Thursday, April 20, 2017

We Have a Scalp - Whittier Law's Last Stand

You know that neighborhood restaurant that has been around since your parents or even grandparents were kids? Everyone loves it - the food is pretty good; the staff is friendly, and it has that great nostalgic feel. Then one day, it's forced to close its doors. Usually little things have chipped away at it for a while: Newer, hipper restaurants have come onto the scene, older patrons move on or pass away, etc. Finally, their rent gets jacked up and they're forced to close. They have a nice sendoff and everyone is a little sad that an era has come to end.

Yeah, this is nothing like that. While Whittier Law has been in business for decades, no one should shed any tears about this "going out of business sale". It may be unfair to say the school has been a scam since its inception, but it certainly has been part of the greater law school swindle for the past couple of decades.

Check out the profile of those unfortunate enough to graduate from this school from the New York Times: "Last July, only 22 percent of the school’s graduates passed the California bar exam, according to state data. The employment rate for long-term jobs requiring a legal degree was 29.7...Students who graduated from Whittier last year had an average of $179,000 in pre-interest debt..."
 
There are reports that some stakeholders at Whittier Law are suing to try to keep the doors open. Might I suggest that they instead express gratitude that they aren't being arrested and charged with fraud for abusing the student loan system for years via misleading marketing materials and gouging their students?

For those who are unaware of the details, Whittier College decided it had enough of the antics down the street at its eponymously named law school. By "antics", I mean Whittier Law had become a financial liability. Prior to the scamblog and transparency movements, law schools were reliable cash cows for the larger universities and colleges. Now that Whittier Law has ceased to serve this purpose (and is likely costing big bucks for Whittier proper to subsidize it), it has been cast aside like a Whittier Law grad's resume at a respectable law firm - or for that matter any half decent Burger King.

I'd like to think that someone on the Whittier board of trustees looked beyond the dollars and cents and recognized that it was unethical for a school with such pitiful outcomes to be kept afloat. Nonetheless, the decision was probably all about the money. This is fine. It means that word is getting out that one shouldn't go to law school, and if one does, one shouldn't do so without a generous scholarship. The combination of declining enrollment and the need to offer deep discounts for those who do enroll apparently torched Whittier; other schools are likely also feeling the same burn.

In January 2015, I wrote:

This means, that unless the ABA abruptly jettisons all standards, the absolute garbage schools are going to start coming close to the end of the rope. They may be willing to tolerate students who don’t know the difference between long arm statutes and chewing on their own arms, but the state bar examiners won’t be so kind.
...
For many schools, this is the pathway toward a level of financial calamity that was once only reserved for their graduates. Nevertheless, the alternative – academic degradation – will instead send bar passage rates into the cellar (with the attendant possibility of loss of accreditation).

I wish I could claim to be prophetic, but this really was just common sense. (Sorry, I don't know what the stock market will be like in a month nor who will win the World Series.) For the abysmal schools (like the late Whittier Law), when the choice is between liberalizing your admissions policy to enroll barely literate knuckle-draggers or lowering tuition to $99.99/semester (after discount), it's axiomatic that you aren't going be long for this academic world.

As others have pointed out, what makes this so monumental is that this is the first fully ABA accredited institution to bite the dust. Cooley had to close a campus. I think some dinky unaccredited schools closed their doors. Indiana Tech barely took flight before its engine burst into flames. Charlotte Law's board is still shopping around its collective soul to see if there's some way to salvage that scholastic toilet.

The law school scam has been stubborn to roll over. Heck, it has been nearly a decade since the Great Recession wave of scam bloggers were active and this is the first real scalp we've taken.

I know referring to "scalping" isn't exactly politically correct, but I'm actually a bit "liberal" when it comes to Custer's Last Stand. General Custer was an arrogant officer, who couldn't fathom that he could be beaten but a bunch of Indians - sorry, Native Americans, and his hubris cost him his life.

I see a bit of a parallel to the present situation. I have never forgotten an early article about the scam when one dean dismissed us as just a disgruntled minority of graduates. After all, at the time, the law schools were printing money, and we were unemployed and underemployed losers typing away on our free blogging platforms.

Now, however, the tribe is bearing down on the beaten and bloody law school cartel. If the fall of Whittier Law has paved the way for other universities to be so bold, prepare yourselves for the forthcoming massacre, scammers.

In the meantime, play us off, Atlanta Braves fans:


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Villanova Law: A Case Study in Second Tier Employment Outomes

I have to concede, there are times when I truly miss having this blog as an accessible platform to denounce the law school scam. Nevertheless, while I have been a victim of such an insidious system, I have been very blessed in recent years and wallowing in this pool of injustice just isn't healthy. That's why I left my blogging venture behind me years ago.

Moreover, the environment is very different than it was during that tumultuous time. Back then, it was just the bloggers versus the law school cartel. Today, any honest person with a modicum of sense recognizes that the law school emperor has no clothes. Blogging won't move the goal posts any further - only economic and political forces will bring the system crashing down.

Thus, as I have allocated my limited free time, I have resisted the temptation to post my thoughts on such topics as law professors who claim that a law degree virtually guarantees an additional one million dollars in lifetime earnings or the travesty that was the Thomas Jefferson Law School verdict.

I still peruse JD Underground for updates on the scam, and one post recently caught my attention because it included a link to the ABA's compilation of employment statistics - broken down by school.

Many other organizations such as Law School Transparency have extracted and crunched the numbers - exposing most schools as very poor investments. I, however, thought it would be helpful to create a case study of a single second tier school to evaluate the employment outcomes graduates can expect.

I have decided to profile Villanova Law for the class of 2015 (the latest data available). Villanova makes a good case study because it is neither an urban school in the heart of a metropolis like the New York schools nor is in the middle of nowhere like a more rural institution. It has access to the Philadelphia, New York, and DC markets. It also resides in a large state and borders New Jersey and Delaware (which has no law school of its own.)

The conclusions derived from this analysis should be applicable to most schools ranked between 26 and 100 in US News and World Report while graduates from schools ranked lower probably will have worse outcomes. If one disagrees, this analysis can easily be applied to any of the data sets for other schools.

There is no way to directly link to the data set, but the data for the Villanova Law class of 2015 - as well as all other classes/schools - can be downloaded here: http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/

For May 2015 graduates, the survey includes ten months of post-graduate data (i.e. graduates had ten months in which to a find a position in order to be considered "employed").

According to Villanova's own website, tuition and fees are now roughly $43,000 or $129,000 over three years. The school estimates the total cost of attendance (including living expenses) is about $66,000 per year or just under $200,000 for three years. Throw in interest and any undergraduate loans and a graduate could easily find himself approaching $250,000 in debt at graduation.

It certainly would be reasonable for a prospective student to question what type of return he's going to receive if he's going to go a quarter million into the red.

Based upon the hard (and self-reported) numbers compiled by the ABA, a $200k JD is hardly a sound investment.

The data indicates that there were 213 graduates in 2015. After 10 months, 27 were unemployed and seeking employment. That's a 12.7% unemployment rate after nearly a year of job searching. The national unemployment rate in May 2016 was 5.5%. For such a massive investment, graduates are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than the US population as a whole.

The data further notes that 138 of graduates found employment in jobs that require bar admission - the types of jobs people would expect if they graduate law school. This comes out to just under 65% of graduates - or nearly two-thirds of the class.

Of those who are neither employed as attorneys nor unemployed, a smattering (8 students) are not seeking employment, employed by the law school, pursuing another degree, or have been deferred by their employers.

Virtually everyone else has a non-legal job - the bulk of whom are classified as having "JD Advantage" jobs. Only two are listed as being employed in another professional field while two others are listed as being employed in a non-professional field.

(Sidebar: I'm not sure how this proud alumnus' career choice will be classified next year.)

This is where some of the chicanery of self-reported data begins to show. Let's be clear: there is virtually no such thing as an entry level "JD Advantage" job unless you're talking about being a Lexis or Westlaw sales rep or the school is shoving doc review roles into this category. Otherwise, feel free to search the job listings and see just how many non-attorney roles you can find where a company is really looking for someone with a JD.

Trust me, as someone who has had to answer the interview question - "So, why do you have a law degree?" - more times than I can count, a JD confers no advantage.

Anyway, back to the numbers. Given that it's unlikely any of these non-legal positions actually require a law degree, I think it's fair to lump these jobs (JD advantage, professional, and non-professional) together with the number who are unemployed after 10 months. If you add these groups up, the sum is 67. Divide by 213 and you get 31.4%.

This is what I call, the "Worthlessness Factor". These are the people, who after investing in a legal education either can't find a job or can only find a job that could have been secured without enduring the law school ordeal. Therefore, their law degree is essentially worthless.

If you remove the aforementioned special circumstances - the 8 people who pursued an LLM, landed an MRS, etc. - the breakdown is that almost exactly 2/3rds of the class found attorney positions and 1/3rd of the class would have better off buying lotto tickets.

Back when law schools used the the first year to weed out poorly qualified students, they used to scare the 1L's during orientation with a line like, "Look to your left, look to your right. After this year, one of you won't be here." They should amend this adage to read, "Look to your left, look to your right. One of you is essentially going to borrow and flush 200 large right down the toilet."

But what of the other 2/3rds. Theoretically if you can finish in the top two thirds of the class, you should okay, right? Well, let's take a look at the second table where the ABA breaks down the data for those are able to find employment.

It's impossible to link the data from the two tables directly because the categories shift - though we know the unemployed and special cases are no longer included. The "Business and Industry" category roughly matches the size of the "JD Advantage Category" - though some "advantage" jobs may be with the government.

"Business and Industry" - like "JD Advantage" - is also code for "does not require a law degree". Unless, you're offered a role to be a GC for your buddy's hair-brained startup that hawks some crummy mobile app, you're not going to work in a corporate legal office right out of school. It's not surprising that there's overlap between the two categories.

Taking a look at the numbers, let's first look at the number of graduates who landed a position at a firm...any firm: 85. I'm going to calculate the percentage out of the the graduating class as a whole - not just the number employed - because we're looking at overall outcomes for graduates.

The percentage employed at a law firm is pretty dismal: 40% (rounding up). That's right, only 2 out of 5 LAW graduates end working at a law firm. We're not even being selective - this includes everyone from the Skadden bound graduate to the guy working part time for a shady firm located underneath a highway overpass.

Let's examine the breakdown a little more. Most - though not all - law students dream of the elite jobs. The jobs that will produce six figure salaries and will confer upon the attorney the prestige he so desires. When you're talking about six figures of debt, it is probably fair to expect a pretty decent return on that investment.

The jobs that pay such impressive salaries are referred to as BigLaw. BigLaw usually is defined as firms that are larger than 100 employees. According to the ABA data, there are 27 such students (interestingly this is the exact same number as those who are unemployed). It's probably fair to throw in the three graduates who landed federal clerkships because they are likely BigLaw bound.

Combining the various tiers of BigLaw (most fall into the 500+ attorney bucket) and those with federal clerkships, the percentage comes out to 14%. Because maybe one or two other students have a BigLaw caliber government or PI job, we can call it an even 15%.

This isn't horrible for a second tier school. (Typically the cutoff for attaining such a job is being in the top 10%.) Nonetheless, 85% of graduates are walking away with non-elite jobs. That should definitely give anyone pause before assuming a mortgage size student loan balance.

A common fallacy among prospective law students is that even if they fail to land a BigLaw or another elite job, they'll just settle for a "mid law" position. It's a fallacy because the distribution of entry level law firm roles is bimodal rather than normal: the bulk of law jobs aren't at mid-size firms; instead, they are concentrated at the extremes (small law or big law).

The data supports this analysis. If we exclude the 30 students who landed elite jobs, only 8% of the remainder (everyone who didn't land a BigLaw or fed clerkship position) ended up at a firm with between 26 and 100 attorneys. Even if we're generous and count everyone employed by a firm with 11 - 100 attorneys, it only comes out to 15%. That is if you miss the BigLaw ship, you pretty much only have an 8-15% chance of landing a mid law job (most of which are likely uninspiring insurance defense shops paying between $60-80k).

If a graduate does land a law firm role, chances are he or she is going to end up joining a small firm of 2-10 employees. A plurality - 31 graduates with law firm jobs - ended up working for a firm of this size. A majority worked for a firm that was between 2 and 25 attorneys.

While there may always be a small law gem here or there, small firms tend to be the most likely to have high turnover, psychopathic employers, and fail to provide basic benefits that the employees of Starbucks and Whole Foods take for granted. Salaries rarely exceed $50k and may even dip down into the $30k or below range. Because the law schools aren't forced to disclose salary data, we don't know exactly how bad median salaries may be. Nonetheless, you probably don't want to gamble nearly a quarter of a million bucks hoping that this analysis is too pessimistic.

Moreover, of all graduates who end up working for small firms, one out of five of them aren't even employed full time.

The public interest and government employment numbers are probably the hardest to parse, but only about 10% class end up in either category. Even if someone claims that he/she doesn't really want to go into private practice and instead wants to serve the public interest, this isn't a significant portion of the class. These categories presumably include all assistant DA, PD, legal aid, and general bureaucratic (including non-attorney) roles.

Finally, there are state clerkships. Aside from *maybe* one or two graduates who end up working for a state supreme court, these jobs are mostly with low level state courts, don't pay much, and aren't designed to be long term career opportunities. Yes, they can sometimes serve as launch pads for better roles, but often it's a stepping stone to moving to an aforementioned small firm. For every clerk who lands a decent role at a boutique firm, many more will wrap up their New Jersey traffic court clerkships only to be unemployed or left scrounging around for work fighting speeding tickets.

This leads us to another figure, the combined percentage of graduates who end up unemployed, in a non-legal role, working at a small firm, or working in a state court clerkship. This comes out to 62% of the class. If you throw in the "special circumstances" - not looking for work, pursuing an LLM, etc., the number is 66% - just under 2/3rds.

Early on we noted that about 1/3 of the class pretty much has nothing to show for their time in law school. This figure indicates ONLY 1/3 of the class is likely to have a job that even begins to justify the six figure price tag: BigLaw associate, Fed clerk, potentially interesting public/government role eligible for PSLF, or anything that could be theoretically considered a mid law associate role.

Now, I can see someone criticizing these calculations or this analysis. Maybe someone feels I'm too pessimistic or I wasn't consistent in calculating the various rates. My calculations were intended to provide the most clarity regarding prospective employment outcomes, but it's fair to disagree. The numbers are out there and anyone is welcome to drill deeper into the data.

In fact, while I used Villanova's numbers, my point wasn't to vilify this particular school. (I intentionally veered away from mentioning the school's name too often in this post.) It's merely a case study. I hope this blog post will instead serve as a catalyst for prospective students to apply a similar analysis to the school he or she is considering. The breakdown will likely be similar (if not worse) for any school outside of the top 25.

You see, regardless of whether you'd spot the school a few additional percentage points here or there, it doesn't change the overarching analysis. Graduates will still face twice the unemployment rate of the population as a whole. Only around 15% of graduates are going to end up with the type of elite positions most law students covet. Mid Law is hardly a backup plan as it still constitutes a small portion of the class. A full third of the class won't end being attorneys. Most of those who are employed in the legal field are heading to small law or low level clerkships.

This isnt' conjecture, hearsay, or propaganda. This is based upon real, SELF-REPORTED data. As a prospective law student, you have to ask yourself, do I really want to take out a mortgage (in essence) for these results? Do I really want to forgo three years of work experience, retirement savings, etc. to possibly end up as state judicial clerk or personal injury associate pulling down $45k a year?

Obviously the choice is yours, but if you're a potential law student, you're the one - not a smooth talking dean or a law professor with a phony baloney "study" - who will assume the debt and the career options (or lack thereof) with which your degree will saddle you. If you borrow and gamble six figures worth of tuition for a limited chance to get a decent legal job and you lose, there will be no sympathy and no turning back.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Bell Tolls for the Scam



One of the ironies of (at one point) anonymously managing  a blog lamenting the plight of dejected law grads is that I achieved a certain level of fame – most likely the greatest celebrity I will ever experience in my life.

No, it didn’t amount to the fame of a well-known legal scholar nor of even some of my other former “scam blogger” contemporaries. Nevertheless, I certainly never expected to be interviewed or profiled by the National Jurist or the Wall Street Journal.

It was, of course, ironic because all of the attention was directed towards a pseudonymous caricature, and instead of heralding success, it was a byproduct of my miserable condition.

Nevertheless, my anti-LS scam compatriots and I were usually one side of a story that also featured at least one apologist for the reigning system – whether law school dean, an ABA representative, or just a general mercenary for the machine.

In those days, condescending and dismissive remarks were the norm. I remember one dean bemoaning that LS critics tended to make the most noise because they were the most displeased. She further asserted that the majority of graduates were happily and quietly pursuing post-JD endeavors.

We now know this to be nonsense. In the years that have elapsed since this and other blogs have gone dormant, the mainline media has recognized that something is amiss as class after class of law grads are thrust into the unemployment grinder.

The Washington Post, the New York Times, and Slate have all run stories to this effect. If they don’t fully endorse the idea that the law school cartel is managing  a full blown scam, they are at least exploring the repercussions of saddling freshly minted JD’s with mind blowing debt while the schools shout ‘caveat emptor’ and hungrily look towards the next harvest.

Sure, every now and then an apologist pops his head up from the trenches in order to predict the imminent recovery of the legal market or to offer an unpersuasive case for paying the equivalent of three or four Mercedes for an unmarketable degree.

Nobody is buying it, though. The damage has been done. Yes, law schools are still signing up poor naifs who never paid attention to begin with, but class sizes have shrunk drastically. Anyone who has done a modicum of research knows that a nightmare awaits most law grads.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. What changed between 2009 and our present period in which enrollment is tanking, faculty is being axed, and even multi-campus outlets are shuttering some of their satellites?

For one thing, while the conventional wisdom about law school has moved closer to the truth, it still adheres to at least one fallacy: The idea that law school was an A-Okay option prior to 2009.

This was not the case. Yes, between 2003 and 2008, a T-14 degree probably would land you solid employment. Even grades in the top 50% at a top 25 school would make you competitive for large firm jobs.

This more sanguine picture, however, concealed the dark truth about the fates of non-elite students. After three years of study and tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of debt, these students ended up in toilet law legal mills, document review sweatshops, or non-legal roles that would have been easier to secure without the JD.

For years, the strategy of the law school cartel was clear: dangle the ostensible treasures afforded to the top 10% in front of prospective students and then lump toilet law proles and document  review slaves into the ‘ol “Employed – JD required” bucket for reporting purposes.

The masses bought it; the mystique and prestige of the law degree was preserved while unctuous law administrators and professors feasted on the ceaseless blood money flowing from Sallie Mae and Access Group via the financial futures of so many deceived souls. 

It’s little wonder that the perpetrators of the scam saw the crash as more of a hiccup than a catastrophe. In their collective minds, all they needed to do was enjoy the influx of prospective students fleeing an ailing labor market and lie and deny whenever pressed about the fate of their recent graduates.

They reasoned that once the market rebounded, it would be business as usual. There would once again be enough elite, “golden children” to mask the plight of the average graduate, and the scam could start humming along as usual.

The law schools, however, grossly miscalculated the extent of the crash. When the bottom fell out of the legal industry, it didn’t just filter out some participants, it utterly obliterated the sector’s very infrastructure.

Cost conscious firms carefully scrutinized their legal bills in an effort to save costs; the reverberations impacted the entire industry all the way down to the mills and document review.

BigLaw associate classes appear to have permanently shrunk. The ripple effect has made hiring down the chain even more competitive than it previously was. Less funding for public legal resources has introduced added pressure, and the once safe haven of document review – if safe havens can be found in poorly ventilated, converted boiler rooms – is nothing like it used to be.

While the overall economy has more or less rebounded from the Great Recession, the legal industry remains stagnant.

We can quibble about the mechanics of the sorry state of legal employment, but it is undeniable that five years out, there isn’t enough good news for the LS cartel to countervail the tales of debt and despair that dominate legal employment articles.

The economy is likely the best it’s going be during this present expansion, and at some point, there will be another recession. This will bring only further misery to attorneys and further deprecate the law school brand.

The jig is up. Even the slickest deans haven’t been able to spin the situation. Their previously enticing coos of prestige and prosperity sound more and more like a cacophony of used car salesmen trying to unload those jeeps from the 90’s that used to flip over.

This, however, still begs the question why haven’t we seen the cartel collapse under the pressure of these seemingly irresistible economic forces?

The easy answer is to point to the ubiquitous loans and their “generous” repayment terms.

To be sure, were the federal student loans to disappear tomorrow (particularly if coupled with the ability to discharge private loans in bankruptcy), the law school cartel would vanish as well.

Moreover, without GradPLUS loans and the IBR/PAYE repayment plans, the default rate among recent graduates would be astronomical. As depressing and infuriating as the post-law school horror stories are today, the criminality of such a situation would quickly bring the enterprise crashing down whether by the market or the courts.

Nevertheless, from a short term perspective, you can essentially go to law school for free. Moreover, when you graduate, you will never pay more than 10% of your AGI in student loan repayments.

Two hundred large in debt is hard to overlook even under these conditions, but if people really did believe that signing some promissory note and spending three years at school meant entrance into the upper middle class upon graduation, this might still be enticing.

The “free” education argument, however, isn’t washing with more and more prospective law students. Sure, the debt may be “manageable” (though non-repayable), but if there’s no pot of gold at the end of rainbow, why even assume supposedly manageable debt.

The law school machine has been routed in the PR game, yet despite the hits it has taken, no major, accredited law school has fallen.

While discouraging, I am nevertheless optimistic that we’ll eventually see some of the schools give up the proverbial ghost. The student loan elixir has delayed the inevitable, but at some point, market forces will give way to a necessary correction.

It remains to be seen whether the closing of a few law schools will either result in institution wide reform – more practical coursework, lower tuition, and fewer semesters – or simply a reduction in the number of “firms” in this saturated sector.

For the time being, however, law schools have to grapple with the present economics of reduced demand for their services.

With fewer prospective students, law schools only have two unpleasant choices: Reduce tuition and hack away at the scam’s raison d'ĂȘtre or attempt to retain the present cash flow and torpedo the prestige to which these pseudo-august institutions so jealously cling.

There really is no other choice. Bread and circuses won’t fly anymore. If prospective students are unpersuaded that there are ample legal jobs available, no amount of moot court rooms with mahogany benches and cutting edge technology is going to drive them in.

If enrollment continues to decline, maintaining both high academic standards and fiscal solvency will be a difficult feat. There will be a smaller and smaller pool of quality applicants, who will be on the lookout for either bargains or true prestige.

Prospective students will still be courted heavily with scholarship offers from schools that at one time would have been far outside of their leagues. It’s unlikely that the “pedigree” of a top 50 or even 25 school would be enticing in comparison.

As enrollment tanks, this will be a very costly strategy to pursue. Cutting costs could mitigate the impact of decreased revenue from tuition, but less impressive facilities and fewer perks like lavish moot court trips could make law school an even more miserable environment.

Moreover, cutting faculty could mean the availability of fewer interesting courses, and a reduced support staff would likely result in delays in important administrative tasks (transcript requests; graduation verification).

I’m certainly not advocating retaining the largesse of the cartel, but for students with shorter-term time preferences, the loss of such immediate perquisites could serve as disincentives to matriculation.

While reducing tuition either directly or more subtly via increased financial aid is a costly endeavor, sacrificing student quality could be an even more dangerous game.

Schools somewhere in the middle can tolerate poorer LSAT scores and GPA’s for a while. They just need to hope that their peer institutions need to make similar sacrifices, and they can at least hold their relative place in the LS pecking order – for whatever that’s worth.

While the mid-tier schools can try to wait out the rough seas in their metaphorical dinghies of reduced academic standards – awaiting either miraculous salvation or the final storm to take them under – the bottom feeder schools don’t have such luxury.

At first blush, one might see this as business as usual for the true toilet institutions. These schools never really served any purpose but to separate the fool from his money to begin with. What should they care if someone barely signed his name to the LSAT and did nothing else?

While the TTT(T) class of schools may have no problem emptying the local sanatoriums and having classes full of law students drooling on themselves while some old codger drones on with a canned lectured about Penoyer, the ABA may think differently.

Sure, the ABA and related bodies have been pleased to let the cartel run on its merry way, but they are starting to face more pressure. Moreover, even during the heyday of the scam, they were only willing to tolerate a certain bar failure rate.

This means, that unless the ABA abruptly jettisons all standards, the absolute garbage schools are going to start coming close to the end of the rope. They may be willing to tolerate students who don’t know the difference between long arm statutes and chewing on their own arms, but the state bar examiners won’t be so kind.

In summary, as long as conditions remain the same or continue to deteriorate, the law schools are stuck in a vicious cycle of financial decline and academic debasement.

Only the most elite schools – the only ones with any purpose under the present law school model – can attract strong student bodies. Middling schools will have to contend for what were once mediocre matriculants (and will pay heavily for them).

For many schools, this is the pathway toward a level of financial calamity that was once only reserved for their graduates. Nevertheless, the alternative – academic degradation – will instead send bar passage rates into the cellar (with the attendant possibility of loss of accreditation).

The nation’s fixation on higher education at any cost and the undying spigot of student loans mean that law schools still have time to limbo to see how low they can go both financially and academically.

Nonetheless, as mentioned, nothing short of a radical reversal of fortune for the legal labor market will change this trajectory. With this phenomena unlikely, the collapse of the law school scam is all but inevitable if not immediately imminent.

Yes, it would be nice if the courts or the government did their job and pulled the plug on this colossal fraud. Nevertheless, the slow, painful death of the scam is underway even if the government won’t give it the swift execution it deserves.

The law school apologists may be able to grab a few more bucks on the way out. They may even be able deny and continue to spin on their way to their demise, but evidence of the collapse abounds.

Faculty buy-outs are on the rise. One law school is teetering on bankruptcy. Enrollment rates are low as they’ve ever been. Deans are sucking in as many transfer students as possible to try to simultaneously retain revenue and preserve their academic rankings.

Perhaps the most telling sign is that the deans are even marching to war against each other in an academic survival of the fittest. The aforementioned scrounging for transfer students has pitted the American and George Washington deans against each other.

Regardless of the specific observations, the once unsinkable scam has hit the iceberg and is taking on water faster than it can bail it out.

When I was consistently blogging about five years ago, the debate was somewhat theoretical. It was a political debate like the death penalty or tax policy. Each side had their own arguments and metrics.

Sure, the anti-scam movement was correct, but in the same way you may feel you’re correct about the political issue de jure. Someone is always going to disagree with you, and the debate will often get lost in a morass of competing statistics, rhetorical barbs, and outright insults.

While debates over philosophy and theory may be difficult to resolve, debates over the feasibility of a commodity are subject to a market test. A business owner (or shifty law dean) can proclaim to the world that his product is the best, but if the masses believe he’s hawking overpriced schlock, he’s out of business.

Sure, he can believe that consumers are fools and they don’t know what they’re missing, but that will be all the consolation he will have as he fills out the bankruptcy paperwork.

I began this article with the irony of attaining “fame” while guarding my anonymity, so let me end with another unexpected twist.

At one point, the law school cartel and I actually had the same thought process. We both assumed the secret sauce of their scam just needed two ingredients: Easy money (in unlimited student loans) and a healthy dose of marketing deception.

In the case of the law school cartel, the realization of this miscalculation has resulted in the gnashing of teeth as they recognize Rome is burning. For me, however, it is an unexpected signal that - after all the debt, despair, and ruin imposed by the law school machine – an immoral empire will eventually be brought to its knees.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Questions that No Law School Dean Will Ever (Truthfully) Answer

I'm in the process of preparing some new useful (I hope) content for Finding a Non Legal Job. In the meantime, I decided to take another crack at a traditional "scam blog" article.

Above the Law has recently started running a series on law school success stories. It profiles law graduates who claim to be better off thanks to their J.D.'s. To be fair to ATL, they have published a number of stories about the difficulty in finding legal employment and some of the associated problems with law schools. They also disclaim that these success stories aren't necessarily representative of the environment awaiting heavily indebted and poorly trained law school graduates.

That said - what is the point of these stories other than to blunt the increasingly dominant message that law school in it's present form is a bad investment and needs to be seriously restructured? While law school critics rightly point out that the full employment statistics churned out by the law schools are borderline fraudulent data, nobody claims that there is a 100% UNemployment rate either. I have no doubt that there are a decent number of graduates who find at least OK jobs, and some subset of this group may even really enjoy their work (or at least their salaries).

Focusing on this subset is nothing new for law school apologists. One of the charges these folks make against law critics is that these critics just couldn't hack it in the law, so they're projecting their own dissatisfaction. I saw a comment on JD Underground the other week alleging this very thing.

Quibbling over this charge isn't particularly fruitful. Yes, some anti-law school commentators didn't make it too far in the law. Some did. The diversity among the opponents of the law school cartel is too great to ascribe a single underlying motive to the entire movement.

While I never went down the path of practicing law, I do know some peers who appear to be happy with their decisions to become attorneys. This doesn't matter. I congratulate anyone who has found success in the law (or any other field). I don't object to people becoming lawyers. Lawyer jokes aside, society does need a certain number of attorneys to write contracts, prosecute/defend criminals, etc.

The objection isn't to the desire others may have to become attorneys. The objection is to the law school system which: 1) knowingly plunges its students into untenable levels of debt 2) fails to provide these students with marketable skills, and 3) pumps out more graduates than the market can absorb into an industry that will only pay a select few (of those lucky enough to find relevant employment) anything approaching a reasonable salary.

Yes, some graduates are satisfied with their post law school opportunities, but highlighting this cohort is just a tactic law schools use to deflect criticism regarding the far larger carnage their collective greed has inflicted onto everyone else.

The law school deans and related apologists are quite skilled at trotting out their success stories. After all, these expert marketers are great at dismissing serious objections and instead offering well engineered PR campaigns, but here are some questions I'd love hear the law school deans address...

  • Do you honestly believe that it's worth $150k to $200k plus for a degree from your school?
  • Does your answer change if you knew that most experts believe you shouldn't borrow more than you expect to make your first year out of school?
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  • Doesn't that reasonable rule preclude most of your students from attending your institution?
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  • In the cases of particularly heavy debt loads, doesn't that preclude ALL students from attending your school? (The absolute highest starting salary even at Big Law is $180k.)
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  • Law school tuition has increased considerably over the past decade, do you honestly believe the benefit of attending law school has justified this?
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  • If you said yes, are you saying that you dismiss all the reports of the terrible job market over the past couple of years?
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  • If yes, could you please explain why there are Craiglist ads offering $30k-$40k for entry level attorneys with top credentials?
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  • Do you believe that $30k - $40k is reasonable compensation for someone who undertook three years of graduate education at the cost of six figures worth of debt?
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  • If so, would you make this investment?
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  • Would you encourage a family member or close friend to make such an investment?
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  • Do you believe it's possible to live a normal life with such a salary and loan repayment obligations?
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  • Would you feel comfortable raising a family under such a scenario?
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  • Would you swear under oath that the employment statistics your school publishes are the truth - the whole truth - and nothing but the truth?
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  • If yes, would your answer change if this means that the figures aren't based on partially reported data; don't include temporary work; don't include working for the school (except in a long term, professional capacity); don't include menial non-legal jobs; don't include paralegal jobs; don't include entry level, non-legal jobs that were pursued only as default options?
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  • Your schools likely lists roughly 10-25% of its graduates filling "business" or "corporate" jobs - Do you believe all (or at least the vast majority) of these jobs are serious professional positions?
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  • Would you swear that none of these jobs are simple service sector jobs that could be filled by someone without even a college degree?
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  • Assuming 10 - 25% of your graduating class ends up with non-legal jobs, do you honestly believe 10 to 25% of your class willingly enrolled in your school to end up NOT being attorneys?
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  • If yes, do you honestly believe that there are any employers that are specifically seeking (or strongly desire) non practicing recent law graduates?
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  • Can you name ten such employers?
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  • Can you name one?
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  • Do they pay anything close to your advertised average starting salary?
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  • Do you honestly believe that the average starting salary reported by your school accurately reflects what an average student will make after graduation?
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  • If you answered yes, and I survey ten students ranked in the middle of your class, how many of them do you think will make within $10,000 of the average starting salary the year after law school?
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  • Will any of them?
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  • What if we exclude document review?
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  • Do you believe temporary document review is reasonable employment for a licensed attorney who completed three years of schooling at your institution?
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  • If yes, would you personally be happy reviewing electronic documents for relevance as your sole professional task?
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  • If no, and you stand behind the published salary data your school offers, why do so many of graduates end up in this line of work?
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  • Once again, assuming you stand by your salary data, why was this an issue even (or particularly) before the recession?
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  • Do you believe any students would have really enrolled in your school if they knew they would have to work long term in document review?
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  • Do you believe that students would have enrolled in your school if they knew they would end up in small personal injury law, low level insurance defense law, debt collection, or landlord tenant law?
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  • If so, would you have been happy working in these areas of law after receiving an expensive graduate degree and forgoing three years in the workforce?
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  • Do you believe that after three years at your LAW school, your students are capable of actually practicing law?
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  • If so, would you be willing to be represented by any recent graduate assuming he/she passes the bar?
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  • Do you honestly believe there are enough law or related jobs available to employ your graduates after they enter the workforce?
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  • If so, why is there story after story in any number of mainline publications discussing the number of unemployed law graduates?
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  • If not, do feel any culpability for leaving a generation of law graduates indebted and unemployed?
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  • How do you sleep at night?
 
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