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 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 rush hour 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.
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