Monday, February 24, 2014

Threat To Tenure Brings Professors' Desperation To The Forefront

Tenure is under attack. At an ABA meeting last month, described as being "tense at times", professors were up in arms over the potential elimination of the tenure requirements for ABA accredited schools. In a departure from the norm, there were many professors present, face to face with ABA decision makers. I have often said that being a law professor is the most lucrative part time job in America. No rational being wants to work hard if laziness is a viable option. But, the vehemence with which professors are protecting their bottom line is due to some other factors at play.

Law professors often hide behind the fiction called "academic freedom" when arguing that they deserve tenure. During the ABA meeting, all of the usual excuses reasons tenure is oh so important were trotted out. The article's author states that "many of the law professors on Saturday... argued that law faculty members fulfill a different role in the academy than do medical or dental faculty. Their scholarship and advocacy can make them targets of criticism, and they need tenure protection to take unpopular positions and participate fully in law school governance..." In a moment that I can imagine would be seen as especially perverse to the millions of debt shackled students stuck with no opportunities, "the discussion was interrupted numerous times by applause from the audience following passionate remarks defending the importance of tenure." Let's get this straight: many law professors do not publish anything worthwhile after getting tenure. And why should they? The law school gives the professor a virtual lifetime appointment without much ongoing accountability. While there are a few professors who do champion unpopular causes, many more professors do not publish or do much more than deliver presentations in front of CLEs and legal symposiums. The name of the game in those types of venues is to be as boring as possible so that all the attorneys pretending to listen can keep doing actual work. Alternately, tenured professors continue to spiral into ever more esoteric areas of legal history and minutiae, like how the Supreme Court's fondness for knitting affected their jurisprudence in Pennoyer. Most law professors do not have anything of substance to say. The academic freedom they fight for is a shield to protect them from being forced to account for doing so little and getting paid so much.

In the university setting, tenure is what differentiates winners from losers. Higher education's dirty little secret is that the majority of university faculty are now adjuncts and non-tenure track professors. These people are seen as being less than tenured faculty. Tenured faculty look at adjuncts as being inferior due to their inability to get on the tenure gravy train and law professors know this. As an example, most of the regular faculty at law schools look down their noses at the clinical professors (Note: Bad poetry warning). If law professors' precious tenure is taken away, they will lose their hallowed status within the university power structure. Like the legal profession at large, law professors are obsessed with status and credentials. Just witness the professors who hop from university to university in an effort to reach a Top 20 school. Not to mention that adjuncts and non-tenured faculty have little protection when it comes to salaries and benefits. There aren't too many adjuncts who are able to afford a nice house, multiple luxury cars and vacations abroad on a regular basis. Status chasing is a problem in most areas of life, but has an outsized impact in the academic arena.

As this post on PrawfsBlawg says, law professors are hired to do three things: scholarship, teaching, and service. Right now, the law professors have it great on all fronts. With scholarship, not only do tenured law professors usually have no requirement to publish a certain amount, they are paid extra stipends in the form of summer research grants. It's like if a law firm paid its senior partners bonuses for writing and submitting briefs to the court and didn't care if they decided not to do their job anymore. It is well established that law professors at many institutions have a laughably low teaching load. At the top schools, many professors can get away with teaching six hours a year. Contrast that with adjuncts, who often teach two or three sections per semester for little above minimum wage. Service is so broad that almost anything can go under this umbrella. This could ostensibly include the summer teaching stints in the vacation tours masquerading as study abroad programs. The professor might even be able to write up his thought on his own vacation if so inclined. The best part of all this is that professors are free to choose how much or how little of each they feel like doing, in most cases. In an even harder to believe development, many schools leave it up to the professors to decide which of their three primary duties they want to focus on. That is a pretty sweet gig by any measure. Imagine if an attorney told his bosses that he no longer wants to work on paying cases, instead choosing to concentrate on pro bono work and bar association activities. She would be out on her ass in a hot minute. I don't blame law professors for fighting as hard as they are. They have a great racket going.

The system is broken. We have a desperate group of overpaid, pompous and self-important professors fighting tooth and nail to continue to keep riding the gravy train they've been on for the past century. It's time for students to tell professors that their free ride is over in the only way that will make an actual impact: with their wallets. The drop in law school enrollments is encouraging, but our work will not be complete until law schools are forced to start shutting their doors. Kick these useless professors out into the real labor market. Then the free market can show us if their claims that they are forgoing salary to be law professors are actually true. I look forward to it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Guest Post: "Want to be a Lawyer? Work at it First" in Flowchart Format.

On February 13, 2014, this blog ran I'm Not Atticus Finch's article: "What to be a Lawyer? Work At it First." After reading the article, Samuel Browning, an attorney who loves flowcharts, offered to turn the article into a flowchart. He believes that a visual depiction may assist those pre-law students who are willing to spend $150K on a legal education but cannot tear themselves away from twitter for the less than the ten minutes it takes to read the original article.

I'm Not Atticus's Finch's original article can be found here:

And here is Browning's flowchart:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Message to Friends and Supporters of OTLSS

UPDATE 2/20/14: Thanks for your comments and suggestions! There are some great ideas here.

Before I get into this post, I want to say thank you to the readers, commenters, contributors, and supporters of OTLSS.   This blog, and others like it, would not be effective without your input and your word of mouth, be it in support of our message or as words of constructive criticism.  As our web count increases and the law school applicants decrease, it would seem that our message is getting out there to the marketplace of ideas.

That being said, we have looked into "advertising" our message as well to increase our readership, yet unfortunately that has been much less successful.  Number one, as a collection of bloggers, we do not have the operating capital to run advertising campaigns (and, to that end, some would say "hurrah!").  Number two, while there are certainly some sympathetic ears out there, when push comes to shove there is political pressure not to get involved or otherwise provide an easy platform for our message.  Even if we had funds, many legal-oriented websites and blogs seem not all that interested in running or donating ad space for us.  Given the nature of the product we are criticizing, this is understandable to a certain extent.

Part of our message has been humorous (to us, anyway) advertisements that parody ads that have been put out by the Law School Cartel.  One you've seen already as a response to LSAC's "DiscoverLaw" campaign: 

Another responds to the value of the "Million Dollar Law Degree":

This is where we turn to you, our readership.  Are there venues that you are aware of that would be interested in running our "ads"?  Can you print these out, e-mail them, circulate them, use them as conversation starters with those you know?  What other ideas do you have?

Contact us and let us know.  We appreciate your continued support and your activism.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chem, the Great and Powerful: In his own words and number$

Recently the "ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education" (try saying that five times fast while trying to make the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs) released its final report.  Our initial impression at OtLSS is that the report is better than earlier drafts, but still leaves much to be desired (such as refusing to recognize the law schools' lies, half-truths, and bogus statistics that have made law school a "scam").

(Photo drawn by Charles Fincher)

Erwin Chemerinski, yes, that Erwin Chemerinski, who I will henceforth refer to affectionately as "Chem," is the Dean of one of the most recently established law schools: the University of Irvine, California, School of Law.  Professor Tamanaha has criticized Chem for chasing prestige and gaming the USN rankings in lieu of trying to shake up the status quo of legal education.   Chem hit back at Professor Tamanaha in a green-blooded fashion, explaining why UCI law was so expensive (apologies to Mr. Spock):

I wouldn’t have come at half the price. No one is going to take a 50 percent pay cut, no matter how beautiful Orange County is, and no matter how wonderful it is to be part of a new school.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Post by I'm Not Atticus Finch -- Want to Be a Lawyer? Work at it First.

Want to Be a Lawyer? Work at it First.

Oh Special Snowflake, my Special Snowflake, how you rush off to Cooley without any forethought. Law school has been jokingly referred to as the last refuge of the vaguely talented, and it has traditionally served partly as a way station for those uncertain about what to do with their lives. Now a legal education typically comes with $150,000 in student loan debt, so it’s too expensive a choice for those who do not want to spend their careers practicing law. Graduate from Yale, or Harvard Law, and you will have a nifty social signaling tool, but this valuable effect probably disappears somewhere between the top five to fourteen law schools.

My law school lemming, I cannot look at you and tell if you will be successful in the practice of law. I can only tell you that the days are over when you can be a brilliant introvert, who surfaces from reading case law to disappear when it comes to interacting with the public. Instead successful lawyers combine a number of traits. They are; knowledgeable about substantive law, skilled at civil procedure, have good to excellent people skills, are reasonably glib and quick on their feet, exhibit the ability to make and close a sale, and maintain the resulting relationship. They should mostly enjoy the practice of law, and be able to tolerate the parts which are disagreeable to most people. They are good negotiators and competent business people. Family connections to obtain a first Attorney job and other opportunities will greatly help. Finally they also should have what is commonly referred by Professor Bill Henderson as "Fearlessness" or what Allan Dershowitz calls Chutzpah, and what most people call "balls". Most of us who practice law do not perfectly match this entire description.

It would be helpful for the would-be law student to have a reasonable appraisal of their strengths and weaknesses before they chose to plunge over the cliff. However there is no standardized way to figure out prior to attending law school whether you will even be good at digesting case law, and engaging in legal reasoning. Back in the 1980s, John Delaney who taught at NYU wrote the work books "Learning Legal Reasoning – Briefing, Analysis, and Theory" and "How to Do Your Best on Law School Exams". If you sat down and worked your way through all the essay assignments in both of these books and then had a lawyer friend review the assignments in order of completion, you with probably get a realistic answer for whether you might do well during your first year in law school. Since I have not tested this method on a large, representative sample of pre-law students this remains only a theory. Let me therefore move on to what you definitely can learn prior to law school.

Finding Out If You Really Want To Be a Lawyer Prior to Law School

Let me acknowledge first, that we are graduating close to twice the number of JDs each year then for whom there are full time lawyer jobs. I will concede that someone who utilized all of my advice may still end up unemployed. But before taking this risk, you can find out if 1) You want to put up with being a lawyer, and 2) If you have some of the people skills to succeed, and 3) you can test your family connections, and networking abilities to line up pre-law school paralegal jobs and internships.

Students who want to become doctors and nurses volunteer and intern in a number of placements, so should you. It always amazed me at law school, how many of my fellow attendees had never had any such experience. Some ended up loving the practice of law, others became rapidly disillusioned. By the time you show up as a One L, you should have at the very least, lined up a series of paid and unpaid jobs and experiences that have helped you confirm that you really want that law license.

Here’s a good first question. Can any member of your family or friends of your family help get you a low paid job with a lawyer or law firm? If not can they help you get a legal internship, say at the local prosecutor, public defender, or legal aid office? Predictably, social connections make the world go around, and if they can’t, you’ll have to depend on selling yourself from day one. It’s useful to know this before law school. For example, suppose you are in the bottom half of your law school class but friends and friends can help you line up summer employment between 1L-2L and 2L-3L because, they’ve done it before. If they can’t you are going to have to get your first lawyer job through either networking/salesmanship or high class placement. If you don’t have connections, good law school grades, or sales or networking skills, law school graduation will likely end in unemployment.

Without family connections, you are going to need some talking points when applying for legal jobs and internships. Good grades are always a plus, but let me give you a couple other quick ideas. Lawyers are always notarizing documents. If you have a couple hundred spare bucks become a notary public and bring your stamp to the interview. It requires a room temperature I.Q. but will save many employers much time, if you can help them churn out documents. Fluency in a much used language like Spanish will also markedly increase your value as a paralegal. In my experience, there are plenty of Latino clients and potential clients who cannot speak directly to their lawyers. If you have a fluency in another language such as Chinese, where there is such an immigrant community even better. You can talk your way into an immigration law practice. If you can brush up your language skills in college it’s a very transferable skill. I can’t tell you how often in public defender offices the official translator doesn’t show up in time because of other commitments, and being able to handle the client yourself would be of great help.

A course in accounting can help you work with financial records, and even with billing on slow days. Being skilled in computer repairs/programming also helps. You might help a firm by building spreadsheets and court exhibits for them. Good proof reading and typing skills can be useful, at least for the older attorneys who went to law school before word processing became common. If the firm handles Personal Injury cases, and you have a background with medical records, or courses in anatomy and physiology, you may have a selling point.

There are plenty of for profit schools that will sell you expensive paralegal courses. I’d go to your local community college and pick up a few paralegal continuing education credits. Paralegal degrees can be a very expensive proposition, so the point, is to not to go heavily in debt before law school but get a smattering of experience that will allow you to obtain internships and then paid paralegal gigs by assembling your talking points. After a couple of internships, a future employer is not going to give a shit that you don’t have a paralegal degree if you can quickly and competently fill out a HUD-1.

You are probably unlikely to get a paid part time or summer paralegal job right off the bat, so you will need to start with an internship. If you have great connections and get a paid job in a family firm, ignore the first sentence. If you are lucky you may have a father, mother, uncle, or aunt, who is a lawyer, and can teach you along the way. I can’t stress enough the value of such an opportunity. What should you look for in an internship? The answer is an experience that closely mimics the responsibilities of a paid position. In other words something, with a bit of stress, responsibility, deadlines, and difficult client contact. For example if you are only going to follow an attorney around for a summer, you will learn something, but you will not have contact with any of the challenges that make law so rewarding, or alternatively so stressful. For example, answering the phone at legal aid (if they haven’t been completely overwhelmed with law students) will give you some experience dealing with people with various legal crises in a wide variety of areas. You’ll also start to develop a bullshit detector, which is very valuable.

When lining up jobs look for the lawyer who gives you some leeway to do things rather the Attorney who never allows you to touch the steering wheel. Some attorneys are control freaks, but if they only allow you to say copy documents, you’ll never get useful experiences that will tell you if you can put up with the law as a 30 year career. (I should warn you however that as a solo, I spent so much time with the toner, that Xerox should award me an LLM) The most skilled paralegals in my humble opinion handle real estate transactions. It features a mixture of some legal knowledge, tight time deadlines, and occasionally abrasive emails and phone conversations with other paralegals and attorneys.

You won’t get that true law experience until you spend a full day arguing with someone at another law office about small points related to a civil case/closing/or real estate transaction. Volunteer to help draft your attorney’s cease and desist and collection letters using his prior correspondence as a model. Nothing will teach you more quickly how to start channeling the curious mixture of aggressiveness and legal formality that makes up legal practice. But before being a complete dick to some deadbeat, make sure you consult the Federal Fair Credit Act first! Being a successful lawyer requires not only knowing where the line is, but how to approach it, without sliding over.

I don’t know how many internships or paid paralegal jobs you should work one before you have the experience to know whether you want to devote your working life to the law. I would say a minimum of two placements, perhaps a year of time with at least one of these internships/jobs involving challenging work that closely resembles the stresses that you see in law practice.

I’ll finish with a UPS analogy. I once worked as a UPS Helper before Christmas. The driver tells me the door; I take the package and sprint, drop it off, and repeat a couple hundred times a day. It was relaxing in a way. The Driver was actually pleasant because he wanted me to stick around through Christmas Eve when a lot of the helpers quit. No problem, UPS might be worth looking into for a job. 90K a year for hard work sounded very good. So after Christmas I worked presort unloading trailer trucks. We would have to move 800 to 1,200 packages per 4 hour shift, with a supervisor yelling at us for moving too slowly. I then realized it would take 5-6 years if I did well to move from pre-sort, to sorting and loading trucks, to driving on weekends while making yourself available on short notice for short term driving assignments. All of this was expected before becoming a full time driver with a route. I also realized I wasn’t a particularly good driver, and didn’t want to spend 5-6 years trying to climb this career path, so I left pretty quickly.

I wasn’t upset at UPS. Rather, when I had obtained a fuller UPS experience, and not the Disney version, I realized that I didn’t have the fire in the belly or ability to drive the Brown mobile. I actually got paid to learn this, rather than go to "Brown" University, pay for an expensive degree, and then learn the career wasn’t for me. Sure, as an Attorney you will never have to move twenty, seventy five pound packages in a row, but as a worker’s comp lawyer told me, you will have to shovel the shit, and by shit he meant the inexhaustible number of motions, briefs, letters, and hearing preparations, that he had to carry out to be able to represent his clients well against other attorneys who were constantly trying "eat his lunch" for their clients. Before risking unemployment with $150K in student debts, you should have at least one of these experiences, prior to law school, that imitate the legal version of presort, and then ask yourself if you really want to practice law through better or worse. The United States has enough dissatisfied lawyers, know if you will be one of the exceptions before you show up for your first class in Civ Pro.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Couple Camposisms to get you through the day

You think Inside the Law School Scam is dead, but it continues in spirit elsewhere.

Here, Campos looks at some recent legal education developments.

Here, Campos critiques a critique of Professor Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools for the UCLA law review.

It features one of the moneyest quotes I have read from Campos, who is describing the existing hierarchy that already exists in American law schools in response to Professor Jay Silver, who was criticizing the "two tiered" system of legal education that Failing Law Schools endorses:

We already have, in the legal academic world, Ritz-Carltons and Motel 6s and many exquisitely calibrated gradations in between.  But there is an important difference between hotel and law school pricing: If a room at the real Ritz-Carlton costs $300 per night, a room at the Motel 6 does not cost $270 . . .
[But at least] someone who buys a night at a Motel 6 actually gets a motel room.  By contrast, at very large numbers of law schools, an actual majority of graduates fail to acquire legal jobs, even liberally defined, within nine months of graduation.

Happy Wednesday.

Stay tuned for a great piece from a guest poster tomorrow, and a longer one from me on Monday.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Temporarily Embarrassed Yales

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.
     - John Steinbeck

Recently, the Yale Law School Sterling Professors wrote a letter to the ABA in response to the proposed requirement for fifteen hours of experiential learning in the law school curriculum.  The arguments for and against this are pretty clear, and the point of this post is not to debate those issues again.

No, this post is about the letter itself and its authors, a microcosm of the wider problems with legal education.  Aside from the obvious “we must be right because we’re more prestigious than you” tone of the entire document, highlighting the title “Sterling Professors” (which even they have to explain at the bottom of the last page - it’s evidently the endowed chair for the most distinguished professors, far too prestigious to be wrong they imply), yet another example of law professors and their incessant reliance on credentials rather than merits when determining who to listen to – the letter is little more than the legal education one percent trying to convince the “poor” low-ranked schools that they too can be prestigious if only they refuse to teach law in a practical manner.

Much of what is wrong with the entire legal education system in the US is the inexplicable desire for prestige; the rankings, the fudged stats, the huge expenditures on bigger libraries and fancier wood-paneled hallways, the art collections, the hiring of professors based on their prestige rather than skills as educators, listening to only the most prestigious voices etc.  The list goes on and on.  If Harvard and Yale do it, then every law school wants to do it.  If Harvard and Yale students need it, then every law school thinks they also need it.  Law schools never look down; they always look up, right at the shining sun that is Yale.  And they’re becoming blind.

For example, one unfortunate consequence of looking up is that every law school still follows the “case method” of teaching law.  Developed at Harvard by Christopher Columbus Langdell, students learn the law through a combination of reading judicial opinions and Socratic questioning from a wise professor.  And for smart kids, this works well.  Once upon a time, law students were generally a smart bunch.  These days, it’s generally only those at the top schools who are truly intellectually gifted.  For today’s average law school, trying to act like Harvard and Yale is bad news for the students; it’s an ineffective, expensive, inefficient way of developing the kind of legal mind and skillset needed for the average law student.

But the Sterling Professors are right: “Law students have varied talents, interests, and professional goals.  It is true that the majority of law students become practicing attorneys, but many graduates prefer to use their legal education for work in business, government, or academia.  No one curriculum could possibly prepare students equally well for all these different paths.”  And they are right in that other classes would have to be dropped in order to make room in the curriculum for the fifteen hours of experiential learning: “Which of our enrichment courses should be slighted – jurisprudence, legal history, comparative law, our range of constitutional law seminars?”  They are absolutely right that any forced experiential learning would harm their students.  But they are right only for those students at Yale, Harvard, and a handful of other top law schools where the students are smart enough to write well by default, bright enough to pick up the ins and outs of practice quickly and independently, privileged enough to never really need to get dirty in a street-level legal practice, and who generally don’t have to have their hands held through the most basic academic tasks.

And therein lies the problem.  The top law schools are so used to having every one of the other couple of hundred law schools in the US blindly follow their lead in a never-ending chase for a share of the prestige pie that they forget that law schools like Yale and Harvard are exceptions, a very small minority of schools, yet they speak as if they know what is best for all law students.  Harvard and Yale are, mathematically, just one percent of all law schools.

If the Sterling Professors – and all law professors who purport to speak on behalf of the legal education establishment – would bother to look down at what’s actually happening in the legal profession as a whole, they’d see the terrible mess that is the bottom hundred law schools with their dismal employment prospects, unprepared grads, huge student debt burdens, and utter failure as institutions of higher education.  The Sterling Professors would instead be asking for thirty hours of experiential learning, and I suspect they’d also call for the closure, or at the very least the disaccreditation, of the bottom fifty law schools.

But don’t worry; the Sterling Professors don’t look down.  They don’t want to dirty their eyes with such a sight.  And the low-ranked law schools are too busy trying to become little Yales that they’ll do whatever the Sterling Professors ask them to do, whether or not it actually benefits their own students.

A challenge to professors at any of the bottom hundred law schools: go into the library, walk up to any of your vast and expensive collection of bound journals, and pull out a random copy.  Look carefully at it.  Has it ever been opened?  Ever?  I didn’t think so.  Try another one.  Same result?  (Yes.)  Now stroll over to some of your expensive tax books and see how pristine they are too.  The securities section will yield the same result, as will the court reporters.  Then try the state code of a state other than your own.  Now go and ask the dean how much the library budget was that year.  Shocking, huh?

At Yale, all of those books might show some wear and tear.  That’s their style: research, reading, writing, a more cerebral approach to law, because that suits their students.  Your style isn’t anything close; your students aren’t going to be federal judges or partners at DC firms that have bona fide constitutional law practices.  Your students aren’t going to be heads of departments in the DOJ, and they aren’t going to be professors or writers or academics.  Your students are going to be divorce lawyers, residential real estate lawyers, immigration lawyers, lawyers who actually practice law, who get their hands dirty with real clients and real life issues.  Your students are going to write wills for old people with no assets, represent college kids in traffic tickets and DUIs, and handle minor drug possession charges for the local stoners.  So stop allowing Yale to determine how you should best teach your students.  Stand up, speak out, and tell the Sterling Professors that they have absolutely no idea what is best for anyone in the real world of law.

Yale might need a huge library, but you don't.  Yale might need expensive and prestigious facilities, but you don't.  Yale might have professors who are scholars first and teachers second, but your students don't.  Your students need cost-effective, practical education, not the McYales that most modern law schools have become.

Sterling Professors, here’s a suggestion for you too.  Instead of imposing your own elite standards on the rest of the legal education establishment – all of whom have little use for your courses in jurisprudence, legal history, comparative law, and your range of constitutional law seminars, and who could use fifteen hours of learning to write wills, deal with traffic tickets, and handle uncontested divorces – perhaps you could just choose to not pursue ABA accreditation anymore?  Let the ABA set common-sense standards for the other one hundred ninety lesser law schools, and if those standards are too pedestrian for you, too lowly, to practical, then don’t follow them.  I expect there would be no danger of your graduates being unable to practice law – the bar admission standards in NY, DC and CA would be changed in a blink of an eye to accommodate your exceptional prestige, seeing as the elite schools set the rules for the profession in general.  But stop trying to convince the vast majority of schools that what is best for Yale is also best for them.

Effective legal education never took root in America because the low-ranked schools see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed Yales.
     - Charles Cooper

Charles Cooper is the author, along with Thane Messinger, of “Con Law: Avoiding...or Beating...the Scam of the Century (The Real Student's Guide to Law School and the Legal Profession)”, in addition to being the moderator at and the author of “Later in Life Lawyers”.  He can be contacted  Seriously, contact him.  He doesn't bite!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Vermont Law Might As Well Offer Free Balance Transfers Too

Remember when credit card companies were able to set up shop on campus offering t-shirts and other inducements to get students to sign up for their cards? It seems like Vermont Law School has picked up on this technique and applied it to the law school paradigm. According to this press release, Vermont Law is signing partnership agreements with a few historically black colleges and universities (HBCU's). These agreements will allow students at these colleges to have access to pre-law counseling from real life law school counselors and a tuition break (cleverly disguised as scholarships) once they sign up for classes.

This plan by Vermont Law is a new direction that I can see more law schools taking. This agreement gives Vermont Law a captive audience at the HBCU's they are partnering with. The law school lemmings are poster children for the primacy effect; by simply being around campus, Vermont Law is going to be the only law school these students will want to apply to. They have little to no appreciation for the fact that simply working hard isn't enough to make it in the real world. After listening to their friendly Vermont Law counselors, these students will be convinced that a Vermont Law degree is the key to that $160,000 starting salary everyone talks about. The counselors have at least a year to whisper sweet fantasies into the students' ears and convince them three years in South Royalton is just like being in Lake Havasu and Harvard at the same time. I am sure that the HBCUs' administrations are getting a kickback here in exchange for pushing their undergrads towards law schools like lambs being led to the slaughter. It's a win-win for the schools, even if the students are being lured into financial ruin.

It is very possible that this is an innocent counseling program designed only to help students. But the overwhelming evidence shows that students are the last consideration for law schools. In 2013, a whole year of tuition at Vermont Law totalled $46,110. A $5,000 "scholarship" still means that the school gets at least $120,000 in tuition from each student who enrolls. Vermont Law doesn't need very many students to sign up in order to recoup their investment in spades. This is just good business.

The law school scam has shown that the only way law schools are innovative in their marketing their product. People saying that your product is advertised misleadingly? Admit that the naysayers are right, but your hands are tied because that's how the game is played. People not signing up for admission anymore? Tell everyone that you understand that the legal job market seems bad now, but hey, it'll all be better by 2016 when the Baby Boomers all retire at the same time. People complaining about the cost? Tell everyone about IBR and public interest repayment, which are really ways to get an education for free! (note: may result in large tax bill at time of loan forgiveness where applicable). Nothing is too terrible to be massaged over and explained away.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Higher Education Tax

Charles Cooper's recent post, and the discussion that followed, is a tough act to follow.  But I love charts and graphs, so here goes:

"Since only those with significant savings can possibly afford to pay a $200,000 tuition tax, the average-income household is left with one choice: the debt-serfdom of student loans. This is the acme of a morally bankrupt system of higher education: you need a college degree to have any hope of succeeding in America, but the only way to get that degree is to enter debt servitude, with no guarantees of future income needed to pay off the debt."
The quote above is what Boomer ScamDeans and LawProfs conveniently ignore when bloviating about the long-term value of a law degree.  However, the market is paying attention, as recent LSAC data indicates. 
Oh, did I mention that the quote above was talking about undergraduate debt?  Funny how the sticker price for law school tuition looks exactly the same, nowadays.
However, as these charts indicate, the truth hits home - higher education has become a tax on the lower and middle classes, make no mistake.  Somewhere around the mid-1980s, total household debt became decoupled from wages and salaries.  If you happen to be from recent prior generations, you were blessed to see some semblance of the two staying in some form of lock-step for a good portion of one's life and career.  But no longer.  Not all of this can be blamed upon people maxing out their credit cards, or buying worthless degrees, or buying more home than one could afford, although some of that certainly did happen.  This has to do with the typical American consumer being slowly priced out of the market for decades.
The next chart needs little explanation.  College tuition and fees inflated at a rate ten times that of a new car, and twice that of medical care, over the same period.  We all know, of course, how rational the cost of medical care has been (that was sarcasm, ScamDeans).  According to Campos, law school tuition increased 160% for private law schools, and 400% at public law schools, over the same time, adjusted for inflation.  Telling younger people today that they just need to "buck up" and "work hard," or be "brave", misses a core fundamental truth, and is the height of dishonesty to boot.
And let's not forget that wages have stagnated for the majority, another decoupling that also took place in the early 80s.  It is significantly more difficult to pay (1) heightened loans with (2) less real money.  Especially when "clients" are dealing with similar money struggles of their own.  But those who live in the bubble will choose not to understand this.
Friends, we can argue all day about who isn't working hard enough and who is, and who had to walk uphill both ways in the snow every day to school and who didn't, and who wants things handed to them on a silver platter and who doesn't, and many, many other meaningless comparisons that do little more than to justify oneself at the expense of others who are, conveniently, strawmaned as "inferior." 
Let's instead talk about something that we can all agree upon: the landscape has changed.  In real, quantifiable terms.  And this post does not even get into the specifics of JD overproduction, law firm consolidation, outsourcing of legal work and the like, which only serve to make a bleak picture even more challenging.
Higher education is one of the major players at the heart of the matter, and the quest for sweet, sweet Federal student loan dollars has created a credential-arms-race that has spiraled out of control.  Avoid law school in particular, as the current costs are just not worth the benefits, with the only exceptions being that you have (1) the connections to drum up sufficient mentoring and clientele, and (2) the resources to avoid debt-serfdom.  Listen to the many, many voices, both posters and commenters alike, who will attest to this.
In other words, be Simkovic & McIntyre.  One of whom, I note, didn't even go to law school in the first instance.  And nothing says "value" like going after the pre-law students so as to convince them that law school is a grand idea.  One would think the JD would speak for itself and not require so much cheerleading.
But it was never about that.  Get 'em while they're young, and Always Be Closing.