Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Strict Scrutiny: Current 3L Explains Why Going To Law School Make Sense

It's been a while since I've read an op-ed ridiculous enough to warrant the full Strict Scrutiny treatment. But the wise Ross Campbell, current NYU 3L, decided to dispense some nuggets of wisdom to undergrads thinking about taking the leap. Ross Campbell is the epitome of youth; he thinks that his experiences can be extrapolated to the world at large. The article's text is bolded and in italics, while my comments are in normal text.

Editor’s Note: The author of this post is an incoming associate at a national law firm.
I assume "national law firm" means BigLaw. Ross's law school experience has resulted in an employment outcome that will not be attainable for almost all current and future law students. Ross is exactly the guy we want advising the average prospective law student.

Apart from investing considerable time and effort, many will have taken on heavy debt to reach this point, averaging $140, 616. No paltry sum, but ideally well spent pursuing the skills needed to practice law.

Here are some other suggestions that have just as much of a chance of succeeding as someone going to law school to learn about practicing law:
  • An electrician watching episodes of "The Electric Company" to figure out how to wire a commercial building properly.
  • A doctor practicing surgery on an old copy of the board game "Operation" after having lost at beer pong twenty straight times.
  • Trying to learn Japanese by going to Turkey and wandering around until you meet some Japanese tourists.
Should we, the Class of 2016, have bothered? The reality is that the job market may have looked a lot better in 2013. So why did we forge ahead?

Tell me more, Ross. We haven't been able to properly figure it out in the 500+ previous posts on this site.

When I decided to go to law school, there was growing optimism. Things had gotten verifiably better after the Great Recession. We still heard horror stories, but the economy was on the uptick and firms seemed to be hiring again. Though a J.D. was no longer the safe bet it once was, it still had a sheen of respectability and challenge. It was also a logical choice for many of us that were on the fence about our future.

Ross is afflicted with "Special Snowflake Syndrome". He chose to fly in the face of reams of empirical evidence because he had no idea about what to do when he became a grown up.

I had a sense that something still had to be said for becoming an esquire. I can’t say I wasn’t warned off of it — my friends and mentors often pointed out that fewer students than ever were applying to law school, that the debt was perplexing, and for what, exactly? The popular image of lawyers today is not exactly Atticus Finch. But I wanted to be a professional problem solver. I also felt like lawyering would force me into other walks of life, wrack my brains, and learn more about myself.

People tried to warn Ross not to do it. But he was special and was going to make it. He did (at least until the partnership review in 5-8 years). Ross also wanted to solve problems. Well, it can't be said that law school doesn't cause people to accumulate many unsolvable problems.

Luckily I will be able to apply what I learned in law school soon. But I am worried about future classes. Firms will likely rely less on summer associate programs going forward, which will restrict opportunities for new graduates. The demand for more practice-ready associates (and an unwillingness of clients to pay for first and second years) will also impact entry-level hiring. Also on the horizon are fascinating A.I. technologies that threaten to take names and jobs (looking at you ROSS Intelligence).

These are all great reasons not to go to law school. What are you playing at, Ross? I thought you were telling people to go law school.

So can I conscionably recommend law school? I think I can. Employment statistics and law school rankings will always be helpful in evaluating an acceptance letter for real job outcomes. Attention to emerging trends that could affect the entry-level market are also a must. Weigh these against your expected debt and search your reasons for wanting to become a lawyer. If you still feel optimistic, fight on.

Did I miss something here? Is Ross telling people to go to law school if they are not horrified after looking at the current hellscape that is the legal employment market and the life ruining debt accompanying the degree? In effect, people who have blind faith in their ability to beat the odds and get a BigLaw or "international" law job. I fail to see how a rational person can choose to go to law school after looking at the conditions facing law grads. This "argument" just boggles my mind. 

This article is the type of harmful propaganda that convinces aimless grads who have no career plans to go back to the warm embrace of academia. I was one of these people. After graduating, I was living at my parents' house with no idea what to do. It began with my dad telling me to take the LSAT. I did so, and got a pretty good score. Next, I decided to apply to a few schools. Lo and behold, my alma mater gave me a scholarship. Fast forward three years later, and I was done with the bar. I had also returned to my parents' house because there are no jobs for a law school grad with mediocre grades. For an extra three years of the college lifestyle, I will be sending checks to Sallie Mae until I am near retirement age. 

To all prospective law students, I say don't do it. Learn from my mistakes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Seton Hall Law Prof. Paula Franzese advises law students to "[e]mbrace a Forrest Gump-like view of the world and the people in it."

To Seton Hall Law Professor Paula Franzese, of BarBri and "Loving the Law Day" fame, goes the distinction of being the first law professor to write a book recommending that law students and lawyers imitate fictional movie character Forrest Gump. See Franzese, Paula (2014-03-20). A Short and Happy Guide to Being a Law Student (Short and Happy Series) (pp. 78-79). West Academic Publishing. Kindle Edition. ("Embrace a Forrest Gump-like view of the world and the people in it. Do not overcomplicate things. Be guileless and refuse to dwell on the negative. Stay positive as you focus on the good. When the cynics say, "Well, that’s just stupid," smile and reply, "Stupid is as stupid does"").

Forrest Gump, for those who have not seen the hit movie, is a fictional mentally-deficient platitude-spouting innocent, a person who would be an unwitting menace to self and everybody around him but for a lifelong streak of improbable good fortune somehow generated by his simple and trusting good nature.

In Franzese's view, the Gumpish lemmings who fill today's non-elite law schools are similarly destined to be "instruments for greatness." They need only be reminded, via strategically-placed notes bearing words of inspiration, of the existence of their protective lucky star. See Short & Happy at pp. 84 ("Surround yourself with messages of hope to remind you of the mightiness of your mission and the multi-dimensional magnitude of your abilities. There is a star you are under, and you are precisely where you are meant to be. Keep words of inspiration in places where you can see them regularly").

Franzese's book purports to have structure. It is divided into 8 sections, which are in turn divided into 63 chapters (each bearing a smiley-face-with-clock-hands illustration, identical to the one on the cover), which in turn are sectioned into multiple half-page to two-page-long subchapters, each of which provides some tidbit of advice or inspiration. In fact, the identical smileys are a truer guide to the book’s organization and content than the section or chapter titles. The entire book consists of bromides and banalities and anecdotes drawn from motivational literature and Franzese's own life of pampered ease, which are presented over and over and over again, in only slightly reworded form. 

For instance, Part 1 is entitled "You are Going to Be a Lawyer. Be Excited and Feel Proud." Chapter 1 is entitled "Dreams Brought You here. You are Now Making Them Come True." The subchapter headings of Chapter 1 include the following: "The world is yours."; "Your degree will equip you to use the rule of law to advance the cause of progress."; "You will teach others that kindness comes from strength."; "The most significant lawyers and law students value the gentler virtues. They know that wisdom and compassion are indivisible."; "You will teach others that kindness comes from strength."; "As a lawyer, you are uniquely trained to ordain positive outcomes and alter the course of history for the better."; "The law is a noble profession."; "A good lawyer defies the push of the crowds and takes a stand for decency." and "You will lead with both your mind and your heart."

Somewhat similarly, Chapter 3 is entitled "The Majesty of the Law and Your Place in It: Ten Reasons to Be Really Happy About Becoming a Lawyer." The subchapter headings present the ten reasons. Among them are "REASON ONE: Law school will teach you a method of analysis and hone your powers of discernment so that you can and will become a ninja for the good."; "REASON TWO: The law is a magnificent career path. It will allow you to do well and, most essentially, to find meaning in the work you do."; "REASON SEVEN: You will help the clients and constituencies that you serve be governed by what inspires them, rather than what makes them small."; "REASON NINE: You will resolve to love the law and to treat it as if you love it. You will promise yourself that you will persist in loving it, no matter the disappointments and occasional disenchantments."; and "REASON TEN: You will change your life by speaking only good things about it and others."

Isn’t this stuff already beginning to sound tedious, repetitious, and even dehumanizing-- reminiscent  perhaps of a vain and untrustworthy boss who expects enthusiastic appreciation plus sky-high morale from his staff of exploited drones? Well settle in, reader (or shall I say, "ninja for the good"), because as noted the book goes on like this for 63 chapters, the only consolation being that the chapters seem to get shorter in length as the book progresses. To me, the movie analogy suggested by Franzese's book is not "Forrest Gump," but rather, "The Blob." Reading this book is like being engulfed and smothered by a relentlessly expanding mass of sweetly-scented toxicity. 

The most insidious thing about this book is not the recycling of cheery platitudes and cutesy phrases. Rather, it is Franzese's repeated injunctions to be "be grateful," "be thankful" and "be glad" and to "refuse to heed the cynical and the jaded," even if you have to "fake it until you make it" because "gratitude is the way to joy." 

All this gratitude and thankfulness, along with the pre-making fakery, has a deeply practical purpose in Franzese-world, where rhetoric and attitude alchemize into material success. Consider the following quotes:
*  "Your experiences in law school, at work, in love and in life will match your level of rhetoric about your experiences in law school, in love and in life.  The world rises (or falls) to meet your level of expectation. Every day, state emphatically that you love the law, law school, your job and the people in your life. Fake it until you make it.  Sure enough and soon enough, reasons to be right about your declaration will start showing up." Id. at pp. 161
* "[E]ven if you have to fake it for now, you should begin to enthusiastically declare your passion and admiration for everything about the legal education that you are (or are about to) receive and the job that you have (or will have). . . In school and at work, relentlessly say thank you to everyone who is a part of your path." Id. at pp. 79
*  "You are learning to harness the power of your mind to think about and talk about everything that is good, honorable and right with the world and your place in it. As a lawyer, you will have the stature to teach others to do the same. Your life will move in the direction of your predominant thoughts." Id. at pp. 18
*  "The faultfinders seem so prevalent because they are so noisy.  Move away from that cacophony of grievance and lead the team of cheerleaders for the good." Id. at pp. 149
Franzese is too gracious to spell out the implications of her positive thinking philosophy, but I think they are clear enough. Consider all the young persons whose lives have been severely damaged, if not ruined, by law school debt and legal market saturation. Their failure is not the fault of the aforesaid structural problems in legal education. Their failure cannot even be attributed to their own recklessness in enrolling in the first place. No, their failure must be due to their unwillingness to think happy and thankful thoughts.

Franzese’s eloquence has the profound moral force of a sated glutton kindly advising a starving person to celebrate, in word and thought, the glutton’s self-satisfied joy at her recently-devoured feast. For the starving person’s own good, mind you, because through a "persistent attitude of great gratitude," his or her life will inevitably move in the direction of a delicious meal. 

Chapter 61 of A Short and Happy Guide to Being a Law Student is entitled "The Pony" and is a recitation of the old story or joke about the kid who plays delightedly in a room filled with a horse manure in the belief that with all that manure around there must be a pony in the vicinity. (Does Franzese think this chestnut is unfamiliar to anybody?) I first heard this joke when I was about six years old, and even then had a sarcastic laugh at the delusional logic of the shit-covered optimist. But Franzese admires the child's "great sincerity and strength of purpose" and wants you too to believe that the ponies of joy are sure to arrive, perhaps with the very next turn of the law school scammy-go-round. See Id. at pp. 270 ("Do you see the analogy to your present circumstances? Amidst the volumes that you must shovel and store and sanitize, there are ponies. I promise you that. There will be joys and privileges in your life’s chosen work that will astound and delight you").  

The number of law school applicants has risen slightly this year, following five consecutive years of steep decline. So there may be a base level number of persons per year willing to disregard all caution and gamble six figures of nondischargeable borrowed money on the value of a JD degree. In other words, to spend a small fortune to buy a pile of manure because the manure peddler has provided earnestly-expressed but non-legally-enforceable assurances that there will be ponies too. To those contemplating law school attendance this fall, I can only quote the wisdom of Forrest Gump and Prof. Paula Franzese: "Stupid is as stupid does."  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Does Seton Hall Law Prof. Michael Simkovic believe that scamblog literature is a cunning ruse by highly-paid lawyers to reduce competition and increase wages in their field?

If Seton Hall Law Professor Michael Simkovic’s purportedly objective research is to be believed, law school is a tremendous investment, with minimal downside risk. [1], [2] True, many journalists and critics are in the grip of a non-econometric-based delusion that enormous educational debts and horrendous ten-month-after-graduation job placement outcomes indicate some sort of problem. But do not be surprised, in the long-run, to find these same financially insecure recent law grads flinging gobs of excess cash off their spare luxury yachts.

According to Simkovic’s research, a JD degree holder's mean lifetime earning premium is approximately one million dollars, and his or her mean annual earning premium is $57,200. [3] Even at the bottom quartile of outcomes, the fourth-tier of law grads as it were, "the value of a law degree exceeds typical net-tuition costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars." [4] These premiums do not turn on whether or not the law degree holder practices law. [5]  Not only that, but the value of a JD degree is virtually recession-proof. [6] In light of Simkovic's findings, "versatile" seems too weak a descriptor for a Juris Doctor degree. A JD is positively magical.

So, you know, if someone ever gives you the choice between a couple of hundred thousand dollars in cash and non-tuition-discounted enrollment at a lower-tier law school, by all means choose the latter. The laughter and looks of disbelief that follow will actually be meant as expressions of admiration for your econometrically-informed wisdom. 

Now, it is a fact that Simkovic has a cushy gig as a lawprof at a non-elite law school, a position that can only be maintained by a constant infusion of students willing to borrow enormous sums of money to pursue a JD degree. It is also the case that Simkovic’s ongoing research has been funded via six-figure grants from two affluent law-school controlled nonprofit organizations-- the Access Group (a former student loan originator that has funded over $18 billion worth of educational loans, and that now funds research and symposia into, inter alia, the "value of legal education") and the Law School Admissions Council (which administers the LSAT, but also exists to "provide services" for the law school community, and which is the source of grants to organizations that tout law school to high school children as the best way to achieve idealistic goals, such as saving the dolphins).

However, Simkovic has contended that his findings are not influenced by his economic self-interest, and I accept that this is so– at least on a conscious level. But does Simkovic courteously extend to critics the same presumption of non-bias that he generously grants to himself? Well, no, he does not. In fact, Simkovic accuses scambloggers of having a devious economic motivation in warning young people about the risks of law school. In a footnote included in one of his law review articles, Simkovic states:
"The "scamblog" literature, in which ostensibly disgruntled lawyers. . . advise others not to follow in their career footsteps, may reflect efforts by the shrewdest and most highly paid skilled workers to reduce competition and increase wages in their own fields." [7]
Let’s think for a moment about this comment. Simkovic seems to be asserting that scamblog literature is some kind of ruse de guerre. We lawyers and law grads who have posted and commented at dissident blogs such as Inside the Law School Scam, Outside the Law School Scam, Third Tier Reality, and Law School Truth Center are so Machiavellian that we have merely created an elaborate pretense that the legal job market is swamped, that wages are stagnant, that our enormously expensive legal education was a bitter farce, and that our profession is frequently highly stressful and disillusioning. The warnings of the scambloggers, then, are a kind of reverse Potemkin Village, a shrewd attempt to persuade others not to horn in our million dollar JD bonanzas.

But would lawyers really devote many uncompensated hours to publicizing a nonexistent scam in order to "reduce competition and increase wages in [our] own field"? The problem with this novel conspiracy theory is that a kid's decision to attend law school, or even the decision of a whole bunch of kids to attend law school, will have only the most attenuated and indirect impact on the competition and wages of established lawyers. Certainly, any hypothetical several-years-down-the-road competition from prospective One-Ls is remote.

On the flip side, however, there are a group of people with an immediate and overwhelming vested interest in scam denial-- that is to say, in promoting law school enrollment and minimizing the risks. These people are called law professors, law deans, and law school administrators, including the million dollar scholar himself, Michael Simkovic. Their enormous salaries, light workloads, and perks galore all rest on the increasingly shaky platform of a kid's decision to go into debt to obtain a JD. 

Again, no accusations of deceit here, or even conscious bias. But bias created by self-interest can be unconscious, even automatic. In Mark Twain's folksy rendering, "You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is." (For "'pinions," feel free to substitute: "econometrics"). That is why the few honorable critics from within the system get so much well-deserved attention and respect--they are making statements against their own interest, which the law has long recognized as particularly credible.

Therefore, perhaps Simkovic's footnote should read instead:
"The law school promotional literature, in which ostensibly neutral law professors advise others to enroll in law school, may reflect efforts by the shrewdest and most highly paid academics to keep their gravy train rolling."

[1] See Simkovic, Michael and McIntyre, Frank, The Economic Value of a Law Degree (April 13, 2013). HLS Program on the Legal Profession Research Paper No. 2013-6. Available at SSRN:

(last revised November 26, 2014), p. 16-17

Please note: The ssrn web address above is to a non-final version of Simkovic & McIntryre’s paper, as are my citations to this article, unless otherwise noted. The final version of The Economic Value of a Law Degree was published in the Journal of Legal Studies, and is not available online unless you are willing to shell out $14 at the JSTOR site. See Michael Simkovic & Frank McIntyre, The Economic Value of a Law Degree, 43 J. Legal Stud. 249 (2014). However, Simkovic describes the revisions that appear in the final version in this blog post at TaxProf blog:

"Simkovic & McIntyre: The Economic Value of a Law Degree: $1 Million" (November 1, 2014)


[2] See TaxProf Blog, "McIntyre & Simkovic: Lifetime Value of Law Degree Drops Only $30k For Those Who Graduate Into a Poor Economy" (March 10, 2015) (quoting Simkovic's description of the "key takeaways" of his new research paper "Timing Law School"):
"The best time to go to law school is the earliest point possible after which you make the decision that you’d eventually like to go. By waiting, you’re spending more of your limited working life working for lower wages, and you aren’t changing your chances of graduating into a more favorable economy."
[3] See Simkovic & McIntyre, The Economic Value of a Law Degree (April 13, 2013), p. 41 ("Rounding to the nearest $10,000, we find that the mean value of a law degree is $990,000. . . These figures are in present value as of the start of law school, and are pre-tax and pre-tuition. In other words, these figures reflect the maximum that a combination of the government and the student should be willing to pay in direct costs, such as tuition, for a law degree").

See also TaxProf Blog, "Simkovic & McIntyre: The Economic Value of a Law Degree: $1 Million" (November 1, 2014) (quoting Simkovic describing final revisions to his paper): ("These changes increase the annual earnings premium a little bit. It's about $57,000 per year on average, now, as opposed to around $53,000 before.")


[4]  See Simkovic & McIntyre, The Economic Value of a Law Degree (April 13, 2013), p. 41 ("These results suggest that even at the 25th percentile, the value of a law degree exceeds typical net-tuition costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars").

[5] See Simkovic & McIntyre, The Economic Value of a Law Degree (April 13, 2013), p. 8 ("The economic value of a law degree turns not on whether law graduates practice law, but rather on how much more readily they find work with the law degree than they would have without, and how much more they earn with the law degree than they would have without").

[6] See TaxProf Blog, "McIntyre & Simkovic: Lifetime Value of Law Degree Drops Only $30k For Those Who Graduate Into a Poor Economy" (March 10, 2015) (quoting Simkovic's description of the "key takeaways" of his new research paper entitled "Timing Law School"): ("The luck of timing (graduating into a good or bad economy) matters for the first few years, but in the long run, doesn’t make much of a difference").

[7] Michael Simkovic, Risk-Based Student Loans, 70 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 527, 602 n.186 (2013). Available here:

Friday, April 1, 2016

Apparently Not an April Fool's Joke

Reported by ZeroHedge, from a WSJ article apparently behind the pay wall:

In an opinion filed Thursday, Judge Carla Craig of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., said bar-exam loan debt is “a product of an arm’s-length agreement on commercial terms” and doesn’t fall into the category of student loans that stick with a borrower who files for bankruptcy.

The decision, which is the most thorough recent ruling on the matter, contradicts the widely accepted notion that student loan-related debt can be canceled in bankruptcy only under rare cases of extreme financial hardship.

In her 20-page ruling, Judge Craig said bar-study loans were akin to commercial or consumer loans and weren’t an “educational benefit,” like a scholarship or stipend, and thus could be erased in a bankruptcy case.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear a case that could have made it easier to get rid of student loan debt. The White House, however, said last year that it would examine whether it should be easier for student loans to be canceled by bankruptcy, opening the door for student debt made by private lenders to be treated on par with credit-card debt and mortgages.

“We’re starting to chip away at the absolute immunity of student loans from bankruptcy,” said Austin Smith, Ms. Campbell’s lawyer.

A Citibank lawyer declined to comment on the ruling or to say whether the bank plans to appeal.

An interesting development for interesting times, to say the least.  While I am a general fan of ZeroHedge and use their data and arguments at times, they are also well-known for their caveat-emptor view of the world. Read the comments at your own risk, although there is some interesting side discussion about wage pressure on STEM fields and H-1B Visas and other items if you work your way through.

More importantly, this is an initial shift away from "everything is a school educational purpose so it's non-dischargeable so pay your debts deadbeat slacker people born after 1970" rhetoric that we tend to see.  The TJSL's of the world may be able to escape allegations of fraud, but even they can't escape market forces, and this is just one small additional piece of evidence to that fact.

While ZeroHedge doesn't have much time for individual plights, they do attack the systemic issues head-on, especially where a Canadian educator "comes clean":

I teach mostly bored youth who find themselves doing something they neither value nor desire—and, in some cases, are simply not equipped for—in order to achieve an outcome they are repeatedly warned is essential to their survival. What a dreadful trap...[b]ut don’t worry—you won’t go bust because of this failure, not in the modern university. So long as your class is popular and fun, you’ll be favoured by the administration and probably receive a teaching award. This, even though your students will leave your class in worse condition than they entered it, because you will have pandered to their basest inclinations while leaving their real intellectual and moral needs unmet.

There is no clearer example of administrators’ contempt for faculty. But there is also no clearer example of their contempt for students.

"A system that piles debt on students in exchange for a marginal or even zero-return on their investment is morally and financially bankrupt," concludes ZeroHedge.  Well said, given the skyrocketing inflation in tuition, of which law schools are major offenders.  We of the scamblog camp have often warned about cynicism on the part of law school ScamDeans and LawProfs, and their view of students as so much student-loan-conduit cattle.  Sadly, the attitude has become infectious.


As discussed previously, some law schools are beginning to face facts, albeit slowly.  Let's see where it all goes.