One of the most predictable responses to any criticism of a heretofore socially respectable entity is that the critics have hidden and disreputable motives. The critics, it’s said, want to sell something, and/or get publicity for themselves, and/or advance their careers via perverse contrarianism, or what have you.
There are two problems with this charge: it’s too easy to make, and it’s almost always irrelevant.
Nothing illustrates the ease with which it can be made better than how easy it is to level the exact same charge on the critics of the critics.
Consider this especially ludicrous example: a professor at an 11th-tier law school, featuring sky-high tuition, a per se open admissions policy (the school admitted 83% of its applicants last year, which probably represents close to 100% of the pool of functionally literate applicants not sporting serious criminal records), catastrophic employment outcomes for graduates, and plunging enrollments (the student body has shrunk by a third over the past three years, from 525 to 350) — that is, someone employed by exactly the kind of law school that has no business staying in business if critics who claim there is a crisis in legal education in America are correct — begins an article contesting that claim by questioning the motives of the New York Times for publishing stories about the struggles of recent law graduates.
The Times, per Prof. Reich-Grafe, only published these stories because it was trying to attract readers. It should be unnecessary to point out that the explanatory power of this startling insight is somewhat undermined by the fact that the exact same claim could be made about literally any and every story the Times (or for that matter any other publication) decides is fit to print. It should also be unnecessary to point out that the Times’ purported motives in this matter would not be considered by any halfway sane person to be nearly as questionable as Prof. Reich-Grafe’s own, given his “positionality” in regard to what he refers to as the “supposed” crisis in American legal education.
In any case, the charge of disreputable motivations is not only all too easy to make, it’s also irrelevant to the merits. Law school critics and defenders may or may not be greedy self-interested publicity whores, but whether they are or not has no relevance on the extent to which their various arguments are correct. Those arguments should be evaluated not on the basis of the supposed motivations of those who make them, but on the basis of whether they’re good arguments on their own terms.
On this score, Prof. Reich-Grafe’s piece is frankly embarrassing — a series of egregiously assumed can openers, tied together with pseudo-empirical guesswork, and injected with enough optimism bias to float a Madoff-sized Ponzi scheme — in sum an argument so flimsy that it can be (and was) demolished immediately by an anonymous scam blogger, on a site normally dedicated to pointing out to prospective law students that Legally Blonde does not provide a sound basis for the decision to spend $250,000 to get a law degree.
Legal education, we are told over and over again, is so expensive in large part because law faculty must have the leisure to produce “scholarship.” In theory, that means the million law graduates extruded by American law schools over the past 25 years have been subsidizing the production of what in the academy are termed “valuable contributions to the literature.” In practice that means those graduates paid their professors to write and publish things like Prof. Reich-Grafe’s article.
But a million law graduates is merely a statistic. Here is a glimpse into the life of a single one of them: someone who could have been one of Prof. Reich-Grafe’s own students (he attended a very similar law school):
I graduated from [ ] in 2010. I am approximately $215,000.00 in debt; I’m currently looking for work and have been struggling with Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety as a result of this ordeal. After passing the bar in 2011 I tried to start a solo practice and did a little bit of lawyering during that brief endeavor, but very minimal. I helped another attorney out at one point, too, but just in a very limited way. I have not been able to find a lawyer job or any professional employment since graduation in 2010. My last job was as a cashier at a supermarket making $12/hr.
For more than a year I have been applying for various non-legal jobs, in an attempt to take advantage of my “versatile” JD. In particular I’ve applied for a broad range of HR positions I’ve seen advertised, and have even employed a recruiting agency to help with this search. Such positions range from entry level on up. During law school I took employment law and also clerked for two summers and during a regular semester for an employment law firm; I therefore have a lot of direct HR related knowledge. Here’s some correspondence I just had with the agency:
“Hi Emily – I know Gwen is handling the HR area, but I never heard back from her about those jobs that I mentioned to you I thought I’d be a strong fit for. I know I would be great in the HR arena, and am interested in this listing now on the BW site: [ ]. It notes that “We are looking for talent at every level…”; it also says: “…we are on the hunt for talented candidates with experience in a range of HR functions to fill those needs.” I have a wide spectrum of direct and detailed knowledge of HR related laws, both state and federal, and therefor I believe I’m a great candidate for one of the Human Resource Contractor positions.
“Hi [ ],
I apologize that you and Gwen weren’t able to connect. I appreciate you reaching out and inquiring about the HR contract roles. Since our clients are paying us fees to fill these positions, they tend to be very picky in the experience they are looking for. Although I’m sure you are more than capable to handle many HR tasks and issues, they will be wanting to see direct HR assistant, HR manager, HR coordinator, etc. type experience in your background and resume. It is tough to make a strong argument for candidates who do not have those direct titles in their backgrounds for these positions.
I understand your goal of wanting to find work and we want to help in any way we can but we are not a great resource for someone looking to move industries, for example from Legal to Human Resources. Our clients are coming to us because they are looking for that direct experience, and although I am sure you are qualified for the roles, they are wanting that direct industry experience. Our clients have proven reluctant to hire JD candidates into non-attorney roles.
I hope my correspondent (I regularly get emails of this sort) can take some solace in the knowledge that the most advanced forms of legal scholarship have concluded that “the legal profession market is moving into the direction of close-to-guaranteed legal employment for all law school graduates over the course of the next two decades.”