Friday, August 12, 2011

Interview with Constitutional Daily

I did an interview yesterday about ITLSS with Constitutional Daily.  The interviewer follows up with some perceptive thoughts of his own regarding what will happen when and if the current crisis in legal education subsides:

In law there is a serious graveyard problem. It's easy for law professors to look at their graduates who have gone on to do great things, or to see the wonderful opportunities their current students have, and to think everything is just fine and dandy. They tend not to keep up with the people who never found legal work, or who are stuck in a permanent cycle of temporary document review jobs that only qualify as 'legal' on a time sheet, and are as intellectually stimulating as working in a restaurant dish pit (with only slightly better pay).
When the economy picks up again, law firms won't be hiring those of the lost generation, they'll go back to fresh law school graduates. There will be a library wing named for the next big benefactor, but no memorial to the tens of thousands of young lawyers laid off in the recession and unable to bounce back, or the tens of thousands more whose law careers were ended before they even started. They will however get calls from the alumni office asking them to 'give back' to their schools, and letters from the dean bragging about hundred million dollar fundraising goals being reached. Schools will raise funds for their new sponsored chair, or Law and center. They won't have a fundraising campaign to provide debt relief to students who are in fierce competition just to take unpaid jobs.
Keeping tabs on lawyers is tough. They're miserable, over worked, and stuck in depressing, thankless jobs. Talking to them about it isn't pleasant, for anyone. But, if you are serious about reforming law school, that's who you need to talk to. If the only students you talk to are the ones for whom law school worked, you're not going to see the pressing need for reform. You have to maintain relationships with the students for whom law school didn't work. It's a shitty job, but you know what? Most of your graduates have shitty jobs.


  1. I find it hard to believe that a person who gets an accredited law degree and passes the bar is objectively worse off for the effort. Just about any credentialed lawyer can find a niche in criminal defense, immigration law, the insurance industry, or even temp legal placement - a decent indoor office job that pays better than most anything with comparable working conditions that might be available to some one with only a high school degree or a humanities degree.

  2. "I find it hard to believe that a person who gets an accredited law degree and passes the bar is objectively worse off for the effort."

    That, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with law professors. You don't understand economics. You don't understand how a person is worse off if they paid $200,000 (not even including opportunity cost) for something that was worth a fraction of that. Tell you what Danny, why don't you sell me your $500,000 house for $50,000 and see how that feels? Hey, you got $50,000 right? How could someone who just got $50,000 be worse off?

    "Just about any credentialed lawyer can find a niche in criminal defense, immigration law, the insurance industry, or even temp legal placement - a decent indoor office job"

    Oh really? Can you please provide your email so that credentialed lawyers can write you and you can show them where these decent indoor office jobs are? You're either a complete ignoramous or a damned liar.

  3. Danny, a diploma and a license do not teach you how to practice. Assuming I had the capital to open up my own shop (even working from home isn't free, and I may lose my license if I can't find cheap CLEs soon), I know next to nothing about criminal defense, immigration, or insurance. I knew enough to pass the bar, which is to say I have no idea about any local rules of procedure. How to make a motion? Never even seen it done before.

    Do you really want to pay your own hard earned money to hire a lawyer to write a will, knowing that when he finishes, that is not only the first will he's written, but the first one he's even read? Law schools have punted legal training to firms, but if you can't get into one, you're not fit to practice, no matter how many credentials you have.

  4. Even I refuse to believe that Danny is a law professor. If he is, then there truly is no hope.

  5. "I find it hard to believe that a person who gets an accredited law degree and passes the bar is objectively worse off for the effort."

    That, in a nutshell, is the mindset that the scam blogs are up against. People intuitively think that having a law degree and license is, if not a guarantee of wild success, at least a positive thing on the whole. It's not. And if you ultimately decide to leave the law or not practice, it is an objectively BAD thing to have on your resume. Nothing terrifies potential employers like a J.D.

  6. I am not a law professor.

    I have worked in a law firm. The notion that you are likely to get training in a firm that is in any way additive to what you could get by (a) reading up on your own and (b) attending court and looking at forms and exemplars, is not consistent with my experience. Any law school graduate who cannot spend a few days in a law library and figure out how to draft a will or a bankruptcy petition or a civil complaint has much bigger problems (specifically, of a cognitive variety) than being "scammed" by the system.

    I suppose if you go way, way, way into debt for a bottom-of-the-barrel law degree, you could come out a net negative even with admission to the bar. I suppose if you had some really great prospects besides law school that you passed up for law school, you could have "opportunity costs" that exceed your gain.

    Anybody who cannot leverage a law degree and bar admission for some kind of employment marginally superior to what would be available to somebody with no grad degree is very unlucky at best. Anybody who is looking to "the law firm" as the only worthwhile opportunity for a law graduate needs to think again. There is a spectrum of political, governmental, analytical and business-related jobs where a law degree is an asset.

  7. Danny, the idea that all its takes to be a competent attorney is a few hours in court of the library is either laughable, or a huge indictment of the law school racket.

    Also, there is not a "spectrum of political, governmental, analytical and business-related jobs where a law degree is an asset." There isn't a spectrum of jobs at all at the moment. There are few openings in government and business, they're harder to get because of the competition from all the other unemployed folks. And, having looked at countless job postings, 3 years of experience out of college would have been far more valuable than a JD.

  8. I have to agree with Danny.

    Law school isn't supposed to hold your hand. If you are incapable of getting the practical experience on your own through clinics, extra-curricular reading, internships, observation and constantly surrounding yourself with legal work, then you had no business going to law school in the first place.

  9. BL1Y: I don't know your specific situation, but you seem to be having a personal "crisis of confidence."

    Once you graduate law school and pass the bar, you are legally "competent" to be an attorney. Yeah, you need experience to get higher-end work, but law school and some self-study (especially for those who did not do any clinical work in law school) is enough to get started.

    Your above-stated notion that you need some kind of law firm apprenticeship just to deal with "local rules of procedure" or how "to make a motion" is what's laughable. Plenty of pro se prison inmates figure these things out from their prison libraries.

    And yes, the employment scene today is dismal, but that hardly changes a law graduate's RELATIVE position to less educated people.

    Maybe if, in place of law school, you had developed, fresh out of college, "three years experience" as an environmental remediation engineer or sky-crane helicopter pilot or a cognitive behavioral therapy counselor, you would, at this particular low point in the economy, have an incrementally smoother glide path to a rewarding job. But most people who go to law school are not passing up such 'golden; alternatives, which themselves require substantial expenditures of time and money.

    No, as a law graduate, you are not automatically slated for a $75K salaried first-year associate position in a law firm. You may have to toil in the fields of politics or temping or local prosecution or court-appointed criminal defense to get started, with low pay and mounting student loans. Does that make law school a "scam"? Hardly.

  10. "No, as a law graduate, you are not automatically slated for a $75K salaried first-year associate position in a law firm. You may have to toil in the fields of politics or temping or local prosecution or court-appointed criminal defense to get started, with low pay and mounting student loans. Does that make law school a "scam"? Hardly."

    It does when your school said 99% of the graduates were employed within 9 months, with a median starting salary of their graduates was $160k.

    Look, the easiest way to cure the scam is to simply comply with Law School Transparency's job placement disclosure requirements. We don't need to get into all these long debates about practical vs. theoretical education. But schools will never comply with them because they know they're lying and they need to keep the fraud going.

  11. AG: Median means "half above, half below." Do you think a $160K median implies that everybody gets a six-figure job out of the gate? And do you expect a 99% placement statistic to hold when an economy tanks to the point that 15 Million are unemployed?

    I see grounds for profound dismay and disappointment. I don't see "scam."

  12. Maybe the scam bloggers do themselves a disservice by calling it a "scam". This is a distraction. Maybe it isn't a "scam" in the sense that you usually hear that term. But it is a BIG PROBLEM. Law schools are taking in way more students than will be able to find employment of the sort that would entice them to law school in the first place. Law school is for a huge number of people a major letdown and for some people life-ruining. More than one party is to blame. Students are to blame for being so eager to pay so much for something they know so little about. Schools are to blame for allowing and encouraging them.

    Forget blame. Who is in a position to change something? Not the prospective students. They are too naive, this is proven. It can only be the law schools. Or else the problem just continues.

  13. Call it what you want, Danny, it violates the deceptive business practices act on the books in most states.

    Danny and Mike seem to have some fundamental misconceptions one way or the other: either they think practicing law on a day-to-day basis (including gaining clients and managing an office) is significantly easier than it actually is, or they greatly overestimate what a person can actually learn in 2.5 years of study, a good half of which is forced b.s. that has no relevance to real-life practice.

    The stuff that a recent law grad *may* be competent to do has seen downward pressure on prices and most of that work is done by established mill-type places where a new entrant has very little grazing room. Bankruptcy, wills, traffic tickets, misdemeanor defense, immigration, etc. Why would you go to some newbie when there are factory-like shops who have experienced staff members who can take of it in a fraction of the time/cost?

    Danny, recent years have seen 45k law graduates, and only 30k of them secure full-time employment. According to LSTB's estimates, only HALF of all J.D.s are practicing attorneys. If your view of the world had any sort of merit - and that a J.D. was always better off having gone to law school - why is that?

    There are lots of people worse off because they went to law school. About 10k a year and counting.

  14. I'm not a lawyer, but I am married to one. She spent a few bux getting her degree, worked her ass off, did the bar thing, got a good internship at the State Defender General's office, and now works two part time jobs. One is a contract public defender job and the other a part time civil practice job. Her composite income is not stellar, but she's paying off her loans and as time goes on, will do OK. She won't get rich from law, but she will accumulate wealth from prudent management of her finances.

    The two richest people I have met were lawyers who never practiced law. To say the degree is meaningless says more about the creativity and aspirations of the speaker than it sheds light on a basic truth. Not everyone has to have a million dollar salary. Some folks are content with helping their communities and do it not only cheerfully, but willingly. My wife wants to do elder law as well as indigent defense and she's doing it.

    I am convinced that a legal education makes a good citizen, or at least prepares one to be one. Law school is not a waste. It's only a waste if your aspirations are financial wealth and no more. No knowledge is useless. I can't cry for someone who goes to Harvard and can't find a job. He/she may not find the job he/she dreamed of, but dreams change anyway, folks. What's important at 20 isn't so much at 50.

    Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but if you want a high paying job, something involving math is a straighter path. That's why I am an engineer and why I work when I want to.

  15. "Law school is not a waste. It's only a waste if your aspirations are financial wealth and no more."

    I think this is spot on. Education is not about shooting you up the career ladder. It's about making your life richer. Three years studying theory sounds great. If law school were any more about practical skills than it already is, like interviewing clients or drafting a living trust, then the lawyer is trading in his position as statesman for that of a clerk who helps people to fill out forms. Who will be left to draft laws, shape government and determine the course of the common law?

    If all you want to do is service clients in a few transactions, then perhaps I would agree, law school is a bit excessive for that. And perhaps we should have a lower category, like an enhanced paralegal for example, for people who simply want to practice law and get on with their careers without having to worry about the finer points of theory that shape our legal system like the nuances and histories of contract or constitutional law.

    If you have no interest in any of that stuff, then I can see how you would think that a bulk of law school was pointless and a waste of your time. But, again, if you have no interest in those things then you have no business being law school in the first place.

  16. My sense is that those arguing against the sentiments on this blog are not attorneys and do not know anyone who has graduated in the last three years.

    A friend of mine graduated in 2010 from law school and spent a year pulling down three part-time jobs trying to weave a career. She just got a one year fellowship offer from an organization she worked for. Her starting salary is 45K. There's no way she'll be able to pay loans and live on that. She's happy to have a job, but she acknowledges that law school was a mistake. Her, her boyfriend and myself are actively trying to talk her cousin, a friend of mine, out of going to law school straight after undergraduate.

    Three years of theory sounds great? Of course it does. It's called being a philosophy major. You accomplish nothing and nobody expects anything of you. It's not the same with law school.

    We are plumbers. We fix things. People call us when they're in the shit. They don't call us to get our opinions regarding Hegelian influences on 18th century property law. The nuances don't help anybody except those with time or money to focus energy on such unsubstantial things (i.e. law professors).

    I'm all for a little livening up, but law schools have it wrong. If you're going to be the barrier to entry, the obstacle course through which all must pass to become certified as the attorney, there damn well better be something concrete in the end.

    And don't worry about the Harvard student who can't find a job: those don't exist. But there is an underclass of attorneys that does.

  17. And as for the allegations against the law schools for fraud, I feel something needs to be said here. I feel that if there is any fraud, it's fraud in an institutional consumer sense. Law school does have some value, but the value has been wrongfully inflated by the schools.

    I find it akin to the representations made by the folks who packaged and securitized mortgage backed securities. Certainly, there were apparent risks, but the sellers and underwriters underrepresented those risks and claimed that they had taken pains to minimize said risks when, in fact, they had not. Law schools have operated the same way.

  18. Mike and Forrest offer versions of a common theme, that law school is really about this or that and that people who don't want this or that shouldn't have gone.

    Perhaps not, but they DID go. And saying this to them is too little, too late. Besides, its not as if the law schools were giving them the same warnings you are. If they were, I think that would be great.

    Warning, law school is not going to make you rich, it may not even make you well off. It may leave you having to scape by working multiple jobs. But it will make you a better citizen and give you a chance to study theory and become generally better people.

    I would be thrilled if they started doing this. Of course, they do not. Instead, they make up fake job statistics in order to attract the very sorts of people you and I both agree shouldn't be going. That's a problem.

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  20. Must say, I agree with Danny and Forrest on this one. I'm a 2L at a lower-tier school and although most of you probably think this means I'm screwed, I've gotten more connections and practical experience in the past year than it sounds like most of you have the entire time you were in law school. If you feel incompetent to file a motion after passing the bar, have no idea how to figure out your local procedural rules, and have nobody to turn to and ask, you clearly have done something wrong during your law school career.

    I am not worried about my post-graduation employment prospects because 1. I don't have my heart set on a big-firm job, 2. I have worked my ass off to get great grades and develop a great resume, 3. I have put time in for free to network, build practical skills and get connections, and 4. I didn't go to law school for the money. Number 4 is by far the most important.

    I completely agree with Forrest's comment and I think too many people go to law school obsessed with high-power, high-paying, big-firm jobs. Our definition of "success" is unsustainable at best and delusional at worst. If lawyers are more unhappy than the general population, it's their own damn fault.

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  22. Let's see, generally, you must graduate from an accredited law school and take the bar to get your license (unless you waive in from another state). This effectively makes law school a trade school. Except law school does very little to promote how to practice, much less how to operate a law firm. For those of you saying "you can figure it out," what was law school for? Learning to think like a lawyer? And what about after you aren't a 1L anymore? If you can figure it out yourself, then what's the point of law school?

  23. My guess is that the law school education is still a better bargain than the doctorate in philosophy. Still, if I'm going to be unemployed and unhappy, I'd rather take solace in the company of Wittgenstein rather than a fellow junior partner.

  24. Law school is a scam. I get that. I think it is a reflection of the broader scam that is our political economy. But if you get licensed as an attorney, you do have powers and privileges that can be exercised for the good. So why don't you do it? Want to know how to file a motion? Google has lots of state and federal motions, and so does your country courthouse. So why don't you recognize the power you were given and try to do some good with it? Many people need your help.

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