Thursday, January 7, 2010
Update: If you look at the comments section, you'll see there are a number of Richmond graduates who have weighed in. Whether all of these comments are the genuine opinions of Richmond alumni is questionable. Nevertheless, I remain incredulous that I just so happened to pick on the one TTT that's playing an honest game. In fact, after re-watching the video I'm pretty sure I'm not.
If there are honestly some happy Richmond grads, fair enough. I'm sure Brooklyn, Seton Hall, and Loyola (LA) also have their defenders. The fact of the matter is that the implication that the school's proximity to national firms and large corporations will lead to solid employment opportunities (except for the top of the class) is misleading. Emphasizing the city life (particularly of a dump like Richmond), the on campus activities, and the scholarship credentials of the professors are absolutely irrelevant.
Every school claims to have "practical training". Everyone touts how wonderful their career service office is, yet outside of the elite schools, I've never heard a kind word about a CSO. (In fact, the only reason why the CSO's at the elite schools were effective is because they could just hand their student job opportunities. Now that the economy is in the tank, even their scams have been uncovered.) Studying abroad in law school is simply absurd.
All of these "soft factors" seem to be present at every other school, yet they haven't kept non-Richmond students out of the doc review or PI salt mines or the unemployment line. Trust the comments if you'd like, but don't say you weren't warned.
Okay, class, today we're going to begin our lesson with a video. To get the most out of this post, turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and click play on the above Youtube video. When you're done, please continue reading the next paragraph.
If you watched the clip, you know that it's an admissions video for the University of Richmond School of Law. Now, I don't know anything about UR Law. I'm not picking on them because I think it's a particularly fraudulent school - honestly, I haven't heard much about it good or bad. It's probably not the Seton Hall of the South, but let's face it, I think it's fair to be skeptical of a school that's ranked #77 according to US News and makes some pretty bold assertions in its promotional videos.
I actually just typed in "law school" in the Youtube search engine to see if A Law School Carol is among the first results - fortunately it is on the first page, which means some 0L's looking for information about law school will stumble upon it. Unfortunately, for UR Law, their video also popped up, and I decided to take a look.
It has been a while since I've viewed an admissions video. Now, however, instead of viewing it through the lens of an eager 0L looking towards a new career, I'm looking at it through the eyes of a man who has been shot out of the back of the law school garbage chute.
The law school apologists rebuke us for not doing more research before we enrolled in law school. I'm not exactly sure where an 0L is supposed to get a realistic view of the post-law school employment outlook- aside from these blogs, which the law school defenders do so loathe - but it definitely isn't found in these marketing materials.
Let's take a look at what this lower ranked, tier 2 school promises by analyzing the above video clip.
Part 1: The University of Richmond Experience
In the first minute of the video, a number of different UR personalities appear on screen promising an environment that is supportive, welcoming, and with unparalleled scholarship. Now, there's nothing wrong per se with making these assertions, but it's amazing how the much law schools try to emphasize factors like these in their promotional materials.
It's very nice that professors and staff are supportive of the students - though I'd wait to see it to believe it - but things like this really have little impact on the primary purpose of a professional school: getting a job. Nobody is going to hire you because your professor patted you on your head or even published some esoteric article in the New Mexico Journal of Environmental Law and Spelunking.
Part 2: Career Options
This is where the video starts to become absurd if not downright offensive. After an unnecessary video montage, a narrator begins to talk about how Forbes magazine has ranked Virginia as the number one state for business - whatever that means. (I'm a little skeptical of "official" magazine ratings these days.)
First of all, it's Virginia not Richmond that has received Forbes' accolades, and I'm pretty sure a lot of that business success is due to the high tech rich area of NORTHERN Virginia (i.e. an area not exactly next door to Richmond). Second of all, why does this even matter? This is a law school, not a business school.
The school apparently wants us to make the logical leap that if Virginia is doing well economically and Richmond is the capital of Virginia, ergo Richmond is thriving economically. If you don't want to argue with that iron clad logic, let's hear them out as to the rest of their justifications: The narrator claims that Richmond is home to a number of international and national law firms, large corporations, and various other potential employers.
Right, of course, to have any shot at these heralded law firms, a graduate from a 2TT like Richmond is probably going to need to be at least in the top 15%. What about everyone else? How about those great corporations? Sorry, having a law degree makes you either unqualified or overqualified for any of their employment opportunities as well.
Maybe the video should have mentioned if those mega-firms had any need for temporary document reviewers. It could have at least given us a tour of the local PI firms and debt collection agencies. I think that would be a lot more helpful in deciding if URichmond Law is the place to go.
Part 3: Richmond: Cultural Hub of the World?
So, of all the things one could think to talk about regarding law school, the third thing on their list is apparently to extol the thriving culture of the city of Richmond. Uh, we are talking about Richmond, Virginia, right?
I don't know what cultural attractions they're talking about. I'll take their word about the robust night life because from what I've seen, I don't think I would want to even be in Richmond after dark. I remember in college some friends were trying to find a hotel to spend the night in Richmond. They pulled into one motel parking lot to ask about spending the night and some guy came after them with a baseball bat! That must have been the welcoming committee.
I'll spare you the rest of my anti-Richmond anecdotes, but once again, what on earth does this have to do with law school? Even if Richmond is "the place to be", I don't see what it having some restaurants and shops has anything to do with securing employment after graduation (ignoring the obvious joke).
Part 4: It's Like Going to College Again
So, the fourth thing they can say about their school is that you can essentially relive your college experience with a close knit community and all of the amenities of the undergrad campus. Uh, you do know that you can join a gym, buy a museum pass, and find way to make new friends for a tad less than the price of mortgaging your entire future, right?
Part 5: It's Pretty Much Like Any Other Law School
Richmond has some court houses. The school or at least its satellite campus is near those courthouses. Right, so was my school and most other schools I visited. Not exactly impressive.
I also thought that the comment that U Richmond is the only law school in the city was pretty weak. Yeah, I'm sure that will give one a leg up over students from William and Mary, Washington and Lee, and UVA when it comes time for hiring. Funny how they emphasize being in VA when it suits them and specifically being in Richmond when that claim makes them look better.
Part 6: All Roads Lead to Document Review
The next section gives an overview of all the academic paths a student can take like picking up an additional degree (two worthless diplomas are better than one) or work for some institute for developing unmarketable skills.
I found the "Institute for Actual Innocence" to be a particularly funny title. As opposed to all those other defendants, their clients are actually innocent.
Judge: Do you have a plea?
Intern: Your honor, my client actually is innocent.
Judge: Well, why didn't you say so? Case dismissed.
Part 7: The Keys to Admission
There's some more malarkey about U Richmond having a collegial environment, but then we get a real treat, the Assistant Dean of Admissions tells us how to get into into this illustrious institution of higher learning.
She tells that she that she wants to admit applicants who bring something special to the table (something that distinguishes them). I was about to retort - like an LSAT score that won't further erode their US News ranking - but then she goes on to claim that it's not just about the numbers.
Here, however, is the best part of video with the best unintentional humor I've seen in a while. As soon as she finishes saying "...it's what you have besides the numbers that excites us", the camera immediately shifts to a shot of a black woman. Hilarious. Translation: It's about the numbers unless you happen to be able to help us out with meeting our diversity quota.
Part 8: Unemployment Services
There's actually another unintentional admission in this segment. The narrator says that the school is there to help students from the first day until they are admitted to the bar. The next interviewee is the representative from career services. Translation: Once you're out the door, good luck actually finding a job.
There's some more junk about one on one career services counseling - I'll save my own experiences for a later post. They also carry on some more about the professors and clinics.
There is, however, a choice quote that I find amusing:
One student claims that you'll learn what you're going to be doing after graduation while still in school. Really? They have course work on document review, collecting unemployment, and working at the local mall? Maybe they're right, they do offer practical experience.
Part 9: Goof-Off Abroad
Do I really need to say anything? How on earth does studying abroad assist you in gleaning legal skills. Everybody knows this is this just an expensive vacation designed to boost a sagging GPA. "Ordinarily, we wouldn't hire somebody with you class rank, but wait, what's this, you studied abroad in Guatemala this summer? Welcome aboard!"
Part 10: Conclusion: Come to Richmond Law; We're Not Like the Others
One professor claims that Richmond is dedicated to providing practical experience to students, but she really only mentions court room experience. My school's idea of practical experience was essentially to throw us all into a bunch of trial practice classes. Of course, most attorneys don't actually spend a lot of time conducting full blown trials, so this experience isn't really all that practical.
There's also a federal judge who claims that every student who has worked for him has performed at the A+ level. Of course, that's probably because, as a federal judge, he literally only works with A+ students. Tough luck for everyone else.
Finally, the assistant dean of admissions claims the Richmond law school experience is all about outcomes and they want to help their students get whatever results they want. Well, what I think most of their graduates want (or will eventually want) is not be saddled with six figures worth of debt and to have some viable employment prospects. Sadly, unless Richmond tells them to find something else to pursue, I don't think their graduates' wishes will come true.
Now, I've given Richmond Law a hard time in this post. I think if you produce indefensible marketing materials which will persuade students to hand over their futures in return for a meaningless degree (regardless of whether they "should have done more research"), you deserve such ridicule.
Nonetheless, Richmond is hardly alone in producing such nonsense. I'm sure even the bottom of the barrel TTTT's have similar videos promising their applicants the moon. Of course, at the end of the day, when the debt has piled up and the young maiden of law school admissions, whispering sweet nothings into your ears has morphed into the shriveled hag of law school graduation, yelling obscenities at you as she pushes you out the door, the results will be the same across the board: The law school administrators will shrug and say you should have done more research beforehand as they hand you a quarter and tell you to call somebody who cares.
University of Richmond Law STUDENTS (past or present), have I been unfair to your school? Is the city of Richmond some sort of legal Xanadu that we should all pile into the car and head to a la the Joad family in the Grapes of Wrath? Is Richmond really one of the few schools that actually provides you with practical training that is truly marketable at graduation? Or, as I suspect, is it just another TTT ripoff factory? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.