Tuesday, August 16, 2016

LawProf Frank Wu: BigLaw Jobs Don't Mean the Market is on the Upswing

It’s time again for another edition of “Welcome to the Scamblog Camp!”  This post’s featured guest is Frank Wu, from UC Hastings School of Law.

Professor Wu gets off to a slow start, unfortunately, in that even he can’t resist a textbook-swipe at “hyperbolic” critics, or “young people” looking for “instant gratification.”  In other words, Gen-X, Y, Z, A etc. are all “lazy, entitled whiners, because you are not me, therefore, you are the opposite of me, i.e. lazy, entitled whiners.”  The simple economics of obscene debt burdens coupled with low starting pay is again lost on people, apparently - it's easier to blame the victim and write people off as "lazy."

The problems have been publicized well enough if hyberbolically. But they are problems plural rather than singular. There is the lack of jobs, specifically those desirable to young people whose expectations have been set by the instant gratification of the internet era; the extraordinary cost of tuition, which typically is debt financed; and concerns over the utility of the skill set that is offered. Fixes for one problem or two problems exacerbate the third problem…

However, to Wu’s credit, he does get back on message quickly:

A rush of young people into law schools is good for the law schools, to be sure. Whether it is good for the young people is another matter.

If we bounce, it will not be “back.” It may be a bounce, to an altogether different place. Things do recover. But almost never to their starting point. Newspapers have been bouncing to the internet…[a]utomobiles with only internal combustion engines, operated by human beings, will be replaced within our lifetimes…[r]ecord collectors insist on the superiority of vinyl records to even lossless streaming for their music, but most listeners have left analog for digital.

Yep.  As has been stated many times on this blog alone, buggy-whip manufacturers need not apply (although, personally, nothing beats classic vinyl).

When I was in practice, literally a lifetime ago (I am twice the age now I was then), a pack of associates with highlighters and post-it notes, located on a windowless lower floor performed the task, one or two even being handed a plane ticket to inspect a warehouse of boxes. Today, a separate firm, maybe a “captive firm,” uses outsourcing, scanning, and algorithms, to deliver the same work product at ten times the speed and one tenth the cost.

That is the “bounce.”

No, no, Frank must not have gotten the memo from the rest of the Law School Cartel.  There is a greater need for lawyers than ever before!  JDs are worth a million dollars, easily!  All we need are more “practical” “teaching” “methods…”

I actually am an optimist [concerning Anglo-American Law and emergent legal fields]...[t]he demand for legal services, to the surprise of many, is not the same as the demand for lawyer’s services: accountants, consultants, and paralegals all compete…[p]oor people, even those of us who belong to the American norm of "middle class," do not have access to adequate, economical legal help.

Yet clients are more sophisticated than ever about purchasing professional services. Even ordinary people, likely one-time consumers, can buy a la carte “unbundled” versions of representation. The business has become stratified…

Wait, what?  Wu is an optimist, yet he just ran through the laundry list of competing legal services, lack of market, and the fact that “bread-and-butter” clients are sophisticated and buy unbundled services?  Not exactly a gold mine.  Also, I thought it was only law students who were “sophisticated consumers” according to the courts.

Above all, however, the jump in big law firm entry-level compensation is not enough to remedy much because of scale…[b]ig firms, even in boom times, provide a minority of opportunities to new graduates. A majority of law schools place few if any of their students on Wall Street…[t]he tenure of the junior lawyers at big firms is not lengthy. The pyramid structure ensures that few will make it to the top[.]

The law firm is not trying to be nice. It’s recruiting and retaining talent through calculation. As Don Draper remarked on the hit television show Mad Men about having to say thank you: “that’s what the money is for.” The bulk of law school graduates will end up, as they always have, in solo practice or at small to medium firms; or in government, usually state and local rather than the coveted clerkships with federal judges.

More “optimism,” I guess…?  Not much about saving dolphins here.  I thought it was only the mean, mean scambloggers who talked about BigLaw reality, dashing the sugarplum dreams of new 1Ls.

That is what mystifies me. When I describe the predicament of the legal profession, and thus of legal education, I have received pushback from people who say: yes, but, there is a range, and there are those firms and schools who are making out just fine. I don’t doubt that. What troubles me, and all of the rest of us ordinary folks, is that publicizing only one end of the spectrum (either end) presents a distorted picture…I prefer realism.

No mysticism required.  Cat’s out of the bag.  People are waking up to the truth.  Desperate people 
say desperate things in order to survive.

It is positive, I suppose, that big law firms are offering more to their first-year associates. As a signal about the legal marketplace, it is at best weak and at worst misleading.  We would serve our students better if we adapted.  Nostalgia is not a strategy.

Well, said, Professor Wu, well said, and it looks like the criticisms from the scamblog camp were, (ahem) right all along.  There certainly is nostalgia for the days when big-bucks flowed into Law Schools by the metric ton, without having to pander to people's estates and put a non-law-related names on the building, or apply to the USDA for funding, in order to survive.  Only now, people are forced to admit it.  Coulda shoulda woulda been different, but, oh well.

Until next time, friends!  Keep fighting the good fight!



  1. Law schools lied
    I was completely crucified
    I was on the other side
    Of no tomorrow
    Debt called in
    Just when my life began again
    And I'd spent the last piaster
    I could borrow
    All night long
    We drive taxis all night long
    Figtin against the scam
    Fightin for what's true
    Are you with me Doctor Wu ?
    Are you really just a shadow
    of the scamster we once knew?
    Are you crazy are you high
    Or now a scamblogging guy?
    Have you done all you can do?
    Are you with me Doctor?

    (With apologies to Fagen and Becker ...)

  2. "We would serve our students better if we adapted."

    If by adapting Prof. Wu means closing down half the ABA accredited law schools in the county, I’m with him 100%.

    1. Hastings College of Law should be shut down immediately. Frank Wu should be handed two weeks' pay and relegated to eternal obscurity. The pretense of Hastings has gone on far too long.

      Hastings used to be something like a UC flagship law school. It was located next to the California Supreme Court, which is in San Francisco rather than Sacramento. With a fine law school in Berkeley and adequate transbay rapid transut, the need for a UC law school in SF has passed.

      There is supposedly some sort of bequest that requires UC to fund Hastings in perpetuity. Over the years, that has become mere pretext as the heirs and their heirs have passed away. if the UC Regents suddenly did the right thing, not one person could be found with any standing to challenge it.

  3. A little off topic... will the borrower defense help law students, or will the court cases already decided that blame the law student for not knowing what he/she should have known kill that defense? http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/student-loan-ranger/articles/2016-06-29/defrauded-student-loan-borrowers-may-soon-have-discharge-options

  4. Just six years ago, in scam publication You Ass News, scamster Frank H. Wu published this piece, entitled "Why Law School Is for Everyone":


    Note that the promise of the title remains unfulfilled. Indeed, Wu's poorly written article suggests that law school is not for everyone. Increasingly, he says, lawyers need to have specialized knowledge of a field such as accounting or physics or foreign languages. That raises doubts about the suitability of law school for people without specialized knowledge.

    For six years I've been waiting for Wu to explain exactly why law school is for the sort of "student" that goes to Hastings (median LSAT score 159), never mind Thomas Jefferson or Indiana Tech.

    1. Frank Wu has cultivated a reputation as a truth-telling maverick, but I think it has been mostly self-promoting blather. A few years back, Wu loudly asserted the need for law schools to reduce class size, a correct if not exactly groundbreaking insight. However, the reduction in class size actually implemented by Wu at Hastings was insufficient to maintain student quality. During Wu's tenure as dean (2009-2015), the median LSAT has declined by 4 points and the 25th percentile LSAT declined by 5 points.

      The 2009 article linked by OG is a truly wicked thing, and Wu should apologize for it as a precondition to any credibility as a reformer. According to the article: "They have long been coming to law school planning to adapt their training to myriad pursuits. . . . They benefit from their ability to interpret a statute, even if they end up opening a restaurant. Whether they ever appear in court or draft a will, they will have been well served by learning how to stand up and speak out. They have been inspired by a sense of civil rights as well as civic responsibilities. They are ready to become leaders."

      All those civics class platitudes about versatility--and then when Wu felt that he needed to come up with something concrete, all he could think of was restauranteur. Maybe it was dinner-time, and Wu was contemplating the fine dining that awaited him after he completed the task of writing that article. Or to use a restaurant metaphor, the task of serving up that word salad with snake oil dressing.

    2. Restaurateur, my ass! Few recent graduates of law school could open a restaurant if they wanted to. Where would they get the money, when they owe a quarter of a million for the degree that they're not using?

      That pernicious reference to "opening a restaurant" serves to deceive. If you don't find work as a lawyer, say the scamsters, you'll do something glamorous such as opening a restaurant (with four stars in the Michelin guide). Not even Wu could claim with a straight face that graduates "benefit from their ability to interpret a statute, even if they end up gathering shopping carts at Wal-Mart".

      I'm not convinced that graduates of law school necessarily have special "ability to interpret a statute", still less that they have "learn[ed] how to stand up and speak out" or "have been inspired by a sense of civil rights as well as civic responsibilities". And don't get me started on being "ready to become leaders". But results such as these could be achieved more economically and more effectively without law school.

      And the talk of non-professional "benefits" misses the point. I freely admit that three years of even Cooleyesque engagement with law can afford intellectual and other personal benefits. So fucking what? People go to law school primarily for professional reasons—to become lawyers. No one borrows $250k in order to satisfy a curiosity about statutory interpretation. The pursuit of Latin or crochet or badminton may similarly yield personal benefits, but not benefits justifying the expenditure of $250k or more.

  5. Remember, Frank Wu once wrote "Why Law School Is for Everyone." This inspired me to help ream the pigs.


  6. Thank you for the additional article and information, everyone. I knew Frank Wu had been a staunch supporter of the scam in the past before entering his "reform" stage, but I couldn't put my finger on the proof.

    1. I wish that I could find a reference for this:

      Eight or nine years ago, when Wu was dean, Wayne State's toilet law skule plummeted on the dumb rankings published by You Ass News. Wu promptly resigned, ostensibly for personal reasons.

      A key reason for the decline was a dreadful showing in the employment department. At a meeting of students, Wu announced that the law skule thenceforth would count as "employed" every graduate who had a job, even as a hash-slinger at a fast-food restaurant. The audience booed and hissed: rather than striving to improve their prospects of finding meaningful employment in their chosen line of work, Wu was just scheming to manipulate the rankings.

    2. Yeah, the old "9X% employed nine months after graduation with an average reported income of $1XX,000.00." Of course "employed" meant any job at all, and at most schools, only a small minority of graduates (the ones at biglaw, mostly) actually reported their income. At least the law schools can't get away with that anymore.

      In all fairness to the deans and CSO's, they can't help graduates get jobs that don't exist.

  7. Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance KingAugust 17, 2016 at 2:52 PM

    Realism you say? Come with me as I schlepp across the magnificent miles of my Midwest jurisdiction from one downscale rust belt factory town to another chasing after two bill Walmart retail thefts, DUIs and possession. Yes sir, I am a vessel of justice, a hifalutin LAWYER!!!

  8. Off topic, but effective May 2017, all Arizona Summit students will be required to pass a mock bar exam administered by the school at the end of third year or they don't graduate. I guess that's one way to bring up bar passage rates. No word on whether those who can't pass will get a full refund of all tuition payments (Ha!) I wonder what our friend Warren Bingham II thinks of this new rule.

    1. For years, slag heap law schools across the nation have grappled with the eternal problem: How do we milk these dumb fucks out of their student loan dollars for three year without them fucking up our bar passage rates? And now, the powers that be at Arizona Summit have come have come up with an ingenious solution with a little something called the mock bar exam graduation requirement. Genius! Pure genius!

    2. If the ABA cared one iota about legal education, they would force Arizona Summit to close immediately. Shameful.

    3. Any lemmings who are paying attention may hesitate to enroll at a law skule that might kick them out with no degree after three years because they couldn't pass that exam.

      They shouldn't be expected to pass that exam anyway. After all, large numbers of law students pursue the Million-Dollar Degree™ without intending to become lawyers. Many of them covet those lucrative JD-Advantage™ positions. Others plan to open a restaurant on the strength of their newly acquired expertise in statutory interpretation.

  9. All of the CA law schools should be shut down except Stanford and UC-Berkeley. Hastings isn't even worth going to anymore.