Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Five People You Should Not Listen to When Considering Law School.

Ah, the good old summertime! It was only a few short years ago that I spent these few glorious months boning up on law school and preparing myself for the academic crucible of first semester 1L year. Looking back, I was an idiot, but I certainly didn’t know any better. A big problem for me was a lack of accurate, meaningful advice about just what the decision to go to law school entailed. Scambloggers and other disaffected lawyers have been trying to get through to prospective students that law is a shitty career, law schools lie through their teeth to get you in the door, and that legal hiring has been a bloodbath for some time. Sure, some of the class of 2013 will get jobs. A lot—and we’re talking many thousands—won’t get legal jobs at all. Maybe half of them will get temporary jobs or jobs they hate, just to pay the loans. In any case, the realities upon graduation will be a far cry from whatever expectations most people had during that last, glorious summer before they entered the abyss.

I received a lot of stupid advice from a lot of uninformed people, although I didn’t know it at the time. When you’re a wet-behind-the-ears 20something, it’s hard to ignore and disbelieve practically everyone who surrounds you and has guided you. Ultimately, the decision to go to law school is your own, as it was for me. However, when weighing this extremely perilous decision, there are a lot of people whose advice you should not heed. Thus, I give you, The Five People You Should Not Listen to When Considering Law School.

1. Your parents and relatives.

Your non-lawyer relations are, in a word, stupid. Every parent, even those who could never be described as “helicopter parents” likes the idea of their kid being a lawyer. Outside of born-to-the-purple sons of billionaires, a respectable professional job like doctor or lawyer represents the height of middle-class achievement for most people. Unless your family knows struggling lawyers, they will encourage you to go, and also resist your attempts to reconsider. Fight them. They will probably give you a few examples of a few acquaintances of theirs, fellow boomers who have built a successful small practice of some sort. You will probably get a line about how, “My friend Barb went to law school, and now she doesn’t even work in the law and makes $_ _, _ _ _ doing some bullshit.” Ignore this as well.

Your family is well meaning. They want you to succeed and are using their limited knowledge and susceptibility to occupational prestige to try and encourage you the best way they know how. The disconnect between your average layperson’s idea of lawyer salaries and the reality is huge. Unless you have lawyers in your immediate family, you’re not going to get the cold, hard facts. Many people trust and rely on their families, even long after leaving the nest. There’s nothing wrong with that… they’ve always looked out for you, and are still trying to, albeit misguidedly. This is one area where you must not let their good intentions get the best of you or color your decision to go to law school. It’s easy to feel complacent and that you’ve made the right choice when you’ve got a bunch of people cheering for you. Don’t fall into this trap. If need be, think of how hard it will be explaining to your loving, naïve family why you are still unemployed after graduation in a few years. Your family cares about you and loves you, yes. Most of the time, however, they are not footing the bill and won’t have to grapple with the personal consequences of going to law school for the rest of their lives.

Monday, June 28, 2010

An English PhD calls law school a scam

From the world of the liberal arts, we have another outsider who can take one look at law school and tell it like it is. The author notes that during her teaching career, she counseled many an English major on their prospects and wrote plenty of letters of recommendation for aspiring J.D.s. For someone who is a creature of the higher education establishment, and saw many of her own students off to law school, I have to admire her ability to be blunt regarding graduate-level education.
“Grad school in the humanities is a scam. There are simply no jobs, tenure is disappearing, the culture of the academic humanities is pathological, and the sort of academic life grad students hope to acquire is ceasing to exist.”

No real news here. As someone who flirted with going to grad school in the humanities, I was told much of the same things. Fellow scambloggers have long since noted the similarities between the (dismal) outlook for M.A./PhD holders and J.D.s. Now, when even law schools that might have been able to place a fair number of students are revealed to be first tier toilets, law school is more like grad school than ever. A certain, select number of students will still land their respective profession’s most coveted jobs. They will almost all come from the very best institutions and be the cream of the academic crop. For J.D.s from lesser schools and outside the top quartiles of the class, their future is looking more and more like that of the typical M.A. or PhD. Except worse.
“[L]aw school is turning into grad school, only with debt. At least if you are getting a PhD in English, you can do it for free. You might live on a shoestring (I lived on $10,000/year when I was getting my PhD during the early 1990s), but your tuition is covered and you don't graduate six figures under.”

The author ends by recommending that students not go to grad school OR law school. This is someone who’s done their own trial by fire, going the grad school route and being a professor for years. For every one of these honest, no-B.S. professors, there are thousands more who play accessory to the highway robbery that is the higher ed scam. This is coming from a PhD in English! I think everyone can agree that humanities PhDs are much more of a scam than a J.D., but here we have one such PhD telling us that no, sorry, we J.D.s have it much worse.
“Will law professors act to clean up law schools' act? They should. But if the example of the academic humanities is any indicator, they won't. Lowering costs and being honest about expectations would come out of their pockets and their comforts--and that would be just too much.”

I’m glad to see that more and more informed observers of legal education are wising up to the scam. We need more brave souls like Erin O’Connor and Professor Tamanaha who can speak up about the scam and try and warn off would-be victims. To the law school apologists and prospective law students, it’s not just “a few bitter bloggers” who are publicizing the law school scam.

Friday, June 25, 2010

First Tier Toilet Apologists

The NYT mustered half an ounce of courage and published a letter with a sprinkling of law school criticism in it. This tepid letter to the editor is a smidgen more critical of the law school scam than the Times' own article.
Re “In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That” (front page, June 22):

Raising the mandatory grading average is a disingenuous measure taken by law schools to appease students, many of whom are growing increasingly unhappy with the fact that they are graduating with crushing debt and meager job prospects.

Raising grades does no more than slapping a Band-Aid on the sliced jugular of the grim employment situation. Class rank relative to other students remains the same, and employers need only ask for a student’s class percentile to circumvent grade inflation.

Here's an admission that employment sucks, and schools are doing nothing about it. There's even a scamblog-worthy line about the "sliced jugular of the grim employment situation." Bravo, letter writer! Now that we've thrown that out there, it's time to hit them hard!

If schools are sincerely concerned about the well-being of their graduates, perhaps they should devote more of their resources to assisting students with finding clerkships and jobs, and even subsidizing them, as mine does.

At the very least, schools should address other factors within their control, like limiting the number of students enrolled so they can actually expect to find employment, or reining in skyrocketing law school tuition.

Nathan Rogers
Dallas, June 22, 2010

The writer attends SMU Dedman School of Law.

I had high hopes for this letter until we got to "schools should subsidize their students, like mine does." Would that I could sell my soul for a $3500 stipend, fend off unemployment for six months, and allow the school to count me as "employed." Other than that, the letter made some good points...apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Let's not encourage this kind of gamesmanship, Mr. Rogers! As long as there is support for half-baked schemes like SMU Dedman's "Test Drive" program, schools will continue to use such trickery to cook the books and deceive unwitting 0Ls.

SMU that supposed to refer to your employment prospects as a graduate? Dedman...Dead Man Walking? The test drive program is $3500, or thirty pieces of silver, that the school will throw its unemployed grads to keep them busy and out of the "unemployed" category. For a school that reports a whopping 97% of its class of 2009 as employed, they've got to keep those fake numbers up for the class of 2010. This program is not about helping students, it's about boosting SMU Dead-man's US News ranking and pulling a fast one on prospective students.

Despite what the dean claims, when the employment survey comes out, we can expect to see these "test driven" students listed as "employed." Really, it's a good deal for DeadMan...$3500 a head seems a small price to pay if you can put up good fake employment data because of it. For every student that they shell out 3500 bucks for now, they can be sure to get more suckers in the door come fall, paying a cool $38,406 a year in tuition alone.

Let's see where a "test drive" will land alums of this presTTTigious institution!

* 2:59 pm May 18, 2010
* Anonymous wrote:
I graduated from SMU in 2009 – they are disingenuous about their graduate employment statistics. I can name six peers that are employed outside the legal field and/or still looking for work. Another five are doing contract labor (i.e. document review). One of my friend’s was working at Toys-R-Us when these statistics were compiled. One was “employed” by the career services office. At least another five are working in the Barnett Shale doing door-to-door oil & gas leasing and/or title checks for Chesapeake Energy’s subcontractors (along-side college drop-outs). And one that became so frustrated with career prospects that he is studying to be a pharmacist.

Talk about a first-tier toilet! Mr. Rogers, don't tarnish an otherwise accurate letter to the editor about the perils of law school with a shill for the latest brand of law school scammery!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

NYT tiptoes around law school scam

Yesterday brought another mainstream media piece about some of the shenanigans going on in legal education. Grade inflation is not exactly a great way to give students a leg-up in a horrible job market, especially when more and more schools are doing it. Additionally, as the article notes, employers are hip to the jive and are thus unlikely to care that a student's GPA is .333 higher.

It's good to see the paper give a skeptical glance to this grade-meddling. However, the NYT dropped the ball by failing to mention the larger problems that cause schools to come up with half-assed schemes like a GPA boost. The utter lack of legal jobs and the unemployment massacre that J.D. grads are entering after school is the root cause of these limpwristed efforts to aid students. As the article notes, how much of a boon these schemes will provide is quite debatable.

In an article that casts a suspicious eye on grade inflation and efforts by schools to pay employers to "test drive" their grads, more ought to have been said about what a bloody, suicidal clusterfuck law school has become. Instead, readers are given a few lines that passively reference the boiling cauldron of excrement that is the law school scam.
Once able to practically guarantee gainful employment to thousands of students every year, the schools are now fielding complaints from more and more unemployed graduates, frequently drowning in student debt.

"Fielding complaints" from "more and more" (read: tens of thousands) of graduates sounds a lot like the righteous anger of the law school scambloggers and other scammed grads. Yet a mere reference to "complaints" makes the whole backlash against law school seem wholly insignificant and whiny. There is a whole lot more going on than just a few complaints being filed!

As long as mainstream media outlets temper their reporting about the problems in legal education with an overall positive assessment, casual readers (like 0Ls and their parents) are not going to get the message. They might come away with some inkling that all is not well in law school land, but will just write it off. After all, it definitely isn't going to happen to THEM! As long as the plight of the tens of thousands of scammed grads is characterized as "a few complaints," or an aberration on the road to $160k salaries, unknowing students will continue to matriculate. I'm not expecting the NYT or any other respectable paper to adopt the tone of a scambuster, but it would be nice to see them give a harder look to the problems facing law grads.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Government work is NOT an alternative to private practice

It’s exasperating to hear naïve 0Ls, 1Ls, and even some dumber upperclassmen, talk about public-sector work like it is still a viable option for them. They'll say how are disappointed they are that biglaw is closed, but they will just go and work for “the government” instead. They usually cite something about how the lower salaries are worth working fewer hours and devoting yourself to “more meaningful” work.

These jobs were always scarce before the recession, and they also paid crap compared to the 100 or 150 thousand dollar debt students have. For as many law students that professed their desire to work in the public sector, there were never enough of these positions for them even in the best of times. They are even more scarce now as many government and nonprofit employers have seen their budgets crater. Those that are still around aren’t paying you any more than they ever were. Only a few schools have a worthwhile LRAP program that will make any significant dent in your debt, and they all happen to be top schools. If you go to a crap school or even a first tier toilet, and expecting to be bailed out by your school in exchange for taking a $35,000 yearly salary from some legal aid ain't going to happen.

To anyone who has been living under a rock lately, government isn’t exactly a boom industry when it comes to jobs for law grads. Fluff news stories like to talk about how government is one of the only sectors growing. This is true...if you are a temporary census worker, or are willing to enter at the bottom of the pay scale as a Forestry Service technician making $9/hour. There are not, however, thousands of new legal positions being created. The tens of thousands of unemployed or temporarily-employed JDs out there are not going to find full-time attorney jobs with the government.

State and local government is much, much worse off than the feds. Several states that are home to a lot of unemployed lawyers are ready to implode for lack of funding. They aren’t exactly on a hiring boom. Many other states have severely constrained budgets and are trimming their judicial branches, county legal services, and the like. State-level judges are cautioning that this austerity, lack of funding, and lack of personnel is going to be long term (read: permanent).

No, you’re not going to be able to slide into a job as assistant city attorney or public defender with ease. As you may have noticed, every recent grad who hasn’t yet committed suicide is plastering the few remaining government jobs with resumes. There are tends of thousands of newly-minted, unemployed JDs trying to find ANY sort of paid work. Local governments are taking advantage of this bumper crop of unemployed law students and recent graduates by taking them on as volunteers, with no promise, prospect, or insinuation that they will ever get a job.

Back at the federal level, there are only a tiny amount of attorney positions open. They are being filled by biglaw refugees with fancy degrees and gold-plated experience at some of the nation’s premier firms. In other words, not slack-jawed recent graduates, or TTT lawyers looking to move up onto the federal general schedule. One of my good friends, from back in the day before I lost half of my brain mass and decided to go to law school, actually works for the federal government. The Department of Justice probably has a lot of lawyers and is a good place to sample what hiring at the federal level is like. Let’s see what he says:

“Even before the recession a lot of these jobs were only looking at 5% of applicants, now it's much less. No one looks at the thousands of USAjobs applicants, you need something stellar to stand out. We have a lot of solid talent from the private sector coming in, our division hired some experienced attorneys from big firms in the past year or so. All the people in my office who have degrees from places like UConn or non-Ivy schools were here long before the economy got bad. DOJ has its pick of experienced lawyers with white shoe credentials. Everyone is trying to get into the federal government because it’s more secure.”

Wait, where was the part about them hiring new grads or students from shitty schools?

Bottom line: government work is AT LEAST as hard to get as a halfway decent private sector job, if not harder. I think all but the most delusional students outside the very top schools have given up their dreams of biglaw. Students need to start giving up their hopes of government work: local government doesn’t have the money to hire you, and the feds would prefer experienced lawyers with excellent academic credentials from top schools. Your students and grads from the T14 are also shut out of biglaw and are trickling down to take entry-level government jobs that might have considered you in the past.

What does that leave you? Bankrupting yourself starting a solo practice, or working for some schlubby shitlaw practitioner in traffic court or family law for $25k a year. There is probably some of that work to be found, but still not enough for the 45,000 law grads emerging every year. So don’t lose heart, you might still find "a job." Do write back when your prelaw dreams of legal glory clash with the realities of shitlaw.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Every School is a TTT

A comment over on JJD’s blog caught my eye:

“As someone who attended (and did well in) a very "elite" school, I can personally assure everyone here that their employment figures are deceptive and manipulated.

It's not just the TTT's that are doing it. Most of the graduating class did not get decent jobs. My friends are mostly unemployed, doing part-time work with a stipend, or are trying to join the military.”

I’ve sounded this same theme on boards and comments on my fellows' blogs. It’s time we all realize: most schools are putting up TTT numbers these days. Double-digit unemployment and lack of prospects are no longer problems unique to TTTs. Okay, even I can admit that not "every" school is a TTT. But in this economy, plenty of highly-thought-of T1 schools are sending their graduates out and over a cliff. This metastasized rot has penetrated deep into the first tier, tinged the T14, and is even now lurking outside the gates of Harvard Yard.

TTTs get a lot of bad rap, and deservedly so. They ought to get a hundred times more, and then all be closed down, their facilities stripped bare and sold off to help recoup some of their victims’ tuition dollars. But as anyone at a “better” law school will tell you, things are hardly much different higher up the USNews ladder. Recently we’ve heard from 2010 Georgetown grads about how miserable their prospects from this T-14 are. We’re seeing students in the top third at 34-ranked Fordham wind up unemployed. The Wall Street Journal told us about 2010 grads from number 11 Northwestern who are unemployed and moving home to live in the basement. And these are grads who "had the grades," and were high-paid summer associates a year before. It is NOT merely the "slackers" or "wash-outs" who are being hung out to dry.
We’ve even heard from Harvard grads who didn't get a job. And no, you are not guaranteed a "good job" even coming out of vaunted Harvard.

These first-tier students are representative of the classes of 2009, 2010, and onward. They are largely unemployed or underemployed. One of the Georgetown students even surfaced on a law school blog, and noted that he tried to bring up the fact that the school lies and misrepresents its data, during the interview session. SURPRISE! It never made it on the air!

Apart from these examples, what do we have to rely on? Surely, oil-slick deans at other T1 schools will claim, these mainstream-media-documented examples are just outliers. Everything is just rosy-pink at other 20s-ranked schools, at other T-14 schools. Right? Right. Enter the scam-buster:

“Because a substantial portion of students at T14s are NOT getting full-time non-stipend positions (my guess is between 40 and 80 percent of non-HYS students are in this terrible bracket), but it's impossible to verify. This is not limited to the bottom of the class but extends to good students.

Even in the T14 it's an insane gamble. The jobs aren't there to justify the time or tuition. You can dream all day about how the T14 students are all getting pampered like Tom Cruise at the beginning of "The Firm," but it just isn't so.

Outside of T14 and you're looking at a total disaster. Vanderbilt? Boston College? GWU? UMinn? Those kids pay the same tuition you did and face a similar fate.”

Now before you pro-law school shills start attacking all of this as anecdotal, I must repeat: what else do we have? Data from schools CANNOT be relied on. All we can do is look at schools like Northwestern (11), Georgetown (14), Vanderbilt (17), Minnesota (22), and Fordham (34), and extrapolate. If these GOOD schools can't get grads, who are at LEAST in the top half of the class, ANY job, then what does that say? Alternatively, where is all the "good news" about how hiring is brisk, grads are all happy and content, and everything is peachy in law school land? There are none. Law school land looks like New Orleans after the hurricane, with well-qualified, elite grads left stranded on rooftops.

Let's revisit that commenter. 40-80% of non-HYS students. In other words, outside of the top three schools in the country, you may well have a 50% chance or higher of not finding meaningful employment. I’ll second the call that outside of the T-14 is a total disaster. We’ve seen number 17-ranked Vanderbilt students sounding the alarm about phony employment statistics and a lack of job prospects. UMinn (no. 22) just graduated a class where only a third of students are employed, in any capacity. To every law school shill or delusional 0L who thinks that just avoiding the “TTTs” will save them and still provide robust employment prospects, think again. Every law school outside of a HANDFUL of top schools is putting up TTT numbers these days.

“Things will turn around by 2013 or 2014,” 0Ls and law schools will claim. Sure they will, son. If you’re totally confident in that, gamble your 100k. Just remember that even before the recession, the bottom 2/3 of the class at 20-40 ranked schools were pressed for jobs. Things are unbelievably bad out there. Beyond-description bad. I try to pepper my jeremiads with actual evidence and stories from the trenches, but these 0Ls and law school cheerleaders are quick to write it all off.

So, I will end this post with a call for news from the first tier. Things are really bad in the first tier, but there are still surely some people getting good jobs (especially high in the T14). For every T1 grad who has a biglaw position or a nice clerkship, there are going to be embittered, scammed grads.

2010 grads from T1 schools, what is the view from your school? Where are you working? Is it a real, salaried, full-time position? Volunteer work? Deferred? Hourly doc review? For students still enrolled, how did summer employment turn out for you and your classmates? If, as our detractors claim, there is more good than bad out there, we should be inundated with rosy news. The WSJ and NPR must just be plain wrong to report on the dearth of legal employment. As these shills so often claim, scambloggers are just bitter, and we've got it all wrong. So here we go: let's prove us all wrong.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A new low in faking employment numbers

During a bit of self-reflection that inspired another post, I made my way back to my school’s “Prospective Students” page to see just what salary data and employment numbers they were currently baiting 0Ls with. Salary data has since been removed, although it was definitely there a few years ago (as I relied on it). Who knows why it’s been removed…I can even see how it might benefit 0Ls by not tantalizing them with dreams of fat salaries upon graduation. (Although I’m sure they will be told by other sources about the “huge” salaries they can expect.)

What really caught my attention was an insidious new way of calculating employment statistics. Instead of “employed at six months,” or “of those reporting back,” we have this new level of depravity from law school shills:

96.59% of graduates employed, out of those seeking employment. What the fuck is this shit?!?!?

How do you determine who is seeking employment? How do you gauge whether a grad is seeking employment? Isn't EVERYONE presumably seeking employment? How do you accurately represent what this metric means to a prospective student? Do you rule out students unemployed at graduation, and just shunt them off into the “not seeking employment category, to boost your numbers? (Yes.)

I can see the discussion down at career services now!
Dean: We need a way to boost our sagging employment numbers! I want to see this fall’s incoming class packed to the gills!
Shill: Well, dean, students are getting wise to our previous statistical shenanigans like “employed at six months” and “only those who returned the survey.” With 66% of the class graduating with no job, it’s becoming harder and harder to conceal this from naïve 0Ls!
Dean: Well if 2/3 of the class couldn’t get a job, it must be because they aren’t trying hard enough! They probably aren’t even looking for employment! I know…we’ll change our reporting to reflect only those students who WANTED a job and FOUND one. Something about “only those seeking employment were employed.” That sounds like a tautological mindfuck that ought to throw 0Ls and USNews for a loop!
Shill: *Awed, respectful silence at dean’s mastery of the scam.*

Watch out for this new level of scumbucketry and deception, gang. Count on the law schools to leave no stone unturned in their search for novel ways to assuage your fears about the economy and to get your tuition dollars. Matriculate at your own peril; odds are you’ll be one of those “not seeking employment” in a few years.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We Are All a Lost Generation

It’s certainly been said before: we are the lost generation.

I recently watched the Class of 2010 from our prestigious law school go off into the world unemployed and with no prospects. The grads themselves put the unemployment level at about two-thirds of the class, an unbelievably horrible statistic for a school that was reporting graduate employment in the high 90s when these students matriculated. A quick glance at the results of career services’ employment survey shows a 35% response rate. It’s amazing how closely that mirrors what the students themselves claim as far as their collective employment status. I’ve been pondering what the implications of this are for these former classmates and peers. This kind of catastrophe has never happened to many of us. Certainly, many people have overcome great obstacles, tragedies, and disasters in life. We all have our personal difficulties to surmount. However, I doubt many people have seen their future really evaporate.

What happens when you hit full stop and realize that there really is no job for you? You realize that all you have worked for over years, maybe close to a decade, is for naught. It’s one thing to be waylaid by life’s curves and detours. It’s quite another to come to the end of the journey, the culmination of your young adult life thus far, and find that the road is closed. We go to school for the first quarter of our lives so we can get a job, find a profession, in which to spend the rest of it. What happens when this long-established road to employment, to professional life, to success, becomes impassible? Who do you turn to for guidance when your parents and mentors lived through the biggest economic boom times in living memory, when jobs were plentiful and the sky, or at least the suburbs, was the limit? How do you relate to people whose only experience has taught them that the only people who can’t get a decent job are lazy, inefficient, or defective?

In days of yore, disenchanted 20-somethings could decamp to the City of Light to ponder their place in the world and get slammed with Ernest Hemingway. Sadly, this is no longer an option for most. How is an intrepid graduate going to scrounge up the dough to hit Europe, or even some more affordable third-world backwater, with 150,000 dollars in debt hanging over their head?

The tens of thousands of scammed graduates, this lost generation, will not be knocking around Europe, writing the Great American Novel, and ruminating on some grand poetry in a Parisian salon. They will be working the cash register at Walgreen’s, mowing lawns for the parks department, and hunching over a computer screen in a dank basement reviewing documents for $15/hour--if they’re lucky. At night, they will slink home and fire up the stove for a meal of delicious Ramen noodles. Occasionally, their eyes will wander to the forgotten corner of their efficiency apartment where their undergrad, masters, law, or doctorate degree sits in a dusty frame. Having thus triggered a night of uncontrollable sobbing and/or binge drinking, this overeducated, overqualified debt peon will catch a few winks of sleep before having to get up and grind it out again for $8 an hour.

Do you remember what it was like to dream big? High school graduation is, for me, only a few short years in the rear view mirror. Be it five, ten, or twenty, everyone remembers. Some of us dreamt of being big shots. Many others were just excited to get out into the world, go to college, and get a decent middle class job and live like their parents. I sure as hell didn’t expect to see scores of people go off to four-year private universities, come home, and only be able to get a job cutting grass and de-icing asphalt for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Those of us who postponed this harsh reality and took refuge in law or grad school are only prolonging the pain. Our financial reality will be even bleaker. Many of us put off imagining what living under six figures of non-dischargeable debt while earning peanuts must be like. It’s easy to forget that the dream we’re all working for—a normal, stable job, decent salary, and ability to pay back our debts and keep a roof over our heads—has vanished for millions of young people. Reading “DEFERRED-CURRENTLY ENROLLED” on your loan statement every month is akin to taking a nice big dose of opiates. The pain is dulled, reality slips away. The realization that you have been sold down the river by higher education and your lenders is postponed.

The Boomers will cry foul. It’s your fault, we’re told. No one told you to take out 75,000 dollars in loans to study political science. You should have known a master’s degree is useless. You’re a moron for not realizing that there are not enough jobs to go around. You ought to have realized the legal economy was going to implode and there never were enough jobs for all of you. You think you have it tough, well we lived during the 70s oil crisis!

You went to college and law school in a time where a semester’s tuition put you back mere hundreds of dollars. You may have started out with nothing, but you didn’t start out 50, 100, 150 thousand dollars in the hole. And although you started out small, there were jobs for you. You were able to climb the ladder. Dramatically fewer people held college degrees when you were working your first jobs and building your careers. You had it easy, by every measure, but you didn’t bother to make things easy for us.

We did not subsidize any and all higher education. We did not give schools a free pass to raise tuition every year, for decades, in the knowledge that the money would always come in because the feds were putting up the cash. We didn’t wreck the global economy. We didn’t destroy the American manufacturing sector and outsource millions of service jobs. We didn’t approve of legal work being outsourced to non-lawyers for pennies on the dollar in India. We didn’t arrange things so that the only job you can get with a B.A. is being a barista.

But there is one thing we did do, and it’s cursed us ever since. We listened to you Boomers. We believed our teachers and parents who drilled into us the notion that higher education is the key to advancement. We believed the President when he told us that everyone should go to college. We believed you when you told us paying $40,000 a year for private college was an investment in our futures. We believed you when you said it was absolutely necessary to raise our public university tuition 15% year after year. We believed the bogus employment and salary statistics cooked up by unctuous law school deans who were eager to see Sallie Mae and federal loan dollars keep pouring in. We believed because we wanted to, but isn’t that what we are supposed to do? People are supposed to trust in their institutions: higher education, the government, the president. Their parents. Young people are supposed to be able to have faith in their elders. So yes, we believed in you, and now we’re doomed. While we figure out how to handle this student debt, forgive us if we have a hard time paying for your trillions in unfunded medical, retirement, and social security liabilities. You had the wheel; we believed you could bring us in safely. Well, now we can all go down together.

A big thanks from the Lost Generation.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Young people unable to afford a life? Convince them they never wanted it, anyway!

From the NYT we have yet another fluff piece about why young people “just can’t get it together.” This is far from the first article discussing this trend, but it takes the same track as every damn one of them. Namely, “back in the day, it was a tremendous burden to get a job at 22 and work for the rest of your life, pay a mortgage, and have a family. Now, young people have independence! They don't have to conform to these outdated indicators of success!” What a load of horse shit.

The spin-masters try and fool young people into thinking that these markers of middle-class stability aren’t “worth it.” They tell us that, rather than being achievements and signs of prosperity, owning a home, being married, and raising kids is a tremendous burden and we should all be glad that we can’t afford to live this way. I'll agree that mortgages, marriages, and children certainly are a burden. Hey, life is a burden. I don’t know about you all, but I would much rather get a decent job in my 20s, work for the same company until retirement, and be “tied down” by the privilege of being able to afford a home, than be six figures in debt and live with my mom until age 40. Those stodgy old markers of the middle class sound really, really rough, I tell ya!

Fluff pieces like this continually try to convince young people that drawing out life is great. What they fail to mention is how these generations have been utterly screwed to the point of no longer being able to AFFORD what was previously a very achievable middle-class life. For as much as they discuss (without citing any evidence of causation) how progressive social factors are to account for this, it’s clear to any 20something suffering through debt slavery and a looted economy that we’ve been sold out. It's not that 20somethings are all happily rejecting marriage and a picket fence en masse. (Some of them are, for various reasons, and more power to them.) It's that very few people in their 20s can AFFORD to live like their parents and grandparents did at the same age, thanks to educational debt and a lack of decent job options. If we hadn't jacked up the cost of higher ed and destroyed manufacturing and service jobs in this country, my guess is many millions more 20somethings would be quite pleased to be living the way previous generations did.

These articles like to present delayed parenthood), living at home for years after graduation, and shitty jobs as the benefits of an enlightened society. We've all been convinced that this “freedom” is really stupendous, as a cover-up for how much we've been screwed. Purveyors of this "more freedom" lie apparently spend little time pondering the social effects of having tens of millions of young people shut out of traditional avenues of self-improvement and socialization. Used to be that getting a job and a mortgage was a great way to impart civic responsibility and a sense of collective work ethic on people. But I'm sure these things don't matter anymore, and we're all better off for being rid of this kind of "oppressive" thought.

Maybe there are a lot of people these days who think waiting until 40 to ever afford a home, kids, a spouse, is just the bee’s knees. Maybe I’m really out of touch. I can’t be the only one who wants to get started on life, rather than spend the next 20 years in purgatory. Yes, there are more “options,” and social pressure for people who no longer want “traditional” lifestyles is alleviated. This is good; no one should feel like a pariah for foregoing a cookie-cutter lifestyle.

However, when the trappings of this lifestyle—home ownership, the ability to provide for a family (if desired), disposable income—are now out of reach to millions of young people, something is very wrong. Telling us all how better off we are to be relieved of these burdens isn’t going to work. We all know that we’ve been priced out of a decent life. Young people are saddled with six-figure debt before they have a chance. The jobs that would have helped dig us out are long gone. As much as the media tries to tell us all how great and liberating it is to live in mom’s basement until age 35, I don’t think we buy it. It’s not some great social revolution that is causing people to delay adulthood, it’s economic reality. No one can fucking afford it. Just another daily reminder of how we’ve been scammed hard.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New York-bound 0L should consider Fordham!

Above the Law did a nice little profile of a typical 0L who is headed to law school to kill time and ride out the recession. In New York, no less, where in addition to paying confiscatory tuition he can cough up for the ridiculous cost of living.

A lot of bloggers try to keep the kid-gloves on when talking about 0Ls. They think that by gently presenting the awful jobs data and sobering testimonials, 0Ls will see the light and reverse course. Prospective law students are really smart, right? Surely they can take these facts and arrive at a rational decision.

Apparently not, as prospective students continue to logjam themselves into schools and take the LSAT in record numbers. For every would-be biglaw associate over at top-law-schools, there are probably two or three times as many Ryan Kams. In my anecdotal experience from 1L orientation, those of us who frequented forums, blogs, and sites like, numbered perhaps 30. This didn't make us any smarter, but we had spent the past six months learning what OCI was and trying to one-up each other on our reasons for going to law school.

This would-be 0L doesn't even feign an interest in "the law."
"As far as I'm concerned, evading the real world for a little bit is not a bad idea, especially with the current economic climate," Kam says. "Law school is a great way to kill time."
Yes, it's also a great way to kill your future and finances.

Perhaps we ought to take it to Mr. Kam directly. This can be a case study in shattering the law school myth. His mom joined the service out of college when there were no job prospects, something that in retrospect I also should have done. In any case, more 0Ls need to be taking a serious second look at a J.D. They can start by not believing the self-published employment and salary numbers schools put out. How might they find out what it's really like? Talk to the actual students.

One intrepid 0L over at TLS is on the right track:
“[H]ow would T20-40 grads at median be getting halfway decent jobs... ... ::bites lip:: ... are T20-40 grads at median finding decent law jobs???”
Glad you asked! And the short answer is no. I do give you props for asking, and for assuming that you'll be near the median at a mid-ranked school. Ten points for realistic expectations.

Let's take a look at one of these schools, number 34-ranked Fordham. While previously the top third of the class could look forward to good jobs, these days they're all screwed. And let's not forget what the bottom 2/3 of the class must have gone through, even before the recession. (This would include students at the median.) For only $62,000 a year, prospective students like Ryan Kam can also go to law school and end up working for free, or for $9/hour, like the poor souls in this article. Fordham self-reports 85.3% of its grads as employed, so you might still have a shot at an unpaid six-month volunteer position!

But hey, Fordham can't be THAT bad. I mean, Michael Clayton went there. Plus, it's in New York and is probably right up Mr. Kam's alley. Every prospective 0L who thinks they can hibernate near the median for three years in law school and emerge after the winter of recession, please listen to those who have gone before you:

"I mean, it's not just this summer we're talking about, this is the rest of our lives."

I couldn't have put it better myself, anonymous Fordham 2L. Perspective might be hard to come by as a 22-year old. It certainly was for me, and look where I ended law school!

The problem with law school forums

For many prospective law students, online law school forums provide their first glimpse behind the curtain and opportunity to learn what getting a J.D. might really entail. Recently, the law school scamblogosphere has discussed the failings of these forums, nearly all of which are packed with bright-eyed 0Ls rather than battle-weary students or lawyers. Most posters on sites like, autoadmit, or lawschooldiscussion, possess an outlook on the legal industry and job market that is quite different from the perspective of current law students, lawyers, or casual readers of newspapers. Sites like these are replete with thread titles like: "Where should I go: Seton Hall (sticker) or Florida State (sticker)?" and "Is my 168 enough to get me into Vandy?" While they are not completely full of law school cheerleaders, the overall effect of these forums is to allow 0Ls with no experience to gas each other up about going to law school. Even given the current massacre in the job market, the majority of the posters have a certain...irrational exuberance...about the entire prospect of a legal education.

Nine times out of ten, any lawyer or current student who shows up on these boards and tries to dissuade prospective students from matriculating is greeted with skepticism at best. More commonly, jeers and personal attacks get thrown out. To be honest, I probably would have reacted the same way as a 0L, or at least told myself “this guy is just a bitter failure,” which is a fair point. I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m bitter as hell.

The problem is that there are a hell of a lot of “bitter failures” these days. A lot of us who have been through the meat grinder would sincerely like to save potential future victims from such a fate. 0Ls who lash out at anyone who dares to sully their legal dream aren’t the type to take bad news well. They probably aren’t the types to rationally approach spending $150,000 on a degree of questionable utility. I say let these types go to law school. Fill it on up. Those who are so full of themselves that they are sure they'll all make top 10% and law review, can only be dissuaded by hitting the brick wall of reality head-on. Nothing is going to cause these 0Ls to abandon ship, short of actually hitting an iceberg.

What all of these 0Ls fail to realize is that we were all like them, not long ago. Starry-eyed, self-confident, and positive we were going to show that damned law school curve a thing or two! I even was a member of one of these boards before I matriculated, and it sure made me feel smug knowing that all of my fellow 0Ls were stoking each others' dreams and sticking our heads in the sand. We had it all figured out.

Recently, a few noble scambusters took it upon themselves to venture over to TLS and make a direct appeal to prospective law students asking them to reconsider. They were greeted with sneers and insults. As a second attempt, primo scambuster Locke decided to double down and see if he couldn’t get at least one 0L to re-evaluate his decision to attend.

Let's take a look at how these 0Ls handled a little friendly advice to reconsider going to law school:

“Obviously you're unhappy with your own legal career, and you're compensating for that by telling ambitious 20-somethings that they will fail. You seem to get some kind of gratification out of all this, which is bizarre.”

Admittedly, some of the anti-law school types who show up on these boards are blunt and visibly angry with the law. Do these 0Ls truly all believe that they are going to be immune to the depression, burnout, and attrition that plagues the legal profession? As they all self-identify as “the elite” who are all destined to be at the top of their class, then perhaps they are.

Hell, I used to be an ambitious 20-something. I still am a 20-something, although law school has aged me terribly. (But you should see the other guys!) I don’t want to see any law student fail. My jaded outlook has nothing to do with wishing others ill. I’ve merely been hit head-on by the law school scambus and dragged beneath it, against the pavement, for several miles. Scambusting bloggers would really, truly like to see that as few people as possible suffer similar fates.

Many forum members are proud they bypassed the T14 and received a “good scholarship” from a crappier school. This is swell, if true, and if they can really go to law school for dirt cheap, more power to them. They will only be out three years of lost time. However, I’m willing to bet that more than one excited 0L hasn’t investigated just how hard it will be to keep the scholarship. Some schools can be fair with the minimum GPA required to stay on scholarship. Many others set the bar ridiculously high with the intention of yanking students off scholarship after their grades come in.

In the end, these 0Ls mount a valiant defense of their decision to go to law school. They are articulate and moderately well-informed about market conditions. They realize that the job market sucks. However, no matter how many of them cite their “actual desire to become a lawyer,” or “lack of expectations for biglaw anyway,” it’s clear many are in denial about their decision to gamble $90-150k on the off-chance that everything turns around by 2013 or 2014.

A 0L speaks:

“The regular posters…are extremely well informed, we've done the research on this. We know the economy is shit and that the legal profession is not likely to recover any time soon. If anything, maybe you could say we are cautiously optimistic that things might be better by the time the class of 2013 is looking for jobs. But there is NOBODY here that thinks everything is great and we're all going to get jobs.”

I must ask: then why the hell are you all going to law school? (“Because it’s not going to happen to ME!”) Yeah, bro, I thought the same thing just a few short years ago.

More from 0Ls:

“Most people on this site, it seems, are either getting substantial scholarships at riskier schools, or attending schools with decent odds. Is it gambling? Sure. Are many of us already faced with years of unemployment/underemployment due to our undergraduate degrees, many of which were sought simply to proceed to the JD? Absolutely. For a lot of us, this situation blew up after we were dedicated to this track. It's hard, Junior year of undergrad, to decide that you're suddenly going to become an engineer, or a Doctor.”

Dedicated to this track? As in, invested perhaps 100 hours studying for the LSAT, buying a few Powerscore books, maybe plunking down for an actual prep course? Consider that a fee for having learned to avoid law school. I know it’s hard as an undergrad seeing your plan torpedoed and not knowing what to do. Many of us felt like law school was the only thing to do given our undergraduate degree. The time and money you have “invested” in your law school dream is insignificant compared to how much precious time and money you are going to light on fire chasing that J.D. Write off what you’ve done so far as a learning experience, but don't let it color the future and make you think you have to keep chugging along.

As for deciding you’re suddenly going to become an engineer or doctor? How is it any harder than deciding you’re going to be a lawyer? In every case, you’re deciding to take on additional schooling and debt in hopes of getting a professional job. It’s exactly the same decision-making process involved in choosing law school. The economy took a dive after you decided you wanted to go to law school. Schools outside the T-14 are seeing double-digit unemployment rates. Even some qualified grads from the very top schools are working for free or not finding real, full-time work. I can’t emphasize enough how bad it is out there. 0Ls' optimism and self-confidence would, in other circumstances, be admirable. Having been there ourselves, we can say: please listen to the bloggers and disenchanted lawyers out there! No one has to stay on the track to law school just because it has been their plan. Things have changed; perhaps we all ought to as well. Is this really a radical proposition?