Monday, December 2, 2013

Self-help Delusions

The other day, I got one of those ubiquitous self-help articles via e-mail.  As it was from Forbes and had to do with what makes people "mentally strong," I thought sure, why not, let's take a look.

I generally find these articles simplistic and repetitive.  Too much hopium and pollyanna cheerleading for my taste, but as a Gen-Xer perhaps I am a shade cynical.  To be fair, these articles are not full-blown books, nor are they intended to cover every circumstance, nor are the ideas not worth considering at some level.   

I was struck, however, by how many of these recommendations for "mental strength" echo so many of the knee-jerk criticisms of the scambloggers and other JDs who feel like law school was a raw deal.  Clearly the message behind these articles deeply pervades the national psyche on multiple levels, because it seems like every criticism of the scamblog movement is a familiar laundry list of these self-same self-help articles on what it takes to be "successful."  While the aftermath of law school was not the original subject of the author, let's look at a few of these items through the lens of scambloggery (just replace "mentally strong people" with "JD graduates with bar licenses"):    

1. Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves. You don’t see mentally strong people feeling sorry for their circumstances or dwelling on the way they’ve been mistreated. They have learned to take responsibility for their actions and outcomes, and they have an inherent understanding of the fact that frequently life is not fair. They are able to emerge from trying circumstances with self-awareness and gratitude for the lessons learned. When a situation turns out badly, they respond with phrases such as “Oh, well.” Or perhaps simply, “Next!”
7. Dwell on the Past. There is strength in acknowledging the past and especially in acknowledging the things learned from past experiences—but a mentally strong person is able to avoid miring their mental energy in past disappointments or in fantasies of the “glory days” gone by. They invest the majority of their energy in creating an optimal present and future.

Numbers 1 and 7 are oft-hurled criticisms by the pro-law-cartel, and they oversimplify and minimize the run-up to the circumstances/mistreatment that transpired in the first instance.  While we can all agree that "life is not fair," how one responds to that unfairness matters.  If you have been taken advantage of, do you just lie down and take it and say "whadayagonnado?"  Sometimes, maybe that is indeed the answer, but I bet for most of our readers they don't generally take things lying down.  Given the overstuffed dockets around the country, however, it appears that many people who believe they have rights choose to assert them in many, many cases.  Further, are we to just let things lie, shrug our shoulders and move on with a smile on our faces, knowing that those who follow us are very likely to fall into the same trap that only becomes more damaging with each subsequent academic year?  That would be heartless.
Many scambloggers have taken and continue to take responsibility for their actions by working as practicing attorneys or in some full-time professional capacity, paying their student loans, paying on their other obligations, etc.  However, this does not erase the gravitas of the situation or the legitimate criticisms given by the survivors.  There is much more to this than "feeling sorry for oneself," as if all that happened was that the scambloggers didn't get a pony.  This is about thousands of dollars of lost opportunity costs and hundreds of thousands in non-dischargeable debt, all for the privilege of later being told "Oh, sorry, we've been producing twice as many graduates as there are available jobs for decades now, and the employment statistics were (ahem) less than accurate.  Did we not mention that?  Oops!  Tee Hee! Go "network," or something."
Oh, well!  Next!  I would hate to highlight these problems and have others not view me as a mentally strong person or anything.  Best to just stay quiet, I guess.

6. Fear Taking Calculated Risks. A mentally strong person is willing to take calculated risks. This is a different thing entirely than jumping headlong into foolish risks. But with mental strength, an individual can weigh the risks and benefits thoroughly, and will fully assess the potential downsides and even the worst-case scenarios before they take action.
If I had $5 for every time I saw some yokel (many of whom never went to law school, themselves) say "well, you should have done your research, then", I could retire now.  It is not fear of weighing risks and benefits that lead the scambloggers to say what they say.  Ironically, it was directly because of the willingness to take a risk and willingness to rely on the representations and rankings, only to find out that the information relied upon was faulty to the point of being fraudulent, that many graduates now find themselves in dire circumstances.  Who knew the true score all along?   Dingdingding!  Yes, Law Schools, thanks for playing!
While information transparency has been improving in recent years (and the market has responded, as evidenced by declining LSATs and law school applicants year-over-year), there is still a long way to go to getting to the truth of student outcomes.  Those with superior information, knowing their representations were not truthful, were certainly keeping it close to their chests for decades while welcoming thousands of new enrollees every year. 

8. Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over. We all know the definition of insanity, right? It’s when we take the same actions again and again while hoping for a different and better outcome than we’ve gotten before. A mentally strong person accepts full responsibility for past behavior and is willing to learn from mistakes. Research shows that the ability to be self-reflective in an accurate and productive way is one of the greatest strengths of spectacularly successful executives and entrepreneurs.
Agreed.  This is why the scambloggers encourage others to take another path, especially if the attorney thing just isn't working out despite best efforts.  Or better yet, learn from the mistakes of others and don't even go to law school in the first place.  It would be insane not to temper the rosy outcomes sold by the cartel with the in-the-trenches experiences of actual graduates 5, 10, and 15+ years down the road (which we do right here on OTLSS).  Yet many 0Ls watch others criticise the scambloggers as "bitter," and in turn jump off the cliff themselves because the arguments of the scambloggers are dismissed as the fevered rantings of losers.  Funny, the critics are never available for comment, afterwards, once the truth hits home.

9. Resent Other People’s Success. It takes strength of character to feel genuine joy and excitement for other people’s success. Mentally strong people have this ability. They don’t become jealous or resentful when others succeed (although they may take close notes on what the individual did well). They are willing to work hard for their own chances at success, without relying on shortcuts.
A strawman, at least as applied to the scambloggers.  If someone succeeds on building a successful solo practice or being a BigLaw titan of industry, then that is excellent news!  Truly!  If you have the resources and connections to pull it off, good for you!  Just because a legal career works well for a select few doesn't mean the majority should follow the same path.  And, from an "ethical" and "professional" perspective, I believe there is a duty to say as much, given recent and current market conditions.

10. Give Up After Failure. Every failure is a chance to improve. Even the greatest entrepreneurs are willing to admit that their early efforts invariably brought many failures. Mentally strong people are willing to fail again and again, if necessary, as long as the learning experience from every “failure” can bring them closer to their ultimate goals.
Similar to Number 6 above.  There is nothing wrong with failing again and again and learning from the failures (see, e.g. the "practice" of law), so long as there is a credible, visible path to recovery.  With the increasing non-dischargable cost, yet declining value of a JD, the initial "failure" is hard to shake off and the road to meaningful recovery is practically invisible. 
In the extreme cases, there is huge difference between failure that "sets you back" and failure that can end a career.  The former requires a willingness to forgo a European vacation one year or put off buying a new car; the latter requires E&O insurance and a big bankroll to get through the lean times.

12. Feel the World Owes Them Anything. Particularly in the current economy, executives and employees at every level are gaining the realization that the world does not owe them a salary, a benefits package and a comfortable life, regardless of their preparation and schooling. Mentally strong people enter the world prepared to work and succeed on their merits, at every stage of the game.

Another strawman, as applied to the scambloggers.  No one has ever said that recent graduates are "owed" or should be "guaranteed" a job.  No one has ever denied the value of "hard work."  It is precisely because the World owes you nothing, the fact that there are no guarantees, that the scambloggers say what they say.  In the interim, the shills float sugarplum dreams of successful law careers and how valuable the degree is over a lifetime, while ignoring the fact that computers get more and more sophisticated at predictive coding and States allow more and more "legal technicians" to do what used to be called "the practice of law," only now no bar license is required.  Oh, and JD overproduction, too.
Let's be grimly honest, here:  "merit" is good, but pedigree and connections are better.

13. Expect Immediate Results. Whether it’s a workout plan, a nutritional regimen, or starting a business, mentally strong people are “in it for the long haul”. They know better than to expect immediate results. They apply their energy and time in measured doses and they celebrate each milestone and increment of success on the way. They have “staying power.” And they understand that genuine changes take time. Do you have mental strength? Are there elements on this list you need more of? With thanks to Amy Morin, I would like to reinforce my own abilities further in each of these areas today. How about you?

Agreed, in principle.  However, the tremendous debt burden borne by graduates today (as compared to inflation-adjusted law school tuition from, say, the 70s), as well as the need to earn significant income on a percentage-basis to service said debt, greatly reduces the practical time horizon for a reasonable ROI for many.  It's not that JDs expect immediate results, so much as they can't afford to wait.  Those without significant backing are at a large disadvantage, and that is something that a positive, can-do outlook does not directly address.

In closing, let's hear it for being a "mentally strong person."  Not a thing wrong with that.  As concerns a legal career, however, let's temper this with an understanding that the all-too-simplistic and dubious criticisms of how kids these days need to "buck-up" and "get out there" are just that: overly-simplistic and quasi-truthful.  After all, the law school cartel is counting on you to buy-in without asking too many questions.
A positive, can-do outlook, while important, is also a dime-a-dozen.  What, do you honestly think that only you have a strong desire to succeed?  It is both insulting and the height of arrogance to say that "all those people" over there just don't want it bad enough, and only "I" have the gumption and smarts to do what it takes to make it.  Special Snowflake Syndrome, anyone?

Instead, go be a mentally strong person someplace else, where the market is more favorable and where you might be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  There are too many in the law already who are convinced that they are mentally stronger than the next guy, and the feeding frenzy is only getting worse.


  1. So true!

    The ones that get me are the dwelling on the past and feeling sorry for oneself. These are fine for minor upsets (crying over spilt milk) like overcooking the turkey or not getting a speeding ticket. But those who apply this "get over it already" attitude to law school don't get the life-altering shut that a JD dumps in someone. Massive debt being the big issue for lots of us.

    For many of us, we'll "get over it" when the loans are paid off.

    Another 28 years for me.

  2. NON-DISCHARGABLE DEBT - that's what changes a perhaps wasted 3 years in law school into a life-destroying experience.

    A hyper-saturated job market and massively overpriced greedy pig levels of tuition (which adjusted for inflation should under $20,000 based on 1980 tuition) are part of the problem. But it's NON-DISCHARGABLE DEBT that makes law school so hard to 'get over' for so many.


  4. Agree with comments #1 and #2 completely.

    The entire "self-help" industry - and it is a BUSINESS - is yet another scam:

    She uses the word "chanting" and that's exactly what it is. For all the "secret lessons", nothing new is actually learned that's useful. Go out and learn a new skill? Yes! That would help! BUT - we are talking about law school graduates. They have already taken a bite of the Apple and are up to their necks in non-dischargeable student loan debt. Learning new, useful skills costs even more money. You're, say 27-28, in serious debt.

    You've shot your one shot.

    How do you re-tool? And believe me, law grads know where I'm coming from on this. I've been there myself.

    It's all crap. I'm sorry to say, but the way up and out in this society is based on screwing someone else over. You have huge loans? Move to Ireland or somewhere where they can't collect a civil judgement. Boom! You've won. That's how you do it in this world. All this "positive thinking" crap is just that - crap.

    You took a bad beat in life?

    Just like in Poker, the sure way to feel better is to pass that along and put a bad beat on someone else. That's how the System works. Scammed law students have a right to feel miserable. Unlike their do-nothing, work 6-hours a week profs living the High Life, they are saddled with life-crushing debt and no way to get out of it, short of a miracle.

  5. "It's all crap. I'm sorry to say, but the way up and out in this society is based on screwing someone else over. You have huge loans? Move to Ireland or somewhere where they can't collect a civil judgement. Boom! You've won."

    Actually, that is true. But it's not as negative as you portray it. You think splitting is screwing someone over, and in the abstract, I suppose it is. But these people are nameless, faceless people, who - like you gambled on law school - are gambling on your repayment. In other words, they are playing a game they can lose, too. It's all built-in risk. I wouldn't be the least concerned about emotions and honor when playing a game of those stakes.

    "All this "positive thinking" crap is just that - crap."

    That's wrong. Positive thinking is what inspired people do. If you are not inspired, positive thinking is not going to inspire you. Many people erroneously are looking to positive thinking as a way to FIND inspiration. It doesn't work that way. You must have the core inspiration, first. Then, positive thinking is what gets you over humps and closer to achieving goals.

    1. Who is "gambling on your repayment?" No one. It cannot be discharged. You must know that.

      You may be confusing "positive thinking" with simple confidence Boomer.

    2. I am sure you realize that student loans are held as investments and that even though they are non-dischargable, not all of them are repaid.

      Note to self: Any person who loosely throws the label, "Boomer," around without knowing who he is addressing and/or what a "Boomer" really is, probably is not worth the effort to engage in rigorous discourse with.

    3. Yet you did Boomer. Keep up that positive thinking knowing that those loans are "held as investments.". Are you really going to bat for Sallie Mae? Please deny with a straight face that you are a....Boomertard.

  6. OT - but I love this comment from the WSJ article about whether or not to apply to law school:

    "It’s not a tough question. The answer is an unequivocal “NO!” You’d be a fool to attend law school at this point. Legal outsourcing, technology like predictive coding, do-it-yourself services like LegalZoom, the wide availability of free legal information on the Internet, and law schools churning out 2 graduates for every 1 job for over a decade has destroyed the industry.

    Go to law school if you like risking $200,000 in non-dischargeable life-destroying debt on a 20% chance to land a job that most people find miserable (BigLaw) and where turnover is 80% every 5 years. I will regret going to law school for the rest of my life and I feel nothing but pity for those who willingly choose to follow my footsteps. Law schools lie about jobs, about career opportunities, and about salaries. They are not your friends and they are not looking out for your best interests. Law schools are interested in one thing only: your signature on a promissory federal student loan note. Don’t go to law school. You’d make more money if you studied computer science at a community college."

    I think this comment could be used as a stand-alone post on this blog.

    1. I agree. Something in a box on the side of the blog. The one line is key: The law schools really are only interested in your signature on the bottom of the note. I remember how I got my "send-off" many years ago from my law school. Let's just say, they dropped me like a hot potato.. Once you are in your last semester, you can see and feel the change. It's palpable. They've gotten every last dime from you and now it's GTFO time. Time for the new crop. It's where they are always focused. Recruiting and selling a new crop because the numbers say that once 1L is done, they got you. You're hooked for the next 2 years. And the schools have grading down to a science. Generally low so people can't transfer but hey, Law Review is based on the curve so it's all relative, right? They do that to keep people in. High enough to keep students from getting too upset, low enough to keep people from transferring out. Everything the schools do, they do for a reason and they have it down to a science.

  7. Typical corporate psycho-crap. This garbage is not unique to law however. Any large sales organization will subject it's workers to never ending "motivational" bullshit. I've seen the most outrageous things yelled at groups of well dressed, hard working sales people (in financial services) imaginable. It's usually followed up by some extreme passive/aggressive "and don't forget to spend time with family" bullshit. Everyone in the room is thinking exactly the same thought: I want my family as far away from these awful people as possible. This is a prime reason to avoid law school in addition to the obvious cost. The most positive of outcomes (biglaw) lands the victim in a corporate hell.

  8. OT, but am thinking it would be better for the flow of discussion to allow posts to be visible immediately, with a policy by admin to remove abusers.

    1. Nope. They tried this but painter and others made it unworkable.

  9. The problem isn't the advice in the Forbes article. The problem is the way people (esp. LawProfs) extrapolate from them as if they are physical laws or mathematical axioms.

    Self-help advice is just advice, things that are generally a good idea in someone's opinion. At best, they are statistical truths, applicable to populations but not necessarily to individuals,

    So, positive thinking may be helpful. The stupid extrapolation is that "Since positive thinking is helpful, you have to think positively all the time about everything." Or, even, worse, "if you think positively you are guaranteed to succeed". Or, "if you have failed, you must not have thought positively. It must be your bad attitude that caused the failure."

    It's a long way from "positive thinking is helpful" to these sorts of conclusions, but that doesn't stop people from using those arguments to blame others when they don't want to change. It's as if Law Profs actually think positive thinking is "necessary and sufficient" for success. It is neither. I personally think it may be helpful, but there are a lot of people who are successful for another reason (such as luck, talent, or connections). There are also people who do everything right and fail. There are no guarantees in life, and no simple formula.

    It's also a lot easier to "think positively" when things are going your way, and a lot harder when you've had a major setback or suffered a grave injustice.

  10. Bloggers are some of the most 'Mentally strong' people I know. They-

    1. Find it therapeutical and uplifting to help others avoid falling prey to the scam. We blog not out of bitterness, but deep concern: "Please, don't make the same mistakes I did." It's called compassion, and treating others like you'd like to be treated. Many of the world's faiths are based on it.

    2. Understand that the world owes them absolutely NOTHING. At the same time, however, most bloggers believe we owe our fellow human beings the common decency to warn of an impending disaster. I make no money from blogging, and wouldn't take a dime if you handed it to me. I'm far more concerned about keeping others from owing nondischargeable debt than in believing that someone 'owes' me something. A few bloggers have stuck their necks out considerably to sound the alarm.

    3. Don't expect overnight or instant success, yet at the same time, quickly call 'bullshit' on all this "deferred gratification" malarkey. Many bloggers have real-life experience of 15+ years and can see that the law schools have pumped so many grads into the marketplace that the whole system has become hopelessly unstable. Neither the profession nor the market are getting any better with age. The "long haul" is a dangerous illusion, and it is particularly pernicious when told to a younger person who lacks the years to put such things in some sort of perspective. The "winners never quit" credo is invoked by scamdeans wishing to keep the studentry in the gristmill. Blogging is the voice of truth that says, "When you quit this failing game, you start winning your life back."

    4. In no way resent the success of others. I'd love to see far more success stories in the lives of young lawyers.... and lawyers 15+ years out, too. I'd love to see some career stability, too. Calling bullshit on fake statistics about success is not decrying someone else's success.

    5. Like most people, bloggers are willing to take calculated risks. "This is a different thing entirely than jumping headlong into foolish risks." Yeah. We agree. With mental strength AND SOME ACCURATE, NON-FRAUDULENT INFORMATION, an individual can weigh the risks and benefits thoroughly, and fully assess the potential downsides and even the worst-case scenarios before they take action. Give a young person some accurate information... or for heaven's sake, at least don't give blatantly false information. That's what these blogs are for.

    6. Dwell on the past?? You've gotta be F-ing kidding. Today's law students and prospective law students have been fed nothing but a steady diet of outdated information about the glory days of the profession and the halycon days of great law-school outcomes by parents, teachers, the media, professors, admissions offices, and career-placement centers. We all know about the Golden Age of Law School and Lawyering. Blogging is screaming out: IT"S OVER. GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!"

    The bloggers I know are too busy trying to help others avoid the cesspool that legal education has become. It's not whining... it's warning.

  11. Positive thinking is what got 99% of us into the mess we're in now.

    You have to detach emotion from the Equation.

    It's either a positive probability and expectation. Or it isn't. Cold, hard, detached analysis is what is needed. Nothing more. Nothing less. Once you inject "positive thinking" into your actions, you lose objectivity and will make biased, emotionally-laden, poor decisions.

    1. Yes, positive thinking is necessary to execute a good decision, and you never use positive thinking before the fact. You make your decision based on objective information, and then use positive thinking to do good work, stay committed, and make the most of your decision.

  12. These motivational creeds are stitched into the driver's side visor of The Valvoline Dean's AMG.

  13. If positive thinking worked, everyone would be in the top ten percent of their class, every BigLaw and MidLaw associate would make partner and every solo would retire rich at 50.