Sunday, August 26, 2018

ABA promotes law-school scam with backhanded warning

What would you say if I told you that the ABA, dominated as it is by law-school scamsters and their cronies, was warning people to think twice about going into law?

"I smell a rat"? "Beware Greeks bearing gifts"?

Nicole Black and Heather Morse, supposedly "two leading voices in the legal industry" (though I had never heard of them), did the law-school scam a service with their obviously staged but less obviously biased dialogue on the wisdom or otherwise of attending law school. They start with some reasons not to attend, and they cover them with reasonable accuracy, albeit with a heavy foot on the soft pedal.


For starters, it’s a great education that will provide foundational skills, such as analytical thinking and persuasion capabilities, that easily translate and provide value to many different career paths, both legal and nonlegal.

No, it isn't. People who don't have those skills probably won't acquire them in law school. And while a legal education may conceivably "provide value" for careers outside the practice of law, it will not open the door to those careers; it is likely to do just the opposite.

For those passionate about social justice, a law degree is a powerful tool. Now more than ever, we need good lawyers out there who can right wrongs, to cut through red tape, to make a difference for their clients. Whether in private practice or public service, being a lawyer is still a noble profession, and we will always need good advocates.

Note the typical equivocation on the word need, and even on the word we. Do "we need good lawyers"? Yes, if that phrase means 'Society will be better off with capable lawyers acting in the public interest'. No, if the phrase means 'Employers and clients demand additional lawyers and are prepared to pay them'.

However "passionate about social justice" you may be, O prospective law student, you must put bread on the table before you can right wrongs, cut through red tape, or make a difference for clients. Don't fall for the noble-sounding appeal to "social justice" or the quixotic starving-artist-in-a-garret fantasy that richly paid scamsters dangle before you: ask the crucial question, Can I make a living as a lawyer?

Access to justice is another important and somewhat related consideration that aligns with social justice. Legal services funding has been drastically cut in recent years, resulting in reduced access. Rural areas in the United States are particularly underserved and in need of dedicated lawyers who are focused on making a difference in the lives of those who need their assistance the most.

There is "reduced access" to the legal profession, too, because there is not enough "funding" for lawyers. Rural areas may be "particularly underserved and in need of dedicated lawyers", but they cannot pay for legal services. Don't believe the hype about allegedly abundant opportunities in Bumblefuck, Nebraska.

To me it comes down to the “why.” Keep asking yourself those why questions to find your motivation. I spoke to a friend recently who is considering going to law school as a second career (he’s in his early 40s). After a series of “why” questions, his motives for law school were sound, and he asked if he could call me once he began his application process.

Having gone to law school in my forties and faced exclusion despite top grades at a top law school and much else to recommend me, I'd love to hear this guy's "sound" motives for going to law school. He'll be in his mid-forties when he finishes, and he'll find that no employer wants to give him the time of day. Again, a good "motivation" doesn't count for much in the absence of opportunities. And there has been a glut of new lawyers for many years.

These two "leading voices" also offer some "FINAL ADVICE", most notably the following suggestions:

Take some time off to travel and explore the world and grow as a person.

That's charming advice for a trust-fund baby. How are ordinary stiffs like Old Guy supposed "to travel and explore the world"?

Intern in a law office to learn what it’s truly like to practice law in order to decide if it’s really what you want to do.

It's hard enough to get an unpaid position in a law office as a law student, never mind as a 0L. Of course, those with the money to travel the world at age 22 are likely to have connections who can arrange an "internship" in some high place.

And I doubt whether many so-called interns "learn what it's truly like to practice law". They stand a better chance of doing makework, or nothing at all, and seeing next to nothing of legal practice.

Consider night school or a lower-tier law school that offers scholarship options so that you can pay for law school as you go and avoid debt.

Stupid advice. It even contradicts the earlier observations about "graduating at the top of your class from a Tier 1 law school" and the trend of "only hiring from a select number of schools". La Toilette may offer a fat discount (incorrectly characterized as a "scholarship"), but it will also leave an indelible stain on your résumé. Take a hint: rich kids don't elect night school or La Toilette (usually the same thing, since the thirteen or fewer law schools that may be worth attending don't have night schools) in order to avoid student loans.

Ensure that you have a thorough understanding of the effects of the changing legal landscape and how they’re affecting the delivery of legal services. That way you can take steps to position yourself to take advantage of the changes once you graduate.

Hell, lawyers don't have a thorough understanding of that. How the fuck is a 0L to acquire one?

Find a great mentor.

For what? Deciding whether to go to law school? That calls for good advice, not mentorship. This suggestion seems to be for those who have already decided to attend law school.

Realize that the decision to attend law school is not a choice between right and wrong: It is a choice between right and right. How you make that decision is a defining moment. (See Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right, by Joseph L. Badaracco.)

I haven't read Badaracco's book and don't intend to: it sounds like mass-market managerial fluff. Perhaps by choosing "between right and right" he means making the most of whatever one decides to do. But a 0L reading the passage above is almost certain to conclude that the decision to attend law school can only be right. For most people considering law school, however, that decision would be wrong.

Should you decide that [sic] practice of law is not the right choice for you, keep in mind that the legal industry provides numerous career pathways, with or without a JD.

Again, this piece of "ADVICE" appears to be directed at people who have already started, or even completed, law school, and who presumably have had a taste of the practice of law. So what place does it have in an article about deciding whether to go to law school?

The legal industry does provide other pathways for people without a JD but not for people with one. Expect to be rejected out of hand if you, with a JD, apply for a job as a paralegal, a receptionist, or a police officer: you'll be viewed as a pointy-headed intellectual (even if you graduated from Cooley with a C average) and as a failed lawyer. And at least the latter part will be on the mark. Why else would you want another job after pursuing professional training as a lawyer? Well, maybe you have your reasons. But few people will believe you, and anyway you may not be able to afford to pursue another line of work—within or without the legal industry—if, like most graduates nowadays, you bear a six-figure burden of non-dischargeable student loans at a high rate of interest.

Perhaps half or more of those who go to law school never get to try the practice of law, because they failed out or otherwise quit, they graduated but did not pass the bar exams, or they could not find work as lawyers despite being admitted to the bar. Obviously the "practice of law [was] not the right choice" for these people, but they don't get the luxury of deciding to leave the profession.

Far from a baleful warning about the risks of law school, this article amounts to an advertisement (paid or unpaid?) for the law-school scam. Not only the Cooley crowd but also many with a shot at Harvard or Yale will fall for the crass "choice between right and right", especially since they're already inclined to go to law school. And "Find a great mentor" really invites the reader to go ahead and enroll. And of course the "lower-tier law school" is heavily promoted, since this puff piece is directed at people who won't get into one of the few decent schools (few who are admitted to Harvard, Penn, or Duke would seriously entertain Colorado, Brooklyn, or Appalachian).

The correct answer to the question "Should I go to law school?" starts with an N and ends very soon thereafter with an o. Well, there are exceptions: 1) consider Harvard or Yale; 2) consider Tiers 2 and 3 (by Old Guy's ranking) at a considerable discount; 3) do as you wish if you're rich, connected, or both. Note that none of the exceptions invokes "motives" or "social justice" or professions other than that of lawyer.


  1. The ABA scamsters are particularly shameless, as pointed out above, and this article is pretty amazing in many respects, not the least of which is the fact that it offers a few tidbits of good advice, and then totally contradicts those bits of advice by the end of the article. It's amazing what these people will do to keep the scam going.
    Brilliant takedown, OG.

  2. I went back to law school in my early 30s, and by 35 I was at the back of the pack. Should never have gone.

    I have no idea what the guy in his 40s plans to do. He had better have some stellar government connections, social connections to law, or some sort of successful business sold and/or trust funds to see him through. I don't care how actually smart he is, all people will see is "45" and he needs to be able to counteract that. Not fair, but true.

    1. "I spoke to a friend recently who is considering going to law school as a second career (he’s in his early 40s). After a series of “why” questions, his motives for law school were sound, and he asked if he could call me once he began his application process."

      Test for "sound" motives = "has a pulse."

      Doesn't sound like the author is being much of a "friend" to that guy...oh, well, that's typical career services for you...

    2. A: What are your motives for attending law school?
      B: I want to save dolphins, kick ass before the Supreme Court, defend the downtrodden, and rub elbows with celebrities in stately European cities.
      A: Those are sound motives.
      B: Thanks. Will you help me to fill out the application forms for Cooley and Appalachian?

  3. Quoting the above article "It's hard enough to get an unpaid position in a law office as a law student, never mind as a 0L." That should be a huge warning flag to anyone even considering attending any law school under any circumstances whatsoever. Frankly, if smart law students read this and understood that no one wants their legal services, even free of charge, they would drop out now, today, on the spot. I think that reverse Summer Associate programs are coming. Instead of law firms paying students to work for them during their 2L summer, law firms should consider requiring the students to pay them for the privilege of working for there. I'm serious. Naive young law school students and their deluded parents think that if they "get in their foot in the door" get in on the "ground level" etc., then they can someday find a successful career as a lawyer. The fact that successful careers for lawyers scarely exist anymore eludes them. I can already see the wheels turning in law student's minds. . .so, if I pay the law firm to work for them, and I do really really well, then someday the law firm will pay me instead, and next thing you know, I will be a Judge, or Senior Partner, or a Professor. . .

    1. We're already half way there-in many parts of the US, the local US Attorneys Office has "jobs" with no pay and no benefits that last a year-you are called a "special" AUSA. The job postings are wonderfully mercenary, as in addition to no pay/no benefits, it's clearly stated that you won't get any additional consideration for a paying job should one become available. The local DAs are exploring how to do this with actually licensed attorneys, and local practitioners are also starting to post no-pay no-benefit lawyer jobs as "internships"-again, a JD and bar membership are required. My guess is they're flooded with applicants.
      So Dilbert, we're halfway there, and very soon we'll move to what you foresee-the day of the paid internship-as in, the intern pays to "get experience" etc etc.
      This profession is a disaster; I can't count the number of parents I've spoken with lamenting the job prospects of their newly minted child JD.

    2. dilbert113, several years ago I recall reading about a lawyer advertising for the kind of internship you are describing. I can’t find the article, but it was briefly discussed on the scamblogs. The lawyer offered an internship to students that paid the lawyer. This created a lot of outrage and the lawyer withdrew the offer.

    3. Yes, a lawyer—in Connecticut, as I recall—offered to let a graduate pay him for the privilege of observing him at work.

      A governmental agency in San Francisco offered an unpaid position—and demanded a one-year commitment, high grades, good writing skills.

      Perhaps most cynical of all, a scam-promoting agency offered an unpaid "internship" in Washington at which a student would help to prepare scam-marketing materials with which to lure more lemmings in. The head of the organization drew an obscene six-figure salary.

    4. The special needs kid collecting carts in the Target parking lot gets paid for his efforts. But after four years of very expensive college and three years of very expensive law school, after studying for and passing the bar exam, lawyers get to compete against each other for unpaid internships. What a "profession" huh. Heck of a job ABA.

    5. When Old Guy was a boy (admittedly during the Pleistocene Epoch), internship commonly referred to one thing only: the paid job of an assistant resident at a hospital, offering valuable practical training and experience between medical school and full licensure. (The words intern and resident both reflect the former practice of living at the hospital.) Somehow about twenty years ago it came to mean an unpaid job, usually short and undemanding, that a student or recent graduate is expected to take just to have a prayer of finding paid work down the line. And many of the new "internships" even require payment from the "intern", often thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars.

    6. Yep. Sign of the times, for certain.

    7. Old Guy--you are referring to AALS correct? Yes, offering no pay to their intern while their director and president both pulled down mid six figure incomes.

    8. Yes, and thanks for the reference. Here is Dybbuk's article from nearly three years ago:

  4. Not only law...companies like Disney offer year long unpaid internships to college graduates. The way I see, take as advantage of your "employees" and they will show their "employers" the loyalty they deserve.