Monday, May 1, 2017

The Baghdad Bob of the Law School Scam


Were you ever convinced that the Iraqi army would repel and defeat the invading U.S. forces in 2003? If you lived in Iraq and only listened to Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf's broadcasts you may have been so persuaded. Better known as "Baghdad Bob", this colorful propaganda minister was widely ridiculed pretty much everywhere outside of the Middle East for his bombastic and disingenuous predictions that Iraq would prevail against the American onslaught.

Enter Stephen Diamond, who has been dubbed by some of our friends at JD Underground as the "Baghdad Bob of the Law School Scam". Like his Iraqi counterpart, reality has little bearing on this man's pronouncements and predictions. Diamond wasn't particularly active at the start of the scam blogging movement, but over the years, as the walls of the scam have begun to crumble, he has become one of the more vocal defenders of the law school cartel.

Like some of his compatriots, he has sought to dismiss criticism of the scam as gross exaggerations of the public service I'm sure he thinks (or wants others to think) that he provides. Periodically, Diamond chimes in with claims that the employment market for lawyers has improved and all the anti-law school hysteria will soon be put to rest. Here's an example from early 2015.

Apparently, this extraordinary rebound in the attorney labor market couldn't save Indiana Tech or (more recently) Whittier Law from taking academic dirt naps (to say nothing of plunging enrollment and revenue at law schools across the board). Undeterred, the good professor's latest foray into the post law school employment discussion was made in conjunction with Whittier's announced closing: He points to some irrelevant uptick in the legal market in Orange County and then sits back expecting us to deduce that this means the average Whittier grad has nothing to fear at graduation.

Like the actual Baghdad Bob, the man is just blowing smoke while the tanks come rolling in. Similar to most law school defenders, Diamond treats all law graduates equally in his "analysis". A generally improving labor market for attorneys may be just dandy for those BigLaw practitioners with several years of experience under their belts. It doesn't really mean much, however, to those toiling away in document review, sharing desks with debt collectors in some shady "small law opportunity", or who aren't even practicing law. It also means little to most Whittier grads who are likely to both end up in one of the aforementioned sorry scenarios and have a $170k+ bounty on their heads.

Let's put Diamond's thoughts on Whittier to the side for a minute, though. After all, what brought Diamond to prominence in the law school scam debate wasn't his incisive analysis of labor economics. Instead, it was his penchant for bizarre conspiracy theories. While he may be a political liberal, when it comes to defending the cartel, Diamond goes full "Alex Jones" on us.

When David Lat wrote an anti-LS op-ed in the Washington Post, Diamond first hinted that his grasp on reality may be a couple bucks short of a full student loan payment: "Above the Law’s David Lat was let into the pages of the Washington Post today in an attempt to feed the beast of myth making about law school. This is becoming a bit of a habit at the Post which recently allowed one of its own columnists to mislead the public about law schools as I explained here. Perhaps it’s the influence of their new owner, Jeff Bezos, known to lean libertarian."

Whatever one thinks of libertarianism, it would be pretty hard to argue that the Washington Post is exactly its flagship publication. Nonetheless, in Diamond's mind, if the libertarians haven't yet fully infiltrated the Post, they are at least the driving force behind the anti-scam movement: "It's a "fact" that this crowd is out to destroy the American law school and higher education itself as an institution. That is the clear goal of the Koch Brothers backed Cato Institute. Anyone who tries to deny that is either collaborating in that effort or naive beyond belief. I have made this crystal clear from the earliest days in which I joined this debate. " (Comment @ Apr 30, 2015 6:16:48 PM)

One would assume, friend of this blog, Paul Campos, who shares Diamond's liberalism but not his alternative reality, would dispute that he's just a tool in the Koch brothers' nefarious scheme to destroy the social welfare state by forcing people like Diamond to get a job that isn't funded on the back of 20 somethings assuming six figures of debt.

It's clear that all is not well on Planet Diamond, but what of his recent comments on Whittier Law biting the dust? As mentioned, he ties some moderate improvement in the local economy to (yet another) predicted boom, which will leave the average Whittier grad rolling in dough - or being able to fight Trump - or both!

Diamond, however, goes further; it's not just that he thinks Whittier may have been in a dire but salvageable situation. No, in his eyes, Whittier Law made a BIG mistake. Let's get this straight - this is a school with only a 22% bar passage rate, 30% employment in ANY JD required job, and where students graduate with an average debt load of $179 large - and he can't fathom that's there's any reasonable justification for closing the school down???

Of course, "Baghdad Bob" Diamond won't even concede that the sub 25% bar passage rate is cause for concern. On this one, he just outsources the analysis to his fellow law school apologist, Professor Simkovic. (Comment @ Apr 24, 2017 9:27:01 PM) This isn't surprising as Simkovic is the Michael Jordan to Diamond's Scottie Pippen when it comes to spinning LS employment data given his million dollar JD guarantee. Of course, even if Whittier's bar passage rate doubled, that would still be pretty pathetic.

Diamond, however, isn't content just to serve up this thin, Simkovic brand gruel. Once it became clear nobody was willing to swallow his malarkey, he became agitated, and in a Ron Artest-like fashion, jumped into the metaphorical stands throwing rhetorical haymakers - complaining about cyber-bullying, conspiracy theories, and racism(??). (For example, "Unfortunately they won't get any help from at least one past president of the AALS despite his leading role in pushing for a racially insensitive bar passage standard. " [Comment @ Apr 25, 2017 12:12:03 PM])

Sure, Diamond and co. are more than happy to speak of access to law school for minorities, so that the trodden can exercise their inalienable right to pay people like him lots of money for very little in return. Once these URM's are out the door and saddled with $200k in debt and lousy job prospects, for some reason it seems like his egalitarian impulse isn't quite as strong.

In fact, while we've made much of this august scholar's tenuous grasp on reality, there's also a distinct lack of compassion on his part for any graduate: whether black, white, or purple. You see, most of Diamond's (et. al.) arguments about employment hinge on the idea that the legal market's woes are purely the result of the recession. Sure, for the elite graduates, times were good before the crash, but the document review cesspools were operating at full tilt long before the downturn. Furthermore, freshly minted JD's, who had  expected reasonable working conditions after graduation, were toiling away in sadistic legal mills for terrible pay, and plenty of students cut their losses and found jobs that didn't require a JD prior to 2009.

What about people in these situations either pre or post recession, Diamond? Do you just deny they exist? Are they myths perpetrated by the Cato Institute/Illuminati/Lizard-People cabal, which is apparently behind the rest of the transparency movement?

It's amazing how much ink the law school scam defenders will spill as they seek to exploit every avenue to justify a system that charges too much, fails to train attorneys, and offers lousy job prospects. In their zeal to defend their paychecks, however, they'll nary give one thought to someone who just wanted a decent career but now spends day after day mindlessly clicking a mouse in a document review sweatshop just to stay afloat. How about those who look at their monthly Navient statements in despair and see a debt that can never be repaid and will inhibit home ownership or having a family? Would one of the law school apologist professors really want to trade places with someone "practicing" cut-n-paste, slip-n-fall law in a shady back office?

I could go on, but I'm sure Diamond and co.'s response would be that I'm just making things up or relying on a few isolated anecdotes. After all, if he can look at the abysmal employment figures and deny there's a problem, nothing is going to move him.

Of course, it's pretty understandable why he's treating the fall of Whittier like Christendom treated the fall of Constantinople. You see, Diamond teaches at nearby Santa Clara. Like Whittier, SC is a lower tier school, which also "boasts" pretty lousy numbers of its own: 28% unemployment rate (class of 2015) and only 40% actually employed as attorneys. For the time being, a majority are able to pass the bar (66%), but given their student profile, who knows how long that will last?

The Turks are in range: With declining revenue and no real prestige, it probably wouldn't be farfetched to predict that that the larger university will eventually pull the plug on Santa Clara law and with that Diamond's cushy job.

I remember reading a sports publication where a journalist was talking to a recently graduated frat bro. His description of the the despair of the poor young man whose life had transitioned from the frat house to the corporate cubicle was palpable. You could practically see the tears in this guy's eyes as he recounted how he was cast out of his bacchanalian world of sleeping until noon and partying like a rock star into one that featured fighting traffic and calculating sales figures in Excel.

Like the Whittier Law faculty, so too may Diamond very well be cast out of his own academic paradise. Sorry, bro - it's time to get an actual job, but don't worry, I hear the market for attorneys in Orange County is quite strong.

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:


 
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