Monday, July 19, 2010

Calico Cat

Calico Cat was one of the first bloggers to try to expose the law school scam. He did so as a top 10% (at graduation) student from a tier 1 school back in 2004! Imagine what he would have to say about today's environment.

Unfortunately, this forefather of the scam busting movement's site is no longer available, so I have decided to run his salient essay on this blog. (Thank you, Google Cache.)

The lousy post-graduation opportunities for new attorneys are nothing new; it's just that both the economy and COA are much worse today. Don't be fooled. Even if the economy recovers, happy days will not be here again (for lawyers).

Law school: the big lie

(Reprinted from the now defunct Calico Cat blog.)

Every year tens of thousands of wannabe lawyers enter law school. The majority will be extremely disappointed by their career opportunities.

Thus the title of this essay: law school is a big lie. People enter law school with the idea that a law degree is their ticket to a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle. In fact, just the opposite, law school for most is a ticket to a worse financial state than if they had not attended at all.

This news is hard for people to accept, because “everyone knows” that lawyers make a lot of money. Right? Well look at the salaries for government lawyers in your area. They probably start in the 30s. Why would anyone take a job paying in the 30s if law jobs pay six figures? They wouldn’t. After a decade or more of service to the state, you salary will most likely max out in the five figures. That’s a pretty lousy salary for a job that requires three years of graduate school education. There are plenty of people without any graduate education earning six figures, and they don’t have to pay back the student loans that lawyers have to take out in order to pay for law school. Bill Gates is the richest man in the world and he doesn’t even have an undergraduate degree.

There are some lawyers who start out with a good salary. They work for what they call “BIGLAW” on the internet message boards. Big law firms pay their associates a starting salary in the six figures. But here’s the sad news: only a tiny percentage of law school graduates will ever get these six figure jobs at big law firms. Unless you go to a top law school, the six figure big law firm job will most likely not be yours.

There are only 14 top law schools. That’s right. Not 10, not 15, but 14. They are, in descending order of prestige: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, NYU, Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, Duke, Northwestern, Cornell, UC Berkeley, and Georgetown. And that’s it. Go to any other law school, and your chances of getting a big law firm job will be slim to none.

There are also distinct levels of prestige within the top 14. Yale, Harvard, and Stanford are head and shoulders above the rest. Then Columbia, NYU and maybe Chicago round out the top 6. Attending one of these top top law schools will vastly improve your odds. The guy graduating at the bottom of the class at Harvard will have better career opportunities than the guy graduating at the top of the class at an ordinary law school.

Outside of the top law schools, the only law school graduates having decent job opportunities will be those who graduated in the top ten percent of the class and who made law review. Law review and top ten percent are usually the same people because at most law schools the law review members are selected from those whose grades are in the top ten percent at the end of the first year. If like me, your grades weren’t in the top ten percent at the end of the first year, but you managed to graduate in the top ten percent, you are screwed because you weren’t on law review. Furthermore, most big law firms make offers to their summer associates, who get interviewed and hired during the second half of the second year, thus it’s mostly your grades during the first three semesters of law school that determine your entire legal future.

If you are reading this, and you’re a law student who already received your first semester grades, and they aren’t top ten percent, then my advice is to drop out now instead of throwing more money down the law school black hole.

Despite being warned that the only way to get a decent job in law if one attends a non-top 14 school is to make law review and the top ten percent, tens of thousands of suckers will enroll anyway. They think “I will be the one who makes the top ten percent” or “even if I don’t make the top ten percent, things will work out.” Let’s state the odds clearly: 90% of the class will not make the top 10%. You are not the only person in law school thinking they are going to bust their butt to make the top ten percent. 80% of the people start out thinking they are going to bust their butt. And some people from the 20% who are slackers are going to wind up in the top 10% too, because law school grades have a huge random element. One of the biggest slacker/party girls in my first year law school class made the top 10%. She wound up getting a high paying job at a big law firm because the law school gods decided to randomly grace her during her first semester.

The law schools will trick prospective students with bogus statistics about the great career opportunities available to graduates. Don’t believe everything you read. First of all, there are the documented lies, like the admissions brochure for my law school alma mater, Arizona State University College of Law (ASU), which listed the average starting salary for graduates with job offers at graduation from private law firms. But what percentage of the class graduates with a job offer in hand from a private law firm? About 10%? Trumpeting the average salary for 10% of the class is damned deceptive.

I further suspect that some law schools outright lie on their reported career placement statistics. Think about public companies. They have a strong incentive to lie on their financial statements, so that is why they have to prepare their statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, and the accounting has to be audited by an independent public accounting firm. Despite these safeguards, companies like Enron are still caught lying on their financial statements.

Law school career placement statistics do not have to be prepared in accordance with generally accepted principles, and they aren’t audited by independent public accountants. Therefore they can’t be trusted. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because they are “non-profit” they can be trusted, or that they are run only for the benefit of the public. There’s no such thing as no one making a profit. “Non-profit” only means that no one owns the residual profits from the law school, there are plenty of stakeholders making out like bandits. Law schools are run for the benefit of the law professors who have cushy six figure jobs, and the money for their salaries comes from the gullible chumps called law students.

How cushy is a job as a law professor? Law professors earn six figures and only have to work six hours a week. And they get summers off too. How much better can it get? That’s right, law professors are only allowed to teach six hours of classes a week. If they taught more than six hours a week, the law school would lose its accreditation. Maybe some of the new law professors have to spend some time preparing for class, but by the time the law professor has a few years under his belt, he knows the material cold. Some of the older law professors were able to recite the entire textbook without ever even looking at it. In class one day, all the students looked quizzically at the law professor while he recited the exact details of a case that wasn’t in the textbook. Finally this was brought to his attention. It turns out that he was reciting from the last edition of the book. He didn’t even bother to look at the textbook in front of him to see that the case wasn’t in there.

The only time that law professors have to do any real work is when they grade exams. And law school exams are only given once at the end of the semester. So we are talking about two weeks of real work at the end of each semester. And in one case, a law professor at ASU, was apparently too lazy to even put in his two weeks of work and he made up fake grades for the students in his class. When his deception was discovered, all he got was a temporary suspension, and a short time later he was back at law school teaching law.

So we see, law professors have cushy jobs, therefore they have a strong incentive to lie on the career placement statistics because those are equivalent to a for-profit company’s financial statements, and it’s what the prospective law students look at to decide if they want to “invest” in the law school education.

Another fallacy that prospective law students hold onto is that the law degree has some kind of value outside of law. They think, “if I don’t practice law, at least it’s a prestigious degree that will help my non-law career.” This is completely false. Having a law degree hurts your chances of getting non-law jobs. No one wants to hire you if you have a law degree. Because “everyone knows” that lawyers make so much money, they can’t understand why someone with a law degree would want to do anything else but practice law. If you say “I couldn’t find a job practicing law.” which is probably the truth, they will think “this person is a loser because everyone know how easy it is to find a job practicing law, and we don’t hire losers around here.” If you say “I was just exploring my options but decided I didn’t want to practice law,” then they will think “this person has no idea what he wants to do, we want to hire people who know where their career is going.” There is absolutely no way to spin the law degree in a way that it helps you get a non-law job. Hiring managers are looking for cookie cutter resumes, not resumes where people have education unrelated to the job. From their perspective, they’re not hiring a lawyer so they don’t give a crap if you know how to synthesize appellate cases (assuming they even know what “synthesize appellate cases” means, which is unlikely). The only way I have been able to find any jobs outside of law is to leave the law degree off my resume. Whenever the law degree has been on my resume, it has been the kiss of death that prevents me from finding a job.

Finally, this essay would be incomplete if it didn’t discuss the burden of student loans. Whatever salary you make after graduating from law school has to be discounted by the cost of your student loan repayments. The student loan payments are not tax deductible (except to a very limited extent which will likely not apply to you). Your marginal tax rate will probably be around 45%, which means that for every $100/month in student loan payments, you need to have a stated additional salary of $182/month to cover the student loan payments. This means that if your law school education adds $500/month in student loan payments, you are paying $6,000/year in student loans and you need to earn an extra $10,910/year to cover the payments. This means that a $40,000/year job as a law school graduate gives you the equivalent disposable income of a $29,090/year job if you didn’t have a law degree. And it’s a lot easier to find a $29,000/year job with a bachelor’s degree than it is to find a $40,000/year job with a law degree.

Even if you are one of the rare and lucky law school graduates who can obtain a six figure job at a big law firm, those jobs are rumored to be bad. I can’t say much about this because I never worked at a big law firm, but according to what I’ve been told, a large percentage of the partners at big law firms are jerks who treat their associates like garbage and make them work ridiculously long hours. Some of this may be unjustified whining, because I was treated like garbage at a job where I was making $9/hour. Nevertheless, one needs to consider that the ultimate goal of law school, a big law firm job, attained by only a small percentage of law school graduates, may not be the great reward it’s supposed to be.

I predict that some prospective law students will find this essay, read it, and not believe it. Because no matter how much you try to tell a prospective law student the truth about law, they don’t believe it. “Everyone knows” that lawyers make a lot of money, how can this be true? Believe me, it’s true, and if you attend law school you will learn this the hard way. Don’t waste three years of your life and go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt that can never be discharged in bankruptcy to find out that your career opportunities suck after all that. Please, learn the truth now.


  1. Unbelievable. Prescient. And partly quaint. It would be nice to be able to swing a government job in the $30's now. Oh, the good old days when law students had a lower-middle class future.

  2. I love love love the Calico Cat. This very post forever changed my attitude toward law school, higher ed and the legal market! Thanks for bringing back this timeless masterpiece!

  3. Prescient. Exactly. And back then salaries and job prospects were much better than they are now. I cannot help but think that the federal government should step in and fire every member of every law school faculty and replace it with a standardized handpicked faculty of no more than 20 persons. Every law school could then simply have either on-line or interactive lessons arising only from these particula professors' lessons.

    There is simply no need to have 200 law schools employing thousands of professors, the majority of which are inexperienced as it relates to practical matters.

    I attended a regional law school and my Torst professor (whom I regarded as the best in the school) had exactly three years of practical experience at a major NYC law firm prior to entering the teaching realm. At the time, I thought that was a lot. 10 years later, I am ashamed that my school allowed this idiot to teach me a subject he had absolutely no experience in other than redlining documents for some a-hole partner.

    This is a scam. A scam. A scam.

  4. The guy that wrote the late Calico Cat blog now writes as Half Sigma.

    Apparently, he is not working in the legal profession.

    July 19, 2010
    I am the grandfather and I am prescient

    The bad economy has caused a proliferation of blogs about how law school is a scam. It turns out that I am the grandfather of this movement, as documented at this blog post reprinting my original 2004 Calico Cat post about how law school is a big lie. (I give permission for people to copy my blog post as long as I am properly credited for it.)

    I really love the comments. Anonymous writes:

    Unbelievable. Prescient.

    JD Underdog writes:

    I love love love the Calico Cat. This very post forever changed my attitude toward law school, higher ed and the legal market! Thanks for bringing back this timeless masterpiece!

    Another Anonymous writes:

    Prescient. Exactly.

    This adulation is making my head grow.

    * * *

    I thought it was weird that I was referred to as a top 10% graduate of a “tier 1” law school, but to my surprise, my JD alma mater has moved up in the rankings to number 38. But really, there’s no such thing as a “tier 1 law school.” Law schools are either Top 14 or TTT.

  5. OMG, I graduated in 2001 from a T-14 school (lower half), and I was already bitching to anyone who would listen about exactly these kinds of things. In the T-14, you still have to be on a journal or get an A-/B+ or better average (top 20%) to get a shot at the big firms. But it's not quite that bad. I have jaunted about tons of crazy jobs, mostly involving sales of some kind, or business planning . . . everybody loves the idea of a salesman with a law degree. "I find the loophole in the customer's resistance to the sale! I can persuade a Judge to get the company off the hook if we fuck something up!" Dude, the only bad part about a law degree is the damned tuition. If it were cheaper, everything about law school would be cool . . . and that's the government's fault for not allowing student loans to be dischargeable in bankruptcy.

  6. The truth stings even for those who lucked out and found an okay legal job. Too bad I didn't know this earlier. Each time I go to make a major life decision I find myself factoring in that $1K a month student loan payment.

  7. That essay is a beautifully written classic.

  8. In 2005, I was in my first semester of law school. Thinking that maybe I had made a mistake, I google searched "law school" and "mistake" and found this essay. It was literally THE ONLY THING out there at the time that dispelled all of the lies and misinformation generated by the law school industry.

    I wish I had listened. The Calico Cat blog is the Beowulf of the Law School Scam bloggers.

  9. Esq. Never,

    Did you read the follow up comments to the original blog? People thought he was crazy! They were calling Calico a failure and were doubting that a law degree could ever be worthless.

  10. My Calico Cat blog has never been pulled down, but I did receive an email yesterday that my VPS server would be rebooted and would be down for about 10 to 20 minutes.

    I think the most important suggestion from my essay is that Law Schools be required to report career placement statistics, audited by independent auditors, and prepared according to some set of standards to assure that these statistics are comparable between schools and not misleading. Unfortunately, this has never been implemented.

    My advice for people seeking non-legal jobs is still to keep the law degree off your resume. This could be harder these days with sites like LinkedIn and Facebook giving away your real educational history.

  11. Half Sigma, thank you for giving voice to this cause YEARS ago. When I started my blog, I ran across Calico Cat, State of Beasley, Big Debt Small Law, Exposing the Law School Scam, and had seen the work of "L2L" on the WSJ legal blog. I have seen the ugly comments from delusional, know-it-all lemmings on your blog. (I wonder how many of these kids are now debt-soaked "losers" with no job prospects.)

    At the time, the only active blogs were BDSL and ETLSS. I jumped on board, and told my wife at the time, "I am going after these bastards with everything I have at my disposal."

    Now, there are literally dozens of scam-busting sites - not counting JDU or Tom the Temp. We have seen letters to the editor of major newspapers with regards to the higher education scam.

    Once again, thank you. Please continue to follow these blogs, and post comments or blog entries on this subject.

  12. I think this is an important post because people need to understand that THIS IS NOT NEW. The legal market is not going to get substantially better because it was already in the shitter before the most recent economic meltdown. When I graduated in 2006, everyone, including me, was shocked at how much I struggled to find work, keep work, and ultimately find permanent employment. The fact that lemmings now are in an even worse position than we were is mind-boggling to me.

  13. Just wanted to chime in with the love for that original Calico Cat essay. I always thought it was prescient, and wondered what happened to that blogger. Thanks!

  14. [Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm writing this post under the assumption that a blogger has some discretion over the advertisements which appear on his page]:

    What the fuck is with the so-called "grandfather" of the scam-busting movement allowing TTT, TTTT and TTTTT law$$$$chools to post advertisements all over his blog. You can see the adds for Massachusetts School of Law and Thomas Jefferson School of Law here (just refresh to see advertisements change):

    Now, I enjoyed the Calico essay as much as the rest of you. I also understand that this guy makes money off his advertisements. However, this type of display pisses all over what that essay stood for. There should be no tolerance for this garbage in the movement. So Half Sigma, this is my plea to you to stop being part of the problem and a SHILL FOR THE INDUSTRY and take that fucking nonsense down. Dust yourself off and get back to work.

  15. lol look at the law school shills showing up and complaining already. 11:06 is a total joke.

    I wish I had found that and listened. I didn't find that blog until the year I was graduating, and by then I was already sunk. I should have done law review but I don't think I would have gotten on, and my plan was to transfer out anyway. After I got my second semester grades I should have dropped out, because it just wasn't good enough to transfer to a T14.

    I actually lost marketability a year into my law school "career" because of the name of the school. Before law school my LSAT was strong but I wanted a scholarship for a year and expected the transfer after that. But it's easier to transfer out of say a top 30 like BU or something than a high 2T/low 1T. It's unlikely either way, but for law school you really need to go to the highest rank unless you're connected and get a FULL scholarship, not just a half. And then transfer out to a T14, T5 if you can actually swing it as those are the ones that will give you a good shot. You'll still be in debt, but at least you'll be employed and the job might even be bearable.

  16. Oh, I how I wish I had seen this back in 2004!

  17. "Half Sigma" and his band of "HBD" posters are a flipping joke.

    Nothing more than a bunch of over-analytical, quasi-racist, chumps who are bitter about life because they

    1. Can't get laid.
    2. Got their job stolen by a "minority".

    You should check out some of these "HBD" blog rolls led by their puppet master, Steve Sailer. It's pretty hilarious stuff.

  18. The best of the early scambusters was endofesq
    I miss that site

  19. @11:39 - I miss "endofesq" too - it helped me to realize I'm not a crazy loser and that many other people feel the same way I do about getting scammed by the law school industry. It's natural to get angry when you get screwed!

  20. Sounds like Calico Cat would be behind the new non-profit at

    Seems like a good idea. It is addressing one of the major problems rather than just blogging about it anonymously.


  21. Of course, Calico Cat did blog about it anonymously...

    While I don't expect you to agree, Doug. The point of these blogs is to help permeate the web with information about the risks associated with attending law school.

    If others would like to take more aggressive steps, they have my support, but that is not the role I have chosen.

  22. Bill Gates did in fact finish his undergrad degree despite popular belief.


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