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.”