Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't be a Chump

In law school I used to keep odd hours. Studying, awkward class schedules, and anxiety about the future will do that to you. Therefore, I spent a decent amount of time watching late night/early morning TV. I only had basic cable, so there wasn't too much available to watch at 3 A.M. A man can only take watching "Celtic Pride" on TBS so many times, so I often resorted to flipping through the channels to see if there was any refuge in this backwater of the television schedule.

Not surprisingly, most of the programming at this hour was "paid programming" where various hucksters tried to sell viewers (who were usually already down on their luck) on an assortment of marginally legal products and "systems". If the late night infomercials are to be believed, we could all have chiseled bodies, be free of disease for life, and increase the size of...*ahem*...well, you get the point.

While potency pills, acne creams, and outright medical voodoo all occupied the late night circuit, the king of the nocturnal scam was the get rich quick scheme. Everyone had a "system" to sell, nay, "share" with you. You could purchase dilapidated properties and "flip" them. You could sell all sorts of merchandise to other Heck, there were even currency swapping systems for the truly ambitious. I mean how hard could it be to profit from currency exchange? It's not like you need to know anything about finance or international economics, right?

Just for fun, I used to Google these scams, and there were more than a few people who got burned on these deals. Some really got hosed - losing perhaps tens of thousands of dollars (if not more). Usually, the get rich schemes encouraged their victims to continuously invest in new "training", products, or leads.

It's not hard to get upset at the the charlatans that push these scams. They don't produce anything of value and prey on the sorts of vulnerable people who watch late night television (the unemployed, the depressed, and students). It's also easy to feel sympathy for those who get taken for a ride. They may have driven themselves into massive credit card debt or blown their life savings chasing some phantom prosperity.

On the other hand, as the adage goes, "You can't cheat an honest man." Sure, the purveyors of these schemes are as slimy as they come, but what about those who are duped? In order to fall for the scam one has to believe that all of the "chumps" who go to work every day just haven't been fortunate enough to see this infomercial. "Don't they know they could be making thousands of dollars a week in their spare time by just using Joe Blow's special program?"

How reasonable is it to believe that some guy on a fake talk show set at 3 A.M. on channel 72 has a guaranteed method for making you wealthy beyond your dreams? Is the bimbo, sporting too much cleavage (to keep you from flipping back to Crank Yankers on Comedy central) really interviewing people who "just tried Joe's system" and now own a yacht for every day of the week? Can anyone really believe that you can become fabulously wealthy with no work, special talents, or risk?

Of course, believing any of this baloney isn't reasonable, yet people still fall for it. The reason is somewhat simple - people want to believe it. They want to believe that there's a quick way to "beat the system", but at the end of the day, they end up being the real chumps.

Does this this strike a bit close to home for many law students/law graduates? Maybe it should. Now, our decision was a bit more justifiable than the get rich quick dupes. After all, few parents push their kids into becoming one of "Joe Blow's Special Partners". Society, not a bunch of "actual success stories" tells us that being an attorney is to be a member of a coveted profession. It's established institutions of higher learning, not some fly by night operation, that stand behind and promote their law schools. Nevertheless, we really should have made a more responsible decision.

Think about what one has to believe if he goes to law school: I know how I'm guaranteed to get a good paying job and start off on a path to a great career. All I need to do is enroll in a graduate school that pretty much anyone who was smart enough to get into college can get into. I need to graduate from said school (which is virtually guaranteed at all but the worst schools) and pass a test that about 80% or more people pass on the first attempt. It doesn't matter if I have to borrow as much as some people take out in mortgages to finance my education (even if the debt is not dischargeable). Even though I won't gain any specific skills and have the same degree and license that thousands of other people receive every year, I'm guaranteed to be employed at a great job with a salary vastly superior to my friends who only have undergraduate degrees.

Sorry folks, there's no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. You're not going to make thousands of dollars your first week by flipping houses that nobody else wanted and a piece of paper from a non-Ivy league school isn't going to let you bypass the process of climbing the career ladder. I'll admit it - I was a chump. Please don't be one as well - oh, and the law school "system" doesn't have a 30 day money back guarantee.

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