Thursday, February 28, 2013

JD Disadvantage

My take on the Law School Scam obviously comes from a non-traditional, so-called “JD advantage” point of view, but these warnings apply regardless of whether one is a non-trad or a K-JD.  And while I agree with the calls for more “direct action” and not sounding like a broken record, as advanced by other scamblog advocates, it is still important to keep the arguments alive (and the webcount increasing) on the internet.

As one poster once said, it is akin to tobacco warnings – you have to keep saying them, again and again, to get the message out.  There are always new people who haven’t heard the message.  And there are those who have heard it, who need to hear it again.   And again. 

My experience has taught me that there is no such thing as “JD Advantage.”  I say this even as someone who has been working in a so-called “JD-preferred” field, with my bar license, ever since I graduated in 2005.
As a non-trad, I wasn’t trying to score BigLaw – I knew that ship had sailed by virtue of not having been born a K-JD.  I wasn’t trying to be a balls-to-the-wall, shingle-hanging, entrepreneurial gunslinger advocate, either…some people are, some people aren’t, and I would say non-trads are split, at best, on this particular career aspiration.  Thus, the strawman arguments from the schadenfreudic haters of “you didn’t have what it takes,” or “you just didn’t try hard enough,” or “you were just wanted to be a rich, bigshot lawyer and you failed, so it’s all your fault” didn’t apply to me.  The fundamental assumptions behind these trollish accusations have been and continue to be false.  I was more self-aware than these simplistic views allow, and I wasn’t even trying to go down those paths in the first place.  But haters gonna hate, trolls gonna troll, and shills gonna shill, as we all know.

What I did do, unfortunately, was buy into the lie that a JD would be an asset to the other credentials and work experience that I already had, or that a legal education was a valuable proposition in the marketplace in its own right.  That it would be useful in landing contract management/contract administration jobs.  Or compliance positions that leveraged my prior experience.  Or consulting positions.  Or ADR-related industries. 

“Why of course it is, and more so,” replied the sparkling-eyed, smiling, Law School Administrators and Deans.  “Look at what our grads have gone on to do!  Read the testimonitals and brochures!  Look at our employment statistics!  Now, sign here.”

DJM did a nice piece on this, and it bears a second (or third, or fourth…) look.  Suffice it to say that employers of legally-related positions do not seek JD applicants, as ironic or as paradoxical as it initially sounds.  It is, in fact, quite difficult to convince employers that a JD is valuable – trust me, I know and I tried - I had, and still have (by the grace of God), a family to support.  And the pay you do get is not commensurate with the sticker-cost of a JD, let me assure anyone who would claim any hypocrisy on my part.

With 20/20 hindsight, the truth is that, considering my high undergrad GPA but modest LSAT score, the nature of my application overall, and my background at the time, an honest applications committee would have said “look, we like what we see here, but let’s engage in some full disclosure – what you are looking for is not what a JD provides, nor is it intended to do so in the final analysis.  This does not go where you think it goes, and we feel as though we have a duty to respectfully say so in the interest of fair warning.  Thank you for thinking of us, but you would be better served looking at other alternatives.” 

And I would have thanked them for it.  Trusting people “in the know” concerning the career field in question seems quaint, I suppose.  Perhaps the T14 do indeed have such scruples, but I did not apply to the T14 (assuming I could even get in) because I was not looking to completely uproot my life.  Neither was I seeking the paper-chase of prestige (see BigLaw discussion above).  I was looking for a credential, not unlike my prior experiences with higher education.  But did I get full disclosure?  No.  Never.  Everyone I applied to said “Come on board!  Your JD and your career aspirations await!”  Why?  Because it is about "getting them to sign on the line that is dotted."  That is all.

Thus, when I look at the NALP website and their canned JD-advantage success stories, or the hand-waving of Law School Deans on the same subject, I see red.  JDs are over-priced, under-delivering degrees for many, financed by student loans, and the law school cartel has no business touting JDs as a route to positive, alternative careers.  As always, it works for a few, and law schools are happy to claim credit and ride the coat-tails of their handful of "successful" graduates.  But for most, the cost does not justify the so-called benefit.  Better to just go do a job direct, no questions asked, than to get the JD and subsequently get turned down as a over-educated flight-risk, or to end up doing the job for less take-home pay than the co-worker who isn't basking in all the wonderous advantages of the JD.

Don't do what I did.  Don't believe in "JD Advantage".  It is a bait-and-switch ploy, pure and simple, in the line of LLMs and other scholastic revenue generators.  For those of us who actually have to work for a living, at non-professorial, non-Dean rates of pay, it's a sucker's bet. 


Inside the Law School Scam was, without doubt, a blog of rare quality.  Each and every post was well-written, thoughtful, respectful in tone (without losing a sharp edge), and a pleasure to read.  I believe that with effort, this blog can show the same level of quality, on a technical level at least.

But can this blog, written by non-professors, carry the same intellectual weight?  Can it attract the same coverage?  Can it cause those on the brink of falling blindly into the law school scam to pause for a moment and listen to us as much as they listened to Professor Campos, then take a step back?

Many would say (and have said) that we can’t.  After all, one of the big draws of ITLSS was that it was the first to be written by a law professor, someone inside the scam, someone who had a unique voice, a unique perspective, someone who could spill the beans.  And that, I’ll be the first to admit, is something that we don’t have on our side.  I’m not an insider.  I’m sure some of the other authors will introduce themselves over the next few days, but as far as I know, they’re not insiders either.

But we have one thing in common that ITLSS did not have.  We are outsiders.  We went through the system and have seen it for ourselves.  We have lived and worked as lawyers, employed and unemployed, in big firms and small, in private practice and public service.  We have struggled in this economy, lost jobs, rebuilt practices, changed careers, reviewed documents, paid student loans, felt the stranglehold of Sallie Mae around our necks.  This is our world.  The real world.  A world that Professor Campos did not experience firsthand.

And I’m not talking about just us, the writers.  I’m talking about all of us – writers, readers, supporters, friends and enemies.  We all have something valuable to say.  And while Professor Campos provided a perspective from inside the scam, one could argue that there was always something of a disconnect between the subject matter of his writing and the actual experiences of those who were not just observing it, but who were living it on a daily basis.  Professor Campos was not experiencing the effects of the scam in the same way we were.  The misery of unemployment, of no health insurance, of not knowing where the next paycheck was coming from, the daily grind of billable hours, dealing with the actual practice of law and the anger of partners, opposing counsel, and clients.  That is what we know best, and what we are uniquely qualified to write about.  The thirty years of working life that you have to live through after you graduate, not just the three years of life spent in law school.

I don’t say that to denigrate the work done over at ITLSS.  It was groundbreaking, and it brought legitimacy to the law school reform movement.  It brought us all together.  I say it to put forth the idea that we are capable of leading ourselves, and the idea that we have something equally valuable to say.  Perhaps more valuable, in fact, as prospective law students may well pay more attention to individual horror stories about what happens When Good Law Degrees Go Bad.  Instead of telling them what might happen via statistics and studies, we can show them in person.  We can bring the discussion into sharp focus, stand in front of them face to face and let them see what a JD does to your life.

While I’d like to see this blog as a follow-up blog to ITLSS, taking the unity, the community, and the drive that was developed over there and building upon it here rather than having it dissipate and lose its strength, I also see it as being something completely different.  As stated above, if we try to continue looking at the system in the same way as Professor Campos, we will fail; we’re not insiders, we don’t have that perspective, and we would become just a shadow of that great blog.  But we can look at it as outsiders, those who have been through it, and who are living post-JD lives in various stages of success and failure.  And that’s the quality discussion and expertise that we can bring to the table.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Talk is Cheap

One might say that the scamblogs have said all there is to say about the law school scam. The core issues are clear. Twice as many graduates as there are jobs. Tuition through the roof, and salaries nowhere near sufficient to cover the debt. An utter lack of practical training, and professors and administrators who are living in cloud cuckoo land. Law firms taking advantage of the mess and exploiting the workforce. The facts are crystal clear. You get it.

And reading some of the comments from earlier, I get it too. The last thing we need is more talk, yet another scamblog that says the same old thing that we’ve all heard before. While there are issues that still need to be covered, such as upcoming rankings, employment stats, progress with the law school lawsuits, and keeping a firm set of eyes on the 2013 enrolment season, I propose that we take a different track.  Something more active.

Let me be clear from the outset – I do not advocate civil disobedience.  But I do advocate getting the message out as widely as we can by whatever means we have at our disposal.  Actually physically getting the message out.  Getting off our backsides and doing more than posting disapproving and concerned comments online.

So, what are our options?  What are some things that we could easily accomplish?  Here’s something to start with, something so simple that it wouldn’t be a burden for any supporter of law school reform.

We have a vast resource available, a valuable, focused resource – you. Many of you are current students, either law or undergraduate. And you are in the best position to stop this scam before it even starts. You are in daily contact with those who have yet to make the terrible decision of attending law school, and you are in daily contact with those who are just starting law school and who still have time to leave. So why not leverage this resource?

I’m not expecting you to do much. I don’t expect you to picket LSAT tests or admitted student days at law schools (although that would be nice, and would generate some publicity and coverage – maybe later.)  I’m proposing that we start off slow. A flyer. Something that anyone (everyone) here can download and print, carry a few copies around in their bookbags, backpacks and briefcases, and pin up on college noticeboards next to the LSAT prep flyers and law school posters. Something that can be pinned up on law school noticeboards, again and again and again and again, until the administration gets sick of throwing them out. Something that once a week could be tucked into the pre-law guides that every college has in its library, or in the new pre-law books and LSAT study guides in Barnes and Noble. Something that will reach the eyes of those who try to ignore us or don't know where to find us.

It’s a small start, but it’s a start.  It’s the first step to getting us comfortable with the idea that sitting down behind a computer screen is no longer sufficient. Tapping away at a keyboard cannot fight the law school machine.

I’d be interested in hearing some ideas for what the flyer should look like and what information it should contain. Single sheet of paper, something people can see as they walk past, something to sow the seed of doubt or encourage a little research. Let’s say we have room for a large title, plus five bullet points. What should they be? Want to design it and send me a pdf to post here? And if you've got better ideas, share!

Again, this is just a start. I’d like to see this blog develop into a coherent group of activists who are ultimately willing to form a national group that looks out for law applicant, law student and recent JD graduate rights and interests. Perhaps that’s thinking too big for now. Perhaps it’s not thinking big enough.

And as an aside, I appreciate all of the visitors and the commenters this blog has received so far. It’s a rough time for all of us, but we can regroup and we can take this to the next level. I hope you’ll join us for the long haul.

The King is dead. Long live the King.

The untimely death of the most successful scamblog ever, Inside the Law School Scam, led by Professor Paul Campos, leaves the law school reform movement without a central platform from which to make its message clear.  We are now left with no meeting point to discuss the the problems and the solutions to the multitude of issues facing law schools, law students, and law graduates.

And something has to be done – quickly – to prevent the hard work, the changes we’ve caused, and the momentum of law school reform from evaporating.  Something to prevent the legal education establishment from looking at us and concluding that our concerns were merely temporary, that we don’t care enough to make our voices heard, or that the problems have all been solved.  The departure of Professor Campos leaves us without a spokesperson, a figurehead, a standard bearer.

This blog proposes that we immediately push forward from where Inside the Law School Scam left off.  There were once many scamblogs and others who addressed the issues of law school reform, lawyer unemployment, rising tuition, student debt, and other life issues affecting those who decided to obtain law degrees and who are now struggling or succeeding.  Most have disappeared, and those that remain post only occasionally.  There are new writers too, commenters who made great contributions to the discussion at Inside the Law School Scam and on other blogs, who would make fine bloggers in their own right.  There is more than enough collective passion and creativity for us all to take this to the next level.

But regular blogging is hard.  It takes time.  And for many of us, time is something of which we have very little.  So here’s the proposition:

This blog, Outside the Law School Scam, will be a collaborative effort with no head writer.  If you want to write once a week, once a month, occasionally, or daily, please get in contact us via email and we will set you up as a contributing blogger, with full privileges to post pieces on this blog as you see fit.  If you are a lapsed scamblogger, you’re welcome to post here.  If you write elsewhere, you can also write here.  If you’re a law student, an applicant, someone who avoided law school, a graduate, a successful lawyer, an unemployed lawyer, a concerned law professor, we don’t care.  All are welcome to write here, to have their voices heard, to be more than just a comment on someone else’s blog.

The requirements of posts will be simple: (1) keep the tone as professional as Professor Campos did on Inside the Law School Scam, (2) keep the post relevant to legal education, life as an employed or unemployed lawyer, or student debt, and (3) keep the quality of the writing professional.

Comments will be unmoderated, but not uncensored.  Lively discussion will be encouraged.

Interested in making a change?  Email us: outsidethelawschoolscam at