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.”

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.


  1. "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?"

    This is what I never get. How can law school cheerleaders assert both that students are irrational to rely on the employment statistics provided by their schools, but rational in their decision to rely on these same schools for a legal education?

  2. I'm somewhere between you and "JD Rising". On the one hand, you are absolutely right -- the school's are completely dishonest and it was and is understandable that one would generally trust their figures. However, many people went and continue to go to law school because they chose worthless undergrad majors (English, Art, PoliSci) and once they realized what an awful decision they made in the previous 4 yrs, decided to go to law school by default - and would've likely done so even if the law schools were more honest. Further, loans are a big deal, even if you believed the employment statistics -- they were never so fraudulent as to lead one to believe that 100% of graduates found employment or that 100% of graduates made 120K. To willingly take out six-figures worth of debt, and not even consider the possibility that one could end up unemployed, or without a high salary, and without doing any outside research beyond what USNews or the law school itself told you, is a reckless and stupid move. For that, the primary blame is on you.

  3. I think that people only go to law school "by default" with worthless majors because there is the perception that a J.D. can help you get a decent job and make money. No rational person, if they knew how hard it is to find legal employment, would "double down" and pay for a second worthless degree, if they already had one.

    When your school is telling you that the MEDIAN salary for recent grads is fairly high--$80,000, $120,000, whatever--even if you made half of the median at $40,000, these hopeless people with useless undergrad degrees would probably be better off. Also, some people probably made a calculated decision to go to law school for less than $100,000 in loans. However, if you were to believe the school, which many people did and still do, you would believe that the median and up (half the class) made at least $80,000 a year shortly after graduating.

  4. The problem of higher education being a bad investment is much larger than law school. Is there any degree left that is still a good financial investment? A major overhaul needs to take place. A discussion needs to be started about how such an overhaul will work and who will pay. Students? Taxpayers? Employers?

  5. Someone earning $34K with a worthless B.A. in History - and $25K in student debt - would be foolish to take out an extra $110K for *a chance* to earn $70K. It is much more likely that she will earn $35K-$45K after law school - if she can find a job, that is.

    If people relied on ACCURATE employment and starting salary statistics, there would still be large numbers of desperate souls and delusional idiots applying to law school. However, it would not be to this extent.

  6. Also, it cannot be forgotten that a number of people possessing zero-demand undergrad majors(i.e., poli sci, psychology, art)who go to law school have it in the back of their mind that, even if they don't practice law, the JD is somehow a good thing to have.

    It is not. It will not somehow "bolster" your cred in the non-law world. The JD can and will damage you in the eyes of non-law employers (yes, yes, I know of the exceptional people with preexisting careers to whom this doesn't apply). That is not you, lemmings. If the practice of law doesn't work out for you, prepare for a lot of explaining to incredulous employers as to why you are passing up the lucrative, glamorous chance to "practice law".

  7. Ancient wisdom says that both lending and borrowing is wrong. I don't read the bible, but I know some parts are right.

  8. I remember reading the NY Times stories during law school. My thought was, "Oh Jesus! This could really suck for me." I then convinced myself that since I got a few good internship opportunities in law school and distinguished myself a bit academically, that I would still be first in line for the few remaining jobs. Nobody ever talked about what employers were actually looking for. I was looking for good reasons to not attend law school at the time, and I seriously think that if I had seen an article like that before I started applying that I wouldn't have bothered. The two attorneys who suggested that I go to law school made it sound like a 3 year commitment that would breeze by before I even knew it, after which I would live happily ever after. Even most of my professors had no clue. A few were under the impression that even the last in the class would still be unable to find enough dump trucks to carry the cash away. Others told us that we could walk right into a public interest job and do our time, after which you would be hired away by people who would pay us gobs of money. However, there was one upstanding individual who actually pointed out those NY Times articles to the class and said that this was what we had to look forward to if the Harvard people can't find a job. That person is a hero in my eyes.

    I don't know why people don't want to hold the law school accountable for inflating the numbers. I expect for advertisers to make McDonald's hamburger taste like the tastiest burger that comes with the love and friendship of Ronald McDonald himself, but I am also only out a dollar. And unless I'm 4 years old, I don't actually expect to see Ronald McDonald in the restaurant. If a school is bragging about their placement record, they should be forced to back up their claims. We're talking about actual results, not Ronald McDonald making rainbows and unicorns.

  9. If the curriculum is sound and the professors competent, no liberal arts degree is "worthless". This sort of education is an inherent good and a lifelong boon.

    The problem is not the inherent worth of the degree in principle, but its dilution and extreme cost in current practice. And so:

    1) There is a point where a college education becomes so expensive, and the attendant lifelong debt so crippling, that it no longer makes sense for anyone who is not already wealthy to acquire one, even if one believes (as I do) that a sound liberal education is truly priceless.

    2) Even when they are prepared to (or foolishly decide to borrow heavily to) meet the costs, too few students today receive the comprehensive, deep, and rigorous education that a college degree is supposed to represent. This is true for a host of reasons, from wild overexpansion of higher education, to mission drift, to pre-professionalization, to contemporary ideologies and their attendant destructions, to the demands of students committed to bread, circuses, and the path of least resistance.

    3) The overextension, dilution, and bastardization of education at all levels means that a college degree no longer represents, by itself, much of an achievement or distinction at all. It is no longer safe for an employer to assume that a candidate is above average--or even average, or even no worse than moderately below average--based simply on their having earned a bachelors' degree.

    One of the short-term remedies here may be to red-line a whole host of majors and advise that all students try to become accountants or engineers or pharmacists, though it depresses me to think so. But embracing the notion that an undergraduate degree in History or Politics is unavoidably and everywhere "worthless", and that any student with any sense must shun them for the indefinite future, will only help bring the world of "Idiocracy" and/or the final triumph of the Snopeses closer to reality.