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.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Carrot on a stick for 3Ls

With yet another horrendous academic year approaching, there are many jobless 3Ls wandering the world in a shellshocked state. The few who landed gainful, paid employment for this summer are scrambling and praying they are one of the elect who will snag an offer. Many more are volunteering at places that are glad to take their free work, but that will never consider offering them a real, paying job, even if they had the funding. It’s a grand feeling, paying for “work clothes,” gas, parking, and lunches just to work in a back room at some shitty government office that doesn’t care about you and is just glad to cut down their workload. It’s doubly fun when your school offers to charge students tuition for these unpaid internships. Apart from these privileged pay-to-work students, maybe some lucked out and are doing 10 hours of research for a professor every week. In any case, 3Ls must be looking forward to the coming semester with dread. 3L OCI doesn’t exist, and those who didn’t snag one of the few remaining “real” jobs this past summer are out of luck. After this summer, those who don’t do the prudent thing and drop out will have to double-down and pay for the bar before they have a shot at applying for jobs after graduation.

The memories of the unemployed class of 2010 are still fresh, and all signs point to things being at least as bad for the class of 2011. Given this dark, ominous, looming storm cloud of doom that hangs over 3Ls, it’s perfectly natural for them to despair. Yet if one were to trek over to a typical career “services” office at your local law school, they would be forgiven for thinking that everything is bright and sunny in the hiring market. With more than half of their classes full of unemployed and increasingly angry students, administrators are scrambling to whip up a fresh batch of lies and tall tales from their best shit-tainted recipes. At the risk of losing out on 30-50k per student if they see the light and drop out, the schools are pulling out all the stops in order to delude as many 3Ls into thinking they can still find work in the legal world. Let's take a look at some of the most tried and and (un)true stories that career services charlatans use to bait desperate 3Ls.

Clerkships! They’ll say.
Even in the best of times, most federal judges want top 10-20% and law review, and they recruit from top schools. Don’t believe me? Do an OSCAR search with a filter that will show judges who “prefer” YOUR credentials, and see what comes up. There will be a few who “prefer” top 20%, but where does that leave the other 80% of the class? Never mind the fact that federal clerkships have always been the last resort for T14 grads who missed out on biglaw, and the application process is going to be flooded by thousands of extra first tier students who were deferred, no-offered, or just came up short at OCI. If you're one of the many T1 students with law review credentials and a presumably plum position in your class rank, you might as well go for it. I certainly know a lot of 3Ls who are on law review that didn't get any job for this summer, so they'll probably be in the clerk pipeline. Along with thousands and thousands of others. Not in the top 20% of your class, on law review, at a T1 school? Yeah, me neither. Like most legal job searches, those who apply for clerkships are taking a bucketful of darts and chucking it at the wall. For a lucky, select (and T-14-credentialed) few, one of those darts just might stick. Unfortunately, just not for the majority of hopeless 3Ls.

State court clerkships! Great, if you can get them. Most of the most populous states are under severe budget constraints and a hiring freeze. Elsewhere, they are deciding to rearrange folks and make do with less, permanently. “Target your job search to unconventional locales and places you might not have thought of. The experience may prove rewarding.” Gee, thanks, I’m sure no one else has thought of that. In smaller/less populous states, clerkships are often at-will and law clerks are often “lifers” who have made a career out of their work, and stay on year after year at the behest of a judge. If you luck out and find a state that is still hiring enough clerks right out of school, don’t worry about the competition from thousands of other desperate law grads, many of them from T-14 schools that are tantalizing these backwater judges with their credentials for the first time. Depending on how low you sink, if you pull a gig like traffic court clerk, you will enjoy lateraling to Wal-Mart after your time is up. Assuming everything goes your way, congratulations. After completing your one or two year stint as a clerk, you’ll be back on the street. Hope you saved your $40,000 salary for that time.

Join the JAG! Serve your country! This is also misguided advice for the great majority of people, and is becoming a favorite of career services shills in this bad economy. They even have a cheesy TV show and maybe a Kurt Russell movie to refer people who have never heard of JAG to. The general consensus of JAGs that I've spoken to is that this program was surprisingly selective even before the recession (like single digits). Since the recession decimated the legal industry, applications to JAG have soared and pushed the selection rate as low as 1% for some branches and boards, with most people having to sit for two or three rounds of selection boards before getting seriously considered. (For aspiring JAGs, that will push your job search out 12-18 months.) A JAG in one branch of the service told me applications were up 600% for last year.

This seems a particularly silly option to be throwing out to law students, who as a whole are known to be bookish, pasty, and often not in prime physical condition. I’m extremely supportive of anyone who can hack the military and do their very-necessary job, but having spent years around law students, I can say that the majority of them probably aren’t cut out for it. Especially at a “top” law school, most students came with lofty dreams of legal employment and “the good life,” not waking up every morning at 4:30 for a PT run. There are some good stories floating around the internet of hapless, recession-motivated law students botching JAG interviews. Long story short, if you don’t look and act the part for military service, you’re at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps I’m wrong, and thousands more hopeless law students will heed career services and turn up for JAG boards. If so, I’m sure it will be even more of a clusterfuck and end up crushing their dreams even more.

3L OCI! This is a golden unicorn that shits rainbows if there ever was one. No one is going to hire you from 3L OCI, because it quite frankly is an urban legend. Does your school even HAVE 3L OCI? Better check on that, and make sure it’s not just a resume collect or a few token firms coming through to interview only candidates eligible for the patent bar (i.e. not you). NALP has noted that, before the crash, big firms picked up a paltry, single-digit percentage number of 3Ls anyway. Now, your chances of getting a decent firm job through 3L OCI are, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent.

What does that leave us with? Flooding shitlaw firms with resumes in those panic-filled few months before graduation? Heaven forbid you’re among the 70% of your classmates who will graduate without a job. Then, your employment prospects REALLY dry up, and if you want to continue playing the game, you’ve got to come up with a few thousand bucks for bar review. “But I can’t get an attorney job and keep applying after I’ve graduated if I’m not barred!” Isn’t that an amazing coincidence? Just as soon as you graduated after paying at least $30,000 a year for school, you need to keep paying thousands of dollars just to stay in the game, which you have an extremely low probability of winning anyway, at this point.

Soon, it's May 2011 and here we are graduating another class from a first tier toilet, 2/3 of whom have NO JOB in ANY field. That sure was exhausting. I’m glad the deans gave themselves a raise this year (not too dramatic, though, it’s a recession). Maybe one of those unemployed recent grads…the ones who aren’t working in the career services office or the library, part-time for $10/hour, can wax the dean’s boat this summer? That definitely counts as EMPLOYED for the school’s reporting to US News.

Esq Never’s advice to 3Ls rings true: drop out. For a majority, the job search will be long, hard, and tens of thousands will eventually have to find employment outside of the law that never required a J.D. Save a year’s worth of tuition, your bar expenses, and avoid the J.D. stain on your resume. If you can’t bear to sacrifice the already-sunken costs of time and money you’ve put into your degree, impress upon some rich uncle the need to put up your tuition. Your family might panic if they think your J.D. dreams are in danger of vanishing, and that sense of desperation just might work in your favor. Other than that, I dunno? Sell a kidney, start gambling hard? There’s got to be some way to come up with the cash if you’re that desperate to stay in law school. If you ask me, seeing your student loan balance a good $30k lower and not wasting another year of your life, only to emerge in an indefinite unemployment purgatory, is reward enough.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fo0Ls Rush In. (Why, God, Why?!?)

From The National Law Journal, we have another piece about naïve, hubristic 0Ls.
Scambloggers have noted with dismay that law school applications are on the rise even as the legal profession continues to contract. With prospects for recent and future grads so horrible, and the word finally getting out through some mainstream media sources, one would hope that it had some deterrent effect. No need to worry, though, because "the applicant pool also appeared a bit savvier than its predecessors, as far as reading the fine print, admissions deans reported. Admissions offices fielded more questions than ever about job placement rates, career services and finances." Thank God, these kids are well-prepared and full of information fed to them by admissions deans. I was really worried there for a moment. If only the schools didn’t send out their best shills and respond to all of these queries by blowing smoke and lying their asses off about these very statistics, these kids might stand a fighting chance.

Yet even an industry cheerleader publication like the NLJ can't hide its disbelief about the naivete of prospective students. I especially like the lead photo montage of 0Ls with the caption "WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?" The article then goes on to talk about how law school applications are booming, deans are hungry for students, and 0Ls are ignoring the blood-curdling screams and foul stench of death emanating from the schools they are touring during admitted students day.

The piece also cited what is probably my favorite statistic from all of this law school meltdown mayhem: "In a recent survey of 330 prelaw student by Kaplan Test Prep, 52% felt "very confident" that they would land a legal job after graduation, although only 16% felt confident that most of their fellow graduates would be as successful." Not to minimize the hubris of 52% of these 0Ls, but how about the 48% who presumably do NOT feel "very confident" about landing a legal job? If about half of these prospective 0Ls aren't confident they will get a legal job, what possesses them to plunk down six figures for the degree?

What really boggles the mind about these articles is that they always manage to find some nontraditional student who already has a decent job, or someone who actually worked in a law firm, to interview.
Arline Laurer is among those banking on a turnaround during the next three years. The 21-year-old from a small town outside Rochester, N.Y., plans to begin studies at the University of Toledo College of Law next month. An internship at the Kings County district attorney's office in Brooklyn, N.Y., while an undergraduate at St. John's University solidified her ambitions.

"I've been watching [the legal job market] pretty closely — especially in the past year, as I get closer to going to law school," she said. "I'm obviously about to take on a lot of debt. I'm hoping by the time I get out of law school the job climate will be better."

One would think that, having worked in local government, where hiring freezes and working for free are the norm, this 0L would be skeptical of her chances of emerging as a salaried lawyer. The office she worked in was being staffed by UNDERGRAD interns, and certainly a host of unemployed volunteer law grads. When she looked around at all of the unpaid co-workers, did that not have any effect? Then there are the people who are pushing 30 and are ready to throw in the towel on their current career.
Law school has always in the back of Minnesota native Emily Johns' mind, but she gave it a more serious look during the past two years as her employer, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, declared bankruptcy and offered buyouts.

"First and foremost, I'm doing this because I want to be a lawyer, not because I'm running away from these scary times in the journalism industry," said Johns, 28, an education reporter who will soon be a 1L at the University of Minnesota Law School. "But it did make me think seriously about my Plan B. I think I'm doing to right thing. There's no way you can know for sure."

After suffering through the journalism bloodbath, and being lucky enough to have a job as a reporter in that dying industry, I would be a little more skeptical before vaulting into another risky, dying profession. Especially if it had the potential to cost me $100,000 or more before ever working a day as a lawyer. Also, if she always wanted to be a lawyer, isn't that what she would have pursued after school, instead of journalism? Let's make up our minds, 0Ls. Which horrible, dying career field do you want to meet your doom in?

I was glad to see the scambloggers' old pal Professor Tamanaha make an appearance and offer this bold-faced warning (which no one will heed):
The tipping point — when the cost of law school will dissuade those are not seriously interested in practicing law — is on the horizon, Tamanaha said. He cautioned, however, that he has made that prediction before.

"In 15 years of teaching, I've known a lot of students who came here because they didn't know what they wanted to do," Tamanaha said. "A lot of this is about cyclical irrational decision-making. It's based on a very human trait, which is overoptimism. For the people who have always wanted to be a lawyer, they should go to law school. For anyone else, it's not a good decision."

There you have it, kids, straight from the professor's mouth. How many of us really, truly, "always wanted to be a lawyer." Not the majority of current or prospective students, who are mostly here because they (erroneously) believed that lawyers make decent money.

The piece ends with four short profiles of prospective students. Talk about ripe material. We’ve got lifelong lovers of the law, a nontrad, and plenty of willful ignorance. There's a theater major and future victim of Drake. There are people who turned down actual paying jobs, and lots of dreams of entering arcane, impossible-to-crack-into, or nonexistent practice areas.

"I was surprised by how many people were planning on going to law school," said Klatt, 22, who just graduated from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, with a degree in ¬theater and English. "It may be because of the economy. Right now, in the job market, there's nothing."

Klatt isn't using law school as a delay tactic, even if some of her classmates are. She has wanted to be an attorney since childhood and saw no point in putting off her career ambitions because of turmoil in the legal industry. After months of research, she settled on Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa — a school she considers vastly underrated.

She hopes to become an advocate for the disabled, partly because she has watched people take advantage of her handicapped brother and other vulnerable people.

Although Klatt is confident that law school is the right choice for her, the price tag of a J.D. still leaves her a little queasy. Drake offered a scholarship that will cover half her tuition, but Klatt still expects to take out about $90,000 in loans.

I really, really hope Ms. Klatt finds her way over to Third Tier Reality before sending in that first semester tuition deposit.

Then there are the folks who claim they're aware of "how bad things are," but are steaming full speed ahead anyway.
Payne, 25, insists she's not looking at the legal world through rose-colored glasses. She has friends who have been laid off from paralegal and clerk jobs with law firms, and is well aware that the industry is unstable right now. Even so, she would like to land a job at a law firm and perhaps specialize in the legal issues surrounding social media — an area she manages for a Washington nonprofit.

So she's presumably witnessed your friends suffering layoffs and firms cutting back, and that the industry is "unstable." Better still, it appears Ms. Payne has a paying job with a nonprofit. How many 25-year-olds can say that, in this economy? How many liberal arts majors dreamed of working for a nonprofit, only to be on the part-time roster at Walgreens? Count your blessings, Ms. Payne. But you've got nothing on
Yazmin Wadia, who acknowledges that she hasn't been paying as much attention to the legal job market as she probably should, given that she is poised to start law school next month.

Granted, the 20-year-old has had plenty of other things occupying her time and mind — not the least of which was completing her undergraduate degree in political science and history in just three years at Arizona State University.

Wadia turned down a paying job at The Public Forum Institute, a nonprofit in Washington that promotes public discourse, in part because she felt that she wasn't yet ready to join the 9-to-5 workday grind. Instead, she plans to attend Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Ore., which lured her with a scholarship and a strong public interest law program. She hopes to parlay a law degree into a job with a large nonprofit in Washington such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League or Amnesty International.

While she hasn't done as much research as she knows she should into the job prospects for new law graduates, she understands that she'll face stiff competition to land her dream legal gig. "It definitely does scare me, knowing that you're competing in the job market with Ivy League graduates from Harvard and Yale," she said. "But it doesn't hurt to try. What's the worst that can happen?"

What's the worst that can happen? It'll only cost an inquisitive 0L three years and $100,000 to find out!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Battle for a 0L’s Soul

Over at the Minnesota Lawyer blog, they actually do a good job of regularly posting articles about the horrible prospects for J.D.s . Thus, I was a little disappointed to see a post seeking advice for a prospective student who wants to decide which local TTT to attend. The result is an ongoing comment war between supporters of TTTT Hamline and TTT William Mitchell. The lost soul who originally asked the question let it be known that she is 100% set on going to law school, so we should not try and dissuade her. She merely wants to hear about the relative merits of these trash bins when making her decision.

As a Minnesotan myself, I feel particularly well-suited to add my two cents on the matter. I applied to William MiTTTchell and St. TTThomas (but not fourth-tier Hambone) when I was a wayward 0L, although I thankfully wised up and made it into the presTTTigious UniversiTTTY of MinnesoTTTa, home to the 30%-employed Class of 2010. St. Thomas actually had the decency to offer me some big bucks, but it wasn’t enough to entice me. Mitchell had the audacity to expect me to pay sticker price to attend their spittoon of law. (The U came through with a scholarship after all. Not like it made any difference in the end.)

Nando over at Third Tier Reality has already done a great expose of the two dung heaps of law that our poor 0L is considering, so I won’t go into the details of how much they will pillage your finances and/or soul.

Minneapolis-St. Paul is a funny legal market. With four law schools in this mid-size city, 1,000 new J.D.s are defecated out into this oversaturated field every year. Minnesota as a state has one of the highest lawyer per capita ratios in the Union, despite it being pretty small population-wise. When I was considering law school, the general consensus was “get into the U of M or else your life will become a living hell.” Well, having gone to the U of M, and my life being even worse than I ever imagined, I don’t know how helpful this advice was. I can’t imagine how much worse things are coming out of the local TTTs.

In a market when T-14 graduates are getting screwed left and right, why would anyone seriously consider one of these dumps? I have to chalk it up to inability to follow the news, and/or "it won't happen to me" syndrome. In better times, Mitchell grads would have had a reasonable shot at eking out an existence in shitlaw or solo practice, but plenty of them still slipped through the woodwork. Hamline did even worse…it’s most prestigious grad is arguably a former local TV news anchor. In this market, students from the “best” school in town, which is generally agreed to be head-and-neck above its peers, aren’t finding jobs. How can any lawyer or law student in good conscience recommend a third-tier-toilet to a clueless 0L, who is looking for help?

The advice given to this 0L essentially devolved into a war between TTT cheerleaders who cite the “great practical experience” these toilets offer, versus disillusioned lawyers and graduates of these schools who are urging this 0L to reconsider.

The shills:
“Mitchell is known for its practical skills courses and clinics.”

“Mitchell has more alumni, which can be good for networking.”

“Hamline was a very good experience for me. I also had a lot of professors who were practicing or had recently practiced and were able to make legal issues come alive.”

“Making the choice between Mitchell and Hamline is simple: Mitchell is the better choice. I know many big-firm lawyers (and people in the government, and people at non-profits, etc.) who went to Mitchell and loved it. Mitchell is a fine school with solid legal education. And their career services people work very hard indeed.”

A nugget of honesty:
“But please reconsider. Mitchell and Hamline are both terrible choices for the vast majority of students. Almost everybody after graduation finds that their job choices are very limited, their career trajectories are flat, and they can’t get the kind of experience they want. . The very best people in any school will do fine. Chances are, I’m sorry to say, that you will not be in the top of the class.”

The best place for this wayward 0L to look is at actual recent grads of the schools:
“I’m a 2009 Hamline grad. I graduated with honors. I’m still unemployed. There’s a data point for you.
Good luck!
PS — it’s not too late to go to medical school.”

“Do not go to law school. The legal market is terrible, and it is going to keep getting worse: law classes are getting larger and larger. Top 1/4 students from UMN Law are having trouble finding jobs. You will be eaten alive unless those schools are offering you full-ride scholarships.”

“The legal market is terrible right now, no real news flash there. But if you are going to choose a MN school either go to the U and make sure to place in the top 25%, or go to Mitchell on a scholarship and place in the top 10%. If you can’t do that, don’t go to law school in the Twin Cities. And I’m not just saying that with regards to placing at a large firm, I’m saying that about having a chance at getting a legal job period when you graduate.
Hamline should never be an option.”

Which side will come away with the victory? Will the law school shills claim another bloody scalp from a hapless 0L? Will this woefully uninformed prospective student find her way to the scambloggers and others dedicated to exposing the law school scam? Classes are two months away, and the oilcan deans are busy making sure every seat will be filled with a warm body. Godspeed, "Jackie" the 0L, and may you see the light and run far, far away from law school.