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.”
It's funny that pro-law-schoolers are so adamant that 0Ls do their due diligence and look outside of the official channels for information about what their employment prospects might be like, because that is exactly what the entire industry is NOT built on. "Disgruntled graduate feedback" is not a category that factors into a school's US News ranking. As a 0L with little to no legal experience and a limited base of honest lawyers to draw upon for information, one is going to rely heavily and perhaps exclusively on what their school, US News, and the friendly legal professional organizations like NALP and the ABA have to say.
A short anecdote is perhaps in order. Back when I was a doe-eyed 0L, I spent plenty of time on those dreaded law school message boards. It was pathetic, and although the economy had not yet collapsed and a few of us were perhaps justified in thinking we would find gainful employment as lawyers, it was basically as much as an echo chamber of stupidity then as it is now. I recently revisited these old stomping grounds and read through many of my prelaw posts. I like to think that I was among the more skeptical of the bunch. I certainly wasn’t convinced I would be making six figures right out of the gate, but I was foolish enough to think I would be employed, in some capacity, as a lawyer. I often cited to the law school’s employment statistics, which assured all of us that we could have some kind of job. Oh, the fool doth think he is wise!
Later in the "Rising" comments section, the author even goes so far as to say that the schools’ statistics are “misleading or even fraudulant” [sic]. If someone is willing to admit this point, then how can you argue that law students had all the information needed to make an informed decision? What “better” material information should they rely on? Anecdotal tales from lawyers or scambloggers? As much as we try to dissuade each and every 0L from sitting their ass down in a law school seat on the first day of classes, the official line put out by the law schools will win out with most students. If a 0L is anything like I was, they might hear a cautionary tale or two from older lawyers, but will mentally contrast this with “but my school reports recent grads as 96% employed and making a median salary of $80,000 a year!”
The dissonance between what the school says and what lawyers say exists, but so many young people are not trained to distrust their college or law school. Students are going to have to learn the hard way that even their vaunted educational institutions, these law schools that spew so much tripe about truth, justice, and honesty, are about as forthcoming and reliable as Bernie Madoff.
This scamblogger’s suggestion isn’t that schools put on a bright red warning label cautioning against debt and unemployment, although that might be a good start. The problem is that law schools, through various degrees of misrepresentation, have airbrushed and glossed over these ugly truths about the employment prospects for their grads. As a 0L, still wet behind the ears, I took all of the US News and the school’s self-reported salary and employment statistics at face value. These were respected educational institutions, why would they lie?!? It never even crossed my mind that I might be looking at phony numbers. Yes, there are too many lawyers out there, but that’s why it was important to get into my first-tier-toilet Top-20 law school! Surely this great and noble academy, with its prestigious alumni and long history of churning out skilled and noteworthy lawyers, could still place its graduates. When so many TTT schools were reporting $120,000 median salaries, my school’s reported salary in the $80,000 range seemed downright humble and honest. Lest a prospective student fret, there was a handy breakdown of employers on the same admissions web page, noting that a disproportionate number of our graduates went into government or public interest work. See! They even eschewed the “big bucks” to give back to their fellow man. Prestigious and noble!
Any argument that indebted, unemployed law grads get what they deserve is invariably half-assed, because it always contains a hefty dose of “they knew what they were getting into.” Students are always going to trust their schools and the data they report. For better or for worse (for worse), we’ve conditioned this generation and their parents to trust the official story. Especially in the realm of higher education, no wrong can be done because you’re “bettering yourself” and engaged in a “noble and important intellectual pursuit.” Students will naturally believe the information given to them by their school instead of by older lawyers or unemployed grads. They know nothing of “the law” anyway, which is why they’re paying $100,000 to supposedly learn it. Most 0Ls are blind, helpless shrews, totally reliant on their school for information about the law, the legal industry, and their employment prospects. It’s no wonder that so many new students continue to pile in.
The very people who ought to be counseling caution and regulating entry to the profession, these gatekeepers, are not doing so. They’re not just asleep at the proverbial switch. It was not mere incompetence that got us here. The law school industrial complex sold its soul long ago in exchange for unlimited federally-backed student loan money, flush faculty rosters, fancy new additions to the law library, and $300,000 salaries for various deans. The 45,000 victims whose indebted corpses lie strewn about the country every year mean nothing; this is a for-profit enterprise, and those customers have been bled dry. As long as schools continue to self-report (and fake) their employment and salary data, and as long as this is factored into US News rankings with no verification, prospective students will continue to be misled. When the school itself is lying to you from the day you apply to the day you graduate, no student is entering law school possessed of all of the facts.