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.