to an article by their 3rd or 5th year of practice, by which time they might have something important to the citizenry to write , based on real experience.

    Proprietary database companies could as easily give free access during this period to those who passed the bar, and state universities could provide the law libraries for lawyers' use.

    My point here is that requiring law libraries was never really necessary, and especially is not now in the Internet age.

    All in all, unaccredited California schools are probably a better option for many that don't consider it.

    Prestige, from the Latin praestigiae


  12. praestigiae, probably the only Latin really worth learning in law school.

  13. One more thing - I should have made it clearer that I didn't want people to read Kennedy and Shaine. My eyes glazed over at most of it. I just think their points about law school exams and grading were a useful start, and I have not seen much writing about it. Maybe they have. VR Randall as quoted in Pue/Tong is the best I've seen, and she fleshes out Litowitz's arbitrariness claim. She even fleshes out Kennedy's hierarchy idea, even if she doesn't go there.

  14. Great comments! Thanks for taking the time to make them. I'll consider carefully everything you've written.

    I was up last night thinking about that Kennedy article. At one point he is talking about "hot" and "cold" cases, and as an example of a "hot" case (that is, one that seems blatantly unfair which will stir ire and emotion) he describes the facts of a strip mining case in which the mining company promises to clean up their mess on a farmer's land, but the court rules they don't have to. The case he is describing was in my Contracts class: Peeveyhouse v. Garland Coal. I suppose I can't quibble because he says "a case like" this, but the Peeveyhouse case was in Oklahoma, and Kennedy says it was in Appalachia. How can a 1L who has just been culled out of his law school pick out a mistake like that from a Harvard professor? At least it says something about this hierarchy we're talking about.

  15. FanofSkolnick, when you get a chance email me at nando9936@yahoo.com. Vincamajor, feel free to do the same. I have been following this conversation closely, and I am also fascinated by Litowitz's views on law school and the legal industry. Thanks for hosting this blog.


  16. Law professor's joke about grading:


    Good articles I read at a library



    There are many more critiques, stretching back 30 years, but little has been done.

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