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.