Monday, September 30, 2013

Joan Waldron Shows Everybody How It's Done

Not too long ago, a North Carolina NPR affiliate ran a story that opened the question as to whether or not a Charlotte Law degree is valuable.  Comment warriors raged on both sides of the issue, as one would expect, along ideological lines.

One thing to notice about the Law School Scam is the tendency of the willing (scammed) participants to dig in and defend their actions and decisions.  This is largely understandable - no one likes to be told they are wrong or to realize they have been played as the fool.  I know in my own case, my sneaking suspicions in my 2L year became warning klaxons my 3L year, but I had no sense of investment to make me doubt my inclinations.  I saw the carnage around me, and once the realization of being scammed took hold, I started to correct, mitigate, and otherwise figure out what the hell I was going to do given the yawning pit of destruction that loomed before me.  I certainly didn't have the social capital, connections, or resources to pull things out of the fire, so on to Plan B.

For others, willful blindness will cause them to persevere, no matter what.  I personally think this is in large part an exercise in trying to save face or prove others wrong.  But then again, perhaps some are truly so motivated that they will never take "no" for an answer, despite the difficult circumstances they are already facing.

As I read, I found the comments of Joan Waldron to be an interesting yet strange combination of the positions of both camps:

I am a proud 2009 graduate of the Inaugural Class of CharlotteLaw. I knew what I was getting into when I began law school, and am glad I decided to go there. The education that the school provides is excellent, and the opportunities for hands-on experience, externships, clinical work, etc., gives graduates an edge whether they are looking for employment with a firm or planning to open their own practice.
When I graduated, I had secured employment with a firm, but was not happy there. So I quit, did document review for a year while growing my own practice, and then dropped the doc review when I had enough business on my own. I now have 2 offices.
The people sitting next to me at doc review were from 1st-2d tier schools, as well as the local ones, such as Elon, Campbell, and NCCU. It appears that the economy was the great equalizer for all of us.
Before going to law school, I worked as a paralegal for a "big law" firm here in Charlotte. I watched these recent grads from the top schools come in, get wined and dined, pampered, and handed 6-figure salaries. Many had little or no law firm or legal experience, and relied on their big law school credentials. Those days are gone, and now we all have to roll up our sleeves. More and more, firms are more interested in abilities and substance and less interested in cronyism. I did not have any delusions about being handed anything. I knew I would have to have some real, practical experience in order to be successful, which CSL provided.
True, I am a "non-traditional" student with 12+ years of paralegal experience; however, I credit CSL's clinics, externships and post-graduate mentoring with my ability to grow my own practice. If someone is motivated enough to take advantage of these programs, work hard, and persevere, they will make it.
I believe everyone should have a chance to try.

At first, there is some pride in one's alma mater, and that's fine.  She immediately secured a "good" position after law school, although she declined to pursue it further.  Fine. 

But then there is the big reveal....she worked as a paralegal at a large law firm for twelve years prior to law school.  Definitely not your standard K-JD, or even non-trad, for the most part.  It seems to me that she had way more practical experience, prior, than Law School could ever provide.   Then, strangely, there is the dripping "ha, ha, they got theirs" comment directed at prior JD graduates that got ground up and spit out by the BigLaw machine where she worked.  Plus, all those other elite school graduates were in doc review too, so there.  All you have to do is "work hard."  Those cronies sure learned a thing or two, let me tell you.

It sounds like Joan was disrespected during her time as a paralegal, and I don't doubt that it happened.  To say that many lawyers look down on their support staff due to credentials and preftige is an understatement.  Clearly, the experience still rankled while it was simultaneously motivating.  Yet, she seems to give an awful lot of credit to CSL as opposed to her own perseverance, which I find odd.

Later, Joan continues:
I would not want someone making the decision for me, as to whether or not I should go to law school. If the school does not disclose truthfully, that's one thing. But if a person wants to take that chance, then it's on them. If they aren't capable, they won't last more than their 1L year.

Another interesting comment.  Tacit acceptance of the thesis that blatantly false employment stats are wrong, yet the one true way to employment salvation is through the Boomer Church of Our Lady of Bootstrapping.  And, of course, the further strawman that 1L keeps all the losers out, anyway, so who cares. 

As 40,000 new JDs are minted every year for 20,000 jobs, the 1L year is clearly not doing its job, but that is another story.

So here is the conundrum - if anyone should go to law school, it should be someone like Joan, and the scamblogs have always been clear on this.  If you have strong experience, connections, an understanding of the business of law, and other valuable resources, then yes, law school may be for you.  That is not the case for the vast majority of 0Ls.

Yet, a lot of credit is given to Law School for something it is proud of advertising yet cannot guarantee - direct entre to the profession.  You might as well credit Law School for a BigLaw job that was in reality "handed" to a fourth-generation lawyer by someone else, which was derided by Joan as cronyism.

Yet, the cream will rise to the top (especially where excellent opportunities and experience have already abounded prior to law school) and Losers are Losers, so it's your own fault.  And "pampered" K-JDs deserve their own fate, regardless of false employment stats, or something.

As it stands, the pro-law comments sound like 0Ls are being encouraged to attend Law School not for their own sakes, but to justify the prior choices of these same pro-law students/graduates.  Sadly, the distinct advantages of connections and hard work in prior careers are unfortunately minimized in the process.  "All you need" is Charlotte School of Law.  And if you can't cut it, it's your own fault anyway, you entitled whiners.

While I wish Joan and other graduates well, this position seems to contradict the best interests of many 0Ls as well as Joan's own path and experience. 

I would instead submit the following:  By all means, follow Joan's example - bring your social capital, direct experience and resources with you to law school, as Joan did, or don't go at all.  That may be 10% of any given class; the rest of you run to the hills. 

Or more simply: Do, or do not; there is no try.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The King still reigns!

This blog was supposed to half-fill a void left by Professor Paul Campos of the University of Colorado Law School, who had been posting almost daily at Inside the Law School Scam as LawProf.  After nearly five hundred posts, running from August of 2011 to February 2013, LawProf decided to call it quits, citing that the blog had served its purpose (its core message is now conventional wisdom among most) and the personal price that he had paid, as motivating reasons for doing so.

What you may not have known is that Campos is still posting on the left-wing Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog under his real name.

Now, his posts aren't all about legal education, in fact I would say most of them are not.

However, he still makes many good posts on the current fallout surrounding law schools, and the comments are numerous and often fantastic (and you will see some familiar names, like BoredJD, mack, and dybbuk).

Here are two of Campos' newest posts surrounding law schools.  They are a two-part series "about how law schools are dealing with the sharp decline in demand for legal education."

The first is aptly entitled "Field of Nightmares," because it is dealing with the large decline in the University of Iowa's law school enrollment.  The gist of the article is that the law school seems to be maintaining admission standards (as well as tuition increases) in the face of a declining enrollment.  Inside Higher Ed pegs the newest 1L class at 94, compared with 155 last year.

The second post in the series is called "Dealing with the Crash."  Here Campos unleashes his inner LawProf, opening with this:

I got a particularly glossy and garish bit of law porn in my mailbox yesterday, from American University’s Washington College of Law. It highlighted the school’s current one hundred and something million dollar building project, (a live stream of which can be viewed here), which is erecting a voluptuous and gleaming structure among the leafy streets of northwest Washington’s Tinley Park Tenleytown neighborhood.
In this post he notes that AU has a markedly different strategy than Iowa, in maintaining its class size by slashing admission standards.  Later he notes a trick that AU is pulling with higher LSAT applicants in order to game the rankings system.

Anyways, just a brief Friday post highlighting an individual who has contributed a lot to the "scamblog movement."  In his first post I highlighted he says it might be a series of posts, so here's to hoping there are more than just two!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

InfiLaw: A backwater empire of four crappy law schools or the future of the scam?

(At Hawk Venture Capital, our goal is to create innovative and lasting partnerships with Rodent Law Schools. We provide committed capital, marketing expertise, experienced leadership, and customized technology to our delicious partners).
Picture a law student walking through the stately common areas of Pretend to be Prestigious School of Law. Enrolling in this school was a terrible gamble, but it could have been worse. At least the school is not one of the three, soon to be four, notoriously scammy for-profit InfiLaw-owned law schools. [1] But the fact that a school is not InfiLaw-owned does not guarantee that it is InfiLaw-free. Even if it cannot own a law school outright, InfiLaw may influence a law school's character and direction via its extensive range of administrative and consulting services, as well as by shaping its distance education.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Scam Is Alive In the Great White North

At region’s law schools, a struggle to get students by C. Ho (Washington Post)
Money Quote: “Things are tougher for us. There’s a pain cascade that can be discerned where I live, that my rich competitors only have to read about.” 

A law degree with added value (that can’t be taught) by C. Albinati (Canadian Lawyering)
Money Quote: "Before a single law student walked through the doors, the university’s administration and the Government of British Columbia had agreed that TRU’s JD program would be a cost-recovery program."

Law schools: Third year is too crucial to lose by R. Aker (Minnesota Daily)
Money Quote: “I would feel woefully unprepared to enter the job market with only two years of law school.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Paying Off Law School Debt and Changing Perceptions About the Legal Profession

Meet Andrew Carmichael Post, a J.D. with $215,000 in educational debt.

Carmichael is certainly not stupid:
"At 13, when most boys are fretting about the perils of girls and middle school, Post was attending Cal State Los Angeles, working on degrees in computer science and applied mathematics. At 18, Post was entering USC Gould School of Law. At 22, Post became a member of the State Bar of California."
But what holds him back is a $2,756 monthly loan payment.

In Carmichael's words,
"It's like some sort of nightmare where someone gave me a bank mortgage but forgot to add the deed to the house," Post quipped.
Indeed, Andrew, indeed.

Carmichael, who now works as a computer programmer, graduated in 2010 with no job prospects as an attorney. So, he did what every law school tells unemployed and unemployable graduates to do. He hung out his own shingle.

Things were not going well:
"I was never really impoverished," Post said, "just terribly inconvenienced by not being able to collect on a legal bill or a programming bill I'd sent out two months earlier. What little stable income I had wasn't enough to get by on. There were times when I had to decide on whether to buy enough gas to get back to court or buy lunch."
Post struggled to avoid feeling discouraged.
"The last time I went into court, I was wearing something that I got at Goodwill," Post said. "The two lawyers on the other side were each wearing suits worth more than my car."
Post now makes between $80,000 and $96,000 as a programmer, so he is doing a lot better than most J.D.'s. The financial advisor told Post to build up an emergency fund, and throw extra money at his debt, while continuing to live at his parents' place for at least the next six years to pay off his debt in full. Luckily, Post is a child prodigy, so he will only be 30 when he is free of the shackles of debt slavery.

There are a couple of things that don't portend well for future law graduates stuck in Post's position. First, Post has the option of living with his parents and having them subsidize his basic living costs. What will happen to future generations of graduates whose parents are still living in a small apartment, still paying off their own debt? Second, Post has other marketable skills that enabled him to get a well-paying job. Most J.D.s are humanities graduates who go to law school after realizing that an undergraduate degree in Post-War Soviet Literature is not going to pay the bills. What will people without specific marketable skills who have such a huge debt load do when the only jobs available are at traffic firms paying $20,000 with no benefits?

All the while, professors are laughing all the way to the bank, producing increasingly useless "legal scholarship" and getting huge "research stipends" every summer so they can take lavish vacations disguised as research trips. ScamDeans are touting the latest way to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear: "practice ready curriculums".

A large problem arises because a great deal of the public still thinks that no matter what, lawyers can hang out a shingle and make a good living. I was talking to a friend this past weekend who said as much. When I responded that most self-employed lawyers are now trying to fight for bottom of the barrel clientele who will ultimately try not to pay you, he was genuinely surprised.

Many people assume that students go to law school because they solely make the decision to do so. We overlook the great many students pushed into law school by their families or spouses. It is easy to go to law school as a way to extend the inertia many people fall into while in college. When a person you trust tells you, "Go get a law degree. John's kid just graduated and now has a job in [eminent BigLaw firm]", it is easy to just go along with it.

I think that the scamblog movement is important, but we also need to educate the general public about what a cesspool the legal profession in general has been for a while. Until parents are disabused of the notion that Junior can major in anything as an undergrad because he can always buy a ticket to the upper class by going to law school, nothing will change. So the next time you hear someone bragging about their kid enrolling in law school, make a point to try and dispell the myth of the legal professions as golden ticket. It may make you unpopular with those who don't want to believe you. But, stopping even one person from ruining their life by going to law school is worth it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

CommonBond - another example of higher education profiteering

CommonBond is about as different from a typical Sallie Mae private college loan as Indiana Tech Law School is from any other bottom tier diploma mill.  Identical, in other words, despite CommonBond's assertions (and shITLS's assertions) that they are something new and revolutionary, they are just the same old problems wrapped up in a new website.

The basic story at CommonBond is that some finance types saw an opportunity to invest in private student loans.  After all, why should Sallie Mae have all the profit?  So the prestigious folks at CommonBond went to their prestigious alumni at their prestigious schools and said, "Hey guys, you want in on this racket?  Lend money to students at top business schools at rates that are only a fraction better than the government, but with none of the perks of government loans, and you can profit from this rock steady investment."

CommonBond lends money (right now) only to MBA students at the top business schools, and it's not a bad idea.  Those students are most likely to get the top jobs and repay their loans.  Forget all the idiots at the diploma mill MBA schools - they can stick with their government loans.  (Although I think that CommonBond has missed the true core of profiting from student loans, which is making it as easy as possible to allow student defaults, generating fees, penalties, and all manner of other increases to loan balances.  Sallie Mae has got this down to a fine art.)

The idea is sold on prestige.  The web site oozes prestige, basically telling students, "Hey, you're better than relying on a government program, which sounds a bit like food stamps or some other welfare.  We offer a super exclusive, super prestigious opportunity to show everyone how prestigious you are by borrowing from us, a prestigious and exclusive lender that only lends to the most prestigious students ever.  So what'll it be?  Food stamps, or filet mignon?"

Yet looking under the cover, the loans from CommonBond are a bad dead.

First clue: first page of the borrower section.  Here's their graphic:

Looks good, right?  From that graphic, you might assume that CommonBond's rates are what, about forty percent of the government rates?  How deceptive!  Here's the chart as it should be shown (lots of scrolling required, and I had to reduce the scale to make it fit):

Yes, by showing only the tip top of the chart, CommonBond is telling a massive lie right off the bat.  Their rates are only slightly lower - a fraction, in fact.  Not the sixty percent discount that its graphic implies.

So how do they get their rates low?  Well, you give some stuff up over the regular government loans, like access to Income Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.  Aren't sure that you'll graduate into that high dollar job with McKinsey, and you might be working for you local supermarket chain?  With CommonBond's loan, you'll be paying it back in full, rather than being able to use the IBR program offered by the feds to protect those with high debt and low incomes.  Want to work for your local government or in a federal job?  Again, with CommonBond's loan, you're out of luck when it comes to public service forgiveness.  In essence, with CommonBond, you're taking a gamble - you're betting that for a miniscule interest rate benefit, that you'll be sure to have a high-paying job that lasts at least a decade or longer, however long it takes to pay the loans off.  Need extended repayment plans?  Out of luck with CommonBond, which makes you pay it all off in ten years.

Sound familiar?  Law schools being so expensive, and countless students trapped when the jobs of their dreams didn't appear and they were saddled with massive debt?  But of course, that would never happen to those prestigious MBA students at such prestigious schools, right?

Not content with the vomit-inducing borrower profiles (like Grace, who was president of the Wharton Food Club, or Andrew, who was Captain of the Cross Country Club, or Dan, whose post-MBA life is merely "New York City!"), few of whom actually stand out as anything particularly successful or interesting, CommonBond tries additional tricks to get borrowers through the door.  Their "Social Promise" section states that for each fully-funded MBA degree, they'll donate a year of schooling to a kid in Africa.  Sounds good, but it's a gimmick.  A year of said schooling through the African School for Excellence (which is the institution CommonBond supports) costs a mere $600.

How much is $600 compared to the interest CommonBond will be reaping from its borrowers?  Let's take a look.  A year of tuition and fees and incidental living expenses at a top business school is around $80K per year as a conservative estimate.  So a $160K loan from CommonBond over two years.  According to CommonBond's own calculator, the total repayments will be $241K, over $80K more than was borrowed.

So CommonBond's "social promise" is to return a mere 0.75% of its interest income to social issues.  Wow.  How generous.  (Of course, it's better than nothing, and I'm all for supporting programs like ASE, but it's clear that CommonBond is not interested in supporting social issues - they are interested in using social issues as a means to show what a harmless, helpful, benevolent PRIVATE STUDENT LENDER they are.  Rather like President Assad of Syria comparing himself to Saddam Hussein and saying, "Look how nice I am!")

CommonBond, if you want to make a difference, then make a BETTER private student loan, not just ANOTHER private student loan.  Invest in your borrowers by allowing your loans to be discharged in bankruptcy if the student fails after five years.  I'm sure many would happily pay a higher interest rate for the privilege.  Invest in struggling students here in the US, the ignored millions who go to elementary school hungry each day, and invest more than $600.  Stop commoditizing borrowers, stop profiting from the higher education system (which is rotting away because it's now seen as a business, not a social good.)

CommonBond is a private student lender.  It suffers from the same issues all private student lenders do, no matter how hard it tries to differentiate itself from the predatory debt traps like Sallie Mae and Access Group.  It's just another way for private individuals to make a buck, wrapped up in as many misconceptions and half-truths as it's allowed to get away with in order to hide what it's really all about.  Just like law schools are now exposed as being.  And just like MBA programs are.  Cost of attendance at $80K or more per year?  That screams "scam".

Here's the most informative quote from CommonBond, tucked away on its website: "CommonBond affords access to an entirely new asset class that is historically low risk."  There you have it, students and borrowers.  That's how you're seen by student loan lenders.  An "asset class", not individuals.  An investment opportunity, not a human being trying to get a foothold on the middle class.

Regardless of CommonBond's glossy new product, the same old truths apply:

1.  Borrow as little as possible.
2.  Borrow it from the government if you have to, and never from private lenders.

Note that 1 and 2 can be very easily accomplished by just not attending law school or an MBA program in the first place.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The most silent voice of all?

Sorry for the lack of posts from me, but I've been rather busy at work.

But there's a thought I've had for a while now, and I think it's worth a few minutes of my time to share.

We've heard from countless law school applicants, law students, law professors, and practicing attorneys.  We know their standard arguments for the status quo or for change.  But there's one group that has stayed remarkably silent - professors outside law.  Those PhD mathematicians who studied their subject for a decade after high school, contributed to original research (rather than the regurgitated drivel of most law professors), and earned their titles.  Those PhD engineers who are legitimately choosing the relative poverty of academia over industry.  The linguists who are teaching the next generation of diplomats and Peace Corps workers, all of whom spent countless years living and working abroad to master their chosen field.  The biologists who work at the forefront of genetics and microbiology in university labs, the chemists, physicists, and social workers who are making our lives better each and every day?

You, and just about every other professor outside law, put in a massive amount of effort into getting to where you are today.  So why are you not outraged over the fact that a group of privileged, arrogant, unqualified and overpaid colleagues of yours over at the campus law school are gold plated treatment while you play second fiddle?

Why are you not screaming at your provost about this?  You earned your right to be called a professor.  The law "professors" took a three year extended undergraduate degree, proofread work for a judge for a year or lived the life of Riley in a Wall Street law firm for a year, and consider themselves on the same level as you?  After your years of undergrad study, your five years for the PhD, the late nights, the research, the writing, the five years you spent as a postdoc?  And you're being overtaken by a twenty-five year old who just happened to buy his way into an Ivy law school for three years?

Personally, I would be disgusted.

So where are you?  Why have you all stayed so silent?  Why do you accept the bar being set so low for law professors?  Most of you are lucky to get an office, some are thankful for enough chairs in a decrepit classroom for your oversubscribed classes and a whiteboard marker that works.  Why are you not disgusted by the oak-paneled luxury of the law school?  The new carpets in the law school every two years?  (Carpets?  Yes, they have carpets, not dirty plastic floor tiles.)  The spending on the law library while you're struggling to get standard texts in the main library?  The million dollar high-tech renovated moot court room while you can't even get a television that was made later than the 1980s?

Why are you content to be second class citizens?

What has your academic administration told you?  That you need the law school because it pays for your new computers in the math department?  That you'd be taking pay cuts if it were not for the profit generated by the law school that is fed to your second-class subjects like computer science or psychology?

Because if so, if you've been content to let the law school "professors" call the shots over the past twenty years because of their prestige and ability to bring in high-paying students, then why are you now still silent while the prestige of your university's law school plummets below that of the janitorial department?  Law schools are rapidly becoming an albatross around the neck of many colleges.  The tables are turning, and soon the law school will be begging for money at the door of your department.  Are you prepared to give them money?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Law Prof. Tamara Piety compares attending law school to having a baby.

"There is a really interesting post over at Crooked Timber. . .about the difficulty in treating a decision about whether to have a child as a purely rational (let alone economically rational) decision; you cannot really know what it is like until you do it, at which point (at least for most responsible people) it is too late to change your mind. Certainly once you've done it, if it doesn't turn out to match all of your dreams, it can be fairly devasting [sic] for all concerned, parents and children both. Happily, (or so it seems) a goodly number of people either find that being a parent does meet their dreams or they adjust their dreams accordingly. In reading this piece I was struck by the parallels between the phenomonological problem described - i.e., that the experience of being a parent is something virtually impossible to "know" or convey before you experience it and thus makes rational choice difficult - and the decision to go to law school . . ."
          Professor Tamara Piety, University of Tulsa School of Law.

Tamara Piety is a law professor. As indicated by her CV, she has not practiced law in many years, but the legal profession continues to be very, very good to her. Tamara earns a six figure salary without having to endure the stresses and frustrations typically experienced by highly successful lawyers who earn salaries in the Tamara range--demanding judges and clients, the anxiety and drudgery of trial or oral argument preparation, the constant deadline pressure. In addition to her big paycheck, Tamara has job security, the status that comes with her title, and plenty of time to cogitate and write in areas of her scholarly interest.

Noam Chomsky has said that persons in privileged circumstances have enhanced moral responsibilities, and intellectuals particularly so. And it would seem to me that the students who made a teacher rich should fall dead-center in the circle of that teacher's moral concerns. Yet when Tamara Piety blogs about the law school catastrophe, in a style that swings strangely from sweetly reasonable to condescending and pissy, her main concern seems to be throwing the blame back on students for their bad choices. True, she does so subtly, as befits an academic, by fogging up discourse with theological-sounding jargon, such as "the phenomonological problem." In the above post, Tamara draws an incredible analogy between going to law school and having a child. It is a leap of faith, not a rational choice. You cannot know what it will be like until you do it. It will be stressful, expensive, and life-changing. But, in most cases, there will be a happy outcome, even if the outcome is radically different than what you envisioned going in.

Contrary to Tamara, the decision of whether or not to attend law school, unlike having a baby, is highly rational--that is, it is a weighing of costs and benefits to arrive at a decision that will maximize personal gain. The kind of kids who consider law school as an option are typically not  those who would otherwise be pursuing some other wildly romantic dream, such as trying to make a living as an artist or a poet, or climbing a Tibetan mountain peak in pursuit of wisdom. These are bright career-oriented young people who are investing a ton of borrowed money in the expectation of a professional career that will allow them to pay back the money and make a living besides. True, some of them want lesser-paying, but more interesting, do-gooder type jobs, such as that of public interest lawyer or public defender (jobs that are, ironically, often harder to get these days than work in the private sector due to austerity and other factors). But even the law school idealists want to practice a profession and make an income.

Tamara's assertion that deciding to attend law school is strikingly parallel to deciding to have a child  is false. But, worse, it is sickening and offensive. If law school turns out to be economically devastating, you don’t get the compensating sweetness and charm of a child's smile; instead you get Sally Mae’s harsh glare. Indeed, as dupednontraditional's post noted, you may have to deny your child things that you desperately would like to give her or him because Sallie Mae has a preexisting and superior claim to a chunk of your earnings. So, in practice, a graduate will be taking resources from his or her dependent family, including children, in order to pay interest on the massive student loan debt that has made Tamara rich and cozy. And what does Tamara do with the  contemplative leisure made possible by that money? She writes blog posts about how the decision to go to law school is phenomonologically like having a baby.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pilot for a new series: Helpful Law School Scholarship

A little over two years ago Chief Justice John Roberts dissed legal scholarship when he said this in June, 2011:

Pick up a copy of any law review that you see, and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th Century Bulgaria, or something, which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar.

There are countless reasons for this, a couple that I support are lack of faculty interest in legal practice (one of the reasons that many probably are law faculty) and that there are way too many articles out there, making it harder to separate the X-Wings from the Y-Wings (or if you are into more mundane analogies: the wheat from the chaff).

Since this is a blog aimed more at law schools, and since I am a third-year law student, I'm going to be highlighting legal scholarship that is of particular use to prospective law students, law students, recent law graduates, and of course, law schools themselves.  If this "pilot" receives at least some support, I will do more in the future.

The article in question for the test-run is by law professor Jim Chen, who has written previously on good, adequate, and marginal debt-income ratios of law graduates, and the mathematics of stipulations on law school scholarships.

Here, I have read his working paper for the Michigan State University law school, "Measuring the Downside Risk of Law School Attendance."  It is a short article at 11 pages.  In his own words, this is what the article is about:

In this document, I shall focus on student welfare, especially the core economic
question of whether law school attendance delivers a valuable return on students’ investment. I shall also describe the tools, drawn from quantitative finance and econometrics, that I would use to evaluate downside risk and inequality within any cohort of law school graduates.
Professor Chen is much brighter than I am, and I do not pretend to understand the economic, business, and math reasoning which leads him to his conclusions.  For instance, in addition to more intuitive conclusions (like debt-income ratios and win-loss percentages), the "quantitative finance and econometrics" which includes "postmodern portfolio theory" are dense.

Chen partially backtracks from his "Degree of Practical Wisdom" debt-income ratios.  In it, by studying how mortgage lending worked, he identified three debt-income ratios: A "good" debt-income ratio was 0.5 (total debt is half of one year of income), "adequate" is 1.0 (total debt is equal to one year of income), and "marginal" is 1.5 (where income is 2/3 of total debt).  Anything lower than a 1.5 debt-income ratio would put the graduate in a precarious situation.

However, as Chen notes in his newer working paper:

My original stress tests have proved too stringent to offer useful guidance to law schools or their students. Almost no law school graduates begin with an annual income double their level of law school debt.
Thus, he readjusts and renames the three ratios.  Instead of debt-income ratios, he now uses income-debt ratios ("in order to focus attention on different salary outcomes realized by recent law school graduates").  Now, Chen considers a 3:2 annual gross income to total law school debt to eb "excellent."  "Healthy" is 1:1.  Finally, "viable" is 2:3.

As a disclaimer, Chen notes that he has

consistently (and perhaps too conservatively) assumed that law students have sufficient earnings, savings, or family resources to cover their background costs of living and therefore borrow solely to cover tuition. I know that I have adopted the unrealistic assumption that students begin law school with no undergraduate debt, on the unsupported surmise that they have retired any debt accrued in pursuit of a prelaw degree. I do have reason to believe that average law school debt levels are close to three times the nominal tuition rate of a law school (or, at a public law school, the average blended annual tuition rate) . . .

 Again, I am not familiar with "postmodern portfolio theory," but I can understand the bottom line.  Professor Chen puts forth a hypothetical law school, and by drawing on his knowledge of economics and business, is able to glean numbers that can actually mean something to someone like me. 

Here is the chart. 

The first thing I noticed is that the average debt at the hypothetical law school is only $60,000.  I don't even think that CUNY, perhaps the most affordable law school in the country (if you are a New York citizen), has an average debt that low.  But the debt isn't the takeaway.  The takeaway, at least for financial plebeians like me, is the win-loss ratio % underneath the different ratios.

At this hypothetical law school, we find that only 2.61% of the class obtained "excellent" salary-debt ratios, earning $90,000.  For those with a "healthy" salary-debt ratio, it is 26.96%.  The majority of the graduates of this law school are "viable," 60.87% of them.

If you add up the figures, you will only get to 87.85%.  This leaves 12.15% of graduates without a a viable salary-debt ratio, making them unemployed, making less than $40,000 a year, or are pursuing more education.

This article by Professor Chen is highly technical, and in hindsight, may not have been the best choice for a "pilot."  That being said, Professor Chen has put forth a new salary-debt ratio standard that is easy to understand, with 3:2 being excellent, 1:1 being healthy, and 2:3 being viable.  His table, if it could be more universally employed, would give us a great new tool to "stress test" schools to see what percentage of their graduates are "winning" rather than "losing."

We already know that the majority of law graduates are losing.  But legal scholarship like this and others that I will hopefully highlight in the future will help us muddle our way through, as Professor Chen puts it: "the greatest economic challenge the American legal profession has ever faced."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Oblivious LawProfs

We publish employment statistics at Elysium School of Law...?  Huh.  Who knew?

Wow.  I am somewhat shocked and amazed, although I suppose I shouldn't be.  Yet I still am.
In my recent post on Butthurt LawProfs, I painted a picture of indifferent scholars enjoying the fruits of their "labor," subsidized on the backs of their students, yet fiddling while Rome burns.  I basically said that they could afford to fiddle, though, as this crisis would not touch them in any meaningful way due to social pedigree.  Further, as the plebeian JD graduates have had the temerity to speak out and just aren't bowing and scraping as they should be, a few professorial feathers have been ruffled, so get back in line.
And then I thought, well, perhaps I was too harsh in my indictment.  Am I saying that there is no call for legal scholarship, at all, ever?  No, I can't exactly say that.  Am I saying there is no call for legal education, at all, ever?  No, clearly there is and will be a need for new lawyers, just not 40k per year at the current time (with significant backlog).  Yes, some schools need to close, costs need to come down, but perhaps I shouldn't take my own experiences (and those of many, many others) as a reason to rail against the establishment.  Do I really mean to say the LawProfs Just Don't Care - ship out the processed meat, bring in the new cattle?
Apparently I was close, as Professor Orin Kerr commented below:
Here's a contrary view from the other side of the fence.

My sense is that most law professors haven't been impacted that much by the scam blog movement, actually. Most professors know that the job market is really tough and that applications are down. They know that budgets are tighter, that pay increases are lower (or non-existent), and that faculty hiring has slowed dramatically. And they may have heard about the scam blogs.

With that said, most law professors don't spend a lot of time thinking about such things in their day-to-day lives. They go on teaching their classes, writing their articles, and meeting with students just as they did before. Plus, students at their home schools treat them the same way that they did before. There's a lot of anger in the scam blogs, obviously. But most professors don't read the scam blogs, and professors who don't criticize the scam blogs online generally aren't the specific targets of that anger.

Just my 2 cents. (I also don't know any professors who "Just Don't Care," but that's a separate comment.)

Dybbuk responds:
Prof. Kerr,

Do law professors spent time thinking about the highly misleading placement statistics that many, even most, law schools were publishing until very recently? Do law professors spare a thought or two about the impact those stats may have had on the lives of their students?

In turn:
Dybbuk, I suspect that a large chunk of law professors don't know that their schools publish placement statistics. I also suspect that a lot of those that do know their schools publish statistics have no idea what their placement statistics are. Also, most of those who know that the statistics exist and have an idea of what they are have no idea whether they are accurate. Placement statistics are something that the Career Development Office and the Dean's Office would deal with, not the profs. To be clear, I'm not defending that; I'm just trying to describe the world view.


Actually, I truly appreciate Professor Kerr's honesty and his taking time to comment, and I don't take his comments as an excuse to attack him, personally.  He's just the messenger in this case.
Apparently, it's not that the LawProf establishment "doesn't care", as that would imply some lack of basic human decency.  It's not even Pride.  They just literally HAVE NO IDEA. 
These learned individuals, who can prognosticate at length about detainee rights in Guantanamo, application of Nietzchean philosophy to jurisprudence, and gender equality issues at the intersection of Federal and Tribal law, are just unable to discern the basic economic supply-and-demand relationship that their job and their pay comes from consigning thousands to the debt-serfdom grinder with few to no real prospects.  And that this problem has been accelerating for some time now.
Accurate employment statistics?  Who knows.  Do we even publish them? 
Scamblogs?  What are they even talking about?  TL; DR.
40k JDs are produced for 20k jobs every year?  So, JDs aren't getting good jobs?  Really?  Student loan defaults are up?  Oh.  Well, that's too bad, I guess, but that's the Dean and CDO's bailiwick.  Back to my law review article.
Pay freezes?  Hiring freezes?  Applications are down 15 - 20%?  Hmmm, I wonder what that means.
0Ls and non-trads, here it is, straight from the horse's mouth.  With the rare exceptions of those like Paul Campos and Brian Tamanaha (and perhaps Orin Kerr), LawProfs have no idea as to the actual state of the legal industry or the miserable plight of the majority of their students.  That's not in their job description, anyway, to know about these things.  Go talk to the Dean or the CDO if you actually require something as pedestrian as a "job" after graduation.
Rarefied air, indeed.  Ignorance is bliss.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Meek Will Neither Inherit the World Nor Solve Unemployment

From Justin Long at The Faculty Lounge:
But there is an entire side to the discussion that we simply aren't having: beyond reducing supply, we should be increasing demand. Despite the shrinking numbers of existing jobs in existing firms working for existing clients, there is no corresponding shrinkage among those who simply cannot afford the legal advice they need.  Where is the debate about how to find funds so that lawyers can be hired to serve those clients, at salaries commensurate with their skill, education, and indebtedness?
Side of the discussion?  What side is that, exactly, the irrelevant one?  The let's-make-stuff-up one?

Unmet legal needs do exist, but it's quickly reached mythological proportions in trying to defend the output of attorneys or conjuring up schemes to employ the new lawyer underclass and mint more new ones.  I call bullshit fueled by ivory tower bias and fantastical ideas about the poor.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Epic Rant

Today we celebrate the epic rant of our brother, Mike Cunningham, of Nowhere University, who lives at the corner of Discouraged and Hopeless.

An article entitled "Jobs Offer Student Loan Forgiveness," by Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press "Personal Finance Columnist" offered up typical finance fare: get hired in a public service government job and you can get out from under all that nasty student loan debt, yadda yadda yadda.

Tompor offers up as examples various college and law grads attempting to get out from under their six-figure student loan debt. Naturally, when you click on the comments section, you immediately find a boomer troll with his "tisk, tisk, tisk" aimed at these reckless borrowing youth: "So why take out the debt to begin with? There are many other ways to both attend and pay for college. Community college (to start/basic courses), military services, etc."

Brother Cunningham, from his vantage point at the corner of Discouraged and Hopeless, replies to the typical "go to community college" or "join the military" arguments as follows:

Mike Cunningham · Nowhere university
Why should we have to join the military or start at community colleges when baby boomers had the luxury of going to any college they wanted for affordable prices? What makes you better than me?

Baby boomers had every possible advantage possible. If I was living in an era where college was cheap enough to pay out of pocket and the average salary was 50k, I wouldn't be stupid enough to take out a loan on a house I can't afford. But that's exactly what almost every baby boomer did.

Why are we idiots for taking on college debt we can't afford when you all took home loans you couldn't afford? And at the same time, this country rewards the loan sharks that did it all. Thanks, America. I'd rather live in Russia if I had the money to get out.

Obviously, Brother Cunningham stewed after his first comment, then went back to add a second rant:

  • Mike Cunningham · Nowhere university
    I got saddled with 30k in debt before I realized what a joke college was along with this trash can of a country.

    Now instead of getting a high paying job for spending (wasting) 4 years trying to better myself, I live in the ghetto with drug lords getting bigger welfare checks than my salary at McDonald's. And to top it off, whenever I mention my debt, it's always the same thing from people: "Stupid you for taking on that kind of debt." "Stupid you for picking English." How was I supposed to know that becoming a LAWYER was a dead end in life? Only in America could that ever happen.

    Seriously, this country is a joke. If you're under 30 and have any kind of potential left for your life, get out NOW. It enslaves its young with lifelong debt. It steals pensions from its old. It gives BILLIONS in corporate handouts to billionaires. It hands out benefit after benefit to its government employees, and everything is made in China. What a diseased, corrupt, depressing, putrid joke.

A scam blog tip of the hat to Counselor Cunningham. Congratulations on an epic rant! Keep up the good work out there on the message boards!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Who might benefit from an Indiana Tech law degree? Noone.

Who might benefit from an Indiana Tech law degree? Noone. Not no one, Noone.

If you click on the Indiana Tech Law School website, you will encounter the smiling face of one of four persons and a blurb from that person endorsing the "vision," "mission," or "focus" of the start-up law school. One is the Indiana Tech Law director of admissions Crystal Ridgley, whose endorsement is hardly a surprise. Two are local lawyers-- a county prosecutor and a director of a nonprofit called Neighborhood Christian Legal Services. Maybe these two lawyers will avail themselves of Indiana Tech’s pool of free law school interns, but it remains to be seen whether they will hire a grad from open enrollment Indiana Tech instead of one from highly selective schools like IU Bloomington or Notre Dame in the event that they have funds to hire an entry-level staff attorney.

The fourth smiling face, however, belongs to an actual student in the Charter Class, Kyle Noone, who is quoted as follows:  
"I chose Indiana Tech Law School because of its focus on us, the students, to be successful in the current legal world. An academic curriculum that includes relevant teachings to everyday legal practicing provides the preparation to be a successful attorney. The mentor program will provide me with invaluable local legal relationships that will prepare me for my future in law." 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why new law graduates are not "entitled"

 A common refrain from older generations about mine (I'm a K-JD) is that we are lazy, spoiled, and entitled.  It is the last description that gets me the most upset.  While "entitled" doesn't necessarily have negative connotations, I think in this context it could be best defined as such:

entitled - the feeling that something is owed to you when you did not necessarily earn it
(Dictionary of Antiro, 2013 edition)

Two years ago at a commencement speech, a law professor from Emory by the name of Sara Stadler, who was voted "Most Outstanding Professor by the Class of 2011"told the same class that while many of them wouldn't land the big-paying jobs they wanted, they should "get over it.  The one thing standing in the way of happiness for many people is a sense of entitlement."  She went on to tell them that "they might have to move to Nebraska," and that they should "learn to be a giver, not a taker."  (All quotes are from the ABA Journal article, though the video does include some gems they did not note).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Matsuzaki’s Folly

In Ken Matsuzaki’s quest to pass the New York State bar exam, the seventeenth time was the charm. The test is offered twice a year, in February and July, and Matsuzaki had sat for every one since completing Cardozo law school, in early 2005. He’s taken the bar in Brooklyn, in Albany, in the vast Javits Center, in Manhattan (“I don’t like that one,” he said. “Lines too long at the bathrooms”), and, this past February, in Buffalo. “I like Buffalo,” he said. "Less crowded. I could reserve a hotel very close to the testing place."
Let us honor Ken Matsuzaki; a New Yorker article in the "cutesy" section detailed how cute-cute it was that the tenacious Japanese national took the New York Bar Exam seventeen times, and in different locations—like a sort of lemming/super-snowflake Grand Tour. In the midst of La Débâcle, with applications to law schools declining by one-third in just four years, some schools facing closure,  the market saturated worse than a Crisco-lard hybrid pie crust, and disaster facing even the big law pedigreed, there are still people spending the equivalent of a new car on seventeen bar exam fees when they are not even intending on practicing law (should they actually pass, never a certainty, nor even a likelihood). Further in the article, the New York Bar, when asked for a comment, added that at least two people had taken the bar of that state over sixty times each (not "six", but "sixty"). Sixty bar exams, at the very least, must have been taken over 30 years should the sucker-victim attempt both summer and winter. The fee to take the test appears to be $250 a pop.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Butthurt LawProfs

As the facade continues to crumble on the Law School brand, I find it quite comical how various LawProfs have become increasingly bitter, snippy, and downright angry about people questioning the value of a law degree.

To a certain extent, it is understandable.  No group likes to have another group trash them wholesale for who they are.  Lawyers understand this more than most - who hasn't been (not-so-jokingly) reviled as a "shark", a "bottom-feeder", an "obstructionist", or a generalized "a-hole"?   I'm used to people acting that way towards me, once they find out I am a lawyer.  It's not pleasant, but I know that many people have had bad experiences with lawyers, whether deserved or undeserved.  I get that.  Sometimes I counter the argument by saying that lawyers have the unique (and sometime unpleasant) task of being an advocate for one side, and in any conflict is is natural to feel some vitriol towards the side that you perceive to be impeding your progress.  But that's the way it goes.  I don't feel the need to defend myself to the millions of people who think lawyers are "bad people" - it isn't worth the effort, there is a lot of grey between the extremes of black and white, and few minds will be changed in any event.

Not so with LawProfs.  I would have said this was due to the fact that they are concerned about their pocketbook, and to a certain extent I'm sure they are.  However, when you look at LawProf CVs (and trust me, reading one after the other makes for a natural substitute for caster oil, in case you ever need to purge), one thing is clear - these are not exactly rags-to-riches people.  They largely come from big-name schools.  Have big-name pedigrees.  Have done some big-name stuff.  Stuff that the vast majority never even come close to touching or having access to.

In essence, they largely come from money and influence.  How could it be otherwise?  Who can afford to do what they have done?  How else could they garner the plumb assignments they have had prior to becoming a professor?  Bootstrapping and sacrifice?  Don't make me laugh.

As such, this is not really about LawProfs losing their livelihood.  While that might sting a bit, they have other resources to fall back on by virtue of the segment of society they come from.

This is really about pride.  And pride goeth before a fall, as some ancient wisdom has said.

LawProfs did what they did because the like the position in society they occupy.  They enjoy being looked up to and respected.  They enjoy hearing themselves talk (clearly).  They want to be revered by their peers and colleagues, so they hob-nob at high-dollar colloquia and write love-letters (i.e. legal scholarship) to each other in order to garner influence.  They wanted to be admired by legions of law students who were eager to join the "majesty" of the profession they claim to occupy.  And let's be honest: the job was a sweet deal - in comparison, you have to lay a lot of bricks and hang a lot of drywall in order to make $200k a year, and the hours aren't nearly as good.

But, as the tarnish has spread and lives have been reduced to debt-serfdom, the LawProfs just aren't getting that ego-stroke they way they were accustomed to.  Deans and administrators are talking more and more about "little-people" stuff, like budgets and increased work loads.  People are demanding more accountability and work product that justifies their role, not just their pet project of the semester.  And that causes the LawProfs to have a sad.  Even from LawProfs who are in no danger of losing their jobs due to the size of the foundation that supports the school or parent university (i.e. status and preftige).

Why did this happen?  Is it solely because times are tough for "lazy", "bitter", "entitled" graduates, and students need a convenient scapegoat for their "failure"?  If only it were that simple - at least that would imply that things are actually better for everyone, student and LawProf alike.  Student frustration over having to "settle" for their second or third choices would actually be a welcome outcome, as opposed to current joblessness and crushing debt for thousands upon thousands.

No, I would argue that the ire towards LawProfs comes from the fact that for decades, they Just Didn't Care.  Period.  And why should they, when they were in no danger of facing the kind of circumstances their students faced?  I'm sure there is a LawProf or two out there who tried to help their students, put in a word for them where they could, so let good karma fall where it will.  But as a profession, they were too busy being complicit in the scam, looking the other way, pretending that thousands of lives weren't being destroyed while they wrote yet another "Law and _____" article or attended another circle-jerk symposium for $100-200k a year and a six-hour-a-week teaching load.

One thing is for certain.  As the situation continues to sour, and as fewer and fewer law students attend, watch the Pride sail into the stratosphere as LawProfs are increasingly required to do what most people do for their livelihood - work.  Inside the bubble, no less.  And instead of regarding their own contributions to the situation with sober judgment (with rare exception), these butthurt LawProfs are blame-shifting and looking in all the wrong places for respect and sympathy.  They did everything right...!  Didn't they...?

Nope, there's no Sympathy for the Devil here.  In short, welcome to how the other-half live.  Enjoy your stay.