It’s time again for another edition of “Welcome to the Scamblog Camp!” This post’s featured guest is Frank Wu, from UC Hastings School of Law.
Professor Wu gets off to a slow start, unfortunately, in that even he can’t resist a textbook-swipe at “hyperbolic” critics, or “young people” looking for “instant gratification.” In other words, Gen-X, Y, Z, A etc. are all “lazy, entitled whiners, because you are not me, therefore, you are the opposite of me, i.e. lazy, entitled whiners.” The simple economics of obscene debt burdens coupled with low starting pay is again lost on people, apparently - it's easier to blame the victim and write people off as "lazy."
The problems have been publicized well enough if hyberbolically. But they are problems plural rather than singular. There is the lack of jobs, specifically those desirable to young people whose expectations have been set by the instant gratification of the internet era; the extraordinary cost of tuition, which typically is debt financed; and concerns over the utility of the skill set that is offered. Fixes for one problem or two problems exacerbate the third problem…
However, to Wu’s credit, he does get back on message quickly:
A rush of young people into law schools is good for the law schools, to be sure. Whether it is good for the young people is another matter.
If we bounce, it will not be “back.” It may be a bounce, to an altogether different place. Things do recover. But almost never to their starting point. Newspapers have been bouncing to the internet…[a]utomobiles with only internal combustion engines, operated by human beings, will be replaced within our lifetimes…[r]ecord collectors insist on the superiority of vinyl records to even lossless streaming for their music, but most listeners have left analog for digital.
Yep. As has been stated many times on this blog alone, buggy-whip manufacturers need not apply (although, personally, nothing beats classic vinyl).
When I was in practice, literally a lifetime ago (I am twice the age now I was then), a pack of associates with highlighters and post-it notes, located on a windowless lower floor performed the task, one or two even being handed a plane ticket to inspect a warehouse of boxes. Today, a separate firm, maybe a “captive firm,” uses outsourcing, scanning, and algorithms, to deliver the same work product at ten times the speed and one tenth the cost.
That is the “bounce.”
No, no, Frank must not have gotten the memo from the rest of the Law School Cartel. There is a greater need for lawyers than ever before! JDs are worth a million dollars, easily! All we need are more “practical” “teaching” “methods…”
I actually am an optimist [concerning Anglo-American Law and emergent legal fields]...[t]he demand for legal services, to the surprise of many, is not the same as the demand for lawyer’s services: accountants, consultants, and paralegals all compete…[p]oor people, even those of us who belong to the American norm of "middle class," do not have access to adequate, economical legal help.
Yet clients are more sophisticated than ever about purchasing professional services. Even ordinary people, likely one-time consumers, can buy a la carte “unbundled” versions of representation. The business has become stratified…
Wait, what? Wu is an optimist, yet he just ran through the laundry list of competing legal services, lack of market, and the fact that “bread-and-butter” clients are sophisticated and buy unbundled services? Not exactly a gold mine. Also, I thought it was only law students who were “sophisticated consumers” according to the courts.
Above all, however, the jump in big law firm entry-level compensation is not enough to remedy much because of scale…[b]ig firms, even in boom times, provide a minority of opportunities to new graduates. A majority of law schools place few if any of their students on Wall Street…[t]he tenure of the junior lawyers at big firms is not lengthy. The pyramid structure ensures that few will make it to the top[.]
The law firm is not trying to be nice. It’s recruiting and retaining talent through calculation. As Don Draper remarked on the hit television show Mad Men about having to say thank you: “that’s what the money is for.” The bulk of law school graduates will end up, as they always have, in solo practice or at small to medium firms; or in government, usually state and local rather than the coveted clerkships with federal judges.
More “optimism,” I guess…? Not much about saving dolphins here. I thought it was only the mean, mean scambloggers who talked about BigLaw reality, dashing the sugarplum dreams of new 1Ls.
That is what mystifies me. When I describe the predicament of the legal profession, and thus of legal education, I have received pushback from people who say: yes, but, there is a range, and there are those firms and schools who are making out just fine. I don’t doubt that. What troubles me, and all of the rest of us ordinary folks, is that publicizing only one end of the spectrum (either end) presents a distorted picture…I prefer realism.
No mysticism required. Cat’s out of the bag. People are waking up to the truth. Desperate people
say desperate things in order to survive.
It is positive, I suppose, that big law firms are offering more to their first-year associates. As a signal about the legal marketplace, it is at best weak and at worst misleading. We would serve our students better if we adapted. Nostalgia is not a strategy.
Well, said, Professor Wu, well said, and it looks like the criticisms from the scamblog camp were, (ahem) right all along. There certainly is nostalgia for the days when big-bucks flowed into Law Schools by the metric ton, without having to pander to people's estates and put a non-law-related names on the building, or apply to the USDA for funding, in order to survive. Only now, people are forced to admit it. Coulda shoulda woulda been different, but, oh well.
Until next time, friends! Keep fighting the good fight!
Until next time, friends! Keep fighting the good fight!