Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Game & The Scam

We hear a lot about the law school “scam”, but I wonder if we can be more specific. We might divide the problem in two: the law school game and the law school scam

The law school game is the overall public policy that exists right now in education. This consists of the mo’money sent (usually) by the Department of Education (i.e., federal government) directly to the schools; this money is then sucked up by the administration and faculty who, as long as they provide a semblance of an “education” to the students—who are legally 100% on the hook for it via nondischargeable “loans”—get to do as they please and even pay themselves yacht-level money. In this “fake socialism”, where higher education is free but not really free, students can sign away government money but must pay it back, the law schools are merely playing along, taking advantage of regulatory loopholes. The original intention of student loans could not have been the current situation, or they would never have been approved of; Congress did not intend that people would enroll in unneeded degree programs, and that schools would accept more students than society needs. 

The reality is, of course, the race to the bottom; that is, eventually the rules get played to their max. Some school will take advantage of the situation, and the others will eventually fall into line or else cease to exist. For instance, any law school (outside the top-ranked private or flagship state schools) that was run by saints (i.e., conscientious people) would have already closed its doors years ago. The only schools left are the ones not run by saints, or any other people who are known for their non-worldliness. The game creates more schools than are actually needed, because the “loan” (i.e., government) money is for the taking. Another way to put is that since the game is about getting money and not “educating” other people’s children, as long as there is available money there will be available seats in “schools”. 

If that is the game, what then is the scam? The scam is the immoral turn to the game. Once the game to get “student loans” (i.e., our money) began, eventually schools would continue to push for more and more of that money, in competition with one another as much as anything. That is, once one law school started the “95% placement within nine months after graduation” rigmarole, the others had to follow. How could a dean run the only law school that didn’t have impressive-to-a-22-year-old “job placement” numbers? There we have our scam: the school needs numbers inviting enough to attract (usually) 22-year-old student loan signers, but not so inviting that it would be obviously false. For instance, if the schools promised a million dollars a year as a mean salary, it would be not be believed even by the “special snowflakes”. It would also awaken the public and trigger some kind of FTC investigation. So the schools had to promise the 0L’s a good bit of monay, but subtly and defensibly. These promises have slowly been exposed when the falsity is too blatant, and therefore provable. It remains to be seen whether additional transparency will be forced on them. 

So we have our situation: those going after the game of how higher education is funded overall, and those going after the scam of how the game is played. For example, the “game” is addressed by sites like this and the “scam” addressed by sites like this. Both game and scam are fundamentally connected with one another; to fight one is to fight the other.

The game and the scam: both are part of the problem, and both need to be addressed. The game is harder to change but stops the problem entirely by ending the structure in which that problem could exist; the scam can at least be limited with effort by reformers, although as long as the game continues there will always be “special snowflakes” who ignore any advice besides how wonderful their biglaw/nonprofit legal career will be. 

Preston Bell (premeditatedmeditations.com) is the author of the (free) eBook about the Law School situation: Smarter Than Socrates: The End of the Law School Era. 


  1. If we stop the money flow, we stop the game and the scam.

  2. The battle for Helm's Deep is over. The battle for Middle Earth is about to begin:


  3. I always think of Omar Little when I see "the game."

    Given some advertising materials I've seen, I imagine the law schools think the same way.

  4. We Feel Like We Are DeadMarch 12, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    Here's a fun article in Time magazine online:
    "Researcher: Zombie Fads Peak When Society Unhappy"

    The researcher notes that the zombie mob trend "mirrors a level of cultural dissatisfaction and economic upheaval."

    Maybe some zombie walks by recent law grads should be staged outside of law school events (also, there's the annual AALS conference).

    The researcher sums it up this way: "To me, it’s such an obvious allegory. We feel like, in one way, we’re dead.”
    Yes. Many of us do.

    Read more: http://entertainment.time.com/2013/03/12/researcher-zombie-fads-peak-when-society-unhappy/#ixzz2NMpdJKcH

  5. interesting stuff here worthy of a post:

    big drop in 25/75 lsats and gpa across the board for fall class of 2012. fall class of 2013 going to be even uglier.

  6. Speaking of sucking up money, how's this? Wonder how much of this still goes on at many other schools?

    " the problem with the forgivable loan program was that, by having money go directly from the foundation to employees, it kept large chunks of some faculty members' compensation hidden from public view."


    1. Pigs and Forgiveable LoansMarch 13, 2013 at 3:59 PM

      The "forgiveable loan" scam really needs to come to light--it seems to be widespread and is used as a faculty "recruitment tool." According to the papers, O'Brien, the New England Dean, was given an astronomical loan. The forgiveable loan scam took down the UT Dean awhile back (he was being selective in who got them and pissed certain faculty off because they weren't getting their's. They would have kept their mouths' shut if they had been allowed to pig out at the trough with the other faculty members. Pigs.).

    2. Pigs and Forgiveable LoansMarch 14, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      Meant "forgivable." whoops.

  7. This is a good little piece of writing. It's easy to confuse the game with the scam, and I'm glad that someone has taken the time to spell it out. There *is* a difference between the normal higher ed sales techniques (game, not scam), and the actual scam itself (false stats etc.)

    I think that too many people get sucked into thinking that losing at the game means that they've been scammed. Not true. People win and lose at the game of higher ed. That's normal. It's when they lose because of the scam that we run into problems.

    As an aside, why the drop in comments?

  8. From Princeton, for God's sake.

    "The law profession is relevant ... and the room being created for young talent is expanding. There has not been a better time to go to law school in recent memory ... Princeton students tend to be of the caliber that would revamp the increasingly bad output of law schools."


    1. Princeton's target audience is different (if you know their grads). What the passage actually infers is, "the law profession for Princeton Grads who go on to Harvard, Stanford, and Yale is relevant... [and if you are thinking about attending a TTT, you're obviously not a Princeton grad]."

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