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.