This comment from Bored3L is the kind of thing that makes one ask oneself (I actually hate that precious academic formulation -- that makes me ask myself) what exactly the hell I think I'm doing:
I was on an Amtrak train today. I met a student at [insert expensive private school here] who is thinking about going to [insert private TTT law schools already/about to be sued here]. She has 100K in UG debt and a 155 LSAT which she barely studied for ("well, I was working a lot, and it's really hard to study for the test when everyone else is partying!). No scholarship money. She is from a working class family where her mother makes 30K a year and she makes about the same waitressing. In the hour long conversation we had she managed to trot out nearly every single clueless 0L cliche in the book. She has a prelaw degree, so she can't get jobs outside of law school. Her two semesters abroad during UG and basic command of a language will give her a leg up in war crimes and human rights law. She knows the job situation is bad, but adversity hasn't stopped her before. She REALLY REALLY wants to be a lawyer, unlike all her classmates who don't really care. She needs to go to law school, because she sees no other way she can make payments on the 96K of debt she has.Anecdotes are not data blah yadda etc., but the other day I was talking about the reverse diploma dilemma (this is the obverse of the classic situation in which one spouse puts another through school to get a valuable professional degree and then gets dumped shortly afterwards; in other words how do you analyze the situation when the degree is actually a major marital debt rather than an asset?) in the context of discussing marital property in a class of first-years, and I asked how many people knew what IBR was. Almost nobody did.
I was floored by that last one. I asked if she had federal loans. She said yes. I asked if she knew what IBR was. She said no. This person, this "sophisticated consumer" to be precise, was thinking of taking on another 150K of law school debt because -- she didn't want to pay back her 100K in UG debt for three years!
This girl knew the score. She knew a lot of unemployed grads. She even knew of people waitressing and bartending at her restaurant with JDs from the schools she wanted to attend!
I asked her how many people in her pre-law program wanted to go to law school. More than half. I asked her how many knew about the articles in the NYT and almost every other major national paper. She said almost none. I gave her the URL of this site and others.
I am writing this post on a red-eye train back to New York. Hopefully I got through to her. But I know I didn't. Next year she will march off to law school. And Judge Melvin Schweitzer will still be convinced she's a reasonable person acting reasonably. And TTT profs and deans will be happy to take her loan checks- while crowing about social justice and fairness.
The rational maximizer of utility is basically a bunch of bullshit made up by econ professors so that they could claim their equations were about the world, as opposed to constituting another clever self-referential academic game (Yes I'm exaggerating. Sue me if I post too long). In other words trying to improve transparency has some value but let's not exaggerate: a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.
Also, arguing on the internet has some value but that too has its limits. How many times does this have to be pointed out: THIRTY YEARS AGO HARVARD LAW SCHOOL COST WHAT CUNY COSTS TODAY. In real dollars that is. The most expensive private law school cost what the least expensive public law school costs today. Why?
I'll tell you what the answer to that question isn't: It isn't because legal education today is substantially different from what it was thirty years ago, at least in terms of education. Law school is still made up, mostly, of three years of large lecture-style classes, which for the most part consist of analyzing appellate court opinions in terms of the doctrinal propositions of law they announce.
Yes there are more clinics (which the large majority of students never take). Yes there are now lots of first year legal research and writing classes (The one I took, 25 years ago, was actually taught by third years. This was at Michigan, and the class was useless. Plus ca change). Yes the buildings are a lot fancier, and they're filled with exponentially more administrative personnel, and the tenure track professors are less likely to be straight white guys, and they teach a lot fewer classes, and they get paid twice as much, and they publish a lot more law review articles, and (just for you Bruh) state funding has been cut at the 40% of law schools that are parts of public universities. It ALL adds up -- to the point where what cost $15,000 30 years ago is going to cost $51K next fall (Harvard's tuition in both cases, in 2011 dollars).
That still works for most Harvard students, it doesn't work for most students almost anywhere else, and I'm not sure what the point is of continuing to repeat this, especially since it tends to provoke the six blind men touching the elephant response (it's a wall; no it's a rope; no it's a tree etc).
Law school is pretty much the same educational experience it was 30 years ago, because it continues to be taught by pretty much the same kinds of people (now with new improved race/gender/ diversity; class diversity not included) in the same kinds of way. Oh yes there are a whole bunch more PhDs, which ensures that more people who didn't want to go to grad school will be subjected to something loosely resembling a faux grad school experience, and there are five times more articles (this is literally true) being published in law reviews, to the unspeakable benefit of the entire human race, and everybody is getting paid a lot more and teaching a lot less, but other than that it's SNAFU all the way down, except now it costs an arm and a leg while at the same time there are no jobs for the graduates any more, which makes the absurdity of the whole thing tragic rather than farcical, since a process that merely used to be an annoying waste of time for most students has become more along the lines of a life-wrecking disaster.
So again I'm not sure what the point of continuing to repeat all that is, although there are of course various topics I haven't touched on yet which are worth writing about (I've been meaning to do a post about doc review for months now).
Anyway, I suspect I'll post somewhat less in the weeks to come while letting this thing reach what feels like a natural conclusion. Along those lines I will be giving a talk at Michigan Law School tomorrow at 12:15. It's sponsored by a dozen student groups (In the last few months I've been invited to speak at five law schools by students, and zero by faculty) and lunch will be provided, and a splendid time is guaranteed for all.*
*Not a guarantee.
Update: Just to be clear I am going to continue this blog for the present, although I will probably post somewhat less. And in any case I'm going to leave it up even after there are no new posts. One thing a colleague told me I need to do is to organize the archives into categories -- a list of posts for first-time readers, etc. BTW while it is of course gratifying to be told this blog has value for readers, I'm well aware that I'm profiting from a fundamentally unjust structure, and that to some extent I'm a hypocrite for not finding another way to make a living. However this fact seems irrelevant to the truth value of anything asserted here. That's my own problem, as is the institutional blowback "one" deals with when engaging in whistle blowing, so they aren't topics that I'm inclined to address.