Monday, June 28, 2010

An English PhD calls law school a scam

From the world of the liberal arts, we have another outsider who can take one look at law school and tell it like it is. The author notes that during her teaching career, she counseled many an English major on their prospects and wrote plenty of letters of recommendation for aspiring J.D.s. For someone who is a creature of the higher education establishment, and saw many of her own students off to law school, I have to admire her ability to be blunt regarding graduate-level education.
“Grad school in the humanities is a scam. There are simply no jobs, tenure is disappearing, the culture of the academic humanities is pathological, and the sort of academic life grad students hope to acquire is ceasing to exist.”

No real news here. As someone who flirted with going to grad school in the humanities, I was told much of the same things. Fellow scambloggers have long since noted the similarities between the (dismal) outlook for M.A./PhD holders and J.D.s. Now, when even law schools that might have been able to place a fair number of students are revealed to be first tier toilets, law school is more like grad school than ever. A certain, select number of students will still land their respective profession’s most coveted jobs. They will almost all come from the very best institutions and be the cream of the academic crop. For J.D.s from lesser schools and outside the top quartiles of the class, their future is looking more and more like that of the typical M.A. or PhD. Except worse.
“[L]aw school is turning into grad school, only with debt. At least if you are getting a PhD in English, you can do it for free. You might live on a shoestring (I lived on $10,000/year when I was getting my PhD during the early 1990s), but your tuition is covered and you don't graduate six figures under.”

The author ends by recommending that students not go to grad school OR law school. This is someone who’s done their own trial by fire, going the grad school route and being a professor for years. For every one of these honest, no-B.S. professors, there are thousands more who play accessory to the highway robbery that is the higher ed scam. This is coming from a PhD in English! I think everyone can agree that humanities PhDs are much more of a scam than a J.D., but here we have one such PhD telling us that no, sorry, we J.D.s have it much worse.
“Will law professors act to clean up law schools' act? They should. But if the example of the academic humanities is any indicator, they won't. Lowering costs and being honest about expectations would come out of their pockets and their comforts--and that would be just too much.”

I’m glad to see that more and more informed observers of legal education are wising up to the scam. We need more brave souls like Erin O’Connor and Professor Tamanaha who can speak up about the scam and try and warn off would-be victims. To the law school apologists and prospective law students, it’s not just “a few bitter bloggers” who are publicizing the law school scam.


  1. Grad students with a stipend probably have it better than law students. They're both wasting their time, but at least the grad student hopefully comes away with less debt.

  2. Great post.

    As far back as 2003, when I graduated from college, I heard horror stories about humanities PHDs from top schools finding nothing but positions as teachers aids at backwoods junior colleges. Those stories were enough to convince me to stay away from that kind of program. Sadly, I decided to go to law school instead, because I thought it would offer better prospects for employment.

    I think what we are doing will convince some level-headed students not to ruin their lives for law school.

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