Sunday, March 28, 2021

“All Law Schools Are Free”: An outsider hits the nail on the head

Old Guy stumbled upon a ten-year-old criticism of the law school scam. Although written by an outsider (specifically a psychiatrist), it shows real insight into what was wrong with law school in 2011—and what is still wrong with it today.

Long-time anti-scam warriors will be familiar with an old article in The New York Times that used as its chief example Michael Wallerstein, "a tall, sandy-haired, 27-year-old radiating a kind of surfer-dude serenity". Wallerstein borrowed a quarter of a million dollars to attend now-defunct über-toilet Thomas Jefferson while indulging in high living that included a fancy apartment—he nearly used his borrowed funds for the downpayment on a $350k condo—and trips to Europe for "study". After graduation, he couldn't find work other than temporary document review under a manager who likewise had failed to thrive ("I was 32 when I graduated, and at 32 you’re washed up in this field"). He couldn't pay the interest on his loans, never mind the principal. His fiancée was if anything even more oblivious, hoping that he wouldn't "wind up in one of those time-gobbling corporate law jobs" that he would never get, all because "[w]e like hanging out together". (While he stiffed his creditors, somehow he and his brainless bit of stuff appear to have found the money for a "Boho-Chic Wedding", whatever that means.) Yet Wallerstein was "one of law schools’ satisfied customers" on account of the "prestige" of nominally being a lawyer.

"Do you hate law grads yet?" asked our psychiatrist. Yes, we do. Even those of us who are law grads ourselves. And Wallerstein is particularly odious. The psychiatrist called him an "intelligent but entitled douchebag". I disagree with the "intelligent" part, but the rest is true in spades.

The psychiatrist ripped into the garbage-purveyors at You Ass News and the scamsters who manipulate the worthless "rankings" for status and profit, but also exposed the plight of graduates who find themselves all but indistinguishable from the rest because they too are not meaningfully assessed:

Law students had no real measure of their status as an applicant; no reliable descriptor of what kind of a school they went to (short of branding); and no reliable measure of their performance there.  "What do you mean I can't get hired?"  They think to themselves,  "amn't I bright? Hard working? Fluent in legal theory?"  And the employers respond, "how the hell would we know that?"

Back to the douchebag Wallerstein and his coveted "prestige" of being a document-review monkey masquerading as a lawyer:

I don't doubt for a moment he sincerely believes he is a lawyer, because lawyer for him isn't a profession or even a job, it's a label, a code word for a kind of intellectualism he wants for himself.  As long as "all of my friends see me as..." it was well worth the cost.  He didn't study to become an attorney, he bought a back-up identity.

It's worth asking why Wallerstein chose a JD as a back-up identity, and not an MD or a PhD.  Can we agree it was easier?  Why not an MBA?  Because an MBA is for something else; a law degree is a brand in itself.  You can get an MBA and still be nothing unless you find a job.  Get a law degree, you're always a lawyer.

That may be correct (with one slight change: one has to maintain a license in order to be a lawyer). An undeserved intellectual cachet attaches to the JD. Lemmings from Maine to California are told that "you can do anything with a law degree". The magical "million-dollar" JD supposedly sets one head and shoulders above the generality. An MBA is nothing without an overpaid corporate job in so-called management, but a JD is thought to represent quality whether its bearer works in the field of law or not. Perhaps there was something to that sixty or seventy years ago, but how much intellectual superiority can the JD connote in a day—a very bleak day—when über-toilets raffle off "scholarships" to people who haven't even applied for admission?

On the prestige of a law degree:

In actuality, law school is utterly useless. The only thing that was useful was the writing class, which basically taught you how to argue thoroughly but efficiently on paper.

That overstates the outcome of the writing class. The few people who come out able to argue thoroughly but efficiently on paper were able to do so before law school. That said, "utterly useless" isn't wide of the mark. Certainly law school, pretensions aside, does not teach anyone "to think like a lawyer"; it doesn't even impart much knowledge of law.


I go through this to show you that law school, while it attracts people wanting to practice law,  also attracts college kids who are bright but emotionally adrift.  They don't know what they want-- besides a mental image of a lifestyle-- and they don't know who they are-- besides a mental image of an identity.  A three year law program is a great way to postpone reality and still have something to show for yourself.  

Again, law school also attracts plenty of people who are not bright. But this psychiatrist has put a finger on an important element of the law-school scam: just like an undergraduate program, it's an extension of high school. Thousands of lemmings leap into law school without intending to practice law; many others entertain fantasies of being paid six figures for saving dolphins or hobnobbing at cocktail receptions in Vienna. These and many others go to law school "to postpone reality" while collecting a faux-prestigious JD at the end (unless they fail out, as many do).

Lemmings can afford the frivolous venture for one simple reason:

[B]ecause all law schools are free.  Read it again.  All law schools are free.

Not after you graduate, of course, but right now.  Law schools can charge anything they want because everyone has enough money to pay for it- today.  As long as there are guaranteed government loans available for this, there is no economic incentive to lower the costs.  And as long as the price is zero, demand will always be infinity.

If it was true supply and demand, #1 ranked Harvard and #100 ranked Hofstra wouldn't have the same tuition.  But they do, the same as stupid Washington University, which is so stupid it's in Missouri.  "It's underrated."  Bite me.  Are we saying that Hofstra's worth the same money as Harvard?  That people would pay anything to go to Hofstra?  No, they don't have to pay anything to go to Hofstra.  That's the point.

The psychiatrist correctly excoriates scam-professor Steven Greenberger for proposing to address the high cost of law school through a warning like those put on packages of cigarettes. That kind of warning, which the scamsters haven't given even once in the many years since Greenberger made his scam-serving suggestion, would afford a handy to excuse to the scamsters while failing to deter significant numbers of lemmings. 

I don't agree that supply and demand would solve the problem. Even without student loans, Hofstra could charge high rates because there is no real competition: the choice is not between Hofstra and Harvard; it is between Hofstra and nothing. Nevertheless, I do agree that non-dischargeable student loans should not be available for law school, at least in the current free-for-all of arbitrarily large amounts for anyone whom some goddamn über-toilet choo$e$ to admit. Those who worship at the altar of free markets—Old Guy certainly isn't among the devout—should demand that the loans be dischargeable in bankruptcy. As things stand, federally guaranteed student loans underpin the contemptible and pernicious hackademic–industrial complex.