Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Paying Off Law School Debt and Changing Perceptions About the Legal Profession

Meet Andrew Carmichael Post, a J.D. with $215,000 in educational debt.

Carmichael is certainly not stupid:
"At 13, when most boys are fretting about the perils of girls and middle school, Post was attending Cal State Los Angeles, working on degrees in computer science and applied mathematics. At 18, Post was entering USC Gould School of Law. At 22, Post became a member of the State Bar of California."
But what holds him back is a $2,756 monthly loan payment.

In Carmichael's words,
"It's like some sort of nightmare where someone gave me a bank mortgage but forgot to add the deed to the house," Post quipped.
Indeed, Andrew, indeed.

Carmichael, who now works as a computer programmer, graduated in 2010 with no job prospects as an attorney. So, he did what every law school tells unemployed and unemployable graduates to do. He hung out his own shingle.

Things were not going well:
"I was never really impoverished," Post said, "just terribly inconvenienced by not being able to collect on a legal bill or a programming bill I'd sent out two months earlier. What little stable income I had wasn't enough to get by on. There were times when I had to decide on whether to buy enough gas to get back to court or buy lunch."
Post struggled to avoid feeling discouraged.
"The last time I went into court, I was wearing something that I got at Goodwill," Post said. "The two lawyers on the other side were each wearing suits worth more than my car."
Post now makes between $80,000 and $96,000 as a programmer, so he is doing a lot better than most J.D.'s. The financial advisor told Post to build up an emergency fund, and throw extra money at his debt, while continuing to live at his parents' place for at least the next six years to pay off his debt in full. Luckily, Post is a child prodigy, so he will only be 30 when he is free of the shackles of debt slavery.

There are a couple of things that don't portend well for future law graduates stuck in Post's position. First, Post has the option of living with his parents and having them subsidize his basic living costs. What will happen to future generations of graduates whose parents are still living in a small apartment, still paying off their own debt? Second, Post has other marketable skills that enabled him to get a well-paying job. Most J.D.s are humanities graduates who go to law school after realizing that an undergraduate degree in Post-War Soviet Literature is not going to pay the bills. What will people without specific marketable skills who have such a huge debt load do when the only jobs available are at traffic firms paying $20,000 with no benefits?

All the while, professors are laughing all the way to the bank, producing increasingly useless "legal scholarship" and getting huge "research stipends" every summer so they can take lavish vacations disguised as research trips. ScamDeans are touting the latest way to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear: "practice ready curriculums".

A large problem arises because a great deal of the public still thinks that no matter what, lawyers can hang out a shingle and make a good living. I was talking to a friend this past weekend who said as much. When I responded that most self-employed lawyers are now trying to fight for bottom of the barrel clientele who will ultimately try not to pay you, he was genuinely surprised.

Many people assume that students go to law school because they solely make the decision to do so. We overlook the great many students pushed into law school by their families or spouses. It is easy to go to law school as a way to extend the inertia many people fall into while in college. When a person you trust tells you, "Go get a law degree. John's kid just graduated and now has a job in [eminent BigLaw firm]", it is easy to just go along with it.

I think that the scamblog movement is important, but we also need to educate the general public about what a cesspool the legal profession in general has been for a while. Until parents are disabused of the notion that Junior can major in anything as an undergrad because he can always buy a ticket to the upper class by going to law school, nothing will change. So the next time you hear someone bragging about their kid enrolling in law school, make a point to try and dispell the myth of the legal professions as golden ticket. It may make you unpopular with those who don't want to believe you. But, stopping even one person from ruining their life by going to law school is worth it.


  1. OT, but interesting news - ever hear of lawyers who spit in their clients faces?


  2. This is all true and I think destroying the brand should be continue to be the focus. Anyone who thinks we are really in a sustained economic recovery is a fool, so it's not like the employment statistics are going to improve. The venal nature of the law school establishment roaches ensures they will try to suck every drop from the student loan machine. The smart thing to do would be to immediately shutter 50% of all the law schools in the country, but they're not smart enough to see it's in their long-term interests.

    We have the facts on our side. They have confirmation bias, special snowflake syndrome, the press, "free money" and illusory promises on their side.

    I want to see a day when young people think of the word "lawyer" and it conjures up asociations of poverty, dilapidated solo offices, Goodwill suits, Mom's basement and sipping ramen noodles from a cup.

    These vermin professors and deans actually succeeded in creating a picture of lawyers as employed, rich and happy. They got away with it with the help of a dim-witted, complicit media and easy credit kept it going for a long time. But they got too greedy and that, combined with the Great Recession, has screwed over hundreds of thousands of bright people who might otherwise have done something more useful with their talents.

    There you go. There's an idea for a useless "law and economics" law review article. Calculate the damage done to society by having, say, 500,000 unemployed debt peons and several thousand rich professors v. 500,000 contributing members of society and several thousand fewer rich vermin.

    1. I'm stoked and ready for an econ paper to figure out the damages. We can try, can't we?

      Just don't ignore the economic benefits to society of having a few thousand hard-working professors returning to top firms when there's a serious shortage of practice-ready attorneys. :)

    2. Speaking of interests, we need to convince the top tier institutions that the bottom feeders are destroying their brand and harming their graduates. Any remaining prestige can work in our favor, if we use some common sense.

      Even this poor computer whiz might have a good job today if Marymount, Pepperdine, and Southwestern didn't churn out 1000 grads (or whatever) every year. I don't think USC is an inherent scam, even though they ought to reduce their tuition by 50% as a bare minimum.

      One of my fondest dreams is to see the dean of USC screaming for Southwestern to shut down. Or the dean of Stanford taking on Hastings. I think it can happen.

    3. Sorry, I didn't mean (at 9:33) to demean Post, who seems to be a nice guy and a good son, works hard, and was victimized in part by propaganda from the scam.

      He does have a good job, right now, one for which he deserves great respect. I just wanted to suggest that he might have a good *JD-required* job today if it weren't for the promiscuous overproduction of JD graduates by TT/TTT institutions in his neighborhood. I meant no more than that.

      Carry on, Andrew. Scams come and go, and very soon I hope, but character never dies.

  3. "Carmichael ... graduated in 2010 with no job prospects as an attorney."

    -And keep in mind, this kid went to the a top 20 law school in a major city. There are very few safe bets when it comes to law school. It cost Carmichael three years of his life and over 200 K in debt to learn that lesson.

  4. This article makes me mad. This poor brainwashed slave, scrimping and sacrificing so he can pay back this grossly overpriced, near worthless degree from a second tier toilet school. And hardly complaining at all.

    Meanwhile this quack financial advisor he's got "wants to make sure that Post includes regular and reasonable perks, such as continuing to devote resources to his love of drawing". How twee. Is that what you go for law school for? To be able to afford art supplies? He should be screaming bloody murder. He was scammed, conned. Instead he's just earnestly working away at paying off this debt, just accepting it as his lot.

    1. I see where you're coming from, but as they say, what's done is done. This kid is better off trying to move on rather than letting himself be consumed with rage and anger. Because he is young, has a decent job, and parents willing to put him up, he actually has a shot at recovering from the catostrophic mistake he made.

  5. Astonishing...not even a genius can make it as an attorney!!

    Best wishes in trying to change the JD brand image. The PhD brand is going strong even after 40 years of abject poverty. It's just an image that students have of their own inner beauty. No evidence necessary.

    1. I knew a couple of child prodigies who went to law school back when it was reasonably priced in the 1980s. Both did o.k. but neither really set the world on fire. Law is a people business and being a prodigy might be a disadvantage because many such people, including the ones I knew, probably lag behind most folks in their people skills because they did not experience socialization with their peers the way the majority of people do.

      Prodigies are useful as examples of the mindset that too many people have when they go to law school: Credentialing. The mindset that if I get this piece of paper I am somehow immediately very valuable and someone will therefore give me a job.

  6. Another magnificent commentary, MA. Keep up the great work.

    If present trends continue, we can hope...can't we?...for maybe 35,000 students stupid enough to try the JD game next September. In other words, another 15,000 bright, exciting futures redeemed from debt serfdom. Progress is being made, and everyone's doing their part.

  7. Another excellent point that the Law School cartel fails to mention, and was brought up in the OP - parents are being forced to subsidize their children (in this case, until 30) in order for the math to work and their offspring to have an actual chance at life. Oh, for the halcyon days when (inflation-adjusted to 2013) law school tuition was $3-5k a semester, instead of $15-20k or more as it is now.

    Here is a "grown man," if you will, who has to live at home with Mom and Dad to service his debt. All for the temerity of wanting a law degree. I know people will go on about how he did too much school, what a loser, etc. He's living in the basement, yes, but he's not the strawman kid sitting at home playing video games and eating cheesy poofs. He has a good STEM career that is weighed down by his oh-so-vaunted JD.

    Its amazing what one can do with no rent/mortage, no utilties, presumably no transportation costs, etc. Yet for years and years it all goes to the debt. I'm not knocking this (I would do the same for my child under the circumstances), but what if you can't just shack up with Mom and Dad? It would take a lifetime to pay it off.

    Damn the Law Schools to hell. Seriously. You know they told this kid "do patent law, and then it's all models and bottles for you!" It's bad enough when you ruin a young person's life, but now in their insatiable desire for blood they are creeping back up the food chain to Mom and Dad becuase they just don't make enough damn money. Absolutely disgusting.

    1. Thank you for a fine comment, dnt. I just discovered your other writing, which is very good too.

      I appreciate this community. You've found a way to provide for free, six days a week, a rigorous crash course in the Socratic method--as Socrates, the great critic and reformer, might have done it.

  8. The general public has caught onto the scam, for the most part. I have received emails from parents worried about their child's decision to attend law school. At this point, it seems that many grandparents are still proud. Those dinosaurs will die off soon or end up in a nursing home. In the meantime, how many grandparents will unwittingly/foolishly contribute to a young person's financial ruin - by encouraging them to "follow their dreams"?

    Along this same vein, attorneys and former lawyers are also more willing to disclose their knowledge about this being a miserable "profession." The information is out there in droves. We contribute to that daily. Applicants and interested students need to simply do an internet search.

    In the final analysis, it's their life. They are the ones who need to make wise personal financial decisions. All we can do is educate them and provide them with the info.

  9. I don't know where the kid went to undergrad or even what grads he received, presumably very good since he's a prodigy, but he should be able to land a job as a patent associate with his computer sciences background. I see a fair number of jobs for patent attorneys with comp sci backgrounds lately. Bio and chem sciences, not so much, even at the Ph.D. level. He needs to try harder to find a patent job, even go to the USPTO for a couple years as an examiner.

    1. Assuming he can still live at home, the USPTO might work. However, I don't think the entry-level GS rating at the USPTO would be as lucrative as his current job, and he needs serious money to pay debt down now. If he has to move and pay rent and everything else, the USPTO idea seems to not work out as well.

      Even then, I don't think the USPTO-to-boutique-firm path is that strong lately, although there could be exceptions.

    2. Yes, Fairfax and Louden county are extremely expensive places to live and the GS-5 salary grade at the PTO is pretty measly. You have to wait 2 years until you can hotel. Maybe he can get a job at one of the new satellite offices but I've heard anecdotally that these are very competitive. In addition, things aren't going that great at the PTO. It's subject to government shutdowns and fuloughs too.

      I don't think the PTO to boutique route is nearly as open as it used to be. I think there are far too many newly-minted patent attorneys being created each year for the PTO experience to be valuable. And only the first couple of years at the PTO is of any conceivable use to law firms. After that, you're just spinning your wheels.

      I know a number of Toileteers with "valuable" STEM educations who graduated in the late '00's and who eventually got jobs at the PTO and are still there. I know patent attorneys who got laid off from law firms and now work as examiners at the PTO.

      No one goes to law school to become a patent attorny and then work for the PTO. It's just another sign of the times that even these so-called valuable STEM degrees are rendered almost useless by the JD Scarlet Letter.

    3. @9:41, well stated and I agree with pretty much all you say. Cost of living is high in that area. He'd probably start off at about GS-7, which isn't peanuts. Still, if I were him, I'd probably just continue the software path unless he had an absolute yearning to be a patent attorney. One of my friends just left the PTO (in computer science art group no less) and recently got a patent associate position. It can happen, just not with the frequency that it did in the early 00's and prior.

    4. "It's just another sign of the times that even these so-called valuable STEM degrees are rendered almost useless by the JD Scarlet Letter."

      I can attest to this. I often feel as though I was much happier on the science path - knowing what I know now post-JD. Scientific machinery doesn't talk back. If the data doesn't come out as your boss likes, well that's just tough, don't kill the messenger. Now I can't get back in that game after being in law for 10 years.

    5. The value in STEM degree is not that you work for someone. It's that you can generate revenues by building something people will pay for. The JD is useless in any industry because you're generally not creating a revenue stream. You kinda figure out what your "worth" is in software when stuff you build generates revenue. I no longer even claim I'm a lawyer -- most meetings I go to, people in the room will have done their due diligence and know that, at some point, I was a lawyer (and they'll say, "we didn't know you were also a lawyer"). Mostly, I'm known as "they guy who built that thing that was awesome"...

    6. Right on. The JD is something to be hidden if you wish to prosper today. And if you got one, get over it. It's like any STD... get treated.

      The senseless tide of nincompoops heading to law school nowadays is simply buying into credentialing.

  10. Jesus. I started thinking about this more. At approximately $90k, assuming taxes, 401k, health care, etc., his $2,756 monthly payment is more-or-less HALF his take-home pay.

    So if he throws everything at it, he is debt-free in six years...? Six years of work making approximately nothing?

    How can most people do this? Most cannot live rent/food/utilties free for six years. And people say there is no indentured servitude.

    1. 6 years is way too optimistic.

      this guy has several advantages:
      - graduated LS at 22, whereas the median JD graduated probably at 26/27. he has a longer payback period from 22 to the arbitrary age 30
      - two prong advantage: rent-free in a high-salaried job market
      - engineering parents
      - engineering background. if he wanted, he could go for FA or PE

      other worthy mentions
      - how many years did he shave off his life from the stress and apparent lack of exercise in accomplishing all that before 22
      - how much did his parents invest for him to accomplish what he did (tutoring, maid service, etc)

      a more reasonable number would be age 35. there's no sense in killing himself to debt servitude. with all that being said, he has a light at the end of the tunnel whereas most JDs don't

  11. Its not "indentured" servitude, its voluntary servitude. The debt was voluntarily assumed, and if you are paying it back, that too is voluntary, albeit there are serious penalties for not doing so. Maybe everybody should just get together and burn up their Loan coupons and documents . . millions of students, all on the same day at the same time. Kind of like burning the draft cards of the boomers many of you despise.

    1. Boomer Ipsa Loquitur. No one but a boomer could be so gleeful and callous at the same time towards the difficulties of others.

    2. You realize indentured servitude is voluntary servitude, right? If it's not voluntary, it's slavery.

  12. Check out the swords on his wall. I wonder if he gets his programming gigs by going from software company to software company and asking for permission to kill himself in their courtyards. In feudal Japan, this was called "networking."

  13. Seven months or so and pushing 400K views.

    This blog is hot stuff.

    What bothers me is the Campos sudden exit and the lack of overt support by Campos here.

    Not that it matters.

    Really, and carry on and wrote a book or two or three while you are at it.

    1. I miss Campos--meaning his own posts at ITS--quite a bit. No one does it better. With due respect to the dedicated writers and reporters at this site, they aren't as good as Campos.

      He does comment here sometimes, and in another forum for prospective students sometimes. He did another fantastic takedown of the Indiana Tech scamdean, right here, about a month ago.

      Indiana Tech, of course, is an unending source of comedy, and Campos has been great on that story--right on point, right from the start. His other comments have tended to be more modest, often just encouraging some poor schmuck to think harder about getting a JD. He's quite incisive on the basic issues of cost and debt versus benefit (if any, since the benefit of a JD can be negative even if tuition is free.)

      I've got to say that even if Campos never comes here again, he's done enough. He started something great that we have to take in new directions. The dedication of the contributors here is amazing, and whoever it was that decided to denounce us and quit won't be missed.

  14. Anonymous: "Just don't ignore the economic benefits to society of having a few thousand hard-working professors returning to top firms when there's a serious shortage of practice-ready attorneys. :)"

    'Practice-ready'? People who never got legal jobs are not practice-ready. Document reviewers are not practice-ready. People who haven't worked in law for several years are not practice-ready.

    1. That was his/her sarcastic point.

  15. "Luckily, Post is a child prodigy, so he will only be 30 when he is free of the shackles of debt slavery."


    One should ask him why he bothered going to law school at all, it certainly wasn't because he couldn't be employed as a prodigy. Being debt free at 30 is the new rich in the new normal.

    1. Sad to say, he went to get a JD because of the "prestige," because that's what smart kids do. I think he knows better now.

    2. After they hear all the lawyer jokes and seeing the advertisements on buses and subway stations, I am a bit curious as to why people think that being a lawyer is prestigious. It seems that there is a bit of a dichotomy there.

    3. Entrenched stereotypes die hard:

      A Frenchman is an efette man wearing a red beret, painting on an easel, perpetually saying, "We, we..." An Asian student excels at math, plays excellent piano and is the valedictorian... and so on, and so on.

      Up until now, the lawyer 'prestige' stereotype has been benign. Like having an Aussie saying, "Put another shrimp on the barbie" and an Englishman wearing a monacle, top hat, and talking nonstop about the royal family. It's sort of like a mascot or cartoon identity character...

      Parents and family love it, and the student gets swept along, even though they all probably know, deep down inside, that the image is a tad bit exaggerated. The identity thing is still cool.

      For years, noe one was harmed by the positive stereotype of the prestigious lawyer. The mass overproduction of lawyers and the permanent downturn in the legal economy has changed that.

      As we've learned as a society, seemingly harmless stereotypes must be dismantled when people are harmed or groups are unfairly treated. Our sensitivty has increased. Today, most thinking people don't repeat such filthy garbage as 'Black people like watermelon' or make fun of Asians for the shape of their eyes. Once upon a time, such trash was thought relatively harmless (by the majority group).

      Scamblogging is beginning to change the conversation about law school. The dire, untenable situation in which law grads will now find themselves isn't the least funny, or anything to be proud of. The seemingly innocent stereotype of the lawyer as financially successful and prestigious leads unwitting students into the law school trap.

      Let the conversation and enlightenment continue. This poor young man and/or family paid a whole lot of money for a mere title, quite possibly based on being subconsciously conditioned by a stereotype.