Sunday, June 2, 2013

Book Review: Con Law: Avoiding...Or Beating the Scam of the Century


I received an advanced copy of Con Law: Avoiding…Or Beating the Scam of the Century by Charles Cooper and Thane Messinger.  The authors had previously written a number of practical guides for prospective and current law students and new lawyers about strategies for success.  This forthcoming book represents a departure from their previous titles and functions as an urgent warning for any student considering law school.

The authors divide the book into two major sections: Law School and The Legal Profession.  In contrast to the citation-heavy books of Paul Campos, Brian Tamanaha, and Steven Harper, this book uses the down-and-dirty writing style of a strategy guide to expose the Law School Industrial Complex with nightmarish clarity.  In this utterly depressing read, the authors classify most recent graduates as a lost cause and a warning to all potential law students.  It is exactly the type of warning, communicated in a tone of absolute hopelessness, which prospective students need before signing life-shattering loan documents.

Needless to say, law students will not want to listen to this bleak information about how their dream of a professional law career was based on an illusion—an opportunity that never existed.  The authors dispel all of the myths of job security, employability, prestige, and intellectual challenge.  Although the takedown of this mythology is spot-on, the lack of data in this mostly editorial, anecdotal, and conclusory book will inspire resistance from special snowflakes who will find plenty of other anecdotal books that will tell them what they want to hear.  The main weakness of this addition to the Campos-Tamanaha-Harper body of work is the ease with which a reader could brush aside many of the key assertions (even though they are true).

In this regard, Con Law can sound at times like a 261 page rant. 

On the one hand, this tour of the various rings of hell exposes an important reality: the winners of the law game are not really winners.  The authors spend many pages describing how anyone outside of the top law school categories—divided into T-5, T-10, top of the T-25, and the irrelevant law schools—will never work for Biglaw…then the book spends 40 pages describing the punishing, risky, and short-term nature of the Biglaw career even for those lucky few who make it.  The bleakness is effective and jarring. 

On the other hand, the general anecdotes wear down the reader after a while and the message gets repetitive.  Often, the details illustrate the scam better than the long stinging passages about Biglaw.  For example, the authors point out that after a law students pays six-figures toward his professors’ salaries, he often pays another few thousand dollars to see many of his same professors reteach parts of the same courses during online bar-prep videos.  The examples of these sub-scams, such as double-dipping law professors or freelancing “admissions counselors,” expose the depraved free-for-all of the Law School Industrial Complex better than the editorial content and the Biglaw war stories.

Frankly, a lot of the editorial content reads like a long scamblog post.  Because a lot of the material in Con Law covers familiar territory—at least for us—I thought that some of the best segments would have been more effective if the authors distilled the content into its core points.  Brevity would make it easier for prospective students, bombarded with information and propaganda, to understand the big picture of the rigged law school system.  There is nothing wrong with a shorter work that rehashes the arguments of others books or articles or posts if it does it well.


The authors of Con Law admit to writing many sections of the book in 2009.  This admission is telling and perhaps explains my reaction to the odd Prologue and the overall treatment of the scamblog movement, which the Prologue attempts to dismiss.  I wrote a separate section about the book’s dismissiveness of the scamblogs less out of personal pique than out of a fascination with how the authors, who essentially wrote a book-length scamblog post, try to distinguish the information in their book as somehow more “serious” than websites like ours.

The odd Prologue, written in a tone intended to backpedal from the later assertions that indeed call a scam a scam, sounds like pandering…but to who?  The authors warn that anyone who pays sticker price for a school outside of the top 10 is a “fool” (pg. 75).  One section uncovers the “bait-and-switch” of contingency scholarships and scholarship sections (pg. 108).  Another section describes the reality of the Biglaw pyramid scheme, the “systematic exploitation” of new lawyers, and the debt slavery of the Doc Review cattle herds (pg. 141).  Toward the finale, the authors reference in no unclear terms the collapsing “Ponzi scheme” that is the Law School Industrial Complex (pg. 223).

Yet, despite this content, the Prologue attempts to explain that the title—Con Law: Avoiding…Or Beating the Scam of the Century—does not actually refer to the fact that the law schools are a scam or that the administrations are dishonest.  Huh?

Later on, the book dismisses the entire scamblog movement in two vague paragraphs.  Oddly, this accompanies a point in the book where the authors encourage prospective students to speak to recent graduates of law schools.  The implication that scamblogs are a fringe element with little credibility sounds like leftovers from the 2009 draft.  This short segment even describes the scam-suits as unanimously unsuccessful, even though three (so far) have progressed into discovery.  In its breezy dismissiveness, the authors fail to even mention the game-changing Inside the Law School Scam, which reached millions of readers and continues to provide an excellent resource.

I find all of this odd, as Con Law distills many of the various arguments of the scamblogs into one sort of super-blog post, yet it fails to acknowledge sources that easily compliment and supplement the points that it makes.  In a book that outlines the various parts of the law school scam, it is deeply ironic that the authors seem to want to distance themselves from the stigma of being a scamblog loser, and so they stuck a weirdly inconsistent disclaimer into the Prologue. 

Oddly, the authors recognize that law schools wield the “loser” label to shame the majority of failed lawyers into silence.  It is too bad that the authors play along, at least a little bit, because they miss a great opportunity for exposing college students to fantastic sources of constantly-updated information about post-law school life, employment chances, individual stories, and other factual and personal information. 


Despite the many lucid passages, the author’s haphazard attempt to distinguish Con Law from the scamblog movement makes the book feel a bit dated.  Inside the Law School Scam has already come and gone.  Had Con Law been released in 2009, it might have exploded onto the scene in a mushroom cloud of shocking realness.  Today, it merely causes another ripple in an already turbulent sea.

There is a slimmer, leaner, meaner strategy guide inside this book, which could be telegraphed more effectively to educate potential students about the harsh realities of the Law School Industrial Complex.  The large “web” of information (as they describe it) about the realities of Biglaw, Doc Review, USNWR, and shitty law professors is no longer groundbreaking. 

Instead, the realistic revision of the ranking system and the importance of the failsafe drop-out points—after first semester and first year grades—would be more effective if it was not buried so deeply.

These vigorously stated rules could produce an enduring set of truisms and common wisdom for anyone who bothers to consider law school.  It could even snap a few of those special snowflakes out of their undergraduate stupor. 

In place of the disingenuous Prologue, the book should spell out up front one of its operating principles: “If you are not admitted to a top 10 law school, you are not smart.  You are average.  You have average intelligence and average ability, and any average person can attend a law school.  The Law School Industrial Complex counts on average people like you attending their schools and signing six-figure loan documents.  If you think that you are hot shit for receiving an acceptance letter from a law school, remember that in these desperate times the schools will admit anyone who meets the median LSAT requirement.  Anyone!  Think about that and think about the well-documented fact that the schools will continue to pump out two graduates for everyone one job with most jobs going to graduates from the top schools, i.e. the schools that you were too average to earn admission to.  So unless you scored a 170 on the LSAT, stop reading and save yourself from lifelong financial ruin.  If you did score a 170, read on to see the hell that awaits you in Biglaw, medium law, and your likely exit from the legal profession after a few years.”

Con Law: Avoiding…Or Beating the Scam of the Century by Charles Cooper and Thane Messinger will be available soon on Amazon.


  1. It's actually available now.

    I've just started the section about the legal profession and that seems to be where the book comes into its own and starts to be more useful than the first half where it does repeat a lot of what we already know. But to give my first impressions, so far it compares favorably with the book written by Professor Campos which I found rather weak and repetitive in comparison. I dare say that this is the book that Campos should have written had he not rushed his own, but I imagine I will be burned at the stake for saying that.

    Will report back when finished, hopefully this evening or tomorrow. There is a six pack and a Kindle waiting for me after my chores are done this morning. Sunday afternoon, a good book (I hope) and beer. Yum on all three counts.

    I think the target for this book was people who don't read this blog and who might know nothing about the scam or not trust anything that isn't in a book. Maybe that's why some of it sounds like stuff we've heard time and time again and I doubt that many readers who are regulars here will be too shocked by Con Law. But remember that law schools are still not exactly short of applicants, so there are plenty of willing lemmings who really do need this basic info banged into their heads in any way possible.

  2. Failing Law Schools - written by a rich law professor
    Don't Go To Law School (Unless) - written by a rich law professor
    Con Law - >>not<< written by professors?

    I have not read it yet but that sounds like a step in the right direction. Isn't that what this blog is about? Us taking control of the scam discussion away from those who are part of it???

  3. "In this utterly depressing read..." Good! Hopefully law school applicants will get the message that law school is jumping off a cliff into a sea of depression for the rest of their lives.

    Unlike the other type of depressing read, that being Mr. Infinity's book called Derailed at My Law School. That is depressing for another reason. Or so many other reasons.

  4. If this book sends the same messages, or rather, relates the same warnings as the scamblogs and Campos, who cares who gets the credit?

    Call it something akin to celebrity endorsement for a new pair of Nike sneakers, or in this case, Messinger lending his name for a set of ideas.

    Look: If the overall legal system is systematically and regularly producing such odd and unhappy results in the form of life destructive debt for some of it's trainees, then I would think that the overall society will be harmed in the long run.

    For example, someone poor and wrongly accused of a crime might need a good and talented defense lawyer but won't find one because said lawyer is drowning in debt and cannot help himself, let alone devote his time for the accused.

    1. I too was surprised to see someone like Messinger attached to this project, but his name carries some serious weight with prelaw advisors in colleges. This is a big step in the right direction and I hope it continues with more name brand defections to the rebellion.

    2. Aloha, Anon 12:25 -

      I had to laugh, as I have never thought I carried any weight with prelaw advisors, much less a serious quantity thereof. (As to scales, however, that's a different story.)

      I'm afraid that the demands of the day job preclude a huge amount of effort in connecting with prelaw advisors, although that has been long on the list. (Honest, it has. = : ) If you know of any who might like a connection or sympathetic ear, please feel free to pass along my email,


  5. I think the title was explained well in the prologue. 'Con Law' as in 'against law school', not as in 'everything is a giant scam'. To me, that is a rational approach to the problem. And I thought the book generally did a good job of not jumping on the crazy train and lumping Harvard and Yale and Stanford in the same group of scam schools as Cooley and everything else outside the top ten, all of which remain good schools for anyone who wants to work as a lawyer. Although perhaps not so good for anyone who wants a guaranteed job making bank. Throughout the book they seem to have made this very clear and I didn't walk away from it thinking that the authors were unclear about their position or pandering to anyone whatsoever. It was a sensible and most of all practical look at legal education and what lawyers can look forward to in their careers. (i.e. not much.) True that they don't take quite as hardline approach as we do but they hit the main points and anything out there that helps applicants run for their lives should be congratulated.

    We need more careful analysis like in Con Law, which I thought was pleasantly free of academic quotations and footnotes and academic style and pomposity and professorial detachment, kind of like this site is and which is what makes this site popular. There's lots that is scammy about law school but we all look a little stupid when we make blanket statements about how it's all a complete scam because it really isn't and the book seemed to lay out a very careful but difficult path for anyone who wants to be a lawyer but doesn't want to get sucked into the scam. Fuck, even Nando hasn't attacked the top schools yet, probably because nobody can realistically claim that they are scams. Expensive yes, but not scams, so calling the entire legal education game a scam and a con is not accurate because there are ways to succeed if you are smart and careful. And the book did a good job of explaining what even successful lawyers have to look forward to which is a pile of crap for a career even if they succeed.

    Other than that it was a good and fair review. For under three bucks, I think it is the best value anti law school book out there by a long shot.

    1. From Anon 12:17: "I think the title was explained well in the prologue. 'Con Law' as in 'against law school', not as in 'everything is a giant scam'. To me, that is a rational approach to the problem. And I thought the book generally did a good job of not jumping on the crazy train and lumping Harvard and Yale and Stanford in the same group of scam schools as Cooley and everything else outside the top ten, all of which remain good schools for anyone who wants to work as a lawyer."

      Thank you, Anon 12:17. As to footnotes, I'm sure we left a few laying around here somewhere. = : )

      As to lumping schools together, that is of course the first refuge of the desperate, and it's sad to see graduates putting [their school] along with top schools in the hope that interviewers will see the light and open the door with hearty smile. As was written elsewhere, the bottom has simply fallen out of the market, and even if employers were inclined to engage in fantasy comparisons, they cannot now.

      The bottom had fallen out of the market when I graduated in 1991, and it was just as awful. Employer after employer canceling interviews, and looks of sheer panic. So, yes, I get it. The difference now is twofold: the outrageously higher cost of law school (and books, bar review, CLE...), and the likely structural changes within the practice of law.

      As to how students think about law school categories, I'm reminded of a discussion in 2008 (I think), when Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold was published. In that book, I say something along the lines of, "If you cannot get into a Top 50 law school, think again. If you cannot get into a Top 100 law school, think *very* seriously about whether you should go." I thought I was being quite cautious, but as it happens if anything I was too generous. And would you be surprised that that was a comment, in hindsight clearly true, that ruffled the most feathers?

      About that time I dipped my toes in the online waters (with decidedly mixed results), and in one episode wrote that three-quarters of law schools could disappear and there would be absolutely no negative effect on the market. That was in the early summer of 2008, I believe.

      You might imagine that the reaction among then-current law students was rather less than enthused.

      See? I can too have fun.


  6. Books like this are simply piling on, and Cooper doesn't exactly have the credibility of Tamanaha or Harper, but I suppose more voices are better than few. As long as people like the Valvoline Dean, Larry Mitchell, and Donny Leduc keep making money off the scam, I'm fine with anyone and everyone publishing everything that they can to discredit these fraudsters.

    1. Harper perhaps, seeing as he actually practiced (although he had a rather lofty, prestigious, gold-plated career that none of us will ever achieve). Tamahana? Perhaps too, although the book never really professed to be an academic guide and Tamahana has no real legal experience over the past 20 years so I'm not exactly why he's qualified to speak out.

      As the title and initial sections ***clearly*** state, it's a book directed at the vast majority of students who will not get into Harvard and who will not ever be working in Biglaw. And in those lowly circles of the profession, Tamahana and Harper have zero experience whatsoever, which means that Cooper and Messinger are far more qualified and credible, as are most of the commenters here who are in the same boat.

      At least Cooper admits to have been a shitlawyer and worse at some point, so he's perfectly qualified to speak on that subject, which is exactly the subject of blogs like this - what happens when your dreams are trashed and you don't make Biglaw.

      And seriously, who gives a fuck what a professor or two has to say from the ivory tower? Give me the writings of someone who admits to being average any day of the week, because that's the reality most of us face. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that professors are qualified to speak on ANY subject on this blog, because they are part of the PROBLEM. We do not need professors telling us how bad it is. That's just fucking insulting.

    2. Thank you to Anons 2:03 and 6:02. As to piling on, that might well be true, but as is also true of movements, there is a critical mass needed, yet it is only in hindsight that the "natural" course of events is known. What is hidden is the effort that preceded the movement. Something "suddenly" happens, and "of course" it had to happen; yet there was usually a long-standing groundswell of opinion, sweat, and more than a few tears.

      The ABA and law schools (and their inhabitants, except for, egads, students) are very happy with the way things are, thank you very much. Firms are also content, not least because this system allows them to monopolize trained lawyers. Fewer cases come against their clients because there are nearly no competent solos with the heft to take them on--and those that do tend to be more winnable for the same reason.

      Also, Cooper *did* have a good law job, prior to being downsized (which he discusses in the book). Later he tried his hand at a solo practice, with predictable (but not widely knowable) results. This is perhaps another useful lesson to the general-population reader.

      As it happens, I literally grew up around professors, as my father was one. So I have always had a, shall we say, unique take on them. I also have had one foot in just about every door there is, which either uniquely qualifies (or disqualifies) me to comment. = : )

      Again, thank you,


  7. Re: Point 2 in the original post.

    I haven't read to the part where the scamblogs are dismissed, only having bought the book this morning, but I don't think point 2 above is accurate at all. In fact, after reading the first quarter of the book I got no impression whatsoever that Con Law is anything other than a pretty f**king good piece of writing that backs up everything we have been saying here! I'm glad people are finally stepping up to the plate and publishing and writing and taking a more active stand.

    So I actually skipped forward to the paragraphs in question. Here they are:

    (In discussing in detail how most ex-lawyers are a great source of insider information about the shitty parts of law) - "That written, care must be taken to ensure that the ex-lawyers are not going to the other extreme: those who now despise the law; who feel cheated, deceived, robbed, or some other extreme reaction; who wish to punish the legal profession for its perceived wrongs. This is a problem, because, to be honest, many recent graduates feel exactly this way. (And, well, rightfully so.) If you talk with them, take this too with a grain of salt— but if anything, give this a bit more credence than any sunny descriptions of the law as a career. After all, there must be some reason for all that negative energy. Many of the loudest voices in the law school reform movement (also known as “scamblogging”) fit one of these latter categories, offering inflammatory and often misleading “advice”: great for bringing the issue to the public's attention, but not particularly helpful when trying to guide real-life entrants to the profession. Nor is it especially helpful in bringing about real reform. If you have a sense that the advice-giver is unreasonable, take such advice with a tiny grain of salt, if at all."

    Read properly, I think that the author is politely telling readers that people like Painter (please don't ban me or delete my comment!) are f**king nuts and considered by many to be part of the scamblogging movement. I don't think the author was actually saying that all scamblogs are trash and overreacting or motivated by revenge. In fact, he's actually saying that the negative nellies are right.

    The sentence, when parsed properly, merely says that the law school reform movement is known as "scamblogging", not that most scambloggers are crazy. I don't know. I just felt that having read a quarter of the book and found it accurate and fair and 100% in line with what we've been saying here since the beginning, that something was wrong if the book suddenly went on to trash scamblogs (which it doesn't, and I didn't even find scamblogs mentioned anywhere else in the book when searching for it.)

    Sorry to bust on Adam's review, but I don't think it's accurate. To spend 1/3 of his review trashing a book over one misread sentence is unfair in my opinion, especially when this blog needs all the friends with juice that it can get.

    Consider the above my review. I agree with the first commenter - this is definitely the book that Campos should have written, and I would love to hear his comments about it.

    1. I thought that the absence of talking about the scamblog movement was worth discussing on this was the backpedaling about the title of the book and the scambusting within it. It felt oddly timid in a book that, in other sections, packs so much punch.

      The authors asked for honest reviews, and they will keep in touch if they update parts of the book or want to discuss anything here. We appreciate the publisher's copy, and we are pleased that they value our opinions. I would hope that all prospective law students start to understand and follow the advice of a book like this one.

    2. So why not focus on the 99.999% of the good advice instead of the 0.001% of the book that is the title (which was explained rather well by the authors)? Why not focus on the 99.999% which is "oddly aggressive" compared to the milquetoast efforts of most people?

      I don't get your dislike. Backpedalling? Timid? Sorry, Adam, but having read the book myself, you're 100% wrong on this and I'm not sure where it's coming from considering your otherwise great analysis on this blog.

      It's a book about the scam, not about the scamblogs.

    3. It is fine to have a difference of opinion, and I think it is good to express as many people may agree with you, but a title that has the words "con" and "scam" speaks for itself. The Prologue walks away from this, and the contradiction is interesting for the reasons I explain in detail.

      The authors did not ask us to cheerlead, although they do want reviews on Amazon (I will stick to the positive there for obvious reasons).

    4. Adam, this blog is about honesty. You were honest in your assessment of the book. That's what we do here. If something sounded odd, you rightly brought if up. This is the kind of honesty that makes me trust this site and its writers.

    5. Anon 2:21, thank you. Writing for myself (and not Charles), as I might have had an outsized role in this dust-up, the intent was first to give readers a sense of the types of voices they read online, and to address the concerns of students who have *already* decided to attend law school. This includes nearly anyone who reads a book about law school. Therein lies a serious concern, as the reality is that most students destined for law school find themselves in law school because a teacher or parent or uncle or neighbor told them at age 8 that they would make a great lawyer, and that, plus a puff of ego and mountains of laughably false portrayals of lawyers in every conceivable external stimuli (film, TV, teachers, conversations...), lead our hapless future law student down that path, with nary an exploration of the truth, their true talents, whether they will actually like it, or be well suited to it.

      Law professors are another angle in this anti-reality Alice in Wonderland nightmare, and because they universally sailed through law school as a result of substantially random luck (but without any real grounding in law practice thereafter), they become yet another part of the Potemkin fraud. (Would you believe there is now a book, Malice in Wonderland, whose title came to mind as I was trying to derive a sense of just how disoriented most students are, and why.)

      For Con Law, we didn't view the Prologue as backpedaling, or timidity, but as context for the non-initiated reader. (This is yet another driver for the fates of law students: like cattle to the slaughter, none has any real clue as to what's in store.) Yet if they are told, point blank, chances are high that they will simply discount the warning as the mark of the insane, and continue down the merry chute, er, path.


  8. It's great the book is divided into 2 sections: Law School AND the Legal Profession. The Scamblogging movement should train equal focus on the profession and the shit sandwich it is. Like the law schools that overfilled it with a torrent of practitioners year after year after year, the legal profession is also a collapsing Ponzi scheme that can't sustain any further growth ... and can't even maintain its present weight.

    Shining the light of truth on the profession is arguably even more important than the focus on the law schools. If the profession had paying seats for at least 85% of the each year's law grads, law schools wouldn't be in the crisis they are today. If lawyers actually earned in the neighborhood of $100k/yr (as many seem to instinctively believe), and law firms gigs lasted more 3-4 years, repaying students loans would merely be a hassle ... not a death sentence.

    Follow the money. Law salaries are nowhere near the fabled myth. Stop the insipid focus on some BigLaw partners' earnings; it's like deciding to move to Europe based on a Duke's lifestyle. Worse, the stability of the jobs is nonexistent. Even middle-term employment outcomes in law are piss poor, to put it very mildly. The pyramid scheme, up-or-out employment schemes (where demographics prevent meaningful Up), the systematic exploitation of new lawyers, the debt slavery of many low-level or Doc-Review types, and the chronic problem of unemployability/ permanent underemployment in this profession all need to be shown, and shown again, to young people considering the legal profession. The up-or-out and temporary nature of the law-firm gig now makes working conditions in what was always a stressful, pressure-driven field, now totally unbearable.

    Most importantly, tell the truth about "hanging a shingle." There aren't enough PAYING clients and PAYING work to go around. And you've gotta earn money to run a practice. A decade ago, law schools could equate “solo practice” with employment and thus conceivably argue that the JD bought a “hunting license” for a solo-by-default or microfirm practice. Theoretically, every grad could get a law license and, theoretically at least, join the big hunt. While simplistic and unrealistic, this belief allowed many to rationalize the law school admissions excesses of the past decades. This way of thinking has long been outdated.

    The woods are hunted-out. There’s no more game. A hunting license for unicorns even in the hands of a starving, hungry unicorn hunter still won’t net any unicorns. It’s about the market … not the practitioner and her/his skills.

    Even if you make it through the toilet of Law School with your sanity and some of your money left, you only have a burbling Septic Tank of a career to look forward to.

    1. Exactamundo.

      More voices = more scambusting. I'm glad that people are writing about this, be it news articles or blogs or books or interviews or anything else. Anyone doing their part to bust this scam is a friend of mine, and I will not say a bad word about them.

      Together we stand, divided we fall. From Nando to Con Law to ITLSS to OTLSS to Cryn to anyone else who stands up and challenges the system. I don't give a fuck what your methods are. If you are against law school, you're a friend of mine.