Bad Ideas, Job Searches, Law Schools, Student Loans

Unemployed J.D. Goes on a Hunger Strike

As of this writing, Ethan Haines, writer of the UnemployedJD blog, has gone 32 hours without food. I think the kid might be joking, but Haines said he is going on a hunger strike — to convince law schools to be more transparent about the employment options of graduates, before the schools rope them into three years and six figures of debt.

He’s even served official notice of his hunger strike on five law schools, and he’ll put five more on notice today. From his self-styled media advisory:

On August 5, 2010, Ethan Haines, self-designated J.D. Class Representative, emailed an Official Notice of Hunger Strike to administrators of ten randomly selected law schools ranked in the Top 100 of the 2010 U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings. These schools were selected because they stand to gain the most from keeping the current rankings structure in place.

Ethan intends to bring awareness to the concerns of law students and recent law graduates by having them addressed by law school administrators. Their primary concerns are inaccurate employment statistics, ineffective career counseling, and rising tuition costs. The strike was motivated by a recent American Bar Association (ABA) investigate Report, which concluded that educational leaders are unable to timely combat the adverse affects of U.S. News’ rankings on legal education.

It’s a worthy cause, even if Haines’s methods seem a little tongue-in-cheek. At the very least, unemployed law graduates with mountains of debt don’t have a lot of spare money lying around for food. Might as well put all those hunger pains to good use.

And maybe he’s not joking? Like all legitimate hunger strikers, Haines has a list of demands…

Haines chose the offending law schools at random, and the following five have been aware of Haines’s demands:

The Notice sets forth two conditions that administrators can satisfy to end Ethan’s hunger strike. One condition is to provide written confirmation of their intent to cooperate with the Law School Transparency (LST) organization’s information request regarding employment statistics. Ethan is not affiliated with LST, but is an avid supporter of the cause and intends to forward the compliance statements to the organization.

The following law schools received an Official Notice of Hunger Strike from Ethan Haines on August 5:

1. University of Pennsylvania Law School (Philadelphia, PA)
2. Fordham University School of Law (New York, NY)
3. William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii at Manoa (Honolulu, HI)
4. Florida State University College of Law (Tallahassee, FL)
5. American University Washington College of Law (DC)

We’ve written about the Law School Transparency project before. It’s an organization asking entirely legitimate questions. LST wants law schools to provide accurate statistics about employment outcomes for graduates. It’s hard to understand why law schools aren’t willing to support the Law School Transparency group, other than a base desire to keep prospective law students in the dark about their post-graduate employment options.

But it seems that the LST group has nothing to do with Haines, and Haines has nothing to do with the group. So what the hell is Haines doing? We reached out to him about his hunger strike. He sent us a bit of a manifesto (published in full at the end of this post). In pertinent part, here’s what Haines told us:

Unfortunately, it is not a joke…

I am angry because the only group that seems to be satisfied with the current state of legal educations is professional corporations. Kaplan, Barbri, U.S. News & World Report, Lexis, Westlaw… they are delighted by what is going on because it only means more profits for them – and the law schools who support the current system because they enjoy a profit in the form of higher tuition premiums. Law students and legal professionals are powerless because if they speak can lose any hopes of landing a job for doing so. This is not my concern, it’s a matter of principle.

So will the apparent hunger strike of one law school graduate change the way law schools behave when it comes to being truthful to prospective students?

Of course not. Even if this is a “real” hunger strike, Ethan Haines could wither away, die, instruct his mother to send his dismembered body parts to the random law schools he picked — and it wouldn’t make a law school administrator think one extra second before jacking up tuition on the next class of uninformed lemmings. It seems that China will free Tibet before law schools are willing to paint an accurate picture of employment expectations for prospective law students.

But Haines might be a true-believer. This morning, he sent us the list of the other five schools which will receive notice of his hunger strike:

1. University of Chicago Law School
2. Georgia State University College of Law
3. University of Pacific McGeorge School of Law
4. University of Washington School of Law
5. Baylor Law School, Baylor University

I remember when Ben Kingsley Gandhi did this. I worry about Haines here because his focus seems too diffuse. If he sat outside one particular law school every day, demanding that they make their employment statistics transparent, maybe that would have some media influence. At some point, even the mainstream media would start asking, “Why is this random person starving himself outside your library?” Especially if he pulled the stunt outside of a public law school. But there is diminished responsibility when you’ve got ten schools.

Whether Haines is a jokester, a prankster, a psycho, or a martyr really doesn’t matter. Law schools have no incentive to keep costs low. They have no incentive to be more transparent. And that’s because at this point the demand for legal education appears to be limitless. Tuition went up during the recession, and still new law students signed up in droves. The market for jobs for junior lawyers has totally tanked, and still new law students sign up for law school in record numbers.

Just today, U.S. News rankings guru Bob Morse placed the blame squarely on prospective law students for the high cost of legal education. The ABA Journal picked up the U.S. News Morse Code column this morning:

“The number of prospective students taking the LSAT test is still at record levels,” the magazine says. “Many law schools are still receiving very large numbers of applications despite the poor state of the legal job market. This all means that there is still a near record demand for legal education and not enough capacity at the top schools.”

“Hunger” is a word that aptly describes the voracious appetite out there for legal education. If one kid doesn’t eat his vegetables, law schools won’t care. There are thousands more who will gladly devour what the schools are serving up.

Still, it is a bit shocking that schools are this unwilling to provide some basic transparency about the value of a legal education.


ETHAN HAINES — RESPONSE TO ABOVE THE LAW

Unfortunately, it is not a joke… I will post more details of my regime in the next few days.

My inspiration for this hunger strike was the ABA’s July 15 report regarding U.S. News’ law school rankings and its adverse effect on legal education. It touches me in a special place to know that this fall law schools will herd droves of new students into law programs without warning them or even adequately preparing them for what lies ahead. As you know – and your readers and blog peers can attest- the legal industry is headed for hell in a hand basket. Student debt is unfathomable, tuition costs are outrageous, and ineffective career service representatives are passing out donuts instead of helping students find jobs (read that on ATL).

I am angry because the only group that seems to be satisfied with the current state of legal educations is professional corporations. Kaplan, Barbri, U.S. News & World Report, Lexis, Westlaw… they are delighted by what is going on because it only means more profits for them – and the law schools who support the current system because they enjoy a profit in the form of higher tuition premiums. Law students and legal professionals are powerless because if they speak can lose any hopes of landing a job for doing so. This is not my concern, it’s a matter of principle.

I was disheartened when I read the ABA’s report. If the ABA says they can’t do anything about this problem – and that it only became important when U.S. News announced plans to rank law firms – who can? My guess is law school administrators. They are the only party with an actual obligation to do something about it. We do not pay tuition to any of the for-profit entities I mentioned earlier, we pay outrageous fees to law schools in hopes of obtaining honest statistical reporting, effective career counseling, and practical training.

In essence, I’m going in. Stay tuned, tomorrow I am announcing the remaining five recipients of my Official Hunger Strike Notice, which has quite a few notable names. My position is that law schools have the power to make a difference – like any good business – if they stop focusing on the competition, improve their product, and motivate their pupils, I am certain they can turn this thing around and even have us love them in the end.

“Being the change that I want to see…”

Ethan Haines

J.D. Class Representative

Earlier: Law School Transparency Group Seeks Data from Law Schools

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