Thursday, December 2, 2010

Subsidized student loans in the crosshairs. Is IBR far behind?

Amongst the hubbub the past couple of weeks over the deficit commission's report, one proposal that hasn't gotten nearly as much press is the elimination of in-school interest subsidies for federal student loans. This is obviously less attention-worthy than some of the proposals, but for starving, jobless students and graduates, it's a big deal. Bigger still, the proposal to end interest-subsidized student loans suggests that a much newer and less-established program, Income Based Repayment (IBR), could be next to fall under the ax man's gaze.

Subsidized student loans have been taken as a given by students. IBR is a much newer program that is only fully available to those folks who are coming out of school after 2008. There are a number of formulas based on your income and ability to pay, and it only applies to federal loans. Basically, it works out that if you have a really shitty salary (or none), like many law graduates since 2008, you get a monthly repayment much lower than you would be looking at under a standard repayment plan. Also, by electing IBR, your outstanding debt is forgiven after 25 years, or 10 years if you work for a state/local government or qualified public interest organization. It's an okay program, and is helpful for unemployed, debt-pwnd students coming out of school during the Great Recession.

From what I can tell, the idea behind IBR was for graduates of expensive law and other postgrad programs who wanted to "pursue the common good" in public interest, to be given a break on their monthly payments in exchange for their selfless service. In the new reality of 50%+ graduating law classes being unemployed, it's more than likely going to become a catch-all for all of us with six-figure federal debt and no way to pay it back. All the while, the government will be eating the remaining interest on the loans, and if you make it to the 10 or 25 year mark, hey, forgiven! With so many unemployed graduates, the government is likely to be left holding a much heavier bag than they figured on when they were crafting IBR. For those un-and-underemployed recent grads relying on IBR, who's to say what will happen in 10 years, to say nothing of 25, as Erskine "Bowels" and his crew look for crafty new ways to close the deficit gap?

Personally, I don't care that the government is going to be saddled with more unpaid debt. It's not like it's "real" money; they just transferred some digits from their printing presses to the law school dean's office and our tuition showed up as "paid." The school pisses it away and modifies its ledger accordingly, but we're fooling ourselves if any real value is changing hands. That's another issue, though. The federal government created this student loan mess by guaranteeing tens of thousands a year in free money to prospective law students, thereby allowing schools to uniformly jack up their prices to around $50,000 a year. I have no sympathy for the feds if they are going to whine about the unintended consequences of IBR. I do, however, worry about their willingness to repeal the program and leave all of us debtors out in the cold.

Our one saving grace may be that, on the whole, the number of unemployable debtor law students is relatively small (compared to other federal obligations). In any given year, the number of people running up red ink for the feds via subsidized, low IBR payments or total discharge should be quite low. However, experience makes me wary. So many unfortunate law students have at least six figures in debt, particularly those who entered in 2008 and after and would be eligible for IBR, in the era where law school COA is almost uniformly ~$50k a year. It's not just law students, either. Every day we see more and more unemployed undergrads with six figure debt, and soon the crop of economic refugees who went for MBAs or other advanced degrees to try and dodge the bad economy of 2008 will be emerging, jobless. There are a hell of a lot of unemployed recent grads of all degree-stripes out there with six figures of debt and nowhere to go but back to school or onto the IBR rolls. If the in-school interest subsidy is on the chopping block, how long can it be before the IBR payment subsidy and eventual discharge are also scrapped?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sounding the alarm to deaf 0Ls, now with tuition hikes

I always get a little excited when a respectable news outlet reports on the law school scam. Even though it’s happening with increasing frequency in recent months, it’s still good to see articles like this piece from Slate. Judging by the continuing log-pile of prospective students taking the LSAT and clamoring to get into law schools, all of the warnings and media attention don't seem to be soaking in.

I talk about my own school a lot, but the facepalm-worthy news continues to roll out of that putrid money pit. Earlier this week, 1Ls were given the happy news that their tuition will be rising 13.5% next year. That seems like a relative bargain compared to the 15% increase that was announced a year ago. This is when tuition, fees, and COL at this fine public institution of legal learning are already $45,244, IN STATE.

As a four-way-tied-for-top-22 law school, Minnesota sadly is able to delude a lot of out-of-state students into thinking they’re paying for a “top 20 law school,” and I can only imagine how horrendously confiscatory their total COA will be. Tuition at the school had already doubled since 2005; factoring in this latest increase, it will have doubled and then some. So much for an affordable, public, land-grant university.

Friday, October 22, 2010

81% of clueless 0Ls would still apply to law school given horrible job outlook

From the NLJ today we have this depressing article wherein a small poll of prospective law students, taken this past summer, shows a whopping 81% of them are still content with going to law school even if there was a significant chance they would never be lawyers.
Veritas, a law school admissions consulting firm, polled 112 prospective law school applicants in June and July, and 81% said they would still apply even if "a significant number of law school graduates were unable to find jobs in their desired fields." Only 4% said they would not apply to law school under that circumstance.

At the same time, more than half the survey respondents — 63% — were concerned about finding a job after law school, and 70% said they were worried about finding a position in the field of their particular interest.

Now before someone starts sounding off about 112 fo0Ls not being a large enough sample, let's not kid ourselves. This rash denial of how bad things really are is one of the most common characteristics of all 0Ls. How else would they still be flooding into law school--in record numbers, no less--during a horrendous recession that has gutted the legal industry and left us with anemic recovery prospects? It takes a certain degree of self-delusion, right off the bat, to be a 0L in 2010. In fact, I'm a bit surprised that the 81% number wasn't higher, given the hubris and head-in-the-sand attitude displayed by many 0Ls. As we all know, unemployment and crippling debt may happen to their classmates, and is even likely to happen, but it still won't happen to THEM.

Even better, 63% of respondents are worried they'll find a about half of even the 81% who said they still would have gone, are they themselves worried about unemployment. What is wrong with these people? The only conclusion I can draw is that they must be so disenchanted and burned out with the even-worse job prospects that an undergraduate degree allows these days, that they're willing to double-down and spin the wheel again for an extremely slim chance at a worthwhile payout. More insanity from the higher education casino.

But there are still more facepalms to be had from the survey data:
The grim employment news for recent law graduates does seem to be making an impression on would-be lawyers, however. In addition to worrying about landing a job, prospective students seem to understand that landing a $160,000 starting job at a major law firm is harder than ever. Only 11% of the survey respondents expected to earn more than $145,000 out of law school. Another 29% expected to earn between $100,000 and $145,000, while the remaining 44% expected to earn between $75,000 to $100,000.

Still, those expectations don't jive with reality: The latest new lawyer salary data from NALP show that 34% of reported salaries fell between $40,000 and $65,000 for the class of 2009.

Twenty-four percent of the survey respondents wanted to work as a public interest attorney, while another 21% wanted to work in for a major firm.

So a full 84% of these kids expect to make AT LEAST $75,000 right out of law school. Are these people high? Especially with only 21% of them wanting to work for a major firm (of which nowhere near 21% could possibly land the number of open positions at such firms). So 79% of these 0Ls, don't want to work at a major firm, but 84% of them think they will make AT LEAST $75,000 as their starting lawyer salary. Just shoot me.

I can't say what can account for the continued, mind-boggling resistance of 0Ls to the avalanche of stories coming out of the legal industry about how bad it is. First there were scambloggers, then mainstream websites, then legal media, and finally mainstream media outlets, have all reported, many times, on the diminishing prospects. Yet the lemmings continue on their insane death migration. There was a scamblog-esque story on the front page of USA Today a couple months ago...did you 0Ls not see that while you were eating your morning's corn flakes? It is next to impossible for any reasonably-well-informed young person not to have heard the bad news about law school.

These 0Ls, and the 45,000 of them who will show up in the Class of 2014, truly have no excuses. They know things are bad, they've heard about the systemic problems in the legal industry that makes recovery to pre-recession heights unlikely. They've seen the writing on the wall, they've seen the emperor standing naked and unclothed in the street. This boils down to pure, irrational self-confidence, helped along by a steady stream of lies from each particular school. Even in my day, before the horrible unemployment jokulhaups had truly struck, schools were quick to corral their new students in the auditorium and tell them that yes, things were bad, but that was everyone ELSE'S problem. You students at this particular Toilet of Law will be absolutely fine. Just look at our employment data! We will weather the storm.

I am running out of sympathy for these poor prospective students. Every day brings a new heap of information that should be setting off screaming red fire alarms in their minds. Yet they continue to march aimlessly forward. As this survey bears out, many if not all are aware that unemployment is three short years and -$100,000 away, but they refuse to believe it will happen to them. To their classmates, sure, but not to them. It's maddening, however, it is no reason to stop fighting the good fight. Some enlightened 0L out there has got to be listening...and if not, well, I welcome him as a reader in three years.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

ABA shows up late to the party, over bloodied bodies of thousands of unemployed

So the ABA might want to “do something” about law school fraud. Way to show up tardy to the party (as usual).

Even if some eventual cap on new law schools is eventually worked out, it will come many years and many tens of thousands of students too late. Students who were suckered out of their tuition dollars during the height of the scam, as well as the even higher number of poor saps who are taking refuge in law school during the recession, will not be helped by this. There will be at least a decade’s worth of law grads who were ushered off into the meat grinder while schools were getting rich and the ABA stood idle. Ten years, approximately 40-45 thousand law grads a year...400,000 condemned souls. That's one hell of a lost generation.

As tuition increased by leaps and bounds, often doubling in the course of a five year period during the last decade, these plump leeches kept sucking and seeking out more warm bodies. As the ABA and law schools presided over a steady decline in decent, sustainable, real legal jobs, they made sure the doors to the profession were propped wide open, and then added more and more schools for good measure. When the economy was battered and ALL employment prospects went into a precipitous decline, making it even harder for underemployed JDs to ever find work in ANY field, they responded by encouraging more people to ride out the recession in law school. Then they printed out more school literature and US News magazines filled with their blatant lies about employment and salary statistics, and raised tuition another 10% per annum for good measure.

So I’m glad that someone in that cavernous, non-responsive realm of the “powers that be” is finally going to start a committee to take a look at making a recommendation that might finally be considered to be eventually enacted sometime after 2011. No one ever said they were speedy. At the very least, another 45,000 law school victims will be parted from their tuition dollars during this time and put on the conveyor belt towards eventual unemployment and inability to service their student debt. To top it all off, the ABA only proposes that schools hand out this “honest and transparent” information to students who are already admitted, i.e. those who have already invested time and money on their misguided journey into law school. They'll have thus already swallowed schools’ lies about the employment situation many times over. (“Yes, the economy is bad, but those graduates who work hard and get good grades will always do well.”) You know the drill.

Law students and recently-minted lawyers are truly assaulted on all sides in their struggle to keep their heads above water, service their massive debt, and keep food on the table. We are faced with an ignorant, uncaring, and negligent professional organization that has ceded all responsibility in defending and upholding the integrity of the legal profession. We have to deal with an even more ignorant general public who is still convinced that all lawyers “make the big bucks,” and that society always “looks out” for lawyers. We have to contend with an inept federal government that thinks more education and more students in law school is always the answer, and encourages schools to jack up their tuition in response to unlimited federal student aid. No one is asking for a pity party, but the very best that blathering commentators can ever do is claim that law students should have "done more research" or they should just "look harder" for those nonexistent jobs.

None of these problems are going to be solved overnight. Indeed, the skeptics among us will say that they are too far metastasized to ever be corrected. The fetid, fatal cancer that has been killing the legal profession for years is now moving in for the kill, and the over-saturation and perpetual decline in job prospects is but a symptom. This all may be true, and in my heart of hearts I’d agree that the horrible problems facing most law students and recent graduates are almost insurmountable. A good starting point in doing the right thing would be for the ABA to start taking its mission of promoting an honest, robust, and viable legal profession seriously. “Defending liberty, pursuing justice,” as their motto goes, cannot include sitting idly by while law schools bankrupt the profession of all credibility and debase whatever slim portion of prestige it still has by continuing to accept any student with $150,000 and a pulse. For as much as law schools like to claim that they are the gatekeepers of truth, justice, honesty, and all sorts of other feel-good buzzwords, it’s clear through their duplicity and entirely profit-driven motives that they are anything but. I don’t trust the ABA to solve the problem, as they have sat on their hands for years as the law school scam got woefully out of hand, but any step in the right direction must be better than continuing down the current path.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Career services steps up to the plate

Career Services counselors nationwide finally seem to be waking up to the reality that they have sat idly by while 50% or more of their recent classes graduated jobless. I was initially interested to see that someone in my school's office still has a pulse and is doing some flailing about to broaden the “opportunities” available to law student paupers.

While the bulk of a career services counselor’s time is spent trolling non-exclusive, publicly-available job boards and copying and pasting the postings to the school’s own job board, I was intrigued to note that my school’s office has given up on offering students a position within the law. Just look at a recent smattering of re-posted job listings from the school’s board:

Congressional campaign filed intern:

Field interns will work alongside staff on a fast-paced, high-energy campaign. Interns will be assigned leadership roles in all of the campaign’s field operations. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about field strategy development and implementation, and communicate directly with voters. As a field intern, you’ll gain valuable professional experience by working directly with staff to identify and mobilize voters to ensure victory on Election Day.

Responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

• Organizing and managing voter contact events.
• Taking an active role in volunteer recruitment, management, and retention.
• Helping maintain voter database.


Ideal candidates will be hard-working and possess strong communication skills. Candidates should be outgoing, have a positive attitude, and the ability to work effectively in a fast-paced environment. Proficiency with Microsoft Office is highly desired.

Where’s the J.D. requirement? Where’s there even the requirement of ANY degree, period? Where’s the validation for my three years’ worth of invested time and $100,000 tuition? Most importantly, where’s the pay? Oh, wait, not only are law grads still being pushed into unpaid internships, but now the search for some kind of “employment” for students has become so desperate that students are encouraged to do volunteer door-knocking for political campaigns as a way of finding “work.”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ted Brassfield: friend or foe?

Ever since unemployed 2009 law grad Ted Brassfield asked President Obama if the American Dream is dead a couple of days ago, there has been no lack of internet buzz. Brassfield himself seems to be taking full advantage of his 15 minutes, appearing on cable news shows and giving a short interview to the National Law Journal. Here in the realm of Scambloggia, the debate has veered away from whether Brassfield made good points (which I think he did), to whether he is a good representative of the struggling masses of unemployed J.D.s. Or, to put it more succinctly, whether Ted is a douche or not.

Worrying too much about whether he is a goofball or not is beside the point. Certainly, the focus of most news clips of him hasn't been on his personal life or potential failings as a lawyer. If anything, reaction has been something like, "Gee, even smart looking lawyer nerd kids are out of luck these days." For a movement that has had a hard time getting over the "cry me a river" factor from its detractors, any opportunity that arises to shine a light on unemployment and debt among law grads is a good one. Ted Brassfield is merely a vessel. He's the guy we can point out to our employed Boomer relatives on TV and say, "Look, it's not just me who's struggling! I'm not just 'whiny!'"

I don’t really care if Brassfield has an iPhone or takes vacations. The personal details of his life aren’t as important as are his 15 minutes in the spotlight as a member of the Lost Generation. Here’s a guy with a good resume: Princeton undergrad, some work history, and a top-30 law school. Most Americans would think he should be able to write his own ticket in life.

On paper, and without the (unverified) details about his vacation or cell phone purchasing habits, Brassfield's story is vintage Lost Generation. According to his interview with the NLJ, he had a lot of odd jobs, before finding something relatively stable, but he left it all for his abstract love for the law. Three years and six figures of debt later, he can't find work as a licensed attorney and does the odd contract job while looking for non-law work. As he explained to the President, any notion of getting married or starting a family has long since gone by the wayside.

Lest anyone accuse Brassfield of being your typical delusional toileteer who paid $150,000 to attend a TTT with dreams of landing a job with the feds, that's not really true. In fact, he's a lot like a lot of us scambloggers in that his alma mater is # 27-ranked Indiana University-Bloomington's Mauer School of Law. Despite Brassfield being unable to find real work as a 2009 grad, the school reported that 89.2% of their grads from the previous year were able to find employment. Brassfield must just be one of the unlucky ones. Oh, wait...he said that he does occasional contract work. THAT, sir, is employment for reporting purposes. Ted Brassfield, as far as your law school is concerned, you are "employed!"

Here's the most interesting portion of Brassfield's exchange with the NLJ:
NLJ: Why did you decide to go to law school?

TB: I had worked a variety of jobs before landing a gig as a researcher in a management consulting agency. I built myself a potentially lucrative career and had some really good prospects, but I didn't want it. I felt like life is too short not to love, or at least deeply care about, what you do. As long as I can remember, I've admired the work of attorneys who stood up for civil rights. There are opportunities as an attorney to really make a fundamental difference in people's lives. I liked the idea of the whole process of litigation, and doing it in the public interest.

NLJ: You graduated from law school in 2009. What have you been doing since then?

TB: I have paid the bills by sporadic contract work. I have tried to drum up non-legal work. I'm not yet a licensed attorney. I'm waiting on the results of the Colorado bar, where I'm originally from.

NLJ: What is your dream job?

TB: I would love to work for the federal government, and I hope that all this attention has not harmed my prospects for that. There are state attorney shops that are phenomenal and would be wonderful to work for. I'm primarily interested in the government sector. The experience I've had interning at the [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] and the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] and the U.S. Attorney's Office here in D.C showed me that the resources the federal government can bring to bear are incredible-specifically with regard to training and support.

NLJ: How much debt do you have?

TB: I have six-figures of student loans, which were all accumulated in law school. I didn't want to work for a private firm while I was in law school. I wanted to get the experience of working at different federal agencies. I had these phenomenal practice-building experiences, but I didn't get paid for them.

Mr. Brassfield's law school experience and post-graduate hell doesn't sound the least bit unfamiliar to the Lost Generation. Whatever one might say about his attitude, appearance, personal spending habits (which mostly came from an unverified blog post, as far as I can tell), or overall level of “douchiness,” he’s still been scammed by law school. There are a lot of smug douches in law school. Yeah, their attitude can be grating, but that doesn’t make it any less unjust that they were swindled out of $100,000 and left to rot in perpetual unemployment.

Like the 40,000 other members of the class of 2009, Brassfield entered law school with dreams and interests (or at least some hope of employment), and graduated to find the rug pulled out from under him. We care not about the boring details of Ted's buying habits or vacations. We do care about the value of having someone on the news for one 24-hour cycle that can talk about student loan debt, unemployment, and the J.D. scam, and the long term feelings of hopelessness that go along with all of this. For all of these reasons, Ted Brassfield's 15 minutes of fame are A-okay with me, and I hope that enough non-lawyers, Boomers, and prospective law students see his sad tale of unemployment and begin to question their assumptions about law school.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Unemployed law grad asks Obama if American Dream is dead

Among today's big news headlines, other than the recession having been miraculously over since June 2009, was Obama's town hall meeting/gripefest/fiasco. Normally we here at ScammedHard! try and refrain from commentary on politics, but when the plight of yet another unemployed law graduate comes up in national news context, it's a great way to make more people aware of the law school scam.

According to the NYT, unemployed recent law graduate Ted Brassfield, "[a] 30-year-old law school graduate told Mr. Obama that he had hoped to pursue a career in public service — like the president — but complained that he could barely pay the interest on his student loans, let alone think of getting married or starting a family.

“I was really inspired by you and your campaign and the message you brought, and that inspiration is dying away,” he said, adding, “And I really want to know, is the American dream dead for me?”

Mr. Brassfield's employment problems and question to the President are, in a way, a lot like the problems thousands of unemployed law grads are facing. While not every older person has a stellar resume like Obama's, so many of today's unemployed grads are hearing canned responses to their woes that sound a lot like the President's. Mr. Obama told Mr. Brassfield, "Absolutely not. What we can't do, though is go back to the same old things that we were doing because we've been putting off these problems for decades...We are still the country that billions of people in the world look to and aspire to."

That doesn't sound too far from, "Gee, I know you've got it tough, young law grad, but look at all of the great opportunities you have. You have a LAW DERGEE, for Chrissakes! People would KILL to have the educational achievement you have. Do you know how much lawyers can make..."

It's all fluff! People in the world look to and aspire to us? Maybe, but that's just because they see a highly-stylized version of American life on TV! The most common line that I get from people when traveling abroad isn't about how great our economic system is, or how wonderful our rights and liberties are, it's "are American neighborhoods really like the cute ones with lawns that they have on the tele?"

The President and all of the apologists, from clueless parents, to law school administrators, and everyone else who is trying to downplay the systemic misery of this depression, just don't "get it." Yeah, they lived through the 70s oil crisis. Big deal. No one under age 80 knows what it's like to come of age and try and find a real, sustainable job in such a shitty economy. They can throw out as many platitudes and evidence of "economic warming signs" that they want, but at the end of the day, they have no idea what it feels like to be faced with the insurmountable hurdles that our generation is looking at. Even those unfortunate Boomers who have been laid off in this recession had decades of solid work experience behind them that shaped their worldview. They are floundering now because they can't cope with real poverty and feelings of uselessness, which is sad. At least they had a chance. Try spending your entire life being told that you could achieve something, that your education was the key to your success in life, and that a decent and fulfilling job was just around the corner, and then being denied that chance. Personally, I'd rather be old and laid off, than young and unable to ever get a start. At least those unemployed Boomers have their memories, rather than a lifetime of depressed earnings, delayed or never-begun family lives, crushing debt, and all of the other attendant horrors that are facing 20-somethings.

What we're seeing here, from the President on down, is a horrible generational disconnect. Obama has a good job, a decent paycheck, and relatively high job stability (at least until 2012...hoy-oh!). He's a "law school establishment" guy if there ever was one, with a host of legal industry feathers in his cap, from law review to summer associateship, to law professor. There's even that vaunted public-interest work in there. The President's life experience is, by any standard, atypical, and his resume is more sterling than practically anyone else's. However, I was still struck by the hammy, lacking-in-conviction response, that he gave to poor Mr. Brassfield. It still sounds like a clueless parent, or a dopey career counselor, all of whom are employed and unable to relate to the young unemployables, to say that "everything will be just fine, and we're just as awesome as we always were."

I could go on about the miseries that are crippling so many of our young lives and shutting us out of the ever-shrinking middle class that Obama is spending so much time talking up, but it would cover no new ground. I must, however, applaud Mr. Ted Brassfield for taking it to the President, and asking him a question worthy of any scamblogger. This man is the face of the hellish plight of the overeducated, indebted, under-employed Lost Generation. His American Dream is unlikely to ever pan out in the bountiful way that those of previous generations did. Perhaps it's time for a little further national delusion. Let's redefine the American Dream from whatever it was--2.3 kids, picket fence and a mortgage--or perhaps an Arthur Miller-esque ability to stroll out of the jungle and get rich? In the era of defining down, the new American Dream looks a lot more like $120,000 in student loan debt, underemployment at part-time, $7/hour work, no marriage, kids, or net contribution to society, and a whole heaping load of failure and despair. It's probably not what President Obama was thinking of when he claimed that the American Dream is still alive and well, but at least if we take an honest look at what this "dream" entails for today's young people, we can go on using the term rather than toss it in the dustbin of history, along with our economic robustness and high-flying sense of national achievement.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Report: Rural Areas Positively Brimming with Legal Work

There’s been a lot of shitty advice thrown out to desperate law grads recently about how they can beat the odds and build a law practice. One that will at least allow them to buy a case of Ramen noodles every two weeks to fend off starvation. Last week’s horrible advice to the forlorn masses was for them to hike up their sleeves and head out to the peaceful country roads of rural America. To hear Eric Cooperstein tell it, rural America is a forgotten little place where jobs are plentiful, people are laid back, and every little country hamlet is just brimming with well-to-do country gentlemen in dire need to legal services. Well, Scammed Hard! readers, let’s pack Ma and the young’ns in the truck and hit the open road to seize some of this opportunity for ourselves!

The advice-giver in question happens to be a Minnesotan, just like yours truly, so I feel particularly well-qualified to riff on the “opportunities” he’s referring to. Being from this state, I have fairly easy access to what most people would consider “the country,” and actually enjoy getting out of the suburban-sprawl purgatory of the Twin Cities as often as possible. I've even got relatives who are rural residents and farmers, the very people that Mr. Cooperstein claims are desperate to throw money at young law grads in order to solve all of their pressing legal problems.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

More on those "whiny" scambloggers

It’s been rather quiet here at ScammedHard! for the past few weeks. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I've been a bit distracted trying to get some non-legal stuff off the ground that may one day allow me to feed myself, but that in no way has dulled the pain of having been swindled out of $100,000 and set out with the trash upon graduation. In these couple weeks, there's been no shortage of joyous drum-beating and tambourine-banging among the pro-law-school cheerleaders. The law school bandwagon goes marching along, as always.

There is always going to be blowback against those who would dare to question the law school industrial cartel, as a quick glance at the comment section of any mainstream news article on the law school scam will show. So many people, both the general public and even many lawyers, are still operating under the delusion that law students went into this with their eyes open and were fully informed of all the risks.

This particular post over at the Minnesota Lawyer’s latest spinoff blog, the unfortunately-named "J.D.s Rising,” attempts to strike back at all of the “whiny scambloggers” and makes the oft-repeated point that “they knew what they were getting into.”

Our blog author makes the following point:
“I did not know the first-year private attorney’s average starting salary, but I could have discovered that with a little research on my part. While I sympathize with the recent grads on the job hunt and agree with the criticism against law schools’ admittance and career service practices - law school was my choice, every loan I took out was my choice, and the job market….well, it is tight in nearly every field. I cannot blame the schools for failing to put a warning label on their applications stating: “Likely to cause debt and unemployment.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

USA Today readers reflect on scam blogs

Scammed Hard has been busy trying to get some non-law-related interests off the ground lately, but it still came as a pleasant surprise to see the blog mentioned in this piece in USA Today about disillusioned, scammed law graduates. Articles like these have started to appear more frequently in mainstream news outlets this summer. While many casual readers of USA Today or the New York Times will likely dismiss the plight of law graduates as a bunch of lazy, over-educated whiners who just "can't get a job," it is my sincere hope that enough prospective law students are noticing the growing number of mainstream news articles cautioning against law school.

Still, to read the comments section for this USA Today article, a scamblogger could be excused for feeling that the message was falling on deaf ears. This article managed to garner more than 600 comments in 20 hours, so there is certainly no lack of interest in the topic. Still, the vast majority of commenters offer some vitriolic variation on a common theme: Boo hoo, serves you right, lawyer scum!

A lot of people are hurting in this recession. Undoubtedly, there are comments from people who have been laid off, furloughed, or are perpetually underemployed. Many are probably grappling with higher education debt while working a low-paying job that doesn’t utilize their degree. It all sounds a lot like the plight of the average law graduate, except that many of these folks hopefully aren’t suffering under $100,000 in debt and the J.D. stain on their resume that law grads are. I’d be inclined to say that “we’re all in this together.”

Sadly, a perusal of the pages and pages of comments on this article reveals otherwise. The newspaper can tell readers all about how law programs amount to three years’ worth of glittery highway robbery that leave their graduates unemployable, but it matters not to many. They’re still lawyers, and therefore evil, malformed human sludge. They all wanted to go to law school so that they could get $160k starting salaries, live the “models and bottles” lifestyle, and wake up every morning putting their foot on the neck of the little guy, grinning all the while. That sure sounds like me, and all the other law students I know! These commenters must be right…to a man, we all deserve the misery, crushing debt, and perpetual unemployment. It is our lot in life.

Let’s look at some of the most highly-rated comments, as recommended by other readers:

Friday, August 20, 2010

What's wrong with 20-somethings?

My onetime love-hate relationship with the New York Times has transformed into a purely “hate” relationship. I certainly will still peruse the day’s offerings, which is how I stumbled across the following gem. There is a lovely piece from the Sunday magazine entitled “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” Right away, we get the usual tripe about how irresponsible, directionless, and basement-dwelling this generation is, and how much this baffles their parents, who, as we know, never had any periods of wayward youth before they grew up and ruined the country.
It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un¬tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

This piece puts a new spin on those darn 20-somethings, because rather than simply blame it on laziness and Lady Gaga, some professor has come up with a new psychological explanation for why we just can’t get it together. I’ve never been one for psychobabble, but this theory is particularly dunderheaded. As the article notes, it seems that every generation or so, psychologists are “discovering” distinct new stages of development. It’s an amazing coincidence that these alternative explanations for why 20-somethings are screwed (hint: economy) turn up just at the time some prof needs a grand new theory on which to spend ten years “developing” while he’s getting tenure.

The idea that my young brain isn’t fully developed isn’t new. In fact, it’s probably true. This is by no means a reason why we can write off the problems my generation faces as merely “normal stages of development.” This is a sad attempt to punt away the crippling structural economic problems that have handicapped this generation. Sure, my brain isn’t fully developed. Any scientist worth his salt will tell you that the brain is constantly changing, forming new synapse pathways (or whatever they’re called) or strengthening/weakening others. I kill brain cells every weekend when I knock a few back. See, the brain is constantly changing.

This grand, important developmental stage of "emerging adulthood" didn’t seem to have hindered our ancestors. The “emerging adults” of the past built railroads, mined coal, and fought world wars. I don’t like to use specific historical examples, but if 20-somethings are really so cerebrally inept, no young person should ever have accomplished anything. Alexander the Great had conquered half of Asia by the time he was 25. Winston Churchill was a noted soldier, author, and elected MP by 25. Theodore Roosevelt was busting his ass in the New York legislature at 24. Examples like these are often dismissed as “extraordinary” but naysayers, but let’s be reasonable here. What were even your humble grandparents doing before age 25? If they’re anything like mine, they were working in a foundry before getting married, having kids, fighting in a war, coming home, and continuing this established family and career life, all before age 30. There was no extended period of lounging about college campuses, no few years spent in mom’s basement playing Xbox, no extra years in grad school riding out a bad economy. Even most of my hippie aunts and uncles had married and had kids by 25. Psychologically, they were probably a lot like we are. What’s the biggest difference? They lived in a time where an expanding economy that offered plenty of entry-level jobs that paid a living wage allowed them to pursue this kind of stable, middle-class life. There’s nothing the least bit psychological about the difference between us and them.

Outside of the world of the perpetually un/underemployed 20somethings, liberal arts majors, law school grads, humanities PhDs, laid-off engineers, and the like, there is a noted absence of this psychological phenomenon, a fact that the Times spends a whole paragraph, out of ten pages, discussing:
EVEN ARNETT ADMITS that not every young person goes through a period of “emerging adulthood.” It’s rare in the developing world, he says, where people have to grow up fast, and it’s often skipped in the industrialized world by the people who marry early, by teenage mothers forced to grow up, by young men or women who go straight from high school to whatever job is available without a chance to dabble until they find the perfect fit. Indeed, the majority of humankind would seem to not go through it at all. The fact that emerging adulthood is not universal is one of the strongest arguments against Arnett’s claim that it is a new developmental stage. If emerging adulthood is so important, why is it even possible to skip it?

It’s not important, because it doesn’t exist. There’s nothing psychological about our situation, other than the long term effects of feeling helpless and depressed due to your inability to provide for yourself. You can also throw in a hefty dose of anger at those who have scammed us, bundled and outsourced jobs we might have taken, crashed the economy, and encouraged us to saddle up with crippling student debt that has not proven to be the ticket to employment we were promised it would be.

The reason millions and millions of 20somethings are adrift at sea isn’t because they’re discovered some new developmental niche called “emerging adulthood.” It’s because it has become so hard economically to get a grip on that cherished middle-class earning power and work stability that previous generations enjoyed. At the same time, we’ve taught 20-somethings a disdain for entry-level work that might require a little elbow grease, by telling everyone they could immediately pass go, collect $200, and become doctors and lawyers. We’ve crushed the entrepreneurial spirit of this generation by conditioning everyone to expect a cushy, white-collar job. We’ve destroyed the desire of millions of people to pair off and start families by telling them that it’s overrated and that perpetual bachelordom and avoiding committed relationships is the way to go. We haven’t instilled people with the life script that might ensure their own individual futures in old age, and our collective well-being by creating a new generation of workers, taxpayers, and the like. The root cause of the “problems” faced by 20somethings is totally economic, and is a result of their parents’—the Boomers—own incompetent failings.

This condition isn’t something to celebrate, and it isn’t a chance to bask in the glory of “redefining adulthood.” Yes, bumming around college campuses, stinking your way unwashedly through European hostels, and gaining Level 10 Prestige in Call of Duty can be “fun” for many young people. At the risk of being the old (young) curmudgeon here, none of those things are going to “fix” America, and they are not going to establish the kind of robust, hardscrabble generation that would have a fighting chance in this brave new, post-recession, post-outsourcing, post-weak dollar world. Some 20somethings will relish the “freedom” of living at home and having no responsibilities. However, having responsibilities and being a cog in a collective of responsible, boring, and rather dull middle-class adults is a part of living in society and making sure it doesn’t collapse. Your grandparents were cogs. Your parents might have been hippies, but they eventually had to face the music and become a well-oiled cog. It was this collective journey towards the middle class, powered by a decent economy and job opportunities for young people, that kept the U.S. at the forefront during the 20th century. Now that the economy is trashed and young people are no longer encouraged or self-motivated to aspire to the kind of lifestyles their parents and grandparents lived, there really is no way out. There are certainly a multitude of factors that can explain or stem from the “condition” so many 20-somethings find themselves in. Making up half-assed psychological theories to explain it, or convincing people that spending a decade in work, economic, and maturity purgatory is “awesome,” does nothing to address the problem. There are no jobs, and an entire generation is floundering because they can’t get into the workforce. No one's to say if this problem can actually be fixed, nor if there are any easy answers. However, academic puffs and their pals at the NYT need to stop coming up with lame, esoteric explanations for the plight of this generation, and especially need to stop portraying their decline in economic prospects as a positive thing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

State government jobs update!

A few posts ago, during Scammed Hard's Federal Jobs Update, some folks claimed that the analysis was a little misleading, and that students shouldn't write off government work as "impossible." Despite there being only 332 federal government attorney positions open, for a class of some 45,000 3Ls, the law school cheerleaders made sure to tell us that all is not lost. State and local governments can still provide one of those hallowed public-sector jobs for the thousands of desperate law grads out there!

From my old Minnesota home, we have this sad story about the horrible state of local public defenders' offices. This is merely the latest in a slew of reports about how quality and court access have suffered due to (what else) budget cuts. Yes, like the decimated private sector, local governments are tightening their belts and cutting way, way back. And it's not just big, bloated states like California, New York, or New Jersey that are leading the pack. Minnesota Lawyer has steadily been reporting that clerkship funding is in question, many county courthouses can't afford to remain open a full business day, and that things are only going to get worse. What's one thing that the state is not going to want to do, at a time when they can barely keep the lights on? Hire a new crop of rookie attorneys.

Hey, at least it's not as bad as in New Jersey or California, where law graduates are asked to commit to volunteering for local and state government offices for 6-12 months, unpaid, with no offer of full-time employment. (They're compensated with the valuable experience, you know!) The worst part is that these work-for-free scams report that they're positively flush with applicants.

I'm sure that Minnesota court administrators will want to consider the old work-for-free stopgap that seems to be working so well for other states. What with four local law schools (three of which are middling TTTs) and 1,000 new grads every year, there has always been a surplus of desperate, unemployed attorneys here. What better way to solve the state's court and legal services crises than "the California method?" Although, having gone to school here, I can attest that many state government offices already make use of low-paid (or more commonly unpaid) student and graduate workers to hack away at their massive backlog of legal work.

Prospective students, continue to take heed. Did you go to law school with dreams of working for free, indefinitely? To carry that $100,000+ in red ink around for six months, a year, or more, plugging away at a volunteer position which is happy to have your free labor, but will never offer you a cent in wages? Yes, the law truly is one of the most glittering and prestigious of professions.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jobless grads thrown a bone, manipulated

Back in April, the Class of 2010 at my fancypants, first tier toilet law school received an email that read something like this:
3Ls: Graduate Employment Survey

We already have 100+ Graduate Employment Surveys in. Thank you to all of you that have completed your survey.

If you have not yet completed your survey, please log on to Symplicityand visit the Shortcut on the homepage for the Graduate Employment Survey. If you prefer, you may complete a paper version of the survey in the CPDC.

* Your grad survey data is only reported in the aggregate and is required by organizations including the ABA, NALP, and US News & World Report. Please provide complete data and help us advise current students and prospective students about employment options.

Only ~100 out of 303 students in the class bothered to return the employment survey! That sounds awfully close to the class members' own estimates that 2/3 of them have no jobs. I'm sure this small sector of students reporting will have no impact on how the school reports this data to US News and to prospective students. The law is a profession built on honesty, justice, and integrity, which certainly means the school will be forthcoming and let 0Ls know that only 33% of them are going to find gainful employment.

Things must have gone particularly well for these jobless recent graduates over the summer. Having buried their heads in their bar review books, many could probably pretend to ignore looming unemployment and student loan collection monster that was lurking in the corner. Well, the bar exam is over, and now it's back to reality. Time for the school to pull out all the stops before those 200 unemployed grads start getting antsy and making a fuss. Maybe they can even "employ" some of them, for statistical reporting purposes, in the meantime!
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION: The University of Minnesota Law School proudly introduces the Post Graduate Fellowships: Judicial Law Clerks. Up to 5 Fellows will work as judicial law clerks for the Fourth Judicial District for a total of 400 hours at 30 hours a week. The Fellows will receive a total of $5,000, less applicable taxes. Fellowships are for 2010 graduates of the University of Minnesota Law School who have taken the July 2010 Bar Exam. Fellows will be paid with the employees of the Fourth Judicial District. Fellows will receive paychecks with proper withholdings according to the Judicial Districts regularly scheduled payroll process. Fellows will start positions between Sept 1 and Oct 31, 2010.

The University of Minnesota Law School proudly introduces the Post Graduate Fellowships. Fellows will be funded to work in a legal role at a nonprofit or government agency for total of 400 hours (15-30 hours a week); fellows will receive $5000, less applicable taxes. The University will award a limited number of Fellowships. Fellowship money can be used domestically or internationally.

Throwing desperate, starving grads a few thousand bucks and having them work is nothing new. We've seen Duke, SMU, and other law schools unveil similar programs. The motives behind these programs are shady at best. While the schools will defend them as "giving our grads an opportunity in a tough job market," it's no coincidence that these "fellowships" are being tossed out to jobless grads right around the time "employed-at-x-months" data needs to be collected. While Minnesota owned up for the latest round of US News rankings and reported its "employed at graduation" as 83.8% for 2008 grads, we've since suffered through two years of horrible recession. As 2010 graduates themselves would be quick to note, honest reporting of an "employed at graduation" figure in coming issues had better be below 50%.

It's common knowledge that schools game the US News rankings, usually deliberately, but sometimes through what can be written off as sheer incompetence. Thanks to clever ideas like this "fellowship" program, which will move a graduate into the "employed" category, give him a few thousand bucks (after he gave the school $100,000), and then have him out on his ass in another thirteen weeks. The pay is also atrocious during that time ($12.50/hour for licensed attorneys who've passed the bar). And lest an ambitious graduate think that the connections they will make in the state court system will provide a one-way ticket to full-time employment, nasty budget constraints are causing the courts to scale back. Why do you think they are only hiring you as a "fellow," for $5,000 that is paid by the school, and not as a full-time, salaried clerk?

Many hopeless recent graduates will doubtlessly take the school's 30 pieces of silver and sign up for these fellowships. Scammed students can be bought off with enough money to buy a few cases of ramen noodles, and the school gets to continue to fudge its employment numbers in order to rope in the next class of suckers who will turn over $100,000 apiece to the law school. When these 13-week fellowships end, the data will be collected and reported, the graduates will have had plenty of time to "network," and jobless, suffering, scammed graduates are no longer the law school's problem. They have already moved on to swindle the next batch of students. Win-win!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The "plan" : undergrad to law school

I couldn't help tearing out my hair while perusing this article on skyrocketing college costs that recession-squeezed families are having to bear. While the anecdotes of average, middle-income Minnesotans shelling out $24,000 a year for undergrad, or planning to pay $120,000 for their kid's degree because "you absolutely need it," are heartbreaking enough, there is one portion that is sure to have any scamblogger reaching for the Rolaids.

Mike Bridgeman of Minneapolis said that with an annual cost of more than $20,000 once all expenses are factored in, he wouldn't be comfortable paying for his daughter to attend the University of Minnesota Duluth if she didn't have a post-graduation plan to attend law school.

"A lot of kids graduate and still don't know what they want to do," he said. But since she is focused, he willingly paid the $6,000 yearly family contribution out of his paychecks. This year, he's tapping her college savings account. She also borrowed a small amount of money via federal loans, which he plans to help her pay back.

How common has the "epic life plan" of tumbling directly from undergrad to law school become? Judging by the flood of cheesy news stories documenting directionless undergrads, and my own personal acquaintances, every other undergrad who can't find a job is trundling off to law school. How pathetic is it, that after shelling out tens of thousands for an undegrad degree, we've come to accept that it's necessary, acceptable, and a good idea to immediately start paying $30-50k a year for another degree?

In a way, it makes sense. It certainly was what motivated me to go to law school. Can't find a "real job" with your liberal arts degree, better go back to school and get a real skill. Granted, this was before the worst of the recession set in and I might have had a fighting chance of finding some crappy entry-level job. Alas, ambition and that higher calling of "the law" rang, and it was off to hit the casebooks for me. Only when the prospective students themselves also hit the wall will everything become illuminated.

What really bothers me is this parental notion that "other kids don't know what they want to do, but my special little guy/girl is off to law school! They're going to be someone and are on the road to success in life!" Sadly, this couldn't be farther from the truth. The vast majority of people in law school are there because they have no clue what to do with the rest of their lives, they have some vague notion of what being a lawyer entails, and they are led to believe that lawyers make decent money. They take the LSAT, swallow the fraudulent employment statistics from their school of choice, and send off their tuition deposits.

Here is my sad and law school scam-embittered prediction for our young Minnesotan subject, currently studying at regional undergrad campus University of Minnesota-Duluth. Judging by the student profile at this school, our subject is most likely going to remain in Minnesota and will target at least one of the four law schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, three of which are TTT/TTTT. (Mitchell cracked top 100 this year, big deal, it is and always will be TTT.) Odds are our student is going to be looking at Mitchell or St. Thomas. Because job prospects are so miserable, even for T-1 University of Minnesota graduates, our hapless student finds herself unemployable (at least for actual paid work) during her law school summers, but shrugs it off as "the recession" and soldiers on.

Upon graduating and finding herself some $100,000 in debt, she and her family are shocked to find that, like many of the 1,000 new lawyers looking for work every year in Minnesota, she cannot find anything. She hangs on for a while, perhaps getting her already-generous dad to shell out for "solo practice" supplies, advertising, and the like. Eventually, her debt sources and soul exhausted, she moves back home, seven years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the best years of her life down the drain. Her well-meaning but dumbfounded dad sometimes wanders into the basement of his Minneapolis home, where his daughter has taken up residence. As he glances over at the broken figure of his once-happy little girl, hunched over the computer and sending off the day's dozen resumes into the abyss, he gets a little misty-eyed. "What happened to 'the plan?'" he sometimes cries out.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Massive student loan time bomb

The WSJ reports today that total outstanding student loan debt has for the first time surpassed the total amount of credit card debt held by Americans. Isn't this great news! Finally people have stopped wasting their time and interest payments on meaningless consumer goods, and have started "investing in themselves" and improving their lives through education!
Americans owe some $826.5 billion in revolving credit, according to June 2010 figures from the Federal Reserve. (Most of revolving credit is credit-card debt.) Student loans outstanding today — both federal and private — total some $829.785 billion, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and

That is just swell, and because Americans seem to have no trouble keeping up with their crushing credit card debt payments (lol), I'm sure there will be no negative implications for this massive pile of student loan red ink. After all, the debt is disproportionately held by young people with low incomes who are having a hard time finding work. It should be no problem at all that unemployment is highest for the 18-29 year old crowd, which also is the age group most likely to have student debt.
[T]here is $605.6 billion in federal student loans outstanding and $167.8 billion in private student loans outstanding. He estimates that $300 billion in federal student loan debts have been incurred in the last four years.

$300B in the last four years? They always said that in a recession, kids would flock to all forms of higher ed to take refuge. How many millions of unemployed people are delaying the pain and making it easy for book cookers to continue claiming unemployment is lower than it is? What happens when students have racked up a B.A., J.D., M.A. and a few other degrees for good measure? We're going to have the most overeducated panhandlers in the history of the world showing up on the streets.
Student Loan Justice, a Washington State-based student loan advocacy group issued a statement on the student-loan eclipse, estimating that media coverage of credit cards exceeds coverage of student loans “by a factor of approximately 15-to-1 based on unscientific news surveys conducted since 2007.”

But student loan debt, in many ways, is different than credit-card debt. These loans typically can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. They have different repayment terms, some of which can catch some have heavy consequences for borrowers who miss payments and borrowers’ families.

No news here. The perils of student loan debt, especially the inability to get it discharged in bankruptcy, and its penchant for giving doctorates and attorneys a standard of living similar to that of Chinese coal miners, are well documented. What is the natural response to this ticking time bomb of student debt, a trend which will only accelerate given the horrible economy, lack of prospects for young people, and dump-truck loads full of readily available federal loan money?

Bob "Disgusting Shill" Herbert over at the New York Times suggests that we all need to double-down on higher education! The U.S. lags New Zealand and other developed countries in the percentage of people with college degrees! (Oh lord.) The ONLY solution is to sign up as many 18-year-olds as possible for higher education and get them on the hook for $40,000 a year in federal loans. Otherwise, we may never see the benefits of having a highly-educated populace that countries like Belarus enjoy. Says Bob:

At a time when a college education is needed more than ever to establish and maintain a middle-class standard of living, America’s young people are moving in exactly the wrong direction. A well-educated population also is crucially important if the U.S. is to succeed in an increasingly competitive global environment.

According to a new report from the College Board, the U.S. is 12th among developed nations in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. The report said, “As America’s aging and highly educated work force moves into retirement, the nation will rely on young Americans to increase our standing in the world.”

When this is the educational environment, you can say goodbye to the kind of cultural, scientific and economic achievements that combine to make a great nation. We no longer know how to put our people to work. We read less and less and write like barbarians. We’ve increasingly turned our backs on the very idea of hard-won excellence while flinging open the doors to decadence and decline. No wonder Lady Gaga and Snooki from “Jersey Shore” are cultural heroes.

Yes, Bob, the country is going to hell in a handbasket because not enough youngsters are drinking the Kool-Aid and plunking down tens of thousands of dollars for useless undergraduate degrees. This economic crisis and "failure to put people to work" is certainly the fault of a lack of education. Shunting millions more off into universities and shackling them with debt will definitely create jobs and solve all of our problems. And yes, it is definitely the fault of the Jersey Shore crew that young people today are supposedly so goddamned stupid.

I would propose that your average 18-25 year old is rightfully skeptical of higher education. On the one hand, everyone with a pulse goes to college. I don't know a single person my age who doesn't have a B.A./B.S. (Okay, maybe the guy at the gas station. Actually, he probably has a PhD.) When people graduate from college after having shelled out 25, 50, or 100 thousand dollars, only to return home, move into their parents basement, and cut lawns or work a cash register for minimum wage, I can only applaud those young people who are smart enough to avoid college. College, quite simply, is not for everyone. The value of a degree is so diluted, with so many tens of millions of students, that it imparts no particular value outside of a very narrow and elite set of advanced science, economics, or other specialized degrees from a handful of prestigious schools.

Young people taking a hard look at college and deciding to forgo the "experience" is a positive trend. If your parents are footing the bill, or if you're a genius who plans on getting a glitzy degree from a top Ivy program or MIT or something, then you probably will go. For the vast majority of us, who were told we needed to go to college to become "marketable," to learn, and to "grow," this has proved to be a pretty lie that has brought most people nothing but economic hardship, a diminished sense of self, and a lack of faith in our nation's once-vaunted educational system.

So, on this day when we toast the rise of The Student Loan as the new consumer debt god of the American people, let us also remember and salute those bright and clever youngsters who were not enticed by the fairy tales and promises of the good life, who forewent those boring lectures on aboriginal toolmaking and hegemonic heteronormativism, and are chugging along making the same hourly wages as the college crowd. That is, if they're not all unemployed like the college graduates.

Post Script:

There will always be blowback from the folks who refuse to believe that higher education isn't "worth it." It's easy to be skeptical and critical, and to lie through your teeth and put a falsely-positive spin on things, when one has no skin in the game. When one sees articles like these that draw heavily from the comments of law school staff, TTT administrators, and legal industry apologists, they cannot be taken seriously. When the stories from students and graduates in the trenches are so different and blearly compared to the upbeat forecasts offered by these shills, something is amiss. The question is, which side will prospective students believe? Tread warily.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Federal Jobs Update! Class of 2011 is Screwed!

It’s that time again, when desperate law students are scrambling to land employment for the coming year. I would do a post about this season’s OCI and the 2L fretting involved with that, but as the vast majority of students never have a shot at biglaw, especially in this economy, we can ignore that in favor of something that students outside of the top 15% of their class dream about: working for the government. This is of particular concern to jobless 3Ls, who went through the worst OCI in history in 2009 and are by and large still scrambling for a job before graduation hits. Who doesn’t want to find a steady spot on the General Schedule, with the possibility of IBR loan forgiveness after ten years?

Career Services LOVES to push the myth that students who didn’t get a job with a big firm (the vast majority of them) can all just go work for the government. The “Government Honors & Internship Handbook” is put out every year by the University of Arizona. It is nothing short of the bible for lazy Career Services Charlatans. Overpaid slugs from career services offices, from the T-14 down to the lowliest of TTTs, beat the “Arizona Handbook” drum every time a desperate student steps into their office. Never mind that it’s not exclusive, and every law student in the country has access to (and presumably uses) it during the desperate search for employment. Never mind that the federal government was only hiring perhaps 5% of qualified applicants even during the best of times. Never mind that the feds are flush with extremely-credentialed private sector refugees, or as my buddy at the DOJ says, “we’re flush with Skadden/Yale hybrids so students are getting shafted.” No, to hear career services tell it, there is nothing at all to worry about. Tens of thousands of panicked, indebted law students can breathe easy, because we’ve got this stupid handbook!

Something to notice right off the bat about this year’s handbook is that there are a lot more 1/2/3L Fall/Spring/Summer Internships than last year. It appears that many second-tier agencies have trimmed their paid internships and Honors Programs (or whatever equivalent) and stopped looking for full-time employees entirely. This makes perfect budgetary sense, as an agency could stock itself full of summer 2Ls and semester-long 2L/3L interns from the many D.C.-area law schools. This process can be repeated indefinitely, paying these interns at a lowly rate well below an actual GS attorney, without ever having to take on the “dead weight” of full-time employees. If the agency is really third tier, they will seek a continual rotation of volunteer, unpaid interns without ever looking to hire. Because law students are ignorant little shits who think it benefits them to be screwed and work for free forever (for the “experience,” you know?), agencies will have no trouble finding these volunteers.

One thing I like about the handbook is that it often has figures on the number of applicants and accepted students from the previous year, being those who would have applied as 2Ls and were part of the Class of 2010. This class has been massacred by the economy, but they sat for OCI in 2008. That year’s hiring was anemic, but it was nothing compared to how crappy 2009 OCI was, which this year’s current crop of federal attorney aspirants endured. There are going to be even more people applying for these federal jobs this year, because the Class of 2011 has been the most out-of-luck class (thus far) since the great recession hit. In reviewing these numbers and percentages, one must keep in mind that they will be even higher this year and the percentage chance of landing a gig even lower. It’s also important to note that many agencies “request” top quarter or top third and “prefer” law review.

Because the class of 2011 will be on the hunt for full-time employment, let’s limit the following rundown to positions that will result in full-time employment for 3Ls. Generally, there are a few (meaning one or two more) summer positions in any given department or division for 2Ls, but when it comes time to hire permanent workers, the ranks are culled. Since we care about employed attorneys rather than summer-jobbing law students, we’ll focus on the miserable wretches of 2011 who will soon be graduated, unemployed, and waiting in a welfare line.

Here’s the complete list, from the handbook, of federal agencies looking to hire 3Ls for full-time attorney positions after graduation. For reference, I’ve included last year’s numbers of 3Ls hired, along with the number of applications for the positions received, as reported by the handbook. This list does NOT include the many more agencies who are listed as only looking for law student interns, many of them unpaid. If an agency is not on here, it’s listed as only looking for low-paid or unpaid temporary student interns, and is not hiring any recent grads. I’ve also left out fellowships, which are temporary. If included, they would add a few dozen legal positions and many more non-legal public policy positions, which is beyond the scope of this review of attorney jobs. Also, I realize that there is probably significant overlap between some of the applicants, wherein a single student will have applied for multiple positions at different agencies. Having no way to gauge this, I'm presenting each entity's numbers independently, as they themselves report them.

* Army Corps of Engineers. Hiring up to 15. Last year, 10-15 hired out out 800 applications. Probability: 1.875%
* CIA. Hiring six 3Ls, last year's numbers not listed.
* EPA. Hiring two fellows, last year 2/200 hired, top 10% preferred. 1% chance.
Region 1: Seeking one hire, 1/200 taken last year. 0.5% shot.
Region 3: Seeking one, 1/300 taken last year. 0.33%.
Region 5: Seeking two, 2/500 taken last year. 0.4%.
Region 9: Seeking one, 1/over 500 taken last year. 0.2%.
(Rest of regions seeking low-paid or volunteer temporary student interns).
* EEOC: Seeking up to five hires, last year 5/680 were hired. 0.735% acceptance.
* FDIC: Seeking up to six, last year six were hired “from hundreds” of applications. Top third of class required.
* FTC: Seeking eight, from more than 1000 applications. 0.8% shot.
* DHS: Seeking up to eight, last year 8/"over 1180" applications. 0.677% shot.
* HUD: Seeking 10-20, last year 25/1,100 applications. 2.27%.
* Interior: 3-5 positions, last year 5/more than 700 hired. 0.71%.
* IRS: Seeking 55, last year hired 55 “out of thousands.”
* Justice: Seeking 160, will interview 600-700. Last year, 211 out of 4,121 were hired! 5.12%.
* Labor: Seeking four, last year 5/1200 hired. 0.4166%.
* NLRB: Seeking three, last year 3/800 hired. 0.375%.
* NRC: One position is seeking up to four 3Ls, last year 3/500 hired. Another is seeking 4-6, last year there were 5/1400 applicants accepted. 0.357%.
* SEC: Seeking six, close to 2000 applicants received every year. 0.3%.
* State: Seeking 12-14. Last year, 4/800 accepted. 0.5%.

So, using the federal government’s own maximum estimate, there are a whopping 332 paid, full-time, real attorney positions available for graduating 3Ls in the Class of 2011, the biggest chunk of these with the Dept. of Justice or the IRS, where your odds are still only 5%. This year, things look tougher because fewer students will be interviewed. Your shot at most federal agencies (those that are actually hiring) is often lower than one percent. Also keep in mind that many of the above-listed "strongly prefer" top third or above in class rank, and law review.

With approximately 45,000 law students graduating in 2011, this smidgen of jobs represents 0.73% of the jobs that would be needed to fully employ them all as lawyers. As the federal government is the nation’s biggest employer, and has a huge demand for legal work, students can't expect them to do much more heavy lifting than they already are. Given that the private sector and most state governments are still hard-hit and have responded by laying off thousands and taking on fewer new hires overall, we can expect 2011 graduates to be even worse off than their miserable fellows from 2010.

Thanks a lot to the University of Arizona Law School for compiling this very illuminating handbook. Extra thanks to my school's career services office, who touted the handbook and this tiny smattering of federal jobs, most of which go to elite students from T-14 schools, as a realistic way to find employment. And they say that those folks are only working there because they can't work with numbers!

Law school founder guilty of fraud

Okay, sadly not THAT kind of fraud. God willing, it's only a matter of time before law school administrators are hit with true-blue fraud charges for their knowingly-misleading, fraudulent, reliance-inducing misrepresentations. What we have today is a tale of a law school visionary who only gets caught for his fraud against old ladies. His role in the infinitely vaster, more lucrative law school scam hasn't landed him in court (yet).

From the Green Mountain State, we have this charming tale of octogenarian attorney, law school founder, and Grade-A shyster Anthony Doria, who has a problem with tax evasion and bilking old ladies out of six figures. "Doria had originally been charged with fraud for taking $115,000 from Barbara Umbrecht of Newport, N.H., in 1998 and 1999. In 2005 he pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of income tax fraud and was sentenced to one month in prison and ordered to pay back Umbrecht."

As the article points out, after founding Vermont Law School in the 70s, Doria has had little to do with this TTT. However, his spirit lives on in the institution itself. And would this über-huckster ever be proud of the institution he spawned! According to Vermont Law School's website, tuition alone will run students a cool $41,795 a year. This does not include fees, books, or living expenses. US News suggests students tack on an additional $10,000 for those, bringing their yearly total north of $50,000 to attend a TTT in a sleepy backwater and tiny state that won't have enough jobs for them upon graduation. The school even is so noble to admit that only 60.4% of its graduates are employed at graduation, which is even then probably inflated. Having seen the ins-and-outs of law schools' dirty statistical tricks, it's safe to say that the percentage of grads actually employed as lawyers is much, much lower.

Just plunking down for tuition alone will run students $125,000 for their three years of law school, a number which exceeds Doria's $115k fraud on that poor old lady. This grizzled old mountebank clearly decided that relieving innocent bystanders of their cash on a person-to-person basis was no way to get rich. Sure, stealing $115,000 from someone and going on a spending spree would be nice, but that money can't last forever. If you set yourself up a law school, one which at last count has an enrollment of 567 students, you'll be in a much better position. ($41,795 x 567 = $23,697,765 a year. Wow-wee!)

Anthony Doria should be a model for common criminals and law school administrators everywhere. This guy clearly figured he could put his extensive knowledge of theft and fraud to much greater use, and step up into the big leagues. Better still, perpetrating six-figure fraud on a bunch of hapless law students in a quiet Vermont town has the blessing of the ABA, the academic establishment, and student loan lenders. This isn't like dipping into some old lady's purse, no, no! Here's a fully-sanctioned and approved means of defrauding clueless law students. Mr. Doria, thank you for siring this fine institution and imparting to it all of your best personal attributes.

The apple doesn't fall far from the TTTree?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The other side of outsourcing: India protects its own

The New York Times once again shows up tardy to the party and reports on firms outsourcing loads of entry-level legal work to India. Despite this having been a topic of discussion on scamblogs, ATL, and amongst those "in the know" for some time, the publication of a Times article triggers a flurry of new commentary. Which is, I suppose, just fine. The more we can drill prospective students on the rapid decline of this profession and the income prospects it offers, the better. What's really sad is to see my Facebook news feed alight with current students who have "just discovered" this ugly truth and are "worried" about the lack of jobs out there for them. Talk about having one's head in the sand.

Anyway, one major point that the Times overlooks, and much of the blogosphere discussion passed over, is how one-sided this outsourcing and undercutting of American lawyers is. Firms in the Anglosphere have no problem selling out tens of thousands of young lawyers and law students to save a few bucks up front, despite rampant doubts about the competence and quality of Indian doc review chop shops.

Much ire has (rightly) been directed at the ABA for cheerily signing off on legal outsourcing in its 2008 Ethics Opinion 08-451, thereby consigning thousands of future lawyers to underemployment and breadlines. This is a professional organization which is supposed to protect the interests of its members and preserve the integrity, quality, and yes, the economic viability, of the legal industry. Having shirked their duty in the worst way possible, it's only right that they be called out.

What gets less press is that, unlike the American Bar Association, which is happy to bend to the desires of a few big-money players at the top of the legal pyramid and approve outsourcing, India is one of the few countries that does not allow ANY foreign lawyers to practice law there. Faced with a proliferation of foreign lawyers setting up shop, India's attorneys banded together and put the kibosh on the whole affair. Indian lawyers can (for the moment) breathe easy and not have to worry about foreign workers stealing their client base, undercutting their fees, or otherwise leaving tens of thousands of previously-employable lawyers on the street to starve.

From The Economist:
[T]here is one determined outlier among fast-growing Asian economies: India, the only big country that is closed to foreign lawyers in any capacity. A powerful lobby—ranging from hundreds of thousands of small (often husband-and-wife) practices to a handful of leading partnerships—resists change. Foreigners who tried venturing into the Indian market are still reeling from a decision in December by the Bombay High Court which deemed illegal the “liaison offices” that some outsiders had opened. The Indian government said (rather half-heartedly) that it would appeal against this ruling. But the climate in which law-related work could be undertaken by outsiders has gone from difficult to prohibitive. Reena Sengupta, a London-based consultant, says she used to see foreign-owned legal-research operations in India where beds, not desks, greeted the visitor; such was the keenness to dispel the impression that law was being practised. Now those offices have simply closed.

Indians who need world-class legal advice lose out, says Stuart Popham, a senior partner in Clifford Chance, a London firm, who this week accompanied David Cameron, the British prime minister, on a tour of India. The effect is “to restrict supply and competition and raise prices…you have to fly clients out to meet lawyers elsewhere.” A lot of Indian-related work is done in the more liberal climate of Singapore. Mr Popham says he is frustrated by some Indians’ contention that firms like his own will inevitably take away local jobs. “Liberalisation does not take away anyone’s job…the evidence is that no country has ended up with a smaller domestic legal community after opening up.”

For the Law Society of England and Wales, getting the Indians to free up their market is high on the wish-list. “We want to invest in India’s potential to become a global legal player…this means new work coming to India,” insists Alison Hook, the society’s head of international activities.

But much of her target audience is, as yet, unpersuaded. “The Indian profession will rise up in arms if [foreigners] want to open offices here,” says Lalit Bhasin, head of the Society of Indian Law Firms.

Between the ban on foreigners doing Indian legal work, and the proliferation of Indians doing foreign legal work, it must be a pretty good time to be a lawyer over there. If only our American Bar Association and cohorts had a sense of duty to American lawyers and the legal industry itself, we might see more legal jobs for the legions of unemployable, desperate law graduates. Granted, they will be entry-level, low-paid, and not particularly intellectually challenging. However, when faced with long-term unemployability, or hourly doc review wages, any starving American lawyer will take the doc review gig. Even before 2008, hourly doc review was the bread and butter for many graduates of non-elite schools, and allowed for a somewhat sustainable, if miserable and precarious, existence. Now, even this low-rung safety net has been shipped off to India.

It's a sure bet that nothing will be done to stop the hemorrhaging of legal jobs overseas, just as nothing will be done to turn of the spigot of newly-admitted law students who rush into law schools in ever-increasing numbers, paying tuition that increases by leaps and bounds every year, without fail.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The farce that launched a thousand lemmings

If you're like me, your morning romp through internet front-pages is peppered with bullshit articles about "Ten Hot Jobs," or "Careers that make $50k with no college degree!" It's always a good idea to ignore these fluff pieces that are written by journalism majors who have no experience or firsthand knowledge of the "hot industries" they write about, but I couldn't help but notice this entry on a list of "10 Jobs that pay $50 per hour."

02. Attorney / Lawyer
Hourly pay: $51.33 - $102.00

Love 'em or hate 'em, they'll always have a job. From building a new office building to sorting out a will, lawyers are essential to all kinds of negotiations and business processes. As a lawyer, you can specialize in the area that most suits your strengths and interests, like justice for children or patent law for new technologies. To get working as a lawyer, you need to complete an undergraduate degree, three years of law school and pass a state bar exam.

It's grossly uninformed horseshit like this, spewed out constantly by "news" organizations, that contributes to the (painfully incorrect) public perception of lawyers. A lot of parents of directionless college seniors probably read this claptrap, because it's of that special variety of feelgood human-interest puff that so appeals to boomers. There are plenty of hopeless 20somethings out there with no skills and a history of average academic performance who will see a piece like this and decide that law school is their ticket out of the doldrums. Hey, there is a local TTT with a glossy brochure that might be right up their alley!

In a horrible economy, there is an ever-increasing number of desperate 20somethings grasping at straws. Coincidentally, there is an ever-increasing number of law school applicants, despite the declining number of job openings. I never get tired of mentioning that every single college-graduate friend or acquaintance I regularly keep in contact with is either in grad or law school, or in the process of applying. Having graduated college with an exciting array of lawn mowing and house painting opportunities awaiting them, I can't blame the Lost Generation for aspiring to something better (like gainful, full-time, professional employment) and going to law school. Unfortunately, this decision is so often colored by misinformation peddled by media blowhards, starry-eyed, stuck-in-the-80s parents, and (especially) the law school charlatans themselves.

So here's to all of the lies, nonsense, and hogwash that will delude and mislead the next crop of 45,000 law students who will be matriculating this fall. We can even make our own list of "10 Jobs that will cost you $50k a year."

02. Attorney / Lawyer
Yearly cost: $30,000 - 60,000 (include three years)
Hourly pay: $0.00 - $15.00 (no benefits)

Even though everyone hates them (and no one hates them more than they themselves), the vast majority of them will never have a job. From rummaging through dumpsters in a Walgreen's parking lot after dark, to filing frivolous family court motions in an attempt to get their non-paying client possession of a set of bunk beds, lawyers are essential to all kinds of subhuman subsistence-level tactics and low-paid, unskilled hourly labor. As a lawyer, you can see your dreams of specializing in the area that most suits your strengths and interests be crushed as you are relegated to standing in a breadline, or poring over documents for $15/hour with no benefits. Ideal practice areas like justice for children or patent law for new technologies are red herrings that will mislead tens of thousands of clueless, wayward young 0Ls like you every year. To even be considered to work as a lawyer, you need to complete and pay for an undergraduate degree, three years of overpriced law school during which you will learn no practical skill, and pay for and pass a state bar exam. Then, you will actually need to find one of the (nonexistent) jobs.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Unemployed TTT grads take the bar, then what?

Minnesota Lawyer gave us this dandy video featuring a bunch of recent TTT grads reflecting on the bar exam they were all about to take this week.

This video is part the of general coverage of the bar exam that happens every year. While asking banal questions like "how hard did you study, when did you go to sleep?" isn't unusual, it is sad that none of the TTT or TTTT grads featured in this clip mention employment, and those that do are most definitely UNEMPLOYED with no prospects on the horizon. It's just a LITTLE ridiculous, when these kids are swimming in debt and are totally unemployable, to focus on vapid questions like what kind of cereal they ate for breakfast before the exam. At least this year's TTT interviewees are just a bit less depressing than last year's.

Given that the four law schools in this small market spew out 1,000 new grads every year, things must be especially tough for TTT grads trying to find work. Despite its relatively small population, Minnesota boasts the 12th highest lawyer per capita ratio in the Union, with 11.2 lawyers for every 10,000 people. When even your local T-25, the University of Minnesota, graduates more than half of its Class of 2010 without jobs, one can only imagine how much more awful thing must be down in the TTTs, or especially at the local TTTT, Hambone University School of Law.

How long are these people going to allow themselves to be scammed? After suffering through three years and tens of thousands of dollars' worth of hell, just to end up unemployed, it must feel great to be plunking down for bar review and the exam without having the slightest idea about where you will eventually find work. These folks from the lower tiers are, sadly, especially likely to never find work as lawyers. Nando has already given us a trio of excellent exposés about the dismal employment prospects offered by these law school puppy mills. I must grudgingly admire the irrational optimism that these grads display in continuing on the road toward lawyerdom, but as a scamblogger, I know what awaits them. We've had a smattering of commenters from these schools show up on the scamblogs in the past few months, and none of them paints a rosy picture of their class' employment. In fact, they all agree that most of their former classmates are unemployed, indebted, and desperate. Yet the charlatans and book-cookers who run these institutions are still busy tallying the seat deposits and packing the next 1L class in time for the fall semester.

Ah, to be a recent and unemployed grad. No longer will the school shelter you from debt collectors, no longer will you be able to tell people you're "in school." No longer will you have access to any kind of job you might have been able to snag as a student (because it was cheaper to hire you part-time for $15/hour). Now, no one wants you. Thus begins the long, depressing decline into a broken state of misery. How long will it be before these poor souls attempt to slink back to their former employers, broken and distraught, but $90,000 in the red? With 1,000 new, unemployable lawyers to feed in Minnesota, my guess is that there will be a boom in well-educated Starbucks assistant managers, volunteer librarians, and applicants to yet more forms of graduate education in the coming months. A job well done for all concerned. Thank you, MinnesoTTTa law schools.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The textbook and supplement scam

Today’s dose of "journalism" over at the NYT today gives us this banal discussion about the sky-high price of college textbooks. Whatever the outrageous cost of these bundles of paper is in undergrad, it's amplified in law school. Anyone who has ever taken a law school class knows that textbooks and associated “recommended” study aids will run a poor student far more than undergraduate texts. My primary beef today is not with the cost of books for actual classes, although that is indeed highway robbery. The Times discussion left my mind to wander to the world of prelaw books, study aids, and other overpriced paperback manuals that claim to offer 0Ls the “inside track” to success in law school.

Apart from the schools themselves, who make out like bandits thanks to jacked-up tuition, there is an entirely separate bloated, fattened leech that feeds off of the law school scam. The law school “support industry,” or as some bloggers have dubbed it, the law school industrial complex, rakes in over $3 billion a year from hapless law lemmings. From publishers selling pricey, largely useless hornbooks or commercial outlines, to manufacturers of equally silly flashcards and other “study aids,” to bar prep and everything in between, these miserable creatures gorge themselves on the blood of 0Ls before they ever set foot in school.

It all starts long before a prospective 0L is even sure they’ll make it to law school. The LSAT prep industry charges students thousands of dollars for courses and books designed to boost dismally-low scores. In this economy, such scores ought to simply preclude many students from going to law school, but these vultures swoop in with their expensive paperback books and promise entry to a whole host of TTTs for the low, low price of a few grand. What is there for a future TTT student to worry about, if they’ll be making six figures upon graduation? Even those students with relatively decent scores often drop a couple hundred dollars on do-it-yourself LSAT prep guides. This is the first of many, many thousands that these students will be “investing in their futures.”

Once a lemming has been accepted to a presTTTigious institution, they will naturally want to start preparing in advance for the upcoming academic crucible. Luckily, the law school support industry is there again with a whole host of materials that will give students a look at the “reality” of law school. The publishers and marketers of these useless books have really done a great job of trumpeting their necessity to clueless 0Ls. They’re not casebooks, they’re not really study aids, and they honestly have very little to do with anything students will find themselves doing once classes begin. Due to the groupthink that zero-lemmings suffer from (particularly those on prelaw message boards), several popular titles are constantly bandied about in the desperate attempt to get a leg up on the competition once 1L classes begin.