Cornell to Offer Joint Degree in Law, Psychology

Cornell University next year will accept its first students into a dual Ph.D./J.D. degree program in developmental psychology and law. According to Charles Brainerd, professor of human development at Cornell and the program’s lead creator, it will train the next generation of researchers whose combination of legal and psychological knowledge will advance the movement toward law based on scientific findings. “What I like to tell people is psychology is to law as biology is to medicine,” said Mr. Brainerd. “It’s the basic science that provides information about human memory, reasoning, social effects and so on that the law has to contend with in trying cases and making decisions.”

The program, which plans to admit between five and eight students in the fall, will take six years to complete, shaving two years off the time required to complete the degrees separately. Mr. Brainerd said he expects most of the students to go on to become professors of law or psychology. Students, he said, will also be well-prepared for judicial careers. “A huge advantage lies in the quality of the rulings and decisions that judges are going to make when they come out of this program,” Mr. Brainerd said, noting judges with a psychology background will better understand problems such as the fallibility of eyewitness identification.

New York Law School also recently announced a partnership with John Jay College of Criminal Justice to offer an M.A./J.D. program in forensic psychology and law beginning next fall (NYLJ, Dec. 1). — Laura Haring

National Consumer Group Lands at New York Law

New York Law School is the new home of the Center for Justice and Democracy, a national consumer organization, the law school has announced. The center has established a two-semester course at the law school, Civil Justice Through the Courts, where four third-year students are learning about medical malpractice litigation protection and product safety litigation strategies. Students put what they learn to work as externs for the center, researching and preparing papers on topics including threats to contingency fees and legislation limiting government liability. The program “provides them the opportunity to work on cutting edge topics and will give them a real grounding in a very specialized topic of law that’s of interest to practitioners,” said Joyce Saltalamachia, a professor at New York Law School that teaches the course. — Laura Haring

NYU Law Grads Seek to Help Victims of Cholera in Haiti

Three current and former students at New York University School of Law have teamed up with Boston’s Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti to seek compensation for victims of a cholera outbreak that has claimed 6,400 lives and affected 500,000 others. The outbreak is believed to have been brought to Haiti by a group of United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal. In a petition for relief filed with the United Nations, the institute claims the U.N. did not properly screen its workers or maintain sanitation at a Haitian facility, contaminating a river used for drinking, bathing and irrigation.

Beatrice Lindstrom, a 2010 NYU Law graduate who is now a fellow at the institute, led the legal research that is the basis of the petition. “We have the opportunity here to seek out accountability and to question if it’s right that an organization with so much power has no avenue for accountability when it causes injury,” she said.

Ellie Happel, who graduated this year, and Greger Calhan, a third-year law student, also worked on the petition. — Laura Haring

Paper Explores Debt/Income Ratio of Law School Grads

You have graduated from law school and have landed a job as an attorney. Now you want to buy a house and cement your status in the professional class. But can you afford it? Probably not—unless you can count on earning three times your annual tuition, assuming you are borrowing the money. That is according to Dean Jim Chen of the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. In an academic paper, “A Degree of Practical Wisdom: The Ratio of Educational Debt to Income as a Basic Measurement of Law School Graduate’s Economic Viability,” Mr. Chen uses qualification for a home loan while paying off student debt as a measure of whether a legal education makes economic sense.

Too often, prospective students focus only on the highest-reported salaries of a certain schools’ graduates and do not investigate the long-term economic realities of financing their education, Mr. Chen said. “There is obviously a lot more that goes into the decision to attend law school, but you look around the world right now and everyone is paying attention to debt-to-income ratios,” he said. “I wanted to offer some guidance to people contemplating law school.”

Using the debt standards set by mortgage providers as guidelines, Mr. Chen concluded that law graduates need to earn three times their law school tuition annually to enjoy what he termed “adequate” financial viability. That assumes they borrow only the amount of their law school tuition and lack additional debt—a conservative assumption, Mr. Chen said.

Thus, graduates of relatively low-cost schools charging annual tuition of $16,000 would need to earn $48,000; graduates of schools charging $32,000 would need to earn $96,000; and graduates of schools charging $48,000 would need to earn $144,000.

To maintain a “good” level of financial viability—meaning they could easily secure loans and would be very financially secure—graduates must earn six times their annual tuition, Mr. Chen calculates. That means graduates of $16,000-a-year schools would need to earn $96,000; graduates of $32,000-a-year schools would need to earn $192,000; and graduates of $48,000-a-year schools would need to earn $288,000.

To maintain “marginal” financial viability, graduates of $16,000-a-year schools would need to earn at least $32,000; graduates of $32,000-a-year schools would need to earn $64,000; and graduates of $48,000-a-year schools would need to earn $96,000.

According to the National Association of Law Placement, new law graduates earn, on average, $68,500. That means many would be unable to buy a home and repay their loans, according to Mr. Chen’s analysis. Lenders generally frown on educational debt that represents more than 8 percent to 12 percent of the borrower’s monthly gross income, he wrote.

Mr. Chen’s paper is slated to appear in a future edition of the William Mitchell Law Review, he said. “I was trying to think of a simple way to capture some of the growing discomfort over the economics of the decision to attend law school,” he said. “At a bare minimum, you should not borrow so much money that you can’t afford a house.” — Karen Sloan, The National Law Journal