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.
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.