Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Craigslist Test

"You should have done more research before going to law school."

If you've spent anytime criticizing the law school industry over the internet (or beyond), you've almost certainly encountered the above retort - or at least some variation of it. I'm not exactly sure what it's supposed to prove. If anything it seems to be a tacit admission that law school is indeed a scam - but that the victims got what they deserved.

If it's actually intended to be a defense of law school, it's a poor one.

For one thing, even if we agree that all law students are uninformed naifs who deserved to be taken advantage of, this hardly justifies the existence of the law school cartel - particularly when it's underwritten by an endless supply of federal student loans.

For another, as I've mentioned before, few of us are interested in having a "cyber pity party". All of the sympathy in the world can't reverse the mistake of going to law school. Criticism of the law schools can, however, encourage potential students not to make the same mistake and may even encourage future reforms.

Of course, the assumption that every disaffected law school graduate simply decided to apply to take the LSAT and send in their application materials on a whim (and at quite the expense) is absurd. Many law students do put in the effort to determine if they want to be attorneys. Sadly, most of the information they have is incredibly biased.

Take the employment/salary data that is compiled by the law schools (without an independent audit) and then regurgitated by US News and the LSAC. This data isn't just "slightly off" or a component of "creative marketing". It's a well engineered distortion.

It's not that the average student is only making $70k when the stats claim the average student makes $90k. It's that students are pulling in $40k (or even south of that post-recession) without benefits despite the misleading figures, or that the only students actually earning such "salaries" (once again, pre-recession) were prols working in some subterranean sweatshops reviewing documents. (To say nothing of the schools' attempts to hide unemployment numbers by temporarily hiring recent graduates, counting part-time jobs at Five Guys, or outright lying.)

If you think I'm too concerned with salary data, I submit that the same distortions also are made by the legal media and the schools when it comes to their claims about practical training that the law schools allegedly provide and the overall utility of a law degree.

Moreover, all of this information about law school is being provided by established publications and supposedly august institutions of higher learning. This isn't some fly-by-night internet get-rich-quick scheme. I'm sorry that kids in their 20's are so trusting that they're willing to believe that even if established institutions may embellish things a little that they wouldn't outright hoodwink them out of $100k and sentence them to a life of debt slavery.

If the whole point of law school was to convince me to never trust anyone again: mission accomplished.

Personally, I think I did do a reasonable amount of research before attending law school. I purchased US News' grad school guide. I read a number of different articles about law school. I spoke to people I knew who had enrolled in law school. I spoke to practicing attorneys. I solicited advice from on-line forums. I went to law school open houses (including admitted students day at my eventual 2TT alama mater). Only a scant few of these sources offered any caution about attending law school - certainly nobody conveyed that it would be a complete disaster.

Should I have done even more research? Evidently.

Nevertheless, virtually all sources from the misleading marketing materials produced by the schools to the pro-law school school propaganda found in US News' annual guide to graduate schools to the various pre-law hucksters at undergraduate institutions insist that law school is a good investment.

In fact, with few exceptions, these anti-law school blogs are the only consistent source of criticism against law school machine. (A few more neutral sources such as Above the Law and other less law school focused blogs heroically - but too infrequently - also sound the alarm against the scam.)

Contradictorily (but hardly surprisingly), the same law school apologists, who insist that we've forfeited our right to "whine" because we failed to conduct due diligence before attending law school, seem to hate these blogs (and other internet protests against LS). Where exactly do these law school lackeys expect prospective students to find accurate information (or at least the opposing perspective) about law school? Certainly not the NALP, not US News, not the mainline media, not most older attorneys, and for Pete's sake, not the freakin' law schools.

Of course, the apologists aren't all that concerned about prospective law students making informed decisions. Instead, they're more interested in defending the schools, waxing nostalgic about what it was like to graduate in 1972, or just being jerks in general.

When it comes to incoming law students, however, perhaps the apologists have little to fear. After all, applications are up and law students are notoriously hard headed about listening to those of us who have already been hosed by the LS diploma mill racket.

For example, here's a recent comment I received to a much older blog post:

I just stumbled upon your blog and I am sorry to hear about all that you are going through. I know it must be hard. However, you have some maturing to do. How old are you? This is life. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Sometimes our efforts do nothing to move us forward in life. Other times, we are blessed with things we never imagined. I know you worked hard for your degree and you spent a lot of money to obtain it. But my advice for you would be to take the life lessons you are learning right now and keep moving forward. I am a young woman who has experienced a deep career disappointment as well even with impeccable work experience. I plan on going to law school. But I know it does not mean that I will have a six figure salary. What it means is that I worked hard for something that I wanted in my life and I hope for the best. If the worst comes, then I will take that and make another career move. I do hope you find a position soon. It is very heart breaking to be unemployed and yet highly educated. But also realize that this is life. We are never guaranteed success and fortune. We are not even guaranteed the next day. We however do have to take what we been given and make the most of it. And besides, you never know what will happen in the future. Best of luck.

Now, to the commenter's credit, this is a much nicer note than I receive from most of my critics. Nevertheless, she's still is under the impression that the purpose of this blog is just to whine about my station in life. (Hey, that's only a half truth!) She fails to recognize that there is something fundamentally wrong with legal education (if not education overall) in this country, and she could very well end up holding the same bag of law school manure the rest of us chumps are saddled with at the end of her three years.

Obviously, we can't reach everybody, but I can understand that the heavy cynicism and harshly critical attitude that you sometimes (okay - often) find in the anti-law school blogosphere can sometimes undermine our credibility.

For those of you prospective law school students that feel that way - and for those of you who know prospective students that are about to walk the plank - let me propose a neutral test to determine if law school really seems like a good idea. I call it "The Craigslist Test".

I assume most people know what Craigslist is. (For those who don't, it's pretty much an on-line classified ad website - broken down by cities and regions.) One feature with which most law graduates are amply familiar is its job listing section. Craigslist even has a specific section dedicated just to legal jobs.

Here's the test. Choose a city. Choose your city. Choose a better city. Choose multiple cities. It doesn't matter. Now, check out the number of job listings there are for attorneys - particularly for entry level attorneys. Can't find too many? That's not a big surprise. If you can't find any, here's one.

But, wait, that's just the recession talking, right? Well, to answer that, let's move on to step two. Now compare the number of attorneys positions with the number of other positions available. Chances are you'll find plenty of advertisements for financial analysts, accounts receivable clerks, sale managers, etc. - many looking for entry level candidates. Heck, just look at the number of paralegal and legal assistant positions available. The dearth of entry level attorney positions in comparison should be pretty astounding.

Oh, but you protest that Craiglist isn't exactly the best way to find legal employment? Okay, go ahead and try your luck at Monster, Career Builder, or any of the other job boards. Chances are that if you find any listings for attorneys, the employer is looking for lawyers with several years of experience working for big firms.

You see, the reason I chose Craigslist is because that's where you're going to find the bulk of the advertisements for small firm positions, which are going to be the only roles available to most students this side of the T-14. Skadden and co. don't advertise positions on job boards. They use On Campus Interviews, and if you wash out at the OCI game (as even plenty of T-14 folks are doing these days), you're about as likely to get a biglaw offer as Jack Crittenden is to stop carrying water for the law school hucksters.

Even if you've convinced yourself that "Hey, Brooklyn landlord-tenant court doesn't sound that bad" or "I think no fault insurance defense work just has a bad rap", too bad, those jobs aren't available. If you want to live out your dreams of mastering Word's cut and paste feature to update stock legal forms or hang out with dregs of society, it looks like your only option will be to turn to the wonderful world of legal networking. Feel free to search the rest of this blog to find out just how well that works.

So prospective law students, if you think anti-law school scam bloggers are just a bunch of losers who couldn't make it and seek to whine about their problems, then I guess I'll echo the law school apologists, "Do your research." Run through the job boards and any other source you'd like and see just how many entry level attorney jobs there are (plus take a look at the salaries).

Oh, and if you happen to stumble across a fabled entry level attorney job at a mid-sized firm that pays $70-80k, you may want to turn your gaze upward to take a gander at the recently airborne swine now gliding by you.


  1. But there's a hidden lawyer job market at Attorney Jobs!

    Here are the subscription rates, a small cost compared to the cost of law school!

    One Month 29.95

    Three Months 69.95

    Six Months 123.00

    One Year 234.00

    The job seeker may be in bad shape, but he will always have $234 too much in the eyes of West.

  2. Amen...despite that I'm an unemployed entry level lawyer (and have been for quite some time now), I still have a family member who recently decided to go to law school. I guess she thinks I'm a loser and that there's still a pot of gold at the end of the law school rainbow (and I went to a higher level law school than she is attending!). No one, not friends, family, or anyone I meet, believes how bad it is for entry level lawyers; instead they all think there's something wrong with me. I actually had someone say to me--"You're not trying very hard to find a job, are you?" (when I'm been relentlessly applying for any type of job, legal and non-legal). I think the shame and humiliation are worse than the debt.

  3. Great post, EN! Strong and substantive. The MAIN point of these blogs is to educate prospective law students about the realities of the industry.

    The industry apologists, on the other hand, do not want you to be informed about law school or the shrinking U.S. legal market. They want you to rely on the schools' self-reported (and highly manipulated) employment and salary statistics. These tools then cry, "You should have done your research."

    Well, the problem is this, apologists: alumni, practicing attorneys, and current law students cannot get access to the true figures. How the hell is a pre-law student going to find them?!

    Many of us did what EN did: we talked to practicing lawyers, went to seminars, looked at attorney job postings, read numerous articles on the "profession," etc. Most of those sources recommended going to law school. It was considered a sound "investment," by those sources.

    Yeah, sure it is. And stalking your ex-girlfriend is sound "dating" advice.

  4. "If you want to live out your dreams of mastering Word's cut and paste feature to update stock legal forms or hang out with dregs of society, it looks like your only option will be to turn to the wonderful world of legal networking."

    Damn, that's funny.

    Even back in the 90's we were told life would be tough unless you made the top 10% of the class. They were right.

  5. This is by far away the most brilliant law scam blog entry yet.

    Truthful, humbling, and not angry in the least.

    Well done

  6. Just ignore the trolls, there are people that troll about everything. Half of these people work in the student loan/law scam industry themselves. The other half are just morons that you find for everything.

    For instance, even on something like video game consoles, for years Microsoft pretended that their systems did not fail or scratch discs. There were also a legion of people accusing the console owner of not taking care of the system or other crap. Then after the class action lawsuits and studies done forcing MS to admit they built faulty hardware and did not honor their warranties, these trolls just disappeared to find a new cause, never admitting they were wrong. You find this in everything, it's just human nature.

    You can see it on the health care bill too. A lot of people want to blame attorneys, but if you challenge them to name one person they know that has successfully bought a lawsuit and won it, they are dumbstruck. They want to cling to attorneys being the cause of high medical costs but they have no idea how healthcare works at all. It's just something to talk about.

    People like to think they are smarter now because they "know" the world is a sphere and revolves around the sun, whereas in the past people didn't. Well in the past, people were so sure these things were true as well. This isn't so much blaming the victim but moreso to show that public sentiment is usually wrong and just a matter of whatever brainwashing is done at the time.

    And finally, it depends on the victim group. If you scam pregnant women or maybe the elderly, those are sympathetic groups and people want action. Scamming students doesn't bother anybody though.

    In a way it's part jealousy but it's also part relief and vindication for people. A lot of people struggled at lower end jobs and were not held in prestige, now these people feel vindicated seeing people that were in a class that looked down on them get some comeuppance, even if it maybe wasn't even most of that class of people, or an imagined slight.

  7. "You should have done more research before going to law school."

    This is kind of a dumb criticism. How can prospective law students do meaningful "research" if there isn't a wide variety of information to find? These blogs provide an important perspective that any prospective law student would do well to consider.

    I guess these critics can't understand the difference between "whining" and "warning."

  8. I think JL at 1:38 is dead on. In particular I liked "This isn't so much blaming the victim but moreso to show that public sentiment is usually wrong and just a matter of whatever brainwashing is done at the time." For that reason I believe that majorities are often, if not usually wrong.

    I'm sure a lot of these trolls have no connection to the law school industry, or that they even have a particular agenda. Some people can not stand ANY critisism of the status quo, because they don't want to challenge or even think about the assumptions that make up their world view.

    Such people can not deal with ambiguity or uncertainty. They have a need to 'believe' in things without understanding them. In their mind there is nothing to understand. The world is a very straighforward place where everything is transparent, mechanical, and serves a purpose.

    In their mind if you can't find a job, there HAS TO BE something wrong with YOU. After all, THE WORLD CAN'T BE THAT F%$CKED UP AND RANDOM OF A PLACE, CAN IT? No of course not, after all these pee brains have managed to figure it all out. Everyone who disagrees with them is just stupid.

    Such people can't understand that progress has been brought about by people who consciously tried to make a difference. When you discuss the world in such depth, they will always feel uncomfortable regardless of what your arguement is because they are intellectually lazy.

    The bottom line is people are sheep. These trolls are for the most part irrelevant asshats.

  9. In addition to looking on Craigslist (that is a great test by the way), look at "alternative career fairs" put on by the law schools themselves. Here is one from the 2TT I graduated from:

    Wow, I always wanted to do athletics compliance or be in charge of "school administration-advancement" whatever that is. It is not that the jobs of the participants listed are bad jobs (I would take many of them), but I doubt more than a small fraction of these people have JDs or the debt that goes with it, and I imagine most of these jobs would be open to you without a law degree. Also, the people listed are merely participating for informational purposes, they are not looking to actually hire.

  10. great blog post, EN. As for that " recent comment I received to a much older blog post" that you mentioned, I would bet you that it came from a a so-called nontraditional law school prelaw type--an older person going to law school. Most of these types are older women who have tons of money, usually from a large divorce settlement.

    You can read their laughable post on the nontradlaw forum. Most of them are out of the legal field within a couple of years. ANd then they are so embarrassed that they never post on that board again, even tbough they tyically posted there for years prior to and during law school. I recall one in particular who went to a well respected local school and did well but of course could not land a job (and this was in 2005 or so, before the recent catastrophe in legal hiring). Well, she posted saying that she just did not like the work, after having done some family law work as a solo.
    Then she decided to get a Masters degree.
    Talk about rationalizing.

  11. I think its time we band together and start a sort of consumer reports for law schools (we could probably also do it for mba programs to). we could send the same requests for info that NALP sends, but fortify it with questions regarding how many people responded and ask for specifics on nonlegal jobs (like is this waiting tables). we could also ask for starting salary avg and how many responses are they basis for the avg. we could post all of this info and make it good and clear who didn't respond.

    US News and NALP are doing the job. Its time the victims of law schools form a victims rights group and make sure the law school scam only happens to those who have full and honest disclosure about what they're getting into.

  12. ^ Wow. An actual constructive thought coming out of these whine (see what I did there) parties. Amazing.

    Btw. Craigslist job offerings are a shitfest for all industries from retail to law. Bad test.

  13. Excellent post, Esq. Never. I think that those of us who challenge the educational establishment with these blogs should feel proud for having the courage to stand up and be lone voices in the wilderness.

    Ever since elementary school, we have all been indoctrinated with the notion that higher education would almost guarantee a fulfilling and rewarding career. Our entire society is still saturated with this message. Just open up a newspaper and read op-eds about the economy, or turn on the TV or the radio and listen to the news and someone will invariably talk about how everyone should go to college and about how we need to retrain and reeducate for high tech careers or "the jobs of tomorrow".

  14. 1:48

    Wow - An insipid and snide retort by an apologist/troll...Oh wait, that's pretty much par for the course with you guys.

    You're right. CL is a sewer for job listings. It's also pretty much the only place to find the few advertised entry level attorney positions available. Hmm, what does that tell us?

  15. better yet you should post a fake job listing on CL and see how many resumes you'll get for a $12/hour job.

  16. @ 9:16pm- I like your idea it can be a combined consumer and "kelly blue book" where one analyzes a depreciating liability and whether worth the investment and categorize school (make/model) and Year graduated (totaling purchase price). It sounds promising!!

  17. Screw you Lawyers.

    I hope you DO get screwed.

    I Worked MY ASS off in college. I slept 5 hours a night for 4 years. I fought tooth and nail for C's.

    My Lawyer & Business Friends used to Booast about "how they had the inside track" How they "could BS their way through essays" while I sweated it out in the computer lab.

    Fuck you guys. You deserve nothing for pay.

    A Chemical Engineer


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