In the 1980s and 1990s, RJ Reynolds reaped massive profits with one of the most successful mascots in advertising history, Joe Camel. He was a suave camel shown in a variety of exotic and aspirational situations. People could even acquire "Camel Bucks" from cigarette packs to use to purchase Camel branded items. In 1991, an American Medical Association study showed that almost as many children identified Joe Camel as being associated with cigarettes as those who could identify Mickey Mouse as being associated with Disney. RJ Reynolds eventually agreed to halt the campaign amid public outcry that the anthropomorphic dromedary was encouraging young children to smoke.
During the 1980s and 1990s, public health officials the world over tried to figure out how to stem the popularity of cigarettes. In 1989, the New Zealand Department of Health’s Toxic Substances Board recommended plain packaging for tobacco products. This meant that tobacco products were to be sold solid color packs with a huge warning about the dangers of smoking displayed on the pack. As one can imagine, this proposal met with intense opposition from tobacco manufacturers and their lobbyists. A breakthrough was made when Australia passed the world's first plain packaging regulations in 2011. Researchers suggested that without the visual stimuli on the cigarette packs, cigarettes became less attractive. In an unexpected development, smokers also reported that cigarettes in plain packaging tasted worse. While there are no long term studies about the effects of plain packaging on smoking rates, the anecdotal data suggests that smoking rates are down.
Law school brochures sell a vision of rapturous success and opportunities to do work at the law's bleeding edge. The brochures lead the average student to believe that he or she will be assured of an upper middle class income while doing cutting edge legal work. Programs in esoteric fields like space law or hip-hop legal studies are trotted out in an attempt to show students that a legal education is a great way to break into almost any field. The possibilities are limitless for the law grad. These brochures massage employment numbers to the limit allowed by the ABA's recent employment data disclosure rules. That $180,000 in tuition for 3 years? A drop in the bucket when students consider the riches awaiting them after that J.D. diploma is in hand.
In recent years, the law school industrial complex has seen some waning in its revenue generating power. Law schools were led kicking and screaming to disclose employment statistics that did not appear to have been created by the Iraqi Ministry of Information. Graduates saddled with no job prospects and six figure debt are scattered across our country, unable to live the American Dream while crushed by their decision to study law. What is the response of the deans, professors and administrators? They point to the fact that unemployed graduates are lazy or not smart enough to get a job. If grads network and work for peanuts, they will eventually be able to create comfortable lives working as solo attorneys. Others say that law schools teach students "how to think". This ability to think should open doors for these grads, if only they would look for "JD advantage jobs". Something needs to be done.
Law schools need to be treated like the cigarette industry. There is no rational incentive for law schools to act in the best interests of their students. Law schools that do not provide positive job outcomes are defrauding not only the students, but the taxpayers as well. The enrollment numbers are dwindling, but there is still an oversupply of lawyers relative to what the market will bear. We need to take a tip from the plain packaging movement and advocate for the inclusion of large warnings on all law school brochures and glossies. The messages should say something like:
WARNING: DEBT ACCUMULATED FROM LAW SCHOOL CANNOT BE PAID OFF IF YOU DON"T WORK FOR A LARGE LAW FIRM
WARNING: LAW SCHOOL WILL NOT TEACH YOU HOW TO ACTUALLY PRACTICE LAW
This type of measure won't stop everyone who shouldn't go to law school from enrolling. There are special snowflakes out there blindly convinced of their future success no matter what evidence exists to the contrary. But, it should help students on the fence take pause and think twice. People can't be stopped from making bad decisions. But it is our duty to do all we can to make it as difficult as possible.