Friday, May 31, 2013

Which law schools are the most overrated by US News and World Report?: A ranking of schools by mismatch between US News rank and placement success.

Imagine two recent law grads, A and B, both equally indebted to the tune of 100,000 interest-accruing and nondischargeable dollars. They are standing beside each other at a jobs fair. Or maybe they are fellow employees of Radio Shack or Starbucks, chatting during a smoking break. Or maybe they are sitting side-by-side on a document-sorting temp project. Or maybe they are coworkers in a government or public interest law office, working for free in the desperate hope that they might impress or network their way into a paying law job. And A and B hold the following conversation: 
A: (proudly): I graduated from the 26th best law school in the country. 
B: (sad and embarrassed): You must be really smart, much smarter than me. I graduated from a lowly 3rd tier school.
If prospective law students feel that they might enjoy being similarly situated to "A" in status and prestige, then they ought to carefully study US News and World Report's law school ranking and use it to guide their choice of law schools. If not, I offer the following caution: While consumers of the annual "Best Law Schools" edition of US News may assume that there is a very close correlation between a law school’s US News rank and its placement outcomes, that is not the case. Placement success comprises only 18% of a school’s US News rank, and US News even gets that wrong by giving schools full-credit for phony-baloney "JD Advantage" jobs in calculating placement rates. Similarly, US News gives full credit for law school funded jobs-- which typically involve a law school throwing a few bucks at unemployed recent grads and telling them to volunteer full-time in some public interest law office, an arrangement the schools refer to as "public service fellowships" or "Bridge to Practice" programs.  

In the table below, I have ranked schools by mismatch between their most recent US News rank and their Class of 2012 placement success rank. As to placement success, the rank is based on each law school’s percentage of graduates who obtained bar-required, full-time (FT), long-term (LT) (which includes one year long judicial clerkships), nonsolo non-school-funded jobs within nine months of graduation. I obtained the employment rank by going to this excellent calculator and by clicking "choose your own formula," and then by clicking "bar passage required," "long-term," "full-time" and "exclude from numerator: school funded and solo practitioner." This generates a calculation of each school’s employment rate, within the formula chosen, in rank order.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Law School - The Animated Movie

A quote from Adam B's great post yesterday got me thinking:

Given these desperate final attempts to scam, it is as important as ever to bring the widest possible audience to the scamblogs.  Perhaps we should launch an OLSS Junior edition with scam deans played by Disney villians…

So here's the preliminary cast list:

Snow White - played by all those oh-so-innocent law professorettes, none of whom have even an ounce of knowledge that law school is a scam. "Scam? What scam? International law isn't a scam."

Pinocchio - so many Pinocchios, literally hundreds of them, thousands even. Like extras in the movie, they're everywhere, from the dean's office to the admissions office to the career office. Very long noses too, given the sheer volume of lies these scoundrels tell to law school applicants.

Dumbo - the fool who applies to law school these days.

Cinderella - a young law student from a lowly background, hoping to make it big. Except when the law school ball ends, she literally goes back to scrubbing floors instead of marrying that Biglaw prince.

Robin Hood - law professors, nobly stealing from the poor and keeping it all for themselves. Wait, have I got that right?

Donald F**ked - like the vast majority of law students.

Peter Panhandler - you get the idea now...

Winnie the Poo - too easy?

The Seven Professors: Dopey, Dopey, Dopey, Dopey, Dopey, Dopey, and Dopey, all working long, hard, two-hour days down the student loan mine for a few months each year.

And the list goes on and on.  Except with one huge omission: there's no Rescuers.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dean Nick Allard and the Future of the Scam

Despite the plummeting law school applications from the highest LSAT scorers, which could prove problematic as bar passage rates in some jurisdictions continue to tank, the law schools still have a few tricks up their sleeves.  As the downward spiral becomes permanent, not just a blip resulting from “bad press,” the deans must find new methods for generating income for these failing institutions.

For example, Brooklyn Law School recently announced that it will offer a two-year J.D. program designed for non-traditional students, i.e. middle-aged students, foreign-trained lawyers, and other people trying to reenter the workforce in a second post-recession career.  Obviously, this is a particularly nasty scam, which attempts to attract the least hirable potential students.  Most law firms do not want to hire older lawyers even if they have years of experience.  It goes without saying that the majority of older lawyers will not have the ability to scrape together a makeshift solo practice, nor would most want to or plan to.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

"Just Do It" Must Have Already Been Taken

Commencement Speaker: Allen Fore

Law School: Valparaiso University Law School

Claim to Fame: Director of Public Affairs for Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP

Notes: Fore quotes from his personal hero, Ronald Reagan. Isn't Reagan where this whole "public divestment of public education" started? The "why should I pay for your degree" thing?


Commencement Speaker: David Drummond

Law School: Santa Clara University School of Law

Claim to Fame: Senior VP and Chief Legal Officer of Google

Notes: Drummond quoted his personal hero, Nelson Mandela, in his speech. Drummond went on to say of Google: "Because it's a big company doesn't mean I can't fight to make sure that this big company sticks to its principles, that its continual march toward openness and progress and fairness mirrors the marches I participated in 30 years ago on this campus." Note Drummond attended Santa Clara undergrad; his law degree is from Stanford.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

IBR: The Tax Time Bomb At The End Of The Rainbow

What if there was a way for you to go to law school, take a job in the public sector, and lead a life in line with the American Dream? Philip Schrag and many law schools have just the solution for you: Income Based Repayment (IBR). But, like most things associated with law school, IBR has a dark side that interested parties don’t want students to know about.

Philip Schrag’s paper “refuting” Brian Tamanaha’s Failing Law Schools presents IBR as a great way to make law school more “accessible”, which is a red herring that can be quickly dispatched. The reason we have a lawyer shortage isn’t because we don’t have enough lawyers. It’s because tuitions that are skyrocketing every year can’t be serviced by a public sector salary. Schrag’s paper makes the worst type of self-serving argument. He argues that IBR nullifies the tuition crisis. He wants taxpayers to subsidize law schools, with no checks on the rising tuition. He wants taxpayers to pay his salary, which I am sure he doesn’t want decreasing anytime soon.

IBR is being pitched by law schools as a way to make law school more affordable to all. Several law schools proudly display information about IBR on their websites. On its face, IBR is a very attractive program. Students who have a partial financial hardship qualify. The government qualifies borrowers for partial financial hardship "if the monthly amount you would be required to pay on your IBR-eligible federal student loans under a 10-year Standard Repayment Plan is higher than the monthly amount you would be required to repay under IBR". Given that the majority of law graduates don't make enough money to service their debts, we can assume that almost all law graduates not in BigLaw moving forward will be eligible for this program.

What IBR’s proponents don’t want to publicize is the tax liability that waits at the end of the IBR period. The amount of the loan amount forgiven is treated as taxable income by the IRS. So, let’s say that you have $230,000 forgiven as a result of IBR. Let’s also assume that even after 25 years, you are still only making $45,000 per year because of the law schools still pumping out 44,000 graduates per year every year. If we are to use the tax laws in place today, and add in the standard deduction and 2 kids, that leaves you with a tax bill of $60,463. That’s right: you would owe almost $15,000 more than your annual income in taxes. It’s one last way for law school to ruin your financial well-being.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Admission Through Performance"

"Law School Offers Second Chance," by Karen Sloan (National Law Journal)

An article about the Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law, an unaccredited law school whose mission is to produce attorneys to service the underserved populations in Southern Appalachia. Duncan is hosting three free LSAT prep courses. If that whole "standardized test score" thing doesn't work out, don't sweat it. Duncan started a new "Admission Through Performance" program. Duncan at absolutely no charge will enroll you in a free, four-week course on the Federal Rules of Evidence taught by the Duncan faculty. If you do well, meaning a 70 on a 100 point final exam, consider yourself a 1L.


Michael Hedlund, after 10 years of bankruptcy litigation, received a hardship discharge on $53,000 of $85,000 in student loans. Mr. Hedlund failed the bar exam twice, then locked his keys inside his car while stopping to get coffee on the third attempt thereby quashing his dreams forever. Congratulations to Mr. Hedlund for gutting out 10 years of bankruptcy litigation -- which likely cost more than the amount discharged if he had been properly charged.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Wanna Be a Cowboy

Anonymous Comment:  ....People/employers/the world cares about money. "How much money can you make for me?" If you went to Harvard and can't generate revenues, you're getting cut loose by end of the year. If you went to Cooley and can generate $2MM in bills, you're a damn rockstar and partner.

Dear Prospective Law Students a/k/a Legal Cowboys & Cowgirls:

You have undoubtedly heard the term "rainmaking" in relationship to practicing law. You probably vaguely understand that it means "getting clients." It is undoubtedly an abstract concept to you at this point. You assume there is some sort of relationship between "being a good lawyer" and "being a rainmaker." Since you are confident that you will be a good lawyer, you have little doubt that you will be a rainmaker and have lots of clients. Let me assure you there is little to no connection between these concepts.

You need to give considerable thought to the rainmaking aspect of practicing law before you actually decide to go to law school. I know that you believe that "highly over saturated legal market" doesn't apply to you, but it does. If you do not know where your clients are coming from before you go to law school, you are really going to be at a loss once you graduate.

The rainmaking metaphor is apt for a lot of reasons. We need water to live. You will need bountiful paying clients to have a growing, thriving practice and be able to pay your bills. The current legal market is not a rain forest; it is a desert. A dry, dry desert.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Pitt and the US News Pendulum: A tour of the destructively stupid US News law school ranking metrics.

On March 12, 2013, University of Pittsburgh Law School Dean William Carter gave a thirty-six minute long talk to students and others to address the dreadful news that his school had declined from 69th to 91st in the annual US News and World Report law school ranking. And Carter did not even bear any responsibility for the catastrophe, having just been appointed dean a few months earlier.

I figured that Dean Carter’s presentation would be a hilarious and exasperating fog of crisis management PR plus boosterism. But instead I found myself nodding in agreement at many of his points. Carter attacked the flawed nature of US News ranking metrics, which is hardly surprising under the circumstances, but he did so in an a manner that I found to be thorough and informative. To be clear, Carter’s presentation was not scam-free--I mean, he is a second tier law school dean. Still, when a second tier law dean is battling US News’ ranking guru Bob Morse, he may well be the lesser of two very evil evils, like Scylla or the Democratic Party.

Carter went through the components and sub-components that comprise the US News law school ranking, and argued that US News' metrics are highly unreliable-- indeed, that an effort to look good for US News by changing law school practices in certain ways could actually hurt students. Carter's presentation is a good springboard for a discussion of exactly what the US News law school ranking measures. Carter’s points are in roman, and my comments are in italics.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

More News Round Up

This article is worth a read for all you Perry Mason wanna-bes. It's a cliche that criminal defense lawyers are chronically overworked and underpaid. Here are the statistics to back it up. The article could just have easily been entitled "Why You're in Deep Trouble If You Are a Defense Lawyer."


"The Calculus of University Presidents,"  by William D. Henderson (National Law Journal)

Another very good article worth a read. Henderson basically argues that most university presidents will either have a choice to radically integrate law schools without either national or regional employment strength into the arts & letters department or shut them down completely.

Money Quote: "Arguably, law schools are the bleeding edge of the growing problems facing all four-year colleges and universities: growing tuition and debt loads in combination with flat or declining earning for graduates. The six-figure debt loads of unemployed or underemployed law students make them the poster children for a system of higher education that is rapidly on its way to becoming unsustainable. Sallie Mae, the government-chartered lender for higher education, is having difficulties selling its bundled student loans to large institutional investors, prompting concerns that the federal government is financing a student loan bubble that is destined to burst."


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

News Round Up

Yahoo! News is running a series of articles showcasing personal stories of people who were ensnared in the student loan trap. A couple have featured attorneys:

Beware the Student Loan Trap by David J. Koslowski

Money Quote: "Some said I was naive. I look back and realize I was outright stupid."

Money Quote: "The problem was the loan is like a mortgage, and I will be paying on it until 2032, when I will be 61 years old."


"Dear Class of '13: You've been scammed" by Brett Arend's (Market Watch/Wall Street Journal)

Money Quote: "You sit here today, $30.000 or $40,000 in debt, as the latest victims of what may well be the biggest conspiracy in U.S. history. It is a conspiracy so big and powerful that Dan Brown won't even touch it. It's a conspiracy so insidious that you will rarely hear its name. Move over, Illuminati. Stand down, Wall Street. Area 51? Pah. It's nothing. The biggest conspiracy of all? The College-Industrial Complex."


Monday, May 20, 2013

LawProf Indictment

I'm going to yield the floor to Mr. Jeff Matthews, who posted over at The Faculty Lounge concerning the ongoing debate over the Legal Job Market:

I am not a big fan of personal attack, but there are indeed some issues which bear introspection among academians.

I don't begrudge law profs maximizing their salaries. I don't mind their reluctance to give up pay, nor would I ever expect them to. I don't mind them questioning whether the problem is as bad as some say. I don't mind that they continue the casebook method despite complaints by students that, given how hard it is to land a job, maybe a more hands-on approach is in order. These things are open for debate.

But, in all honesty (and no profs need respond), for years we have all known that the law schools have been posting misleading employment statistics. While the language they employed was technically true, they have been selective in their data gathering and categorizing, without full disclosure as to the means used to skew the results. This has been common knowledge for at least 20 years. My graduating class from UT Law in 1993 can attest to it. Ask just about any of the 500+ attorneys we graduated that year. This has been the case for EVERY lawyer in any graduating class after mine in any school that I have ever known. I have never seen ONE lawyer, when the topic came up, who didn't agree the stats were bogus.

Though it has become common knowledge among lawyers after the fact (of attending law school for a while to figure out the bunk by watching all the hopeless-sounding 3rd-years ahead of us), it most certainly was not widespread knowledge among many of the members of the entering classes who really did not know many lawyers to begin with. I do think the advent of scamblogging has made the scam more transparent the more popular scamblogging has become. (Gotta love the internet for those who would have more trouble finding answers by walking pavement.)

So, in the sense that law school systematically published misleading figures, knowing they were misleading, in order to get kids with stars in their eyes to pony up $100k+, I call BS on that. Every law professor should have rebuked this practice until it was stopped. But you all (or dang near everyone of you) sat there quietly. You knew it, too. We know you did. Heck, Professor Powers even gave us 3rd years a speech about how not to worry that we didn't have jobs line-up like we expected we ought to have. It was apologetic with a dose of encouragement thrown in.

That practice was shameful. I hope you guys are more vocal about truth-in-education in the future. You don't have to be all negative on law school, but at least stand up and call for the truth when you see your compadres and employers teaming up to pull stunts like these. Don't just sit quietly and watch all those kids have their hopes dashed so that you feel obliged to give moral encouragement to "Hang in there. It's not so bad. Give it time. You'll be fine." This is little consolation, even if the damage is repaired over time by the efforts of the kids whose hopes were dashed.

Posted by: Jeff Matthews | May 07, 2013 at 11:55 PM

Straight up, Jeff,  'nuff said.  By my view of the comments, no LawProf responded directly to Jeff.

When it comes to the self-interested ScamDeans and LawProfs, caveat emptor, everybody.  Those hefty, tenured ("non-profit") salaries don't just drop out of the sky, you know.  Some would say that Our Promethian Betters deserve no less.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What the truck?

England is known the world over for its legal system, replete with tradition and prestige.  Wigs and robes in court - it doesn't come much more "we're not changing with the times!" than that.

Or does it.

Turns out that a trucking company, Eddie Stobart, is bidding for contracts to provide legal aid services, much to the chagrin of traditional law firms that typically provide such services.

Read all about here.

Just to be clear, though, we're not talking about truck drivers offering legal services. From what I can gather, we're talking about a law firm that is a subsidiary of Eddie Stobart, Stobart Barristers, which has very little to do with Eddie Stobart.

But to hear the complaints from the traditional lawyers who are trying to protect their high fees, you'd think that Stobart Barristers was proposing that the poor should be represented in court by truckers who are known by "CB handles" like "Slippery Jim" and "Madcat", and who would replace the horsehair wigs with those trucker hats that your grandfather wears sometimes.

"That's a big 10-4, judge".

Here's some quotes from the article, and there's plenty more articles out there on this matter too:

The row within the legal profession over the plans is intensifying. The head of Stobart Barristers has described traditional law firms who rely on legal aid as "'wounded animals waiting to die" and accused rival lawyers of sending his firm messages urging it to "Truck Off".
 He's right. Traditional law firms are wasteful, slow, and expensive. Where legal aid money is concerned, economy should be the number one priority; providing the most people with adequate services, rather than providing a select few with premium services.  It's the same over here.  Traditional law firms are wasteful and serve not for the benefit of clients, but partners' wallets.  And little anonymous attacks from those trying to protect their incomes?  Sounds like law professor tactics.

[Said Trevor Howarth, legal director at Stobart,] "We at Stobart are well known for taking out the waste and the waste here is the duplication of solicitors going to the courtroom. At the moment there are 1,600 legal aid firms; in future there will be 400. At Stobart, we wouldn't use 10 trucks to deliver one product."

Again, correct. Law firms are just so damn inefficient.  Hourly billing, overstaffed, making problems where none exist. It's a broken system, both here in the US and over there in the UK by the sound of things.

On removing a defendant's right to choose their solicitor, Howarth said: "I don't think the lack of choice is damaging. [People are not] entitled to access justice with an open cheque. No one is stopping them paying for their own choice of solicitor."
Common sense, and to be clear, he's talking about a defendant who is generally in the lowest court and charged with a minor offense, and whose legal fees are being footed by the taxpayer.  Nobody is talking about removing anyone's choice of legal representation if they can afford to pay for it themselves.  But don't expect lawyers to agree.  In fact, expect them to tell lies to protect their business (remind you of law professors perhaps?):
Paul Harris, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association, warned that the quality of legal representation would decline. "How is anyone facing serious criminal allegations going to feel being represented by a haulage company?" he asked.
Ah, there we go.  The deliberate misrepresentation, the lie, designed to align the stupid or lazy with his cause. Circulate the myth that this change will mean your lawyer will have dirt under his fingernails and an STD from a truckstop hooker, and of course nobody wants this. His income will be saved, and who gives a damn about all the defendants who get no representation because there's no money left.  Of course, in reality Stobart Barristers is staffed by real lawyers, with real training, just like every other law firm.

While this interesting little story has lots of relevance to us over in the US, it's also useful for drawing parallels with our system of legal education. Our 200 schools, all offering a three year program, ultimately paid for by the taxpayers in many cases, are a prime example of using ten trucks to deliver one product.

We need 100 schools, each offering a two year program, at a quarter of the current cost.  And that's being generous.  But try to make such common sense changes, and you're met with attacks and lies from the legal education establishment.  Untruths about how the public will suffer, how standards will drop, how the entire legal system as we know it will crumble into a world where truck drivers are representing people in court and prestigious lawyers are forced to dirty their eyes by even looking at such vile creatures.  Of course nobody wants reform when law professors circulate such lies.  We need to have our voices heard a little more.

I hope Stobart wins.  It's good for everyone except those who live high on the hog by overcharging for legal services.  Or law degrees.

And I hope we can all learn some valuable lessons over here about stripping the waste from the legal system.  Because if they can do it in England, where legal tradition was born, then we can damn well do it over here to those law schools that were created in the past two decades for the sole purpose of milking the system.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Epistle 7: Behold the Mighty Paralegal

Dear Disgruntled Law Grads:

Recently, there's been much discussion of making attorneys more "practice ready."  Please, stop.  You're only embarrassing yourself further, as this option already exists.  It's called being a paralegal, and you declined it in your pursuit of the prestigious riches of lawyerdom (which do, despite your claims otherwise, exist).

Have you ever actually looked at what they teach paralegals?  I'm guessing not, since you couldn't even be bothered to read the fine print (and do your own verifying research) on our misleading employment statistics.

Here is the syllabus for an introductory paralegal course in real property at Oakland University, a place not even (yet!) blessed with a law school.  Note that the class appears open to undergraduates, as many - if not most - paralegal studies courses are.

Here is a list of some of the topics covered/words mentioned on the syllabus that were not even remotely covered in my own 1L property class (it doesn't matter where I went - they're all basically the same):

Friday, May 17, 2013

Why do unqualified SLU law professors promote the teaching of "cultural competence"?

Here are a couple of quotes from two law professors at St. Louis University School of Law (SLU), that wackiest of all law schools. The law professors, Eric Miller and Jeff Redding, propose expanding or enhancing their law school's curriculum to include instruction in what they call "cultural competence." Now, I am progressive too, and would like to believe that cultural competence pedagogy produces young lawyers with enhanced abilities to help people who are suffering. But a cruel suspicion remains--are these academics just seeking a cheap way to feel noble and self-righteous while scamming their students, the kids who are borrowing $100,000 to pay for a legal education? First the quotes and then a few more thoughts below.
But even if a professor teaches nothing but (supposedly) abstract ideas of subordination: a class that is at its core focused on cultural competence addresses one of the most pressing needs in the curriculum, and especially one that low-end practice requires. Too often, the core classes (and sometimes the skills ones too) dismiss as irrelevant the features of race and gender, or power and subordination, that students raise and that that clients experience. So if we’re going to have students think outside the box to engage with the sorts of clients the traditional law firm overlooks, then how better to train students do so than to identify with those clients."  SLU Law Prof. Eric Miller
"I am a co-chair of our Multiculturalism Affairs Committee here at SLU Law, and our (faculty/staff/student) committee is in the midst of discussions about ways to enhance ‘cultural competence’ at SLU Law. One thought as to how to do so is to introduce changes into the curriculum, concertedly oriented towards exposing students to the legal and social issues faced, both historically and contemporarily, by racial minorities, immigrants, women, Native Americans, queer folk, the disabled, and others. Discussions are at a very preliminary stage, but different thoughts have already emerged about how best to better incorporate the teaching of cultural competence into the curriculum" – SLU Law Prof. Jeff Redding.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Student loans as consumer spending

One angle of the student loan scam that is just starting to get some attention is the over borrowing of student loans for the purpose of living expenses.

The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reported (as re-reported by the libertarian on the case of a law school graduate named Lilianna Rodriguez-Marshall, a 30-year old mother of three. Ms. Rodriguez-Marshall graduated from the Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles in December owing more than $300,000 in federal loans. Ms. Rodriguez-Marshall is apparently applying for government jobs in the hopes of entering the federal loan forgiveness program.

According to a right-wing think tank who crunched the numbers on her loan, assuming Ms. Rodriguez-Marshall lands a government job paying about $55,000/year (good luck, big assumption), she will have payments of $273/month instead of the $3,562/month she would otherwise be obligated to pay. Her payments under the program would total about $102,000 over 10 years while the balance of approximately $639,000 including interest would be forgiven.

Ms. Rodriguez-Marshall acknowledges that her debt is so large in part because she spread out law school over 4 1/2 years instead of 3. However, what is interesting is that she also says that she and her family used the student loan money for living expenses. She reported that her husband was laid off twice and she took out emergency student loans totaling $30,000 to "make home repairs, pay unexpected medical costs and keep up with the families $1,000-per-month health-insurance bills." 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

It's not solid gold every day...

Sorry for the temporary lapse in coverage.  You've got me filling in for today.  Hardly the quality stuff you're used to, but whatever.

I wanted to revisit something from an earlier post about attending networking meetings.  Here's my experience:

A few years ago, I was encouraged to go to local business meetings, breakfasts, lunch groups, etc. And they all - yes, all! - had the following composition:

- Attorneys
- Real estate agents
- Insurance salespeople
- Mortgage brokers
- Random chick selling gift baskets

Nothing else.  They were pathetic gatherings where people whose businesses relied upon sales handed out business cards to each other.  Look at who your fellow bottom feeders are.

You would be very wise to note that attorneys like me were at those groups - our business relies upon sales too.  There were often multiple attorneys, multiple bankers, multiple insurance hawkers, all trying desperately to get new business, looking for "leads", all handing out the same old cards, scrambling for scraps and clutching at straws.

If you're not a salesperson, you will not be a successful lawyer. If you're uncomfortable shaking hands and schmoozing and networking and spending half your life working the room in sleazy gatherings, you will not be a good lawyer. Law is not about law. Nothing that makes you a successful lawyer is learned in law school.  You would be better off spending three years slutting around on a used car lot, because that's how you learn how to snare people into deals they don't need for prices they can't afford.

You could be the smartest person who ever lived, with a brilliant legal mind and superlative writing skills. But unless you can dance the salesperson dance better than a disgusting car salesman, you're going to be the poorest lawyer who ever lived.

Sales.  That's today's law. But not even classy sales. In my opinion, it's below used car sales.  At least with a used car, you have some value for what you've bought, and you can always sell the beater to regain some of your losses.  With legal services, the client has nothing of value at the end.

Kind of sounds like law school, no?  The dupes are left holding the bag with no tangible asset that can be resold?  Just like a JD?

Always Be Closing.

(And for the best Glengarry Glen Ross reference ever, see this classic post from Prof. Campos.  That guy could write!)

Now I'll tapdance back off the stage, cane in hands, tipping the top hat.  Back to the professionals tomorrow...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Legal Urban Legend Myth Buster #5



The reality is that the nature of lawyering and its so-called "zealous advocacy" means that clients probably get a worse outcome when there are a bunch of starving lawyers in their community, particularly young starving lawyers. 

Back in "the old days," there was a sense of community and professionalism among attorneys. They knew each other on some level personally and professionally. They treated each other with respect knowing that they would encounter each other throughout their careers. A good professional reputation actually meant something. They tried to work out resolutions with opposing counsel that left both their client in a good position as well as their own reputation in tact.

Now practicing law is nothing more than a hyper-partisan, full-contact, blood sport. More experienced attorneys routinely take advantage of personality intangibles to gain an advantage over the younger inexperienced attorneys. It is common to witness attorneys bullying and being unreasonable simply for the sake of being unreasonable and trying to gain an intangible advantage quite unrelated to the merits of the case itself. Today when you sit through a deposition the testimony is incidental to the proceeding. It is all about attorneys sniping, obstructing and objecting at each other.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Legal Urban Legend Myth Buster #4



Back in "the old days," there would only be a few attorneys in town. If a youngster hung up a shingle, chances are he grew up in the town and knew those attorneys. The young attorney would join the local civic groups and take his place in society. By doing so, the young attorney would be in the mix of things and the business community would feel comfortable with him. There was no pressure on anyone because there was lots of work to go around.

That model really doesn't work so well anymore. Consider that there are 1,268,011 active attorneys in the United States versus a total U.S. resident population of 315,816,000 (2013 statistics). This means there is an active attorney to resident population ratio of 1:249. That's a lot of attorneys for not a lot of people.

Ever hear of six degrees of separation? I guess if you were a glass-half full kind of person you would think that you are six degrees away from being Kevin Bacon's attorney. The reality is that today's legal market saturation is so great that just about everybody has an attorney in their family or already knows an attorney. By way of example, on the blue collar residential street where I grew up on, in the five houses on my parents' side of the street among the kids I grew up with, there was one law student who dropped out after the first year, four kids who grew up to be attorneys and seven who did other things in life. So, like 1/3 of the kids on one stretch of the street grew up to be attorneys. 

I hate to break the news but joining a local community group probably isn't going to get you any paying work. Chances are there are already a bunch of attorneys that belong to the group and they won't be too receptive to your not too subtle attempt to poach their contacts. What you probably will end up with is a bunch of non-paying work for the group itself. After all, no one else in the group gets paid so why should you? To the extent you join this group and become friends with the people in it, any time these friends call you with a legal problem, they will expect the legal work to be done for free. I can also guarantee you that if they don't get the outcome they expect, they will trash you within the group and say you are not a good attorney; if they do get the outcome they expect, they will think it was obvious and they shouldn't have to pay you as a result. Any time you do legal work for a friend, relative, or member of a group you belong to, expect no money and social problems as a result.

As an aside, when you join a local community group, don't be surprised if you become unpopular in a hurry. Chances are unless there is another attorney already in the group, the group has not been following any standard business practices. Probably "Good Old Joe" has been the treasurer for twenty years and no one has seen a bank statement that entire time and no one really understands Old Joe's financial statements. Probably even though the group seems to do well at its fundraisers it always seems to be low on funds. Probably you as an attorney will want to sort this out. Probably things will come apart for the group once you start pursuing that. Probably the group will fall apart and blame you. So, think hard before you join any group and disrupt "Good Old Joe's" management.

The myth that "young attorneys just need to get out there, join some community groups and get some work out of it" is BUSTED.

The Big Crunch

Today, The New York Times published another good article by Joseph Stiglitz about student debt.  It seems that the Times is starting to tackle this topic with the urgency it deserves.  The Stiglitz article avoids the rosy picture tacked onto last week’s reporting.  Instead, the article describes how our impossible-to-escape student debt could easily collapse the nation—and soon!

My favorite part of the article summarized the Obama administration’s modest attempt to regulate the federal loan money diverted to for-profit colleges by making it a requirement that at least 35% of graduates are paying back current loans (among other optional requirements that a school can try to meet).  Yes – 35% only! – and a pig judge still struck the requirement down, for now.

The Stiglitz article also provides a reasonable solution for our student debt problem, something missing in most media stories.  While Stiglitz focuses on the problems with the rigged bankruptcy laws, he also describes the Australian system for motivating loan repayment and efficient higher education programs with positive employment outcomes.  I liked the idea of this system, as it could be implemented here without too much screeching about interfering with the holy Free Market.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Legal Urban Legend Myth Buster #3



There was a comment also made recently about how there are all these great referral cases or overflow work from experienced or established attorneys to young attorneys available just for the asking. Older, experienced attorneys with established specialty practices will typically take files on referral and may pay out a referral fee. You may also have friends in the profession that refer conflict cases or try to reciprocate referrals.

However, the "dirty little secret" of referrals to young, inexperienced attorneys is that many times the files are worthless. Chances are, if an attorney is trying to refer a case to a newly-minted attorney it's because he or she can't make money on it. An attorney once told me that the only way to make a living practicing law is to have someone you can refer your freebies and non-money makers to so you can work on files that do pay. He referred to these files as "barnacles" because they would accumulate on your practice and gunk everything up so that you couldn't move quickly to turn your files over and make money. 

Legal Urban Legend Myth Buster #2



There is also a severe disconnect with people who are not actually trying to make a living practicing law who believe young, newly-minted lawyers can start servicing the low-income population and somehow make a living wage including debt service for themselves.

I recently ran across an article entitled "Anti-Law School Blogging Drastically Effecting Law School Application Rates," written by a law student named Savir Punia at the University of Minnesota Law School. Mr. Punia, after first claiming that law school reported post-graduation employment data has not been proven to be either misleading or innocent (really?!?), argues:
My main contention is with the argument of an oversupply of lawyers in the United States. Currently, there exists a severe shortage of legal help for low-income individuals. New York State's chief judge, Jonathon Lippman, has responded to this by moving ahead with a groundbreaking rule requiring law students to perform 50 hours of pro bono legal services as a condition of admission to the state bar. Other states are seriously considering this requirement as well. Furthermore, according to Gillian K. Hadfield, professor of law and economics at the University of Southern California, there is a mismatch between demand and supply. She went on to say, that there is exploding demand for legal services for "ordinary folk lawyers" and "big corporate ones." [Emphasis added.]

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Legal Urban Legend Myth Buster #1

There seems to be a great deal of erroneous conventional wisdom related to the economics of practicing law -- especially related to a solo or small firm practitioner just hanging a shingle trying to make a living. Law schools try to sell this outcome as though it was a preferred outcome for a law student in debt and a good employment result. I will be posting a series of blog entries in the coming days to attempt to dispel some of the legal urban legend myths related to hanging a shingle. The bottom line is that its a really hard way to make a living for anyone -- much less someone deep in student loan debt.



One frequent claim by law school apologists is that there isn't an oversupply of lawyers in the market, because if there was then the cost of legal services would be coming down. "The cost of legal services is simply supply and demand, stupid!" This criticism lacks a fundamental misunderstanding of the economics of practicing law, particularly for a solo practitioner.

First, let's understand that the attorney's take home pay does not somehow equate to the billable hour charged. "I wish I made that much money an hour!" is the common client refrain when signing a retainer agreement. No one ever stops and thinks how much a doctor is making per hour moving from patient cubicle to patient cubicle spending about 5 minutes with each one then billing $80 for an office visit plus extra charges for peeing in the cup. An attorney friend of mine, who hadn't made $100 that day practicing law, was once in a party store when the person in front of him checking out asked the store owner if he could change a $100 bill. The store owner just stood there and smirked and laughed and replied, "If I can't change $100 bill then I need to close my doors!" An attorney doesn't have cubicle after cubicle of clients lined up or a cash register with a line of people waiting to put money in it. All an attorney has is his or her time; every task is very time intensive if it is done right. Some of this time can be billed for and some cannot. 

Second, the attorney is lucky if there is anything left over after all of the overhead of a law practice is paid. The reality is that even a modest no-frills modern law office is an expensive undertaking. There is rent, hazard insurance, malpractice insurance, workman's comp insurance, personal property taxes, income taxes, unemployment taxes, bar dues, continuing ed fees, telephone service, postage, cell phone, fax lines, computers and back up systems, practice and billing software, scanners, office supplies, printers, business cards and letterhead, furniture, advertising, legal research fees, signage, constant updates coming in for your library, legal newspapers, cleaning, storage of closed files, utilities, bookkeeper costs, security costs, etc., etc., etc. And have you seen the cost for health care these days? If you take on contingency fee files, you may end up fronting thousands of dollars which you never recoup if the file doesn't pan out. The bottom line is that bills for hundreds of dollars from dozens of vendors come in the mail every month that have to be paid before the attorney sees a single dime of profit.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Today, The New York Times published an article about the $1 trillion of student loan debt and the long-term economic drag that this creates as people put off buying homes, cars, and having children (children who lead to a lot of economic purchases).

The article also mentions the long-term psychological impact of huge debt as a normal factor in life for the “millennial” generation, not just the anxiety/depression but economic cautiousness that has changed the behavior patters of this generation, causing even more economic slump when these people actually start to make some extra money.  Essentially, they may end up saving it instead of blowing it on material stuff, which hurts the economy.  The psychological impact also creates permanent emotional damage for people who put off normal youthful activities and responsibilities like marriage and children due to worries about supporting loved ones.

Opposition's Sixth Epistle: Follow the Money, Deadbeats

Law School "Victims"
Mom's Couch, USA (Nashville?)

RE:  Economics Lesson

Dear Losers:

Today I wanted to bring three articles to your attention in my continuing efforts to educate you on economics and depress the living hell out of you:

1.   "Only 150 of 3500 U.S. Colleges Are Worth the Investment: Former Secretary of Education."
[Former Secretary William] Bennett assessed the “return on investment” for the 3500 colleges and universities in the country. He found that returns were positive for only 150 institutions.
He found college is “worth it” if you get into a top tier university like Stanford, or study an in-demand field like nuclear engineering at even a lower tier school.

A Special Snowflake Turns 30

I went to buy an overpriced cup of Charbucks and started talking to the "help", and let slip that in the past I went to law school. The Frappuccino-Artist could hear the regret in my voice and took offense, and insisted that I made the right decision. In fact, said the Master-Barista, he went to law school as well. I told him about this site and dared him to read it. He apparently did, and has now written to me in response.  I thought I should post his message to hear the "other side" of the story: some people do enjoy their time in law school. I interspersed it with parts of the sender's actual day-to-day job he holds four years after graduation, of various things I overheard him say during my visit to his workplace.


"My name is ____ [Redacted], and I object wholeheartedly to the message of this "site". Law School isn't for everybody, I admit, especially not for those who can't accept a challenge and adapt to circumstances. Myself, I just turned thirty years old and am happy in my career path, even if there have been some stones in the way that I have had to walk around.

Howdy, what'll it be today, folks? Exactly, Blonde Roast is our lightest. Me? I like dark roasts for this time of day. 

"As you can tell, I am typing this on my phone at work; multi-tasking is something that law school helped me learn, since it was a demanding course of study. You need to open your mind to make the most of it, I guess.
Macchiato is foam only; is that ok? 
"Just because your first job out of law school might have you wear a name tag doesn't mean you aren't building your career. You've got to start somewhere. Even Stan, our store manager, made it only after working here for five years. 
No Ma'am, a Caffè Latte is not the same as a CafĂ© au lait.
"I'm not a "special snowflake", so don't call me that disparaging term. I'm just a snowflake, like you, but different. I hope you and your friends will understand more that hard work does pay off, if you work hard enough.
Yes we can ice that Caramel Macchiato, and it is already sweetened. To go? Ok, $10.25 . . . yes, we accept AmEx.
"Remember, I hope if nothing else at least you learn that if half of law graduates don't get jobs, that still means that half do. If you only had a positive attitude, you would be putting that apron on and building your career instead of chatting online all day.

"Sincerely, [Redacted]."


This can be you too! Rage, rage, against the drying of the paint.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Is Hamline Univ. School of Law scamming-up its JD Advantage numbers?

According to data collected by law schools pursuant to the ABA-required annual placement survey, only 53.2% of law graduates of the Class of 2012 obtained full-time, long-term, bar-required jobs that were nonsolo and non-school-funded within nine months of graduation. [1]
However, the ABA survey includes a category called "JD Advantage." The ABA defines a JD Advantage job as "one for which the employer sought an individual with a JD, and perhaps even required a JD, or for which the JD provided a demonstrable advantage in obtaining or performing the job, but itself does not require bar passage, an active law license, or involve practicing law." [2] A "JD Advantage" job is distinguishable from a job in the category of "Other Professional," which is defined as "one that requires professional skills or training, but for which a JD is neither required nor a demonstrable advantage." [3] The famous US News and World Report ranking takes "JD Advantage" jobs into consideration in calculating a law school’s rank, giving "[f]ull weight. . .for graduates who had a full-time job lasting at least a year where bar passage was required or a J.D. degree was an advantage." [4]
My question is: Do law schools try to scam-up their employment data by including any old sort of job in the JD Advantage category? And this question is addressed in particular to career services at Hamline University School of Law. You see, out of the 201 ABA accredited law schools, Hamline reported the highest percentage of its grads in JD Advantage jobs that are full-time, long term, and non-school-funded (hereinafter: JD-Adv., FT, LT). An incredible 30.0% of Hamline’s 2012 graduating class allegedly obtained JD-Adv., FT, LT jobs. [5] By way of comparison, the median law school score is 9.0%. So a Hamline grad had more than triple the chance of snagging such a job than a law grad elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

So Called "Tort Reform"

There is a great deal of focus placed on the "over-supply of lawyers" part of the legal employment equation. However, there is not much discussion about the "demand for lawyers" side of the equation. Even then, most of that discussion revolves around corporations cutting back on Big Law services as opposed to the collapse in demand for individual legal services or the effect so-called "tort reform" has had on the practice of law.

On the recent NPR Diane Rehm Show featuring Steven Harper, there were a number of really great comments. This one caught my eye, quite apart from the user name. Here is the comment in question:
Blueneck BillyBob wrote: 
TORT reform has had many negative consequences. The victims never see the judgements, to which they are due. Attorneys aren`t receiving their just due either. Taxpayers are on the hook to pay the bills for the injured.
Now in Ohio they plan to make attorney fees taxable, as well as the judgements...This will deny justice to those who need it most.. Ordinary human being type citizens have had few if any victories on our high courts, these days. The Conservatives always find for the offender, and never for victims, increasing the burden onto the government.
Prospective law students (and for that matter the public at large prior to something happening to them) do not fully understand the impact "tort reform" (judicial or otherwise) has had on the legal profession. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

JD-Disadvantage Part II, Now with Facts and Figures!

As law school enrollment continues to decline, the "JD-Advantage" moniker, the "also-ran" of the legal employment world, is touted more and more.

JD-Advantage jobs have never been terribly prominent. According to NALP, 6% of graduates were employed in these positions in 2001. In 2011, the percentage doubled (!) to 12.5%. One could argue that this is due to the popularity of the credential. One could also argue (as I do) that this is an artifact of the 2008 recession and years prior, coupled with the blood-letting that occurred in BigLaw and MidLaw. These graduates gotta go somewhere. One man’s purposeful choice is another man’s last resort.

If you think about this for a minute, 6% of 30,000 graduates is 1,800. 12.5% of 40,000 graduates is 5,000. This is not a lot of jobs in either scenario. Especially when you spread them out across the entire country.

Where do these graduates go for their long-term renumerative pay? Of the 5,000 JD-Advantage jobs in 2011, 12% are law clerks and 3% are paralegals. You know, the jobs that often have "no JD candidates need apply" explicit in the ad. The irony here, that 750 people are working in positions where they could be doing the actual job the credential is for, but aren’t, is astounding. This is an advantage?

4%, or 200 people, are working in "Legal Temp Agencies". Yep, I certainly spent $200k on a law degree for the "advantage" of doing doc review at the mercy of the temp agencies, along with all the other law school graduates who were seeking a traditional job as an attorney. Maybe these are supposed to be the folks in charge, but the data is not clear.

What about the other 4,000? 350 (7%) work in banking or in finance. 175 work in technology and management consulting, respectively (3.5% each). 150 work in accounting firms (3%). A catch-all 1,000 work in "other business settings not specifically tracked," whatever that means (20%).

How about government? 15% land in federal, state, or local administrative agencies. Of this slice, 70 folks (1.4%) are in state legislative positions. Pretty cool, but I imagine those positions were not granted purely because of the sparkly JD itself. The other 14% in this category were formerly known as "other" positions – not legislative, not military, not court-related. But it sounds better to call them administrative-agency jobs. And there are 700 of them!

And of course, Academia clocks in at 9%. Half of these were research assistant/fellow positions, and law school hires make up some of the rest (of course). Public Interest gets another 10%.

The only thing encouraging is the reported salaries. They range from $40k to $70k, with an (actual, for once) average of $63k. The pay scale could be worthwhile, but for the albatross of law school debt that is usually incurred (and not required) for the position.

While NALP deserves some credit for putting the data out there, the interpretation of the data is always key. NALP seems to be saying "look, here are 5,000 jobs cut out of whole cloth!" and "the demand for JDs in non-traditional fields is increasing!" "Sign up for law school!"

The demand for JD-Advantage jobs, however, is only 15% of the national pool of law graduates. Historically it was less, when attorney positions were more plentiful. Think about this – only one in seven of your classmates theoretically get these positions nationally, and they are positions where no JD is required in the first place and you are competing with other candidates who do not have this credential. This is not a high hit-rate. This does not scream "JD-Advantage."

I’m not saying that a law degree is not potentially valuable in and of itself in some universe, but I am saying that the market is not clamoring for it right now, today, as a requirement for obtaining a full-time job. And it certainly does not justify the sticker price to get there. For example, here is another percentage - $1,200/month to Sallie Mae is 25% of one’s GROSS salary at $60k per year. That’s a lot of scratch for that "JD-Advantage" position.

In conclusion, always examine the motives. What is often left unsaid is that these JD-Advantage positions tend to go to people who were already practicing attorneys and moved into these roles after years of business-building and practical experience, while 40,000 new graduates are pumped out into the market per year in the intervening time. NALP publishing this data in May 2013 is no coincidence, when applications to law school are down 20% for this year alone. Do not go to law school to pin all your hopes on getting a "JD-Advantage" position straight out of law school, unless you have strong connections and can do it debt-free.

UPDATE:  Ben Barros has some interesting (and perhaps self-serving) data about Widener Law grads and how outcomes aren't as bad as people think, or something.  His category definitions for "JD Advantage" and "Professional" are (self-admittedly) blurry, but there are some nuggets of insight.  He echos the sentiment that JD Advantage includes BigLaw Associates moving on to greener pastures.  The jobs are very "onesey-twosey" and are all over the map.  The "Professionals" are not "JD-Advantage" types in that they went on to also get MBAs, CPAs, or the like as part of their careers.  Looks like the JD didn't cut it all by itself - so, MOAR EDUCATION!

Combining these categories together to put things in the best possible light, we're talking 10%-20% of the class, depending how you measure.  Stand back, ya'll.

Salaries?  Oh, right...good point.  Brian Tamanaha brought that question up vis-a-vis student loan debt, and Barros doesn't have that information.  To be fair, Barros can't hold an envelope to his forehead and know the answer, but the distinct lack of data should give us all pause.  But going with NALP's data, that 10%-20% is making approximately $60k with significant educational debt.

UPDATE II:  Hey, LSAC, where is my three-year volume update?  You guys went from updates every two weeks to no data at all for April 2013, at least as of 5/7/2013.  Cat got your tounge?

UPDATE III:  Oh, SNAP!  I figured if I raged against the machine, then the results would come out.  As of 5/10/2013, looks like we're clocking in towards a nice, steady 55k total applicants for 2013.