Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Strict Scrutiny: Michael I. Krauss Tries To Hustle People Into Attending Law School

It's been a while, my friends. Things have been busy at my non-law job and quite frankly, there wasn't a lot coming across the radar that I was moved to write about or that the other excellent authors on this site hadn't tackled yet. Then, Michael I. Krauss dropped this gem of subtle scammery. As you read this, it appears that Krauss is empathetic and could be an agent of change. But we should all know better. This valiant attempt deserves some Strict Scrutiny. As usual, his words are in italics and mine are normal.

Later this week I will teach the first Torts class to George Mason Law School’s newly matriculated 1L’s. Here is my message, both to them and to 1L’s nationally.

You have decided to enter law school during “interesting” times. The business model for the private practice of law is a-changin, and many say it is broken. Law school tuition is higher than ever, yet incomes are stagnant and perhaps dropping. Law school loans, guaranteed by Uncle Sam and not dischargeable by bankruptcy, help you pay for tuition, but every increase in the generosity of federal largesses is yet another incentive for universities to capture rents by increasing tuition further.

At least he's willing to admit that there's a potential issue with the current law school model. That's a lot more than most of the ostriches currently occupying deanships are willing to do.

Mason students are at a “top-50″ school, but many readers of this column will be matriculating at lower-ranked institutions (and others will be at higher-rated schools). Most Mason students ranked near the top of their undergraduate class and did quite well on their LSAT. But half of you will get GPA’s at Mason that are lower than you’ve ever experienced before, both because your undergrad institution had succumbed to grade inflation and because our mandatory GPA mean immunizes us against this to some extent. Those in the bottom half of the class won’t be eligible for Law Review, and they generally won’t be invited to those coveted on-campus interviews with BigLaw firms. For them, and for many in the top half of the class as well, “summer camp” at a BigLaw firm after 2L will never happen; and the famous $160K starting salary after graduation will be pie in the sky. Most law grads learn to their sorrow that the income distribution for freshly-minted JD’s is quite bimodal. And those who do catch that brass ring will be in for a life that is usually exhausting and often boring, if not soul-destroying.

Michael, you are shouting the truth from the rooftops of the George Mason law school building. I cannot dispute anything you're saying here.

Are these facts part of an effort to get you to rethink your decision to attend law school? For some of you, frankly, yes; but for others, absolutely not.

This appears to be against your interests, Michael. Why are you telling me I may not want to go to law school? Do you already have too many cars and too little to do?

We have arguably never had a greater need for Americans desirous of seeking and furthering Justice, which surely must be the goal of our legal system. Rioters burn and pillage Ferguson, Missouri, claiming that the Rule of Law does not exist for those of their race; while others decry their vigilantism and insist that the rioters themselves are the cause of the tears in our social fabric. Religious fanatics abroad castrate and mutilate Christians and threaten to produce oceans of blood in America if we try to stop them. Bombers enslave child labor to dig tunnels and use innocents as shields when those they have pledged to annihilate dare defend themselves. Domestically, some politicians advocate “gun bans” while others insist that an armed citizenry is a solution, not the problem. May one kill to deter a physical aggressor? How ’bout killing or injuring a robber or burglar, or one reasonably mistaken for the same? And may the state restrict our rights to defend ourselves? What are and should be our rights vis-a-vis police officers? In 2014, should laws be applied neutrally or should they be race-or-class dependent? Some advocate “judicial restraint” in deciding these matters, while others think the Constitution means whatever it must mean to help us attain social optima.

Wow, that took a turn. We go from the dire facts about the current legal climate to a long list of horrible current events. This is like a word salad created with those magnets people use on their fridges if the magnets were made by CNN.

ALL these questions are legal questions: some pertain to international law, others to domestic law, of both Constitutional and Common Law varieties. All are of burning importance to the welfare of our nation and indeed of the world. The need for idealistic, wise and ethical legal practitioners to help resolve these questions and pursue Justice has arguably never been greater.

Like any decent MLM presentation, this is where he rolls out the value proposition. Michael, I think the issues you brought up in the previous paragraph are very important.

Are you interested in pursuing Justice, in making the world/your country/your state a place governed by the Rule of Law, freer from predators and safer from tyrants than it currently is? Are you interested in helping the 50% of Americans with legal problems who cannot currently afford legal help to resolve them? Are you interested in soberly attempting to understand and solve the incredibly difficult, and incredibly interesting, intellectual problems that underly so many of today’s legal disputes, and that are so misconstrued by a journalistic profession obsessed with political correctness? IF so, welcome to law school, we need you badly, you will find your studies fascinating and enriching, and you will be able to make a real difference in the world. There is no subject more difficult than Law, because of its encyclopedic nature (nothing is irrelevant!). And there is, I think, no subject more important today.

He's painting the legal profession as one in which everyone gets to wrestle with these weighty issues. Michael, if you ever left your office and saw all the sad sack lawyers in rumpled suits waiting their turn in a traffic docket, you would see that the law in practice is not very fascinating. For most lawyers, the practice of law is repeating the same things over and over while practicing the narrow area of law the person was dropped into by her first firm or by pure happenstance. Law is a trade at its core. For most lawyers, the practice of law involves learning enough not to screw up and getting enough of a reputation to attract enough clients to keep the lights on. Most lawyers don't make a meaningful difference in the world; they simply help the judicial system continue its churn. Most good lawyers are very similar to good plumbers, rather than a jet setting power player traveling the world in a private jet with a full law library at her disposal.

On the other hand, if you’re in law school because you didn’t know what else to do after your BA, because you hate Math (and erroneously think Law doesn’t require Math skills) and the sight of blood, therefore couldn’t be a physician, and have no goal other than to make a lot of money, and if you dislike work but have always relied on your IQ and adrenaline to ace all your courses, well, you chose the wrong generation to go to law school. Get thee out now whilest a partial refund of tuition is still available.

Honestly, I have more respect for the cynics who go to law school simply because they chose an easy major in college, have nothing to fall back on, and realize it. They have a lot more intellectual honesty than people like Michael Krauss.

It’s up to you to decide. You’re at a crossroads. Which group are you in?

If a person has any actual smarts, he will run fast from the tire fire that is today's legal profession. People like Michael Krauss know that and fear it. Making the law seem like an exciting and intellectually challenging pursuit is the greatest deceit of all. Remember that when you see a criminal law practitioner hustling for clients at the local courthouse.


  1. Krauss is simply trying to cover his bases. If students are foolish enough to continue their TTT studies after hearing his "warning," then they have nothing to complain about later. In his mind, he gave them an opportunity to abandon ship.

    1. He's offering them a great opportunity to stay out of lifelong debt, and they should take him up on it.

  2. What about patent law, are the job prospects decent?

    1. What is your undergrad? It really, very strongly, varies by degree. CS, EE types can find entry level jobs with a BS. Bios need more than a PhD (i.e., PhD and some post-doc in an area that is of interest to clients). Chemists generally need a PhD, and it's very tough for physicists unless having a PhD also.

      ME, ChE have never really needed advanced degrees, but OTOH hiring for these skill sets is very, very slow.

      IE, CE have never really had a shot (at all) at patent law, outside of the occasional anecdotal sports who literally just fell into a job by accident or through strong contacts.

    2. I'm a chem major, not really intrigued by patent law, but a lot of young people are ... Even ones without a stem undergrad.

      I can't see how it's worth it to go get a phd and jd ... That would make 35 and in huge debt.

    3. Seconded, although I know several EEs who graduated LS in the worst years or the Great Recession and have never found work as patent attorneys. I'd say around 40% of the STEM people I know that went to law school never got work as patent attorneys. True, most of them were Toileteers, and not Order of The Coif types, but still.
      If you're expecting a technical background to give you a leg up in entry-level legal hiring, it probably won't make up for going to any one of the 190+ Toilets and/or not being in the top 5% of your class.
      It's probably true that a STEM major entering law school has an overall better shot at getting legal employment than a liberal arts major, if their grades are good.

      But there are a lot of other things that can derail getting a job as a patent attorney, such as:
      - undergrad major (and grades), as noted above
      -unwillingness/inability to move to a city with more patent law jobs (so if you're a Chem E going to LS in Texas, you'll do a lot better than a Chem E in Atlanta)
      - age of the student (if you're over 28 when youplan to go to law school, it should be a non-starter!!!).

    4. There is much credited-ness in this patent law sub-thread, especially the "don't go past 28 years old" part. Trust me, I know.

    5. Well, I did go to LS in my mid-30s, but that was over 15 years ago. Even still, I do know that I was lucky to have gotten that first job out of LS, which got the ball rolling.

    6. I think patent law is overrated like criminal law. Patent law seems fitting for highly detail oriented students.

      I don't believe law is worth it if you don't make money. A poor lawyer is usually not happy w their lot.

      The happiest lawyers I know do real estate, asset protection, and of course those who represent the wealthy in legal disputes.

    7. NO, the prospects for jobs in patent law are NOT too decent these days, although electrical engineers do have a slight advantage.

      There are two reasons for this: (1) evidence that has shown patents are not that valuable to the patent owner, thus there is less demand for them; and (2) the influx of patent agents.

      Also, to understand the modern state of patent law, you need to stop thinking of patents as they teach them to you in law school. They are no longer a reward for innovation and advancement in science. In most cases, their only value is as a tool to initiate frivolous litigation, or to threaten frivolous litigation.

      What many people (including very educated people) do not realize is that most patents are value-LESS. They cost a fortune to obtain, yet it has been shown that they rarely generate any money for the patent owners. Patent owners are rarely able to obtain a license for their patent, since it has become too easy for an infringer to simply patent around them. Or, since the patent term only last for 17-20, the infringer can simply wait for the term to expire.

      More often than not, it is more cost effective to simply practice the technology without going through the long and expensive process of obtaining a patent.

      The exception to this is in the fields of electronics, communications and computers (hence the advantage some engineers have). Since technology in these fields is evolving very rapidly, it may be worth it for certain companies to obtain a patent just to harass their competitors. In other words, they obtain a patent, but they don't use it for the reason a patent was originally intended for. Instead, they use it to harass their competitors long enough for technology to advance, which is often just a few years.

      In light of these realities, there is less of a demand for obtaining patents, as evidenced by the drop of applications to the patent office. This is consistent with the slashes in research and development budgets across many industries. Thus, there are less jobs for patent lawyers.

      Additionally, patent agents have been taking the jobs of patent lawyers, because they are both cheaper to hire AND they generally know more about the area of technology. Patent agents are non-lawyers who have passed the patent bar. Normally they are PHDs with several years of experience in a particular area. More often than not, patent agents are directly competing for jobs with attorneys. Since they are cheaper, there is a preference to hire them. In fact, I know of cases where patent agents obtained a law degree on the side while working, THEN they were let go.

      I haven't even touched on the subject of "patent trolls," which is a whole subject onto itself. But these "patent trolls" are now a huge player in patent law and litigation. Look them up, and you'll have yet another reason to avoid patent law.

      So in short, patent law really is a dieing field.

    8. As 4:23 demonstrates, there is yet even more credited-ness in this thread. All of this is probably worth another post.

    9. With respect to you DNT, the post at 4:23 is in large part so poorly informed and in most of the remainder so myopic as to be laughable.

      Call it a "popular press" version of reality.

    10. From what people say on blogs, patent law used to be a good opportunity for people with the right pre-JD degress, but for the last decade (or two), it's had a massive influx because of that. The current status is supposed to be just as crowded and difficult as the rest of law.

    11. Fair point, Patents, but it also sounds like you maybe had a better experience than most. I think a "point-counterpoint" discussion on the patent-law-value-poposition would be a good future OTLSS topic. I'm with Barry, though, due to my own experience and the experiences I have heard from others.

    12. @8:58--a bit harsh. Ouch!!

      I've been practicing patent law for a decade now, so I would think my opinion has some validity to it. The firm I work for has had all sorts of clients, both corporate and small-time inventors, and I've seen or worked on applications for all types of inventions in various field of technology. I also take my CLEs in patent and IP related topics, so I'm generally up on what's going down in the field.

      I submit to you that there is plenty of legitimacy to this issue of just how valuable a patent actually is! If you take a casual look at a typical patent portfolio, you'll see that most patents are not at all valuable to their owner. So given this experience, companies are less willing to invest in obtaining patents. This seems to be the trend I've noticed, and many of us in the field would agree. Clearly, this is not the case for all industries, but it is the case for some (for example, pharmaceuticals seem to be cutting back).

      Also, most patents are not for some "hot" technology. They're for mundane inventions made by ordinary people. If you can't get a job at a big firm servicing the likes of Google, these small-time inventors will be your bread & butter. In which case, good luck getting paid!!

      In short, there are lots and lots of problems with patent law today. I advise real caution to anyone considering this specialty. Perhaps in a decade or so things will improve, but right now it's quite saturated with attorneys (and patent agents) AND the work is shrinking.

    13. Hello @ 2:08. Assuming you meant my post at 8:56 as the harsh part? Also, assuming you are the poster at 4:23... ... well, let's just say I have some difficulty crediting that the post at 4:23 was made by someone practicing patent law for a decade.

      Why? Fundamental errors of law, which no patent lawyer would utter, but which persist in the public mind.

      Example: "Patent owners are rarely able to obtain a license for their patent, since it has become too easy for an infringer to simply patent around them."

      Any patent attorney knows there is no such thing as being able to "simply patent around" another person's patent to avoid infringement. Briefly, the public believes that having a patent is a right to practice what is patented. But a patent attorney knows that a patent is never a right to practice an invention. It is merely a right to exclude others from that practice. Yet we see stupid crap in the popular press just like your comment, where people think having your own patent somehow gets you around the other guy's patent.

      What else? How about "less of a demand for obtaining patents, as evidenced by the drop of applications to the patent office"?

      If you'll pardon the pun, this is a patently false statement. The numbers of patent applications have increased every year since 1996 with one exception, 2009, in which they dipped by 0.5%. Even including that dip, the average growth rate is over 6% per year since `96. These kinds of stats are easily available from the USPTO, so please stop making uninformed guesses (and along the way, misinforming any who read your comments).

      And how about, "patent agents have been taking the jobs of patent lawyers... More often than not, patent agents are directly competing for jobs with attorneys. Since they are cheaper, there is a preference to hire them. "

      This is a ludicrous statement unless you want to caveat the heck out of it, which you did not do. First, patent agents cannot do the job of a patent attorney. But what they can do is draft patent applications and can argue against office action rejections issued by the USPTO. But they can't do anything else a patent attorney does. And if you skim firms, you'll see that the ratios of attorneys (vast majority) to agents (minority) hasn't changed in the last 10 years or so.

      In short, yes, it is harder to get into patent law, now, as either a patent attorney or a patent agent, than it was 10 years ago. Much harder.

      But that doesn't mean you should be shouting out misinformation and hyperbole.

      - (more to come - system is requiring me to break into two comments) -

    14. - (continued from prior comment) -

      What else? "If you take a casual look at a typical patent portfolio, you'll see that most patents are not at all valuable to their owner." I can't dispute this at all - it has always been true that only a small percentage of patents are monetized. Much more often, the value in a patent lies in its preclusive effect. A patent that delays your competitor's market entry by even 18 months, while they work out a non-infringing "second best" alternative, still gives you an enormous leg up.

      But the above doesn't make this follow it: "So given this experience, companies are less willing to invest in obtaining patents. This seems to be the trend I've noticed, and many of us in the field would agree." Again, this is pure bunk as easily shown by PTO stats. I don't care how many of your buddies "would agree". The plural of anecdote is not anecdata.

      As for "In short, there are lots and lots of problems with patent law today." - um, "lots and lots"? Is that a quantitative measure? You're a patent attorney? Really?

      Oh, one last thing: "Also, most patents are not for some "hot" technology. They're for mundane inventions made by ordinary people." This also is pure bunk.

      Again, I urge you to actually go check the PTO's stats before spouting misinformation. Or check IPO's website. They keep a list of the top 300 US patentees each year. Even just the top 150 alone already get the majority of patents. The top 300 patentees get around 2/3 of granted patents, and by the time you're getting down to the top 290's - 300, the numbers are still around 100 patents per patentee.

      I don't know how many the top 500 patentees get, because no one publishes a list. But if at #300, they're still about 100 per company, then my SWAG would be on the order of 80-85% of patents going to organizations, not individuals.

      That's why insinuating that "most" patents go to "ordinary people" is bunk.

      All the above are examples why I have a very, very tough time crediting your insistence that your "opinion has some validity".

    15. How effective are patents for consumer goods like a toilet seat, a specialized window wiper, or a volley ball that electronically shows velocity? I'm trying to come up w examples that don't give away my product.

      DO patents really protect products like that? I've heard patents are a waste if it's not electronic bcas people can modify your invention without legally infringing.

      Anyway I'm willing to spend 5 k on my patent, will that be enough? And is it worth it for an idea someone could steal in a second by making a small modification?

    16. Jon -- you'll need to pay at least double that if you use a lawyer, and there is no guarantee that the patent will be granted or that you'll ever recover your investment. If you do move forward, at least be sure to have a well thought out marketing plan for your product (and have anyone you consult with sign a non-disclosure agreement). Good luck!

  3. Wow. If even three precent of their graduating class gets to Save Dolphins, represent clients in Ferguson, or deal with war crimes in the Hague, that would be an amazing result.

    "What group are you in?" LOL at the Dean trying to make law school appear like applying to the Marines. You gotta love these scammers tugging at the heart-strings, making lawyers out to be Marvel superheroes. The reality for the vast majority is non-dischargable debt chasing scut-work for $12/hr.

    Lemmings without sweet connections, for the love of God*, turn away now.

    1. LawProf, I think.

      Anyway, its funny to read about Krauss thinking he is changing the world by teaching....TORTS!!!

      Most LawProfs aren't doing anything actully important, but don't tell them that as their inflated egos would try to push the nay-sayers out of the room. If anything, they spend all their time writing about others, who actually do something important in their own right.

    2. "If anything, they spend all their time writing about others, who actually do something important in their own right."

      False. Many LawProfs, once they have tenure, don't write about anything at all. Others write about pathetic fictional characters on meaningless road trips.

      Yes, the scam is really that bad.

  4. I would say that Krauss is engaged in some verbal and logical trickery. His conclusions don't even remotely follow the evidence he asserts.

  5. Your last paragraph sums it up best. The majority of lawyers will never see any of these exciting issues that need to be triumphed. Instead, you will get "the neighbor's dog is shitting in my yard", "the mechanic ripped me off" and my favorite, "I only had two beers at the bar". These will be on your greatest hits album and not discussing billion dollars mergers while sipping a martini on the top floor a skyscraper or being invited to speak at the United Nations. Bon Apetit.

    1. Honescht, Occifer!August 27, 2014 at 11:48 AM

      "and my favorite, "I only had two beers at the bar"..."

      Absotively true. But I had the other 8 in the car on the way...

  6. I agree with 8:03.

  7. Others, including the OP, have made the obvious point that few recent grads will be working on interesting constitutional or moral issues. The public sector jobs aren't there, and clients whose cases implicate these serious concerns are likely to retain experienced and specialized legal counsel rather than some recent grad who doesn't know his or her way around a courtroom.

    But there is something else. Even if you are one of the few who does get a job where you work on occasional case that deals with the interesting public policy issues described ad nauseam by Krauss, you may have to argue a position that you may not believe in personally. As a lawyer, your duty is to your client, not to your own vision of "furthering Justice" or "social optima" or whatever other pompous phrase this scoundrel Krauss uses in order to lure idealists into six-figure debt to fund his cushy lifestyle.

  8. "As a lawyer, your duty is to your client..."

    Unless, of course, you're the attorney general of California...

  9. Never forget that these lame sales tactics are signs of desperation. George Mason is a redundant law school and doesn't have much of a future. I suppose that American U, with no in-state tuition, would close before Mason in a head-to-head, but Mason is still going to see further contraction as information about the law school scam becomes common knowledge.

  10. Krauss reminds me of a public defender making an extremely weak case for an obviously guilty client.

    1. The public defender is fulfilling his ethical duty and ensuring Constitutional safeguards are met.

      Strauss is selling bedizened Bibles to grieving widowers door to door.

  11. It seems most lemmings now are those who have really wanted to go to law school since high school, because its their "dream". Because they love the idea of being a lawyer (in theory) and really want to be lawyers (although they have no idea of what the practice of law is truly like).

    Law school deans like this one cleverly pander to these people by saying law school is a bad idea only if you're going there on a whim - or because you think it will make you fabulously rich. These poor souls feel pride that they are going to law school for the "right" reasons. Of course they are actually going for all the wrong reasons...

  12. "...a word salad created with those magnets people use on their fridges if the magnets were made by CNN."

    A perfect observation. Nicely done.

    This article nailed it. Krauss and friends are part of the vanguard of law professors who are embracing the scam concept as if it was something they came up with. "Hey, we're your friendly law professors who are warning you of the dangers of law school. But we'll also guide you through successfully because we know where the pitfalls are."

    I think most people know that law school is a massive scam by now (although there's no shortage of fools willing to gamble.) Warnings need to be sounded about the professors who are now dressing up in sheepskins and pretending that they're not wolves trying to fill their classrooms with fresh meat.

    It's always telling how these new friendly scam-aware law profs never link to genuine sources for negative information about law schools, but gently steer their readers to soft sources where the true depth and breadth of the scam is hidden. If Krauss was seriously buying into the idea that law school is a bad idea for many students, he'd have linked to Campos.

  13. Off topic here, but someone made a very good point over at Law School Lemmings. Prospective law students often accept a certain power imbalance as natural when they apply. They feel relieved and even flattered when the law schools "accept" them. Actually, students are the ones who are "accepting" the law schools, and they need to be more selective.

    1. I'm willing to give the lemmings the benefit of the doubt, and concede that they really just don't understand how legitimate the law school scam is.

      Sure, there are blogs and newspaper articles out there trying to warn them, but law professors are saying the exact opposite. So, who would you believe if you were in their naive shoes?

    2. It's tough. Evaluating one's personal worth based on external validation is very seductive, especially for younger people, and especially-especially when a law school is pandering to you. Law, as portrayed in the culture and media, is just so darn "preftigeous," and the law schools play that up.

  14. This pretentious scam artist can't even spell ("underly"? "whilest"?) or use punctuation marks and capital letters.

    He's playing the Æsopian fox to the 0L crow, flattering fools into viewing themselves as valiant defenders of the downtrodden and oppressed (how did Christians end up in this category?!). And of course those fools think that a fat salary awaits every slayer of "predators" and "tyrants". And the glow of their armor blinds them to a few inconvenient facts:

    1) Law school has little to do with solving intellectual problems and righting wrongs.
    2) This adventure will cost them a quarter of a million dollars or more.
    3) There are no jobs in the sexy but fictitious specialty of Saving the World. If there were any, they wouldn't go to the half-ass graduates of George Mason.
    4) Indeed, most of the people coming out of this George Mason shithole will be lucky to find any sort of legal work.

    Old Guy

    1. Clifford C. Claven, Jr.August 29, 2014 at 10:40 AM

      Totally agree with your assessment overall.

      As for the typos, note they're not in the original at least as published by the ABA journal.

      Except "whilest", which is in the original. But "whilest" is correct as an obsolete usage for the later contraction "whil'st" (now sans apostrophe as "whilst"), particularly when used along with other obsolete terms such as "get thee".

    2. I was on a plane yesterday and there was a girl in 1st class who was bleating on in a loud voice about how she was a federal prosecutor and on direct she did this and on cross she did that and how her father was a rich urologist etc.

      Guy next to her asks where she went to school. She says George Mason. He's not impressed. Turns out she was just a law student and this courtroom drama worthy of Law & Order was her recent summer internship.

    3. Clifford C. Claven, Jr.August 29, 2014 at 2:46 PM

      Statistics show that urologists are only concerned with number 1.