Sunday, March 25, 2012

The blue pill

Robert Benchley once remarked that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who divide everything into two categories and those who don't.

Speaking of which, there really are two categories of people in world in at least one particular sense: those whose perceive the social frame in which they interact as constituting an essentially unquestionable "reality," and those who see that frame as in at least some sense contingent, arbitrary, and open to genuine critique.

This is a difficult idea to explain -- either you get it or you don't -- but I'll toss out an example. The Oxford don C.S. Lewis once described how the man who tutored him when he was a teenager preparing to take the university entrance exams would, on rare occasions, be driven to sarcasm. This would be indicated by a slight distension of his nostrils when he pronounced dicta such as "The Master of Balliol is one of the most important beings in the universe."  Now it so happens that to become such an exalted personage as the Master of Balliol it probably is necessary, at some level, to be the kind of person who, in his heart of hearts, is actually offended by that sort of lese-majesty.

For obvious reasons law schools are run by people veritably obsessed with social hierarchy, institutional status, and instilling due deference to the duly constituted authorities (most especially themselves) in their charges. These are not the kind of people who are prone to see their social context as in any sense fundamentally contingent, let alone absurd or corrupt or simply crazy.

Yet law schools have become absurd and corrupt and simply crazy places, as illustrated nicely by the latest student debt figures.  The median debt at the 191 law schools who reported data for the class of 2011 was $105,028, up 5.84% from 2010's figure of $99,236.  This happens to be just about exactly the percentage by which tuition went up for the national class of 2011 relative to the class of 2010.  At this point, law school tuition is so high that tuition increases will be close to 100% debt-financed by the nearly 90% of graduates who take on law school debt.

And keep in mind that these figures, as always, omit other educational debt.  As far as I know law schools haven't bothered to collect any data on how much educational debt the students they admit have already incurred, but given that average undergraduate debt among college graduates with debt was estimated at $24,000 three years ago, that undergraduate tuition continues to outstrip inflation by a healthy margin, and that this figure omits the (much higher) debt loads of graduates of (increasingly common) for-profit colleges it's likely that around 150 law schools featured median educational debt for graduates of more than $100,000. That's more than three-quarters of ABA-accredited schools.

(BTW the numbers for the #1 school on the 2011 list, John Marshall-Chicago, are almost surely wrong. For one thing the debt figure is 30% higher than for the class of 2010, and, even more implausibly, only 50% of graduates are listed as having law school debt, when the figure for the class of 2010 was 92.7%. The second-lowest percentage of graduates with debt on the 2011 list is 71%, at Yale. So it's likely that the school that bestows the most valuable law degree has the lowest percentage of indebted students --  a fact that would probably make even John Calvin smile).

Anyway, what keeps this whole thing going isn't merely lack of "transparency" in the most straightforward sense (important as that lack of transparency has been).  What keeps it going is something DJM emphasizes in her responses to the granting of the motion to dismiss in the NYLS class action suit.  And that's the extent to which law schools are trading on their cultural capital to fool people into thinking that doing something that simply does not make any sense for the vast majority of them to do (going into six figures of educational debt to go to law school) constitutes a reasonable and prudent investment in their futures.

Law schools are supposedly prestigious educational institutions, full of people who explicitly and even more so implicitly represent ourselves every day to our students as serious, honorable people, who can be trusted.   When a law school's administration and faculty require students to incur six figures of educational debt to get a law degree, we are representing that this decision makes sense for most if not all of our students.  To claim we're not doing this is nothing but shameless rationalization.  Why else do we crank out glossy brochures, full of purple words on a grey background? Why else do deans give inspirational welcoming speeches to each incoming class? Why else do we spend tens of millions on buildings that will instantiate through architecture the idea that what is going on here is important and worthwhile and, most of all, economically rational for all those who enter here?

That all this has become a huge, blatant, immoral, and unsustainable illusion is a thought that cannot be thought by people who do not -- who cannot -- question the constitutive beliefs that make up the very basis of the social frame in which they operate.  For such people that idea is no more plausible than the idea that the sensory world is an illusion: something which they may admit is theoretically possible, but which, again, they are so constituted as to find quite literally impossible to contemplate as a real possibility.

They took the blue pill, and they're not going to revisit that decision -- to the extent being (becoming?) a certain kind of person can even be thought of as a decision.


  1. Powerhouse post, Prof. Campos.

    I was once in the first camp regarding reality, and am now in the second. The only thing that saved my sanity, and possible my very life, was Camus. Specifically, the Plague and the Rebel.

    Reality is absurd. A desperate encounter between man's desire for reason, and the silence of a cold universe.

    I have no choice but to recognize this absurdity and press on, with the limited faculties I posses.

  2. Nowhere else but in law does one hear people referring to their colleagues as "Esteemed" and "Honorable" and similar lavish things.

    There is nothing wrong with that, but they do it so damned much, and maybe the source of it all is a great big, collective ego.

    So why should the honorable and esteemed ever start to think that they are far from perfect?

  3. Everyone that is employed by the system, and has not openly acknowledged how corrupt it is, is nothing more but leech. They destroy the future for so many people for their present gain. I can't believe you can build a career like this while most of my peers will not be able build one in the real world.

    This is American capitalism at its finest: greedy private (some public) sector AND federal rules and regulations that blindly favor that sector hidden under the blanket of non-profit.

    I find it ironic when shit private school charges more then decent public school. Nobody ever questions this logic because private should always be more expensive then public even though private in a lot of case is nothing more but toilet full of shit.

    American capitalist is likely to fail the same way Soviet communist did.

    America is experiencing similar conditions to Society Union in the early-mid 80's where educated young could not get jobs unless they were connected. People are driven into poverty by the millions and the average person is just over all more fucked then they were 10 years ago.

    School scam is just small and ugly example of broader structural issues in this country. Sort of cherry on this shit pie.

    It will be interesting to see how the Fed will deal with all of this good educational debt.

  4. I have a JD/PhD and one thing that these two fields share is the amount of debt required to obtain the degrees.

    It used to be the case that most PhD students were guaranteed assistantships that would cover tuition and modest living expenses.

    This is no longer the case.

    Many doctorate students only get the first year on an assisantship, the remaining years are on loans (and the universities are usually not upfront about the lack of assisantships past 1st year).

    The point being that people in other fields are walking out with unsustainable student debt: $150k or more. Even in fields were a PhD can lead to employment outside of the Academy, like psychology, the salary often makes paying off $150k very hard.

    Then add in undergrad and it becomes very hard.

    When higher education became infatuated with the business model it lost its way.

  5. 27% of Student Loans are more than 30 days delinquent

    This shit-bird is going to come crashing to the ground sooner than most believe.

    Dust off those resumes, TTT profs. I hope you all get to fight your grads for doc review jobs.

  6. I don't think the judge is fooled. Nor do I think many people in power are fooled. I think they are knowingly in on the con. The nice thing about our present economic condition is that you don't need a vast conspiracy to achieve it. The situation is achieved by (1) enough people benefiting from it (2) too few of the sheep doing anything about it because they are the one's who don't understand and (3) inertia. In the complex Ponzi scheme, you don't need a Bernie Madoff, just people operating off their own interest, however flawed their understanding of what their interests are.

    Bruh Rabbit

  7. "When higher education became infatuated with the business model it lost its way."

    I bet higher ed got this love affair with money when boomers got into positions to use academic institution to milk everything and everyone (students, the state, the alums, parents) for every dollar.

    Can anyone confirm this wild theory?

  8. I think it would be interesting to hear a TTT professor attempt to defend all this. Most of the professors we've heard argue with Campos teach at higher ranked schools. These people are able, for now, to convince themselves that this is just part of the recession. That is how they sleep at night. I don't know how the TTT profs do it.

  9. 1257

    Its about the belief that education is a business rather than a public good.

    Here's a link discussing how education came to be viewed as a business:

    The central tenet is that the market is God. Its at this point a circular argument, but its what is driving this rather than generational divides. I will bet many of you problem even adhere to the belief that there is nothing wrong with treating students as consumers. Example of a market is god argument: let's cut bankruptcy, because it will get people to act more rationally about debt. Hence the rationale for excluding student loans from bankruptcy.

    Bruh Rabbit

  10. the market as god argument got its start actually in the late 60s going into 70s (think of why Nixon won) with the greatest generation/the 1950s crowd who came view america as the ideal economic approach. Boomers, gen x , gen y, milenials etc are just continuing the same ideas

  11. There is one simple answer to Judge Schweitzer's conclusion that law students were too sophisticated to be fooled by the law schools dissembling on employment statistics and salaries - why? Why if law students were too smart to fall for the games did law schools dissemble? What was the point of spending huge amounts of money to hire on fellowships recent graduates at the 8-9 month mark - why not be upfront and honest about the statistics.

    Willie Sutton famously answered the question - why do you rob banks with "because that's where the money is," i.e., he would not have gone to the effort to say rob manure piles. Law schools have lied because there is a benefit in their dishonesty - and the only conceivable benefit is tuition money.

    I did read the opinion - but to be honest I skimmed it (that's all the time I had.) But in my "skim" I found it poorly reasoned. One of the major problems with the opinion is that in the first part the judge explains how the attempted Noerr Pennington defence (I forget if he used the Noerr precedent) did not "fly." The theory of that defence was that the ABA made the law school report the way it did and the ABA was acting as an adjunct of the US Department of Education, which inter alia requires disclosure of various data by schools where Federal Student loans are offers. In effect he rejected the ABA is the Federal Government argument.

    However, in the later part of the opinions he seems to have taken the position that the schools had no legal obligation to publish honest data, the absence of which would have given rise to a breach of duty claim per se ignoring the discussion in the first part. This is important because in avoiding the suggestion that the law schools owed any duty to the students of candour, good faith, fiduciary conduct - he is able to make the "students were not fooled argument." Had their been a duty to be frank and not dissemble, the law schools would have breached that duty - end of discussion - "breach of duty = liability." Only by avoiding the idea of a duty can he turn this into a question of - "so they were less than frank, but the law students were not fooled," -- "no harm, no foul."

    If I were appealing this case I would focus very hard on the idea that the law schools - as lawyers, as educators, as lenders (or at least loan arrangers) owed a duty of good faith dealing to the students, a fiduciary duty, a duty to them as clients - a duty that required the utmost level of good faith and candour. Establish the idea of a duty of candour in the law schools relationships and that gets the case over a lot of hurdles. So my advice for counsel in that case - research every case on lawyers acting as lenders, colleges in loco parentis or other duties to students, bad faith lending (the law schools arrange through their financial aid office the loans for which the proceeds go directly to the law school), etc. Nail down the duty issue and the case looks a lot better.


  12. Bruh -

    The judge is not fooled - he may even want to find for the law students. But he also wants to cover his proverbial. Letting this go up on appeal to judges on a higher pay grade (and hopefully closer to retirement) probably looks like the safe choice for him. Maybe the MTD gets reversed and the case goes to SJ...


  13. The judge got his JD in '69 and has 7 years on the bench. He's probably pretty close to being eligible for retirement based on age and years of service. I think he believes what he wrote.

  14. Higher ed and the business model cuts both ways: students end of the semester rankings and the desire for the consumer to be happy with the higher education product places great pressure on faculty to "please" their students.

    Thus, the pressure for everyone to get A's (or at least B's), the demand of lazy students to have access to the professor's powerpoints (b.c students don't want to take notes), luxurious dorms, etc.

    I'm not sure how many students these days really would want to return to the days of "look to your left, look to your right..."

    Just saying.

  15. "students end of the semester rankings"

    Just to clarify, I was referring to class evals.


    An analysis on this pig's decision to grant NYL$'s MTD - from someone who sees the judicial system and "higher education" scheme as often arbitrary and nefarious.

  17. "Those who divide everything into two categories and those who don't."

    Conservatives, for whom everything is black and white, and liberals, who see the nuances in between. Student loan debtors don't all fit in the convenient conservative mold of "how stupid do you have to be to borrow that much cash for a worthless degree?"

  18. 2:45:

    "liberals, who see the nuances in between."

    Really? A conservative and a liberal both are black and white thinkers. Neither see nuances. The whole paradigm is BS designed to divide the masses. Start thinking like a banker and you will see that whether you are liberal or conservative, the bankers just want to be paid. The L and C was just created to divide the masses. It is all bullshit.

  19. Mac K

    Sure, and that's what I suspect too. That even if he agrees,he's a coward, and covering his ass. This is what I mean by inertia. You just got to find the right interest to exploit, and fear is definitely one possibility. My point is that nothing changes in such a world view.

    It doesn't just occur in this area. take the Mortgage crisis. If you read about some of those decision, any first year law student can tell you that standing is an issue that a system based on rule a lot one can not get around. yet you get judges completely ignoring it. Why? Some may be getting direct money, but most, its probably just fear. laziness. Etc. Who needs a massive conspiracy when pushing the right buttons of human nature does all the work for you.

    I suspect this case would have been been decided as it was decided if this was some other industry other than the legal industry. Afterall, this judge has to deal with his colleagues, some of them law professors, some of them may be deciding whether he can move up the totem pole later, etc.

    its easier just to punt the issue to the next level up,but it also gives the appearance that the case was frivolous and gives succor to those who would continue to con students at a time when they were finally starting to feel a little heat. The moral of this story is -yes, its easier to keep the trains running than to realize and admit what you are doing, but it doesn't make him less morally responsible.

    Bruh Rabbit

  20. @2:32 my understandin is that generally it takes 15 years to qualify for a judicial pension


  21. 232

    We don't need to get into what motivates him. Its irrelevant, whether he's doing it because he's afraid or because he's a fool, he's still dangerous in what he's doing.

  22. 239

    I have no idea what you are saying

    Can rephrase in a way that does not just throw unrelated things together. For examplee, interest in getting personally ahead has nothing to do with whether education as a whole should be treated as a market. so i have no idea why personal interest should matter here at all much less as you are describing it

  23. actually the b.s. is that there are liberals or a left in the US at this point.

    There are conservatives, neocons, and mostly neoliberals, with a few liberals and next to no leftist. Not by any meaningful definitions of the word

    And yes, this all does matter because often people are pushing ideas without understanding what they are based on, and a result they pushing agendas against theri own interest without even knowing in the gen pop that they are doing it.

    I wish I could pull up the NY times article- the one where all these "conservatives" are voting against government programs that actually help them by voting for pols who are conservatives and you have left leaning gen pop voting for Democrats who are mostly Neoliberals like Obama who believe the market is never wrong, even if he claims he believes it is.

    If he believed the market was wrong, he wouldn't be trying to prop it up as he does in health care and other fronts. And that comes back to education on issues like bankruptcy. If your concern is moral hazard rather than public good issues like quality of life then you are going to favor blocking bankruptcy for student loans.

  24. Federal judges need 15 years to retire. Unlike federal judges,NY judges face mandatory retirement at age 70, so I'm assuming they get some type of pension benefits based on years of service at that age, regardless of how long they've served. But like 3:23 said, this guy's personal motivation isn't really relevant.

  25. It never ceases to amaze me how many legal academics have no trouble believing and teaching that things like "the law" and "justice" and "legal reasoning" are constructs, but stubbornly (I don't necessarily think willfully) refuse to see the constructed world around them. I always forget which color pill Neo takes, but there are a lot of people gritting their teeth and looking the other way to avoid taking it.

  26. "Why else do we spend tens of millions on buildings that will instantiate through architecture the idea that what is going on here is important and worthwhile and, most of all, economically rational for all those who enter here?"

    So can students now sue their schools for misleading architecture?

  27. @4:51 Evidence that supports the existence of one element of a cause of action isn't the same as the element (or the cause of action) itself.

  28. This quote from one of the first couple of comments is hilarious:

    "Everyone that is employed by the system, and has not openly acknowledged how corrupt it is, is nothing more but leech."

    So those who openly acknowledge it (ie. Campos) is something more than a leech? Funny stuff.

  29. I guess they think it's pretty neat
    to gobbble on that lending teat;
    to ride the Gravy Train on tracks
    laid across poor debtor's backs;
    to know that half the student body
    n'aer will buy a pissin' potty.

  30. Since I graduated from law school 30 years ago, there has been a huge shift in how higher education is perceived. A generation ago, law school in particular, and higher education in general was viewed as a public good -- much like public parks, public schools and public libraries. The view was society as a whole benefited from a system of higher education.

    In fact, it is this belief in education as a public good which has defined the United States since the time our constitution was ratified. States have all sponsored systems of public universities in the belief that high education had a public value. The University of Colorado was founded in the 19th century with this belief in mind. The same is true for all public universities.

    In the 1970s, right wing academics began to question the value of higher education as a public good, and argued that it is really a private good. Economists like Milton Friedman argued that higher education served to increase the economic value of the students who graduated from universities. It became a fixture of right wing ideology that students should fund their own higher education because higher education is a private, and not a public, good.

    As a result, we had the growth of student loans. Right wingers like Friedman recognized that poor and middle class students would not be able to afford a university education, and they did not want to be accused of setting up a class system, where only the wealthy had access to higher education.

    Something went terribly wrong with the right wing view of the world. After a generation, it is pretty clear that the system of student loans which has been in place for a generation has not worked as advertised.

    We have seen tuition at universities skyrocket as state legislatures cut funding for state universities. After all, if education is a private good, why should the state fund it with taxpayer dollars? But opening the public treasury for student loans has placed universities in the position of being able to charge whatever they want.

    Why is it that we can education high school kids for around $5,000 per year per pupil, but law school tuition is eight times as much? Your typical high school is better equipped and has better facilities than your typical law school. (Compare Fairview High School in Boulder with the University of Colorado Law School). Many high school teachers have advanced degrees and have actually spent more time getting those degrees than your typical law school professor. So what justifies the disparity in costs?

    Perhaps it is because a high school education is still viewed as a public good which should be supported the taxpayers?

    In any case, it is pretty obvious that a socialized educational system is far less expensive and more effective than a capitalist educational system. Does anyone doubt that the socialized higher education of a generation ago was far less expensive and far more effective than the system we have in place today.

  31. 713

    Actually high school education is also under assault. Its not perceived of as a public good either. Many of the arguments regarding higher ed are used in trying to decrease public education in general, not just higher education. This is why Prof Campos is a little annoying to me. He treats this battle all as atomized with a crowd here who wants to think they are special when in fact they aren't. In fact, the attorneys that he's using here have made this point too. There is nothing unique going on here. I leave you with this- when challenged about the quality of high school education in NY state , the state under both Democrats and Republicans (as I remember) has taken the position that there's nothing wrong with someone having just a 8th grade educational level. That's a good enough standard for them. So, at this point, this is an assault on education. Make it so expensive that people can't go. Make the quality of it less. Etc.

    Bruh Rabbit

  32. Yes, we are seeing an unprecedented assault on public schools and public school teachers. The right wingers are claiming that public school teachers are overpaid. This is just a mirror on the attack on the amounts paid to university professors. (Both Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman have commented on this on their respective blogs).

    As the wealthy press for more tax cuts, they seek to recoup the loss of revenues by cutting programs which benefit the poor and middle classes. For example, we hear a lot of talk about eliminating the tax breaks on home mortgage interest and employer provided healthcare. At the same time, these same right wingers talk about expanding the tax breaks on capital gains by eliminating taxes on capital gains altogether. The bottom line is, we end up with a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy.

    The law school student loan fiasco is just a part of this overall trend. In order to lower taxes, legislatures cut funding to higher education, forcing students to finance their own college education through student loans. To add insult to injury, the interest rates on these loans are high and the loans themselves are non-dischargeable in banktuptcy.

    It strikes me that a kid who wants to blow $100,000 plus would be better off buying a high priced sports car. At least the sports car is a lot more fun than law school, and it can always be sold off.

    In any case, this whole law school scam really rips a hole in right wing ideology. As much as the right wingers like to talk about the follies of central planning, it is hard to imagine the central planners in the old Soviet Union creating twice as many lawyers as the economy could employ.

    I think we need to recognize the problem for what it is, part of the class warfare being waged by the 1% against everyone else.

  33. To High Plains Lawyer,

    I think you're missing a huge point - it's government involvement and interference (i.e., doling out student loans without even questioning whether the student can pay back the loan) that has caused twice as many lawyers than the economy can employ. It's not the free market working. And, that is why the situation is just as bad as central planning in the former Soviet Union.

    I also interpret Friedman, et al's position a little different. It's not that education is a public good or a private good that increases the "economic value" of the student. Their point, as I see it, is that a lot of these liberal arts degrees in fact add no economic value. These degrees are worthless and teach the students no practical skills that can be used in the real world in any manner. In that vein, if an individual is stupid enough to get one of these degrees, they should pay for it themselves, not have the taxpayers pay for it. It's bad enough that taxpayers have to pay for K - 12th grade.

    What doesn't make sense is why the government would give loans to students to learn useless crap, so that they can be in debt for the rest of thier lives.

  34. High Plain Lawyers

    Note the cherrypicking in response to your post?

    So long as that's the case, it hard to address the issues even they want to deal with -

    how are you going to get at bankruptcy reform for example without public good?

    you can't teach sheep to stop being sheep.

  35. by the way- note how they claim k-12 is "bad"

    this is the mindset that pervades and why i think this site will change nothing because the solutions offered here are often more right wing outcomes like deregulation and end public loans (while ignoring private ones).

  36. @10:11 - I'm not Bruh Rabbit or HPL, but it's obvious to me that you're the one who is missing the "huge point" make by those two posters. They're discussing the legal disemployment and debt problem as part of an overall pattern of economic disenfranchisement of America's middle and working class.

    Objectively look at America overall - almost every sector (with the exception of parasitic industries such as FIRE and MIC) has stagnating job growth (partly from dropping demand and largely from offshoring/automation). Industries and households are all leveraged to the hilt. In the case of household expenditures, Elizabeth Warren has written much about the fact that the debt was not accumulated from frivilous consumer spending but from medical costs, education costs (including the indirect education costs of buying into good school districts), and the destruction of long term employment.

    Government subsidized loans is the tail of a much bigger problem of Friedman/Chicago School policies run amok. Yes, it's flashy and life destroying for many, but only scratches the surface of a much, much bigger problem.

    Perhaps if you had a solid liberal arts education that included professors who challenged their pupals to think outside the box, you would have seen the point. I personally find my worthless liberal arts education to be quite helpful, as it helped me avoid the housing bubble in 2005, the stock market in 2007, and persuaded me to look for a less soul crushing career for my JD before it was too late.

  37. Alas, liberal arts education is not so good at catching stupid grammar and spelling errors.

    make > made
    pupal > pupil

  38. LOL, 12:11.

    I didn't attend Fairview High School in Boulder, CO, so I can only speak from my own experience, and I have to say that I found K -12 education to be bad and clearly not worth the cost to taxpayers. Sorry if I didn't grow up in the right neighorhood.

    An outside the box question - aren't there people who did't get a solid liberal arts education from wonderful, underpaid professors and yet still somehow managed to avoid the housing bubble and stock market crash?

    I think the point of this blog and similar ones is that education costs can in fact be classified as frivolous (as opposed to frivilous) consumer spending.

  39. "didn't", not did't. Sorry, I don't have a liberal arts degree.

  40. I caught my own mistakes. Being able to admit one's one faults and blindsides is another wonderful features of a well rounded person - you don't need a liberal arts education to be well rounded, but don't trash talk what you haven't experienced and lack the imagination to comprehend.

    12:08 and 12:11

  41. 1:04 PM et al:

    Nice diversion, by the way (and I fell for it). I'm sure straw man building helps divert your attention from the real problem, as it momentarily diverted mine attention.

    For you people, the solution to any problem always lies with destruction of the "other".

    1:10 PM

  42. Lawprof, sometimes you should explain your literary allusions. I never bothered to see any of the Matrix movies, so I was left wondering what Viagra (also colloquially known as the blue pill) had to do with this post.

    It may be true that some of the people you are critcizing do suffer from ED, but to bring that up seemed, at least to me, to be getting a little too personal, and figuratively speaking, below the belt.

    I found that to be so odd that I did an internet search and learned that blue pill/red pill was a plot device in the Matrix.

  43. Everyone seems to be dancing around the issue of whether law schools, law school education, and by extension, lawyers, a public good or a private good.

    If they are a private good, why should we care? If someone wants to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a law degree so they can go work for big law and make lots of money, why should the taxpayer subsidize that activity through student loans or otherwise?

    On the other hand if they are public goods, why should a student bear the cost of getting an education which ultimately benefits society? Doctors, for example, can get most of their student loans forgiven, even though they are among the highest paid members of our society. It's because our government believes that doctors fulfill a public purpose.

    Personally, I have mixed feelings on this issue. I reallly have little sympathy for someont who wants to work for Biglaw, where they can help wealthy people lie, cheat and steal their way to a bigger piece of the pie. Let the people who are in it for the money pay their own way without taxpayer dollars or loans.

    On the other hand, a large part of the bar does provide a public service. For example, public prosecutors, public defenders, legal aid attorneys, government attorneys, and small town lawyers who help Mom and Pop Kettle through a rough patch all perform a valuable service. However, very few of them are paid enough to justify the investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a law school education. In many cases, they are paid less than public school teachers, while their educational expenses are much higher.

    Additionally, lawyers are officers of the Court which imposes certain public duties upon them. They are licensed and heaviy regulated. They are not allowed to engage in behavior which is the norm for the private business community (such as cutting off non-paying clients, and being required to maintain trust accounts.)

    By imposing huge financial burdens on law students, we are penalizing those who wish to pursue public objectives. In fact, it probably is cost prohibitive to seek to become a deputy district attorney or take some other public position.

  44. Since law schools graduate 45k new lawyers and there are 25k jobs out there for those lawyers, is the next step to go farther down the rabbit hole? LLM degrees, PHDs in Law, volunteering for 3 years before you get a paid job, or do you claw your way out? Forgo law school to be a paralegal, where you still do legal research/writing, work on cases, have client interaction but don't incur the ridiculous debt? Knowing that you'll never be an equity partner or able to start your own firm.

    The problem is there is a disincentive to try, if you fail you have crushing debt. Going to law school shouldn't be a make or break decision, but it is

  45. I gave up my career as a law prof, essentially for the reasons stated in this article. It is difficult to stomach seeing students unable to get legal jobs, and even if they could, would not be able to pay their debts (or could pay them, but not have any quality of life).

    Law schools are businesses, and businesses are not famous for their transparency when no transparency is required (by law or by self-regulatory organizations). That's why the ABA has to do something. The question is, who does the ABA protect? The law schools? The prospective law students? The law profession generally? Surely it is not law students, or there would be more transparency about debt, placement figures, etc. Surely it is not the legal profession, or there would not be 200+ ABA-accredited law schools, some with admissions standards far below what is necessary to produce lawyers who will advance the legal profession (and ultimately clients).

    As for High Plains Lawyer's comments, I do not disagree with her or his statements regarding public service. However, I do not think the statement about working for "Biglaw, where they can help wealthy people lie, cheat and steal their way to a bigger piece of the pie" is a fair characterization. I've worked for Biglaw and "Smalllaw" (currently) and didn't see any lying, cheating or stealing in either place. Surely it happens, but it is not the norm.

    Even Biglaw has relatively small clients...small businesses that have real people as owners. Many of them want to be zillionaires, but most of them are not. (Maybe I'm defining Biglaw differently...the Biglaw firm I worked for is one of the ten biggest in the country, with 10+ offices in the U.S. (including NY, LA and Chicago) and some offices overseas. Contrast a huge New York law firm with some offices overseas. The two would have a significantly different client base.)

    I think it is perfectly fine to view public service legal careers as more noble than those that assist people (rich and otherwise) in commerce, but that's quite a bit different than distinguishing the public and private sector based on whether they lie, cheat and steal.


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