The comment thread following this post throws a useful light on both the anger of many recent law grads, and the defensive reaction this anger tends to elicit even among that subset of legal academics, such as HDL, who are not simply burying their heads in the sand in regard to how bad the situation has become. That's unfortunate, because the comments of posters such as Morse Code for J, Shark Sandwich, and Dumpy are the kinds of things law professors and law school administrators need to hear.
Everyone likes to think well of themselves, and naturally the people running law schools have a long list of rationalizations for why we aren't to blame for the dire plight of our recent and soon-to-be graduates. These include, but are not limited to:
(1) The system was working fine until the Great Recession, and will soon work fine again.
(2) Law students are adults who are responsible for their decisions, and anyone who really wants to know the score about employment prospects can find it.
(3) Students who work hard in their classes and network outside them will still do well.
(4) The law is a learned profession and the study of it is a personally enriching experience, not merely a way to make a buck.
(5) After all, what alternatives do these people really have?
(6) I'm a dedicated professional who works hard at my job, and anyway I didn't create this system, i.e, hate the game not the player.
All of these rationalizations tend to throw law students and especially recent law grads into a rage, and understandably so. Let's look at them in turn:
(1) Everything will be fine again when the economy picks up. This is a very inadequate response to the current crisis, for a couple of reasons. First, nobody knows to what precise extent recent changes in the market for law graduates are structural rather than cyclical, but it's clear that some of these changes are here to stay. It may well be that the current economic structure of legal education, which doesn't really work for a huge percentage of current law students, is never going to work for an acceptable percentage ever again, even after the overall economy picks up and the going rate for new Wall Street firm associates rises to 200K or what have you.
Second, even before the current crisis, the trend lines for legal education were bad. Costs were rising much faster than expected return on investment, and a significant minority of graduates found themselves worse off than they were before they went to law school. We in legal academia tended to ignore those outcomes, because we allowed them to remain largely invisible to us. This is what BL1Y calls "the graveyard problem" -- and it's not going away even if and when the market for new law graduates improves significantly.
(2) Caveat emptor, basically. Of course few legal academics will phrase the matter quite so crudely, especially given our habit of engaging in encomiums to The Majesty of the Law (see #4, infra). Still, this rationalization resonates loudly in American culture, because of our commitment to a vastly exaggerated concept of individual responsibility. Nobody is willing to defend outright fraud, so it's tempting to dismiss the employment and salary statistics advertised by law schools (which are fraudulent on their face) as mere "puffing," as they say in first-year Contracts. Giving in to that temptation, as I have heard many legal academics do, is particularly unappetizing given the constant blather about professional ethics emitted by the profession's elites. The "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'employed' is" response is, under the present circumstances, less than inspiring.
(3) Horatio Alger, basically. This is another choice bit of American cultural mythology which law schools are finding particularly useful at the moment. If you failed it's not because the system is heavily slanted against people like you -- it's because of your personal failings, which you could have overcome if you had been more diligent and graduated in the top 10% of your class, while taking care not to make the mistake of having parents who don't have enough cultural capital to hook a brother (or sister) up with Daddy's best friend, who just happens to be the hiring partner at Crony, Nepotism & Merit.
(4) If this seems to you like a helpful thing to tell someone with $200,000 of non-dischargeable law school debt and no job, please stop reading this blog now. Also, try to avoid spontaneous conversations with your recent grads, especially if you live in a state with a concealed-carry law.
(5) This at least reflects that the respondent has a grasp on economic and social reality. I've heard it more and more lately from my smarter and more cynical brethren. From an ethical point of view it's a deeply disturbing response, since the only way to make this position defensible is to assume that it's OK to, as the Law and Econ crowd phrases it, "maximize one's personal utility," even if this maximization consists of essentially ripping off people who have no power (of course to the Ayn Rand types running much of our political and economic system, ripping people off who have no power is the highest ethical calling to which anyone can hope to aspire).
(6) It's true: you didn't create this system you now find yourself enmeshed within. In most cases you entered the system when it was working a lot better (although far from ideally, see #1) for your students. But let's be frank, shall we? How hard do you work, really? Maybe you're like my friend whose personal qualities and institutional circumstances have produced a legal academic career full of genuine hard work (although as he fully acknowledges, much more rewarding and flexible work than practically any practicing lawyer will ever get paid big bucks for performing). But if you're a typical tenured law professor at a non-elite school (which isn't to say that elite schools don't have their share of tenured slackers -- they most certainly do), you don't work nearly that hard at your job. You don't have to, and there's rarely much tangible reward -- other than personal satisfaction -- for doing so. A generous estimate is that the median hours worked per week by the typical tenured law professor at a non-elite school during the eight months of the year when school is in session is around 30. And it's a lot less during the other four months. (More later on how these estimates, which I emphasize are if anything on the generous side, are derived.)
In other words the TTLPAANES gets paid a lot of money to do a soft job of dubious social value, which at present is producing very bad economic results for a whole lot of the people who pay his or her salary. It's perfectly predictable that this makes a lot of those people very angry. It's even more predictable that throwing a bunch of lame rationalizations in their faces positively enrages them. That, on a visceral level, is what the scam blogs are all about.