Blogging, Law Professors, Law Schools

A Tenured Top-Tier Law Professor Joins the Ranks of the ‘Scambloggers’

A blogging law professor essentially agrees with the scambloggers.

It’s one thing for the loser of a game to complain that the rules are unfair. It’s quite another for a winner to admit the same thing.

We’ve written before about law school scamblogs. According to the scambloggers, law schools rip off their students by (1) misrepresenting the employment outcomes of law school graduates, (2) taking students’ money (much of it borrowed), and (3) spitting students out into a grim legal job market, saddled with six figures of debt that they didn’t have before they became JDs.

It’s not surprising that many of these unemployed or underemployed graduates have taken to the internet with complaints about legal education; they are, after all, victims of the alleged scam. What would be more surprising is if a law professor — say, a tenured professor at a first-tier law school, a clear winner under the status quo — joined them in admitting that law school is something of a scam.

Which apparently just happened, earlier this week….

If you haven’t done so already, check out Inside the Law School Scam. This lively, thoughtful, and well-written blog, free of the excessive profanity and scatological references that mark many of the scamblogs, offers an indictment of law school from the inside. The anonymous author, LawProf, claims to be “a tenured mid-career faculty member at a Tier One school.”

Here’s what LawProf writes in his inaugural post (emphasis in the original):

[O]ver the past few years, a dark cloud, wispy at first, yet slowly and inexorably growing, has appeared in the azure skies of my professional life. Now, a couple of weeks before the beginning of another school year, it has grown to thundercloudish proportions.

It is this: I can no longer ignore that, for a very large proportion of my students, law school has become something very much like a scam. And who is doing the scamming? On the most general level, the American economy in the second decade of the 21st century. On a more specific level, the legal profession as a whole. But on what, for legal academics at least, ought to be the most particular, most important, and most morally and practically compelling level, the scammers are the 200 ABA-accredited law schools. Yet there is no such thing as a “law school” that scams its students — law schools are abstract social institutions, not concrete moral agents. When people say “law school is a scam,” what that really means, at the level of actual moral responsibility, is that law professors are scamming their students.

In subsequent posts, the anonymous professor takes on law teaching — which he claims is not very valuable to students, and not taken seriously by the professors — and legal scholarship, which he views as offering “the worst of all worlds … neither academically serious nor of much practical vocational value.” Ouch.

Is it possible that LawProf isn’t really a law prof, but just a bitter and unemployed law grad masquerading as an academic? People have been known to misrepresent their identities on the internet. For example, I pretended to be a judge-obsessed woman working at a law firm, while blogging as Article III Groupie of Underneath Their Robes, when in reality I was a judge-obsessed man working as a federal prosecutor.

With respect to Inside the Law School Scam, it appears that this is not the case. First, the site has the ring of truth to it; there’s enough behind-the-scenes and historical knowledge about legal academia to suggest the author truly is a law professor. (If not a law prof, the writer has gone to an awful lot of trouble to sound like one.)

Second, Inside Higher Ed vouches for the author’s bona fides:

The author identifies himself only as “a tenured mid-career faculty member at a Tier One school.” He agreed to reveal his identity to Inside Higher Ed, and his description is accurate. He teaches at a law school that doesn’t make the “top 10″ lists, but that is generally considered the best in its state and is well regarded nationally.

Hmm, interesting — so the best law school in its state, but not in the top 10 (so not Michigan or Virginia). Looking at the top 25 schools, some possibilities include Duke (but too close to top 10), Georgetown (but technically not in a “state”), UT Austin, Vanderbilt, Wash. U., Minnesota, Indiana and Notre Dame (although probably not Indiana or Notre Dame, since they have competing claims to being the best in the state of Indiana).

Assuming they weren’t planted for misdirection, there are other clues as to the author’s identity in the introductory post:

  • he is divorced, having “escaped [a] horrible marriage”;
  • he “attended, sporadically, an American high school in in the 1970s”; and
  • he has held visiting appointments at several top-tier law schools (“I am on the faculty of a tier one law school, and have taught at several others.”).

As a former pseudonymous blogger myself, I don’t want to push too hard on this. But it’s worth noting that LawProf expects to be outed eventually, per Inside Higher Ed:

“A lot of people are going to get mad at me,” especially if they ever figure out who he is, which he expects will happen, LawProf said. And while he has tenure, he said he believed there would be repercussions for speaking out as he is. “It’s breaking a wall of silence,” LawProf said.

Colleagues will definitely get mad. Unlike LawProf, most law professors support the status quo in legal education and will go to bat to defend it. Some of my law professor friends were miffed by my recent NYT piece suggesting that a year could be shaved off law school and replaced with practical training (a move that would probably mean fewer jobs for law professors).

Irregardless Regardless of the author’s identity, and regardless of whether you agree or disagree with its conclusions, Inside the Law School Scam is a pleasurable and provocative read. If you haven’t done so already, you should definitely check it out.

Inside the Law School Scam
Hostile Witness [Inside Higher Ed]
The Case Against Law School [Room for Debate / New York Times]

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