Friday, January 31, 2014

Making the Scam Personal

Outside the Law School Scam has many readers, many devoted readers, and we’re very grateful for the rapidly-increasing page views and the fact that this site is making waves.  But I suspect that many readers, although understanding the message that a JD is a bad decision, have still applied to law school and will soon be figuring out which school to attend this coming fall.  There’s still a massive disconnect between understanding that the legal profession is a miserable place to spend a career, and the belief that those generalities only apply to everyone else.  The very fact that law schools will still be able to fill their seats this year, despite a large portion of those incoming students having read this site and the other such blogs, is proof enough.

And I suspect that the reason for the disconnect is because we’re trying to convince you that you’re average, and nobody likes to hear that.  Most of you are – you’ll end up in the middle of your law school class – yet you believe that you’re better than average, or lucky, or harder-working.  You see that the general outcome for JD grads still allows for the slight possibility of your own personal success, and you’re willing to take that chance.

How to convince you otherwise?  That’s the problem.  We’re trying to tell you that your future will be worse than you expect it to be, but we don’t have a crystal ball that can predict your own personal outcome with much certainty.  On average, we can fairly accurately predict that your chances of actually getting a job practicing law are similar to a coin toss landing on heads rather than tails.  One in two.  And we can fairly accurately predict that the average legal career, even if lucky enough to find a paying law job, will be far shorter than expected, far lower paid, and far more stressful and unpleasant.  But those generalities are often useless because they lack a quantifiable, individual aspect.  Something to personally tie you to the scam.

So let’s look at something that should highlight the unfairness of law school before you even set foot in the door.  Something that will give you a quantifiable, predictable, accurate and extremely personal measure of whether you should attend or not.  Let’s look at how much you’re paying for law school.  Or to be more precise, how much you’re paying relative to the other students at your school.

This post began with a comment I read here on this site a few days ago:

Parents paying full tuition for their kids will realize that they are subsidizing other students who get the discounts. They will be angry.

Of course, we’re talking about the reverse Robin Hood effect, neatly summarized by Professor Tamahana here.  In essence, those who are most unlikely to succeed are paying full price, while those who are most likely to succeed are having their costs subsidized by the future failures.  The future poor are paying for the future rich.

And you know which group you’re in before you even set foot in law school.  You know exactly where you stand.  It’s simple: if you’re paying full price for law school, the school wants your tuition money to pay for scholarships for the brighter students.  That’s personal.  The school is using you.  Yes, you, not some general large group of students you can dissociate yourself from somehow.  The school is targeting you.

And indirectly, the school is telling you more than how it merely wants you for your money.  It’s telling you that it doesn’t think you’ll be successful.  It’s telling you that it would prefer to pander to some smart kid who will go off into biglaw or politics and who will look back on his or her days at the school fondly when writing big donation checks in a decade.  You?  You’ll be too busy paying off your loans and complaining about life as a struggling solo practitioner to even consider giving a dime to your alma mater.

Consider the unfairness of this, all you applicants who don’t receive any scholarship money.  If you’re not getting a discount, the school is using you.  The other students are using you.  Everyone is using you.  You're the fat, rich, older guy at the party who ends up realizing - too late - that you're there only to pick up the bar tab, not because anyone thinks you're cool or interesting.  You're a dollar sign.  You’re essentially paying far more for your degree than it’s actually worth, just so someone else can pay far less for their degree.  And if that’s not bad enough, the students who receive the scholarships are more likely to succeed in law school than those who don’t: ignore the claims that law school grades are random, because they kinda aren’t.  The smart kids tend to do well in law school, just like they did in college, and the dummies tend to do less well, although they are more than capable of bringing large sums of tuition dollars to the law school.

And you know which group you fall into before you even set foot in law school.  You know before 1L begins whether you’re in the “winners” or “losers” category; this isn't some vague generalization from which you can escape.  If you’re receiving a sizeable scholarship, you’re a winner.  Your degree will cost less.  And if you’re not receiving a scholarship, you’re a loser.  Your degree will cost more.  It’s that simple.  Just some basic math, something that you can apply to your own personal situation as soon as those offers of admission start rolling in.

If you do not receive a scholarship, don’t go to that law school.  End of story.  There’s no vague predictions there, no exceptions to the general rule, no opportunities to work hard and show everyone what you’re made of.  The school has told you, in your admissions letter, whether it is going to treat you like a winner or a dupe.  Without a scholarship, you’re just a cash donkey bringing in baskets of student loan money that the school is essentially giving to students far smarter than you.  Do you see how insulting that is?  How unfair?  Do you want to be treated like an ATM that the school is dipping into, drawing out your student loan dollars which you’ll have to repay, and turning around and giving it to someone else?  Someone who is far more likely than you to end up with a well-paid job at the end of the three years?

So if you’re still struggling with that internal dialog, “I know that the average outcomes are poor, but a lot can happen in three years and I’m a really hard worker and far more than my undergraduate GPA and LSAT and I believe in myself,” then start to look at the math behind what you’re paying for law school.  Because the very fact that you didn’t get an offer of a scholarship means the school is specifically, personally treating you badly from the very start.  It wants your money, not you.  The school doesn't believe in you.

Don’t let that happen.  Don’t get ripped off.  If your school is asking you to pay full price, you should be angry that they’re using you, not grateful for the opportunity.  How much more personal could it get?

Charles Cooper is the author, along with Thane Messinger, of “Con Law: Avoiding...or Beating...the Scam of the Century (The Real Student's Guide to Law School and the Legal Profession)”, in addition to being the moderator at and the author of “Later in Life Lawyers”.  He can be contacted

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Review of the ABA Task Force Report: But What About the Lies?

The ABA Task Force on Legal Education has issued what I interpret to be a final report on the state of legal education.  As a good citizen of the legal community (see page 35), I stopped what I was doing immediately to read.

To be fair to the drafters, this report is much better than the earlier one.  For example, it seems more polished on the areas of tuition pricing and student debt, and it seems to better acknowledge the role of criticism.  Moreover, the recommendations are broader, and they have expanded some of the recommendations.  There are still some minor annoyances, like their continued red-herring approach of public goods (which they still muck up) versus private goods, and their claim that a consumer outlook is new (without any sort of reference or citation).  Also of note is that they claim the project was rushed and was limited to only one year (one year for a large group of academics to write 35 pages...can you imagine the pressure?!) due to the urgency of the problem and they didn't have time to test hypotheses (bottom of page 3).  I don't know where to start with that one.

My biggest problem, though, is still the "moralizing and blame" section, which I will reproduce here for reference (from p. 9):
Moralizing and Blame. Some of the criticism takes the form of moralizing and blaming current problems on various actors in the legal education community. Deans are blamed for raising law school tuition or failing to stand up to certain constituencies. Faculty are blamed for supposedly self-seeking behavior and the pursuit of questionable goals for the law school. Universities are blamed for supposedly pressuring law schools to become profit centers. The legal profession is blamed for insufficiently supporting law schools and recent graduates, and steadily shifting educational responsibilities and costs to law schools. 
Moralizing and blaming are not particularly productive. What is needed instead is a dispassionate and pragmatic examination of the current situation that begins with a presumption of good faith on the part of all participants.
Actually, this is a situation where moralizing is absolutely productive.  There has been massive damage to the credibility of law schools and any trust that existed between law schools and students/alumni.  The drafters would seemingly admit this, given that they note public confidence has been eroded (page 1).  They also note that many graduates are falling far short of the career ideals they believed it.  But they never address why these graduates had such lofty ideas despite market reality or why public confidence has been eroded.

I don't blame individual deans for raising tuition per se, and I don't know what "certain constituencies" the writers are referencing.  I've never blamed faculty for holding jobs (their posh working conditions and the fact that we severely overpay them are not their fault), and I don't know what "questionable goals" the writers are referencing (as an aside, is it wrong to question law schools for questionable goals?).  And I sure as hell do not blame the "legal profession" for "insufficiently supporting law schools" (!).

The problem with that paragraph - aside from its incomprehensible vagueness and its express mischaracterizations - is that it omits the single greatest reason law schools are morally-blameworthy:  the lies.

If you really want to know how the trust between law schools and law students/alumni/the public became broken and heal the wounds and rebuild trust towards a better legal education system, it's because the schools have engaged in a lengthy propaganda campaign that essentially misled a generation and a half of lawyers and continues to do so.

All sorts of educational ventures have a public value and a private value.  Most have had substantial tuition increases in the last twenty years.  Many of them dump into private markets that are oversaturated to high heaven with little alternative value.  And yet in law it goes beyond that because law school administrators - almost all of them holding the ethical training of lawyers - have waged an egregious, decades-long war against market truth, and continue to do so.

For example, law school marketeers were claiming that you could go to a third-tier school like St. Johns or Stetson or Baylor (to name three of about 175) and make bank - six figure private practice medians - coming out of law school.  And these seemed believable because a minority of graduates got those jobs and the fifth-tier trash pits were making similarly bogus claims.  It was a culture of systemic bullshit.  Now many of them have stopped this nonsense, but they can't even admit that what they did previously was morally wrong; on the contrary, they actually have actually blamed students for being stupid enough to believe what they were saying.

They created misleading statistics charts that showed 90+% "employed" with the implication that "business" meant consulting and in-house counsel positions instead of Starbucks associate.

They used different denominators between the salary charts and the employed charts to give the impression that the exorbitant salaries listed applied to all the "90+% employed" instead of a very small fraction thereof.

You had a dean of admissions call prospective applicants "little bastards" he could "trap" in order to evade good faith evaluations of their incoming classes, while administrators applauded his performance.  Why can we not moralize, again?

They consistently made (and have made) claims that a law degree is a lifetime investment and that you have to look at an investment return over 40 years when they know full well that a very large percentage of alumni wind up out of the law within a few years and much of the remainder had higher earnings potential at 35 than they do at 55.  They avoided inconvenient truths like the fact that most BigLaw associates are gone by year 5 to lower-bracket employment options.

They have consistently claimed that - regardless of the market troubles in lawyerland - you can do anything with a law degree because it's more versatile than other professional degrees or PhD programs.  That they can claim this with a straight face is admirable, in a sense, but it's still a damnable lie.

They continue to push "specialization" in areas where there is an infinitesimal amount of work:   space law, environmental law, international law, and the like.  They have started new LLM programs at an alarming rate, and are now selling these to lawyers as a way of making yourself stand out as a truly special snowflake in an employment market that never asked for these things.  In a dog eat dog world, your animal law LLM is not going to help.

They continue to spout nonsense about the shockwave of baby boomers who are going to retire in the next few years to create vacancies for new lawyers.  In support of this contention, they're using the objectively-false premise that lawyers leave the workforce at 65, and the equally-absurd premise that those lawyers leave a set of clients for a new lawyer to enter from scratch like a hermit crab.

They're now claiming that slashes in class size or tuition is "strategically planned" and that they knew the law school market was going to crumble and they anticipated accordingly with large cash reserves.

They're now claiming - with charts and such - that we'll be running a shortfall of attorneys by 2016!

They have and continue to claim that IBR/PAYE and PSLF are actually good reasons to join the indebted ranks of law school alumni

And yet, the ABA Task Force concludes that it's best to presume good faith and not "moralize" even though it knows that marketing honesty is an issue, as it expressly calls for increased transparency.  How can you reconcile this?  If we can presume "good faith," why is transparency necessary?  Why was there a breach of trust in the first place?

What the ABA Task Force proposes is essentially what dictator sympathizers say after the revolution.  "Hey, you all got fucked.  Whatever, let's move on together."

That's not productive.  Because what happens is that the same people often wind right back running the government and doing the same damn things they did before because their behavior went completely uncorrected.

That's a viable fear of what's going to happen in law schools.  The Task Force can't even take the simple step of explaining the bad conduct, much less calling it bad or censuring those who engage in it.  It's not difficult to see that the same attitudes that have run law schools for the last few decades are going to continue unabated because you're letting them go on without correction or reprimand.  This situation - where there's been a breakdown of trust and credibility - is the exact situation that calls for moralizing, blame, and contrition, or at least an observation that it happened and stricter rules prohibiting such conduct in the future.  In fact, for many of us to have any faith that the present law school environment can actually change and be productive, that process of moralization and contrition must take place.

This Task Force Report has a whole section on "faculty culture."  Yet none of the items addresses the psychological biases or similar phenomena that allowed large groups of lawyers to sit idly as their institutions sold Glen Ross Farms to people with high hopes and access to easy money.

It's disappointing to me that this is one behavioral issue over which law schools have complete and unfettered control, an issue that is frankly beyond serious argument at this point that it occurred, and the ABA Task Force missed a great opportunity to address it head-on.  It's a shame that the Task Force chose to protect and shield the most dishonest among them instead of standing by firm principles of candor and know, that thing lawyers are supposed to do.

This thing has fifteen pages of recommendations, and as best I can tell, there isn't one that says "stop lying."  The five recommendations made directly to law schools are all developing plans, statements, or programs (page 34).  One should wonder why "use some scholarship to seriously study your own long-term efficacy with rigor" isn't recommended, but the bigger omission, to me, is "stop lying."  The recommendations to the ABA's section on legal education are all addressed to standards, one of which is, in fact, increased consumer transparency.  But I would have rather had one say "be more aggressive in punishing misleading advertising."

But, of course, there were better reforms to mention, like increasing access to justice by adding more options for non-lawyer practice (page 33) and - who could forget - establishing another task force (page 30, very first recommendation).

Overall, the Task Force paper has some good ideas and sound recommendations.  Yet, I find asking readers to presume good faith without even addressing the repeated and continuous acts of bad faith disingenuous, borderline insulting, and completely against the spirit of true, good faith reform.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Popular Misconception

“How come virtually every lawyer I know appears to be making at the least a decent living? I also know many who are self-employed and year after year knock it out of the ball park.”

I saw this comment to one of my prior posts, but it’s taken me a while to get around to writing about it.  The author of the comment is somewhat puzzled at the difference between the message we’re sending (law school does not often lead to success) and his own personal observations (virtually all of the lawyers he sees are all successful.)  And the logic, or lack thereof, shown is exactly the reason why schools like Indiana Tech continue to attract students.

So let’s put this myth to bed once and for all.  (Although it seems to be a myth that’s like a three year old kid on Christmas Eve – you put it to bed but an hour later it’s creeping down the stairs, so you put it to bed again but then another hour later it’s back on the sofa between you and the wife, then again you put it to bed and at three in the morning, just when you thought it was finally resting, it’s at the foot of your bed asking you whether it’s time to go to law school yet.)
The reason the commenter is observing “virtually every lawyer” he knows “making at least a decent living” is because he’s looking only at successful lawyers.  He’s ignoring the huge numbers of unemployed lawyers, lawyers too poor to advertise, part-time lawyers, underemployed lawyers, JD grads who left the profession, and the countless law grads who never even became lawyers in the first place.  He’s observing a select subset of all lawyers rather than observing all law graduates.
All successful lawyers are law graduates.

I am a law graduate.

Therefore, I will become a successful lawyer.

If you are reading those three statements and thinking, “Yes, that makes sense,” then you’re about to unwittingly make the biggest mistake of your life.

I’m no logician, but when looking at a statement such as “all successful lawyers are law graduates,” the only valid conclusion one can draw about law graduates becoming successful lawyers is that some law grads become successful lawyers.  Here at Outside the Law School Scam, we’re of the general opinion that the “some” is actually “few”, a conclusion we’ve drawn from many years of experience.  And anyone considering law school should be not just looking at successful lawyers, but at all JD grads, to gauge what their own career prospects might be.

So where do all the unsuccessful law grads go?

Let me give you an excerpt from Con Law which might shed more light on this matter:

The most important, untapped source of information are the numerous law graduates who fail to obtain any legal job, or who choose to leave the profession altogether. (The former is, of course, a prime driver of the latter.) It is these “ex-”attorneys you should seek out; many currently-practicing attorneys have little insight into what happens when law school goes wrong. . . . Attorneys with good jobs these days are not average; they are those who have either lucked out in graduating before the crash and escaped downsizing, or they’re the tiny minority of top-performing students from a top-ranked law school—or their uncle is a name partner. Either way, they’re hardly going to give you the real scoop.
. . .
The most valuable information about the profession is obtained from those who have left the profession, or who are on the verge of leaving, or who never managed even to get a foot on the lowest rung of ladder to be able to then leave. Whether they might have done better under different circumstances or not, the job market fell out from under them. If you really want to know the downsides to going to law school, now—or a career in law, now—ask those who went, recently, but who aren’t there anymore. Figure out why.

Observing a select subset of law graduates (and lawyers are a select subset) leads to some odd results.  Clearly, it allows otherwise-intelligent people to make the kind of statement I quoted at the start of this post.  Similarly, “Lawyer Satisfaction Surveys” are by definition generally only surveying lawyers, who are happy enough with their career choice to remain practicing law, and those surveys don’t reflect the massive dissatisfaction from the countless lawyers who left the profession in disgust, who were forced out by underemployment, or who never got a foot in the door in the first place.  Likewise, career statistics collected by law schools generally reflect only those recent grads who are proud and successful enough to report their data to the law schools, and don’t reflect the high numbers of unemployed, low-paid, or underemployed grads who prefer to keep their “failure” a secret (although their lack of success is in no way their own fault and they have nothing to be ashamed of.  In fact, I would argue that they have a duty to expose their lack of success to make sure that others don’t fall into the same trap, but that’s another post.)

So be careful with observations about lawyers, and be careful about what conclusions you draw from those observations, because you may fall into the trap of ignoring the huge numbers of law grads who don’t even show up on the radar because they were discarded by the profession or who prefer to remain hidden.  And don’t forget that there’s a good chance that you’ll end up in that same group of discarded or hidden grads.

I’ve drawn a little Venn diagram to help you figure this out.  In the universe of JD grads, there are two subsets, lawyers and non-lawyers.  And in the subset of lawyers, there’s a sub-subset of successful lawyers.  Law schools want you to see only that red-shaded sub-subset and come to the conclusion that you’ll automatically be in that group - Indiana Tech Law School and your buddies sitting on the back row of the classroom, yes, I'm looking at you.  The universe of possible outcomes from a JD that you should be looking at lies in the red, blue and green areas of the diagram combined, because only that represents all the possible outcomes from your investment in law school.  If you're doing your pre-law research and not speaking to non-lawyers in addition to practicing lawyers, or if you're only speaking to successful lawyers, you need to rethink your process.

Charles Cooper is the author, along with Thane Messinger, of “Con Law: Avoiding...or Beating...the Scam of the Century (The Real Student's Guide to Law School and the Legal Profession)”, in addition to being the moderator at and the author of “Later in Life Lawyers”.  He can be contacted at

Monday, January 20, 2014

International Law - The Last Refuge of the Preftigious

Let's be honest: what the hell is "International Law," anyway? 

Do you remember being a 1L?  Do you remember how many of your fellow students said they were going to go into "International Law," almost as if choosing one's practice area was akin to choosing between Mercedes Benz or BMW?  Where you one of those students who proudly bandied-about the term, knowing it sounded good to family at Thanksgiving, before the need to actually earn a living took hold and "modified" your dreams and aspirations?
Criminal law, I could fathom.  Contracts, I could understand.  Business Organizations, IP, Torts, Environmental Law, OK, I can sort of see it.  I'm still amazed I survived Constitutional Law and the oblique tests and levels of "scrutiny" and what-not, but hey, whatever, that is a different matter entirely.  People actually do get to argue before the SCOTUS, albeit rarely.  Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
But "International Law?"  What was that, exactly?
If only I had the recent glossy brochure from John Marshall Law School at the time to guide me:


"Perhaps you see yourself working with an international agency in the human rights area, or as a large firm attorney negotiating cross-border mergers, or as a customs and trade law attorney managing the compliance issues for a large corporation.  There are infinite possibilities when you expand your education and professional life into the global sphere."

 Why yes, yes I do see myself this way!  "Infinite possibilities?"  No wonder everyone was so excited about International Law!  Even though I have no idea what the last paragraph even said, sign me up!  Makes me want to go back to school for an LLM, as my law degree and bar license has not conferred enough "JD-Advantage" upon me to suit my particular tastes currently.
....aaaaaand JMLS is happy to oblige, with many, many course offerings (Comparative Human Rights Law, International Business Transactions, Lawyering Skills IV: Drafting - International Practice, and Advanced Legal Research - International Law, to name a few).  And don't forget the JD Certificate in International Human Rights Law.
The "Hands-on" Experience includes:

            *  Moot Court

            *  Internships

            *  Research Assistanceships

            *  Organizations, such as the International Law Society

            *  Study Abroad

Hmmm....sounds a lot like generic "Law School" to me, but hey, what do I know.  The Internships do sound impressive, I must say - U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of the VPOTUS, the New South Wales Disability Discrimination Center in Australia, the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Palestine, and "Law Firms" in China, Taiwan, and Europe. 
Wait...the brochure says that the Center for International Law can HELP you RESEARCH and IDENTIFY international law internships, but does not provide them out of hand...sounds like YMMV, to me.  Not unlike the advertised success stories of the international students who went to JMLS and then went back to their countries of origin and used their built-in connections to score interesting and lucrative "international law" jobs. I'm guessing it is somewhat easier to land a law firm job in Taiwan if you are, well, originally from Taiwan, for example.
All in all, while the course offerings could be interesting, academically, I'm having trouble drawing the clear-cut connection between the advertised offerings, on the one hand, and success in landing the coveted "International Human Rights Attorney" job and the "infinite possibilities" that entails, on the other.  How many JMLS alumni, on a percentage basis, are actually doing these preftigious jobs?  How many, for example, are practicing before the Hague?  The brochure doesn't seem to say.

And I suspect that many, many recent graduates are wondering the same thing as well - and why they thought "International Law" was a realistic option for them in the first place, in retrospect, before Sallie Mae came knocking.  Hey, the Law Schools got paid, so live and learn, I guess.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Scam Goes Back Further Than The Scam Profs Would Like You To Believe

Lest people think the law school scam is something people began writing about in the last few years, I present an excellent essay by Patrick Griffin in the Chicago Reader. From 1992. People like Michael Simkovic and Brian Leiter want you to believe that law school was free of any of its present problems during that time. Not so. The scam goes back much further than the 2008 financial crisis. Even back then, Griffin saw the writing on the wall as the system was pumping out many more grads than jobs. But, the scam angle of Griffin's article is secondary to his masterful writing about the malaise many undergraduates with worthless humanities degrees feel and how this feeling can lead one to law school. Griffin also talks about how that malaise carries on into one's legal career and ultimately pushes many people out of the profession.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Helpful Legal Scholarship, Part Two: Why Law School can’t be “Fixed” from within

A few months ago I did a post on a potential series I would be writing, where I would read legal scholarship that appears to be useful to legal education reform and post my conclusions on that particular work.  Now it is time for Part Two, as an interesting piece from Professor David Barnhizer, which is entitled "Self-Interest and Sinecure: Why Law School Can't Be 'Fixed' from Within," has been making the rounds.  Professor Barnhizer is from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, and his faculty profile can be found at the top of this page.

This is a surprising piece for a number of reasons.  First, is that Professor Barnhizer is something of an unknown in the legal education reform movement, and he has come out swinging.  Second, is the degree to which Barnhizer's tone and reasoning mirrors LawProf's.  Finally is the scope, as Barnhizer not only looks at the entrenched interests, but lists many ways in which legal education could be improved.  The bar task forces would do well to read Barnhizer's suggestions that make up the last 3 pages of the 19 page document.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Patent-Law-Light: Same Great Debt, but Less Fulfilling

Trust Admiral Ackbar on this one, folks...
I was a STEM major back in the day, in both undergraduate school and in graduate school.  Specifically, the "E" variety.
After working as such for several years, I became interested in "bigger picture" items.  What I found from my experience was that there was no shortage of smart people - if your throw enough money and PhDs at a technical problem, more often than not you can come up with a technical solution.  It may not be cheap, it may not be quick, but it (likely) can be done.
When people have "big picture" challenges on a project, it more often revolves around contract disputes, intellectual property, labor issues, regulations...but my engineering training didn't help me with those issues.  The engineering managers and other higher-ups struggled with these issues on a daily basis, yet they had no "training" with them, either.  At the same time, I also saw that the people above me had yet additional degrees...MBAs, PhDs, even a JD or two at the tippy-top (in the mahogany-paneled legal department, of course). 
It seemed to me that what was needed was someone with legal training and dispute resolution skills, not just technical skills.  Not just "another" MBA.  Not just "another" PhD.  The JD or two at the tippy-top might have agreed, although in retrospect I doubt I could have got it in writing.
Apparently, I should have been a law school dean, as I was several years ahead of my time:
Northwestern starts MSL program for STEM professionals
January 8, 2014
The Northwestern School of Law is offering a new Master of Science in Law designed for professionals in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
The program, which can take two to eight semesters to complete, will offer students the opportunity to concentrate in three areas: patent and intellectual property, business law and entrepreneurship, or regulatory analysis and strategy.
Graduates of the program will not be licensed to practice law; instead, the program will aim to "contextualize the complex web of intellectual property, regulatory, business contracting and licensing issues that scientists, engineers, medical practitioners and other STEM professionals around the world face.”
“Technical people increasingly have seats at the business table, and more and more of them are being called upon to lead — to sit at the head of the table,” Emerson Tiller, the law school’s senior associate dean of academic initiatives.
Lovely.  The problem with this's just not true, folks.

Let's be honest.  NO ONE CARED about my "renaissance man" view of the business world.  Friends, I went back to school for EXACTLY THE ABOVE REASONS (i.e. contextualiz[ing] the complex web of intellectual property, regulatory, business contracting and licensing issues), all on my own, years ago, with no help, thanks.  I banked specifically on the "versatile JD," married with my engineering degrees and experience, along with the (false) employment statistics.  As such, I call myself "dupednontraditional" for a reason. 
I contacted many engineering companies and consulting firms, tried to market myself with this skill set, tried to demonstrate the advantages a JD/STEM combination conferred to engineering management and the bottom line.  The result?  Bupkis.  Nada.  Zero.  Zilch.  This was years BEFORE the Great Crash of 2008, mind you, which the ScamDeans and LawProfs love to blame for the lack of opportunities for JDs.  I saw plenty of question marks over people's heads, but no takers.  Nobody bought it.  Nobody believed it.  I finally wormed my way into another field that has nothing to do with my prior career, for the sake of my family, my credit score, and my student loans, but that is another story. 

My "versatile JD" was more like career-VD.  What is even more insulting is that you aren't even eligible to take the bar and practice law with this MSL degree.  Why would a watered-down credential do better than an actual JD?  Does a JD not cover IP, business law, and regulations anymore?  Did that all just go out the window?  Did LawProfs stop "teaching" these subjects, so now we need the MSL?

More importantly, where is the evidence for this need?  Who are the STEM-related entities crying out for this?  I doubt you will find them.

What I did hear in law school and in my job search, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, was "Why are you trying to do this weird science and law mix? Why aren't you just doing patent law?"  Interviewers asked me this.  Network contacts asked me this.  Career Services asked me this. LawProfs asked me this.  As if I was a f***ing dumbass or something and had never thought of that before, you insipid, baby-boomer, bubble-living academics.  Christ.  Glad to see those cushy six-figure salaries go to such brain-trusts. 

Patent law is good work if you can get it, of course - granted, most people don't, but hey, let's not ask too many questions.  A sad truth I learned the hard way - people are long on worthless advice, and short on actual help or solutions.  Just like the fable of "The Little Red Hen," Law Schools are happy to eat the student's bread but are not so big on the planting seeds, tilling, grinding, or baking.  Go "network" or something.  For me and many others, law school was like jumping off the high-dive platform, only to see the water rushing out of the pool while you plummet.  It has affected my career and my earning potential ever since.

Moving on for a moment from worthless not-law-degree varietals, what about that halcyon-panacea that is the Asgardian-Elysium known as Patent Law?  In my recent post on JD-Disadvantage III, an interesting set of sub-threads came up out of the blue, in which I also participated:
I know many, many patent attorneys (40% of the patent lawyers at my T60 Toilet) who graduated in the classes of 2008-2010 and who are either working for patent search firms or are at the PTO. The "lucky" ones work for the PTO, where they can eventually get to $100K + per year in exchange for a relatively easy, stress-free work life. The unlucky ones wind up as patent searchers at sweat shops like Cardinal Intellectual Property, Landon IP, Global Prior Art, etc. If they're lucky, they MIGHT make $40-60K/year with no benefits.

Engineering LEMMINGS, do not make the same mistake we made. After a few years of working as an engineer, it's very likely you'll be on the path to $100K/year. The patent attorney job market is super saturated and filled with Boomers who won't retire until you're 50 or so. Do not incur $100K + of debt and lose three years of income to become a patent searcher with no future. Do not even think about going to law school unless you get into the top 10 schools.

Seconded. Being a full-fledged patent attorney is "good" work, if you can get it. Increasingly, more and more don't.

STEM grads, ignore the siren call of the law schools, as their mindset on patent law is back in 1958 when Jack Kilby was patenting the "integrated circuit." The market has changed a little bit since then, but you won't hear it from them. Do not go this route unless family or close connections can get you a job.

Go do something with your STEM degree instead, like maybe invent something patentable in the first place? I guarantee you that you will have more fun and satisfaction doing so, and struggling patent attorneys will thank you.

Third. The patent field is super saturated. I have been a patent lawyer for 20 years and am still working thankfully. I know scores of experienced patent lawyers who are unemployed, several former partners in patent firms. I know several PhD/JD or MD/JD patent attorneys either unemployed or barely employed. Now how is that for a genuine waste of human potential and human lives as a result of this vile, evil law school scam?
Another former patent attorney here. Graduated from TTT in early 2000s. Worked as a patent associate for two years before being shown the door. Then couldn't find another patent-related job and did document review for about 8 years. I recently obtained a non-attorney position that involves contract negotiation and drafting for a good company. If I knew where my law degree would lead, i would have never stepped into law school or amass 160K in debt. Truth be told, I would have been happier back in science and sometimes I still think about what if. Don't go to law school, particularly at these prices. I second the comment above - patent law is ultra saturated.

DupedNontraditional is right about undergraduate career counselors in STEM being totally clueless about job prospects for patent attorneys. There's a lot of rot being purveyed over the Internet about how great it is to become a patent attorney when the truth is much worse. I am gratified that Google searches on the employment market for patent attorneys quickly turns up results like OTLSS.

Since I am a former STEM'er and current Toileteer First Class, I back up my comments with hard facts. Like... 40% of the STEMS that went to my Toilet never even made it into patent law.
Here's another fact-based way to look at it if you want more than anecdotal evidence: look on LinkedIn at how many patent examiners and "patent searcher" types have JDs. Or cross-check 50 or 100 names of PTO attorneys with registration numbers in the 60,000 - 70,000 and see how many of them are actually working as patent attorneys.

Here's another fact. If you spend more than a couple of years doing this type of searching/examining work, very few law firms are going to spend any time considering you for a job. Maybe in the old days that might have worked, but not anymore.

STEM LEMMINGS, patent law is a scam. You will not get rich. You will almost certainly be under-employed and unemployable as an attorney. You will be unable to return to your previous career and you will have lost three years of income and wasted three years of tuition. All your hard-earned money will go towards some arrogant fat-cat law profe$$or's second home, yacht, or late-model German car. DO not consider law school. Stick with engineering. You will come out much better in the end.

Whoops.  Looks like patent law isn't so great anymore, either - at least for those born after 1975 or so.

Friends, let's call this exactly what it is - deception on the part of law schools, trying to sell you a degree that the market doesn't want.  0Ls, non-trads, STEM majors, for God's sake please DO NOT FALL FOR THIS TRAP, unless your Rich Uncle has a patent job ready-made for you when you graduate or your employer wants you to have an MSL degree for some reason.  That should support an inaugural class of about, oh, I don't know, three MSL candidates.

Applications are declining and law schools are desperate, make no mistake.  The truth just can't be swept under the rug anymore - maybe its time for the law schools to patent a better broom.  Or stop flooding the market with JDs in the first instance which lead to the karmic-backlash currently underway.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A $150,000 question: What should a 1L do after a bad/good first semester?

We at OTLSS, and scambloggers in general, tend to try to inform prospective law students about the pros and cons about attending law school.  However, earning a JD takes at least three years for most people, so we should target not only prospective law students on making rational choices but also continuing law students.

It's that dreaded time for current 1L's at law schools across America, as the shock of being graded on a harsh curve finally strikes.  Not only that, but there are other tricks that certain law schools have been guilty of playing, such as requiring spring semester tuition deposits before grades are given out in order to deter poorly-performing students from dropping out (as they don't know that they are performing poorly).

Once grades are revealed, however, and the shock sets in, certain rational courses of action are available for 1L's.  Here are the conventional options that one will invariably take.

1) Stay the course and finish off the year.
2) Consider dropping out, cutting all ties, and trying to get as much of the second semester tuition deposit back as able.
3) Stay the course, but pave the way for transferring by lining up letters of recommendations to open up more options

There are merits to all three options, depending on where a 1L lands on the curve and which school they attend  This post is intended for 1L's who need advice as well as a forum for others to offer their own.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Nancy Leong: Entitlement, Privilege, and Power

I have spent a lot of time in academia.  Now that I think about it, I have spent the majority of my adult life there, mostly as a bored liberal artist.  It is important to understand the world of academia (and how a young professor may choose to gun for tenure) if one wants to understand Leong’s targeting of dybbuk, which seems to be an unending mission for her.  Recently, she teamed up with Brian Leiter, and yesterday the duo got the ABA Journal to write an article that regurgitated Leong’s accusations without any verification.

In the world of legal academia, Nancy Leong’s race and gender provide positive attributes that help to separate her from the horde of straight white male professors with elite backgrounds teaching Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Contracts, etc.  I do not fault her for focusing some of her scholarship on issues relating to her identity or experiences.  I have used this strategy myself on a few occasions.  For example, when applying for certain types of positions or assignment panels, I focus on my work with gay organizations, where I have defended gay men targeted by unfair police tactics.  These experiences distinguish me from the majority of the other candidates, and it makes me seem more “diverse” in certain contexts where that is a plus factor.  Yes, there are plenty of times when I keep my sexuality a secret until I feel out a person or an organization.  But I admit that in certain circumstances, I can use my sexuality to make myself a more memorable candidate rather than if I were perceived as just another white dude.

To ignore the advantages that Ms. Leong’s sex (and race?) may bestow upon her in the world of academia — which is obsessed with keeping up the appearance of diversity, even if many good-old-boys clubs still run things at the top — is to ignore reality.  I know that my thoughts will piss off a few of the classic boomer liberals who still feel enormous white guilt, which prevents them from fully engaging in these discussions, but this is my opinion based on almost a decade in academia, including two years of teaching English/Creative writing at a “Top 15” university.  I taught in an undergraduate liberal arts program where the department chairs made no secret of looking for a “black woman” (!) to “round out” the tenured faculty in their department (I was shocked at the brazenness of this diversity-hunting, but I also admired that they just came out and said it).