Wednesday, August 25, 2010

USA Today readers reflect on scam blogs

Scammed Hard has been busy trying to get some non-law-related interests off the ground lately, but it still came as a pleasant surprise to see the blog mentioned in this piece in USA Today about disillusioned, scammed law graduates. Articles like these have started to appear more frequently in mainstream news outlets this summer. While many casual readers of USA Today or the New York Times will likely dismiss the plight of law graduates as a bunch of lazy, over-educated whiners who just "can't get a job," it is my sincere hope that enough prospective law students are noticing the growing number of mainstream news articles cautioning against law school.

Still, to read the comments section for this USA Today article, a scamblogger could be excused for feeling that the message was falling on deaf ears. This article managed to garner more than 600 comments in 20 hours, so there is certainly no lack of interest in the topic. Still, the vast majority of commenters offer some vitriolic variation on a common theme: Boo hoo, serves you right, lawyer scum!

A lot of people are hurting in this recession. Undoubtedly, there are comments from people who have been laid off, furloughed, or are perpetually underemployed. Many are probably grappling with higher education debt while working a low-paying job that doesn’t utilize their degree. It all sounds a lot like the plight of the average law graduate, except that many of these folks hopefully aren’t suffering under $100,000 in debt and the J.D. stain on their resume that law grads are. I’d be inclined to say that “we’re all in this together.”

Sadly, a perusal of the pages and pages of comments on this article reveals otherwise. The newspaper can tell readers all about how law programs amount to three years’ worth of glittery highway robbery that leave their graduates unemployable, but it matters not to many. They’re still lawyers, and therefore evil, malformed human sludge. They all wanted to go to law school so that they could get $160k starting salaries, live the “models and bottles” lifestyle, and wake up every morning putting their foot on the neck of the little guy, grinning all the while. That sure sounds like me, and all the other law students I know! These commenters must be right…to a man, we all deserve the misery, crushing debt, and perpetual unemployment. It is our lot in life.

Let’s look at some of the most highly-rated comments, as recommended by other readers:

Friday, August 20, 2010

What's wrong with 20-somethings?

My onetime love-hate relationship with the New York Times has transformed into a purely “hate” relationship. I certainly will still peruse the day’s offerings, which is how I stumbled across the following gem. There is a lovely piece from the Sunday magazine entitled “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” Right away, we get the usual tripe about how irresponsible, directionless, and basement-dwelling this generation is, and how much this baffles their parents, who, as we know, never had any periods of wayward youth before they grew up and ruined the country.
It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un¬tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.

This piece puts a new spin on those darn 20-somethings, because rather than simply blame it on laziness and Lady Gaga, some professor has come up with a new psychological explanation for why we just can’t get it together. I’ve never been one for psychobabble, but this theory is particularly dunderheaded. As the article notes, it seems that every generation or so, psychologists are “discovering” distinct new stages of development. It’s an amazing coincidence that these alternative explanations for why 20-somethings are screwed (hint: economy) turn up just at the time some prof needs a grand new theory on which to spend ten years “developing” while he’s getting tenure.

The idea that my young brain isn’t fully developed isn’t new. In fact, it’s probably true. This is by no means a reason why we can write off the problems my generation faces as merely “normal stages of development.” This is a sad attempt to punt away the crippling structural economic problems that have handicapped this generation. Sure, my brain isn’t fully developed. Any scientist worth his salt will tell you that the brain is constantly changing, forming new synapse pathways (or whatever they’re called) or strengthening/weakening others. I kill brain cells every weekend when I knock a few back. See, the brain is constantly changing.

This grand, important developmental stage of "emerging adulthood" didn’t seem to have hindered our ancestors. The “emerging adults” of the past built railroads, mined coal, and fought world wars. I don’t like to use specific historical examples, but if 20-somethings are really so cerebrally inept, no young person should ever have accomplished anything. Alexander the Great had conquered half of Asia by the time he was 25. Winston Churchill was a noted soldier, author, and elected MP by 25. Theodore Roosevelt was busting his ass in the New York legislature at 24. Examples like these are often dismissed as “extraordinary” but naysayers, but let’s be reasonable here. What were even your humble grandparents doing before age 25? If they’re anything like mine, they were working in a foundry before getting married, having kids, fighting in a war, coming home, and continuing this established family and career life, all before age 30. There was no extended period of lounging about college campuses, no few years spent in mom’s basement playing Xbox, no extra years in grad school riding out a bad economy. Even most of my hippie aunts and uncles had married and had kids by 25. Psychologically, they were probably a lot like we are. What’s the biggest difference? They lived in a time where an expanding economy that offered plenty of entry-level jobs that paid a living wage allowed them to pursue this kind of stable, middle-class life. There’s nothing the least bit psychological about the difference between us and them.

Outside of the world of the perpetually un/underemployed 20somethings, liberal arts majors, law school grads, humanities PhDs, laid-off engineers, and the like, there is a noted absence of this psychological phenomenon, a fact that the Times spends a whole paragraph, out of ten pages, discussing:
EVEN ARNETT ADMITS that not every young person goes through a period of “emerging adulthood.” It’s rare in the developing world, he says, where people have to grow up fast, and it’s often skipped in the industrialized world by the people who marry early, by teenage mothers forced to grow up, by young men or women who go straight from high school to whatever job is available without a chance to dabble until they find the perfect fit. Indeed, the majority of humankind would seem to not go through it at all. The fact that emerging adulthood is not universal is one of the strongest arguments against Arnett’s claim that it is a new developmental stage. If emerging adulthood is so important, why is it even possible to skip it?

It’s not important, because it doesn’t exist. There’s nothing psychological about our situation, other than the long term effects of feeling helpless and depressed due to your inability to provide for yourself. You can also throw in a hefty dose of anger at those who have scammed us, bundled and outsourced jobs we might have taken, crashed the economy, and encouraged us to saddle up with crippling student debt that has not proven to be the ticket to employment we were promised it would be.

The reason millions and millions of 20somethings are adrift at sea isn’t because they’re discovered some new developmental niche called “emerging adulthood.” It’s because it has become so hard economically to get a grip on that cherished middle-class earning power and work stability that previous generations enjoyed. At the same time, we’ve taught 20-somethings a disdain for entry-level work that might require a little elbow grease, by telling everyone they could immediately pass go, collect $200, and become doctors and lawyers. We’ve crushed the entrepreneurial spirit of this generation by conditioning everyone to expect a cushy, white-collar job. We’ve destroyed the desire of millions of people to pair off and start families by telling them that it’s overrated and that perpetual bachelordom and avoiding committed relationships is the way to go. We haven’t instilled people with the life script that might ensure their own individual futures in old age, and our collective well-being by creating a new generation of workers, taxpayers, and the like. The root cause of the “problems” faced by 20somethings is totally economic, and is a result of their parents’—the Boomers—own incompetent failings.

This condition isn’t something to celebrate, and it isn’t a chance to bask in the glory of “redefining adulthood.” Yes, bumming around college campuses, stinking your way unwashedly through European hostels, and gaining Level 10 Prestige in Call of Duty can be “fun” for many young people. At the risk of being the old (young) curmudgeon here, none of those things are going to “fix” America, and they are not going to establish the kind of robust, hardscrabble generation that would have a fighting chance in this brave new, post-recession, post-outsourcing, post-weak dollar world. Some 20somethings will relish the “freedom” of living at home and having no responsibilities. However, having responsibilities and being a cog in a collective of responsible, boring, and rather dull middle-class adults is a part of living in society and making sure it doesn’t collapse. Your grandparents were cogs. Your parents might have been hippies, but they eventually had to face the music and become a well-oiled cog. It was this collective journey towards the middle class, powered by a decent economy and job opportunities for young people, that kept the U.S. at the forefront during the 20th century. Now that the economy is trashed and young people are no longer encouraged or self-motivated to aspire to the kind of lifestyles their parents and grandparents lived, there really is no way out. There are certainly a multitude of factors that can explain or stem from the “condition” so many 20-somethings find themselves in. Making up half-assed psychological theories to explain it, or convincing people that spending a decade in work, economic, and maturity purgatory is “awesome,” does nothing to address the problem. There are no jobs, and an entire generation is floundering because they can’t get into the workforce. No one's to say if this problem can actually be fixed, nor if there are any easy answers. However, academic puffs and their pals at the NYT need to stop coming up with lame, esoteric explanations for the plight of this generation, and especially need to stop portraying their decline in economic prospects as a positive thing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

State government jobs update!

A few posts ago, during Scammed Hard's Federal Jobs Update, some folks claimed that the analysis was a little misleading, and that students shouldn't write off government work as "impossible." Despite there being only 332 federal government attorney positions open, for a class of some 45,000 3Ls, the law school cheerleaders made sure to tell us that all is not lost. State and local governments can still provide one of those hallowed public-sector jobs for the thousands of desperate law grads out there!

From my old Minnesota home, we have this sad story about the horrible state of local public defenders' offices. This is merely the latest in a slew of reports about how quality and court access have suffered due to (what else) budget cuts. Yes, like the decimated private sector, local governments are tightening their belts and cutting way, way back. And it's not just big, bloated states like California, New York, or New Jersey that are leading the pack. Minnesota Lawyer has steadily been reporting that clerkship funding is in question, many county courthouses can't afford to remain open a full business day, and that things are only going to get worse. What's one thing that the state is not going to want to do, at a time when they can barely keep the lights on? Hire a new crop of rookie attorneys.

Hey, at least it's not as bad as in New Jersey or California, where law graduates are asked to commit to volunteering for local and state government offices for 6-12 months, unpaid, with no offer of full-time employment. (They're compensated with the valuable experience, you know!) The worst part is that these work-for-free scams report that they're positively flush with applicants.

I'm sure that Minnesota court administrators will want to consider the old work-for-free stopgap that seems to be working so well for other states. What with four local law schools (three of which are middling TTTs) and 1,000 new grads every year, there has always been a surplus of desperate, unemployed attorneys here. What better way to solve the state's court and legal services crises than "the California method?" Although, having gone to school here, I can attest that many state government offices already make use of low-paid (or more commonly unpaid) student and graduate workers to hack away at their massive backlog of legal work.

Prospective students, continue to take heed. Did you go to law school with dreams of working for free, indefinitely? To carry that $100,000+ in red ink around for six months, a year, or more, plugging away at a volunteer position which is happy to have your free labor, but will never offer you a cent in wages? Yes, the law truly is one of the most glittering and prestigious of professions.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jobless grads thrown a bone, manipulated

Back in April, the Class of 2010 at my fancypants, first tier toilet law school received an email that read something like this:
3Ls: Graduate Employment Survey

We already have 100+ Graduate Employment Surveys in. Thank you to all of you that have completed your survey.

If you have not yet completed your survey, please log on to Symplicityand visit the Shortcut on the homepage for the Graduate Employment Survey. If you prefer, you may complete a paper version of the survey in the CPDC.

* Your grad survey data is only reported in the aggregate and is required by organizations including the ABA, NALP, and US News & World Report. Please provide complete data and help us advise current students and prospective students about employment options.


Only ~100 out of 303 students in the class bothered to return the employment survey! That sounds awfully close to the class members' own estimates that 2/3 of them have no jobs. I'm sure this small sector of students reporting will have no impact on how the school reports this data to US News and to prospective students. The law is a profession built on honesty, justice, and integrity, which certainly means the school will be forthcoming and let 0Ls know that only 33% of them are going to find gainful employment.

Things must have gone particularly well for these jobless recent graduates over the summer. Having buried their heads in their bar review books, many could probably pretend to ignore looming unemployment and student loan collection monster that was lurking in the corner. Well, the bar exam is over, and now it's back to reality. Time for the school to pull out all the stops before those 200 unemployed grads start getting antsy and making a fuss. Maybe they can even "employ" some of them, for statistical reporting purposes, in the meantime!
PROGRAM DESCRIPTION: The University of Minnesota Law School proudly introduces the Post Graduate Fellowships: Judicial Law Clerks. Up to 5 Fellows will work as judicial law clerks for the Fourth Judicial District for a total of 400 hours at 30 hours a week. The Fellows will receive a total of $5,000, less applicable taxes. Fellowships are for 2010 graduates of the University of Minnesota Law School who have taken the July 2010 Bar Exam. Fellows will be paid with the employees of the Fourth Judicial District. Fellows will receive paychecks with proper withholdings according to the Judicial Districts regularly scheduled payroll process. Fellows will start positions between Sept 1 and Oct 31, 2010.

The University of Minnesota Law School proudly introduces the Post Graduate Fellowships. Fellows will be funded to work in a legal role at a nonprofit or government agency for total of 400 hours (15-30 hours a week); fellows will receive $5000, less applicable taxes. The University will award a limited number of Fellowships. Fellowship money can be used domestically or internationally.

Throwing desperate, starving grads a few thousand bucks and having them work is nothing new. We've seen Duke, SMU, and other law schools unveil similar programs. The motives behind these programs are shady at best. While the schools will defend them as "giving our grads an opportunity in a tough job market," it's no coincidence that these "fellowships" are being tossed out to jobless grads right around the time "employed-at-x-months" data needs to be collected. While Minnesota owned up for the latest round of US News rankings and reported its "employed at graduation" as 83.8% for 2008 grads, we've since suffered through two years of horrible recession. As 2010 graduates themselves would be quick to note, honest reporting of an "employed at graduation" figure in coming issues had better be below 50%.

It's common knowledge that schools game the US News rankings, usually deliberately, but sometimes through what can be written off as sheer incompetence. Thanks to clever ideas like this "fellowship" program, which will move a graduate into the "employed" category, give him a few thousand bucks (after he gave the school $100,000), and then have him out on his ass in another thirteen weeks. The pay is also atrocious during that time ($12.50/hour for licensed attorneys who've passed the bar). And lest an ambitious graduate think that the connections they will make in the state court system will provide a one-way ticket to full-time employment, nasty budget constraints are causing the courts to scale back. Why do you think they are only hiring you as a "fellow," for $5,000 that is paid by the school, and not as a full-time, salaried clerk?

Many hopeless recent graduates will doubtlessly take the school's 30 pieces of silver and sign up for these fellowships. Scammed students can be bought off with enough money to buy a few cases of ramen noodles, and the school gets to continue to fudge its employment numbers in order to rope in the next class of suckers who will turn over $100,000 apiece to the law school. When these 13-week fellowships end, the data will be collected and reported, the graduates will have had plenty of time to "network," and jobless, suffering, scammed graduates are no longer the law school's problem. They have already moved on to swindle the next batch of students. Win-win!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The "plan" : undergrad to law school

I couldn't help tearing out my hair while perusing this article on skyrocketing college costs that recession-squeezed families are having to bear. While the anecdotes of average, middle-income Minnesotans shelling out $24,000 a year for undergrad, or planning to pay $120,000 for their kid's degree because "you absolutely need it," are heartbreaking enough, there is one portion that is sure to have any scamblogger reaching for the Rolaids.

Mike Bridgeman of Minneapolis said that with an annual cost of more than $20,000 once all expenses are factored in, he wouldn't be comfortable paying for his daughter to attend the University of Minnesota Duluth if she didn't have a post-graduation plan to attend law school.

"A lot of kids graduate and still don't know what they want to do," he said. But since she is focused, he willingly paid the $6,000 yearly family contribution out of his paychecks. This year, he's tapping her college savings account. She also borrowed a small amount of money via federal loans, which he plans to help her pay back.

How common has the "epic life plan" of tumbling directly from undergrad to law school become? Judging by the flood of cheesy news stories documenting directionless undergrads, and my own personal acquaintances, every other undergrad who can't find a job is trundling off to law school. How pathetic is it, that after shelling out tens of thousands for an undegrad degree, we've come to accept that it's necessary, acceptable, and a good idea to immediately start paying $30-50k a year for another degree?

In a way, it makes sense. It certainly was what motivated me to go to law school. Can't find a "real job" with your liberal arts degree, better go back to school and get a real skill. Granted, this was before the worst of the recession set in and I might have had a fighting chance of finding some crappy entry-level job. Alas, ambition and that higher calling of "the law" rang, and it was off to hit the casebooks for me. Only when the prospective students themselves also hit the wall will everything become illuminated.

What really bothers me is this parental notion that "other kids don't know what they want to do, but my special little guy/girl is off to law school! They're going to be someone and are on the road to success in life!" Sadly, this couldn't be farther from the truth. The vast majority of people in law school are there because they have no clue what to do with the rest of their lives, they have some vague notion of what being a lawyer entails, and they are led to believe that lawyers make decent money. They take the LSAT, swallow the fraudulent employment statistics from their school of choice, and send off their tuition deposits.

Here is my sad and law school scam-embittered prediction for our young Minnesotan subject, currently studying at regional undergrad campus University of Minnesota-Duluth. Judging by the student profile at this school, our subject is most likely going to remain in Minnesota and will target at least one of the four law schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, three of which are TTT/TTTT. (Mitchell cracked top 100 this year, big deal, it is and always will be TTT.) Odds are our student is going to be looking at Mitchell or St. Thomas. Because job prospects are so miserable, even for T-1 University of Minnesota graduates, our hapless student finds herself unemployable (at least for actual paid work) during her law school summers, but shrugs it off as "the recession" and soldiers on.

Upon graduating and finding herself some $100,000 in debt, she and her family are shocked to find that, like many of the 1,000 new lawyers looking for work every year in Minnesota, she cannot find anything. She hangs on for a while, perhaps getting her already-generous dad to shell out for "solo practice" supplies, advertising, and the like. Eventually, her debt sources and soul exhausted, she moves back home, seven years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the best years of her life down the drain. Her well-meaning but dumbfounded dad sometimes wanders into the basement of his Minneapolis home, where his daughter has taken up residence. As he glances over at the broken figure of his once-happy little girl, hunched over the computer and sending off the day's dozen resumes into the abyss, he gets a little misty-eyed. "What happened to 'the plan?'" he sometimes cries out.

EXEUNT

Monday, August 9, 2010

Massive student loan time bomb

The WSJ reports today that total outstanding student loan debt has for the first time surpassed the total amount of credit card debt held by Americans. Isn't this great news! Finally people have stopped wasting their time and interest payments on meaningless consumer goods, and have started "investing in themselves" and improving their lives through education!
Americans owe some $826.5 billion in revolving credit, according to June 2010 figures from the Federal Reserve. (Most of revolving credit is credit-card debt.) Student loans outstanding today — both federal and private — total some $829.785 billion, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com.

That is just swell, and because Americans seem to have no trouble keeping up with their crushing credit card debt payments (lol), I'm sure there will be no negative implications for this massive pile of student loan red ink. After all, the debt is disproportionately held by young people with low incomes who are having a hard time finding work. It should be no problem at all that unemployment is highest for the 18-29 year old crowd, which also is the age group most likely to have student debt.
[T]here is $605.6 billion in federal student loans outstanding and $167.8 billion in private student loans outstanding. He estimates that $300 billion in federal student loan debts have been incurred in the last four years.

$300B in the last four years? They always said that in a recession, kids would flock to all forms of higher ed to take refuge. How many millions of unemployed people are delaying the pain and making it easy for book cookers to continue claiming unemployment is lower than it is? What happens when students have racked up a B.A., J.D., M.A. and a few other degrees for good measure? We're going to have the most overeducated panhandlers in the history of the world showing up on the streets.
Student Loan Justice, a Washington State-based student loan advocacy group issued a statement on the student-loan eclipse, estimating that media coverage of credit cards exceeds coverage of student loans “by a factor of approximately 15-to-1 based on unscientific news surveys conducted since 2007.”

But student loan debt, in many ways, is different than credit-card debt. These loans typically can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. They have different repayment terms, some of which can catch some have heavy consequences for borrowers who miss payments and borrowers’ families.

No news here. The perils of student loan debt, especially the inability to get it discharged in bankruptcy, and its penchant for giving doctorates and attorneys a standard of living similar to that of Chinese coal miners, are well documented. What is the natural response to this ticking time bomb of student debt, a trend which will only accelerate given the horrible economy, lack of prospects for young people, and dump-truck loads full of readily available federal loan money?

Bob "Disgusting Shill" Herbert over at the New York Times suggests that we all need to double-down on higher education! The U.S. lags New Zealand and other developed countries in the percentage of people with college degrees! (Oh lord.) The ONLY solution is to sign up as many 18-year-olds as possible for higher education and get them on the hook for $40,000 a year in federal loans. Otherwise, we may never see the benefits of having a highly-educated populace that countries like Belarus enjoy. Says Bob:

At a time when a college education is needed more than ever to establish and maintain a middle-class standard of living, America’s young people are moving in exactly the wrong direction. A well-educated population also is crucially important if the U.S. is to succeed in an increasingly competitive global environment.

According to a new report from the College Board, the U.S. is 12th among developed nations in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. The report said, “As America’s aging and highly educated work force moves into retirement, the nation will rely on young Americans to increase our standing in the world.”

When this is the educational environment, you can say goodbye to the kind of cultural, scientific and economic achievements that combine to make a great nation. We no longer know how to put our people to work. We read less and less and write like barbarians. We’ve increasingly turned our backs on the very idea of hard-won excellence while flinging open the doors to decadence and decline. No wonder Lady Gaga and Snooki from “Jersey Shore” are cultural heroes.

Yes, Bob, the country is going to hell in a handbasket because not enough youngsters are drinking the Kool-Aid and plunking down tens of thousands of dollars for useless undergraduate degrees. This economic crisis and "failure to put people to work" is certainly the fault of a lack of education. Shunting millions more off into universities and shackling them with debt will definitely create jobs and solve all of our problems. And yes, it is definitely the fault of the Jersey Shore crew that young people today are supposedly so goddamned stupid.

I would propose that your average 18-25 year old is rightfully skeptical of higher education. On the one hand, everyone with a pulse goes to college. I don't know a single person my age who doesn't have a B.A./B.S. (Okay, maybe the guy at the gas station. Actually, he probably has a PhD.) When people graduate from college after having shelled out 25, 50, or 100 thousand dollars, only to return home, move into their parents basement, and cut lawns or work a cash register for minimum wage, I can only applaud those young people who are smart enough to avoid college. College, quite simply, is not for everyone. The value of a degree is so diluted, with so many tens of millions of students, that it imparts no particular value outside of a very narrow and elite set of advanced science, economics, or other specialized degrees from a handful of prestigious schools.

Young people taking a hard look at college and deciding to forgo the "experience" is a positive trend. If your parents are footing the bill, or if you're a genius who plans on getting a glitzy degree from a top Ivy program or MIT or something, then you probably will go. For the vast majority of us, who were told we needed to go to college to become "marketable," to learn, and to "grow," this has proved to be a pretty lie that has brought most people nothing but economic hardship, a diminished sense of self, and a lack of faith in our nation's once-vaunted educational system.

So, on this day when we toast the rise of The Student Loan as the new consumer debt god of the American people, let us also remember and salute those bright and clever youngsters who were not enticed by the fairy tales and promises of the good life, who forewent those boring lectures on aboriginal toolmaking and hegemonic heteronormativism, and are chugging along making the same hourly wages as the college crowd. That is, if they're not all unemployed like the college graduates.

Post Script:

There will always be blowback from the folks who refuse to believe that higher education isn't "worth it." It's easy to be skeptical and critical, and to lie through your teeth and put a falsely-positive spin on things, when one has no skin in the game. When one sees articles like these that draw heavily from the comments of law school staff, TTT administrators, and legal industry apologists, they cannot be taken seriously. When the stories from students and graduates in the trenches are so different and blearly compared to the upbeat forecasts offered by these shills, something is amiss. The question is, which side will prospective students believe? Tread warily.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Federal Jobs Update! Class of 2011 is Screwed!

It’s that time again, when desperate law students are scrambling to land employment for the coming year. I would do a post about this season’s OCI and the 2L fretting involved with that, but as the vast majority of students never have a shot at biglaw, especially in this economy, we can ignore that in favor of something that students outside of the top 15% of their class dream about: working for the government. This is of particular concern to jobless 3Ls, who went through the worst OCI in history in 2009 and are by and large still scrambling for a job before graduation hits. Who doesn’t want to find a steady spot on the General Schedule, with the possibility of IBR loan forgiveness after ten years?

Career Services LOVES to push the myth that students who didn’t get a job with a big firm (the vast majority of them) can all just go work for the government. The “Government Honors & Internship Handbook” is put out every year by the University of Arizona. It is nothing short of the bible for lazy Career Services Charlatans. Overpaid slugs from career services offices, from the T-14 down to the lowliest of TTTs, beat the “Arizona Handbook” drum every time a desperate student steps into their office. Never mind that it’s not exclusive, and every law student in the country has access to (and presumably uses) it during the desperate search for employment. Never mind that the federal government was only hiring perhaps 5% of qualified applicants even during the best of times. Never mind that the feds are flush with extremely-credentialed private sector refugees, or as my buddy at the DOJ says, “we’re flush with Skadden/Yale hybrids so students are getting shafted.” No, to hear career services tell it, there is nothing at all to worry about. Tens of thousands of panicked, indebted law students can breathe easy, because we’ve got this stupid handbook!

Something to notice right off the bat about this year’s handbook is that there are a lot more 1/2/3L Fall/Spring/Summer Internships than last year. It appears that many second-tier agencies have trimmed their paid internships and Honors Programs (or whatever equivalent) and stopped looking for full-time employees entirely. This makes perfect budgetary sense, as an agency could stock itself full of summer 2Ls and semester-long 2L/3L interns from the many D.C.-area law schools. This process can be repeated indefinitely, paying these interns at a lowly rate well below an actual GS attorney, without ever having to take on the “dead weight” of full-time employees. If the agency is really third tier, they will seek a continual rotation of volunteer, unpaid interns without ever looking to hire. Because law students are ignorant little shits who think it benefits them to be screwed and work for free forever (for the “experience,” you know?), agencies will have no trouble finding these volunteers.

One thing I like about the handbook is that it often has figures on the number of applicants and accepted students from the previous year, being those who would have applied as 2Ls and were part of the Class of 2010. This class has been massacred by the economy, but they sat for OCI in 2008. That year’s hiring was anemic, but it was nothing compared to how crappy 2009 OCI was, which this year’s current crop of federal attorney aspirants endured. There are going to be even more people applying for these federal jobs this year, because the Class of 2011 has been the most out-of-luck class (thus far) since the great recession hit. In reviewing these numbers and percentages, one must keep in mind that they will be even higher this year and the percentage chance of landing a gig even lower. It’s also important to note that many agencies “request” top quarter or top third and “prefer” law review.

Because the class of 2011 will be on the hunt for full-time employment, let’s limit the following rundown to positions that will result in full-time employment for 3Ls. Generally, there are a few (meaning one or two more) summer positions in any given department or division for 2Ls, but when it comes time to hire permanent workers, the ranks are culled. Since we care about employed attorneys rather than summer-jobbing law students, we’ll focus on the miserable wretches of 2011 who will soon be graduated, unemployed, and waiting in a welfare line.

Here’s the complete list, from the handbook, of federal agencies looking to hire 3Ls for full-time attorney positions after graduation. For reference, I’ve included last year’s numbers of 3Ls hired, along with the number of applications for the positions received, as reported by the handbook. This list does NOT include the many more agencies who are listed as only looking for law student interns, many of them unpaid. If an agency is not on here, it’s listed as only looking for low-paid or unpaid temporary student interns, and is not hiring any recent grads. I’ve also left out fellowships, which are temporary. If included, they would add a few dozen legal positions and many more non-legal public policy positions, which is beyond the scope of this review of attorney jobs. Also, I realize that there is probably significant overlap between some of the applicants, wherein a single student will have applied for multiple positions at different agencies. Having no way to gauge this, I'm presenting each entity's numbers independently, as they themselves report them.

* Army Corps of Engineers. Hiring up to 15. Last year, 10-15 hired out out 800 applications. Probability: 1.875%
* CIA. Hiring six 3Ls, last year's numbers not listed.
* EPA. Hiring two fellows, last year 2/200 hired, top 10% preferred. 1% chance.
Region 1: Seeking one hire, 1/200 taken last year. 0.5% shot.
Region 3: Seeking one, 1/300 taken last year. 0.33%.
Region 5: Seeking two, 2/500 taken last year. 0.4%.
Region 9: Seeking one, 1/over 500 taken last year. 0.2%.
(Rest of regions seeking low-paid or volunteer temporary student interns).
* EEOC: Seeking up to five hires, last year 5/680 were hired. 0.735% acceptance.
* FDIC: Seeking up to six, last year six were hired “from hundreds” of applications. Top third of class required.
* FTC: Seeking eight, from more than 1000 applications. 0.8% shot.
* DHS: Seeking up to eight, last year 8/"over 1180" applications. 0.677% shot.
* HUD: Seeking 10-20, last year 25/1,100 applications. 2.27%.
* Interior: 3-5 positions, last year 5/more than 700 hired. 0.71%.
* IRS: Seeking 55, last year hired 55 “out of thousands.”
* Justice: Seeking 160, will interview 600-700. Last year, 211 out of 4,121 were hired! 5.12%.
* Labor: Seeking four, last year 5/1200 hired. 0.4166%.
* NLRB: Seeking three, last year 3/800 hired. 0.375%.
* NRC: One position is seeking up to four 3Ls, last year 3/500 hired. Another is seeking 4-6, last year there were 5/1400 applicants accepted. 0.357%.
* SEC: Seeking six, close to 2000 applicants received every year. 0.3%.
* State: Seeking 12-14. Last year, 4/800 accepted. 0.5%.

So, using the federal government’s own maximum estimate, there are a whopping 332 paid, full-time, real attorney positions available for graduating 3Ls in the Class of 2011, the biggest chunk of these with the Dept. of Justice or the IRS, where your odds are still only 5%. This year, things look tougher because fewer students will be interviewed. Your shot at most federal agencies (those that are actually hiring) is often lower than one percent. Also keep in mind that many of the above-listed "strongly prefer" top third or above in class rank, and law review.

With approximately 45,000 law students graduating in 2011, this smidgen of jobs represents 0.73% of the jobs that would be needed to fully employ them all as lawyers. As the federal government is the nation’s biggest employer, and has a huge demand for legal work, students can't expect them to do much more heavy lifting than they already are. Given that the private sector and most state governments are still hard-hit and have responded by laying off thousands and taking on fewer new hires overall, we can expect 2011 graduates to be even worse off than their miserable fellows from 2010.

Thanks a lot to the University of Arizona Law School for compiling this very illuminating handbook. Extra thanks to my school's career services office, who touted the handbook and this tiny smattering of federal jobs, most of which go to elite students from T-14 schools, as a realistic way to find employment. And they say that those folks are only working there because they can't work with numbers!

Law school founder guilty of fraud

Okay, sadly not THAT kind of fraud. God willing, it's only a matter of time before law school administrators are hit with true-blue fraud charges for their knowingly-misleading, fraudulent, reliance-inducing misrepresentations. What we have today is a tale of a law school visionary who only gets caught for his fraud against old ladies. His role in the infinitely vaster, more lucrative law school scam hasn't landed him in court (yet).

From the Green Mountain State, we have this charming tale of octogenarian attorney, law school founder, and Grade-A shyster Anthony Doria, who has a problem with tax evasion and bilking old ladies out of six figures. "Doria had originally been charged with fraud for taking $115,000 from Barbara Umbrecht of Newport, N.H., in 1998 and 1999. In 2005 he pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of income tax fraud and was sentenced to one month in prison and ordered to pay back Umbrecht."

As the article points out, after founding Vermont Law School in the 70s, Doria has had little to do with this TTT. However, his spirit lives on in the institution itself. And would this ├╝ber-huckster ever be proud of the institution he spawned! According to Vermont Law School's website, tuition alone will run students a cool $41,795 a year. This does not include fees, books, or living expenses. US News suggests students tack on an additional $10,000 for those, bringing their yearly total north of $50,000 to attend a TTT in a sleepy backwater and tiny state that won't have enough jobs for them upon graduation. The school even is so noble to admit that only 60.4% of its graduates are employed at graduation, which is even then probably inflated. Having seen the ins-and-outs of law schools' dirty statistical tricks, it's safe to say that the percentage of grads actually employed as lawyers is much, much lower.

Just plunking down for tuition alone will run students $125,000 for their three years of law school, a number which exceeds Doria's $115k fraud on that poor old lady. This grizzled old mountebank clearly decided that relieving innocent bystanders of their cash on a person-to-person basis was no way to get rich. Sure, stealing $115,000 from someone and going on a spending spree would be nice, but that money can't last forever. If you set yourself up a law school, one which at last count has an enrollment of 567 students, you'll be in a much better position. ($41,795 x 567 = $23,697,765 a year. Wow-wee!)

Anthony Doria should be a model for common criminals and law school administrators everywhere. This guy clearly figured he could put his extensive knowledge of theft and fraud to much greater use, and step up into the big leagues. Better still, perpetrating six-figure fraud on a bunch of hapless law students in a quiet Vermont town has the blessing of the ABA, the academic establishment, and student loan lenders. This isn't like dipping into some old lady's purse, no, no! Here's a fully-sanctioned and approved means of defrauding clueless law students. Mr. Doria, thank you for siring this fine institution and imparting to it all of your best personal attributes.

The apple doesn't fall far from the TTTree?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The other side of outsourcing: India protects its own

The New York Times once again shows up tardy to the party and reports on firms outsourcing loads of entry-level legal work to India. Despite this having been a topic of discussion on scamblogs, ATL, and amongst those "in the know" for some time, the publication of a Times article triggers a flurry of new commentary. Which is, I suppose, just fine. The more we can drill prospective students on the rapid decline of this profession and the income prospects it offers, the better. What's really sad is to see my Facebook news feed alight with current students who have "just discovered" this ugly truth and are "worried" about the lack of jobs out there for them. Talk about having one's head in the sand.

Anyway, one major point that the Times overlooks, and much of the blogosphere discussion passed over, is how one-sided this outsourcing and undercutting of American lawyers is. Firms in the Anglosphere have no problem selling out tens of thousands of young lawyers and law students to save a few bucks up front, despite rampant doubts about the competence and quality of Indian doc review chop shops.

Much ire has (rightly) been directed at the ABA for cheerily signing off on legal outsourcing in its 2008 Ethics Opinion 08-451, thereby consigning thousands of future lawyers to underemployment and breadlines. This is a professional organization which is supposed to protect the interests of its members and preserve the integrity, quality, and yes, the economic viability, of the legal industry. Having shirked their duty in the worst way possible, it's only right that they be called out.

What gets less press is that, unlike the American Bar Association, which is happy to bend to the desires of a few big-money players at the top of the legal pyramid and approve outsourcing, India is one of the few countries that does not allow ANY foreign lawyers to practice law there. Faced with a proliferation of foreign lawyers setting up shop, India's attorneys banded together and put the kibosh on the whole affair. Indian lawyers can (for the moment) breathe easy and not have to worry about foreign workers stealing their client base, undercutting their fees, or otherwise leaving tens of thousands of previously-employable lawyers on the street to starve.

From The Economist:
[T]here is one determined outlier among fast-growing Asian economies: India, the only big country that is closed to foreign lawyers in any capacity. A powerful lobby—ranging from hundreds of thousands of small (often husband-and-wife) practices to a handful of leading partnerships—resists change. Foreigners who tried venturing into the Indian market are still reeling from a decision in December by the Bombay High Court which deemed illegal the “liaison offices” that some outsiders had opened. The Indian government said (rather half-heartedly) that it would appeal against this ruling. But the climate in which law-related work could be undertaken by outsiders has gone from difficult to prohibitive. Reena Sengupta, a London-based consultant, says she used to see foreign-owned legal-research operations in India where beds, not desks, greeted the visitor; such was the keenness to dispel the impression that law was being practised. Now those offices have simply closed.

Indians who need world-class legal advice lose out, says Stuart Popham, a senior partner in Clifford Chance, a London firm, who this week accompanied David Cameron, the British prime minister, on a tour of India. The effect is “to restrict supply and competition and raise prices…you have to fly clients out to meet lawyers elsewhere.” A lot of Indian-related work is done in the more liberal climate of Singapore. Mr Popham says he is frustrated by some Indians’ contention that firms like his own will inevitably take away local jobs. “Liberalisation does not take away anyone’s job…the evidence is that no country has ended up with a smaller domestic legal community after opening up.”

For the Law Society of England and Wales, getting the Indians to free up their market is high on the wish-list. “We want to invest in India’s potential to become a global legal player…this means new work coming to India,” insists Alison Hook, the society’s head of international activities.

But much of her target audience is, as yet, unpersuaded. “The Indian profession will rise up in arms if [foreigners] want to open offices here,” says Lalit Bhasin, head of the Society of Indian Law Firms.

Between the ban on foreigners doing Indian legal work, and the proliferation of Indians doing foreign legal work, it must be a pretty good time to be a lawyer over there. If only our American Bar Association and cohorts had a sense of duty to American lawyers and the legal industry itself, we might see more legal jobs for the legions of unemployable, desperate law graduates. Granted, they will be entry-level, low-paid, and not particularly intellectually challenging. However, when faced with long-term unemployability, or hourly doc review wages, any starving American lawyer will take the doc review gig. Even before 2008, hourly doc review was the bread and butter for many graduates of non-elite schools, and allowed for a somewhat sustainable, if miserable and precarious, existence. Now, even this low-rung safety net has been shipped off to India.

It's a sure bet that nothing will be done to stop the hemorrhaging of legal jobs overseas, just as nothing will be done to turn of the spigot of newly-admitted law students who rush into law schools in ever-increasing numbers, paying tuition that increases by leaps and bounds every year, without fail.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The farce that launched a thousand lemmings

If you're like me, your morning romp through internet front-pages is peppered with bullshit articles about "Ten Hot Jobs," or "Careers that make $50k with no college degree!" It's always a good idea to ignore these fluff pieces that are written by journalism majors who have no experience or firsthand knowledge of the "hot industries" they write about, but I couldn't help but notice this entry on a list of "10 Jobs that pay $50 per hour."

02. Attorney / Lawyer
Hourly pay: $51.33 - $102.00

Love 'em or hate 'em, they'll always have a job. From building a new office building to sorting out a will, lawyers are essential to all kinds of negotiations and business processes. As a lawyer, you can specialize in the area that most suits your strengths and interests, like justice for children or patent law for new technologies. To get working as a lawyer, you need to complete an undergraduate degree, three years of law school and pass a state bar exam.


It's grossly uninformed horseshit like this, spewed out constantly by "news" organizations, that contributes to the (painfully incorrect) public perception of lawyers. A lot of parents of directionless college seniors probably read this claptrap, because it's of that special variety of feelgood human-interest puff that so appeals to boomers. There are plenty of hopeless 20somethings out there with no skills and a history of average academic performance who will see a piece like this and decide that law school is their ticket out of the doldrums. Hey, there is a local TTT with a glossy brochure that might be right up their alley!

In a horrible economy, there is an ever-increasing number of desperate 20somethings grasping at straws. Coincidentally, there is an ever-increasing number of law school applicants, despite the declining number of job openings. I never get tired of mentioning that every single college-graduate friend or acquaintance I regularly keep in contact with is either in grad or law school, or in the process of applying. Having graduated college with an exciting array of lawn mowing and house painting opportunities awaiting them, I can't blame the Lost Generation for aspiring to something better (like gainful, full-time, professional employment) and going to law school. Unfortunately, this decision is so often colored by misinformation peddled by media blowhards, starry-eyed, stuck-in-the-80s parents, and (especially) the law school charlatans themselves.

So here's to all of the lies, nonsense, and hogwash that will delude and mislead the next crop of 45,000 law students who will be matriculating this fall. We can even make our own list of "10 Jobs that will cost you $50k a year."

02. Attorney / Lawyer
Yearly cost: $30,000 - 60,000 (include three years)
Hourly pay: $0.00 - $15.00 (no benefits)

Even though everyone hates them (and no one hates them more than they themselves), the vast majority of them will never have a job. From rummaging through dumpsters in a Walgreen's parking lot after dark, to filing frivolous family court motions in an attempt to get their non-paying client possession of a set of bunk beds, lawyers are essential to all kinds of subhuman subsistence-level tactics and low-paid, unskilled hourly labor. As a lawyer, you can see your dreams of specializing in the area that most suits your strengths and interests be crushed as you are relegated to standing in a breadline, or poring over documents for $15/hour with no benefits. Ideal practice areas like justice for children or patent law for new technologies are red herrings that will mislead tens of thousands of clueless, wayward young 0Ls like you every year. To even be considered to work as a lawyer, you need to complete and pay for an undergraduate degree, three years of overpriced law school during which you will learn no practical skill, and pay for and pass a state bar exam. Then, you will actually need to find one of the (nonexistent) jobs.