Saturday, April 4, 2020

COVID-19 used as an excuse to lower standards to the vanishing point—literally

In response to the spread of COVID-19, the bar exams scheduled for the summer of 2020 have been canceled. New graduates and others who had expected to take the exams this summer may now have to wait until the autumn or later. First-year jobs in law may be placed on hold. Alternatively, new graduates may find themselves having to study for the bar exams while working. People are crying rivers over these problems.

Of course, those with rheumy eyes for the Class of 2020 have rushed to offer solutions. One of these is to admit people "temporarily" without examination on the condition that they work under the supervision of a lawyer. This is just a back door to skipping the exams altogether. Once people had practiced "temporarily" in this way, there would be demands to license them permanently on the strength of their alleged experience. After all, we would be told, they had already demonstrated their competence in practice. But who knows what they would do under "supervision"? Who knows how much supervision they would get, or whether the supervising lawyer was competent to supervise them (or even to practice law)? Even in the best of cases, the experience gained and ability demonstrated would likely be closely circumscribed. Most lawyers specialize in one or two areas of practice, often quite narrow. The relatively few generalists might not be able to offer rich and varied work under supervision to fresh graduates. However much experience a person might acquire under this "temporary" measure, it would not demonstrate even the shallow breadth of knowledge covered by the exams.

Advocates of this "temporary" proposal have pointed out that it offers practical experience, which is required for admission to the bar in many countries but not in the US. Yes, many countries do require a period of apprenticeship—but they also require exams, usually a damn sight more difficult than those used in the US. Canadian requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but typically include about ten months of "articling" (apprenticeship) and a battery of exams, sometimes also months of part-time or full-time courses run by the bar association. Most of the rest of the Commonwealth takes a similar approach. In Germany, law students have to take multiple exams, some of them oral (no bullshit multiple choice!), over a period of years; usually they get only one or two chances at passing, and the exams are designed to eliminate a large part of the class. After all that, German students still have to complete an apprenticeship. They are usually close to 30 when they are admitted to the bar. By contrast, the weak exams used in the US are constantly denounced as an unfair hurdle—and they're really the only hurdle at all, other than character-and-fitness requirements and the payment of a modest fee.

Another proposal, endorsed by more than two thousand law students in a recent letter to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, is "diploma privilege": simply admit every graduate of an ABA-accredited law school to any bar in the US without examination, on the assumption that the JD itself proves their competence. Readers of Outside the Law School Scam will already know what Old Guy thinks of this proposal. Before ripping into it, however, I should explain that it is actually used in some places: New Hampshire and Wisconsin extend diploma privilege to graduates of their respective state law schools, while generally requiring graduates of other law schools to pass the exams. Old Guy admits that the U of Wisconsin is one of the more respectable fourth-tier law schools (the same cannot be said of the U of New Hampshire—named, incidentally, after Franklin Pierce, one of the worst US presidents other than the current abomination and some of his recent predecessors). At least it can be argued that a state can, in principle, manage its own state-run law school well enough to ensure that each graduate meets a reasonable standard of competence. But the corruption that we have seen even at supposedly élite—Old Guy would say fourth-tier—state-run law schools such as the one at the U of Texas undermines that argument. Moreover, admission to one US bar, for a holder of a JD from an ABA-accredited institution, opens the door to all others. It is not clear that diploma privilege in one jurisdiction should be so readily portable. And if the assumptions underlying diploma privilege even in a Wisconsin or a New Hampshire are questionable, think of the hellacious free-for-all that would result from admitting to the bar every knuckle-dragging über-toileteer that manages to buy a degree (using borrowed money, bien sûr) from the likes of Appalachian or Cooley.

Besides, scamsters, why stop at ditching the bar exams? Why not ditch the JD as well? It obviously does not prove much knowledge of law: even graduates of élite law schools typically sign up for costly, time-consuming bar-review courses in order to bone up for the current exams by learning rudimentary law that they never got from law school. Most of the profe$$ors look down their aristocratic noses at practice; many of them have themselves practiced law very little or not at all, and quite a few have never passed a bar exam or even studied law. Outside a few core courses of widely varying quality, much of the curriculum consists of such crapola as Hip-Hop and the American Constitution, Law & Harry Potter, six-course specialties in Global Law and Leadership, and, by way of proving the cultural and artistic merit of the "million-dollar" JD, lessons enabling one to mutilate "Margaritaville" with three chords on the ukulele. It also eats up three or more years and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, usually billed to the public. Will the hackademic scamsters that recommend throwing the bar exams out the window, conveniently just after eleven of them fell short of the ABA's new standard for passing the bar exam and many others barely met it, cheerfully throw law school and their own overpaid sinecures after it?

Old Guy won't be found shedding a single tear for the Class of 2020. Its members could not have foreseen the hysteria à la Chicken Little that would be whipped up around a virus that does nothing like the damage caused by such easily cured but criminally underreported maladies as malaria (half a billion infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths every year) and starvation coupled with its associated preventable diseases (some 25 million deaths per year, to say nothing of many hundreds of millions of cases of malnutrition, even though the world produces enough food to make every person morbidly obese). But they knew, or ought to have known, that law school is a giant scam, particularly at prices typically far over $200k and sometimes close to $400k. They get not one whit of sympathy from Old Guy for their stupid decision to attend law school despite the work that we have been doing here at Outside the Law School Scam for years.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Eleven law schools are out of compliance with the ABA's new standard for passing of bar exams

Recently the ABA changed its requirements for continued accreditation such that a law school must see at least 75% of those graduates who write the bar exam get a passing score within two years of graduation. Eleven law schools failed this standard, and far more came within one or two students of failing.

Here is the list of greatest shame:

Faulkner, 62.5%
District of Columbia, 64.1%
Mississippi College, 64.2%
Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, 64.5%
Cooley, 66.0%
South Dakota, 67.2%
Florida Coastal, 67.3%
John Marshall—Atlanta, 67.3%
Florida A&M, 70.8%
Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, 70.9%
Charleston, 72.1%

Golden Gate just met the standard, with a rate of 75.0%. Thirty-three schools came in below 80%, and 96 below 90%.

Bear in mind that these figures are for those who take a bar exam. Law skules are notorious for discouraging their lousiest graduates, to the point of bribing them to "defer" the exam.

What happens to the aforementioned über-toilets now? The scam-administering ABA will review the data this month and send out letters to those law schools that are indeed non-compliant with the new standard. Those schools get two years to bring themselves into compliance. Of course, the ABA can always extend the deadline, change the rules, or otherwise do nothing about the most appalling toilet law schools, to say nothing of the merely horrible ones.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Concordia Law School survives, for now; plans for law school in Shreveport, Louisiana, rejected

Old Guy has good news and bad news for the anti-scam movement today.

First the bad news: Boise-based über-toilet Concordia Law School is going to survive after all, for now. Just last week, the parent institution in Portland, Oregon, announced that it would close down at the end of the semester. We had hoped that the closure would also kill off the law school. Alas! no. The law school has been acquired by Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota. How long the über-toilet will last under the auspices of yet another member of the sprawling Concordia family remains to be seen. I hold out little hope for a bottom-of-the-barrel law school in Idaho—a state that does not need one law school, never mind two—whose most recent graduating class featured an unemployment rate of 40%.

Now the good news: the vaunted "feasibility study" for a proposed law school in Shreveport, Louisiana, came back strongly negative. Almost a year ago we criticized the proposal as hopelessly inappropriate. We expected the feasibility study for Shreveport to be of the odious Indiana Tech variety. But saner heads existed in Louisiana, apparently, just as they did in Tennessee when über-toilet Valpo tried to dump itself onto Middle Tennessee State University.

The feasibility study for Shreveport sensibly observes that "[t]here is little compelling evidence that a new law school is warranted in the Shreveport/Bossier region". It recommended that "[n]o new law school be established in the Shreveport/Bossier region". Apparently unimpressed by such sensible conclusions, however, the Louisiana Board of Regents "requested further reports and feedback".

If the Louisiana Board of Regents stupidly approves another über-toilet in the Shreveport area, it will have itself to blame for the ensuing fiasco. Why do I say "another über-toilet"? Because just about any new law school today is bound to be an über-toilet. It will start life with no accreditation, no reputation, no particular reason other than location for anyone to attend. And location—really, Shreveport, for god's sake!—isn't going to attract applicants of even mediocre, never mind high calibre. Indiana Tech boasted that it would start out as third out of Indiana's five law schools by LSAT score, but absolutely no evidence was given of its ability to o'erleap two established and accredited (if awful) law schools. Predictably, it started at the bottom, and soon enough died. Such is the fate of just about any new law school. The exception of UC Irvine is hardly relevant: Irvine started with the prestige of the UC system and an enormous infusion of cash that enabled it to bribe entire entering classes. Even Irvine has hardly been a smashing success: first-year enrollment last year fell by a third, and more than 20% of graduates were unemployed or in jobs funded by the school itself (these being notorious as devices for distorting the picture of [un]employment).

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Texas Southern University fires president over admissions scandal at über-toilet law school

Texas Southern University has just fired its president, in part over a scandal involving admissions to its über-toilet law school.

In his "Notice of Proposed Termination for Cause" (see link above), the chairman of the board cited the following as the first of several grounds for termination:

As set forth in your Contract, you have a duty to promptly advise and fully report to the Board any matter known by you that tends to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule on the University. It is alleged that you failed to meet this obligation by failing to report to the Board and to the internal auditor allegations of fraudulent and dishonest activities of the former Associate Dean of Law School Admissions and Financial Aid (the "Former Assistant Dean"). As you know, the Former Assistant Dean resigned in lieu of termination for facilitating a fraudulent transfer law school application for Student One. Also, the Former Assistant Dean facilitated second fraudulent admission and scholarship for a first-year law school student (Student Two) in exchange for fourteen thousand dollars ($14,000) in cash. The Former Assistant Dean also provided false LSAT information for submission to the ABA law school accreditation review board. Each of these items are [sic] serious matters and are the subject of ongoing investigations.

A footnote explains that "Student name has been redacted to preserve their amenity". Presumably anonymity was intended, but one cannot expect a high standard of literacy at Texas Southern.

There are further allegations of cover-ups, inconsistent statements, interference with an investigation, and related wrongdoing.

Old Guy is not surprised to see an overpaid hackademic functionary accused of corruption. He is, however, astounded to see that someone paid a $14k bribe in order to get into the law skule at Texas Southern. With its LSAT scores of 143/145/147, Texas Southern ranks below all but Southern University Law Center and perhaps Cooley. Imagine being lousy enough that Texas Southern wouldn't take your ass!

At first I thought that the bribe might have been paid for the "scholarship", but the text says that the admission too was fraudulent, thereby suggesting that it could not have been achieved by the usual means of applying directly. One wonders just how bad a person has to be to resort to such desperate measures for admission to über-toilet Texas Southern.

Also interesting is that the contract required the president to advise of "any matter known by [him] that tends to bring public disrespect, contempt or ridicule on the University". Did he tell them that the stench of their über-toilet law school fouled the air for a hundred miles around? If not, he should indeed have been fired.

Monday, February 3, 2020

"I’m a Product of a Legal Education System That Produces Graduates for a Foregone Era"

Image result for hustle

This opening statement resonated with me immediately:

In May 2012, my professional outlook was bleak.

I was wrapping up three unenvious years of law school, confident I didn’t want to practice and saddled with about $150,000 in fresh school debt. Insult to injury: I was unemployed.

Haven't many of us been there?  Optimism turns to pessimism to despair over a three-year period.  Whether or not the practice-bug stayed intact, the question became - what do I do now?  Let's see:

A month after graduation, I received the first in a string of professional lifelines: a Fulbright fellowship to the Republic of Kosovo.

Wait, what?

It was a palate cleanser. I spent the year talking to people building the country’s justice system...[while] I traveled throughout Europe’s newest country, I was focused on traditional rule of law issues...[i]n the periphery, however, I caught glimpses of something I’d never seen before: a civic technology scene...[w]hile the country’s government operated in fits and starts, I saw members of a young, tech-savvy population trying to bridge the government’s gaps with their own solutions. 

Definitely not traditional legal practice - note the use of the term "palate cleanser".  Intrigued, I wanted to see where this went:

With a new universe of possibilities rattling inside my head, I left Kosovo for Baltimore to lead a criminal justice policy project.  The role didn’t last long; however, during that time I channeled what I saw in Kosovo and built my first legal app. That small act sealed my fate. I quit my job to catch the wave of the app’s early success, only to find the model unsustainable. From there, Justice Codes was born.  The following five years would be filled with euphoric successes, crushing defeats and the often-numb banality of striking out on your own.

Hmm, OK.  I admire the hustle, moving from one thing to the next - it sounds like the author was a bit of an entrepreneur at heart.  Regardless:

While I don’t recommend my path to others, I do think there are broader lessons in my experience. If nothing else, I want to join the chorus of voices pushing lawyers to expand their potential and embrace nontraditional, path-breaking opportunities. While such a choice is not without cost and sacrifice, lawyers who embrace it will be better suited to navigate our changing profession...[i]n retrospect, it’s safe to say that this was all worth it, as I exceeded many of my initial goals. Now, I even receive the occasional call from law students or lawyers looking to make a career change asking how they can do what I did. I tell them the process to get here looks nothing like the end product...[i]’m privileged to have had some savings and the personal freedom to embark on this endeavor, but I made just above the poverty line my first year. Each subsequent year was progressively better, but I still had to stop paying on my student loans during this time...[after additional challenges], left broke, dejected and running Facebook ad optimizations to cover rent, I became a journalist—another lifeline [emphasis added].

Wow.  I point all of this out not to criticize, as I admire the ability to stay agile.  Certainly more agile that I myself have been.  But I also appreciate the honesty - a seemingly lightning-strike initial opportunity, followed by multiple job-hops, varied amounts of "success" and "failure," some cash-flow issues along the way, initial capital required as a pre-requisite, while student loans took a back seat.  "Personal freedom" necessary - I'm assuming this means no familial obligations.  Other lawyers asking how to get out in the meantime, as this circuitous path apparently looked better.

What is the author's conclusion?

I’m a product of a legal education system that produces graduates for a foregone era, while saddling them with life-altering debt. Graduating into the wake of the Great Recession, I was left unsure about my professional future and building skills absent from law school curriculum. Simultaneously, legal professionals spent the last decade scrambling to learn new processes and technologies—and fend off others—in a bid to stay relevant. Regardless of our collective best efforts, most Americans still can’t access meaningful legal assistance.

At the same time, there has never been a more exciting moment to create a new path. Within the wreckage that is the access-to-justice gap, there is opportunity. Further, costs have never been lower to experiment with a promising idea, like those had by the founders at JustFix, Simple Citizen, Upsolve and Uptrust—just to name a few.

However, change is hard, and in a profession built on precedent—literally training us to look backward—I agonize over those not focused on what’s ahead...[i]t'll be better instead to set sail.

Welp, these are good points.  Congratulations to the author on navigating the minefield, as we all have to do in some form or fashion.

0Ls, and nontrads, however - let this example be another voice who is honestly pointing out the opportunities and the challenges, as no one within the Cartel will speak this plainly.  Many people start out saddled with debt.  The profession is changing, and may require multiple job-hops that are not even legal in nature.  Your career stands a good chance of being "nontraditional" (i.e. non-practicing) if you are not already a made-man going into the legal profession.  As seen above, there were many twists and turns, some of which may be "exciting," but financial stability and ability to pay back loans was not a large part of it.

If the future is "non-traditional, path-breaking" opportunities, then maybe law school is not the answer in the first place.  If I ever saw a ringing endorsement for an MBA (and I don't doubt there are overproduction of graduates issues there also), then this story would be it.  Caveat emptor.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Graduate kept from becoming a lawyer because of enormous student loans

Readers of this site know well that debt for law school ruins many lives. But how many of us know that student loans can keep a person from becoming a lawyer at all?

Fifty-nine-year-old Cynthia Marie Rodgers got a JD from toilet law school Capital last May but was kept out of the bar for reasons of character and fitness. A panel of the Supreme Court of Ohio reached this conclusion for two reasons. The more colorful reason, which is also the first one cited, is her history of commencing dozens of lawsuits, many of them apparently frivolous if not vexatious, without knowing what she was doing. She committed the most rudimentary procedural errors and appears to have been pretty consistently unsuccessful. She seemed not to regret what the court found to be abuses of the legal system.

But the court invoked another reason: "Outstanding Debts" (pages 7–9). Allow me to quote the court (pages 8–9):

The applicant and her husband have amassed almost $900,000 in student loan debt. Although the applicant expressed that she does not have any idea how much she has borrowed, it appears that her share of this amount is about $340,000. The applicant testified that she and her husband consolidated their loans and that they are on a "percentage of income" plan, "so we'll just always pay a percentage of our income for the rest of our lives." The applicant explained the percentage of income plan as a 25 year plan, and after 25 years any remaining amount is forgiven, although it may become taxable income.

The applicant did not know what the percentage of her income was that she would be required to pay under the percentage of income plan, but "right now it's zero because of my income being so low. Once your income hits $20,000 then payments start kicking in." The applicant stated that her husband is not paying any money on the loan now either because he is "semi-retired" and "filing for disability." The applicant had no idea how much she borrowed to attend law school, or the total amount of her student loan debt. She stated that she is disabled … and is not able to work a forty-hour week. The applicant stated that "if they are willing to have me on that payment plan, then if I win the lottery then they get it. Once I became disabled * * * I knew there was no way for twenty years that I would ever be able to pay all that back." The applicant indicated that if she becomes a lawyer she intends to work part-time for legal aid.

Further (page 11):

She has openly neglected financial responsibilities, and knowingly incurred a substantial amount of student loan debt that she admits will probably never be repaid.…

The conduct described above represents an ongoing lack of integrity, abuse of process and neglect of financial responsibility.

Ms. Rodgers is eligible to try again in 2024, when she will be 64 years old. Evidently the public will be stung for about a million dollars for the sake of university education that Ms. Rodgers and her husband seem unlikely ever to use. Insouciant even of the amount of her debt or of the monthly payments, and reportedly marked with bad credit for unpaid debts that ended up being written off, she was nonetheless allowed to rack up more than a third of a million dollars in student loans.

At least the court has declined to admit to the legal profession someone so unconcerned about laws, obligations, and the interests of others. And it has labeled the accumulation of unpayable debt, including student loans, as "neglect of financial responsibility" sufficient to keep one out of the bar. How many more people with mountains of student loans will find themselves excluded from the legal profession for similar reasons?

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Blaxploitation: Tuskegee University hosts law-school fair

Tuskegee University, a historically Black university located in rural Alabama, is hosting its third law-school fair later this month. Ninety law schools, nearly half of those accredited by the ABA, will send representatives to meet prospective students.

The list features mostly toilets and über-toilets. Not a single school in Tier 0, 1, or 2 will be present: no Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Columbia, NYU, or Stanford. The only representatives of Tier 3 will be Michigan, Northwestern, and Penn; even Duke and Virginia, the only two law schools in the entire South that are worth attending, will not be there. Various trap schools and crap schools from Tier 4 plan to attend. The rest of the group will be from Tiers 5 and 6, both near (Faulkner, Samford, Elon) and far (Texas Southern, the two John Marshalls, UMass Dartmouth). Oddly enough, Cooley is not on the list, despite incessantly trumpeting its racial diversity.

Since only three of the ninety schools are worth attending even in principle (and it must be said that one of them, Northwestern, is sliding towards Tier 4), this fair does a disservice to its largely Black target audience. It frames the other 87 schools as respectable establishments that hold out promise to Black people, when in fact they are very poor choices for anyone without money, connections, or both—which includes the bulk of the Black people to whom Tuskegee is marketing the law-school scam.

Disingenously, "Dr. Tammy Laughlin, assistant professor of political science, noted that the annual fair has become an integral part of efforts to support Tuskegee students’ admission to a wide variety of state, regional and Ivy League law schools"—when the only Ivy League institution attending this event is Penn, not exactly what comes to mind when people think of the Ivy League. (Since the Ivy League is an athletic conference of undergraduate institutions, "Ivy League law schools" is not a meaningful category anyway.) This fair drives Tuskegee students into life-destroying indebtedness for the sake of a decidedly inferior law degree that will serve them poorly when they look for work.

Booker T. Washington, the first president of what was to become Tuskegee University, is widely remembered as an Uncle Tom for his role in the contemptible Atlanta Compromise. Against the advice of many other Black leaders of his day, he advocated that Black people submit to Jim Crow—"the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly"—and gradually convince their white "friends" of their worth through the excellence of their industrial and agricultural labor. However well meant, this law-school fair continues Washington's shabby legacy of subjugating Black people to white interests—in this case, those of the mostly white law-school scamsters who would fatten themselves by saddling Black people with impossible debt and false hopes of advancement through the overcrowded and declining legal profession.

Monday, January 13, 2020

"Punitive Standards"

Image result for dan aykroyd ghostbusters cigarette

I had to read this two or three times to make sure I was getting this correct:

In what is being described as a “stunning” decision, a bankruptcy judge has ruled that a 2004 graduate of Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School may erase more than $220,000 in student loan debt.

The law grad, 46-year-old Kevin Jared Rosenberg, represented himself. His annual income is less than $38,000, and his monthly income after expenses runs at a deficit of about $1,500, according to the Jan. 7 opinion by Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Cecelia Morris of the Southern District of New York.

I was going to go into a long quip-filled tirade about how "I felt a great disturbance in the Scam, as if millions of bootstrapping-Boomers cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced," but considering the Chief Judge is a Boomer herself, maybe I'll just keep quiet on that part and move on...

Wow, do I feel for Rosenberg, and I wish him well.  Looking at his statistics - 2004 graduate, 46 years old - I'm seeing some real kinship there in similar numbers.  Another nontrad who was lured by the pipe dreams of the law school cartel.  Another nontrad for whom the the law school dream fell squarely flat, to say nothing of the K-JD variety.

Morris said she was applying the so-called Brunner test for discharge of student debt as it was originally intended. Since the test was created in a 1987 decision, cases interpreting it have set out “punitive standards” and “retributive dicta,” she said. Those harsh cases “have become a quasi-standard of mythic proportions, so much so that most people (bankruptcy professionals, as well as lay individuals) believe it impossible to discharge student loans,” she said.

“This court will not participate in perpetuating these myths.”

Amazing.  It's almost as if the ridiculous and completely unsustainable costs of undergrad and graduate school are finally applying enough pressure to the system that rational people can see the gross disparity between the treatment of student debt and literally all other kinds of debt.  When people can't buy homes, pay their bills, buy things, or start families, all for having the temerity of wanting to improve themselves and their standing, it's a real drag on the economy, man.  Why it took 40+ years to recognize this out is beyond me, but that gush of sweet, sweet federal loan money was probably too distracting for self-interested parties.    

Granted, there will be loan sharks and other holier-than-thou haters that will go into apoplexy over this development.  The case is on appeal, so no doubt the full force of these parties will be brought to bear against this decision standing.  Last thing anyone deserves is an actual jubilee, especially one of those lawyer-types.  You know they all drive solid-gold Bentleys and have seven vacation homes anyway.  Speaking of which, I need to sue somebody, get one of those lawyers on the phone...

Here's hoping this not only opens the door to reasonableness for many, many victims of the scam, but also is a small beginning in the entire financial rethinking of how education is handled in this country.  Wouldn't that be horrible.      

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The fake-lawyer scam

You could gain admission to Stanford, pay a fortune, graduate with a degree in law, pass the bar exam, pay for a license, and try to find a job.

Or you could just lie.

Robert Sinclair Argyle of West Bountiful, Utah, reportedly favored the latter approach. He managed to get a job at a law firm on the strength of false claims to hold a JD from Stanford and a license to practice in both Utah and California. He was caught and fired soon enough, but right away he landed a job paying a cool $175k plus benefits. There he "worked for a short time and was terminated when a background investigation revealed the defendant lacked verifiable legal education and law experience". Now he and his wife face multiple criminal charges related to these and other incidents.

But suppose that instead you went to now-defunct Valpo, and even graduated, but kept failing the bar exam. Should that be an obstacle to your legal career?

Why, not if you are Kelcie Miller. She lied her way into a job as a lawyer at the public defender's office in Madison County, Illinois; she even produced a forged document to substantiate her bogus license. Only when a court reporter checked the spelling of her name, and a judge tried to look it up in the directory, was she exposed. On Friday she pleaded guilty to a single count of false impersonation of an attorney. Sentence: 30 months' probation, plus restitution of $40,232 (apparently for salary fraudulently obtained). She happens to have a few more charges related to passing bad checks. In the meantime, the real lawyers of the public defender's office have had to review the cases on which Miller had illegally acted.

Miller was lucky to get off so lightly. I'm surprised that she didn't spend time in jail for that.

Suppose, however, that you had never gone beyond community college but really wanted to be a lawyer. You could, of course, go for a bachelor's degree and then a law degree, pay for both, pass the bar exam, and try to find work.

But Kimberly Kitchen had a better plan: lying through her ass. She held herself out as having graduated at the top of the class from Duquesne's law school and then having taught law at Columbia. She passed a number of forged documents to lend color to her false claim to being a lawyer. She practiced law for ten years, even becoming partner of a firm and head of the county's bar association, before being caught. She was convicted of various charges and sentenced to jail.

Kitchen's lawyer called her "incredibly competent" and presented a number of clients who testified to their satisfaction with her services. Plainly Kitchen was not competent, incredibly or otherwise, to practice law. The satisfaction of the clients has nothing to do with that. Indeed, it is astounding that a (presumably) licensed lawyer could call a fraud like her competent, thereby degrading the whole legal profession.

Well, Ms. Incredibly Competent appealed against the sentence on the grounds that she had been "a good fake lawyer" and that no fraud occurred, since no one suffered any damage. How her counsel could seriously present that argument is beyond me. Can anyone suppose that her clients and the firm, never mind the legal profession and even Duquesne, lost nothing? The losses go well beyond the obvious ones, such as fees paid. At one firm where I worked, when I found out that a lawyer who had left almost a year earlier had mishandled two matters in the same way, I called for every one of his files and reviewed them all myself. That took a great deal of time (and, yes, I found other errors of the same sort that I had to correct). What if I had found out that a non-lawyer had had carriage of matters for years? Someone would have had to examine all of those matters. And what if serious errors had come to light? The firm would have been fully liable for any losses. As the court pointed out here, the insurer would not have covered them.

About twenty years ago, there was a spate of exposés of "degrees" from diploma mills. Loads of people in exalted positions turned out to have bought a "degree" in this way. On top of that, many people—including the dean of admissions at MIT, who had the unmitigated gall to lecture the public on the importance of honesty and integrity—turned out to have fabricated degrees outright. Yet scamsters are still getting away with this sort of fraud. As long as the sham of credentialism lasts, Old Guy can only recommend verifying credentials aggressively.