Yale Moves to Make Its Three-Year JD/MBA Program Official

For the past two years Yale University has offered a three-year joint JD/MBA degree, offered between Yale Law School and the Yale School of Management. Now, after a nearly year-long review, the Yale Law School faculty has voted to make the joint degree a permanent offering. While the SOM faculty has yet to vote, it is expected that it will also vote in favor of making the program permanent.

Yale’s JD/MBA program is only six semesters long, with no summer component, making it one of the shortest such programs in the country. Students spend two academic years in the Law School and one year in the School of Management. While Yale’s accelerated JD/MBA is not the first such program in the nation — Northwestern, Duke, and Penn also offer similar programs — the fact that Yale Law School has finally embraced this model is big deal, and it could mean that more top universities will soon follow.
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A “Scholar’s Scholar” Takes Over as New Dean of Yale Law School

In the wake of former Yale Law School dean Harold Hongju Koh’s appointment as legal advisor to the U.S. State Department, there was much speculation about the direction that Yale would go its search for a replacement and whether the school would step outside the law school community when making its choice. You could even say there were nervous faculty members and students, who feared a sea change of sorts at the most prestigious law school in the world.

They should worry no more, as Yale announced on Monday that current faculty member Robert Post has been named as the school’s 16th dean, according to the Hartford Courant.

Robert Post graduated from Yale Law, taught at Berkeley for 20 years, and returned to Yale as a professor in 2003, while squeezing in general counsel gigs at the American Association of University Professors and the Independent Panel on Redistricting (tasked by California governor Pete Wilson in 1991).

Perhaps more importantly, Post is widely regarded as a faculty favorite at Yale – a place where innovative ideas take a backseat to maintaining tradition and core values. In fact, one prominent professor, Akhil Amar, went so far as to gushingly call Post a “scholar’s scholar, a teacher’s teacher, and a lawyer’s lawyer.” High praise from a man that Legal Affairs recently named as one of the eight most influential legal academics in America.

Of particular interest to this blog is whether a new dean will mean changes to the Yale Law School admissions process. Yale is famous for its “Yale 250” short essay as well as for the fact that applications are sent out to and reviewed by faculty members rather than by an admissions committee. Not only that, but Yale Law is one of the only graduate programs of any kind to force students to answer questions on the application about whether they have received any sort of assistance with the LSAT or the admissions process (something that was added to their 2009 application and discussed on this blog in great detail). Any or all of these peculiarities could be subject to change during a regime change at the top, so stay tuned.

For more information and advice on getting into Yale and other top schools, take a look at Veritas Prep’s law school admissions consulting services.

Is Stanford Law Making a Move on Yale?

For years, Yale Law School has been untouchable at the top of law school rankings. Armed with a prized faculty, an esoteric grading system, and lofty GPA/LSAT percentiles, acceptance rates, and yield numbers, Yale has been squashing all contenders with relative ease.

However, signs are starting to emerge that a true challenger is on the horizon.

Stanford Law School recently announced that its proposed new grading system (introduced in March of this year) will take effect both immediately and retroactively, turning a more standard evaluation model into an “honors/pass/low-pass/fail” hierarchy. The school offers plenty of rationalization for the change in a memo to students posted here, but it doesn’t take a legal scholar to recognize where such a grading scheme comes from. (Here’s a hint: it’s from Yale.)

This development comes at the same time that The Yale Daily News wonders aloud about the possibility of Yale Law slipping due to a mass faculty exodus. The piece surmises that the New Haven location is finally catching up to Yale as spousal career options drive top professors to larger cities like Boston and New York. For a small law school that is built upon the world’s most elite legal faculty, this is a rather large blow.

Throw in the fact that Yale has added a controversial question to its application this year (which may drive away top applicants who want to use test prep and/or admissions consulting and worry about disclosing such assistance) and one could surmise that for the first time in ages, Yale is primed for a bit of a decline, however gradual.

All of which creates a perfect opportunity for Stanford to leverage its ongoing status as the “laid back” law school or the “trendy” law school (or whatever title is hot in the streets these days) and make the final push up the ladder. Whether switching to a grading system that alleniates current students in order to mirror Yale is the way to go remains to be seen, and it should be noted that there is still a wide gap between Yale and Stanford, at least as calculated by U.S. News, but it looks like that gap will start closing any minute.

(Note – Not to be outdone, Harvard has followed suit and announced its own Yale copycat, err, revamped grading model. A hat tip to Above the Law for posting the key student memos involved in both grading changes.)

[Update – Georgetown is not going to the pass/fail grading system. I guess it is now news when a law school doesn’t change the way it grades students. Strange times!]

The Yale Question

If you are a law school applicant, admissions officer, or preparation company, you are almost certainly aware of the “Yale Question.” But for those that are not, here is the basic idea:

Yale Law School has added two questions to its 2009 application, which ask candidates to disclose the use of A) LSAT test preparation, and B) admissions consulting.

The mere fact that Yale added these questions generated a response within the law school community, but it was a blog post on Yale Law’s “203” (“An Admissions Blog”) that really ruffled some feathers and put applicants in a quandary.

In the post, Asha Rangappa, Associate Dean, takes a pretty harsh stance toward both LSAT preparation and law school admissions consulting. The thrust of her argument is that admissions consulting creates an unfair advantage — basically, that it undermines any hope of a level playing field for applicants.

I’ve had a chance to engage in a dialogue with Asha about some of this and find her to be extremely intelligent and sincere, with a very idealistic viewpoint toward the world of admissions. It is that idealism that makes her stance both compelling, but also — in my opinion — incomplete.

In a vacuum, law school admissions consulting does indeed create an uneven playing field. Because all things being equal, an available resource would allow “consulting applicants” to gain an advantage over the rest of the applicant pool. And certainly, even in the real life version of admissions, some candidates do indeed gain a competitive advantage by paying for services that others can’t afford.

Of course, law school admissions does not exist in a vacuum, and that type of analysis ignores the enormous advantage held by a percentage of the applicant pool that is fortunate enough to enjoy built-in resources right at its fingertips. I’m referring, of course, to those candidates who have a brother that went to Yale Law, or an uncle from Sullivan & Cromwell, or a family friend who taught at Harvard. I’m referring to the candidates from Princeton and Cornell and Stanford, who have amazing pre-law advisers at their disposal. All of these advisory options are allowed and encouraged by Yale. But how many people have these types of resources?

The applicant from a state school, with limited pre-law advising (if any), no family members in the law, no close friends from Yale … how can that person possibly compete with the advantages described above? Based on the preexisting disparity between segments of the applicant pool, it is my opinion that admissions consulting actually levels the playing field.

Access

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not return to the idea that there are applicants who can’t afford such services. Knowing that there is an “access” problem (and when is there ever not an access problem when it comes to admissions?), should we just give up on the idea of consultation altogether? That hardly seems like the best solution. Doing so would just continue to create massive information advantages for the privileged upper crust and leave the masses behind. “Admissions Consulting for no one” doesn’t really solve anything. “Admissions consulting for everyone,” on the other hand, might just be the answer.

Imagine a situation in which each applicant had the same insight, guidance, and perspective on the process. It sure seems like such a scenario would allow the best stories, skills, and fits to emerge from the applicant pool. Which, of course, is the end goal of any admissions process. And yes, “admissions consulting for everyone” is a pipe dream at this point, but it is not unreasonable to think that pro bono options will emerge at companies like ours, or that schools like Yale will one day provide financial programs to allow for low income applicants to receive consulting services (which would be an advanced — and admittedly more expensive — form of application fee waivers). I’d much rather aim for this form of idealism than Yale’s. Because the provision of admissions consulting for every applicant is still possible, if not likely. On the other hand, eliminating the “legacy” portion of the applicant pool that I described above is absolutely, unequivocally impossible. That cat is already out of the bag.

Process versus Substance

In addition to the access argument, I’ve also heard it argued that admissions consulting is a particularly bad fit for law school applications, because the “application process” counts as much as the “application’s substance.” What this implies is that law schools are evaluating not just the merits of candidates, but also their analytical and presentation skills. The argument goes like this: law schools are trying to admit tomorrow’s leading lawyers and one of the lawyer’s tasks is to identify key components and then present them in an articulate way — therefore, any assistance in doing so eliminates the law school’s ability to evaluate those skills.

I find this argument to be unconvincing. For starters, one need look no further than law school itself to recognize that “developed legal skill” is not the primary goal of this process. Find me one elite law school that makes “process” its educational mission — my guess is you will be looking for a long time. Law schools strive to teach critical thinking skills and explore theoretical underpinnings for the way laws and legal systems work. You don’t spend three years writing motions and briefs — you’ll be lucky if you spend three classes honing those skills.

Furthermore, whenever the analysis in question is introspective, the challenge becomes unique and distinguishable from any other process of compiling and presenting data. One can’t draw inferences from the admissions process as to a candidate’s ability to draft memos, motions, or briefs, because the two tasks are apples and oranges. Ask a talented person to write an op-ed piece or a research paper and that person will more than likely handle the task with aplomb. Ask that same individual to write a bio and it is just as likely he or she will struggle mightily. It is much harder to analyze one’s own life than it is to analyze facts, cases, and statutes. It is much harder to write a personal statement than it is to write a legal brief. If not harder, then different. The skills are not the same. To attempt to evaluate such skills in this context is foolhardy. Not only that, but I suspect if law schools were really serious about analyzing lawyering skills, they would include a closed universe assignment. If you really care about it, make it apples to apples.

Burden Shifting

All told, there is not a compelling reason to dismiss admissions consulting (let alone LSAT prep) outright. Sure, if companies or consultants approach this process in a way that lacks integrity — if they broadcast secret tricks or write their clients’ essays for them — then crack down on them. By all means. And there is no doubt that admissions — and the services that support candidates — are complicated and difficult to structure and police. But to shift the burden and put the pressure on the applicant (do I pass up a resource? use it and lie? receive assistance and risk being denied for it?) is completely unfair. And to denigrate a helpful and needed service based on a limited and slightly archaic viewpoint seems irresponsible. Particularly when the author holds so much sway on such influential subjects. Because when Yale speaks, people tend to listen.

For the time being, clients of Veritas Prep’s law school admissions consulting services can expect to receive thorough, honest, and helpful service that will level the playing field and help them overcome those built-in advantages enjoyed by the most connected candidates in the applicant pool.

Just know t
hat if you use our services, you will be asked to disclose that fact to Yale Law school.

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