The Law Review RSS Project

A link to the Law Review RSS Project.

I am a dedicate user of RSS feeds. RSS is a format that strips away all the stuff that might bog down content on a site and gives a simple version of it for easy aggregation by sites like Feedly (or the long dead Google Reader).

Rather that needing to visit hundreds of websites each day (okay, so maybe I'm the only one who'd be inclined to visit hundreds of websites each day...), or several times a day to catch updated and new content, an RSS aggregator allows users to look at all these sites' content in a single stream. It also offers the advantage of time-delayed reading; unlike Twitter, where if you miss it when it's at the top of your feed you may miss it for good without some real effort or a lucky retweet, all the RSS content is held for whenever you choose to read it.

I've aggregated about 100 law review Twitter accounts in a list (which you can subscribe to here), but their levels of activity can vary wildly--some have been dormant for years, and others regularly tweet content unrelated to the articles they publish. Concurring Opinions launched a "Law Review Contents" feed years ago, but it's mostly fallen into disuse.

Therefore, I started the Law Review RSS Project. I started crawling through law review websites and extracting their RSS feeds. Some of them make this very easy to find. Others do not. Still others have no RSS feed at all.

The RSS feeds of these journals will provide you with access in your RSS reader of these journals' content as soon as it's pushed out to their website. Of course, some journals are slower than others in pushing out the content--but when it gets there, you can read it.

I hope to slowly add more feeds as I have the time to do so in the months ahead. But please let me know if you notice problems with the RSS feeds, or if you find a feed that I couldn't. I appreciate any and all feedback!

The rise and fall of my use of Twitter

I first joined Twitter in 2009 under a pseudonymous account before restarting in May 2012 with my present account. I began to use it more over the last five years for a few reasons.

First, unfiltered news. There is no algorithm determining what content I see. Instead, it's simply the most recent content, all there, if I choose to follow those feeds. I prefer RSS for time-shifting, but it offers the same kind of function.

Second, professional disintermediated contacts. You can talk to people all over the world, in your field and related fields, in a very easy way.

Third, journalists live there. To the extent one is interested in sharing ideas with journalists, they frequently look to Twitter for news and sources.

Fourth, branding. The crass term is simply a reality--it is a way of gaining name recognition in a fairly simple way. (This is particularly true because I have a blog with content I frequently share to a broader audience.)

Fifth, engagement with law professors. Many other law profs are on Twitter, and the discussion occurs there in a way that, perhaps a decade ago, discussions might have occurred on blog comments sections, or listservs. It's a great way to virtually meet people outside of conferences.

But, over time, I found that these benefits has lost much of their appeal, and the cost-benefit analysis has moved me away from using Twitter.

There have been increased attempts from Twitter to tell me what I ought to believe is important, a new kind of filter to the experience. Trending stories are the first in that effort. Moments, another. Autocompleting search terms or displaying preferred search results, still another. And occasionally, it will display "live" events at the top of my feed that it believes I ought to heed. In each of these circumstances, I've found the content offensive--not because it somehow offended my morals, but because it was so utterly trivial and banal that I wondered why it would, in its vaunted algorithmic way, decide I would have any interest in these silly and trite things.

I have found that the reward from "status" on Twitter is simply not great. For journalism, it remains, sadly, nearly ubiquitous. A majority of media inquiries now start from a tweet; indeed, a non-trivial number of media mentions fail to even inquire of me and simply (lazily) cite my tweet. Using Twitter less means fewer citations in journalists' pieces, but such is the tradeoff. Furthermore, I've found that a lot of media now focuses on what people say on Twitter, and then how others react to those statements on Twitter--a deeply meta, and often, I think, deeply superficial way of thinking about newsworthiness.

Furthermore, I've watched a number of law professors (and others) lose a significant amount of their credibility (in my eyes, at least, and I think, to some degree, in the eyes of at least some others) by succumbing to the allure of fleeting social media fame. It moves beyond branding into a quasi-celebrity status. It's something that I want to separate myself from.

I've experienced moments like this. Consider this tweet, which went somewhat "viral" at the end of 2017. I have lacked the self-control in terms of time spent on the medium. I've reveled in the dopamine pleasure of notifications telling me that someone, anyone, has read my stuff, or interacted with my stuff, or acknowledged my existence in this pithy format. And this kind of "viral" sharing was utterly unfulfilling--fluffy stuff, dopamine hits without any meaningful return.

The good of Twitter, I've found, has increasingly become banal as a form of escape. The pleasant or non-controversial sides of Twitter feel increasingly vacuous (or, at least, I've grown quite aware that they are so). Pleasant people exchanging superficial and trite hashtag greetings and emojis have left me wanting.

And perhaps most of all, I found visiting Twitter a joyless, even painful, experience. It was a chore, or a necessity, not a pleasant way of learning about the news. If it's not the banal, it's the stranger shouting angrily, or the self-laudatory sarcastic point that demolishes or obliterates or decimates one's (usually political) enemies. I found my blood pressure too quickly and easily rise. I found myself defensive, typing out a hasty or angry or sarcastic response, only to delete it. (Occasionally it escaped my self-editing, to my detriment, I think.)

I would find myself thinking lamenting the lack of subtlety. Or, more significantly, the lack of the ability to have an actual conversation. I found total strangers willing to say consistently hurtful things (fortunately, only rarely to me; too often, to many undeserving targets). I saw the herd mentality of social media, where errors spread like wildfire or outraged mobs congregate. I found that many of the cutting tweeters would be perfectly pleasant to have a conversation, even a disagreement, with when face to face, perhaps for hours over a meal. Twitter has been destructive to that end, at least for me.

I realized that I wanted to read more long-form articles, and that I was dedicating too much time to the moment. Many pieces I was reading were not deep or interesting, but designed to secure a click from Twitter with a controversial or sensation headline (hardly a new practice in media, of course, but one that increasingly annoyed my consumption of news in this format). I receive a print Wall Street Journal every day, and the curated content there is sufficient for most major news, even if it may take 24 or 48 hours to dig deep into "breaking" events. I also subscribe to The New Criterion and First Things for long-form cultural commentary, and I dedicate too little time to those things. Finally, I was perpetually reading too few books (in particular too little fiction), and I needed to cut trivial reading.

I've chopped probably 90% of my Twitter use this year already. I hope to cut it even further. I will still use it, of course, just less frequently. I'll tweet rarely, but I'll do so to, say, share this blog's content.

This is not to say that others have not calculated the cost-benefit differently, and that others might not do much better. Others have thrived on Twitter, and I've come to deeply respect (in some ways, more deeply respect) the work of many because of Twitter. That's a cost, and a loss for me.

These are also, of course, generalizations. There are exceptions to every single thing I've said. And others' experiences may well quite differ from my own.

And it's not to say that it might not improve. Professor Carissa Byrne Hessick has offered a thoughtful and measured take on best practices for Twitter, one that I hope will be widely shared and adopted in the future. (UPDATE: Professor Josh Blackman today posted his own helpful and thoughtful guidelines.)

For me, though, it's time to cut a lot of my use of Twitter. I hope to distance myself from a medium that, I think, on the whole, is more cost than benefit. I'll revisit my habits on an ongoing basis. But after a few weeks with the app uninstalled, and interacting very little with content in the Twitter stream, I feel fairly confident that I'll keep going like this for some time. I hope to blog slightly more (longer forms of such thoughts with more nuance and editing). I hope to read far more.

And I hope to keep away from the tyranny of the urgent for a little while.

New essay draft: "Legal Quandaries in the Alabama Senate Election of 2017"

I have posted a new essay forthcoming in the Alabama Law Review, entitled Legal Quandaries in the Alabama Senate Election of 2017. Here is the abstract:

President Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General resulted in a vacancy in the Senate and triggered a special election. The special election, however, revealed the many complexities of the Seventeenth Amendment, special elections generally, and Alabama state law specifically.

This Article traces a series of legal quandaries that arose from the special election, some of which remain open questions for future Alabama elections, and for United States Senate elections more generally. Part I examines the scope of the Alabama Governor’s power to call for a special election under the Seventeenth Amendment and state law. Part II scrutinizes the complications for replacing a late-withdrawing candidate and for counting votes cast for a candidate who resigns. Part III identifies proposed gambits, from postponing the election to write-in campaigns, that never came to fruition. Part IV examines the timing surrounding certification of election results in Alabama. Part V looks at gaps in Alabama’s recount and election contest procedures. Finally, Part VI identifies the most significant opportunities to clarify Alabama law and to properly interpret the Seventeenth Amendment to avoid uncertainty in future elections.

I have a very short turnaround before submitting the final draft for editing, but I welcome any comments or feedback!

In the Orange County Register: "Judicial vacancies threaten the rule of law"

Last week, the Orange County Register published my opinion piece, "Judicial vacancies threaten the rule of law." It begins:

There is a judicial crisis in California, but you won’t hear the judges talking about it. Those professionals work tirelessly without complaint. But California needs more federal judges, and it needs them with higher salaries. Otherwise, access to justice will be diminished, and the rule of law will be threatened.

Annual Statement, 2017

Site disclosures

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Ranking the most liberal and conservative law firms (July 16, 2013) (14,035)
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The best prospective law students read Homer (Apr. 7, 2014) (3558)
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Status of 2016 faithless presidential elector litigation

One year ago, December 19, 2016, an unprecedented number of faithless electors intentionally cast (or attempted to cast) votes for candidates other than those they pledged to support, either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Congress ultimately decided to count all the electoral votes as cast.

But some of these faithless (or would-be faithless) electors sued, and the litigation remains ongoing. Much like my tracking of "natural born" citizen lawsuits, I thought I'd share the status of faithless elector litigation.

California: an elector wanted to cast a vote for someone other than Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine but ultimately voted for them.

Vinzenz Koller: lawsuit filed, Koller v. Brown (N.D. Cal. 2016-cv-07069), motion to dismiss hearing Aug. 17, 2017

Colorado: two electors threatened to vote for candidates other than Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine but ultimately voted for them. A third attempted to vote for John Kasich, but his vote was not counted, he was removed for failure to act.

Michael Baca, Polly Baca, & Robert Nemanich: lawsuit filed, Baca v. Colorado Department of State (D. Colo. 17-cv-01937), motion to dismiss pending

Minnesota: an elector attempted to vote for Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton and was replaced.

Muhammad Abdurrahman: complaint dismissed as moot (D. Minn. 16-cv-04279); appeal field (8th Cir. 16-4551), Abdurrahman v. Swanson, briefing complete May 5, 2017, oral argument Feb. 13, 2018

Washington: four faithless electors were each fined $1000 for casting votes for candidates other than Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. The state administrative appeals are here.

Robert Satiacum: administrative order became final June 13, 2017.

Levi Guerra, Esther John, & Peter Chiafalo: federal lawsuit (W.D. Wash. 16-cv-01886) voluntarily dismissed; state administrative appeal to Thurston County Superior Court, Docket No. 17-2-02446-34; Guerra v. State Office of Administrative Hearings, affirmed, Dec. 8, 2017; appeal filed with Supreme Court

A secret small world of "other" law school admissions

Okay, perhaps the title's a bit sensational. But American Bar Association ("ABA") data this year, for the first time, breaks out a couple of categories of 1L law school enrollment. One category is "enrollment from law school applications." The other is "other enrollment."

Typical "application" admissions occurs from the process you might expect: in a very traditional timeline, submit an application in November or December, wait for that envelope (or email?) in March or April, then enroll for a term beginning in August. Of the ABA's 37,400 first-year enrollees reported this year, 36,321 come from this category.

But another 1079 enrollees come from an "other" category. (Admittedly, this is a sliver of the overall admissions picture.) That opaque category includes four groups of enrollees:

  • Students admitted in a prior year who deferred enrollment until the current year
  • Students admitted in a prior year who took a leave of absence
  • Readmits with fewer than 15 credits
  • Students admitted with fewer than 15 credits of prior law study

This is a brand new category of ABA disclosures, designed, apparently, to capture "odd" admissions.

Of those 1079 enrollees, 419 come from just 20 schools (the 20 with the highest percentage of "other" enrollees that make up the first-year class). And these schools are hardly what one might consider peer schools.

USNWR Rank School App Enrollees Other Pct Other
1 Yale University 163 42 20.5%
2 Harvard University 477 83 14.8%
Tier 2 District of Columbia 82 11 11.8%
145 Ohio Northern University 46 6 11.5%
Tier 2 Thomas Jefferson School of Law 215 26 10.8%
Tier 2 Charleston School of Law 225 26 10.4%
Tier 2 Atlanta's John Marshall Law Shool 194 22 10.2%
20 University of Southern California 169 18 9.6%
18 Washington University 204 21 9.3%
2 Stanford University 164 16 8.9%
Tier 2 California Western School of Law 240 23 8.7%
Tier 2 Florida Coastal School of Law 97 9 8.5%
n/r Concordia Law School 44 4 8.3%
Tier 2 Widener-Commonwealth 118 10 7.8%
59 University of Missouri 85 7 7.6%
Tier 2 Western Michigan University 424 34 7.4%
8 University of Virginia 296 23 7.2%
Tier 2 Appalachian School of Law 68 5 6.8%
11 University of Michigan 299 21 6.6%
Tier 2 St. Thomas University (Florida) 173 12 6.5%

Of these 20 schools, 7 are among the top 20 in the USNWR rankings, 10 are among the lowest-ranked schools in USNWR's "Tier 2" designation; and the remaining three are unranked Conordia, 145th-ranked Ohio Northern, and 59th-ranked Missouri. It is almost an entirely binary set of schools--the very elite and the marginal.

So, here comes some speculation.

The Yale 1L class, for instance, includes 20% of a study body that did not apply in the last year--they deferred, took leave, started a handful of credits at another institution (not likely), or were readmitted with a handful of credits from Yale (again, not likely). Yale is very generous in its deferral program. Harvard's "Junior Deferral Program" likely also accounts for a significant chunk.

These admitted students as "deferrals" makes sense. Students get into their dream school, like Yale or Harvard, and rather than postpone law school and reapply in a second round of admissions, perhaps they want to postpone law school to do Teach for America, save a little more money, or travel the world, and they don't need to apply anywhere else--a deferral makes sense for such students. At many other schools, however, students would probably not defer, but reapply in a subsequent admissions cycle, hoping, perhaps, that admissions standards drop (even slightly!), or that their improved personal statement or senior year grades would put them over the top, or that an LSAT retake will make them shine.

At the other end of the spectrum, it appears that many of the more marginal schools admit a number of students who have some at-risk flag factors--for instance, those who were academically dismissed with a very small number of credits.

But, you'll note I have to speculate here. The ABA decided to lump all four of these categories into one heap, and even there failed to disclose on the public-facing website what these "other" categories even were in the first place. Perhaps in the future we'll see more granular data. Until then, we just have an opaque picture of this secret (small) world of law school admissions.

LSAT trends show increase in test-takers and project modest 2018 JD enrollment increase

In my last post, I looked at the law school enrollment figures for 2017. What might happen in 2018?

While LSAT test-takers are up, it's worth emphasizing that an increasing percentage of test-takers are repeaters, not first-time test-takers. On the flip side, the number of schools accepting the GRE as an alternative to the LSAT may understate the number of law school applicants next year.

More importantly than LSAT test-takers increasing, however, is their quality. I emphasized this years ago: the quality of the applicant pool matters in much the way that the quantity does. Professor Jerry Organ has helpfully examined the increase in quality.

(It's worth noting that LSAC changed its data for law school applicants in 2016; it explains, "Archived data for 2015 and prior years include applicants for the fall term only and also include deferrals; therefore, archived data are not comparable to current data." They are, however, close enough for our present comparative purposes; and 2016-2017 are comparable, albeit I only have an estimate for 2017 right now.)

Let's also provide some comparisons in recent LSAT & enrollment data. We saw 1L JD enrollment largely flat for the fourth straight year, and the overall law school enrollment figure may well have bottomed out.

But LSAT test-takers have increased each year since 2015: from 101,600, to 105,900, to 109,400, with a projected 125,000 test-takers this cycle. LSAT test-takers are not proportionately translating into applicants; indeed, despite a 3.3% increased in LSATs administered last year, applicants actually declined slightly, and matriculants increased only 0.8%. Part of this, as I've identified, is attributable to increased numbers of repeaters taking the LSAT. But there are other reasons why LSATs administered are not translating into applicants--reasons I could only speculate about at this time. In part, low quality test-takers may have contributed to inflated LSAT statistics, but we may be seeing a reversal.

That said, surely such a significant increase in the percentage of LSAT test-takers would yield at least some increase in applicants and matriculants--particularly given the quality of those test-takers. Only time will tell. For now, stagnant JD enrollment is the status quo, and law schools can look forward to a glimmer of hope for some improvement in 2018.