One of the worst problems with the collapsing law school scam complex, whether Fourth Tier toilets or First Tier factories, is the continued self-perpetuation of the most artificial hierarchies. The rankings-worshippers need a non-journalistic publication like USNWR—which does not fact-check the information submitted by the law schools—to organize the toilets and factories, and having a law school ranked, say, number 50 looks much more impressive when 200 law schools exist rather than 50. I can understand the nervousness of mid-ranked schools when the bottom falls out and the lowest schools close. It leaves many other schools a few steps closer to the bottom.
This is more significant than it may sound at first. After all, the current ranking system, in light of the current economic reality, provides a clear argument for closing the majority of law schools immediately.
As we all know, when it comes to adhering to the artificial law school hierarchy, all parts of the legal world have turned homogenous, from the Supreme Court to the local public defender’s office. I remember the shock I felt during one of the presidential debates last year, which took place at a college that I had never heard of, when I discovered from a newscaster’s side comment that a not-too-distant Supreme Court Justice had graduated from this no-name university. I had forgotten that until the last few decades, Supreme Court Justices and law partners came from diverse backgrounds, as they were chosen based on their supposedly distinctive careers, not on their membership in the exclusive Ivy-Club. Now, a distinctive career matters little, and the major prerequisite for nomination to SCOTUS is a Yale-Harvard-Princeton degree and a prior federal judgeship (I do not see Elena Kagan’s role as Solicitor General and Dean of Harvard Law as a substantial deviation from this trend).
This hierarchical trend, grounded in the exclusivity of one’s law school, increasingly holds true at all levels of the lawyer food chain. For example, law schools try to pack their faculties with as many T-5 graduates as possible (with the Ivies getting preference). Most members of the faculty have never practiced law. Last year, a younger law professor explained to me how his career advances each year. He goes to a hotel in Washington DC for the annual Law Professor Beauty Pageant, where administrators from law schools sift through the applications of T-5 graduates with top 10% GPAs, read the abstracts of their latest law review articles, and attempt to assemble adjuncts that look like they will have the longest list of publications on their CVs within the next few years. Eventually, those adjuncts with the longest lists of publications will compete for tenure track positions.
That’s it – that is the whole process for advancing up the law professor ladder! No experience is important, least of all teaching experience. The quality or popularity of one’s articles matter little. The law schools only care about where a professor graduated, his class rank, and the number of publications on his CV. In fact, the hiring administrators actively discourage people from publishing books, as this wastes time and space on the CV. It is better to have a long list of numerous articles because, well, it looks more impressive than a shorter list of book publications.
Most of you are aware, I am sure, that many mid-ranked T1 schools (formerly known as T2) do not hire their own graduates as professors (nor do T3/T4 law schools). In the past, a school would hire their own graduates after their litigation or commercial transaction careers began to wind down. Now, a law school hiring committee only wants professors from a higher-ranked law school, as this creates prestige in social circles and boosts the rankings in USNWR.
This ridiculous system has made the law school faculties virtually homogenous. It makes many of the T-5-graduate professors arrogant toward their non-T-5 students. The hypocrisy of the lower-ranked first tier law schools, who will not let their own graduates near an open faculty position, exposes the scam in clear terms. These schools pump out hundreds of lawyers a year, but they will never touch with a ten-foot-pole a single one of these graduates, regardless of their grades and subsequent careers.
Many years ago, I remember having dinner with a rich lawyer in Arizona, a friend of a relative, and he was telling me about how he worked his way into a partner job in his law firm. He graduated from Arizona State University’s Law School in the 1970s. As is typical of many boomers, he lectured me about how hard he worked, how different things were in his day, and how the average law graduate had a stronger work ethic. Then, he told me that for the last 15 years, his firm only has hired new associates from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, NYU, and Columbia.
I asked him point blank: doesn’t that seem hypocritical? You graduated from ASU – but you really would never interview another ASU graduate, even if he were the valedictorian?
He simply said, “No – not anymore.”
Perhaps I should’ve gotten a clue back then. Of course, I thought that he was the atypical snob rather than a representation of the standard attitude of his generation (a generation in control of most of the legal profession at this point).
Instead, I thought that my interest in criminal law and my lack of interest in “getting rich” would insulate me from the snootiness of law firms, judicial clerkships, and academia. Fat chance!
In the current employment wasteland created by the lawyer glut, many of the public defender and district attorney offices in urban areas use criteria that increasingly resembles a law firm resume screening process. More and more, the incoming public defenders, the lawyers that other lawyers used to make fun of as bumbling rejects, now hail from the top third of their classes from T-14 schools. The continuously dwindling state budgets, which causes the amount of prosecutor/defender jobs to remain static until employees resign or die, combined with the lawyer glut, has made these once-undesirable positions into a lucky catch for anyone that can pull off an interview.
This seems to be an inevitable, self-perpetuating cycle. As all of these sectors of the legal world – from elected politicians to federal judges to law school professors to law firm partners to district attorneys to public defenders – continue on the road to homogeny, this narrow sector of the “elite” defines the hierarchy for the rest. The T-5 crowd wants to hire other winners of the law school craps shoot – and so it will go.
This raises the most obvious question of all: why should we continue to have any law schools outside of the T-14 or T-25? The numbers essentially show that the majority of graduates from below the T-25 will not have long-term legal careers, so why bother keeping these schools? The continued existence of these law schools simply wastes huge amounts of taxpayer money, ruining the lives of thousands of lemmings a year and increasing the number of the permanently unemployable.
Even as some state bar associations are discussing the elimination of the third year of law school, it seems that at the same time those states are responding to the lawyer glut by increasing the minimum score needed for passing the bar exam (see Michigan, New York, California). While I agree with proposals for limiting the number of new people admitted to the bar, I do not understand why the ABA does not simply create a rule – completely within its accreditation power – that no law school can admit any students with an LSAT score below 160 (or if they want to use the number that schools create by combining a student’s GPA and LSAT score, that would work as well). This would block unprepared lemmings from law schools before they sign their lives away.
The issue is simple: why bother graduating huge numbers of JDs, only to prohibit many of them from obtaining a license after law school through ratcheted-up bar exams?
Yes, a minimum LSAT cutoff would cause many T3/T4 schools to close, as many of these schools fill 95% of each class with students scoring below the 50th percentile. Yet, a minimum LSAT cutoff would benefit the legal profession by establishing actual standards, and it would protect graduates with limited academic talent from failure on the bar exam.
Now, obviously the ABA has been in league with the law school scam complex, accrediting any toilet school as long as the administration lined the pockets of the right people. But if the right amount of pressure/exposure is placed on the ABA, the same pressure/exposure that forced them to revise the standards for law schools reporting employment/salary information, they might put commonsense gatekeeping standards in place to shut down the increasing number of open-admission law schools.
This proposed system would not change the legal hierarchy at all – it would simply reduce the number of losers in the law school rankings contest. One must be a top graduate of the T-14 to meet the minimum qualifications for most legal careers, whether in a law firm, government agency, or elsewhere. Essentially, LSAT scores already determine the prospective legal careers of 95% of students before they even apply to law schools. The LSAT already divides students into reliable categories of winners and losers. So why allow most of the loser schools to continue existing?
Outside of the fabulous faculty salaries, the loser schools provide no financial benefit to society. The one time firing of a few thousand law professors, caused by a new minimum LSAT cutoff score, is much less harmful to society than the continued overproduction of indebted, un-hirable young adults. The fired law professors probably will have enough money to survive for the rest of their lives or until they find a second career. This single purging of law schools is much more desirable than the continued generation of tens of thousands of the un-hirable lawyers with lifelong debt.