Thursday, February 9, 2012

In dreams begin responsibilities

In a comment to a post regarding what ethical obligations law professors have to discuss the economic crisis facing their students with those students, Paul Horwitz relays some interesting information about the reaction he gets in his Legal Profession class, when he lays out the daunting facts regarding the current state of that profession (in passing I think it's appropriate to note that such discussions appear to still be very unusual, and that the more legal academics who acknowledge discussing the matter with their students the better).

I will also note, in all fairness and because some of those responses are quite interesting, that my students, and others I have heard about, have a variety of responses to these issues, some of them consistent with what one reads in the comments here and some quite different, focusing as much on personal agency as on the responsibilities of legal educators or structural issues. I make no judgment on those responses here, except to say that at least some students feel strongly that both 1) the law schools themselves have things to answer for and 2) the students themselves have made willing and knowing choices that they also have to answer for, and 3) that they seem able to hold both thoughts in their heads without doing injustice to either or having their very heads explode. My students seem entirely able to think about issues of personal agency without ignoring larger questions of institutional responsibility or structural problems. If they can, professors should be able to do so too.
I certainly agree with this sentiment in general, although in fairness to particular facts quite a few commenters on this site, in the six months it's existed, have put forth some variation of the claim that "students themselves have made willing and knowing choices that they also have to answer for."

Since this isn't a subject I've discussed much I will now.  If we were to go into the business of ascribing responsibility for the construction and maintenance of the law school scam, how should we distribute it?  Three responses I believe ought to be rejected are:

(1) It's all X's fault.

(2) It's nobody's fault.

(3) It's everybody's fault so let us avoid ascribing blame and move forward.

The first response denies the complexity of the situation.  The second response embraces that complexity, attributes it to structural factors, and denies individual agency (at least moral agency) altogether.  The third is descriptively true in a banal sense, but then extracts a conclusion that doesn't necessarily follow from the truth of the description.

It's true that the current crisis is in a sense everybody's fault. The responsible parties include, but are not limited to:

(1) University administrators who continue to treat most (but not all) law schools as cash cows.

(2) Law school administrators who are more focused on empire-building than economically sustainable and ethically defensible educational models.

(3) Law faculty who have remained conveniently blind to every aspect of the crisis which might require them to sacrifice any of their current job benefits.

(4) Legal employers who love to complain about the current structure of legal education, but who often behave in a fashion that's inimical to encouraging any reform, and who in addition are more than willing to take every advantage of a saturated market in order to exploit an increasingly debt-ridden and desperate labor force.

(5) Prospective and current law students who are insufficiently curious about whether what they are told regarding the putative value of a law degree relative to the cost of acquiring one actually happens to be true.

Now I wouldn't deny that (5) has been a factor in the construction and maintenance of the current disaster.  But I do think that, on the whole, it has been a minor one in comparison to the rapacity of central administrators, the purblind ambition of deans, the self-interested cluelessness of faculty, and the complacence and indifference of legal employers.

An epigram which is (apparently mistakenly) attributed to Schopenhauer is that all truth goes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, then it is violently opposed, and finally it is accepted as self-evident.  This is obviously not true, but it does capture a certain pattern that does tend to accompany the collapse of ideologically well-defended pieces of conventional wisdom.  The conventional wisdom about law school is now in the process of collapsing, but it's important not to lose sight of how early we still are in that process, culturally speaking, and how far that process has come in a very short time.

Two years ago, you could count the number of people in legal academia who were raising the alarm about the unsustainability of the current model on the fingers of Mordecai Brown's pitching hand.  Now it sometimes seems "everyone" is talking about it.  (This is a misapprehension.  From what I can tell most legal administrators and law faculty remain cocooned in a deep and comfortable denial).

Given this rapid progression of events, it seems quite unrealistic to me to ascribe anything more than very minimal blame to recent graduates, or current second and third year law students, for failing to have been more skeptical about the conventional wisdom, and in particular for failing to have engaged in the kind of skeptical interrogation of employment and salary statistics that until about fifteen minutes ago almost no one in legal academia was undertaking (despite the fact that those of us inside the law school scam were, of course, in a vastly better position to recognize what was going on, if we had chosen to make inquiries).

The situation for current 1Ls is perhaps slightly different. The last year has featured an explosion of mainstream skepticism regarding the supposed value of law degrees.  But we shouldn't exaggerate: by the time that explosion began to reverberate widely (a crucial date here is David Segal's initial NYT piece, published 13 months ago today) most current 1Ls were very far down the pipeline in last year's application cycle.  As a particularly perceptive correspondent pointed out, there are very powerful psychological factors that make it difficult for people in the position 0Ls were in last spring to rethink their decisions.

In my view, only when we begin to discuss the current admissions cycle -- the people who are applying to law school for admission this fall -- are we beginning to discuss a cohort whose members are actually making something like "willing and knowing choices" that would make it appropriate to ascribe more than minimal responsibility to them  for choosing to participate in a process that in a large majority of cases is going to end badly.  But I would emphasize "beginning to discuss."  Again, we shouldn't exaggerate the extent to which anything like straightforward and transparent information regarding the value of a law degree is actually available, as a matter of social knowledge that can be obtained via a realistic expenditure of cultural capital, to prospective law students.

To engage in such exaggeration is a form of victim-blaming that ought to be avoided -- especially by people in the four other categories listed above, given the far larger share of responsibility they (we) have in these matters.


  1. Goddamnit I love this blog.

  2. I agree completely. Blaming the law schools entierely for the horrendous situation in which most law grads find themselves is an oversimplification, but the degree of blame that should be assigned to law students and grads is minimal (less than 10%). The reality is that anyone under age 45 in the U.S. were conditioned from an early age to believe that college education was the number one ticket to success and a better way of life, so expecting people to think critically and to be skeptical of employment data supplied by law schools and other higher education institutions simply wasn't realistic until maybe a year ago.

  3. Please don't omit nos. (6) and (7): the lenders, eager to preserve their can't-lose position, and the gov't. bureaucrats who enable them. And, I'd toss in no. (8), the U.S. News & W.R. editors who continue to cheerlead for the industry via their context-less annual rankings.

  4. As a former practicing attorney, turned head-hunter, I follow the developments in the legal market fairly closely. I am confident that the popular perception about the value of a law degree is changing.

    By way of an anecdote, I was talking with another parent at a youth sporting event last weekend (this parent was not an attorney). As we discussed what we wanted for our children as adults, he volunteered that he would never let his children go to law school, not due to any aversion to attorneys, but because he knew how bad the market was for attorneys, how miserable most attorneys were, and how having a JD on your resume is a negative outside the legal field. If non-attorney parents of children who are more than a decade from graduate school intend to direct their children away from law simply because it is a poor career choice, then change is likely to be forced on law schools if they fail to initiate that change.

  5. No, there is enough information now for people to know whether law school makes sense for them. This message is all over the medium that young people spend the bulk of their time hanging out on, the Internet. This cohort has more information available to them about this matter than ever before. They are in the position to use this information to make up their minds.

  6. As a current 0L, I am lucky to be applying now, when my decisions are well-informed. Thanks to people like Professor Campos, I feel knowledgeable enough to be responsible for my choices, which would not have been the case last year.

    However, this does not mean that the debt that I am about to take on is reasonable, nor does it mean that the problem of overpriced legal education is solved as soon as applicants wise up, nor does it mean that the law school scam's enablers--Congress, administrators, willfully blind professors, the ABA--should be off the hook (morally and otherwise) as soon as transparency is forced upon them by the likes of Prof Campos and David Segal. The fight for structural reform must continue beyond the initial step of educating law school applicants.


  7. Prospective students will spur reform by the choices they make.

  8. I appreciate your writing about this. I have less time to fully contribute to your discussion than I'd like, but let me emphasize a couple of points that seem relevant, or at least that might avoid apparently persistent misunderstandings (not by you) about what I was saying.

    1) As I said in my comments, my observation had nothing to do with the allocation of blame or responsibility. To be clear, I'm not complaining about your focus on some of those issues; I think they're perfectly valid subjects for discussion. It just wasn't what my comments were addressed to.

    2) In particular, I was emphatically not suggesting that students' thoughts about personal responsibility have anything to do with defending the actions of deans, administrators, or law professors, myself included. One commenter in particular seemed insistent that this is what I meant, even when I repeated that it was not. So let me re-emphasize that my point was to describe what they were saying, not to suggest that their conclusions constituted a defense of behavior on the part of anyone else. As I wrote on my blog many months ago, in my view law schools have an independent duty to convey accurate data and otherwise live up to standards of basic integrity, a duty that should be consistent in good economic times or bad and whether students have or feel a sense of personal responsibility or not. Even if some students did *not* rely on false or misleading information promulgate by law schools, that does not absolve the law schools of their duty to be clear and candid in the information they provide.

    3) Nor, to be clear, was I saying that those students who were talking in these terms were absolving anyone else. They were *talking* about these issues, in a reasonably complex and thoughtful way, but as I understood what they were saying, their thoughts about their role in making certain decisions was clearly not meant to suggest that they bore all the blame or that law schools etc. bore any less blame.

    4) I agree, of course, that these students might be wholly or partially wrong in their conclusions, or only half-informed, and that views on this subject may change depending on when those students entered law school. As I said in my original comment, I was specifically making no judgment about whether the students' statements were right or wrong. I would add that they are not the only constituency worth listening to: law schools should reach out and listen to a wide range of students, both current and former, both with and without jobs, both on and off the grid.

    5) One statement is worth clarifying, since I think it comes off as a little harsh. That's the line about their being able to hold two ideas in their head at the same time. I didn't mean that in contrast to commenters here, or to anyone else. My point was simply what I've reiterated here: their views were complex, and even those who discussed questions of personal responsibility and agency were not absolving anyone else, including law schools, for their own actions. I thought it was worth emphasizing because *some* commenters here (but hardly all of them, as Prof. Campos emphasizes above) have suggested that students who talk in these terms are letting others, especially the law schools, off the hook. Again, that's not what these students were saying as far as I can tell.

    I hope that clarifies what I was saying and what I wasn't. Given space constraints on comments, let me add one more comment about *why* I thought it was worth raising this issue at all.

    -- Paul Horwitz

  9. I think people tend to overestimate the ability of some students, even those who are above median on the LSAT, to even try to find the information in the first place. I know a lot of reasonably smart college students who are sorely lacking in common sense, and will take the glossy brochures and the advice of college counselors (who are utterly clueless when compared to the folks at TLS or XO) without question.

    Does the apportionment of blame even matter? The system sucks, is unsustainable, and bad for the profession and the taxpayer. Even if the students are 100% to blame for attending TTT schools at sticker, that doesn't mean we should do nothing. After 2008, hopefully nobody still believes that allowing naive people to take on huge amounts of high-interest rate debt without the ability to repay won't harm people who never made those bad decisions.

  10. The schools seek to place blame entirely on the students, when the schools willingly and knowingly publish employment and starting salary stats that they are aware are misleading. Perhaps, it helps the scammers sleep better at night. After all, many of these "educators" see themselves as performing a public service.

  11. Quite possibly the most surprising thing I found about law school was the weird disconnect between the professional legal establishment and the academic one. Professors tended not to really associate with practitioners, made no effort to make contacts with the legal community and large for the benefit of their students, and did very little work themselves in the field (which is odd considering most law professors have plenty of free time, and a lot of legal work incorporates research and writing, which law professors assume they're great at). This behavior would be considered bizarre in any other legitimate professional school and many graduate departments. I think this sort of isolation contributes to the willful blindness so many law professors show.

  12. Lawprof: You might consider legal education in light of another epigram, the Mock Turtle's four stages of arithmetic: Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision. Law schools started with great ambition to turn what was a trade learned by apprenticeship into a true learned profession, taught with academic rigor by genuine scholars. Then came Distraction, as the academy went off into the Yale model of law as a tool for making public policy and achieving social change, followed recently by the "law and" movement which combined the Yale model relatively poor scholarship in various social sciences. We are currently at the Uglification stage, in which the legal academy has built huge, unwieldy and unresponsive empire at the expense of its students, whom it has lied to and exploited. Let us hope Derision soon follows, for that may offer the best chance for reform.

    Former Philadelphia Lawyer

  13. I work with undergrads, and the situation is complicated. I have some fantastic students who are very well informed, and still choosing law school. This group has interned, networked, and by and large, choose law schools where they will come out with little or no debt. On the other side of the coin, I have some students who will ignore every piece of data that contradicts their closely-held beliefs, and they choose law school for very poor reasons. Generally, these are students who have spent their lives telling their friends and family they are going to law school, and they are not mature enough to tell their family and friends that they changed their mind. Working with them is painful. Nothing I say makes a difference. Sadly, these students tend to be the least prepared, least savvy about finances, and have the fewest resources. Many of them feel that they have been underestimated their entire lives, and I am just another person telling them they can't make it.
    It is going to take a long time for the perception that law school=riches to go away. Until that happens, I will keep seeing kids (they really aren't adults) that are making poor decisions.

  14. @ liberal dissent-- that has not been my experience at all. I think it depends on where you are and the people you know. I know many profs who maintain connections with practitioners-- folks they worked with before they became profs, through bar functions, as consultants and so forth. There are lots of profs who are married to practitioners, too. That is happening a lot more as people in all professional schools are now marrying their classmates.

  15. Why, then, did I discuss these issues at all? Remember the context: a group of professors were sharing their experiences about raising in class the issues that have formed the subject of this blog--something all law professors ought to do and too few have. I have raised these issues in class and made them a focus of my legal ethics course. I didn't know what the students would say, and I thought it was worth sharing their actual responses. The fact that any students raised questions of personal agency at all was surprising to me, as was the thoughtful and nuanced way in which they did so. That's why I thought it worth sharing. Because too few professors actually discuss these issues in class, we know too little about their views, and about how raising these issues helps them learn, find jobs, deal with disappointments, etc. My experience was that raising these issues was positive: they appreciated actually being listened to, and the fact that I brought their complaints to the administration. They were also much more willing to engage with the course itself, because they felt the professor didn't simply view them as mere abstractions.

    Not every student raised these issues, and I didn't assume that those who did were right. But I do think we have an obligation not only to raise "legal crisis" issues in class, but to listen respectfully and open-mindedly to their answers. I was genuinely interested in learning from them and found it educational. They're not the only constituency we should listen to, and we needn't accept what they say as unquestionably true or right. But we *should* solicit their views, and think about them as we try to figure out how to do our jobs better and more responsibly as *individual* professors. A number of commenters here have complained that professors don't listen to students at all; I think we do need to listen to them, and to share and try to address their responses. When one gets a response that's surprising (to me at least), it's worth sharing and thinking about it. Their answers were complex: they didn't think it was either all their fault or nobody's fault at all. But the fact that they were grappling with their own role and choices is worth thinking about--not for purposes of blame or absolution, but just to think about. And it can have practical value. For instance, some students argued that they knew that if they wanted a skills-based education or to specialize in a particular field, they should take relevant courses, but didn't always do so; they thought they were adults and had some agency in these decisions. That tells us something about what they want and about what they themselves believe they ought to do. But it also tells us that we need to make sure that course selection and availability make it easy for them to do so (a point I subsequently raised with my administration).

    I could say more, but I'll leave it at that. I hope that clarifies why I wrote to share my experiences.

    -- PH

  16. @ 7:57--Thanks. That is a very valuable inside view of things. The question is what do you do about people who you believe are not thinking critically enough about the decision? This a political/philosophical question that pulling proportions of blame out of the air-- this group is 53% responsible, that group 7 and 1/2% and, so on-- will not answer. Do you act to prevent people from making the choice? Do you try to help shape their decisions? Some have suggested different loan provisions for different types of schools. That is a form of shaping behavior that would force students-- and parents whose responsibilities are seldom brought into this, even though 22 years are being constructed as kids--to think seriously about this. But that would raise a host of other political considerations.

  17. Pardon me, but before my comment at 8:09 I had another comment that apparently didn't make it online; the second comment makes less sense without it. Here's a shorter version of what I tried to say there:

    I appreciate Prof. Campos raising these issues. Because a few commenters apparently misunderstood what I was trying to say, let me clarify it again. 1) I didn't argue and don't think that the fact that students raised questions of personal agency has anything to do with whether students are to "blame" or whether law school deans, administrators, and professors are wholly or partially "not to blame." In particular, what I wrote had nothing to do with some kind of legal "defense" of the law schools. I have no problem with Prof. Campos writing about the blame issue in this post; it's a totally valid issue. But I was writing to share my experiences, and none of what I wrote was intended to state an opinion on questions of legal or moral responsibility. For what it's worth, several months ago I wrote on my blog that schools have an independent obligation to do the right thing, including, say, sharing accurate information, and that this duty exists regardless of the state of the economy, students' own knowledge, or anything else. 2) As I made clear, I made no judgments or assumptions about whether students who raised these issues were right or wrong; I was reporting their responses, not judging them. 3) I agree with Prof. Campos that different commenters on this blog have raised different responses to these issues. I also agree that views on this matter may change, in substance or reliability, depending on when students entered law school. For that matter, I think law schools should be actively seeking out and listening to the views of a range of current AND FORMER students, including those with and without jobs, etc. The responses of my current students, which I found surprising and thus worth sharing, are one piece of a larger picture, not the whole picture, and I didn't assume otherwise.

    In short, and despite some apparent misunderstanding on the part of a few commenters, what I wrote was not about assigning blame, defending the law schools, or anything of the sort. It was intended strictly to report my students' actual responses when I raised "legal crisis" issues in class, and to note that, to my surprise, for some students personal agency played a (complex) role in their thinking about these issues. I was reporting, not judging. As to why I think simply reporting those responses has some value, I refer you back to my 8:09 comment.

    -- Paul Horwitz

  18. Law Prof:

    My problem with this conversation is the difference between how you can be sure the banks and other institutions approach these issues versus how individuals approach them. Banks and institutions approach them economically and in terms of reducing their risk, and, individuals tend to approach them morally and in terms of stigma. Right now, as I post this, banks on another area of debt have negotiated a give away in mortgage fraud settlement. In those cases, it is clear that they broke the law. Yet, I do not see all this grief about personal responsibility by the banks. The entire frame in a broken system of trying to assign personal responsibility strikes me as a false one. Its a form of Sophie's Choice.

    Bruh Rabbit

  19. @PH I really do not understand why you would be so surprised that students would raise the issue of their own agency in the decision to go to law school. There is a huge investment in talking about law students as if they are uniformly clueless and infantile. They are not. Many law students are adults, and adults think about these kinds of things. Actually, thoughtful kids think about it, too. It doesn't mean they think no one else has any part in all this. But I just don't think it strange at all that some students would raise the subject of agency.

  20. "The conventional wisdom about law school is now in the process of collapsing, but it's important not to lose sight of how early we still are in that process, culturally speaking, and how far that process has come in a very short time."

    As LawProf has correctly identified in earlier posts, the health of the legal job market has been in relatively steady decline for at least 20 years (and probably substantially longer), perhaps beginning in earnest with the recession of the early 1990's that roughly coincided with a leveling off in growth of the regulatory state and expansion of government. There have been times when the short term prospects for new graduates improved somewhat (though they haven't been good since the 1980's at least), but in general the long term prospects for attorneys have not been good for at least 20 years.

    I have pondered for 20 years how this scam and false notions regarding the alleged value of a law degree are maintained in complete contradiction to what the short term and long term employment data demonstrate. I refer to LawProf's excellent and insightful post "Stigma and Silence" on February 2, 2012 as providing insight into why and how attorneys themselves haven't done more so far to expose the scam and false notions regarding the alleged value of a law degree in favor of making the real truth known. In large numbers, attorneys have covered up, denied or falsely represented their own situation out of pride, ego, to maintain dignity, etc. thereby allowing this scam and false notions regarding the alleged value of a law degree to continue. That is completely consistent with what I have observed for almost two decades.

    I lay the majority of the blame on groups 1, 2 and 3. The university administrators, law school administrators, and law school faculty (at least a large percentage of the faculty) know. They know, and they continue out of self interest and greed to sell a ridiculous excess number of JD degrees, obfuscate the real short term employment statistics and intentionally ignore the long term employment statistics. At least at my T2 school in the early 1990s many faculty members knew that many graduates would never get a real legal job much less one that justified the tuition being charged at that time, that many more would wash out after a few years, and that working as a lawyer is generally quite distasteful for those lucky enough to remain in it for several years. They admitted to all of these things openly. Moreover, around the second year of law school, I began to learn from the rumor mill that lawyering jobs at firms were extremely unstable and were in reality no more than a short term job for most. When I presented my newfound knowledge to the career services office, the response from its chief was in a very defensive tone "well we don't keep long term employment statistics." They knew. They knew 20 years ago that they were selling a lemon.

    As regards group 4, legal employers, most that I know of will quite honestly admit to the extreme glut of lawyers. After all, legal employers are in competition for business with a ridiculous number of competitors, fellow legal employers.

  21. To explain Sophie's Choice. In the movie, Sophie's Choice, the protagonist is given a choice between choosing which of her two children will be killed by a soldier. The point being that all her choices were bad because no matter what- one of her children would die. Her responsibility under such a system although seemingly relevant really isn't since the system offered no real choices, just the appearance of one. Her was a system of dealing with the consequences of the bad choices she had to live with. In a system of flat/deflated wages, debt based consumerism, reducing middle class safety net, risk shifting to the individual, what are the good choices? You can take law school out of the context of the wider American economic picture, but it certainly defeats the idea of discussing whether students are making the right choices are or not if you aren't looking at the alternatives.

    Bruh Rabbit

  22. @ Bruh Rabbit--The settlement does not preclude later prosecutions. It will also help provide relief to people who need it now, who are underwater, with most receiving help within the next year. Better to get started now than dragging this out.

  23. And Bruh Rabbit, really-- the decision to go to law school is like the decision whether to pick one child for death over another... And Sophie's Choice was first William Styron's novel that depicted the life of a woman ruined by the unspeakable acts of cruelty during the Holocaust. Nobody has to go to law school. Most people in this country do not, and yet they live.

  24. Let's not pretend like law students refuse to accept responsibility for their actions.

    A lot of us still blame ourselves for our failures in the classroom, even after learning how silly the grading and curving system is. We blame ourselves for not getting that clerkship and striking out at OCI. We still blame ourselves for the huge mistake of going to law school in the first place. The whole system is designed to make students hate and blame themselves.

    This is all changing. Law schools need the students to police themselves. Students are supposed to be appropriately shamed, keep quiet, and know their places. This is the stigma Professor Campos discussed. But, this only works when a majority of people are doing o.k. When a majority of people are on food stamps, it isn't a stigma anymore because it's become the norm. This is what we're seeing now in the law schools. "What do you mean you're on Law Review and you don't have a job lined up?"

  25. Three-Finger BrownFebruary 9, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    While I am a bit annoyed with students who didn't take the time to really research the numbers (I did) the blame game rests at the top. The law schools make the decisions, have full access to the numbers, and (most importantly) carry absolutely no risk when the shit hits the fan for their students. An even if you want to be an idiot about it and throw in "buyer beware", Ayn Randian arguments all of the problems still exist. Yes, demanding that drivers wear seat belts is a bit authoritarian but it makes the world a safer place for the people the rule was written for.

  26. I am 7:57. I teach pre-law/law at a very large public university at the undergrad level. I am incredibly blessed that I work at a school where I can be honest with my students about the employment situation for new lawyers. I am blessed that I am allowed to try to talk students out of law school if I see indicators that make it unlikely that they will succeed. And I do try to counsel students out of attending law school if they don't have a clear understanding of the debt they will acquire, loan repayment, or the employment situation for lawyers. I spend a significant amount of my time counseling students about alternatives (grad school, finding a job, etc) that can help them reach their goals. In the past week, I have counseled a student into a teaching program (he wants to help inner-city youth), and another student into taking a very good job in government (starting salary, with a BA, over 45k). But I have failed with so many others, and it keeps me up nights. I bring an actuary into my classes, and he demonstrates what it takes to pay off 50, 100, 150, and 200k in student loan debt. It scares the wrong students. Students with no undergrad debt, super grades and LSAT's, become terrified of any debt and change their plans. The ones who are already carrying 20k+ in undergrad loans don't care about the repayment amount 5 years from now; they only care about deferring current debt for another 3 years. They are big into magical thinking, believing that not only am I trying to put them down, but that they will be the 1 person from their tier 3 or 4 law school to get the 160k job that will allow them to pay off their loans. They have excuses for everything, and they believe law school will be "different" because they will study more. Their parents reinforce this belief, because they insist that all lawyers are rich. Their parents tell them that their 3.0 or 3.2 GPA as a social sciences or humanities major is impressive, and certainly they will do well in law school. All facts to the contrary are disregarded. Demographically, these students tend to come from working class and middle class families where they are first generation college students, or their parents scrapped through college and see professional school as an indication of their success as a parent. Add to this mess the fact that many admissions professionals will tell students what they want to hear to save their own jobs and put asses in seats. It becomes a Sisyphean struggle for me to try to overcome parental ignorance, societal pressure, and the fraud perpetuated by some (by no means all) admissions professionals. (I should add as a caveat that there are many very honest admissions professionals who tell students the same things I tell them. It's a small but powerful handful that manipulate student ignorance.)

    I consider myself blessed because many people who have my job title are measured by the number of students they send to law school. A handful of us--most of us are former lawyers--managed to negotiate a performance or tenure eval that does not consider number of students matriculating to law school as a measure of success.

  27. Bored3L could you email me? Thanks.

  28. I think the students over for the past three years carry more than a minimal amount of "blame."

    All of the students shouldn't get a pass just because the sellers of a product said it was better than it is. I mean, come long as the bi-modal salary distribution info been out there?

    When someone is looking at borrowing $100,000 it is NOT that difficult to see what a REASONABLE starting salary will be in your field, in your geographic location, and plugging some numbers into an online spreadsheet. For a law professor to take the position that it is "fair" to assume that all law students were reasonable if they only used the stats put out by the law schools to make their decision is absurd.

    There is blame to go around to all of those you mentioned, but current and prior students carry a heavier burden than you let on.

  29. (a) Anyone pretending the mortgage fraud settlement is good for consumers is engaged in selling propaganda.

    See the various articles on regarding the details just announced. We've been sold out once again, and no one cares about the morality of the banks.

    (b) Sophie's choice is an analogy. It means that in a system built on bad choices personal choice is illusionary. If you are going to say we systemically still have good choices (rather than just "lesser evil" or less bad choices), you are going to have to make that argument. Saying "we aren't going to die" from the choices misses the point of the analogy which again is about a system of bad choices.

    Bruh Rabbit

  30. Great comment 7:57/9:46/admissions counselor. Thank you for being honest with the students you see.

  31. I would think that employment statistics are only one of the things students consider(ed) when deciding to go to law school. There had to be some thinking about this before they got to a particular school's information. People get all sorts of information ( a lot of erroneous) about law school and the profession from a variety of sources.

  32. @9:48 - they don't get a pass. They are stuck in loans they can't ever get out of, no matter how destitute they become. The system is rigged to take advantage of people who make poor decisions. Should mortgages be non-dischargeable?

    Bruh - if you read Matt Taibbi's blog from Feb 8 he goes into detail about how the deal isn't horrible (all of these banks are still open to various forms of litigation)...not that the deal measures up to the damage done, its just that its not a clean sweep that the banks wanted.

  33. Yes, Bruh Rabbit, I know it was an analogy. But it's not a very good analogy. Not all analogies work. This one does not work because it implicitly likens the choice whether to go to law school with choosing one of your children to die in order to save another one. Styron chose it because anyone who has children ( and maybe some who do not) would understand the indescribable, unspeakable, horror that would be. It goes to the very marrow of human suffering.

    Also, a good choice may be not to go to law school. Or to only go to a law school that you think you can afford to go to.

  34. @7:57/9:46 - ad to all that the crappy economy and limited choices in the workplace, its no wonder some of these people engage in magical thinking. No job for me now so let me take a 6 figure gamble (that I barely comprehend) and hope that there will be one for me in 3 years.

  35. (a) If I had made an analogy about kissing only frogs without any prince in the bunch, you would now be arguing that student loans are not frogs. This is simple reasoning: the three things are alike because all the choices are bad. At this point, this is a matter of if you are capable of simple reasoning skills.

    (b) You didn't provide the good choices. You simply negated one of the bad ones. To use the kissing frogs example (so that we can get rid of your attempt to derail the argument), if decide not to kiss one less frog, that doesn't mean the other frogs are now the prince. It doesn't mean you are now acting more responsibility given the fact that all your choices are bad.

    Your responsibility is in fact irrelevant to the system of choices other than it provides a great distraction away from a need for systemic reform if in fact there are no good choices, just lesser evil ones.

    Bruh Rabbit

  36. Matt Taibbi's arguments are off the rails. I have read quite a few sources on the subject of the mortgage settlement. Again, I prefer Naked Capitalism. Most of it says the deal sucks. This is being sold in the risk shifting in the "too big to fail" bailouts were pushed way. Give a few crumbs for propaganda, but the substantive elements of the big picture deal are that the public gets screwed.

  37. So, now you read minds, too? I know you are comparing one bad thing to another. But one thing you are talking about is so wildly less horrific than the other, that you lessen your credibility and your overall point by linking the two. That's all.

    Why is not going to law school not a good choice for some people? A good choice might be to become a middle school teacher. Or, even, a kindergarten teacher; a role that studies show is incredibly important to shaping the lives of young people. No one is trying to derail anything. You just made a poor analogy to illustrate the point you were making.

    You can recognize the need for real reform without having to accept people's bad analogies. It is you who are trying deflect arguments by saying that anyone who criticizes an analogy you make is a presumptive defender of the status quo. That's a great form of inoculation; because you have the right position or view, you get to say anything you want without being held to any standard. To criticize anything you say is to criticize the movement for reform, which you, apparently, think you embody. I think you are taking this Bruh Rabbit thing a bit too seriously.

  38. I'm curious if graduating 3L's, knowing full well what they face, will report their dismal salaries without shame. The whole law-school-is-a-scam thing caught on while they were trapped in the middle of law school, and I'm sure many will at least want the satisfaction of holding their school accountable.

    I honestly don't think there is any profession where the expectation and the reality are so distant. Dreams of career versatility become getting stuck in a job you can't get a job in. Dreams of intellectual satisfaction are in actuality a series of frustrating and menial tasks, and the goal of financial independence becomes an endless financial struggle.

  39. "1) the law schools themselves have things to answer for and 2) the students themselves have made willing and knowing choices that they also have to answer for..." -Paul Horwitz

    At first read, this does appear reasonable, even given the vast difference in wealth and power between the law adminstrators and faculty and their students.

    However, what makes me settle on #1, rather than some intermediate point in the direction of #1, is that the law schools have the ability to substantially remedy the situation. It is not like being caught in a flood where some occupy the high ground and some occupy the flood plains. A little creative thinking and sacrifice on the part of the law school would make things better for the profession and for students who trusted them.

    Law schools can:

    --decrease enrollment. (Anything would help. A 50 percent reduction in enrollment would basically solve the problem, going forward).

    --rely more on adjunct practitioners and less on tenured faculty. (this would cut costs AND give students some of the practical training they desparately need, especially the ever-increasing number who will not be offered a job and who will be forced to solo, where odds of success are very low).

    --cut tuition by reducing faculty and administrator pay. (I begrudge nobody a living, even a comfortable one. But the head of my public defender agency--who supervises 200 lawyers and staff in six cities, makes 160K. Should a law professor make the same or more, just for teaching a docrinal course in hide-the-ball fashion and writing a law review article every other year? Should a law school dean make three times as much?)


  40. What about this proposal from another thread? It grew out of the discussion on the Legal Ethics Forum blog discussion that LawProf participated in. It is more a proposed reform going forward than anything that apportions blame.

    "The suggestion of having different types of law schools for different purposes is intriguing. Applicants will decide going in whether they want a traditional program, or a more truncated, specialized program. It is not likely that HYS, Chicago and schools like that will change. There will be a market for those grads among firms, corporations, and consulting outfits. They would continue to garner clerkships and top government jobs the way they do now. Those alternatives would remain expensive.

    That would leave room for other schools to offer programs tailored to students who want more practical training, who could learn how to set up their own practices, or be of more immediate use to employers, private and public. The faculty would be geared toward teaching , and be comprised of "regular" faculty and a large number of lower cost practitioner adjuncts. It could be a two year program."

  41. Lets cut through your fog of distraction. Are you argument that people have personal responsibility here?

    (a) Education, including K-12, is under assault, and is, increasingly a bad choice as a career path. No tenure. Low pay. Union busting. You just described another frog that looked like it might be a prince.

    (b) Every position you can name faces the same pressures. That's why they are all bad choices. Not everyone can become a teacher, or police officer, or plumber, or whatever other middle class magical thinking you care to add to the table as proof there's a prince amongst the frogs, and even if they could, its not a safe harbor.

  42. part 2

    (c) Nor does "not going to law school" address the systemic issues of how one is going to pay for buying that house, or even renting, covering medical bills, living a middle class life, etc.

    Without contextualizing law school as a bad choice, but one among many seemingly bad choices, in all the other economic choices people are having to make, one cannot address whether this is an issue of personal responsibility or bad system.

    It is magical thinking to think that law school will save them, but that magical thinking has a context in which other economic choices are also increasingly bad ones.

    Ignoring that context is a fog of distraction.

    bruh rabbit

  43. Okay, so the world is getting steadily worse-- the inevitable crisis of capitalism and all that. My only point was that using Sophie's Choice to illustrate the position that people are in today was over the top, inappropriate. You think it fits. I don't. We disagree.

    By the way, since you referred to the film:

  44. @ 11:42--There has never been a time in this country where there was a safe harbor for everyone, where substantial segments of the population were not holding on by their fingernails, or suffering some other form of discrimination or stunted dreams. When was there a magical time?

  45. When was there a magical time?

    At least in the past people were just broke, not broke and 150,000 in non-dischargable debt.

    Broke I can handle, I've been broke for years at a time. Being four paychecks away from IBR, and having a negative net worth into my mid 50s, feels like a gorilla on my back.

  46. What people in the past-- ever heard of sharecroppers, debt peonage, convict lease systems?

  47. @ 12:36:

    yeah, true. They had it worse than I. Though, I do use the phrase 'white collar sharecopper' a lot.

  48. (a) If you look at the economic data, from 1940s-1980, the wages were improving as well as standard of living. The spiral downwards matches the rise of Neoliberlism (corporate welfare state) and the decline of the middle class welfare state.

    (b) Everyone including nonlawyers are facing debt. A lot of it. They are drowning in it. They are facing decreasing wages. They are facing risk shifting to them personally from both the state and corporate America.

    (c) Attending law school is not happening in a vacuum. Magical thinking is occurring due to other bad choices being offered. So people rely on gambling, faith, and hope because they got nothing else being offered as an alternative. If you want to understand this way of thinking, look at the psychology of being poor. It breeds desperation.

    Bruh Rabbit

  49. When I visited the University of Minnesota College of Law several years ago, I had a fascinating conversation with the admissions professional that showed me around the school. Thanks to a lawyer parent I was less na├»ve then most and aware that law school was both expensive and not guaranteed to give me boundless riches. I asked the school rep point blank whether it made sense to attend her law school at full out-of-state sticker price when I also had offers from slightly less prestigious schools at a significant discount. She told me, straight-faced, that I shouldn’t worry about the cost of legal education, that she regretted having worried about cost when she went to law school, and that I was going to find such abundance of financial opportunity that my student loans would seem inconsequential.

    I’m not making this up.

    Needless to say I went to the slightly less prestigious school at discount, a decision I have never regretted. And yet I can’t help but wonder how many students faced with the credible assurances of a seemingly-respectable professional would have taken the words at face value. Even now, how many young people conditioned to respect academic authority figures would take the words of internet commentators over the prestigious pronouncements of university officials?

  50. Re bank settlement deal....any o"settlement" would "suck" by the very nature of settlements but if you actually read the details of what is still out there, it sin't the armageddon it was originally thought to be. Nobody on this side of the equation is jumping for joy but it isn't the complete giveaway you're making it out to be, Also, rely on more than one source.

  51. No any settlement would not "suck." This is another element of why the middle class is losing ground. The idea that every time the corporate interests pushes, we need to give ground. This is what accepted under current popular culture belief rather than what actually must be the case.

    Since I have said I didn't rely on one source, but instead indicated the one I preferred , your comments indicate you are really not reading what I have said.

    Bruh Rabbit

  52. I have a question to ask: why does it matter if the students are delusional?

    Why should law schools be able to sell a bad product to delusional customers by having the tax payer as a guarantor? In other words, why does the tax payer have to get screwed by paying law schools to destroy delusional young people?especially, when the destruction is de facto wage deflation (indebted people deflated wages for everyone because they are desperate).

  53. Professor, thank you for what you do. You remind me of some of my admired professors that were not afraid to take an unpopular stance. Also, please don't take the following personally, as it's more of a structural critique of the way law schools have decided to conduct business.

    I've been thinking recently specifically about the role of law school faculty in all of this. In the end, I can't escape the conclusion that much of this is due to the desire of the law professor to never face anything uncomfortable.

    Think about the life of an academic, particularly an undergrad professor. They'll typically rave about their job, even though they see themselves as "undercompensated" by virtue of comparing themselves with folks who work much longer weeks and don't get fall, winter and spring breaks and summers off. What they do complain about are grading papers and their course load.

    1. Law school professors have eliminated even these minor annoyances, often carrying one or two classes per semester (!) and when it comes to grading, they only grade one final exam per class. Sure, it might help the student a lot more to be critiqued along the way, but the need of the student comes second. Besides, it's rationalized away that they need to learn to "work under pressure," even though they will almost certainly be under unceasing pressure immediately whether it's 80 hour Biglaw, trying to find some sort of other way to service six figure debt at 25 years old, or just having to learn how to practice law, since they weren't really taught that during law school.

    2. Law professors spend far more time on scholarship than in developing future professionals. Students clearly need the opposite, but professors prefer the current system. Not only that, but they avoid any real risk of serious critique of their own work by setting up a law review system operated by students. Given that no student is going to call out a professor on the validity of a theory (or, more likely, the relevance of a particular article that will not be read by more than a handful of people, virtually none of whom actually practice law), they elminate any serious risk of embarrassment and are free to be completely indulgent. The student model also comes in handy as a way to outsource the drudgery of cite checks and blue booking. Free labor on the backs of the very students that pay their salaries (!) for the honor.

    3. Then, despite the clear push back from firms and employers that decry the lack of skills, the professors hold their noses up as if above the fray, refuse to "sell out" to corporate interests, and encourage their students to pursue public interest law, knowing that such a career is insufficient to repay the piles of debt that students take on in the first place.

    4. Two main complaints about law school could be solved easily. Some complain it's a year too long. Others complain that you get no practical knowledge and then still have to take a bar review course. Why not make the third year a combo clinical/bar review year?

    Continued in my next post.

  54. 5. I thought for a moment that the "scholars" might take offense to deign to have to teach something as banal as a "bar review" course. But then I remember my own bar review courses, which were essentially just videos of actual law professors, such as the "scholarly" Erwin Chemerinsky. What if, instead of the student paying $150,000 got a bar review as part of the package on the front end? Oh, that's right, professors would have to work more and Chemerinsky and his ilk wouldn't get a second check from Bar/Bri.

    6. Clincal work would be huge for the profession, if done right. The medical schools do it right. That's why they have a "match day" where their grads are placed into a profession where wages are protected and quality of the practiioners are high. Inability to place in clinical settings might indicate a need to trim class sizes in the future due to market saturation. It also might teach law students some of the basic things they'll need to be doing six months later. But we have something different.

    ...continued in my next post

  55. 7. Whereas the student might benefit from targeted clinical work in the students chosen speciality, we have to subsidize the pet projects of law professors. Law professors love no lose scenarios. They take on lost causes where they can only be the hero against a "badly broken" system. Hence the proliferation of "innocence project" clinics. Did it ever occur to anyone that every corner-cutting prosecutor, every slovenly lazy public defender who fell asleep at counsel table, or every judge who presided over these "miscarriages of justice" were trained AT ABA ACCREDITED LAW SCHOOLS. Can you imagine medical school professors taking time for clincals to go perform surgeries to fix the incompetence of their former graduates? Sure it would be harder work, and perhaps less glory, but what if law professors actually spent more time on the front end training their students in practical matters so that they'd be less likely to make mistakes in the first place....or culling the field so that fewer people who clearly shouldn't be practicing law (whether by lack of ability or lack of character) were entering the profession?

    8. Finally, it occurs to me that I went to law school barely a decade ago. It was well known then that the profession was oversaturated. But since then, 20 more law schools have popped up (with more on the way), pumping grads into a profession that cannot accomodate them. Had a morotorium been placed on new law schools at the turn of the century, and modest reductions in class sizes been made to to the existing 180 or so law schools, they might have been able to push off this crisis for at least a decade. There would still be plenty of folks without jobs, but it wouldn't be near the problem it is today, and they could've milked the theory that those without jobs were just the "resentful few" who finished at the bottom of the class, an unfortunate but unavoidable fact of life. But not now. Not with Juris Doctors serving lattes and pushing in shopping carts. I begin to wonder why this is...why at least self-preservation didn't kick in, albeit a little late, ten or twelve years ago...then it occurs to me....

    9. Everything....EVERYTHING in this current landscape is tilted towards satisfying those who view the law school model as a scholarly endeavor as opposed to a place to develop professionals. Thus every single class at Harvard, Yale and the other few elites do not see a need to control quality of the profession, but to make absolutely sure that their next crop of brilliant young legal minds aren't forced to simply work for a living, but rather that there will be plum professor jobs for a sizable percentage of THIS year's class too. And next year's. And next year's. And since law professors tend to hang onto their gigs for thirty or forty years, the only way to make that happen is to encourage expansion of the whole enterprise, whether the professional side can sustain it or not.

  56. HLS and Yale both turn out professors, but not at the same rate. Traditionally Harvard has been seen as more interested in training lawyers to practice, Yale prepares people to teach. These are cliches, but like all cliches, there is an element of truth to it.

  57. Fair enough, but rather than quibble between Harvard and Yale, I was speaking to the relative handful of schools that "produce" law professors at all, since the vast majority of law schools do not.

  58. Can everyone who wants to talk about harvard and yale please go somewhere else to jerk each other off.

  59. As if being a law student wasn’t hard enough! Well here’s a tip that may help you sleep a little better: use JD Match to help you connect with employers. I work with JD Match and they provide a free online service that uses a proprietary matching algorithm to match students with firms and firms with students. It works for you while your busy doing…well all the millions of other things you have to do.

  60. I don't the concept of personal or moral "agency" is useful in this debate. I may be reading too much into it, but it smacks of an abstract rationalization, as if not allowing students to face the consequences of their decision would harm them in a philosophical sense. This is a political issue - "responsibility" is more than adequate. "Accountability" could also be discussed. Professor Campos correctly laid out all responsible in this great post, and I might be quibbling, but he and Professor Horowitz have both used this term, and I think it is needless jargon here.

  61. I will also note, in all fairness and because some of those responses are quite interesting, that my students, and others I have heard about, have a variety of responses to these issues walnut plumber


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