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So here’s to you Mr. Robinson

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To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.

— Flaubert —

From the ABA’s web site:

Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III is Member-in-Charge of the Northern Kentucky offices of Frost Brown Todd LLC, a regional law firm with offices in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Indiana. He currently serves as President of the American Bar Association for a one-year term which began on August 8, 2011.

From Reuters, via the Chicago Tribune:

Young lawyers with huge educational debts and no jobs in a depressed U.S. legal market should have known
what they were getting into, the president of the American Bar Association said on Wednesday.

William Robinson, in an interview at the ABA’s office here, responded to recent criticisms from Congress, the media and law students targeting the role of the trade group in fostering high expectations about legal jobs.

Robinson, a lawyer in Kentucky, said anyone entering law school has already completed an undergraduate degree or more.

“It’s inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago,” he said.

College graduates are capable of making “an independent decision and a free choice” to go to law school, he said.

To quote a leading contemporary philosopher, the problem with this business is that it’s filled to the brim with unrealistic . . . individuals. Individuals like Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III, who apparently thinks that being an old white guy in an (empty) suit with good hair and a fancy title after his name immunizes him and his organization from the potentially unpleasant consequences which might follow from giving an interview in which he essentially tells a few U.S. senators to drop dead.

Critics including two [actually three] U.S. senators have asked whether the bar association does enough to police law schools, a handful of which face allegations that they inflated statistics about post-graduation employment in order to attract more students.

Robinson said the number of schools in question is “no more than four” [sic] out of 200 with ABA accreditation, and he said few lawmakers have expressed interest in the subject. “It hasn’t been a groundswell of comment from Congress,” he said.

I’m personally looking forward to seeing Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III’s testimony at the upcoming Senate hearings on the subject of, among many other fascinating topics, whether the current president of the ABA is as crooked as a three-dollar bill, or just remarkably stupid.

This isn’t as easy a question to answer as you might imagine. It’s true that it’s hard to believe anyone with an IQ over 95 could say the things Robinson says in this interview (really, go read it). On the other hand, I’ve learned over the past couple of decades that there are some really, really dumb people in this business, some of whom, through the mysterious processes by which Persons of Quality rise to Positions of Leadership, are actually running important aspects of this thing of ours.

Robinson, it seems, is happy as the proverbial clam, and roughly as self-aware. Does he really think anyone who matters is going to buy what he’s selling? After all, his organization’s commitment to requiring law schools to publish something other than grossly misleading employment and salary data was completely invisible until his office started getting pointed inquiries from U.S. senators a few months ago — inquiries to which Robinson’s organization made such an inadequate response that they generated polite but firm requests to try again. Now he turns around and gives a formal interview — I find it hard to believe that these quotes were generated in such a context, as opposed to a drunken post-midnight conversation in a Palmer House bar — in which he basically says all these unemployed law grads with six figures of non-dischargeable debt are a bunch of naive idiots, whose current situation is their own goddamned fault.

Robinson’s theory of the case, as it were, appears to be that having a college degree precludes someone from bringing an action for fraud. I’m no expert in this area of the law, but I have my doubts about the soundness of that purported doctrine. In the alternative, the learned gentleman argues that the ABA is powerless to do anything about the fact that elite law schools charge such high tuition (as compared to non-elite schools), and in any case who’s to say whether law school costs too much these days? Mr. Bojangles tap dances around that question:

“I should take the lead in telling these [elite law] schools that they should reduce their tuition to $25,000 a year? No, I don’t think I should do that. I don’t think it would be purposeful. I don’t think it would be meaningful. I don’t think it would accomplish anything for me to do that,” Robinson said.

He said “it’s a complex question as to whether the cost is higher than it should be or is justified.”

You really couldn’t ask for a better illustration of how untethered our profession’s powers that be have gotten from basic social and economic reality. Does Robinson actually think that, under present conditions and into the foreseeable future, an annual tuition of $25,000 would make the average law school a good deal? Is he aware that this number is 70% higher, in real, inflation-adjusted dollars, than what the average private law school cost 25 years ago? Does he understand that a $25,000 annual tuition translates into an average of $80,000 of law school debt for students who attend such institutions? Does he have any idea how many current law graduates have career prospects that justify taking on that amount of high-interest non-dischargeable debt?

These are not “complex questions.” A complex question is whether you’d rather have Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady as your quarterback with the score tied in the fourth quarter, or whether the universe is ultimately a meaningless void, or whether Beggars Banquet is a better album than Abbey Road. A simple question is whether the current cost of legal education is justified by the likely return on investment it produces.

So here’s to you, Mr. Robinson. You’ve provided a perfect illustration of why Congress needs to take a regulatory flamethrower to your clueless organization, at least to the extent it continues to enable a system of professional accreditation that has degenerated into the smuggest and slackest of cartels — one which benefits law schools, while doing serious damage to lawyers, law students, and, not least, the public at large, which will be picking up the tab for all the selfishness and stupidity that fuels this system.

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