A few years ago, in a town in Ohio whose name I have no wish to recall, I lay in bed in one of those mid-level chain hotels that are the typical venues for academic conferences in flyover country. I was contemplating, not for the first time, the disastrous marriage in which I had allowed myself to become enmeshed, and how I might deal with my misery without actually ending it (that is a long boring story, otherwise irrelevant to this blog, except possibly as a metaphor for another condition, which I and perhaps you now share). Anyway, it occurred to me that I could start a blog at which people could post stories about miserable relationships from which they could not escape. I had a good title too: Welcome to My Nightmare (yes I attended, sporadically, an American high school in in the 1970s). Of course nothing came of it, but one day soon after, miraculously enough -- or so it seemed at the time -- I escaped that horrible situation, and all that was left of my stillborn blog idea was a wistful memory.
Until today. I am a law professor. I have been one for many years, and hope to remain one for many more. I have had, by the conventional terms in which such things are measured, a successful career in legal academia. I am on the faculty of a tier one law school, and have taught at several others. I must confess -- and for reasons that will become clear it does feel like a confession -- that I love almost everything about my job. I like teaching, I love writing, and most of all I love the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want 95% of the time while being paid a ridiculously high salary to do so.
Here's what I don't like about my job: Grading, faculty meetings and committee work. But since two of these three activities can be to a significant extent avoided by a sufficiently brazen senior faculty member, they are very minor inconveniences. Yet, over the past few years, a dark cloud, wispy at first, yet slowly and inexorably growing, has appeared in the azure skies of my professional life. Now, a couple of weeks before the beginning of another school year, it has grown to thundercloudish proportions.
It is this: I can no longer ignore that, for a very large proportion of my students, law school has become something very much like a scam. And who or what is doing the scamming? On the most general level, the American economy in the second decade of the 21st century. On a more specific level, the legal profession as a whole. But on what, for legal academics at least, ought to be the most particular, most important, and most morally and practically compelling level, the scammers are the 200 ABA-accredited law schools. Yet there is no such thing as a "law school" that scams its students -- law schools are abstract social institutions, not concrete moral agents. When people say "law school is a scam," what that really means, at the level of actual moral responsibility, is that law professors are scamming their students.
We don't mean to, of course. Like my learned colleagues, I'm just a soul whose intentions are good! And anyway it's mostly the dean's fault -- it's not like I was ever consulted about raising tuition 130% etc. etc. Yes there are so many excuses -- I hear them every day (or would if I ever saw my co-workers in the office in the summer. Oh yes they're "working at home." More on that soon . . .).
Remember the definition of an intentional tort? In tort law (not my subject btw so feel free to correct me) an action is "intentional" if the person who commits it knows or reasonably should know that it will have a particular effect, even if that person has no intention of producing that effect. Thus a corporation is intentionally polluting if those running the corporation's factories know they will emit pollution, even if the corporation's management, in the lay sense, doesn't intend to pollute anything.
In the end, the fact that law professors don't intend to scam their students is irrelevant. We are scamming them, or many of them, and we know we are -- or we would know if we paid any attention at all to the current relationship between legal academia, legal practice, and the socio-economic system in general, which naturally is why so many of us avoid doing so at all costs.
Over the past few months, I have become a regular reader of the scam blogs. I have learned much from them. This blog will try to lend an inside perspective to the ongoing conversation these blogs are conducting. It (I) will reveal some of the dirty little secrets about the law school scam. Actually they are not really secrets -- that law professors are paid absurdly large salaries for doing almost no real work is not, in the world of the scam blogs, what one would call a highly classified piece of information. But still, I believe it will help the conversation, and the reform it is just beginning to engender, if someone on the inside confirms, elaborates, and enlarges on the insights of the scam bloggers. For things are even worse than you know . . .
So welcome to my nightmare. It is the nightmare of a man who woke from the pleasant dream that all was right with his wonderful little career, into a world of pain, regret, and anger -- that is, the world of so many of my students.
My next post will begin a series of specific accounts of what, exactly, law professors do (or in many cases don't do) for the money law students pay us.