On the Law School Scam

So, have you heard about all of those law schools that are being sued for allegedly inflating their post-graduation employment statistics? From The National Law Journal:

The plaintiffs’ attorneys who have already launched class actions targeting 14 law schools announced on March 14 that they were suing an additional 20 schools in 10 states, including some of the most highly regarded in the country.

The move was not unexpected. After the attorneys sued 12 schools in early February, they announced their intention to file suit against 20 to 25 additional schools every several months. They allege that the targets committed fraud by inflating or misrepresenting their postgraduate employment data to lure students.

In a press release, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said the average debt load for graduates of the 20 schools was almost $115,000.

As an attorney, I’m glad to see these suits happening and garnering some attention.

I don’t expect sympathy from the general non-lawyer public, though, which tends to have a general dislike of lawyers. Sadly, I think part of this dislike is due to the misperception that most of us are working at gigantic law firms making six-figure salaries so WTF are we complaining about anyway?

The reality, as the above article notes, is that many law graduates have six-figure student loan debts that, unlike mortgages and other types of debt, are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. And, due to the combo of this mortgage-sized debt and relatively-modest salaries, many are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Sure, I can hear people saying that law grads Knew What They Were Getting Into when they went to law school, but what’s kind of the point of the lawsuits is that, no, actually many students didn’t know what they were getting into, employment-wise, because law schools have lied about, misrepresented, and/or have not been totally candid about their stated employment statistics of their graduates for years.

Paul Campos, one of the few law professors who publicly speaks out about what’s become known as the “law school scam,” has noted that while almost all ABA-approved law schools report that 90% of graduates are employed within 9 months of graduation, that number drops to 62.9% if we exclude those employed in non-legal and part-time jobs. (Campos still believes that this 62.9% figure is too high, because it does not exclude people in temporary positions).

When I was thinking about law school more than a decade ago, I certainly relied on this employment data to make my choice. Back then, I believed the statistics the schools were presenting and made my choice accordingly. Upon graduation, I would estimate that less than half of my class had solid job prospects. I remember thinking that Career Services, professors, and deans were of little to no help in this regard and, rather than feeling like part of a “vast network of legal professionals,” many of us felt like we were totally on our own once we graduated.

After all, the school already had our tuition. What more did they want with us or from us?

Anyway, these lawsuits, I believe, are only the tip of the iceberg. Graduates of other programs and schools will (and already are) filing similar suits.

We hear a lot about how higher education is one way we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. For many people, that’s a myth. Although, unfortunately, when education is treated like a market commodity rather than a basic right, it seems like a good way a select few can pull themselves up by their bootstraps is by selling that myth.

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92 Responses to On the Law School Scam

  1. Pingback: On the Law School Scam | Alas, a Blog | Graduates Blog

  2. 2
    Robert says:

    I am glad to see this too, though I would call it the grad school scam – these institutions have lied and misrepresented for years. Kudos to the young lawyers for acknowledging how they got taken and fighting back.

    Out of curiosity, what does it mean for education to be a basic right? All the education I can handle? All that I want, regardless of ability? Do I just come to your office and compel you to teach me law, or is it only teachers! How would this work?

  3. 3
    Megalodon says:

    The reality, as the above article notes, is that many law graduates have six-figure student loan debts that, unlike mortgages and other types of debt, are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

    Valid mortgages are dischargeable in bankruptcy? Are you just referring to the possible deficiency judgment or do you also mean the secured part that attaches to the collateral?

  4. 4
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    When I went to law school (a bit later in life,) it didn’t take long to realize that a surprisingly large number of my classmates had ABSOLUTELY no idea what they were really getting themselves in for, job-wise. Especially the younger ones. Which is one thing perhaps if you happen to be getting a PhD in a discipline that’s largely funded, but is an entirely different thing if you’re shelling out big bucks for an education. They also had almost no concept of what their skills were.

    When you get someone who graduated from a not-so-hot college in a not-so-hard major with a 2.9 GPA and who studies hard for the LSAT to barely eke out a 150, then as a general rule that person should not go to law school. The chances of success are very low.

    But here’s the rub: I used to teach the LSAT as a class leader and private tutor. When I got bad students, I used to give that advice all the time. With almost zero exceptions, two things were true: (1) the listener agreed that generally speaking, people in their situation should not go to law school, and (2) the listener believed that they were an exception to the rule. In other words, if they wanted to go to law school they were damn well going to law school. Full speed ahead for idiocy!

    [As an aside, I find a similar situation in a lot of my consumer law practice: the people who are in worse situations are more likely than others to believe in magical solutions. They think that even if ____ happens to almost everyone, they'll be in the "almost" category and not the "everyone" category. It's not entirely clear whether that type of thinking is a cause, a result (or both) of their situation.]

    That continues in school itself. If you want to take the risk of going to law school even though you don’t have a good chance of doing well… well, it’s stupid, but perhaps it’s a decent risk. But if you finish the first year in the bottom third of your class then it’s probably time to move on, especially if you’re at a T4 school. Students who enter with bad numbers, and who do poorly in their first year of law school, have such an atrocious graduation and bar passage rate (not to mention employment rates) that they’d do better dropping out.

  5. 5
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Megalodon says:
    March 15, 2012 at 9:01 am

    The reality, as the above article notes, is that many law graduates have six-figure student loan debts that, unlike mortgages and other types of debt, are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

    Valid mortgages are dischargeable in bankruptcy? Are you just referring to the possible deficiency judgment or do you also mean the secured part that attaches to the collateral?

    Secured debts (like mortgages) are generally nondischargeable, up to the value of the security. Even a putatively secured debt can still be discharged under certain circumstances; google “bankruptcy stripping second mortgage” for more info.
    But in any case: if you’re willing to file BK and give up your house, you can, generally speaking, fully discharge your liability under all mortgages you hold.

    Similarly, most UNsecured debts are fully dischargeable. Student loans are a notable and compelling exception.

  6. 6
    fannie says:

    @Robert:

    Out of curiosity, what does it mean for education to be a basic right? All the education I can handle? All that I want, regardless of ability? Do I just come to your office and compel you to teach me law, or is it only teachers! How would this work?

    Yeah, that’s definitely an entire post in itself, and I hesitated even including that line in this post because I had a hunch someone would want to know More Details about what I meant by that.

    Obtaining a bachelor’s degree tuition-free would be nice, but I don’t see that happening soon in the US. So, generally, I would support measures that would stop schools from engaging in predatory/unfair marketing practices and that would allow people to pursue a profession without incurring debt that will take decades to pay off.

    Suing schools for misrepresenting employment data is a good start. Capping tuition would be another step. Forgiving student loan debt after a person has been making payments for 10 years, regardless of whether or not they’re working in “public interest” jobs, would also help.

    gin-and-whiskey,

    I see what you’re saying, and totally agree with you that most of the students you mention should not go to law school.

    At the same time, these lawsuits aren’t about people doing badly in law school. They’re about law schools lying to prospective students about their employment prospects. If a school is saying that 95% of its students have jobs 9 months after graduation and that the average salary is $80,000, I don’t see that as evidence of magical thinking but, rather, as evidence of reasonably relying on the presented statistics.

    And yes, mortgages are dischargeable in bankruptcy if a person is willing to give up their home.

    Hell, I know lots of people who would give up their law degrees if they could discharge their student loan debt.

  7. 7
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    At the same time, these lawsuits aren’t about people doing badly in law school. They’re about law schools lying to prospective students about their employment prospects. If a school is saying that 95% of its students have jobs 9 months after graduation and that the average salary is $80,000, I don’t see that as evidence of magical thinking but, rather, as evidence of reasonably relying on the presented statistics.

    I dunno. It’s hard to shake the concept that many of these people knew damn well that they were taking a huge gamble–this hasn’t been a secret for years–and they just hoped to win the legal lottery. that’s certainly been my experience.

    I mean, NOTHING in ANYONE’S promotional materials is really true, right? Law school professors aren’t all genial and collegial chaps who have an open door policy, and who love all students irrespective of belief or creed. All the fellow students aren’t brilliant. All of the opportunities aren’t equal. All the “featured” profiles aren’t representative. The librarians aren’t good-looking smiling faces who love nothing more than assisting needy students. The trees don’t always have flowers on them. The halls aren’t always clean.

    At what point do the students have some obligation to do a reality check? To use the Internets? To talk to a couple of 3Ls? To read some books? To investigate the world, instead of asking for it to be summarized?

    If you’re really unaware of what the real world is like, what does it take to maintain that ignorance through the end of the 1L year? I’ll answer: that level of ignorance takes work. There’s more than a bit of “my fingers are in my ears and I can’t hear anything bad” going on here.

    And of course, there’s the patriarchal problem. Would you like law schools to say “we don’t care if you think you can do it; we don’t care if you want to take a chance; your scores and grades show that you probably won’t succeed and we don’t want to get sued if you fail, so go work as a waiter?” Sure, it seems nice in theory….. but oops, there goes much of your “nontraditional” student body and much of your “diversity initiative” class; both of those groups generally have low stats for admits.

    It takes some intentional ignorance to go to Cooley and think you’ve got Harvard prospects. But if you can’t get in anywhere else, Cooley will take your money and give you a shot at a J.D. Does it work? Not for most folks. But again: what would it take to actually convince them to stay away? I haven’t managed it yet and I am blunt as hell. Disbelief is a strong force.

  8. 8
    fannie says:

    @ gin-and-whiskey:

    I agree, re: Cooley. (Speaking of, have you read the class action against them? (PDF)).

    But, some mid-tier (non-”TTT”) schools are also being sued. And that is, I think, because there is a big distinction between presenting glossy promotional materials that Everyone Knows are biased and presenting actual numbers that are being put forth as accurate data about post-graduation employment statistics.

    With the “Law School Scam” starting to get more attention in the blogosphere and the mainstream media, I would agree that people thinking about law school have less of an excuse to be ignorant about their employment prospects today. But, I wouldn’t blame students for putting more stock in law schools’ statistics over anecdotal evidence on blogs and in the scattered news accounts regarding this issue.

    I want to see the legal education industry be held accountable.

  9. 9
    Harlequin says:

    gin-and-whisky@4:

    With almost zero exceptions, two things were true: (1) the listener agreed that generally speaking, people in their situation should not go to law school, and (2) the listener believed that they were an exception to the rule. (…) Full speed ahead for idiocy!

    I’m not sure this is idiocy. I’m in astrophysics, which generally has no industry options and is entirely government- or academia-supported, so the grad programs turn out academic scientists. But there are only permanent jobs for something like 1/4-1/2 of the granted Ph.D.s. Yet almost everyone comes in thinking they’ll get one–even if that clearly isn’t true, even for clearly very good people. And that job market is relatively good compared to e.g. history, where I understand a couple of programs accepted no new grad students this year because job placement rates are under 20% field-wide. (But they still had applications!) I wonder if it’s more like a combination of youth and the self-concept you kind of need to enter fields like science or law, rather than just a raw lack of appreciation of their relative skill levels. (Plus, of course, the many narratives in our culture about Living Your Dream being better than Just Making A Living and Persistence Beats Out Raw Talent Every Time. Both of which have some merit, but don’t tell the complete story.)

    Can I ask the lawyers in the room what the job options are like for the ~30% of people employed in non-legal fields/part-time jobs 9mos after graduation? I still think that statistic needs to be disclosed but if it’s people moving into fields they enjoy with equivalent compensation rates, that’s a different story than if it’s people temping until they find a law firm who will take them. (and what are job prospects like for the kinds of people who would get into law school if they choose to go directly into the workforce instead? is that even a statistic that can be collected?)

  10. 10
    RonF says:

    fannie:

    Obtaining a bachelor’s degree tuition-free would be nice, but I don’t see that happening soon in the US

    So, then, you’re not talking about a right; you want to see a college education be like a high school education, which is an entitlement. I would have thought that someone with a law degree would not confuse the two.

    So, generally, I would support measures that would stop schools from engaging in predatory/unfair marketing practices and that would allow people to pursue a profession without incurring debt that will take decades to pay off. Suing schools for misrepresenting employment data is a good start.

    Where schools outright lied to people I’d support the success of lawsuits based on claims that said schools perpetrated fraud. But otherwise it seems to me that if you’re going to borrow huge sums of money to get a degree the burden is on you to figure out what the odds are that you’ll be able to pay it back.

    It also seems to me that the banks making the loans ought to start qualifying people on the basis of what they’re studying. Medicine or engineering? Great. Here’s the money. Art History? Sorry, you’re on your own. Understand that I’m not talking about subjective value here, just economic value – which is the only consideration that should come into play when you’re making a loan.

    Capping tuition would be another step.

    In all the complaining about student debt, etc., I have yet to see people ask why college costs are going up 4 times faster than inflation and 2 times faster than medical costs. Why is no one holding the schools accountable for their pricing?

    Forgiving student loan debt after a person has been making payments for 10 years, regardless of whether or not they’re working in “public interest” jobs, would also help.

    So who is going to make those loans, then? Especially if you take away the incentive to get a job good enough to pay back the loans. And, no, don’t say “the government”. Because I don’t want my tax money dumped down the rabbit hole. If you pay for a bunch of people to go to school without having to worry about paying back all of their loans, you’re going to get a bunch of students who won’t worry about paying back all their loans. You’ll also get a bunch of schools who are then stripped of any need to control their costs, as the government will simply pay whatever prices they care to charge that their students can’t finish paying.

  11. 11
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Harlequin:
    Can I ask the lawyers in the room what the job options are like for the ~30% of people employed in non-legal fields/part-time jobs 9mos after graduation?

    Pretty poor, generally speaking. That’s because the people who are unable to get a law job are usually the people who didn’t do well in law school. And people who didn’t do well in law school can have a hard time applying the “I’m worth more because I’m a lawyer!” tactic.

    So it ends up IMO having about the same value as a generic humanities degree, with the added burden that it’s not specifically related to the field and you haven’t been working for three years. And the market sucks for those folks. Or, to view it differently: a low-rank law degree from a t4 is about the same value as a Phoenix MBA.

    I still think that statistic needs to be disclosed but if it’s people moving into fields they enjoy with equivalent compensation rates, that’s a different story than if it’s people temping until they find a law firm who will take them.

    It’s more like “temping until they can actually do anything of value.” Not incidentally, recent grads are essentially worthless. They cost more money than they generate, if you want to actually train them they cost a LOT more than they generate. There’s a good reason that nobody wants to hire them. At least the smart ones with good grades can read and write, but of course those people tend to get actual jobs.

    fannie said:
    I want to see the legal education industry be held accountable.

    How? For what? What does “held accountable” mean?

    I mean hell, the real reason that this is an issue is because the bloody economy crashed. You’ve got a hiring freeze which nobody expected, combined with a glut of recently laid-off attorneys who already know how to practice. The schools have been using the same reporting tactics for decades and nobody complained, so it’s not clear how egregious it really was.

  12. 12
    fannie says:

    RonF:

    “So, then, you’re not talking about a right; you want to see a college education be like a high school education, which is an entitlement. I would have thought that someone with a law degree would not confuse the two.”

    Wow, Ron, you sure put me in my place!

    Seriously, that was unnecessarily snotty, and also kind of pathetic. One can believe that basic education is a right while also supporting entitlements associated with that right. You’re inventing a false either/or scenario just to cut me down on Internet.

    In my initial reply to Robert I quickly outlined what a society that believed higher education was a basic right might look like, while also noting that the topic was deserving of its own post because it’s complicated issue deserving of a more detailed, nuanced discussion. I did that anyway to be polite to Robert by answering his question, while knowing how Internet is and knowing that someone could come and nitpick it apart as though I’d just submitted a proposed bill to Congress about the matter.

    So, congratulations, RonF! I hope you feel very superior and satisfied that everyone is basking in the warm, ever-so-informative glow of your intellect compared to mine.

    “Where schools outright lied to people I’d support the success of lawsuits based on claims that said schools perpetrated fraud. But otherwise it seems to me that if you’re going to borrow huge sums of money to get a degree the burden is on you to figure out what the odds are that you’ll be able to pay it back.”

    You’re inventing a disagreement here. No one, certainly not I, has said that graduates should file and win lawsuits if they merely haven’t sufficiently researched post-graduation employment prospects. These lawsuits were filed precisely because schools allegedly misrepresented and lied about the numbers.

    “In all the complaining about student debt, etc., I have yet to see people ask why college costs are going up 4 times faster than inflation and 2 times faster than medical costs.”

    Well, if you haven’t seen it then no one is asking that question at all!

    Why is no one holding the schools accountable for their pricing?Why is no one holding the schools accountable for their pricing?”

    People are. See the complaint I attached in a previous comment.

    In general, I’m not all that inclined to continue a conversation with you, certainly not if you’re going to take aggressive, rude cheap shots like your opening line. There are actually people in this forum who are capable of talking about things in a civil, sincere, and mature way.

    I hope you can hold yourself to a better standard in the future.

  13. 13
    fannie says:

    “How? For what? What does ‘held accountable’ mean?”

    For misrepresenting employment data knowing that many prospective students were relying on it in making the choice to attend law school.

    “I mean hell, the real reason that this is an issue is because the bloody economy crashed. You’ve got a hiring freeze which nobody expected, combined with a glut of recently laid-off attorneys who already know how to practice. The schools have been using the same reporting tactics for decades and nobody complained, so it’s not clear how egregious it really was.”

    That’s an oversimplification. I see it as a combination of the economy + hiring freezes + too many lawyers + much higher tuition than “decades” ago + law students’ reliance on employment data. Schools have been using this reporting tactic for many years, but “decades” ago, even accounting for inflation, most people weren’t graduating with mortgage-sized student loan debts.

  14. 14
    Amused says:

    My own two cents:

    The law school I ultimately went to pitched itself with its high post-graduation employment rate, but when people asked how many of those jobs were in the legal field and full-time, the administration was very evasive.

    Statistics on average post-graduation salaries ultimately turn out to be unreliable, because the spread of starting salaries in the legal field is so enormous.

    Then, there are little things like this:

    When law schools court you, they assure you that Career Services and professors will bend over backwards to help you find employment. Once you are in, however, you find out the law school is not interested in promoting anyone except the top 10% of students who are slated to go into big white-shoe law firms. The majority of students are treated pretty much like bastard children by the administration. The one and only time I requested help at the Career Services as a law school senior, I was given a book on how to write a good resume and instructed to use Google to look for interviewing tips. Seriously, that was it.

    Top students also get first dibs on “clinics”, which are invaluable in teaching students complex litigation, providing practical experience and putting them in touch with judges (thus establishing valuable relationships). I remember more than one instance of students who otherwise qualified and were, in fact, accepted to clinics, get booted two days before the start of classes because a ten-percenter wanted a spot.

    Evening students received clearly preferential treatment as far as grades. Professors made no secret of it. The rationale was that because most of those students had families, they were both entitled to some slack and needed good jobs post-graduation more than those younger, single day students.

    The bottom line is, all of us paid the same tuition, but the school blatantly allocated the bulk of its resources to a small subset of the student body. And that’s, frankly, a swindle.

  15. 15
    Robert says:

    I think both fannie and g&w have got hold of some basic truth – maybe even different ends of the truth stick. I think there are/were a lot of people going to law school and being willfully ignorant about the real prospects and the real costs. I’m not super sympathetic to that group. I also think that law schools (and grad schools more generally) have engaged in deception well beyond the everybody-does-it overcheerful brochure, and such deception needs to be punished with fire and the sword.

    The legal remedy for the people who have been lied to is, naturally, money in big pots. The long-term remedy for the bigger problem is creating incentives (or requirements) for schools to present honest data, and for people to recognize that TANSTAAFL – if you’ve got an amazing high-paying job doing incredibly important stuff in a physically pleasant atmosphere, then it’s going to be because you’re awesome in one or more important ways. Going through a diploma mill with a B average and adequate work is not a ticket or an entitlement to ANYTHING.

    I won’t derail further on the education-as-right topic, other than to say a) thanks for risking the Internet wrath and giving me a straight answer, fannie, and b) Ron, if abrasive, is right that we get what we pay for; your (admittedly) sketchy and quick propositions would be disastrous in the bad price signals they would send.

  16. 16
    RonF says:

    You know what, fannie – you’re right. As Robert put it, I was overly abrasive, and for that I apologize.

    Let me ask this, then; why do you speculate on “what a society that believed higher education was a basic right might look like”? All you have to do is to look around. Here in the U.S. we already have a society that believes that higher education is a basic right. No one is keeping students out of school because of their color or ethnicity, certainly. There might be a handful of schools that discriminate on one basis or another, but they are a very small minority that don’t practically affect the right of anyone to get a post-high school education. I understand that one can support both rights and entitlements. I support entitlements to education myself, although I’d debate about them at the college level. But if you draw a distinction between rights and entitlements, why do you ask what a society that believes in a right to a college education would look like when you already live in one? Presuming you’re an American, for all I know you are posting from some other country.

  17. 17
    fannie says:

    RonF,

    I appreciate your apology.

    I think we simply have different conceptions of what a society that believes higher education is a basic right would look like. That, however, is a whole other can of worms that I don’t really have time right now to get into a manner that would do the topic justice.

  18. 18
    Robert says:

    Doesn’t matter that you don’t have time. As knowledge seekers, we have a right to education. Your selfish desire to manage your own time is subject to our basic right to levy against your time and energy. You Randian fascist, you.

    (If it isn’t obvious, I am kidding. )

  19. 19
    fannie says:

    LOL. I will publish a 100-page dissertation on Monday.

  20. 20
    David Schraub says:

    I’m curious what you think of the libertarian solution to this (which I’m not necessarily endorsing, but throwing out there for argument): Removing ABA accredition requirements and thus breaking the cartel. We have a surfeit of people who want to be lawyers compared to both (a) the amount of legal jobs available and (b) the amount of slots in law schools. The latter factor indicates that, were the market free to do so, a ton of new law schools would open up — and since they almost certainly couldn’t compete on quality or prestige, they’d compete on price.

    What results? Well, just like the folks who are going to the bottom tier schools now, many of the graduates of these new schools would fail the bar too. But the costs of doing so would be lower, since they wouldn’t be in anywhere near as much debt. It’s still playing the lottery, but it’s now at least a cheaper ticket.

    It arguably could also increase the number of legal jobs available, because it makes it more economically-feasible for new graduates to go into relatively low-paying work (such as provision of legal services to low-income communities) when they aren’t burden by crushing debt loads.

  21. 21
    nobody.really says:

    I’m curious what you think of the libertarian solution to this (which I’m not necessarily endorsing, but throwing out there for argument): Removing ABA accreditation requirements and thus breaking the cartel.

    That’s fine, as far as it goes. But the REAL libertarian solution is to eliminate the requirement of attending law school – or even to pass the bar exam.

    What function does a law school/bar exam requirement serve? Yes, these institutions provide and document some level of education. But for whose benefit?

    Does the policy benefit clients? Nah — I’m skeptical. Sure, clients that valued having a lawyer that had passed law school and the bar exam would, of course, be free to seek out such lawyers (and lawyers with these credentials would be free to advertise them). But if I’d rather simply hire my cousin Vinnie to represent me, why not? It’s my case I’m risking, so let me bear the consequence of my decisions.

    Does the policy benefit the judicial system? Yeah, I suspect so. Consider: a driver’s license does not guarantee that a driver is a good driver – but it represents a privilege that the system can threaten to withdraw in order to induce good behavior from all drivers. A law license is similar: by threatening to withdraw a lawyer’s license, the judicial system can get lawyers to act with a modicum of ethics — even when doing so might be contrary to a client’s interest.

    But do we need BOTH a law school education AND licensure? Wouldn’t licensure be sufficient? Yeah, I expect courts would need to beef up staff to manage the higher volume of unschooled and underschooled lawyers in court. But the cost would be more than offset by the reduced price of a legal education – and therefore of legal services – overall.

    So let’s relegate law school to the status of divinity school or public policy school: something that’s prestigious, but not necessary for getting a job in the field. And then let’s put lawyers to work teaching law in every community college. After all, knowledge of the law is a civic virtue – and damned interesting in its own right. Why restrict it to a priesthood?

  22. 22
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    nobody.really says:
    March 16, 2012 at 11:46 am
    But if I’d rather simply hire my cousin Vinnie to represent me, why not? It’s my case I’m risking, so let me bear the consequence of my decisions.

    Simple:

    The law is complex enough that you are almost guaranteed to be making a decision on inadequate information. It’s the same reason that you can’t self-prescribe medicine for yourself.

    Patriarchal? Yes.
    Necessary? Also, yes.

    Of course, you can always represent yourself. But the theory is that (1) even though it makes no sense, it would be horrible to prevent people from it so we sort of have to make an exception; and (2) even though you end up with people who are clueless practicing in the legal arena pro se, at least they’re not deceived by the skills of others.

    this is SO familiar to me right now. I’m suing a landlord. She doesn’t believe that she’s lost. She rejects all my offers and demands a “good settlement.” She doesn’t know I HAVE offered a good settlement.

    I am constantly telling her to go to an attorney so that she can understand she’s lost. She won’t do it: in the end, it’ll cost her a lot of dough.

    Jeez. I know nobody trusts me when I’m the opposing counsel. But when I’m saying “please go hire your own lawyer for advice; you’ll save a lot of time and money” you think they’d make an exception.

  23. 23
    nobody.really says:

    I know nobody trusts me when I’m the opposing counsel. But when I’m saying “please go hire your own lawyer for advice; you’ll save a lot of time and money” you think they’d make an exception.

    Ha! Actually, I’ve had the same experience.

    I was a prosecutor for a regulatory agency. I found a party out of compliance. I wasn’t looking to bust anybody’s chops; I just needed them to come into compliance, and said so. Instead, the party challenged my jurisdiction on the grounds that they’d never sought or obtained authorization from my agency to operate.

    Oy.

    So I explained the situation like this: Imagine that you had just been pulled over for speeding. That’s bad. Now imagine you tell the cop, “You can’t threaten to take away my driver’s license – ‘cuz I never got one!” You’ve just made things much worse. Now, I can’t recommend any specific attorneys to you, but if you review filings from other parties you can find attorneys who practiced in this area of law. ‘Cuz you’re gonna need one. At least one.

  24. 24
    fannie says:

    nobody.really,

    I like this topic, so I will make time for it :-)

    I’m not necessarily opposed to people sitting for the bar exam without having been to law school, but I do think that at least an exam should exist as a barrier to entry to the profession. As gin-and-whiskey notes, the law is very complex. Not just the substantive law, but the procedural law as well.

    I see a pretty pervasive attitude on the Internet where many people read a court case, write about it on their blog, and then kind of think they are an Internet Legal Expert, but a lot more goes into actually being a lawyer- filling a lawsuit, keeping people in/out of court- than knowing what the laws are or what certain court cases say.

    I question how many cousin Vinny’s are even aware of the multitude of issues that go beyond mere questions of, to use one example, “Did x person breach some sort of civil/criminal law.”

    For instance, what court should the case be filed in? Which court has jurisdiction and why? Are there any conflict of law issues? What does a complaint look like? What has to be alleged, and how? Are there any page limits to the complaint? How should relevant case law be cited? How and when should you file a motion? Should you file a motion? What are the legal consequences if you miss a filing deadline? What color paper does a brief have to be printed on? (seriously). What remedies are available? How do you request a jury trial? How is discovery handled? Should you appeal, and how?

    And, to be fair, many of these practical, logistical questions are not always taught in law school or even addressed on a bar exam. But, most(?) graduates of law schools at least know that these issues even exist. A lot of non-lawyers simply don’t know that they don’t know these things.

    I read several anti-LGBT blogs, and this ignorance, of both procedural and substantive law, is evident in the reactionary, emotional, and non-substantive way that many non-lawyers blog about court opinions they disagree with. (Activist Judges! Biased Gay Judge! The court says we’re bigots, how mean!!)

    And, to be fair, this ignorance isn’t limited to opponents of equality, I just tend to get more annoyed by it because many of the folks I read are absolutely convinced that they only reason a court rules in favor of LGBT rights is because that particular court is infiltrated with homosexualists.

    Anyway, as a matter of fairness and justice, I am in favor of making the legal system less esoteric and more accessible to non-lawyers, but as complex as the system currently is, I think allowing cousin Vinny to sell sub-prime “legal” services for $15/hour to desperate, uninformed consumers is potentially predatory.

    But, I wouldn’t oppose “marriage defenders” utilizing cousin Vinny all they want. ;-)

  25. 25
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    You cannot simultaneously have a system which is

    1) large enough to handle all the issues
    2) simple
    3) predictable
    4) flexible enough to grant some degree of fairness for differing situations;
    5) just enough to grant some degree of security for the wronged; and
    6) detailed enough to provide a guidance for behavior, even to people who aren’t innately well behaved.

    The most common tradeoff, and the first one to go, is usually “simple.” That’s why we lawyers exist.

    My experience is that a lot of people say they want the system to be “simple.” That’s because they’re limiting their imagination of how it would work to simple things happening to them, and/or complex things happening to people they dislike. But when it’s applied, not many people actually like it very much. Strict rules suck if you’re on the wrong side of the rules.

  26. 26
    Robert says:

    In most states (as far as I am aware) you don’t have to have a law degree to sit for the bar exam.

    I am told by many lawyers that law school doesn’t prepare you to become a litigating attorney who goes to court; it gives you the grounding (and establishes that you’re willing and able to jump through procedural hoops) that you’ll need for a law firm to take you in hand and actually teach you how to be a lawyer. But an autodidact is quite capable of getting that grounding through private reading.

    As a good libertarian I don’t believe there should be any educational or credentialing barrier to people’s participation in the system; G&Ws concern that people will do it wrong is touching but highly-trained lawyers do it wrong all the time, so where’s the beef?

    I do see the need to keep Joe The Idiot from wandering into the courthouse with a stack of mistyped briefs, dropping his little chaos bomblets all over every desk. When I’m king, law school and the bar will be purely optional. However, someone practicing law who has not passed the bar has to put up a revokable bond for $25000, or five times the amount at issue in the trial, whichever is greater. If she fouls up, the judge can take some of that bond and use it to bring in contractors to repair the case. If she does a good job, the judge can lower her mandatory bond next time. Those who have passed the tests, however, don’t have to post bond at all.

  27. 27
    james says:

    We hear a lot about how higher education is one way we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. For many people, that’s a myth. Although, unfortunately, when education is treated like a market commodity rather than a basic right, it seems like a good way a select few can pull themselves up by their bootstraps is by selling that myth.

    I’m not sure I agree. When education is treated as a proper market commodity rather than a right – as it is with most professional qualifications – you just don’t seem to get any of the same problems. They tend to be very cheap compared to higher education because there isn’t public subsidy and is competition between professional associations, they develop very marketable skills, and people can actually use them pull themselves up by their bootstraps. There are people who start with low level accounting qualifications in the evening, go on to train as internal auditors or treasurers, and really make something from it.

    I think something else is genuinely warped with higher ed. I think it might be they’re flogging a brand and a dream, rather than real marketable skills.

  28. 28
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I think the middle class has lost track of the process by which many of them ended up in the middle class. they just don’t understand work.

    My grandparents worked their way up to the middle class. They did it by holding down 2 or three jobs at a time, often working 70-80 hours/week; living in a basement apartment, using old boxes as furniture, etc.

    My mother worked her butt off to get to the middle class. She raised us solo, went to night school, worked out of the home, worked at night, etc etc.

    I’m in middle class, though not by much. But I’m surrounded by people who “feel sorry for me” because I’m working on a weekend. Or working past 6:00 every night.

    And I often feel sorry for myself, which is, frankly, pretty ridiculous. I have to smack myself in the face and say “THIS IS NOT ACTUALLY BAD AT ALL, SUCK IT UP” and acknowledge that actually trying to make money takes, unsurprisingly, a shitload of hard work. But it is easy to let that slip and assume that I’m “supposed” to be working 45 hours and living as I wish.

    Here’s why that’s relevant to higher ed: for a variety of reasons, most people simply don’t seem to understand the level of work which is really required to excel in a field. (Example conversation: “In order to get the grade you want on the LSAT, you will need to study for three hours every day over the next three weeks.” “Sorry, I can’t do that.”)

    And they ALSO don’t understand the level of extra work which is required to make a decent living in a field, when you don’t excel in it. that’s because the people they see are already PAST the shit part of life, into their richer final careers.

    Someone above complained about temping for $20/hour doing discovery. What’s so bad about that? Just work 60 hours/week and you’ll make $60k/year. You’ll learn a bit. What, you expected to be a lawyer and to make $60k/year and NOT to work 60 hours/week? You expected to graduate in the bottom third of your Cooley class and to get handed a job which allows your hidden genius to shine through? You expected to (a) get a job; (b) like your job; (c) get paid a lot of money; and (d) be personally fulfilled? Welcome to the real world, sheeple.

    The entitlement mentality is huge.

  29. 29
    mythago says:

    David @20: We have “broken the cartel” in California, where there are a ton of unaccredited law schools. What that means is that we have a ton of graduates who are completely unprepared to pass the bar or practice law. These schools charge hopeful students – who may not have other options – a ton of money for likely failure. It’s not the libertarian dream you might think.

    Robert @26: Not really following the logic that because competent, trained and accredited lawyers screw up sometimes we don’t need accreditation. Careful, sober drivers sometimes have car accidents, but I wouldn’t therefore say “So what the hell, I’ll let my friend Daredevil McDrunkypants drive us to the airport”.

    I am not sure where you get your information about the bar exam requirements of “most states”. California is one of the few that still allows, essentially, an apprenticeship program in lieu of law school.

    On repairing cases, bringing in “contractors” to “fix a case” is….something you would only say if you think a lawsuit is like a car or a house. If a lawyer screws up your case, maybe you can file a malpractice suit, or get compensation from the state bar’s program which sets aside money for such things.

    On the original topic, I used to be one of those people who rolled their eyes and said yeah yeah, there was a recession when I graduated from law school too, suck it up kids. Then some of the kids pointed out that since I was in law school, median salaries have gone up fourfold while median tuition has gone up tenfold; that universities are increasingly using law schools as cash generators for other college programs; and, of course, that they are lying and fabricating statistics about their placement rates in order to make a JD program look like a wiser decision than it really is.

    BTW, I also don’t have any patience for the “well they would have gone anyway” and “well they should have seen through it” arguments. If students will go anyway, then why bother to lie when you could tell them “one in a hundred of our graduates gets jobs” and STILL fill the seats, amirite? And why is fraud acceptable if your victims don’t outwit you?

  30. 30
    RonF says:

    As a resident of Illinois who has taken some interest in it’s history I can think of one very notable person who passed the bar exam by reading for the law instead of going to law school; one Abraham Lincoln. He used to travel from New Salem to Springfield to do so. I’ve walked the path he took, some 20 miles. I got a Historical Trails medal and some big-ass blisters.

    I don’t know if you can still do that, but you ought to be able to. I do think that for professions such as law, medicine, etc. there should be some form of credentialing. I don’t see that going to an approved school should be necessary as long as you can pass the certification tests. I also think that if you are running a law school, you should be required to disclose a) the % of your graduates who pass the bar exam (broken down by “1st time they took it”, “2nd time they took it”, etc.) and b) the % of your students who have actually gotten jobs using their degrees.

  31. 31
    mythago says:

    I don’t know if you can still do that, but you ought to be able to.

    In California you still can. I believe a few other states still permit it, but I’m not actually sure which ones.

  32. 32
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    RonF says:
    March 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm
    I can think of one very notable person who passed the bar exam by reading for the law instead of going to law school; one Abraham Lincoln.

    Seriously? Lincoln? Because the law now is pretty different from the law then. The whole system is a hell of a lot more complex, owing to the fact that we’re a nation measured in the hundreds of millions.

    But besides: you of all people should know that is a ridiculous comparison. Sure: One especially smart person happened to be able to read the law, over a century ago. What possible relevance doe it have to the question of whether someone should be able to be a lawyer today, right now?

    Of course, there are people now who are mentally capable of being lawyers without going to law school. But that’s no reason to eliminate law schools.

    The first and obvious reason is that we need to make the rules for everyone, not the selected geniuses.

    The second and less obvious reason is that the geniuses don’t need that help anyway. The reality is that anyone who is smart and dedicated enough to be able to read the law and become competent at it, is almost certainly smart and dedicated enough to go to law school–and, if they want to choose a lower end one, to go for free.

    Yes, FREE.

    Pretty much all of the T4 schools and many of the T3 or T2 schools will offer full rides to anyone who meets some not-so-difficult criteria. Say you’re in New England and you have a good-but-not-Harvard-level background: 168 on LSAT, and a 3.4 GPA. You’ll probably get into BU or BC and pay full fare. You’ll get a bit of help at Suffolk. But you’ll get a full scholarship at WNESL or NESL.

    Of course, not many people do that. They’d rather graduate from a higher ranked school (both BU and BC are tier 1 though not at the top) than get a free ride. And that makes sense if you want to go to BIGLAW. But as a practical matter, any well-qualified student these days can have an excellent chance of ending up with a free ride, if they’re willing to pick the right school.

    As an example: BU matriculants. The 25th %ile GPA is a 3.52. The 25th %ile LSAT is a 164.

    Compare that to New England School of Law’s SEVENTY-FIFTH percentiles: 3.42 and 154.

    That’s 10 LSAT points above NESL. that’s HUGE. Your average 25th %ile applicant at BU would get a free ride at NESL.

  33. 33
    Susan says:

    Law students are adults; most of them are highly competent adults. That means that they are or should be perfectly capable of doing research and evaluating their prospects for themselves.

    I don’t see a wrong here. Anyone who believes what some authority figure (like a law school) says about anything, up to and including the time of day, without doing independent research, is probably headed for the wrong field anyway if he or she is thinking about studying law.

  34. 34
    Simple Truth says:

    I’m one of the people you’re talking about. I’m a 3L part-timer at a nobody school (seriously…we’re fighting to get our provisional ABA accreditation back.) I’ve seen the blogs and posts about the horrible job opportunities for lawyers, knew going in that lawyers have the worst job satisfaction rating of anyone anywhere (or at least they did when I started…haven’t checked recently.)

    So, knowing all this, why am I killing myself working 40+ hours a week and taking 11 credit hours of law school at night to get into such a terrible predicament? Outlining my entire situation would take more time than I have (see above schedule) and I’m sure it would just get dissected by people who think they can live my life better than me, but it’s important to me to at least say this: I did it because I saw it as a way to improve my station.

    I’m not middle-class, never have been. I’m poor. The only reason I even have a chance at going to law school is through tuition remission from my job. One of the amazing benefits of working here is actual access to a law school, so I’m taking advantage of it. My student loan debt is around $26,000 instead of the hundreds of thousands because of this. It’s the only way I could have ever afforded this type of education, and it’s still almost impossible even at this price.

    Will I graduate top of the class? Oh hell no. I alone support myself, and already the stress is killer. I feel physically ill a lot of the time. There is literally no more time I could put into schoolwork and still function. Many of my classmates either work from home, have shortened schedules, or are stay-at-home parents. All of them have other earners to contribute, and all of them are amazingly smart and dedicated. There is no way I can compete with them.

    So again, why bother with all this? Because I come from a family who has never attained anything but a Bachelor’s Degree (and that was after I had earned mine.) Because I need access to a different world to become middle-class eventually, and to have useful skills that will allow me that access. Because my parents are getting older and I don’t want them to have to survive on social security if their retirement runs out.

    At least with a law degree, I can make some sort of difference in the world. I’m not going to a firm – I know that already. But I can work the shit of out the other jobs that lawyers shun, and in the meantime I still have my current employment.

    So there’s a slightly different perspective. I’m not stupid, I didn’t get into this without knowing the consequences. It’s the best gamble I have for a better future, and I’m fucking taking it.

  35. 35
    Elusis says:

    As someone who worked at a California school which fits mythago’s description @29 perfectly, and which was definitely a TTT school, and which absorbed another TTT school, which was mostly attended by people just like Simple Truth @34 (hard-working, smart, but extremely disadvantaged and not able to really hash out the rat race at a different school) plus the folks who were motivated enough to want to change their lives but subject enough to the Dunning Kruger effect to have no ability to realistically assess their ability to do so, and their financial aid money spends just as well as the smart but disadvantaged students, and you need the money from the latter to run a full-featured school for the former, so…

    Yeah.

  36. 36
    mythago says:

    Susan @33: Again, I’m really not following the argument that we should excuse fraud as long as we can find some way of telling the victims they should have tried harder to be clever.

  37. 37
    Robert says:

    We shouldn’t excuse genuine fraud. And there are fairly solid guidelines about what constitutes fraud under law; if the law schools have committed it, then they will lose their suits, deservedly.

    But there’s fraud and there’s fraud. “Bro, I’m telling you, you drive this car off the lot, you’re going to be waist-deep in tail!” It’s bullshit, unless you look like me of course, but it isn’t fraud. It’s salesmanship that only works on the gullible. Try to sue your local dealership because you didn’t start going through the ladies, and you’ll get laughed out of court, or should.

    Where are the law schools on this spectrum? I don’t really know.

    Thanks for the correction re: reading law. I don’t know where I got the idea that it was most places; maybe I read something very old (because it used to be a more commonly allowed path).

  38. 39
    fannie says:

    @Susan:

    “Anyone who believes what some authority figure (like a law school) says about anything, up to and including the time of day, without doing independent research, is probably headed for the wrong field anyway if he or she is thinking about studying law.”

    Out of curiosity, where do you expect prospective law students to find out accurate post-graduate employment information about the specific law schools they are considering? Are you suggesting that they conduct their own studies to find out this information, because then at least it won’t come from “some authority figure”?

    @Simple Truth,

    I understand the need/desire to improve your life. Given today’s realities regarding the job market, I don’t entirely believe in the narrative that going to bottom-tier and unaccredited law schools is the way to a better future (especially over more in-demand and growing professions like nursing, interaction design, and physical therapy). But, I do hope it works out well for you.

  39. 40
    Myca says:

    But there’s fraud and there’s fraud. “Bro, I’m telling you, you drive this car off the lot, you’re going to be waist-deep in tail!” It’s bullshit, unless you look like me of course, but it isn’t fraud. It’s salesmanship that only works on the gullible.

    I would suggest that falsifying your post-graduation employment statistics is more akin to hearing, “Bro, I’m telling you, you drive this car off the lot, you’re going to be engaging in transportation via the internal combustion engine,” and then discovering that they’ve replaced the engine with a tub of tapioca pudding.

    Getting a job as a lawyer after graduation isn’t some fantasy to lure the gullible with, it’s the whole point.

    —Myca

  40. 41
    Mandolin says:

    It’s also lying way more directly than the “tail” example suggests. There’s a difference between saying something general and silly, and citing actually compiled statistics. If you say “The average buyer reports an increased incidence of 3 flirtatious interactions per day” but the study (which, why/how did you do this study? No idea, just go with it) actually said, “The average buyer reports no increased incidence of flirtatious interactions per day” then that’s straight-up, demonstrable misinformation.

  41. 42
    Susan says:

    Out of curiosity, where do you expect prospective law students to find out accurate post-graduate employment information about the specific law schools they are considering? Are you suggesting that they conduct their own studies to find out this information, because then at least it won’t come from “some authority figure”?

    Where does anyone find out anything? You ask around. Did any of your college classmates, or maybe people a few years ahead of you, graduate from law school? How are they doing? Did the school they graduated from matter when they went looking for work?

    Do you know any lawyers? (People considering law school often do.) How are they doing? What is your own independent analysis of whether this society will need lawyers in the future or not? (As opposed to, say, buggy-whip makers?) (We’re maybe going to abolish conflict!!??) Can this job, will this job, be meaningfully outsourced? (No.) Does the quality of the education make a difference in the future?

    What you don’t do is take as Gospel Truth the numbers shoved at you by someone who has something to gain financially by conning you. I have nothing in particular against “authorities.” I am suspicious of people who have something to gain by lying to me, and I’m hoping our prospective young attorneys are the same. Think for yourselves, people, it’s a good introduction to the profession!

    By the way, kids, come on in, the water’s fine. You might have to go out on your own and starve for a few years, but in the end the quality of your work will be the determinate of how well you do.

    Get the best education you can, be the best lawyer you can be, and don’t think the world owes you anything on a platter.

    This cannot be said often enough or loudly enough.

    For lawyers, it’s not necessarily about “jobs” you know. You can always hang out your own shingle: very many of our most successful people did just that.

    As they say on the bumper sticker, Question Authority. And I say, welcome in, to the greatest “job” on earth. Even if, especially if, you have to create it yourself!

    So, knowing all this, why am I killing myself working 40+ hours a week and taking 11 credit hours of law school at night to get into such a terrible predicament? Outlining my entire situation would take more time than I have (see above schedule) and I’m sure it would just get dissected by people who think they can live my life better than me, but it’s important to me to at least say this: I did it because I saw it as a way to improve my station.

    Simple Truth, you are a smart person, which you know already, and I wish you all the success you will have regardless of what I think. Get back to us later, if you have time from your vacations in Hawaii.

  42. 43
    Susan says:

    My mentor in law school, my guru if you wish, was a guy who graduated from a top law school…..in 1929.

    Not the greatest year to go out on the job market.

    He told me that back then, if you could find a firm which would give you spare office space in exchange for helping with overflow work, you went down on your knees every night in gratitude. Salary? You want money to live on? You have to be kidding. You want money, actual money? You go out and hustle for some clients, kid.

    All those guys, the competent ones, ended up millionaires. (I administered this guy’s estate, and he didn’t exactly die a pauper. (!!) ) But no one gave it to them easy, or at all. My friend came from the hardscrabble backwoods in Louisiana. Family money? Who has family? Who has money? But he was smart, and hard working.

    It’s a great profession. Because that’s what matters. Other professions might be the same; I wouldn’t know about that.

    In the long long run, ability.

    In the long long run, ability.

    OK all you, fraud is not OK. Go after the creeps who lie, nail them to the wall.

    But as I said, I’m hoping our young candidates are more sophisticated than to believe everything they are told. Or anything they are told. If they aren’t they have a bleak life ahead of them in this profession. Because people lie, and you have to have spidey-sense when to believe them. Or not as the case may be.

  43. 44
    Robert says:

    I agree, Mandolin. If the law schools deliberately provided fake statistics, that’s fraud. My silly example was my way of saying I am not sure where the law school’s behavior comes down.

    Getting a job as a lawyer after graduation isn’t some fantasy to lure the gullible with, it’s the whole point.

    But from what I can see, it pretty much is a fantasy at this point in time. Top-tier schools that were previously placing 70% of their graduates are placing 40% of their graduates in law jobs, and so forth. God help you if you’re at a bottom-rung place. (There’s a blog about this topic, http://insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com/, and they report on my alma mater, CU – 18 law jobs found by the career services office for the year, while the state university law schools graduated several hundred lawyers.)

    If the school is saying “98% of our graduates have full-time law work!!!” and they’re lying, that’s totally fraud and not the students’ fault. If the school is pushing vague generalities about how a good school prepares great students for tremendous opportunities…well, that’s where I think the due diligence comes in on the part of the student. “There are tons of jobs and you should have no trouble” has been a rather obvious lie for some time now. Specific allegations about performance are one thing, general promises about the future are another.

  44. 45
    RonF says:

    Susan said:

    Get the best education you can, be the best lawyer you can be, and don’t think the world owes you anything on a platter.

    Subsitute “worker” for “lawyer” and you can (and should) apply this to life in general. Regardless of whether you are black or Hispanic or white or male or female or are a member of any group, “oppressed” or not.

    In the long long run, ability.

    Well, ability is important, but I believe it was Edison who said “Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Ability doesn’t do much if you’re not willing to work hard.

  45. 46
    Mandolin says:

    I think it’s also lying if they said “We provide jobs for 90% of our students!*” (*By “students,” we mean that we counted these specific ten students, nine of whom are now employed)

    If they are coy or misleading about the asterisk.

  46. 47
    Susan says:

    My mentor in law school, my guru if you wish, was a guy who graduated from a top law school…..in 1929.

    Not the greatest year to go out on the job market.

    He told me that back then, if you could find a firm which would give you spare office space in exchange for helping with overflow work, you went down on your knees every night in gratitude. Salary? You want money to live on? You have to be kidding. You want money, actual money? You go out and hustle for some clients, kid.

    All those guys, the competent ones, ended up millionaires. (I administered this guy’s estate, and he didn’t exactly die a pauper. (!!) ) But no one gave it to them easy, or at all. My friend came from the hardscrabble backwoods in Louisiana. Family money?” Who has family? Who has money? But he was smart, and hard working.

    It’s a great profession. Because that’s what matters. Other professions might be the same; I wouldn’t know about that.

    In the long long run, ability.

  47. 48
    JutGory says:

    The turning point for me was when I realized there was no money in philosophy (who knew!?). Law school seemed to be the obvious alternative.

    In the legal profession, you get argue about minutiae that is just as small as anything in philosophy, make a buck (hopefully), and make a difference in someone’s life (for the better, if you are lucky).

    -Jut

  48. 49
    Susan says:

    Jut you are on the right track.

  49. 50
    fannie says:

    @Susan-

    I see your point about asking around and gathering anecdotal evidence.

    At the same time, not all prospective law students necessarily know lawyers or alumni they can talk to. It wouldn’t be impossible to find attorneys to talk to, of course, but I do wonder how easy it would be to track down unemployed attorneys and grads doing non-legal work.

    hen I was considering law school I knew a handful of attorneys, and they were baby boomers in public interest law jobs whose parents had paid their tuition and/or who had no concept of the kind of debt that many law grads are facing now. And they were all, “Go for it!” (This was, like I said in my post, over a decade ago, however).

    Knowing what we know now, today, I do think there is much less excuse for people to go into law school in reliance on law school-provided statistics. There are Law School Scam blogs that are easily found via Google. The mainstream media is starting to cover this issue. And, one positive outcome of these lawsuits is that it is generating publicity.

    Perhaps many law students are still naive going in with visions of “wanting to save the world/make a difference/do something they believe in.” Don’t worry, though, the real world will take care of those attitudes pretty quickly upon graduation.

    @Robert:

    “Top-tier schools that were previously placing 70% of their graduates are placing 40% of their graduates in law jobs, and so forth.”

    The socially responsible thing to do would be for law schools to start decreasing the size of their incoming classes. I won’t hold my breath for them to make that choice.

  50. 51
    Elusis says:

    Do you know any lawyers? (People considering law school often do.) How are they doing?

    So… law school is for people who circulate in circles where they are privileged enough to know lawyers.

    I grew up the (white, midwestern) child of middle class public school teacher parents. I didn’t know any lawyers. (Nor did I know any actors, or journalists – my first two majors. Nor did I know any family therapists – my eventual PhD and current career.)

  51. 52
    Robert says:

    Mandolin, completely agree.

    Jut, depends on the philosophy. Come up with something that makes rich liberals feel OK about having money, or something that makes poor conservatives feel OK about not having it, and you can sell a million books. Admittedly you can’t CALL it philosophy, but I’ll keep quiet if you will.

    Fannie – Yes, that would be the responsible thing for at least the public schools to do…but I’d say it’s true across the board for most graduate programs (other than some, not all, STEM disciplines), not just law school. Good luck getting ANYBODY to voluntarily shrink their own personal tiny empire.

  52. 53
    Susan says:

    So… law school is for people who circulate in circles where they are privileged enough to know lawyers.

    “Privileged to know lawyers.” Don’t get me started. But that aside, if you don’t know any lawyers, try strolling down the main street of wherever you are and going in to whatever shops advertise these services. Knowing us is not a “privilege,” hey I wish!

    I mean, please, if you plan to become a lawyer, please to show a little enterprise. If you can’t do that, if you can’t find lawyers in your area in spite of our tireless effort to advertise, please choose another area of work. This business is not for the faint of heart.

    @fannie

    At the same time, not all prospective law students necessarily know lawyers or alumni they can talk to. It wouldn’t be impossible to find attorneys to talk to, of course, but I do wonder how easy it would be to track down unemployed attorneys and grads doing non-legal work.

    If you are not able and motivated to find an attorney (can you dig it, we’re in the yellow pages) to talk to, if you don’t want to dig a little deeper to find people who wanted to practice law but who “couldn’t” do so, well, may I suggest that you are not cut out for an area of economic endeavor where individual energy is everything, and where waiting for someone to give you anything or everything might not be your best occupation.

  53. 54
    Elusis says:

    “Privileged to know lawyers.” Don’t get me started.

    Oh, please do start.

  54. 55
    fannie says:

    @Susan,

    “may I suggest that you are not cut out for an area of economic endeavor where individual energy is everything, and where waiting for someone to give you anything or everything might not be your best occupation.”

    Er, I’ll assume you’re using the “royal you” in your commentary and not addressing other commenters or myself personally.

    Anyway, I’m finding the expectations you put on prospective law students to be, yes, …(dare I say?) socioeconomically privileged. You may not consider knowing actual attorneys to be a privilege, but where many people are from and where I’m from (a small, rural, blue collar Midwestern town where most people don’t go to college) it is a privilege to have an attorney in one’s life who one can talk to about one’s career, let alone to be a mentor.

    I mean, is it your understanding that attorneys generally put ads in the yellow pages so they can attract prospective law students and answer their questions? And then, well, how many attorneys does one have to bother interview, do you reckon, before one can make a good decision and demonstrate that one is Cut Out For A Legal Profession?

    Sorry, it’s just… your assumptions. You assume that most people considering law school hang out in circles of lawyers and that, if they don’t know lawyers, that they have ample free time to track down and interview enough practicing and non-practicing/unemployed lawyers to gather enough anecdotal “data” to give a more accurate representation of one’s employment prospects than the available statistics- and that if people don’t do this, it’s just proof that they’re looking to be handed a free ride in life?

    Your conclusion doesn’t follow.

    And:

    “Individual energy is everything?”

    No.

    Individual energy counts for a lot, but certainly not “everything.” That kind of I-pulled-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps-and-you-can-too commentary elides many other factors that contribute to whether or not a person has a successful law career such as family connections, doing well on standardized exams (like the LSAT, which enables one to get into a more highly-ranked law school), being able to pay tuition at a more highly-ranked law school when poorer students choose lower-ranked schools where they earn scholarships, whether one works during school, and I could go on.

    (Like, the male mentor you refer to who pulled himself up from his bootstraps in the 1920′s and attended a top law school? This may diminish his boostraps narrative, but let’s not forget that back then white men attended law school with incredible class, race, and gender privilege. It’s hard for me to be that impressed with a white man who graduated from a top law school in 1929 given that he was mostly only competing with other white men for spots in his school and for jobs. Many women who graduated from the law schools they were permitted to attend in the 1920s and 1930s worked as legal secretaries, rather than attorneys, because those were the only jobs offered to them.)

    My point is that there are many factors at play, many of them structural rather than individualistic. It’s not as simple as this the-law-is-for-hardasses-so-toughen-up-kiddo narrative that you’re presenting.

    [Edited to fix typo]

  55. 56
    Simple Truth says:

    I just want to thank everyone who has wished me well. It means a lot to me that on a thread where we are discussing this as a mistake, you are still kind-hearted enough to hope I succeed. Since I’ve been lurking here at least since 2008, I’m sure I’ll keep you all informed of my travails.

    Perhaps many law students are still naive going in with visions of “wanting to save the world/make a difference/do something they believe in.” Don’t worry, though, the real world will take care of those attitudes pretty quickly upon graduation.

    Funnily enough, I just wrote that on my whiteboard as a motivational yesterday. As in, exact quote, “I will change the world.”

    Some people you just can’t knock sense into, I suppose. :) The lovers, the dreamers, and me, as Kermit might say.

  56. 57
    CaitieCat says:

    I was going to say a lot of the things that fannie ended up saying, so I’ll add only one to her otherwise excellent response on the serious classism going on in Susan’s comments.

    I grew up in serious poverty – single, uneducated mother, immigrants, we lived in public housing, I started working at 14 while still in high school, my mother had two jobs. I was a gifted program student, tested high-IQ et c., et c..

    And the only doctor I knew was the one who saw me when I was sick. We didn’t even know any nurses, though my uncle back in England became an orderly eventually.

    No one in my family had ever BEEN to college, let alone knew socially anyone who had. I was the first one to attend any post-secondary education – in fact, being the oldest of my family’s generation, I was the first to finish a high school education – the first to get a degree, the first to go to grad school (for linguistics). I was strongly encouraged to go to the law, given my various strengths. This was unimaginable, literally, to me. I’d never knowingly met a lawyer. The first time I met one was after being arrested, and that was the pattern of my being introduced to lawyers for some years thereafter.

    So, what fannie said. But also:

    that they have ample free time to track down and interview enough practicing and non-practicing/unemployed lawyers to gather enough anecdotal “data” to give a more accurate representation of one’s employment prospects than the available statistics- and that if people don’t do this, it’s just proof that they’re looking to be handed a free ride in life?

    Yeah. Or, assuming they’d even see you at all. People who talked like I did when a teenager, with a strong working-class accent, wouldn’t be even seen by many lawyers, their secretaries assuming that I’d be there looking for pro bono, not seeking mentoring for or information about a possible legal career. There’d just be no time available in their schedule that’d work, especially for someone working a full and a part-time job while attending university.

    Your bootstraps narrative sounds awesome from a stage, Susan, but where the real not-privileged people live, we’re laughing at your bubble-world, where this stuff is all easy, you just talk to your uncles or neighbours who are lawyers. Not where I lived. Lawyers didn’t come into the projects, for anything, let alone live there.

  57. 58
    Robert says:

    I think that there is an enormous assumption of privilege in Susan’s post, and a rather sheltered viewpoint on what kind of access to lawyers poor young wannabes can reasonably expect to have.

    That said, there is also considerable truth in her contention that you have to energize your own career and bust through those class barriers if you expect to succeed. If you REALLY CAN’T do that (for whatever reason) then the odds of you becoming a successful lawyer, or any profession really, are drastically reduced.

    Simple Truth, let me join those wishing you well. You aren’t following the path that I, your infinitely wise Internet acquaintance, would dictate to you ex cathedra out of my own ass, and I won’t pretend to optimism about the prospects of success – but you deserve kudos for having the chops to take it on anyway, and I truly hope you make it big.

  58. 59
    mythago says:

    You know what Susan’s post reminds me of? Those lectures well-meaning adults gave you back when you were in high school. You know, about how these are the best years of your life, you’ve got your whole life in front of you, you should be enjoying it more, study hard and do your homework, you’ll always remember your friends from when you were a teen, life is so easy for you now, etc. Things said by people who really don’t remember very well what their own high school years were like, and tend to conveniently forget all the really crappy parts.

    Being willing to work hard and strive are important parts of succeeding. They are not guarantees, nor are they sufficient. Pretending that they are is nothing more than a really toxic sludge of nostalgia and victim-blaming.

    As for anecdotal evidence? Five years ago your anecdotal evidence might have told you that BigLaw was hiring and all you needed was a T14 degree to get the cushy job for life. Cravath to 190!

  59. 60
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Being willing to work hard and strive are important parts of succeeding. They are not guarantees, nor are they sufficient.

    No, because you left out “being very smart.”

    If you are very smart and willing to work hard and strive, then actually your chances of legal success are very high.

    It’s clear that the socioeconomic issues and other things of privilege have a lot to do with a variety of outcomes. But actually, law school is fairly different from a lot of other careers, insofar as it is extremely focused on output over process. You can do well if you’re just plain old brilliant, even if you slack off a bit: I know a few folks like that. You can do well if you’re very smart but not brilliant, but have an extraordinary work ethic: I know those folks, too.

    For better or for worse, law school admissions, scholarships, and (to a large extent) career connections, happen to be highly dependent on a single widely-available standardized test. And once you’re in, almost everything is dependent on your ability to get good grades.

    You may look and talk like a redneck, and be the first one in your family to ever attend post-high-school education–yet if you can get a 175 on the LSAT it will open a lot of doors. You may spend 12 hours a day studying, while other people spend only 4–yet if you end up in the top 5%, you’ll be eligible for law review.

    It is very difficult to do well if you are not very smart and if you don’t have decent academic skills, even if you are dedicated and work very hard: the particular pressures of law school are ill-suited to (for example) people who are slow readers and writers.

    The privilege really shows up the most when it comes to those less-skilled people, who are much more likely to rely on family name, etc. Highly skilled and intelligent applicants are able to break the mold in law school more easily than in other careers, IMO.

  60. 61
    CaitieCat says:

    Truth, g-and-w. But don’t neglect the very real and serious impact of stereotype threat: when it’s made clear that people like me don’t become lawyers, it becomes very hard to imagine actually being one. I had no idea, growing up, what it took to become a lawyer, beyond that it involved law school; when I found out it would probably involve being a serf for some big WASPy law firm for several years, I realized I’d never fit in with those people anyway.

  61. 62
    fannie says:

    True, CaitieCat, regarding stereotype threat. I spent most of law school doing very well but feeling like an imposter, not because of my gender but because of my class background. That feeling lasted for several years out of law school, despite passing the bar, having a decent job, and doing well at it.

  62. 63
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    CaitieCat says:
    March 21, 2012 at 6:26 am

    Truth, g-and-w. But don’t neglect the very real and serious impact of stereotype threat: when it’s made clear that people like me don’t become lawyers, it becomes very hard to imagine actually being one.

    Then? Or now? It’s hard to understate the impact of the web on this sort of stuff, it seems. The concept of “I have absolutely no resources anywhere that i can tap” is changing rapidly.

    Obviously it’s still a lot harder if you’re poor. I’m not implying otherwise!

    I say that because I’ve had personal experience teaching it. Here’s what I tell applicants:

    “Look, I don’t give a shit what you did or didn’t do in college. Whatever it was, you’ve got *one test* to prove to an admission committee that you can do this stuff well. This test is likely to be the single most determinative factor in your entire admission packet–as such it’s also one of the most important factors in your long term career. The doors which are open to you in 15 years are going to have a lot to do with how your LSAT performance was.

    So, you say you want to go to law school. You say you’re smart. OK, it’s time to prove it. Don’t take the LSAT right now, since you only get a 153 on a good day. Spend the next year studying an hour for the LSAT, every goddamn day of the week. Work at your current job. It will be the best time you spend.”

    Almost nobody takes my advice. BUt it’s damn good advice.

  63. 64
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s funny that law schools assumed they could get away with defrauding large numbers of lawyers?

  64. 65
    Grace Annam says:

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s funny that law schools assumed they could get away with defrauding large numbers of lawyers?

    Nope.

    Grace

  65. 66
    Robert says:

    Nope, I find it HILARIOUS. (Because I’m a Republican, and anything that involves people suffering makes me laugh.)

    I personally would have expected the law schools to be a little more proactive, however, and to co-opt the people who seemed (a) likely to sue and (b) competent enough to do so. That’s the trouble with organized crime; they’re never very WELL organized.

  66. 67
    Simple Truth says:

    @CatieCat:

    I feel like I know exactly what you mean. I was in a hospital two years ago, waiting to hear if my friend was going to come through surgery after being hit by a car. I was standing in the hallway, and literally it was the first time I’d ever thought, “Hey. I could have been a doctor.” (I was 29.) Like the actual thought, that it was a process that I could have gone through, and it could have been an identity for me. It struck me, that thought, and when I wondered why I’d never had it before, all the things that you’re talking about came into play. That I grew up poor. That the most professional person I knew was my uncle, who worked in a fiberglass manufacturing plant. That the accent I’d tried so hard to control was a mark of lower-class “country” people who would never amount to anything.
    It’s amazing when you realize what doors you never knew were doors because you were so used to a wall.

    @Robert: Thanks! If I’m ever in your neck of the woods, we should have a drink and try not to kill each other. :)

  67. 68
    CaitieCat says:

    Exactly so, Simple Truth.

    Also, big RESPECT for the moves you’re making, and hope from a fellow undercitizen for your success. :)

  68. 69
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    The suit against new york law school has been dismissed at the trial level; here’s a link
    http://cache.abovethelaw.com/uploads/2012/03/NYLS-Class-Action-Dismissal-Order.pdf

  69. 70
    mythago says:

    No, because you left out “being very smart.”

    Uh. Have you SEEN opposing counsel?

    Snotty remarks aside, I’m assuming smarts. Perhaps the sample of students who hired you as an individual tutor weren’t bright (which is likely why they wanted a tutor, no?) but I’m guessing you got the same lecture I did when you started law school, which goes something like this: “You’re all very bright and successful, and you’re going to be in for a shock when you get your grades. That’s because 100% of you are used to being in the top 10% of the class. Now only 10% of you are going to be.”

    And again: while smarts, hard work and initiative are certainly important, it is ignorant to say that will automatically trump connections or socioeconomic class; doubly ignorant to insist that anyone who is unemployed, having trouble finding the right job, or is struggling with having been lied to about their job prospects is just lazy and foolish and should have gone around and asked random lawyers for their advice.

    As lawyers, we can’t shut the fuck up about “networking” and “rainmaking”. Nobody claims that business will just fall into your lap if you’re smart and hardworking; everybody acknowledges that it’s important to make personal connections and have social networks to generate business contacts. Why should we believe that those things are completely inapplicable to law graduates getting a job?

  70. 71
    Robert says:

    SimpleTruth – Boring! Let’s fight! (activates lightsaber)

  71. 72
    Ampersand says:

    If you have a lightsaber battle, be careful not to hurt each other.

  72. 73
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    mythago says:
    March 21, 2012 at 8:15 pm
    You’re all very bright and successful, and you’re going to be in for a shock when you get your grades. That’s because 100% of you are used to being in the top 10% of the class. Now only 10% of you are going to be.

    That doesn’t apply to this discussion. To use a school like Cooley as an example: No, the entire class isn’t used to being in the top 10%. In fact, it’s not likely that more than a small handful of them have ever been in the top 10%, what with the 75% GPA being under a 3.5.

    (also, without in any way intending to sound snarky: depending on reality they may have been lying. My own law school gave a similar speech and I know for damn sure it wasn’t true at all. That speech is applicable at Harvard, not Cooley.)

    And again: while smarts, hard work and initiative are certainly important, it is ignorant to say that will automatically trump connections or socioeconomic class; doubly ignorant to insist that anyone who is unemployed, having trouble finding the right job, or is struggling with having been lied to about their job prospects is just lazy and foolish and should have gone around and asked random lawyers for their advice.

    You did read my post, and note that I said “Obviously it’s still a lot harder if you’re poor. I’m not implying otherwise!” right? And that I also noted that people who weren’t in the “really smart” category were even more likely to need, and rely on, privilege? because it doesn’t seem like you could have read that and written this–with or without the “ignorant” comments–if it’s supposed to be a response.

    The point I was making isn’t contradicted by your post. It is because of the competitive nature of grading and admission that law school remains, for very intelligent people, a surprisingly good opportunity to excel irrespective of your base socioeconomic class.

    Some of the people in my class were rich students with attorneys as parents. Some of the people in my class were poor students whose parents weren’t present, to say the least. But since all the exam grading was done on a blind basis through an ID number, their background didn’t matter worth a damn when it came to their exam rank.

    But as for this, specifically:

    anyone who is unemployed, having trouble finding the right job, or is struggling with having been lied to about their job prospects is just lazy and foolish and should have gone around and asked random lawyers for their advice.

    Well, that’s obviously not true. We’re in another enormous recession, and all SORTS of people are unemployed. Many of those people are neither lazy or foolish.

    But in any case, it’s been Susan who’s pushed the “ask random lawyers” issue, not me. I’m not asking people to go talk to lawyers. (Not to mention that random lawyers are actually very bad sources for that sort of thing, as they’re usually basing everything on anecdotes.) But given the huge amount of data widely available from everyone, in print and online form, it’s approaching willful ignorance to avoid seeking any of it out and reading it. Someone who pays out $100,000 for law school without bothering to dig past the admissions booklet is making a very bad choice and might reasonably be called foolish.

    As lawyers, we can’t shut the fuck up about “networking” and “rainmaking”. Nobody claims that business will just fall into your lap if you’re smart and hardworking; everybody acknowledges that it’s important to make personal connections and have social networks to generate business contacts.

    Sure, assuming you don’t have a job at one of the many places which don’t require you to bring in business, from the public defender and DA to in-house counsel to the clerk pool. And of course those jobs don’t usually make you bring in business until you’ve been there for years; few people expect a third year to be a rainmaker.

    Why should we believe that those things are completely inapplicable to law graduates getting a job?

    We shouldn’t. That’s just a straw man you made up, because I don’t think anyone said that.

    Networking AND stellar brains are required to get the really, really, plum positions in some cases. And networking is pretty much always required to compensate if you don’t have really stellar brainpower. that’s why I said that privilege is much more important if you’re NOT a genius.

    But when puch comes to shove, the really smart people usually get a job. If you managed to be the editor of law review and in the top 5% and graduate with a CALI award or three… well, you can find a job. Someone will hire you. Maybe it’ll be the DA or a smaller firm with 20 lawyers. Maybe you won’t make $150k/year (though you probably won’t have to work 70 hours to get there.) Maybe you don’t get to work in Manhattan, Chicago, L.A., or Boston. But you can usually get a job.

    “Usually” isn’t “always. Even smart and highly educated people lose out to luck sometimes. But that’s luck. And of course, even smart and highly educated people sometimes have atrocious social or personal skills which make it hard to find a job, but there’s nothing to do about that.

    Of course, it could be that you’re talking about a different level of “very smart” than I am. Let me be more clear: At your average t4 school, IMO there’s probably no more than 5% of each class who meet that criteria, and quite probably less. Someone who studies hard in college and studies hard for the LSAT and ends up with a 3.4 / 160 isn’t in that category.

  73. 74
    CaitieCat says:

    Amp, the mom in me feels bound to point out that if you’re going to have a lightsabre battle in the house, then I don’t want to see anyone running with them, okay?

    You’ll put your spleen out with one of those things, mark my words.

  74. 75
    mythago says:

    That doesn’t apply to this discussion.

    You are aware, I hope, that there is a range of law schools in between Harvard and Cooley? The “everything except the top 10-14 rank schools are TTTs” is something I’d expect to see out of the oxygen-deprived twits at ATL, not here.

    Because we’re not just talking about bottom-ranked schools, or unaccredited schools, lying about their employment and bar-passage rates; there are plenty of schools in the middle where bright, talented, hard-working people go for a degree. Those schools, too, are being accused of lying – and not just to students, but to the ABA (about things such as the LSAT scores and grades of their incoming students).

    (And no, that was not a strawman. While you are not arguing the Horatio Alger, Esq., myth, Susan and RonF are.)

    The problem with ‘you’ll get a job somewhere’ is, again, that you’re forgetting (as I did) that there is no longer the same relationship between the cost of your law degree and expected return. When I was in law school, I went to a very good regional school, meaning I wasn’t likely to be hired by BigLaw, but my education also didn’t cost so much that I needed a BigLaw salary to pay it off. If I’d gone to a T14 school, it would have cost more, but I could have expected a commensurately larger salary. It’s not like that anymore. And because of the bottom falling out of the market, BigLaw graduates are competing for the same jobs they would previously have left to their less-credentialed brethren.

    ETA: I should be clear that I’m not really disagreeing with you that a law degree can be an excellent way for someone to increase their job prospects; but the days of “oh, just go get a law degree, it’ll always be useful” and “I don’t know what to do with my BA, guess I can go to law school” are fading very quickly, except for the independently wealthy.

  75. 76
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    mythago says:
    March 22, 2012 at 8:24 am
    You are aware, I hope, that there is a range of law schools in between Harvard and Cooley? The “everything except the top 10-14 rank schools are TTTs” is something I’d expect to see out of the oxygen-deprived twits at ATL, not here.

    Of course. Those aren’t the ones which I thought we were discussing, w/r/t the scam and the lawsuits. All of the schools which have sued are, IIRC, 4th tier–and largely towards the bottom of the fourth tier, at that.

    The problem with ‘you’ll get a job somewhere’ is, again, that you’re forgetting (as I did) that there is no longer the same relationship between the cost of your law degree and expected return.

    No, I’m not forgetting it at all. That’s why I kept mentioning the recession. And hell, as a solo I am *INCREDIBLY* aware of the dropping demand for legal services.

    That said, there was never any real relationship between the differential cost (School A v. School B) and your expected return. Cost and employment are not highly linked, and never really have been except for a few outliers–which is generally true at both the graduate and undergraduate level.

    And I have to ask: have you not picked up on the whole full scholarship thing I’ve been discussing? Because the vast majority of lower ranked schools offer multiple full scholarships in every class, available to their most attractive candidates. And that doesn’t mean you have to have a 150 IQ. “Most attractive candidates” has a very different meaning at NESL than at Harvard.

    Which is to say that “the days of “oh, just go get a law degree, it’ll always be useful” and “I don’t know what to do with my BA, guess I can go to law school” are still available to the highly intelligent folks out there. Even the ones who didn’t do well in college can still end up with a free ride if they can do well enough on the LSAT.

    (it’s still not completely free, because of the opportunity cost of not working. But you don’t have to pay for tuition.)

  76. 77
    fannie says:

    “All of the schools which have sued are, IIRC, 4th tier–and largely towards the bottom of the fourth tier, at that.”

    That’s not true, actually. Many of the schools are 4th tier, but Chicago-Kent and DePaul are also being sued. They’re not top schools, but they have been in the top 100 for the past few years at least. There are also some other non-4th tier schools being sued that, I believe, also squeak into the Top 100, like University of San Francisco.

  77. 78
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Huh. I wasn’t aware of that at all. Sorry re the error.

  78. 79
    Robert says:

    Amp, the mom in me feels bound to point out that if you’re going to have a lightsabre battle in the house, then I don’t want to see anyone running with them, okay?

    You’re not the boss of me, and I have a lightsabre. So there.

    ETA: Gaaaaah! My feet! Oh god the pain! Why didn’t I listen?

  79. 80
    Simple Truth says:

    @Robert: Careful! You’ll put your eye out! ;D

  80. 81
    Robert says:

    You’re not the boss of…[learning module kicks in]

    OK, I’ll be careful.

  81. 82
    mythago says:

    And I have to ask: have you not picked up on the whole full scholarship thing I’ve been discussing?

    Yes, I have. I am very dubious that the “vast majority of lower-ranked schools” a) offer full scholarships and b) are available to people who can use them. That also tends to conflict with your proposal that it’s the lower-ranked schools lying about their statistics. Why bother lying to somebody about how awesome your school is if you’re going to pay them to go there? (Because they’ll push up your scores? Then you’re not attracting the ‘highly intelligent’, you’re attracting those with good grades and high LSAT scores. Those overlap but are not the same.)

    I don’t know what the heck you mean by ‘cost and employment are not highly linked’. If you have $100K in law school debt, that is going to strongly affect the type of employment you will seek.

  82. 83
    KellyK says:

    The only thing I want to say about this is that, as a member of that non-lawyer general public, yes, I do have a lot of sympathy for law students who are being lied to about their career prospects. That sucks. And Simple Truth, I wish you the best of luck with your degree and trying to improve your career options.

  83. 84
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    mythago says:
    March 22, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    And I have to ask: have you not picked up on the whole full scholarship thing I’ve been discussing?

    Yes, I have. I am very dubious that the “vast majority of lower-ranked schools” a) offer full scholarships and b) are available to people who can use them.

    I’m right, dubious or not.

    That example I gave wasn’t pulled out of my ass: I researched it quite a bit myself. In the end, I know many people who elected to step down a bit in exchange for a free ride. Some of them took lower-paying jobs; some of them just saved money and are now at larger firms. But they didn’t pay tuition.

    In this thread, I’ve referenced NESL and Cooley as examples. I didn’t actually know for sure, but a quick search on Google shows:
    “[Cooley] also offers generous LSAT-based scholarships – any candidate who scores 163+ is eligible for a 100% honors scholarship, with correspondingly lower dollar amounts offered for lower scores. Michigan residents are automatically eligible to receive a 10% increase on an honors scholarship.”

    and for NESL
    “Full-tuition and $30,000 Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Merit Scholarships are available to incoming students who show exceptional academic promise.”

    Just as a further test, I randomly chose some other t4 schools, focusing on the “never heard of them myself” ones like Campbell and William Mitchell and Drake. I haven’t yet found a school which doesn’t offer full-ride merit scholarships to their top incoming students.

    Not that going to Cooley is necessarily a good idea in any case, but still: a 163? For a full ride? that’s IT? Because when you think about it a 163 is not a very good score. It’s barely enough to get you into a good school. And FWIW, Cooley doesn’t even give a hoot what your GPA was.

    In other words:
    1) Anyone who works really hard and who is very smart in a law-school-type way is capable of getting an LSAT score of 165 or above. They may have to study for a year but they can get there.
    2) Anyone who is capable of getting an LSAT score of 165 or above can, in most cases, obtain free or vastly reduced tuition at a variety of T4 schools around the country. If you can break a 170 you’re pretty much guaranteed a free ride at almost any t4 and many t3s.*
    3) The existence of merit scholarships and the importance of the LSAT are widely publicized.
    4) Poor and/or uneducated people have the ability to use the LSAT to become lawyers with extraordinarily little financial risk, IF they are smart enough and work hard enough to do well on the LSAT.
    5) It’s therefore pretty accurate in a general sense (with obvious exceptions) to say that people who are willing to work hard and who are smart are still able to become lawyers even if they’re not especially privileged.

    As for this:

    Why bother lying to somebody about how awesome your school is if you’re going to pay them to go there?

    Because they’re not lying to those folks. Of all the students who are most likely to get good high paying jobs later on, the merit scholars are probably at the top of the list: they’re smart, and they often get extra help or focus from the staff and faculty.

    I don’t know what the heck you mean by ‘cost and employment are not highly linked’. If you have $100K in law school debt, that is going to strongly affect the type of employment you will seek.

    I’m saying that employment availability has never been linked to tuition cost. The top schools have always been a great value for the dollar and the bottom schools less so.

    In other words, law school has always been a tradeoff where brains are valuable. Smart folks can choose to go to better schools for the usual price (this getting the best chances at employment) or they can choose to step down at cheaper price (thus vastly reducing their debt.)

    That said: frankly, 100k in debt is by no means undoable. It’s a bit under nine thousand per year, at the common consolidation rate of 4%. You don’t need to make $100k to pay it off. You don’t even need to make CLOSE to that much.

    *Also, FWIW: getting a free ride at the lower tiers is even easier if you are a minority. Any minority who can qualify a school for “diversity” under the ABA gets snatched up rapidly; there’s almost a full tier bump in many cases. So certain classes of disadvantaged students get extra help there, too.

  84. 85
    Simple Truth says:

    @gin-and-whiskey:

    The average LSAT score is 150, at least from a quick Google search. That average includes people taking the LSAT multiple times, the blow-off test takers, and the ones who take a year off and try their best (and have the funding to buy the courses/review prep materials that will actually make a difference in your score. They aren’t cheap.) This doesn’t include any courses (all $1400 plus)

    Basically, it’s not easy to get a top score without spending a bunch of money to figure out what the test is actually testing on. (Hint: it’s not logic. It’s time-management.)

  85. 86
    fannie says:

    That’s a good point, Simple Truth.

    From what I remember, the LSAT does seem to test solving logical problems not only correctly, but quickly.

    I couldn’t afford to take a course when I was studying for the exam, but I did use review books. Hard work and good logical-thinking skills count for a lot, but a “twin” version of me that had taken a prep course, I believe, would have gotten a higher score on the LSAT.

    I can appreciate gin-and-whiskey’s comment noting that full scholarships are available to people with LSAT scores that aren’t stellar.

    At the same time, that financial aid set-up funnels people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds into lower-ranked/4th Tier schools who, say, could have gone to much better schools if they weren’t concerned about debt.

    Let’s consider two people with a 165 who get into Harvard (do people get into Harvard today with a 165, I dunno, let’s just say they do) with no scholarship aid:

    Person A’s parents are going to pay for hir to go to Harvard. Easy choice. That person goes to Harvard.

    Person B has to take out loans to attend Harvard, ending up about $200,000 in debt after 3 years. But, Person B has also gotten a free ride to attend, say, New England School of Law, presenting a more difficult choice.

    I’m not sure what a solution would be, and I can appreciate that low-ranked schools are at least offering non-loan financial aid to people. But, it is disconcerting to me that above-average-but-not-stellar LSAT scorers from low- and middle-class backgrounds who could go to better schools probably aren’t, because they don’t want to graduate with debt.

    Class/socioeconomic privilege at the highest levels of the legal system are being reinforced- and it kind of perpetuates a myth that the people who go to Harvard and other top schools are the Best And Brightest, when, no, other people got into those schools too, they just maybe couldn’t pay for it or didn’t want to be indebted for decades for the privilege.

  86. 87
    Robert says:

    I’m not sure what a solution would be

    Class-based meritocratic affirmative action by the schools’ financial aid departments.

  87. 88
    mythago says:

    It’s therefore pretty accurate in a general sense (with obvious exceptions) to say that people who are willing to work hard and who are smart are still able to become lawyers even if they’re not especially privileged.

    Okay, I think I see where we’re missing each other here.

    You’re talking about getting a J.D. Sure, plenty of people can do that if they get decent grades and study hard for the LSAT, and maybe some very desperate law schools will give the best and brightest among them a free ride. (If not, they can get loans, which should help in the short term.)

    But having a JD != being a lawyer. That’s the problem we have in California, where anybody can go to law school and a lot fewer can actually pass the bar – and your degree from a “regional” school (or an unaccredited one) is not very portable.

    And while some BigLaw firms may still hire really promising candidates and wait for them to pass the bar, most places expect you will have your license before they hire you. That’s the third problem: getting a job, so you can actually make a living as an attorney, and if you took loans (which you probably did) to be able to pay them off.

    Regarding loans, right now apparently the interest rate is 6.8% if you take out a loan now. If I use the calculator for $100K in loans, I get a monthly payment of between about $790 and $1150 per month. That’s not exactly a pittance.

  88. 89
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    maybe some very desperate law schools will give the best and brightest among them a free ride

    Seriously? You need to stop this.

    I. Am. Right. I have cited numerous examples. I have also mentioned the fact that, anecdotally speaking, I know numerous people who have done this, and that I have personally researched it.

    You have not made any alternate claim.

    Yet you continue to treat these statements–which you have yet to even attempt to disprove in any way, as false. It’s not false. Merit scholarships are so widely available that I suspect they go far, far, above the t4 level (many of whom are not in specially desperate straits at all.) Although I’m sure such schools exist, i haven’t managed to find one yet which DOESN’T offer merit scholarships. And FWIW, those that do are, generally, also willing to offer scholarships that look at both merit and need, which would apply to the group you’re talking about. It’s even better, scholarship-wise, if you’re a minority.

    It’s fucking rude, is what it is. Either admit you’re wrong and stop insisting otherwise, or make a counterargument.

  89. 90
    mythago says:

    Yet you continue to treat these statements–which you have yet to even attempt to disprove in any way, as false.

    My turn: what the fuck are you talking about? Are you just frustrated that you can’t be a complete ass in whatever brief you’re writing for a court and so you want to spew here?

    You’re arguing that some bottom-ranked law schools offer full rides to some percentage of high-credentialed students. I’m not disputing that. But there is a very big difference between “Cooley offers a full ride to all students who meet X criteria,” and scholarships being ‘available’ to an unspecified number of ‘top’ incoming students. That’s vague, as I know you know.

    But let’s set aside the weasel-wording in some of those schools’ comments and assume you are 100% correct and that, yes, anyone who gets certain grades and a certain LSAT score can find a T4 law school that will take them with free tuition. You still haven’t, and perhaps won’t, deal with the rest of the problem: You now have a student with an extremely downmarket degree who needs to pass the bar and get a job. An employer is not going to see that Cooley JD and think “What a smart candidate; she clearly took advantage of the free tuition program”.

  90. 91
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    You still haven’t, and perhaps won’t, deal with the rest of the problem: You now have a student with an extremely downmarket degree who needs to pass the bar and get a job.

    How much experience do you have with this type of student? I’m beginning to think “almost none.” As for me, I have a lot. I am friends with many of them; I routinely take them on as interns; I know more than a few folks in admissions and career services.

    These are not, by and large, students who have trouble passing the bar.

    Even the most difficult states have average bar passage rates of around 50%. Even the worst law schools, in the most difficult states, have bar passage rates of over 25% (often much higher, but I’ll use that as a low end.) Since the people who have free rides and who work their ass off tend to be some of the top students at graduation, they are not usually the students from that school who fail the bar.

    (not incidentally, T4 schools tend to do better on their own state’s bar than on bars from out of state. That’s because most of them–I used to know a traveling bar professor–tend to focus on teaching their own state law. E.g. LaVerne may or may not be better than Cooley overall, but LaVerne students do much better than Cooley on the California bar.)

    Similarly, the top students from bad law schools don’t have much trouble getting a job. it’s hard to get a big firm job with the wrong school on your resume, and you will frankly NEVER get into the top 100 in all likelihood. But there are lots of other jobs out there. There are plenty of Suffolk Law judges and court clerks and DAs in my area; Suffolk is a T2 school.

    Will you get a job at Cravath if you go to Cooley? No. Neither will you get to be a federal circuit clerk, or a professor. But of course, if you didn’t pay for tuition, you can make $75k/year instead of $110k/year and come out pretty damn well.

    I know plenty of T4 graduates at larger firms. I know ones who are AUSAs; successful solos; happy small partners; DAs, defenders, etc. I know ones who are state supreme court clerks.

    Going to a T4 makes it *harder.* It means that you have to be in the top 10%, or maybe the top 5%, of your class, if you want to really get a great job. You need to make law review in many cases–good thing that you aren’t competing against as many smart students. But it remains an unusually good way to bootstrap.

    Sure, it’s relative. In a great recession, they don’t have an easy time of it. But neither does anyone else.

    An employer is not going to see that Cooley JD and think “What a smart candidate; she clearly took advantage of the free tuition program”.

    Not unless they do well.

    In the Mass. area, for example, there are many law schools: four T4s, one T2, and three T1s. It is often the case that a smart student who’s top 5% and on law review will get a better position than someone from a “better” school who lacks those credentials–even if the “better school” student has much harder competition.

    I am actually sort of amazed that you don’t seem to understand the “big frog, small pond” effect. Even the professors at a T4 are still, generally speaking, extraordinarily intelligent and fairly well connected folks. There is hardly a school in the country where some folks don’t have connections. And who do you think those professors tend to look for? The smartest, most hard working, people. And who do they assume those folks are, as of Day 1 of he program? that’s right: the free scholarship “Hey, good news, faculty, we have a woman who got a 168 on the LSAT!” people.

    oh yeah, as for this:

    You’re arguing that some bottom-ranked law schools offer full rides to some percentage of high-credentialed students. I’m not disputing that.

    Glad to hear it.

    But there is a very big difference between “Cooley offers a full ride to all students who meet X criteria,” and scholarships being ‘available’ to an unspecified number of ‘top’ incoming students.

    The schools try to buy students. Many T4 schools offer a combination of free scholarships to about 5% of their entering class. The type of applicant varies, so sometimes they give fewer full rides, and sometimes they give more partial scholarships. They will offer you what they think they need to do, to “buy” your acceptance.

    That’s vague, as I know you know.

    We’re stuck with vague. Are you expecting me to summarize the statistics of all 100+ T4 schools? That seems like a stretch. Of the schools with which I am familiar: if you can break a 165 and have decent grades, you can get a free ride somewhere. Small increments matter a lot: a 169 will essentially guarantee you a free ride in any T4, which is to say that you can go to law school in almost any state in the country, for free.

  91. 92
    Sebastian H says:

    The scholarship thing is a bit of a distraction. The fact that scholarships are available for some people doesn’t change the fact that for a large majority of the middle of each law school class (and god help those in the bottom) you are getting an enormously expensive education that almost certainly won’t pay off. That isn’t even dealing with the persistent rumor of scholarship stacking (the practice of putting the scholarship recipients in the same section so they can’t all maintain their top X% of grades in each semester requirement to keep the scholarship), limited scholarships, etc.

    The fact is that while the mean attorney salary is high enough to justify the cost of law school, the median attorney salary is low-level white collar job salary and nowhere near what justifies the outlay. That means that about 50% of attorneys aren’t really very close to being able to justify the cost. And that is the median attorney salary. You’ll note that law schools almost never quote their all-graduate salaries. If the bar passage rate is 50%, where does that leave the non-attorneys?

    It is a tautological fact that 90% of the students in the law school aren’t in the top 10%. The fact that the top 10% might escape relatively unscathed doesn’t mean that we have a well functioning system, right?