Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Clueless Generation, Occupy Wall Street, and the law school crisis

 Updated Below

I have a piece in Newsweek/The Daily Beast on the Occupy Wall Street protests and their relation to, among other things, the crisis in legal education.  I should emphasize that baby boomers are very diverse group, both sociologically and politically, and that here I'm addressing the reactions of a particular subgroup: "successful" middle-aged professionals who have some sort of memory of the late 1960s, and who in many cases have at least in theory some sort of sympathy for anti-establishment politics, but who are taking an attitude of sniffy incomprehension toward the OWS protests (which are now spreading to cities all around the country, and even the world).

I first heard about OWS from a commenter on this blog, who noted he was going down to Wall Street on the very day the protest started.  And indeed American law schools are at present a fertile ground for producing exactly the sort of people -- young, over-educated, under-employed, heavily debt-ridden -- who formed the initial core of the protesters.

And I do believe that, if something is happening here and we don't know what it is, this is in part a product of a new generation gap.  I graduated from college in 1982, at the bottom of what was until the present situation the worst post-WWII American recession.  My class of associates at Latham & Watkins was, I believe, the first class to be actually Lathamed: As I was starting my first law teaching job in the fall of 1991, the firm was laying off a good portion of the people I had been hired with just two years earlier.  So it's not as if people of my generation, broadly defined (I was born toward the end of the baby boom -- my first political memory is of LBJ appearing on TV to announce he wasn't running for re-election, and my second is of MLK's assassination later that week), haven't been through economic turmoil of various kinds.  But what's happening now is different.

I went to one of the best public universities in the country when in-state undergraduate tuition was about $3,500 per year in 2011 dollars.  I went to that same university's law school for not all that much more. This allowed me to graduate from law school with $20,000 of total educational debt (a little less than $40,000 in present dollars).  And I didn't enter a world in which the job I had not been trained to do was in the process of being handed over to a contract attorney, a person in India, or a machine.  These things make all the difference when trying to understand why "kids today" -- even, or especially, highly educated kids, who followed all the rules and did everything right -- are beginning to take to the streets.

Update:  Pictures and words.

39 comments:

  1. Nice post.

    Also sort of hard for the ABA to turn a blind eye to the problem now:

    www.abajournal.com/news/article/law_school_grads_take_this_six-question_survey_on_finding_that_first_job

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  2. As I was starting my first law teaching job in the fall of 1991, the firm was laying off a good portion of the people I had been hired with just two years earlier.

    --------------

    I've heard this too and I have met so many wall street transactional lawyers who were laid off in the late 80s due to a mix of Milken/wall street crash/S&L crisis . . .

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  3. "I first heard about OWS from a commenter on this blog, who noted he was going down to Wall Street on the very day the protest started."

    I remember that. A commenter was asking for protests, and another commenter who worked in biglaw responded by saying he is protesting at "Occupy Wall Street" on the 17th. Back then no one had heard of it, but if you start a protest that taps into enough anger, people will join.

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  4. Thank you professor, for being an outspoken advocate for my generation. You are doing important and meaningful work.

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  5. Why isn't HuffPo picking this up? It's so much better than the stilted "eat free range vegetables and support gay ugandan orphans" stuff you normally see on there.

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  6. "In just the past decade, total outstanding educational debt in America has risen more than five-fold, from $180 billion to nearly one trillion dollars."

    Wow I didn't realize this. If this is true then the $1 trillion number is far more ominous than I imagined, because it shouldn't really be called $1 trillion. It should be called $1 trillion per decade.

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  7. Law Prof, yhy did you decide to go to law school? What attracted you to it?

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  8. My corporate law offer evaporated in 2008 during my 3L year, so I had to uproot myself and move across the country to the West Coast. Frustrated with working minimum wage jobs (call centers, admin work, etc.) and even worse paying freelance legal gigs, I decided to participate in an Occupy Spokane protest.

    It was reassuring to see that I was not alone and hundreds of Americans had lost their jobs and pensions due to Wall Street chicanery. The Spokesman Review lists the workers and professionals who participated, but can the readers of this blog identify the con-artist in the midst of the rally?

    "Veterans, retirees, nurses, teachers, students, union workers, government employees, real estate agents and politicians all gathered to rally and march through downtown Friday evening. State Rep. Timm Ormsby, the Rev. Happy Watkins, Daniel Morrissey, a corporate law professor from Gonzaga, and David Smith, Spokane County Democrats chairman, were among the speakers who rallied the crowd before the march."

    http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/oct/15/peacefully-occupied/

    Yes, a Gonzaga corporate law professor decided to grab the bullhorn and decided to rail against the evil investment bankers and CEO's who stole $700 billion of tax payer money. Oh the irony with student loans reaching $ 1 trillion! To add insult to injury, he had a bunch of 1Ls in tow who were salivating like puppies and telling him how great he was after he stepped down from the podium. I wonder if they will have fond memories of Prof. Morrissey once they graduate with $120,000 in student loans with ZERO job prospects. My teeth are still by thinking that his CV is full of publications demanding tougher securities laws and greater corporate transparency (http://www.law.gonzaga.edu/Faculty/Faculty-Directory/Morrissey,-Daniel.asp). Too bad he does not apply the same standards to his TTT law school which fabricates employment statistics to lure students and to suck up their federal student loans (http://thirdtierreality.blogspot.com/2011/05/grab-plumbers-snake-gonzaga-university.html).

    Why don't we "Occupy" Prof. Morrissey's email inbox (dmorrissey@lawschool.gonzaga.edu) and tell him we don't appreciate his role in engaging in the massive taxpayer fraud scheme that is the American law school? Hell, I am over $100,000 in debt, and I have a more toxic hate for my own law school's professors and administrators that I do for Goldman Sachs.

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  9. My corporate law offer evaporated in 2008 during my 3L year, so I had to uproot myself and move across the country to the West Coast. Frustrated with working minimum wage jobs (call centers, admin work, etc.) and even worse paying freelance legal gigs, I decided to participate in an Occupy Spokane protest.

    It was reassuring to see that I was not alone and hundreds of Americans had lost their jobs and pensions due to Wall Street chicanery. The Spokesman Review lists the workers and professionals who participated, but can the readers of this blog identify the con-artist in the midst of the rally?

    "Veterans, retirees, nurses, teachers, students, union workers, government employees, real estate agents and politicians all gathered to rally and march through downtown Friday evening. State Rep. Timm Ormsby, the Rev. Happy Watkins, Daniel Morrissey, a corporate law professor from Gonzaga, and David Smith, Spokane County Democrats chairman, were among the speakers who rallied the crowd before the march."

    http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2011/oct/15/peacefully-occupied/

    Yes, a Gonzaga corporate law professor decided to grab the bullhorn and decided to rail against the evil investment bankers and CEO's who stole $700 billion of tax payer money. Oh the irony with student loans reaching $ 1 trillion! To add insult to injury, he had a bunch of 1Ls in tow who were salivating like puppies and telling him how great he was after he stepped down from the podium. I wonder if they will have fond memories once they graduate with $120,000 in student loans with ZERO job prospects. My teeth are still by thinking that his CV is full of publications demanding tougher securities laws and greater corporate transparency (http://www.law.gonzaga.edu/Faculty/Faculty-Directory/Morrissey,-Daniel.asp). Too bad he does not apply the same standards to his TTT law school which fabricates employment statistics to lure students and to suck up their federal student loans (http://thirdtierreality.blogspot.com/2011/05/grab-plumbers-snake-gonzaga-university.html).

    Why don't we "Occupy" his email inbox (dmorrissey@lawschool.gonzaga.edu) and tell him we don't appreciate his role in engaging in the massive taxpayer fraud scheme that is the American law school? Hell, I am over $100,000 in debt, and I have a more toxic hate for my own law school's professors and administrators that I do for Goldman Sachs.

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  10. Good post 12:46, but you have to understand that the law school scam crowd doesn't do anything that would risk an IRL confrontation. Hence don't expect anyone to send emails for you.

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  11. @12:55 p.m.:

    You're a stand-up, completely heterosexual guy who enjoys confrontation, and clearly you've got some free time on your hands. Why don't you be ballsy and fearless for all of us weaklings? There has to be a few minutes every week between bench presses you could spare.

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  12. LawProf,

    Your cause is just, but you reveal a certain cluelessness of your own with the opening line of your Newsweek/Daily Beast piece:
    "I am a baby boomer. Like many people my age, I have a high-paying and generally pleasant job, which features excellent benefits and a flexible work schedule." Like many people your age--Seriously?? LawProf, you are in a tiny minority of hyper-privileged boomers! Most boomers, including the professional classes, toil for their daily bread in high pressure, insecure, inflexible jobs without the perks and luxuries that you enjoy as a tenured law professor. Those boomers who have lost their jobs in the Great Recession are in truly terrible shape--middle-aged adults with families who have been kicked to the curb and left for dead, many of whom face destitution because rampant age discrimination makes landing another job near impossible. Do you honestly think that so many students would be burdened with such high levels of debt if their parents (boomers!) had the money to pay for their educations?? How many millions of boomer parents have taken out second mortgages and depleted their pathetic 401(k)s in order to (partially) pay their children's college tuition?? The real point is, our society is rigged in favor of the wealthy and powerful, where individuals are on their own without an adequate safety net and without a strong societal commitment to the common good. The rigging manifests itself in multiple ways, from educational institutions and banks being allowed to victimize young students with high tuition and non-dischargeable loans, to the scandal and outrage of 50 million Americans unable to afford health insurance, to the pathetically inadequate pittance called unemployment compensation which the Republican party routinely refuses to extend. So let's focus on the common good and the common enemy, and not resort to harmful and ridiculous generational stereotyping.

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  13. My comment was posted, then disappeared.

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  14. without a strong societal commitment to the common good

    When did that happen?

    I seem to remember my grandfather's generation coming together to beat the nazis and the japanese, after suffering though the depression. (side note, my grandparents took me in after my parents "couldn't deal" with me when I interfered with their third marriages. They divorced those people too. No joke).

    What did boomers come together to overcome? Taxes?

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  15. at 2:14:

    So true. The baby boomers protested the war in Vietnam but as soon as Nixon ended the draft and the BBs got jobs, had kids, or had something to lose, the protests stopped. The baby boomers are a bunch of spoiled brats who are truly fricking clueless. The WWII generation was the greatest generation, they just did a piss-poor job of raising their kids.

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  16. Actually, the "greatest generation" also looked to getting theirs. It is not baby boomers who came up with the idea of Sun City, in which no children are allowed so they will not have to pay for schooling for the next generation. It is not baby boomers who started the trend of older people saying that they should not have to pay taxes for schools because their own children were grown. I also have not noticed many of the wealthy elderly suggesting that they not take social security, even though they are sophisticated enough to know that it is not coming from money they put away.

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  17. The greatest generation was selfish. All humans are selfish to an extent. The point is that boomers were offensively, obnoxiously and parasitically selfish to the point where they are rightfully despised.

    It's a matter of degree.

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  18. That was an excellent article!

    Thank you so much for your significant efforts over the course of these past few months. You've made a real difference and this is only the beginning.

    You are a courageous and thoughtful man, Mr. Campos. I hope you realize that we are all appreciative of you for giving our situations credibility and recognition.

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  19. I did not make Law Review.

    I am the 95%.

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  20. huh BL1Y? At NYU the law review and journal editors alone are 25% of the student population. (by the way, since when did we move from 1 editor per periodical to 20 "editors" for each periodical?)

    Add staff and like half the class made law review (or a journal).

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  21. If you expand the definition, yes, numbers go up.

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  22. Excellent move, LawProf, to write an article linking the issues dealt with here on your blog to the OWS movement. I had never really made the connection, but it makes perfect sense, and in pointing it out in such a widely read forum, you are doing a huge favor for all of us.

    I think people who read your article will be shocked to learn how much educational debt has grown in the past decade. Everyone knows that unemployment is highest among the youngest, but it is that very group that is burdened by this chain around their neck. Who could blame them for taking to the streets??

    I agree with an earlier commenter that not al baby boomers have the cushy life you describe. For people who have lost their jobs at age 50 - and there are many long term unemployed in that age group - the future is bleak indeed.

    In any case, great idea to write your article. Thank you!

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  23. did you get that T&E job BL1Y?

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  24. I'm just curious. How exactly are the "occupy Wall Street" protesters accomplishing anything? As a recent law grad I'm certainly sympathetic to the argument that my generation received, on balance, a raw deal from our predecessors. But how is squatting in a park and washing myself in the McDonald's bathroom going to make that better? If someone has a coherent notion of how the current displays of rage can be channeled into policy changes, please do let us all know.

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  25. http://www.ginandtacos.com/2010/04/06/an-open-letter-from-the-boomers-to-their-children/

    This is how you do it. Your first lline killed the credibility of your article. A bomber 99er has to be fuming after reading it.

    in other news, Asbyy Jones of the wsj has another great article this morning on how first years are worthless at firms and clients are no longer gonna foot the bill for associate training. Makes sense, but you have love the the timing of coming out against it when tuition is 50k a year.

    Best line of the piece:

    "Peter Kallis, the chairman of K&L Gates, said that when the issue arises with clients,he tells them 'It's their dollar they are free to do with it as they wish.' But he said he tells the, to take a longer view. 'It's a bargain made throughout the generations that have served democracy and capitalism quite well ' "

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  26. Oops meant to say boomer 99er

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  27. Fuck the boomers. They took a booming economy and tanked it. They are currently tanking the socio-economic fabric of our society. They won't retire from jobs because they live too fucking long sucking oxygen from tanks because decades of cigarette and joint smoking have destroyed their lungs. They whittle away with heart disease ebcause they are too fucking fat from eating greasy fucking steak from the money they have stolen from the society at large. So they won't fucking die, just remain sucking at the teat of Medicare, Social Security, or inversely working until they turn 90 (Warren Buffet, fucking retire, what the fuck do you need more money for???). It's the Greedy Generation. The Destructive Generation. Just fucking retire and die.

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  28. They didn't take a booming economy and tank it. They took a good economy, pumped it up full of fluff so it looked like it was booming, and then acted surprised that an economy that stopped making or doing anything was in the toilet.

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  29. At this point, I'm strongly considering just leaving the country. I'll be damned if I'll live a quarter-century in indentured servitude because I was lied to.

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  30. BL1Y- are you saying that selling houses back and forth to each other again and again is not a viable engine for genuine economic growth?

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  31. Yes, you can't grow an economy by passing houses back and forth.

    What you need to do is draw up some paper work, pass it off to several other people, have them pass their pieces around in a circle, and then gather them back together, give them back to you, and then you hand them off to a lawyer, who divides the papers up among another group, they pass them around, hand it back to the lawyer in charge, who then hands it back to you. Now, you hand those papers to the other party to the transaction, they divide them up among their staff, pass them around, collect them, hand them off to the lawyer, have their lawyer divide them up, pass them around, collect them, and pass them back. ...And then you pass the houses back and forth. THAT is how you grow an economy.

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  32. Boomer-nomics < Underwear Gnome Business Model

    Nice job boomers. You've got hair plugs, third wives, empty McMansions, and empty retirement accounts.

    You reap what you sow.

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  33. But wait, apparently things aren't as bad as they seem. If it comes from Ilya Somin (originally from another law prof. Aaron Taylor) and the Volokh Conspiracy, it must be true. We'll all be fine, there are plenty of law jobs with adequate pay to handle your debt.

    http://volokh.com/2011/10/17/challenging-the-conventional-wisdom-about-the-job-market-for-lawyers/

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  34. I think there are two issues here that need to be separated.

    The first issue is the cluelessness of most boomers to the higher-ed bubble. Boomers generally are unaware of the tremendous extent to which increases in college and grad school tuition have outstripped inflation, and the nondischargeability of school debt. Boomers tend not to realize that the situation facing college grads today is drastically different from the situation they faced -- and that taxpayers will get the bill when so much school debt becomes worthless. That fact that boomers largely don't get this has led, I think, to much of the dismissive attitude toward OWS. The whole country needs to be better informed about the higher-ed bubble.

    The second issue is blame. Most boomers are victims of the Wall Street-Washington nexus as much as recent grads are. The disappearance of pensions, the increasingly shaky state of Social Security and Medicare, the whipsawing of the stock market (where crappy interest rates and constant inflation have forced boomers to risk their savings) have put most people in their 50s in a real bind. And that's not even counting those who have lost jobs in the recession.

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  35. Lemuel, While a lot of Boomers did get screwed over in the bad economy, we have to recognize that they're the ones who have controlled the vote for the last 40 years, they're the ones who let this happen, and in many cases encouraged it. OWS should let boomers in to their ranks, but it needs to be with the understanding that this is a youth movement. The boomers had their shot and will not be given the wheel again.

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  36. Interesting article. The analogy to the 1960s is weak. I think the protests in the 60s were more due to the war and changing social mores than the economy. You could argue that it was expanding economic opportunities that made some of the social mores obsolete. Boomers really haven't faced anything like the current economic forces (though the youth today aren't subjected to the draft either).

    The analogies with the 1930s and 1890s are much more on target.

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  37. Articles like these should give anyone---even the lucky ones---pause: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2011/10/17/first-year-associates-are-they-worth-it/

    Law school will truly only be beneficial to those whose parent's income and or their own allows them to go relatively debt-free if big law associates are no longer worth their initial entry salaries.

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  38. It's exactly the opposite at my firm. Partners love staffing first years on their matters because their billing rate is much cheaper than midlevels. Once you hit third and fourth year it becomes a lot harder to get work because you're billing out at over $500 an hour.

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  39. Warren Buffet is pushing a constitutional amendment that would require the following changes in Congress:

    1.
    No Tenure / No Pension. A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

    2.
    Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It may not be used for any other purpose.

    3.
    Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

    4.
    Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

    5.
    Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

    6.
    Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

    Buffet and I are members of the in-between generation. We were too young for WW II and too old to be boomers.I think he makes a whole lot of good old midwestern sense with his proposal and he has the gravitas to make it happen.
    I think the OWS folks could surely support it as well.

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