Not too long ago, a North Carolina NPR affiliate ran a story that opened the question as to whether or not a Charlotte Law degree is valuable. Comment warriors raged on both sides of the issue, as one would expect, along ideological lines.
One thing to notice about the Law School Scam is the tendency of the willing (scammed) participants to dig in and defend their actions and decisions. This is largely understandable - no one likes to be told they are wrong or to realize they have been played as the fool. I know in my own case, my sneaking suspicions in my 2L year became warning klaxons my 3L year, but I had no sense of investment to make me doubt my inclinations. I saw the carnage around me, and once the realization of being scammed took hold, I started to correct, mitigate, and otherwise figure out what the hell I was going to do given the yawning pit of destruction that loomed before me. I certainly didn't have the social capital, connections, or resources to pull things out of the fire, so on to Plan B.
For others, willful blindness will cause them to persevere, no matter what. I personally think this is in large part an exercise in trying to save face or prove others wrong. But then again, perhaps some are truly so motivated that they will never take "no" for an answer, despite the difficult circumstances they are already facing.
As I read, I found the comments of Joan Waldron to be an interesting yet strange combination of the positions of both camps:
I am a proud 2009 graduate of the Inaugural Class of CharlotteLaw. I knew what I was getting into when I began law school, and am glad I decided to go there. The education that the school provides is excellent, and the opportunities for hands-on experience, externships, clinical work, etc., gives graduates an edge whether they are looking for employment with a firm or planning to open their own practice.
When I graduated, I had secured employment with a firm, but was not happy there. So I quit, did document review for a year while growing my own practice, and then dropped the doc review when I had enough business on my own. I now have 2 offices.
The people sitting next to me at doc review were from 1st-2d tier schools, as well as the local ones, such as Elon, Campbell, and NCCU. It appears that the economy was the great equalizer for all of us.
Before going to law school, I worked as a paralegal for a "big law" firm here in Charlotte. I watched these recent grads from the top schools come in, get wined and dined, pampered, and handed 6-figure salaries. Many had little or no law firm or legal experience, and relied on their big law school credentials. Those days are gone, and now we all have to roll up our sleeves. More and more, firms are more interested in abilities and substance and less interested in cronyism. I did not have any delusions about being handed anything. I knew I would have to have some real, practical experience in order to be successful, which CSL provided.
True, I am a "non-traditional" student with 12+ years of paralegal experience; however, I credit CSL's clinics, externships and post-graduate mentoring with my ability to grow my own practice. If someone is motivated enough to take advantage of these programs, work hard, and persevere, they will make it.
I believe everyone should have a chance to try.
At first, there is some pride in one's alma mater, and that's fine. She immediately secured a "good" position after law school, although she declined to pursue it further. Fine.
But then there is the big reveal....she worked as a paralegal at a large law firm for twelve years prior to law school. Definitely not your standard K-JD, or even non-trad, for the most part. It seems to me that she had way more practical experience, prior, than Law School could ever provide. Then, strangely, there is the dripping "ha, ha, they got theirs" comment directed at prior JD graduates that got ground up and spit out by the BigLaw machine where she worked. Plus, all those other elite school graduates were in doc review too, so there. All you have to do is "work hard." Those cronies sure learned a thing or two, let me tell you.
It sounds like Joan was disrespected during her time as a paralegal, and I don't doubt that it happened. To say that many lawyers look down on their support staff due to credentials and preftige is an understatement. Clearly, the experience still rankled while it was simultaneously motivating. Yet, she seems to give an awful lot of credit to CSL as opposed to her own perseverance, which I find odd.
Later, Joan continues:
I would not want someone making the decision for me, as to whether or not I should go to law school. If the school does not disclose truthfully, that's one thing. But if a person wants to take that chance, then it's on them. If they aren't capable, they won't last more than their 1L year.
Another interesting comment. Tacit acceptance of the thesis that blatantly false employment stats are wrong, yet the one true way to employment salvation is through the Boomer Church of Our Lady of Bootstrapping. And, of course, the further strawman that 1L keeps all the losers out, anyway, so who cares.
As 40,000 new JDs are minted every year for 20,000 jobs, the 1L year is clearly not doing its job, but that is another story.
So here is the conundrum - if anyone should go to law school, it should be someone like Joan, and the scamblogs have always been clear on this. If you have strong experience, connections, an understanding of the business of law, and other valuable resources, then yes, law school may be for you. That is not the case for the vast majority of 0Ls.
Yet, a lot of credit is given to Law School for something it is proud of advertising yet cannot guarantee - direct entre to the profession. You might as well credit Law School for a BigLaw job that was in reality "handed" to a fourth-generation lawyer by someone else, which was derided by Joan as cronyism.
Yet, the cream will rise to the top (especially where excellent opportunities and experience have already abounded prior to law school) and Losers are Losers, so it's your own fault. And "pampered" K-JDs deserve their own fate, regardless of false employment stats, or something.
As it stands, the pro-law comments sound like 0Ls are being encouraged to attend Law School not for their own sakes, but to justify the prior choices of these same pro-law students/graduates. Sadly, the distinct advantages of connections and hard work in prior careers are unfortunately minimized in the process. "All you need" is Charlotte School of Law. And if you can't cut it, it's your own fault anyway, you entitled whiners.
While I wish Joan and other graduates well, this position seems to contradict the best interests of many 0Ls as well as Joan's own path and experience.
I would instead submit the following: By all means, follow Joan's example - bring your social capital, direct experience and resources with you to law school, as Joan did, or don't go at all. That may be 10% of any given class; the rest of you run to the hills.
Or more simply: Do, or do not; there is no try.