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.

17 comments:

  1. I know Ted. He is generally a nice guy. He was also fairly popular among his classmates.

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  2. Good post. I know Ted well. He's a genuine, kind, thoughtful person. He's also a Princeton legacy, went to fancy private high school, and is more upper-class than most of us can relate to. The vocal inflection and some mannerisms evoke an stereotypical image that wont ring true to those that know him.

    Ted is a curious example of this "lost generation" of professionals that are struggling to find their place in the working world. But, it should prove instructive to the scope and the depth of this problem when a Princeton grad from a good law school can't get a real job in his profession with benefits.

    Regarding spending, he lived in a bare-bones old apartment building for all three years of law school. He also drove an old car...a really old car. He was conscious of his accumulating debt while we were in school.

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  3. He claims he will vote for Obama in 2012 on YouTube. Wow. If Obama turns out to be this generations Jimmy Carter, and creates no jobs, then will he still vote for Obama? Not only will there be no jobs but he will still have to pay off that student debt. There is no forgiving nearly one trillion in student loans. Cool Aid drinker thought that Obama was a Camelot moment. BTW, Obama's team said the recession ended June 2009.

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  4. I agree. The problem is that we are ALL coming under these sort of, "Why won't you just accept your shitty life?" kind of ad hom attacks.

    We don't need to waste time aiming this crap at other grads.

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  5. Okay 5:50--tell us all about Ron Paul.

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  6. "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."

    I kind of take offense to this comment. Should us TTT grads expect to land a job in law as well? That is after all, why we went to law school. I think we all knew we aren't getting the best law jobs out there, but there should be jobs for us as well. I'd be more than happy to start my career with a District Attorney or Public Defender's office. But even those jobs are hard to come by these days.

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  7. Yes, I know a few delusional classmates from my TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT, but its easier to forgive their transgressions if they are 22 years old and have been told by everybody from the neighbor to the admissions counselor that they will find the most amazing job EVER. If we are going to give a pass to 40 year olds who ran out and bought a million dollar house on $5 of income, we shouldn't knock a 21 year old who has never had to earn their own income and pay their own bills on their financial choices. However, there are people that have gone through the system, graduated, and they still don't understand that the actual education part of law school is worthless, even if they had great professors that taught them just as well as any professor at the T-14 schools.

    BarBri taught me Commercial Paper better than the professor who taught my class, but I'm not going to put "BarBri bar review program" under the Education section of my resume. Maybe they aren't any smarter than anybody else, but the employer feels like it is worth their while to buy a student with those credentials.

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  8. I agree too. For everyone who has been screwed over by the system, there is somebody who had fewer opportunities, who acted more responsibly, and who got screwed over even worse.

    In my opinion, anyone who borrowed 6 figures to attend law school has a legitimate grievance. No matter how foolish their decision was, it doesn't change the fact that the law school overcharged them.

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  9. The cost of "legal education" has skyrocketed over the last 20-30 years - and continues to do so. The job market is contracting, i.e. shrinking - for various reasons. Advances in legal software and other legal technology are closing up many job opportunities for recent law school grads.

    This man apparently is sincere and has the balls to tell his story in an open setting. The American Dream is an illusion. Sure, you can win the lottery. You can also marry a rich person - it really helps if you look like a fitness model. Some people of modest means have a phenomenal talent - and are fortunate enough to be discovered; hopefully, at a young age, so they can receive the training to correctly develop and hone their skills.

    However, ALL young people in this nation are told to go to college and the world is theirs for the taking. This instills in kids the idea that if they work hard, they WILL make it - or at least gain some upward mobility.

    I fail to see how taking out $160K in non-dischargeable student loans to land a $42K a year job can be classified as upward mobility. Wouldn't this person be better off starting out making $35K as a mechanic or plumber after high school, and then watch as his income increases when his skill is recognized as expert-level.

    So what, if he tops out at $65K. He will be able to get married, have children and buy a home - without $100K in debt looming over his head.

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  10. "[M]aking $35K as a mechanic or plumber after high school . . . ."

    What apprentice plumbers have you been talking to?

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  11. "THAT, sir, is employment for reporting purposes. Ted Brassfield, as far as your law school is concerned, you are 'employed!'"

    Great line. So true.

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  12. Very well said

    Another interesting side-note is the backlash he received for speaking his mind on the economy in the interview (i.e. what qualifies him to give a take!)

    We all should be encouraging each other to speak our minds on issues, not bitch about whose qualifications are better etc.

    Yet another thing we need to fix with this profession. So much antagonism....

    In my opinion, the critical issue to press Obama on is the insane cost of education. It has risen insane amounts that have everything to do with fraud, abuse, corporatism, and morally reprehensible leadership. No way he doesn't know this. Time for him to put his money where his mouth is.

    http://blog.american.com/?source=patrick.net&p=19189#logo-n-tagline

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  13. Did Brassfield just say that he wants to an Assistant US Attorney in DC? Do you know how elite that is? The distinguished Princeton grad reminds me of a friend of mine, with a rich dad, who was unemployed for years (excluding his ghost job working for his dad's company)because he couldn't find an appropriate finance job worthy of him; and he wouldn't take a job beneath him.

    You and Nando are right about the job market. But if Brassfield wasn't rich he'd by hustling to help solos in divorce court rather than waiting for the DOJ.

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  14. I haven't seen the video of Brassfield asking Obama his question, so I wasn't able to judge if he is a douche or not, let alone judge his level of "douchiness"......UNTIL he started going on about how he really wanted to work for the federal government, and all the resources, oh my, and blah, blah, blah. My eyes rolled and my stomach turned as I thought, "Just what we need - another government lawyer, another douchebag who is apparently only sure about the fact that he wants a job that allows him to tell other people what to do and where his ability to maintain his position and his paycheck bear little or no relation to his productivity or his contribution to the market place." Has Mr. Douche even tried to get a job in the private sector, or is he going to hold out for that dream job of holding Eric Holder's pecker while he pees? I don't see how he can whine that there are no jobs when his focus is so narrow. In any case it is actually a point of relief for me that there is no room in the government right now for another douchebag lawyer, and I hope the room gets smaller and smaller. We'll all be better off when the people who go to law school hoping to land a cushy government job end up unemployed just like this guy.

    And what the hell? He graduated over two years ago and is still not licensed anywhere, waiting on the results of the bar exam? Did he flunk a bar exam or two before he decided to take the exam in Colorado?

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