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America’s gun fetishism

[ 267 ] August 27, 2014 |

Yesterday a nine-year-old girl accidentally shot and killed a 39-year-old instructor at a firing range designed to cater to Las Vegas tourists.

Sprawling across more than 30 acres in the Mojave desert 26 miles from Vegas, Bullets and Burgers advertises itself as an “Outdoor Machine Gun Adventure” with a “Desert Storm atmosphere.” “Our guests have the opportunity to fire a wide range of fully automatic machine guns and specialty weapons,” the Web site says. “At our range, you can shoot FULL auto on our machine guns. … Let ‘em Rip!”

The shooting range’s Web site says the minimum age for the “ground adventure” is 8, and children ages 8 to 17 “must be accompanied by parent or legal guardian at all times.”

She lost control of an Uzi sub-machine gun when the instructor allowed her to fire it in its automatic mode. The video below captures the moments immediately before the accident, and cuts away at the moment the instructor is shot (you can hear the girl scream however).

Fans of the Second Amendment and the Rule of Law will be relieved to learn that nothing illegal took place during this incident:

The sheriff said no citations would be issued and no charges would be filed against the shooting range because it is a licensed, legal operation.

Butter and the Before Time

[ 127 ] August 26, 2014 |

Memories of Butter?

memories

This is an acceptable name for something only if dairy cows have been obliterated by whichever flavor of apocalypse comes home to roost. In between shifts at the sludge plant you smear Memories of Butter on your protein cube and weep silently when the child who doesn’t know any better asks you what it was like during the Before Time.

In a world where there is butter, this is literally the worst possible marketing. The butter is three feet away. Once moved to action by the memory of butter, you can reach out and acquire butter. Our operative theory was that it was badly mistranslated from French, or at least there was something lost in translation. What that could possibly be we do not know.

Perhaps the Canadian friends of LGM can help explain.

Some years ago, my brother was working at a big recording studio on an ad campaign for a butter substitute product. The tag line for the ad campaign was “Tastes Like Butter.” After many, many hours of recording ads, the lawyers came in at the last minute and insisted that the tag be changed to “Buttery Taste.”

Butter. I don’t care what they tell you they’re putting or not putting in your food at your favorite
restaurant, chances are, you’re eating a ton of butter. In a professional kitchen, it’s almost
always the first and last thing in the pan. We sauté in a mixture of butter and oil for that nice
brown, caramelized color, and we finish nearly every sauce with it (we call this monter au
beurre); that’s why my sauce tastes richer and creamier and mellower than yours, why it’s got
that nice, thick, opaque consistency. Believe me, there’s a big crock of softened butter on
almost every cook’s station, and it’s getting a heavy workout. Margarine? That’s not food. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter? I can. If you’re planning on using margarine in anything, you can stop reading now, because I won’t be able to help you.

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Cooley Law School changes name, fires a lot of its faculty and staff

[ 18 ] August 18, 2014 |

The Thomas M. Cooley School of Law is now officially Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

In an awkward bit of timing, the school announced its name change the day before reports appeared in the media that the school was laying off a large chunk of its faculty and staff:

Sources in Lansing who are being laid off say the cuts are deep, upwards of 50 percent, according to one. Another said the impact could be as high as 70 percent. A Cooley spokesman disputed the amount, but said he did not have numbers.

“We have non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses upon which our severance packages hinge so I cannot say anything on the record and very little off the record other than to confirm that the cuts to faculty and staff are significant and I am among those in that category,” shared one faculty member, who spoke under condition of anonymity. “Plus I am really, really pissed.”

The source continued: “I was notified last week. My last day is August 31 … I honestly don’t know if they are done. If enrollment continues to decline then maybe not.”

Cooley’s JD enrollment has fallen from just under 4,000 (!) three years ago, to around 2,300 last fall, and seems likely to be lower this fall. On the other hand, the school’s FY2012 tax disclosures showed it clearing a $12.6 million profit enjoying excess revenues of $12.6 million over operating expenses of $108.5 million, and that the school’s net assets increased from $81.6 million to $118.6 million between July of 2009 and July of 2012. That was two years ago now, and it seems certain Cooley’s current balance sheet is not as robust, but the apparently radical nature of these faculty and staff cuts raises some interesting questions (I’ll have more to say in another post about the possibility that some law schools are exploiting the contraction in law school applicants for the purpose of eliminating expensive and/or troublesome faculty).

Anyway, it’s unfortunate that a respectable state university like WMU has agreed — no doubt for valuable consideration as lawyers say — to allow its name to be slapped on Cooley’s letterhead. The agreement between the two institutions appears to be essentially a legal and verbal fiction:

This is an affiliation between Cooley and WMU, not a merger of them. Thus, the affiliation does not change the governance of either institution by its respective board. The institutions remain autonomous.

Cooley remains a private, independent, non-profit, 501(c)(3) educational corporation. It is not a public or taxpayer-supported institution. . . The affiliation will not involve an exchange of funds or financial support, although as the relationship builds the institutions might enter into subsequent agreements, for example relating to the use of the other’s facilities.

Of course a name change is a time-honored marketing tactic when demand for a product is waning, as Prof. Stringer Bell, holder of the University of West Baltimore Distinguished Chair in Law and Economics, explores in a lecture below, via the Socratic method:

A follow up on Infilaw’s cyber-propaganda efforts

[ 81 ] August 14, 2014 |

Amusingly, the same Infilaw shills who posted dozens of messages on the Atlantic’s web site between 1-3 AM this morning, attempting to attack the facts and interpretations in my article immediately after it was posted, are now posting very similar messages on other sites linking to the piece. (Whether these people are Infilaw administrators or employees of the PR firm Infilaw hired to deal with the fallout from the article — and whom I dealt with during the fact-checking process — I don’t know.)

One particularly implausible claim being made by the one commenter who claims to be a FCSL administrator is that something like 70% to 80% of FCSL grads with LSAT scores below 145 pass the bar, despite the dismal bar passage rates of people with such LSAT scores in general (Until very recently there was very little data on bar passage rates for people with LSATs below 145 since it was nearly impossible to get into an ABA law school with such a score, but what data there were — largely from non-ABA-accredited California schools — indicated the chances of someone with a score below 145 passing the bar were slim). Remarkably, the school’s representatives failed to mention this supposed “fact” during the extensive back and forth between themselves and the Atlantic prior to the article’s publication. Another reason this claim is implausible is that, until the past couple of years, even the Infilaw schools admitted very few people with such rock-bottom scores. For example, in 2010 (the most recent entering class that has taken the bar) less than 5% of the students FCSL admitted had LSAT scores below 145. By contrast, last year 31% of their admits had scores below 145, and the median LSAT of the school’s matriculants ended up being 144. The figures for the other Infilaw schools are comparable.

In other words, around half of the students at Infilaw schools are now people with such weak credentials that they couldn’t even have gotten into an Infilaw school three years earlier. It’s doubtful that even turning the school into nothing but an extraordinarily expensive three-year bar review course is going to produce acceptable bar passage rates from these cohorts. But of course by then the tuition checks will have all been cashed.

The Infilaw bust out and American higher education

[ 90 ] August 14, 2014 |

I have a piece in the September issue of the Atlantic on for-profit law schools, and what their predatory behavior has to tell us about the increasingly market-driven structure of higher ed in America generally. (While it’s true that the financing of higher education in this country has become a particularly distorted and dysfunctional market, it’s also important to keep in mind that advocates of market solutions to social problems are especially prone to no true Scotsman fallacies).

Across the ideological spectrum, it is almost universally assumed that more and better education will function as a panacea for un- and underemployment, slow economic growth, and increasingly radical wealth disparities. Hence the broad support among liberal, moderate, and conservative politicians alike for the goal of constantly increasing the percentage of the American population that goes to college. Behind that support seems to lurk an inchoate faith—one that is absurd when articulated clearly, which is why it almost never is—that higher education will eventually make everyone middle-class.

That faith helps explain many economic features of American higher education, such as the extraordinarily inefficient structure of federal loan programs, the non-dischargeable status of student debt, and the way in which rising college costs that have far outstripped inflation for decades are treated as a law of nature rather than a product of political choices.

This past April, the Congressional Budget Office projected that Americans will incur nearly $1.3 trillion in student debt over the next 11 years. That figure is in addition to the more than $1 trillion of such debt that remains outstanding today. This is the inevitable consequence of an interwoven set of largely unchallenged assumptions: the idea that a college degree—and increasingly, thanks to rampant credential inflation, a graduate degree—should serve as a kind of minimum entrance requirement into the shrinking American middle class; the widespread belief that educational debt is always “good” debt; the related belief that the higher earnings of degreed workers are wholly caused by higher education, as opposed to being significantly correlated with it; the presumption that unlimited federal loan money should finance these beliefs; and the quiet acceptance of the reckless spending within the academy that all this money has entailed. These assumptions enabled InfiLaw’s lucrative foray into the world of for-profit education. But they have just as surely shaped the behavior of nonprofit colleges and universities.

The result is a system that has produced an entire generation of overcredentialed, underemployed, and deeply indebted young people. Just as the law school reform movement has exposed the extent to which law schools have overpromised and underperformed, similar reform movements are calling into question the American faith in higher education in general, and all its extravagant promises regarding the supposed relationship between more (and more expensive) education and increased social mobility.

America is not for black people

[ 307 ] August 13, 2014 |

Part of the reason we’re seeing so many black men killed is that police officers are now best understood less as members of communities, dedicated to keeping peace within them, than as domestic soldiers. The drug war has long functioned as a full-employment act for arms dealers looking to sell every town and village in the country on the need for military-grade hardware, and 9/11 made things vastly worse, with local police departments throughout America grabbing for cash to better defend against any and all terrorist threats. War had reached our shores, we were told, and police officers needed weaponry to fight it.

Officers have tanks now. They have drones. They have automatic rifles, and planes, and helicopters, and they go through military-style boot camp training. It’s a constant complaint from what remains of this country’s civil liberties caucus. Just this last June, the ACLU issued a report on how police departments now possess arsenals in need of a use. Few paid attention, as usually happens.

The worst part of outfitting our police officers as soldiers has been psychological. Give a man access to drones, tanks, and body armor, and he’ll reasonably think that his job isn’t simply to maintain peace, but to eradicate danger. Instead of protecting and serving, police are searching and destroying.

If officers are soldiers, it follows that the neighborhoods they patrol are battlefields. And if they’re working battlefields, it follows that the population is the enemy. And because of correlations, rooted in historical injustice, between crime and income and income and race, the enemy population will consist largely of people of color, and especially of black men. Throughout the country, police officers are capturing, imprisoning, and killing black males at a ridiculous clip, waging a very literal war on people like Michael Brown . . .

This photo, in which Brown was flashing a “gang sign”—a peace sign, actually—was presented as proof that the teenager was a thug; his friends and family now not only have to work through their grief, but against a posthumous slur campaign. Johnson described his friend in an MSNBC interview as cool and quiet. Brown’s uncle, Bernard Ewings, said in a Sunday interview that Brown loved music. Brown’s mother, Leslie McSpadden, said that he was funny and could make people laugh. He graduated from high school in the spring, and was headed to college to pursue a career in heating and cooling engineering. Monday would have been his first day.

By all accounts, Brown was One Of The Good Ones. But laying all this out, explaining all the ways in which he didn’t deserve to die like a dog in the street, is in itself disgraceful. Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed.

To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It’s to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown’s life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him. It’s to deny that there are structural reasons why Brown was shot dead while James Eagan Holmes—who on July 20, 2012, walked into a movie theater and fired rounds into an audience, killing 12 and wounding 70 more—was taken alive.

To ascribe this entirely to contempt for black men is to miss an essential variable, though—a very real, American fear of them. They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest. There are reasons why white gun’s rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys. Guns aren’t for black people, either.

Read the whole thing.

. . . see also (h/t burritoboy)

R.I.P. Lauren Bacall

[ 42 ] August 12, 2014 |

lb

I heard the old, old men say,
‘Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.’
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
By the waters.
‘All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.’

Yeats, The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water

Supporting Law School Transparency

[ 1 ] August 12, 2014 |

Law School Transparency is a classic example of the potential power of small-scale grass roots organizing. LST was founded five years ago by two Vanderbilt law students, who were concerned about the lack of reliable information about employment outcomes for law graduates. Operating on a budget of zero dollars, they campaigned for schools to release real employment figures, as opposed to the deeply misleading statistics almost all law schools were publicizing at the time (For example, these employment statistics made no distinction between working as a lawyer and a ten-hour per week barista, and they often featured “average” salary figures that failed to note the averages were based on the tiny percentage of class members who reported their salaries, who were almost always the people with high-paying jobs).

At first LST ran into a brick wall, but over time the organization — which if my understanding is correct has never included more than four people — has ended up playing a key role in successfully putting pressure on the ABA to force law schools to disgorge something that has begun to resemble actual employment information. LST’s web site has become an invaluable resource for prospective law students, where people can find answers to the two questions every such student should care about, almost to the exclusion of anything else, i.e., how much is this going to cost, and what are the most likely outcomes if I spend the next three years of my life at this school?

This past weekend LST’s co-founder Kyle McEntee spent a good deal of time and money flying to Boston, in order to appear before an ABA task force on the financing of higher education. I’ve known McEntee for three and half years now, and I never cease to be amazed by his tireless advocacy for a more rational and just system of American legal education.

To say LST operates on a shoestring budget is an understatement. The important work the organization continues to do requires a great deal of time and effort, and they need contributions to continue to do it.

Please consider making a donation to this fundraiser. All contributions are tax deductible.

More on the Alaska In God We Trust Law School and the not always reliable internet

[ 29 ] August 8, 2014 |

Here at LGM we had a lively debate a couple of weeks ago regarding whether the Alaska In God We Trust Law School was

(1) A purely fictional entity birthed by a parody web site, created for purely comedic purposes; or

(2) A “real” if evidently delusional enterprise of some sort.

The second possibility raised the further issue of whether the enterprise was (is?) a self-conscious scam, or a sincere attempt to provide Alaskans with the option of a domestic legal education.

State authorities have been investigating the same questions:

Alaska’s first in-state law school will open March 2015, according to the not-always-reliable Internet.

But ask an array of state agencies and one of the institution’s alleged staff members about the “Alaska Law School, In God We Trust” and the reality of what’s promised on thealaskalawschool.com grows less certain. . .

Despite its flaws, the website does intricately explain the law school’s staffing, tuition rates and academic offerings, from a Juris Doctor program that costs $43,000 a year for in-state students to certificates in criminal justice and public safety that cost about $1,500 a year. The website says the school will kick off what it’s calling the “Michaelmas Term” on March 3. It has already handed itself the honor of “the first law school in the history of our great state,” according to the website.

Daun DeVore is listed online as the founder and dean of the Alaska Law School, which also features photographs of a brown-haired woman, identified in captions as DeVore, posing with dignitaries including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and members of India’s parliament. DeVore is also named as the person who registered the website through the domain name registrar GoDaddy.

DeVore proved difficult to get in touch with; she did not return numerous phone calls and emails from Alaska Dispatch News over the course of a week. She left a voicemail for a reporter Monday expressing interest in talking about the Alaska Law School.

“I hope that you can catch me before I start traveling,” DeVore said. She could not be reached again as of Wednesday evening.

DeVore returned a phone call to the state commission Friday. She was told to remove wording on the school’s website by Wednesday at 5 p.m. that implied it was enrolling students or delivering education. She didn’t meet the deadline, Rieselbach said.

Phone calls to the law school’s direct line went to a voicemail that says, “You have reached 20Lawguide — L-A-W-G-U-I-D-E — the main number for the Alaska Law School. For quality education, come to the Alaska Law School. That’s alaskalawschool@gmail.com. Have a blessed day.”

Two people highlighted online as Alaska Law School staff members provided conflicting stories about the validity of the school.

Marygold Melli, a professor emerita at University of Wisconsin Law School, sits on the Alaska Law School’s Board of Overseers, according to the website. The Alaska and Wisconsin websites both feature the same portrait of Melli wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a gray sweater.

When asked about her position in Alaska, Melli said by phone last week from her home in Madison, Wisconsin, “That’s news to me.”

“I have nothing to do with an Alaskan law school,” she said. “I don’t know anything about it. That’s the most accurate thing I could say.”

The Alaska Law School website also posted an announcement naming Richard Field the editor-in-chief of its Alaska Law Journal. It said he was “previous Chair of the Science and Technology Section” at the American Bar Association and the current editor-in-chief of The International Lawyer, an ABA legal journal.

From his home in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, Field said in a phone interview that he knows DeVore. He is actually a former chair of the section of science and technology law and the editor-in-chief of International Law News, an ABA magazine, he said. The ABA confirmed his position there.

“It isn’t a scam,” Field said about the school. “A woman named Daun DeVore has been working for some time trying to figure out how to set up a school. I haven’t been in touch with her for a little while, but I had in the past. I was helping where I could.”

Field said he met DeVore through ABA. He didn’t remember the last time he spoke with her, but said it was within the year. He said he didn’t know about the law school website and “is not active with it at this point.”

“It’s a big undertaking, but she’s trying to make a difference, a positive difference,” Field said. “It seems to me it’s sort of a superhuman job to start a university almost single-handed, but she’s a very bright woman.”

The Alaska Law School identifies itself on its website as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational corporation, though it does not appear on the International Revenue Service’s list of organizations eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions. . .

The Alaska Law School website says that Randy Courrier, the chair of the “American Bar Association Law School Accreditation Committee,” met with DeVore in 2013 and provisional accreditation for the school should begin by 2015.

A spokesman with ABA confirmed DeVore had informally met with a man named Barry Currier, managing director of legal education and accreditation at ABA, and the two had a short conversation.

The Alaska Law School has not begun the accreditation process through ABA, and it cannot apply for accreditation until it has conducted classes for at least a year, said a note from the Alaska Bar Association posted on its homepage last week.

Even though the law school hasn’t opened, it already has plans laid out for the future. The website says the school will operate in an Anchorage building off of the Delaney Park Strip while working to obtain space large enough to fit two ships — an anonymous donation — in the landlocked city of Fairbanks.

The website implies law school classes and seminars will be conducted inside these ships, though it’s not completely clear.

The law school plans to create The Alaska Law School World Law Library, “a global law library of Alexandrian proportions, comprised of hard copy law books, many in their original languages world wide,” the website says.

It will also host “a talent show and Reindeer Award (much better than an Oscar)” to honor distinguished lawyers and judges with the invitation extending to the entire Alaska legal community, according to the website.

“On one hand, the absurdity of the information is helpful, I think, because it doesn’t appear that it seems legitimate,” said Barrans, executive director of the state postsecondary education commission.

Barrans didn’t specify what the other hand was in this particular metaphor.

Attempts by LGM to reach DeVore for comment have been unsuccessful. We will continue to follow this story as it develops.

(h/t ichininosan)

.

Looking back at ITLSS

[ 47 ] August 7, 2014 |

ITLSS started publishing three years ago today. The blog featured roughly daily posts (500 in all) for nearly 19 months, through February of 2013. During that time it received about three million page views, and it generated nearly 50,000 comments. On the eve of another academic year, this post looks back on the project from the perspective of what’s changed and what hasn’t in the law school world since the summer of 2011.

What’s changed:

The central theme of the blog — that there’s a genuine crisis in legal academia, because law schools are turning out far too many graduates and far too high of a cost — has gone from a fringe position in the academy, to a widely accepted view within it, and something like the conventional wisdom outside it.

Law school applications and enrollment have both plunged. The 2014 cycle featured about 55,000 applicants, down from 88,000 in 2010. Despite moderate to severe cuts in admissions standards at almost all law schools other than Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, the 2014 first year class will include somewhere between 37,000 and 38,000 students, down from 52,500 in 2010.

After decades of non-stop growth, average effective tuition (sticker tuition minus discounts) has at least flattened out and possibly even declined slightly over the last two to three years. This is a product of the combination of schools continuing to raise their sticker rates at faster than inflation, but offering deeper discounts to a larger percentage of their admits. The net effect of this has been to keep average tuition from rising in real terms, although of course this pattern exacerbates the reverse Robin Hood structure of contemporary legal education, in which students with lower entrance numbers (and, crucially, lower SES backgrounds) subsidize the attendance of their better-credentialed, richer, and better-connected classmates.

What hasn’t changed:

The legal hiring market remains weak. Only a bit more than half of all ABA law school graduates are getting real legal jobs (full-time, long-term, bar admission required), and this percentage drops to less than half at many schools. Only around 15% of graduates get jobs that pay salaries which make taking on $150,000 in educational debt (around the average for the 85% of graduates who borrow, once we include accrued interest and undergraduate debt) appear to be a good investment, at least from a short-term perspective.

The long-term economic prospects of current law graduates remain very unclear, for many reasons. What’s clear is that the high salaries paid to the “lucky” minority who initially get jobs with big law firms can be somewhat illusory (a 2013 Stanford law grad told me yesterday that several of his classmates who started in big law a year ago have already left, whether voluntarily or not), and that extrapolating the lifetime earnings of people who graduated from law school in 1974 or 1984 or even 1999 to people who graduated in 2014 is a form of methodological question-begging, if it’s presented as doing anything more than presenting one piece of mildly suggestive but problematic evidence in regard to the answer to the question of what is going to happen to current law graduates in the long run.

The fundamental economic structure of legal education — in which most of the operating revenue for most law schools comes from federal educational loans subject to essentially no actuarial controls — remains in place. Transparency in regard to employment outcomes — which pretty much didn’t exist three years ago — has been in large part achieved, and it has accomplished quite a bit by itself, as evidenced by the plunge in application and enrollment numbers. But while the situation is better, it’s still the case that far too many people are paying far too much to go to law school. (My back of the envelope calculation is that national first year classes ought to be around 25,000 matrics, and that effective tuition ought to be around $10,000 per year, if we want legal education to be a good investment for a large majority of prospective law students going forward).

Looking back with the benefit of both three years’ additional perspective, and the changes that have taken place over that time, I wish this blog had spent more time connecting the crisis in legal education to the crisis which is slowly but surely enveloping higher education in America in general. That latter crisis is a product of deep economic and cultural changes, which have left an entire generation of young Americans over-educated and under-employed (I explore the ways in which legal education is something of a proverbial canary in a coal mine for these much broader trends in a forthcoming article in the September issue of the Atlantic.)

But hindsight is notoriously more accurate than foresight. This blog played its part in helping some people — not least its primary author — understand the troubled world of contemporary legal education. The thing now is to change it.

(Cross-posted at ITLSS)

Lawyers and entrepreneurs

[ 19 ] August 2, 2014 |

The Times has a story on attempts by law schools to address the crisis in legal hiring via curricular reform:

On a spring afternoon at Michigan State University, 15 law students are presenting start-up proposals to a panel of legal scholars and entrepreneurs and an audience of fellow students. The end-of-semester event is one part seminar and one part “Shark Tank” reality show.

The companies the students are describing would be very different from the mega-firms that many law students have traditionally aspired to work for, and to grow wealthy from. . .

A few of them talk of outsourced services for larger law firms. Karen Francis-McWhite pitches one to help homesteaders claim properties for their own. Another would help immigrants file their taxes, an essential but frightening step to gaining citizenship. The tagline, delivered by its advocate, Giavanna Reeves: “Filing taxes should not make you feel blue when you’ve got a green card in line.”

The Entrepreneurial Lawyering Startup Competition, a showcase of the university’s Reinvent Law Laboratory, is not an activity many practicing lawyers would recognize. But it might be the kind of broadened curriculum many of today’s students need.

This kind of program at least recognizes implicitly that it doesn’t make any sense for MSU’s law school to be based on a model in which its graduates go on to work for high-paying large law firms, since almost none of them do (14 of 301 graduates in last year’s graduating class got big law jobs. It’s too bad MSU’s tuition structure doesn’t acknowledge this reality).

It also signals that some law faculty now realize that a lot of their graduates won’t have traditional legal careers at all, high-paying or otherwise. That (the recognition) is a good thing, but curricular reforms of this type can play at best only a very minor role in ameliorating the problems our graduates face.

Turning part of the law school curriculum into a quasi-MBA program doesn’t do anything about the central problem, which is that law schools charge way too much and graduate way too many people. And trying to train law graduates to be entrepreneurs is a classically American response to the structural challenges to traditional ways of life created by changing economic conditions.

The difficulties with this response are that the whole point of law school has always been to qualify — if not actually to train — people to be a very specific sort of entrepreneur, that is, someone who runs a business that sells legal services. And the fundamental problem remains that demand for that kind of business is flat or declining, and/or is being met more and more by low-cost alternatives to traditional legal services, as Bill Henderson points out in the Times article itself (I’m using “demand” here in the sense of people being willing and able to pay for such services, rather than in the sense that many law professors use the word, which features a concept of demand that doesn’t take into account the “able” part of the definition).

People generally don’t go to law school because they’re “entrepreneurial” in some more general sense: indeed, it would be more accurate to say that they go because they’re not entrepreneurial in a more general way. And it would be even more accurate to say that just about the least entrepreneurial class of people this side of trust fund babies are law professors themselves, since the job selects for personality types that make Dilbert look like Steve Jobs.

How a bunch of mostly old people who have spent their lives polishing apples and coloring inside the lines are supposed to turn the kind of mostly young people who go to law school today into disruptive innovators, sending gusts of creative destruction across the legal economic landscape, remains more than a little mysterious.

. . . In comments, Fortunado points toward an even more fundamental difficulty, which is that the vast majority of entrepreneurial ventures fail even in good economic times. Of course the whole point of getting a law degree, from a strictly economic perspective, is that it allows one to acquire a license, that is, a serious barrier to entry, that is supposed to put one at a competitive advantage relative to “mere” entrepreneurs.

Ivy League problems

[ 45 ] July 31, 2014 |

“First world problems” is a well-known internet meme. I’d like to suggest a subcategory of the genre, Ivy League problems, which, rather than reflecting American upper middle class angst in general, chronicles the struggles of people very close to the tippy top of the SES pyramid.

A nice example is this Atlantic piece on the sorrows of law school graduates, which focuses exclusively on the problems encountered by young lawyers at big law firms:

Through formalized on-campus recruiting (particularly at top schools), the path to the law firm is so well-paved that students can navigate it on auto-pilot. “My law school made it so easy to get a job at a firm that I barely had to do any work at all to generate several associate position offers,” says one of my former University of Pennsylvania Law School classmates. The appeal of the law firm is only enhanced by the reality of student loans. “Big law was really the only path I considered. With the level of debt I incurred by going to law school, taking the highest paying job felt like the only real, responsible choice,” says another Ivy League grad.

The parenthetical about top schools is the only acknowledgement in this piece — which is otherwise interesting on its own terms — that the problems it’s discussing are relevant to a small minority of law school graduates. At the vast majority of law schools, less than 10% (indeed often more like 1% or 2%) of graduates get jobs with big law firms. Thus this article is analogous to a piece on the problems encountered by former graduate students that focuses exclusively on people with tenure track jobs at research universities.

It’s too bad, because the problems the article talks about are real enough, and ought to be taken into account by prospective law students (somebody has described big law as a pie-eating contest in which the first prize is more pie). But failing to acknowledge that those problems represent the experience of a small subset of especially fortunate and privileged law school graduates inadvertently replicates the myth that going to law school means getting to be a lawyer, which in turn means getting a high-paying, high-status job. That’s not even true for a significant percentage of the graduates of the nation’s dozen or so elite law schools, let alone for those of the other 189.

Unemployed Northeastern sums the situation up nicely in the comments to the article:

Of course, much like the headhunters that specialize in finding lawyers new jobs inside the legal profession, this boutique industry of career advisers who assist attorneys in leaving the profession cater to an incredibly miniscule fraction of the profession: graduates of “top” law schools with BigLaw experience on their resumes. Frankly, they are the group that needs the least assistance.

Meanwhile, nearly 50% of all law school graduates are unemployed or underemployed nine months after graduation, and a plurality of those with *actual* lawyer jobs are so woefully underpaid that they also seek to leave the profession. Soon after the nine month mark, another class of law school graduates enters the workforce, and the labor supply becomes that much worse – and we are now in year seven of this phenomenon. These headhunters will not touch this group with a ten-foot pole.

Sadly, the author does not see fit to even mention the plight of these non-BigLaw attorneys and their Sisyphean efforts to leave the profession in her lengthy article. Mind you, Biglaw hiring at its peak in the Oughties never amounted to more than about 12% of all law school graduates, overwhelmingly concentrated at the schools at the top of the US News Rankings (like the author’s UPenn).

- One of America’s tens of thousands of un/underemployed attorneys

(I have a long piece in next month’s Atlantic on for-profit law schools, and how similar predatory behavior is found well beyond the formal for-profit realm, both in regard to law schools and to higher education in America generally).

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