Monday, October 29, 2012

The working life

This week I'm planning to say a few things about the mismatch between the professional experiences of law faculty and the professional futures, if any, of their students.  Today I'd like to flag a very interesting and odd blog post by Michael Madison, who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

Madison's post concludes with this arresting analogy:

Luke Bierman quoted Hastings Dean Frank Wu, who has compared legal education to 1970s Detroit.  I’ve written of a different and to my mind, more apt comparison:  Legal education is the 20th century steel industry – massively successful up until the very end, and then, in a moment, it wasn’t.  Not successful, and not much of an industry.  American steel producers (including producers in Pittsburgh) have rebounded, and they still make lots of great steel – but the big integrated producers don’t make the huge quantities of the structural steel that made them rich and powerful, and in all that they produce today, they employ only a tiny fraction of the US workforce that they once did.  In Pittsburgh, where I live and which has become something of a poster-child for the chic revival of post-industrial America, the scars of the dislocation, disruption, and loss wrought by the crash of steel are still visible, and full of meaning and economic impact, 30 years on.
 
The collapse of American steel may or may not have been avoidable, at least at the very end.  But everyone at the top of the pyramid, on both management and labor sides, saw the end coming:  the over-capacity, the flawed economic model, the changing demand.  They saw it decades ahead of time.  Everyone diagnosed the problems as the responsibility of other players.  In macro and micro ways there were plenty of opportunities for management and labor collectively to take a balanced view of their futures and to avoid walking over the precipice together.  Yet walk over the precipice together is what, in the end, happened.  The parallel to legal education is imprecise.  At the very least, this is not law schools’ 1981, the year that Steel's struggles really started to hit home in earnest.

Is it?
What I know about the political economy of the U.S. steel industry is limited to what I learned from Tom  Geoghegan's great book Which Side Are You On?,  so I can't really comment on how apt Madison's analogy actually is, other than to note it serves as a reminder that changes in economic and social structures can happen very quickly, and that although people aren't very good at foreseeing such changes, they're still better at foreseeing them than they are at doing anything to prepare for them.

Be that as it may, Prof. Madison appears to be someone who sees that the legal services industry is undergoing radical changes, and that those changes are in the process of making the current economic structure of legal education unsustainable.  This makes the part of his post that precedes the conclusion quoted above all the more odd.  Madison argues at length that legal education needs to become more client-centered, and that the best or at least the most practical way to bring this about is for individual legal academics to employ innovative teaching techniques, and for those innovations to be supported by deans and alumni.

What's odd about this is that it seems completely disconnected from "the over-capacity, the flawed economic model, the changing demand" that wrecked the US steel industry thirty years ago and that is well on its way toward wrecking legal academia in particular and higher education in America in general.  It may well be true that it would be a good thing for law school teaching to be "client-centered," but leaving aside the immense practical difficulties that stand in the way of that happening (I'll have more to say on that shortly), is client-centered education going to create more jobs for lawyers? Is it going to make legal education cheaper? Is it going to affect the technological changes that every day are eliminating more and more traditional legal work, or transferring that work to non-lawyers?

I suspect that Prof. Madison, like so many other people in legal academia at the moment, wants to talk about curricular reform, because curricular reform is something over which law professors have a relatively high degree of individual control, and which can be undertaken at a relatively low cost, in both individual and institutional terms.  The arresting analogy with which his post ends reminds both the author and the reader that the kinds of changes that are happening in our industry, and that are just beginning to affect legal academics, aren't going to be easy or cheap.


61 comments:

  1. In the comments sections of this article the author seems to suggest law students should be trained to do things other than practice law since there are not enough jobs. A somewhat bold idea, but I don't think that will actually happen.

    "I can't say that changing legal education will assure that all grads get full-time jobs (no one can say that, credibly), but changes can, in my view, improve the odds that all will grads will get full-time jobs. But not necessarily as lawyers."

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    1. Let's start by training him to do something other than teach law. Sound like a good deal Professor Madison? How about if you roll steel? Oh, what's that you say, I missed your point and you don't want to change. You want others to change? And you don't want to sacrifice or to be inconvenienced or to recognize your part in the scam?

      Oh, if law schools won't make "huge quantities" that they previously did, then start at home. Shut down U Pitt law, and take the other Pa schools with you. U Penn gets to stay. They're the Thyssen Kruup of law schools, but all others close.

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    2. Well, I hear that Alabama farmers have crops to be picked now that no immigrants will work for them. No other Americans will take that job, maybe law students could be trained to pick crops?

      Why would anyone go to law school to learn anything other than law?

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    3. Actually this is a good plan, we could give law students loan forgiveness of a small amount for picking peaches. It wouldn't cost anyone anything at all.

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    4. Forrest, Forrest GumpOctober 29, 2012 at 1:09 PM

      "Lieutenant Dan! You got new peaches. Magic Peaches!"

      Delete
    5. To 11:24, 12:22, 12:24 and 1:09, the OP is actually making sense. You just need to get out of your ideological "law is bad" mindset. In many other countries, law is not just a single major subject, but taught in what amount to dual major degrees: law and business, law and German, law and finance, law and whatever. It's very common, seeing as many other nations have essentially restricted how many lawyers can be admitted to the profession.

      So while it's great to bleat on about how law schools should be closed and how all law professors should be taken out back and shot, it's not very contructive thinking. Having law schools reform and start producing grads who have a JD/MS or JD/MA in three years could be a useful step.

      Not perfect, no. But useful. Just like many other suggestions for stepped reform rather than your vision of torching every law school outside the T14.

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    6. It's useful in the sense that something like the present, with the minimum discomfort to today's law professors, might exist.

      Is it useful in the sense that a 3-year JD/Mx would come out better prepared or more likely to get a job than a 3-year JD? Probably not. We come out of law school generally unprepared to litigate a case from beginning to end as attorneys, and that's the school's alleged purpose - how much more likely is it that law school will become any more of a success teaching people how to become compliance officers or middle managers?

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    7. Forrest, Forrest GumpOctober 29, 2012 at 6:20 PM

      2:48, this is 1:09, and you don't read very clearly.

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    8. I came up with the idea of picking peaches in exchange for debt relief.

      That was because changing the curriculum isn't going to create any jobs or make any law student prepared for any job that would be worth the cost of attending.

      However, there are these farm laborer jobs that need doing and there are plenty of lawyers willing to shave some of their student loan debt. These lawyers will even work for free in jobs that they should be paid to do for government or even small firms, just for the chance at a job. Lessening their debt load is actually a better deal for them.

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  2. Professor Madision and his ilk simply do not get it. At DHS where I work we advertised for a GS-11/12 term, meaning it ends in two years, attorney position. This job, back in the day, would be considered garbage, scat, guano, merde. We received 200 applications in three days and had to shut down the announcement. That, Professor Madison, is reality. USS Steel my ass.

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    1. Agree. I think a better analogy is the Titanic slightly before or slightly after impact with the iceberg.

      Large, arrogant object of questionable use and design that humans had done just fine without for millennia hits an inescapable force. The flaws become apparent to anyone with eyes, and the employees and customers flee like rats into the few spots available.

      this is fun. Please add your own law school metaphor.

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    2. Not enough life boats for everyone on the ship.

      The richest people get saved and the poorest get stranded inside the lowest decks of the sinking ships.

      Only Rose gets rescued but Mythbusters proved that if she and Jack had just shared the board properly, they both could have lived! (not sure how this applies but I just saw this episode)


      Titanic had the best of everything, except that which proved most necessary, the binoculars for the watch. You know, the guys looking out for icebergs. (Law schools get credit for buildings and libraries but not how much effort they put into finding jobs for grads.)

      The survivors are scarred for life and can barely talk about their experiences.


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    3. People paying full fare were taken in by the hype of the unsinkable ship, only to find the hype had cost them their lives.

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    4. Lower class passengers thought Titanic would bring them to a new life and prosperity in America.

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    5. Prof. Madison's curriculum change is akin to the Lusitania coming to the aid of the Titanic.

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  3. This is a better deal than law school!

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  4. Isn't it possible law will get stuck in an "architecture" model? Lots more grads than jobs, low wages for most, but still plenty of students? I suppose costs can come down over time by current profs locking in their wages but paying new profs less. Not a good outcome at all, of course, but one I fear. My small town, for example, is veritably stuffed to the gills with underemployed architects!

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    1. Hey, whereabouts is your small town. Thinking I can turn some of those underemployed archies into patent draftsmen.

      They'd still be underemployed, but wouldn't have to repeat ad nauseam, "cream and sugar with that?", and I could get cheaper formal figures done.

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    2. Lexington, KY

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    3. Thanks. Beautiful area that is.

      Gotta be some way to exploit the talent to everyone's benefit (except the guys currently charging $80-100 per page).

      Why so many archies, anyway - local school overselling the dream?

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    4. I can just be anecdotal but my sense is a combination of a bad job-market nationally plus most underemployed ones stay local bc it's familiar and a nice place to live . . .
      Yeah, seriously place an ad here on craigslist or through Univ. of Kentucky. . . .

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  5. The last 30 years or so of American prosperity is a debt-leveraged facade, from the housing bubble to the consumer-credit and student-loan bubbles.

    Law Professors' retirement funds are a slice of the 1 trillion in outstanding student loans. Construction company profits on new campus projects are a slice. Laborer's wages are a slice.

    This $1T has diffused throughout the economy, fueling its share of American "prosperity." When the bill comes due, everyone will feel it, because we've all enjoyed a piece of that pie, not just the direct student borrowers.

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  6. From what I know about steel, it comes in different grades or levels of purity and quality, and the US has the natural resources for the production of very prue and high grade steel with it's coal resources etc.

    Somehow Michael Madison's comments reminded me of this:

    http://sheldonbrown.com/varsity.html

    The history of the family owned Schwinn bicycle company, which could at one time make an entire bicycle and all parts under one roof and with high grade US made steel.

    Because of foreign competition, the Schwinn Co. in its original form was driven out of the market, and all of the tooling sold off, never to be reproduced. it iwas a golden age of sorts, just as the US steel industry might be viewed as someday.

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    1. Americans are creators and craftsmen no longer. All we know how to do is buy from someone else. Impotence of consumer culture perhaps?

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    2. Still got one of those (very old now) Schwinn bikes.

      Recently bought one of my kids a new bike and spent a couple of frustrating hours putting it together.

      It had components manufactured by 10 or more separate entities. There were 6 or 7 separate sets of instructions (i.e., the "bicycle bundler" only accepted responsibility for overall instructions on about 3 or 4 of the parts).

      And the various separate sets of instructions (all obviously translated from something not originally English) didn't necessarily agree with one another when it came time to interface the components...

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  7. Many of the skyscrapers and bridges of the early to mid 20th century, and which are still standing, were made of beautifully pure and high grade virgin (non-recycled in other words) steel made in the US.

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  8. WHICH IDIOT POSTED A STORY ABOUT STEEL?

    This is a JD Painter magnet.

    After all, he boasts that his great grandfather built every skyscraper in NYC single-handed and blindfolded, all while it was snowing. From the way Painter tells it, this dude forged the fucking beams himself, carried them on his back from PA to NY, then fastened them together by firing burning hot rivets out of his ass.

    What next? A story about a law professor who has likened the legal profession to a poem?

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    1. Don't worry about JD Painter, he probably won't be here for a while due to Hurricane Sandy. But I've heard that if you say his name 3 times he appears with his banjo.

      Anyway, while he is gone, you can watch another JD Painterguy like character.

      http://www.hulu.com/watch/4183

      "My name is Matt Foley, I am a motivational speaker, and I live in a van down by the river."

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    2. "A STORY ABOUT STEEL? This is a JD Painter magnet."


      Shows what you know. Steel is not generally magnetic.

      The admixture of the other ingredients disrupts the crystalline structure of the iron and keeps it from forming sufficient alignment to be capable magnetism.

      So there.

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    3. It depends on which type of steel you are talking about.

      http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Is_steel_magnetic

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    4. "What next? A story about a law professor who has likened the legal profession to a poem?" you ask.
      ----------------------------------

      "The business of the law is to make sense of the confusion of what we call human life - to reduce it to order but at the same time to give it possibility, scope, even dignity. . . But what, then, is the business of poetry? Precisely to make sense of the chaos of our lives. To create the understanding of our lives. To compose an order which the bewildered, angry heart can recognize. To imagine man."

      Archibald MacLeish (poet & law professor)

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  9. what is 100% certain is that some ABA approved law schools will fail. The open issues: how many, and when. I personally put the # at a dozen or so, but no more than that.

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  10. Interesting how Sandy limits responses. I didn't think that law was that Mid-Atlantic.

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    1. 90% of the posts here are JD Painter and his pretend "friend" talking to himself/themselves.

      Maybe the storm is God punishing that idiot for being such a fucking loser. It was aimed right at his house. And it would take a fucking megahurricane to shut him up for more than five minutes.

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    2. The storm affected millions of people who have more to worry about than posting comment on this blog. Have you seen what happened today and tonight?

      The worst of the weather forecasts was too positive.

      A lot of the country is in serious trouble right now.

      I am very lucky as I stayed at our upstate house this weekend. And, unlike last year with Irene, we had no real problems.

      And I'm posting on this blog because I need some comic relief in my life right about now.

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    3. It's all hype - what's the tally, like 60 deaths? You have more people dying on the freeways during rush hour.

      As for the painter, I hope that the entire force of that hurricane is localized in his closet, and focused completely on his law diploma.

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  11. And just in time, the online edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education today reported that the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) is now advocaating a more relaxed standards for layoffs of tenured faculty members. The standard for laying of tenured faculty is currently "financial exigency" (imminent financial crisis of the university) but the revised/retooled standards probably will include "decline in academic quality" or "college's aability to serve students."

    It's coming.

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    1. One of my professors, a great scholar (unlike most), said in class that his tenure doesn't mean much: the university could fire him whenever it wanted to.

      And he has been teaching law for more than forty years.

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    2. Probably not PosnerOctober 29, 2012 at 5:42 PM

      I think tenure is a tricky topic.

      1. Tenure does not mean the same thing across all academic departments. In a field where a tenured prof doesn't have to raise part of his salary from grants, tenure is a pretty plush guarantee. If, however, you are in a field where a large portion of your salary is grant based (medicine, sciences), tenure means somewhat less because it isn't a guarantee of full pay. So you still have plenty of incentive to be productive. These differences should be considered when discussing cross-university reforms.

      2. Getting rid of tenure probably does mean you'd have to pay profs more in many fields. The benefits to students of getting rid of tenure might not outweigh the increase in costs or the increase in profs doing things like research that might measure productivity for employment reviews but detract from time spent on students. Many of my favorite classroom professors were underachievers when it came to publishing.

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    3. Probably not PosnerOctober 29, 2012 at 5:48 PM

      One more thought: whether or not we have tenure, it also seems like schools have a large incentive to not fire under-performing faculty.

      Much like how law firms like to boast of their 100% offer rates to summer associates, schools know they will lose applicants for faculty positions if they don't tenure everyone not egregious or if they fire people. There are undoubtedly undeserving people who currently get tenure just to keep the tenure rate. But I'm not sure getting rid of tenure would change the incentives of schools to fire people. Most under-performers are probably not hurting the school in any meaningful way, since the school isn't losing clients over a couple of bad classes. But firing them could harm the school's ability to attract talent and the comfort of those who run the school--which is, of course, what drives all decisions.

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    4. Probably a lot of the waste in universities is related to too much funding for mediocre scienctists. They tend to be subsidised while areas like law provide the subsidy. The average scientist is probably better than the average humanist but at the margin we need a mechanism to cut both back beacusemthey are losers.

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    5. There's a lot of ruin in a country. Yes, applications are down, and a few schools have slimmed down enrollment. But new schools continue to be launched. Not sure we are seeing the corner turned yet.

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    6. Probably not PosnerOctober 29, 2012 at 7:55 PM

      6:34--I think you are right that there is a lot of bad science being produced. I wonder if we would be better off funding fewer scientists really well so that the good ones could actually engage in quality research?

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    7. 6:34 here
      When in human history have more,scientists been funded by more money than now? Just because it's true that societies with a few scientists are better than societies with none where do you get the idea that more funding for science even for the "few" is better? What exactly have our lavishly-funded science Ivy-leauge departments come up with in the last decade? Be quick about it, and also be sure to contrast with the 1920's or 1880's.

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    8. aktualrealscientistOctober 30, 2012 at 12:02 AM

      We're already well-funded. And there are special lavish grants for talented new scientists, so while I'm established, I don't want to hear the whining from the ones who don't break in. Do I want more? Yes. Do I deserve it? Probably not. I got reading this because my son-in-law went to non-prestige law school. My daughter is getting a divorce. Enough said.

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  12. Sadly, not much will change without some sort of student loan reform. Everyone on here gets all excited about the stat that law school apps are down25% from the high a few years ago, but that still leaves more than enough students for every school, even Cooley, to fill its incoming class. I don't know what the solution is, but somehow we have to turn off the spigot.

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    1. More of us need to stop fucking paying!

      While we all are paying our bills and utilizing IBR and merely complaining on niche blogs that nobody outside the scam reads, the powers-that-be will continue to ignore us.

      Until the stats crossing the bean counters' desks in DC show that there's a cash flow problem, the student loan machine will continue on, fuelled by lobbyists' money and students who seem to be making ends meet.

      Money talks.

      Sadly, most of us - including me - don't want to be the first one to take a real stand. We're all a bunch of feeble whiners who can't organize ourselves and make a true statement. Instead, we sit here and complain on a blog that nobody in DC reads, just like most other student protests these days.

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    2. Yo 7:47, just pay your debts, man.

      Delete
  13. "More of us need to stop fucking paying!"

    It's easier than you think:

    (1) Teaching qualifies for the 10yr IBR program.
    (2) Working overseas allows you to use the foreign income exclusion.

    So, teach overseas (usually means ESL, but other more interesting positions can be found).

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  14. I was not impressed with Madison’s blog post. However, I think that practical training (which is apparently not what Madison means by “client-centered”) could bring down the cost of legal education if it involved replacing six-figure salaried law professors with adjunct practitioners, paid by the course.

    I once worked for an office that ran a very well-regarded clinic in our practice area at a nearby law school (the head of the office held adjunct rank, and some of the staff attorneys acted as supervisors). Our only compensation was on-campus parking privileges.

    I also think a practical training model has the potential to provide graduates with the experience, confidence, and local contacts to represent clients upon bar admission. No, I do not think that they will make a living as solos, absent big foundation and government grants to provide for legal representation of low income nonindigents, and/or readily available court-appointed work (which I favor, even if prospects look bleak now). However, maybe recent grads would be able to earn enough money doing small law to recoup what they borrowed to pay for law school. Otherwise, the median return on a law degree, when document review dries up, is likely to be zero.

    At any rate, a law degree would no longer be despised by nonlegal employers because it would represent a bundle of skills rather than, as now, a bundle of elite expectations.

    I am not especially impressed by what I read about trendsetters W&L and NYU’s third year practicums, or whatever they call it. Picking and choosing an externship or two from a menu of options during third year is not going to provide real training, and charging full tuition for the experience seems like an additional insult to the students. I would have law students pick a specialization-- family law, criminal, housing, personal injury, whatever-- at the end of first year. The following two years would be a series of externships and clinics in that speciality alone. Law school would be a modified and structured version of the old apprenticeship model that managed to produce Abraham Lincoln, Clarence Darrow, and Robert Jackson.

    However, even with the best curricular reforms, law schools will have to close. A lot of them.

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  15. "However, even with the best curricular reforms, law schools will have to close. A lot of them."

    This, and tuition, are really all that matters.

    We are churning out about twice as many lawyers each year as there are law jobs. And to add insult to injury, we are charging for a legal degree as if all of these jobs are going to be paying six-digit Biglaw salaries, when in fact only about 10% or less actually will.

    There are only two "reforms" that actually matter -- (1) the bottom 100 schools need to be closed, and (2) of the remaining schools, the lower ranked ones should be charging less than $20,000 per year to correlate with the money grads will actually be making.

    Will either of these happen... not a chance. Instead, we will have students paying $40-50,000 to spend a semester in Brazil, or to do volunteer legal work somewhere, and Cooley will open another campus in an underserved community.

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  16. "More of us need to stop fucking paying!"

    It's easier than you think:

    (1) Teaching qualifies for the 10yr IBR program.
    (2) Working overseas allows you to use the foreign income exclusion.

    So, teach overseas (usually means ESL, but other more interesting positions can be found).

    This. Your pain is self-imposed.

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  17. I live abroad and am avoiding my debts.

    It's not as easy as it sounds.

    Unless you are married to a local or are sponsored for employment by a local business, it is difficult to obtain a visa that allows you to legally work. People like me string together tourist and visitor visas (which becomes a pain) and work under the radar (which makes you paranoid).

    You can't apply for a job with the local office of a Fortune 1000 firm. They run credit checks and will reject you when your US claims and judgments pop up. And, as I said, you usually don't have the right visa to be hired.

    Fleeing abroad can be done, but it's difficult.

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  18. At 2:48:

    You are being sarcastic, right? Please tell me you don't think "law and anything" is actually marketable (beyound Starbucks and Target). I'm just not getting the joke, right?

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  19. "I live abroad and am avoiding my debts.

    It's not as easy as it sounds."

    I guess it all depends on the country and the type of work. I had a couple of friends who headed off to Asia. Initially it was to teach ESL, now they both have Uni jobs teaching other subjects. They haven't had to make a single payment on their loans since they left (the government even covers the interest for the first three years) and in 10 years all will be forgiven.

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  20. Take a cue from your parents and PROTEST. Why? Because Congress will 'come to Jesus' and write-down the extortion from an illegal price-fixed market and FRAUD? No. REVENGE. There's so much good data out there now from reliable sources. My friends and I are going to print up the unflattering facts floating around about my law school, create a professional-looking pamphlet with cites to relevant sources, hoist my tits out a button down shirt and distribute them in front of my law school on admitted students day. "Carthage must be destroyed." I swear on the life I will never have, I will shut that school down.

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  21. "I swear on the life I will never have, I will shut that school down."

    Awesome, more people need to do this.

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  22. PRO-TIP:

    *UC Hastings held a networking event last week with career services staff in which they were telling students to expect 1 YEAR OF UNEMPLOYMENT POST-GRADUATION AND ASSURING STUDENTS THAT EMPLOYMENT WAS VERY NEARLY 100% AFTER THAT YEAR.

    RETENTION FRAUD.

    *UC Hastings is offering debt counseling to students where they push IBR WITHOUT telling students the "cancelled" balances are taxed as ordinary income.

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  23. "UC Hastings"

    I have Hastings as the most likely top 50 to fold. Despite being a public uni, it's a stand alone, and Cali already has five other law schools that are higher ranked.

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    1. Wooo, yeah, I'm going to put the law school death watch list on Intrade!!!

      Delete
  24. You should write an article on a directly analogous logical disconnect related to the job placement rate for law graduates in Ontario. In Ontario, after students graduate law school and pass the bar, there is an additional licensing requirement that they "article" (apprentice) with a lawyer or law firm for 10 months. While job placement rates in Ontario aren't nearly as abysmal as in the U.S., the situation is bad enough that the Law Society of Upper Canada commissioned a report to find ways to deal with "the articling crisis." Essentially, the report recommended that articling stay in place with the caveat that there be a professional training course that students could take as an alternative if they couldn't find articling positions.

    The alternative suggestion was that articling should be done away with since its so hard to get an articling job.

    What does any of that have to do with the fact that there are too many students for too few jobs? Exactly nothing.

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