On the thirty-first floor
A gold-plated door
Won't keep out the Lord's burning rain
Last night's developments in the PSU scandal serve as a reminder that a sudden wave of cleansing wrath can wash away years of corruption in even the highest and most powerful places. I'm not, of course, drawing a direct comparison between the law school crisis and the PSU's administration's (alleged) long-running coverup of Jerry Sandusky's (alleged) career as a serial child rapist. The PSU scandal features a single, unspeakably monstrous villain, and a handful of enablers, whose despicable indifference to his depredations led to the swift firing of a university president, athletic director, and iconic football coach, as soon as public opinion grasped the enormity of the crimes that had apparently been committed and hidden.
It should go without saying that children who are raped by an old man suffer an injury which is different, not merely in degree but in kind, from law school graduates whose economic and social futures are damaged severely by the combined effects of systematic misrepresentation, and the enabling and encouraging of the financial recklessness from which law students have suffered and law schools profited.
Another big difference is that the law school scam lacks a conveniently small cast of characters and an unambiguously malignant motive: it's not as if a half-dozen people got together and decided to quadruple the cost of going to law school at the same time that the value of a law degree was undergoing a serious decline, while consciously constructing a nefarious scheme to obscure these two facts from prospective law students. Instead, you have rampant structural -- as opposed to primarily individual -- corruption, which makes it far easier for individuals to disclaim any responsibility to act, and indeed to fail to notice the existence of that corruption in the first place.
Such differences make it harder to envision just how one would go about unleashing a wave of purifying social outrage against the life-wrecking aspects of the contemporary legal academic system. And indeed reforming this system will almost certainly not feature some crystallizing, triggering event. Instead what we are seeing is a slow but steady consciousness-raising, as both cyberspace and the mainstream media become aware of the extent to which the current system of legal education in America is, every year, doing immense damage to the lives of yet another new group of tens of thousands of mostly young people, by saddling them with enormous amounts of non-dischargeable taxpayer-backed debt, which finances a grossly inefficient pseudo-educational process, while continuing to mislead them seriously about their poor to non-existent legal job prospects.
In the next few days, a couple more major stories are going to be published in very high profile media venues, regarding various aspects of this crisis. These stories seem likely to get a good deal of attention both within, and more important outside, the law school world. (A little bird tells me that a couple of U.S. senators are now contemplating holding public hearings on the question of how the ABA has conducted itself regarding these matters). And they will no doubt elicit the usual defensive responses from the usual suspects. Each such moment of public attention, however, creates more opportunities for both moral clarity and real action, inside of institutions where a status quo of deep denial and reflexive repression is no longer nearly as secure as it was even a year ago.
Speaking up is difficult, and only a child or a fool believes that virtue is generally rewarded. Doing the right thing isn't easy. That doesn't make doing it any less imperative.